HE present issue of Revolutionary History is devoted to the activities and writings of Alfred Rosmer and his lifelong partner, Marguerite Thévenet. While most issues of the magazine have been devoted to particular countries, we have in the past devoted an issue to the writings of Victor Serge, and we continue to regard it as one of our tasks to make available the work of revolutionaries who have been marginalised by the official histories of the right and left.
Alfred Rosmer (1877-1964) was an uncompromising revolutionary for over half a century, and he observed and participated in some of the most important events of the age. A revolutionary syndicalist before 1914, he was one of the handful who opposed the First World War from the very first day. A supporter of the October Revolution, during the high tide of struggle between 1920 and 1924 he played a leading rôle in the Communist International, in the Red International of Labour Unions, and in the French Communist Party. Expelled from the French Communist Party in 1924, he played an important rôle in the earliest phase of building the Left Opposition in Europe; although he broke politically with Trotsky, he maintained a close friendship and spent several months in Coyoacán shortly before Trotsky’s murder. In 1938, he made his home available for the founding conference of the Fourth International. He remained an intransigent anti-Stalinist, but never made peace with his own bourgeoisie; in 1960, aged 83, he signed the Manifesto of the 121, supporting those who refused to take up arms against the Algerian people.
Rosmer is known to most English readers only through his Lenin’s Moscow, yet he wrote prolifically throughout his life. He was both an historian and a journalist, and in this collection we have grouped material chronologically by subject-matter, bringing together articles written in the course of events with subsequent reminiscences. It is a tribute to Rosmer’s revolutionary consistency that no significant discrepancies appear.
Marguerite Rosmer was an activist rather than a writer, and much of the activity she engaged in (such as smuggling Clara Zetkin into France for the founding of the French Communist Party) was necessarily shrouded in secrecy. This, added to her natural modesty, means that she remains a relatively unknown figure. But she was clearly a formidable woman, quite prepared to stand up to Trotsky if the occasion required it.
Rosmer did not have disciples, and there is no political current called ‘Rosmerism’; Rosmer, by all accounts a discreet and self-effacing man, would have mocked the idea. Many readers may disagree with particular stances taken by Rosmer — his criticisms of Molinier, his endorsement of Natalia Sedova’s break with the Fourth International, or his repudiation of Lenin’s concept of revolutionary defeatism. But he remains an important witness to half a century of revolutionary activity.
We are grateful to a number of people for making this collection possible; firstly, to Colette Chambelland for authorising the publication of the Rosmers’ writings and for encouraging this project; also to Pierre Broué for allowing us to publish a selection of texts and notes from his volume of the Trotsky-Rosmer correspondence; to Stan Newens for making available two hitherto unknown letters by Alfred Rosmer; and to Reiner Tosstorff for allowing us to publish a section from his thesis on the Red International of Labour Unions.
All translations are by Ian Birchall and George Paizis.
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The next issue of Revolutionary History will contain John McIlroy’s article on Arthur Reade and the origins of Trotskyism in Britain.