The Labour Movement in France (concluded)


Translated from Proletary (Russian) by J. Kresswell and adapted from the Weekly People (New York).


The two currents, considering the broad mass of organised labour, not the few secretaries of unions, are approaching ever nearer. The first are gradually freeing themselves from the excess of revolutionary phraseology, the second from the simple naive faith in the possibility of obtaining social reforms with the help of the “middle class.” Between them every obscurity in the methods of struggle against capital is clarified.

With the consolidation of bourgeois parties now forming in France follows the consolidation of the class-organisations of the proletariat. The class-conscious elements of the French working class in the Confederation as well as in the United Socialist Party have at their Congresses in Toulouse and Marseilles demonstrated that they have realised the necessity of a thorough development of proletarian organisation. This is the watchword uniting all those in France who are guarding the interests of the working-class. This circumstance will not fail to reflect itself on the relations between the United Socialist Party and the trades unions. Mistrust and hostility toward political action are gradually waning, and the time is near when the political and economic organisations will go hand in hand in the struggle against the existing order.

I know those readers who take the “revolutionary” phraseology of the syndicalists to be the real sentiment of the French workers will accuse us of being optimists, but the near future will verify our view; the relentless logic of capitalist development will compel the protagonists of French “prehistoric” neo-syndicalism to recant their methods, as it has compelled numerous honest adherents of another “prehistoric” means— ministerial Socialists—to confess the blunders and errors committed by them.

A significant role has of late been played by the complete bankruptcy of the petty bourgeois democracy, which has proved as reactionary a defender of the middle and upper capitalist class as the Second Empire. Finding itself in the opposition ranks during the establishment of the Third Republic, it promised golden conditions to the proletariat for its help in capturing political power. And with their democratic phrases, their “We have no enemies on the left,” sentiments with which the Radicals and Radical-Socialists have unceasingly come forth in labour assemblies and the Press, they actually succeeded in persuading a considerable part of the working class. But once in power all democratic illusions have vanished like smoke. Six years have passed since they became the absolute rulers of the nation, and of all the promises on their program they fulfilled only the one, which they earlier only darkly hinted at: the defence of the interests of capital. Instead of abolition of the Senate, aged workers’ insurance law, and abolition of military courts, French bourgeois democracy, in the person of its most brilliant and clever representative, Clemenceau, has repaid the working class for its sacrifices in conquering political power with 25 killed (during conflicts between capital and labor), 300 wounded, 312 discharged for their convictions, and sentences amounting to 140 years in prison. This is the balance of the Radical era of the last two and a half years !

This policy of the radical majority helped considerably the convention, Oct 14-18, of the United Socialist Party in solving the momentous problem of French Socialism, namely, to rend asunder those slight threads which held together a part of the Radicals and Socialists. It thereby helped to establish the class-conscious, revolutionary character of the party. Four sections, differing in their tactical views, met at the convention : Jauresists, Guesdists, Herveists and syndicalists.

The first, encouraged by the latest Bavarian events in the ranks of the German Social Democracy, and by the enticements of a small section of Radical-Socialists who agitated against Clemenceau in Parliament had grandoise plans before the convention. Their representatives, Warren, Ruy-Alex, and Brenton, intended to pass a resolution binding Socialists to sacredly preserve at the elections “republican discipline.” But when they appeared at the convention and became acquainted with the sentiment of the delegates they got cold feet. The adherents for the organisation of a blockade in conjunction with the Radicals were swallowed up as if by an earthquake. To all present it was self-evident that this was the result of past deeds, and only Breton, who expected to be expelled the party for past sins, dared defend the above measure. Foreseeing defeat, our “Opportunists” hastened to carry the wrangle over to another platitude. Instead of disputing about tactics they insisted on the importance of reforms, and in thus changing the subject, and in their failure to defend their former views in tactics, they revealed their mental bankruptcy. Only after the dear lesson of the events of the last two years, was a confession wrung from their leader, Jaures, that a Socialist party should have no affiliations with any bourgeois party. True, they have not yet lost all their illusions ; they still hope the Radicals will come to their senses or will split in two, one part of which will unite with the “alliance republicaine,” the representative of militant capitalism, and the other part with Combe and Pelton at their head, fight side by side with the Socialists for social reforms.

But these illusions are harmless, at least at present, because nobody in the Radical party evinces any dissatisfaction with the policy of the Radical majority controlling Parliament, except a dozen or so Radical-Socialist deputies who fear defeat at the elections without the help of Socialist votes.

The struggle with the Opportunists at the convention, therefore, was brief and unimportant. It was interesting only in that the Blanquists were the first to show themselves in the speech of their representative, Tangier, in favour of the old reformers, as they in reality are, but shield themselves with revolutionary phraseology.

Far more important to the Party was the struggle at the convention with the Herveists and anarcho-Syndicalists, which reminds one of the struggle against the young Socialists from Berlin at the convention of the German Social Democracy at Galle. Establishing the paper “La Guerre Sociale” as their centre, the Herveists made it their principal duty to discredit the political activity by haranguing on street corners of its complete uselessness. During elections many of them carried on an anti-political agitation. “Revolutionary” phrasemongery reached, with them, the comical stage. They always cursed everybody and everything. The French working-class, in their eyes, were a set of miserable cowards, because at the demonstration arranged by the fantastic Herve at Longcliamps during a military parade, there appeared only a hundred men. Their inflamed imagination daily pictured grand catastrophies. They charged the Confederation with sinking deeper in the mire of English trades unionism. The Socialist Party to them was only a ground for career seekers, and they were seriously convinced that their mission in life was to keep the fires of the Revolution burning, which would go out with their disappearance from this earth. At other times they did not neglect to appear as candidates for election, especially when chances of success were bright—and this by the very men who yesterday treated political activity as nonsense !

Furthermore, these very men who repeated what Friedeborg in Germany and Domela and Newinghaus in Holland, said before more force fully and eloquently, imagined that they were expounding a new found truth, and bravely repaired to the Toulouse convention, hoping that the opportunistic majoriy would, as at Nantes, unite anew with them in. carrying a compromising resolution about anti-militarism. And this they wished to accomplish for the purpose of showing that they were of some importance in the party.

But at the convention an unexpected grouping of factions formed. To the Guesdists, who led the attack on the Herveists, came the Jauresists, whom the comradeship of Anarcho-syndicalists was compromising. To the Herveists this was so unexpected that they were completely routed, and didn’t even open their mouths in their owe defence. Their representative, Jobert, found it imperative after the convention, to write to “La Guerre Sociale” : “We have not only lost our battle, but we didn’t even fight.” When they saw at the congress that there was a majority sufficient to expel them from the party they cried “mea culpa, mea culpa,” and hastened to beat a retreat from their theoretical positions so precipitately that they lost all their theoretical baggage.

In the committee another of their representatives, Bruckere, gave this pledge : Henceforth they would cease their attacks in their Press on the political activity of the party. In order to emphasise their promise they declared through the same Bruckere, that they would not work against political action. They voted unanimously only for the party resolution which ends with the following : “It is the imperative duty of every Socialist to strive for the augmentation of the parliamentary forces of Socialism through the ballot.”

No mention is necessary of the syndicalists. Only Legardel rose in their defence, and even he confessed that the proletariat is always in need of political liberty in its economic struggles.

The congress of Toulouse is, therefore, destined to play an important role in the history of French Socialism. The Opportunists, as well as the Anarcho-syndicalists, were given to understand by the representatives of the class-conscious French proletariat that it is the firm intention of the latter to put an end to all kinds of confusion, whether of a revisionist or anarchistic type. From the start this congress declared that the Socialist Party is a party of social revolution striving for the capture of political power for the liberation of the proletariat. If we stand for reforms, continues the congress in its declaration, if we point to the utility and necessity of such, and their limits which they cannot overstep in capitalist society, it is only to show the proletarian that reforms are insufficient, and that with the abolition of private property only will the proletariat completely reconstruct life. But, added the congress, only organisation and propaganda ; only the more intense work of developing the political and economic organisations of the proletariat; only the unceasing propaganda of the Socialist ideal are the necessary elements for the social revolution.

The idea of a gradual, peaceful establishing of Socialism in France has suffered a fiasco. This was reflected in the speeches of all the orators, including Jaures, who chanted a five-hour paneygric to the reformers. All except Bretagne and Warden, were forced to the conclusion that with the use of its own forces, with their own political and economic powers, would the proletariat gain partial and final and complete control.

The anarcho-sydicalists were given this notice by the congress : Retire, or recognise the necessity of the political struggle in all its forms. We do not refuse any single method of struggle, including even open rebellion. We have just the same right to use it as the bourgeoisie of 1789. We are only against toy revolutions, and we should not mix grand mass movements with petty conflicts which the proletariat may have with all the forces of the state. The protetariat grows and frees itself with the untrammelled, collective and organised pressure on the contemporary state and capital.

With this declaration the Toulouse congress has made giant strides toward revolutionary Social Democracy, and we Marxists are bound to feel gratified. If there are a few obscure expressions in that declaration which are likely to give the bourgeois Press (especially in those countries where revisionism is only potential) a chance to discover bacilli of reformism, one thing at least is certain, that the spirit of that declaration on the whole is Marxism.

Reformism and anarcho-syndicalism now lose the strongest position which they have occupied and the efforts of Lafargue and Guesde begin to bear fruit. The labour movement of France strikes the right direction. Thanks to the specific form of development of French capitalism, which often had to emigrate abroad to find a field of usefulness; thanks to the comparative poverty of the country in minerals, such as coal and iron, which are the foremost factors in 19th century industry, French, capital was mainly usurious. Class contrasts could not be so sharp. Only the revolution made by electricity gave a strong impetus to capitalist activity. The revolution of minds follows. Faith in bourgeois democracy is destroyed even in the most backward spheres of the working masses, and
class-conscious spheres are speedily recovering from the charms of the mystification of parliamentary inactivity on the one hand, and from anarcho-syndicalism on the other.


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