The following note of corrections was prepared in relation to our issue Vol.2 No.1, dealing with the roles of Trotskyists in major strikes. For a number of reasons it was never published. We take the opportunity here to make it available for our subscribers.
There are a number of errors on pages 22 and 23.
The Note by the editors on French Trade Union structure at the bottom of page 23 should be immediately after the Introduction on Page 1 and before the iSt statement on page 2. At this position should be added the last section of the introduction to Document 6 on page 22 from “One of us was told by … 800 members”.
Also the two sentences starting “Front Ouvrier Renault, subtitled …” and “There was no price …” in the introduction to Document 6 on page 22 should be the introduction to Document 7.
The name of Daniel Renard should be after document 7 and Document 8 on page 23 but NOT after Document 6 on page 22 which is by Jean Bois.
I read with great interest Al Richardson’s reply to Paul Buhle on ‘ultra left’ influences in the British Trotskyist movement in CLR James’ days (Revolutionary History, Volume 5, no 2), and I especially noted the plea for more scholarship on the ultra left in general.
I enclose a document on the history of the French ultra left in the period of the Second World War, which was written by Ernest Rayner, a participant in the milieu, and circulated privately. Ernest Rayner was the pseudonym of Pierre Lannert, a long-time militant who died recently in San Francisco. As far as I know, this text is the only English language account of the history of these groups. Perhaps you would consider it worthwhile to reprint it in a future issue of Revolutionary History.
The Editor replies
We have no immediate plans for an issue on the French left, but interested readers can consult this document in the Socialist Platform archives. We are in full agreement with Comrade Price on the need to publish more on this important topic.
9. The strikes
The setting at liberty of the three leaders of La Lutte on 5 November opened the second phase of the Popular Front period in Indochina. It marked a pause in the political struggle continuing since August between the national movement and the neo-colonial policy of the Popular Front. This respite itself reflected the extension of the struggle to the terrain of class conflict. From the end of October 1936 to the end of August 1937, Vietnam was shaken by an unprecedented wave of strikes without an equivalent in any other French colony. The Minister of Colonies had been forced to drop the case against La Lutte precisely because he feared that the political crisis would develop into a social explosion.
In the same way the strikes imposed pressure on the legal revolutionary movement. The tasks of the hour became to aid the strikers and to organise solidarity around them. From this came the two key tasks which appeared imminent at the end of the summer - the legalisation of the Congress campaign and the proclamation of political democracy.
In the course of the strikes it was clear that the influence of Trotskyism and Communism among the working class was progressing with giant steps. The strike offensive itself consisted of a great spontaneous impulse. Often the initiative came from the depths of the proletariat, and resulted from collective consciousness, but this `spontaneity' had joined up with the activity of organisations, and it would have been vain to oppose them. The double structure of the Communist movement, including Trotskyism, had played a profound role, and had given coherence to the push of the working class. Even if documentation is almost totally lacking, one cannot doubt that long before October 1936 the secret trade union nuclei reconstituted by the ICP since 1934 had taken over a large number of strikes, such as that of the sawmen. The November 1936 issue of Giai Phong, the underground paper of the Interior Committee of the ICP, gave credit to Communist militants for the leadership of strikes in the distilleries, the clothing industry, the sawmills, potteries and soapworks, but recognised that: `Although the mass movement is boiling up, many strikes and working class struggles have escaped the control of the Communist Party.67
In other cases it was Trotskyist militants who had organised the strikes.68 From the evidence, all the underground organisations, whatever their tendency, had abandoned slow recruitment in favour of joining the workers' spirited offensive.
The activity of La Lutte was only a little more understood. Official documents blamed it, with malicious exaggeration, for being responsible for most of the strikes in Saigon. The political report of December 1936 thus conjured up:
`...the double game of La Lutte, the double texture of its work: on the one hand carrying on outside activities on behalf of certain trades and substituting itself for the CGT, which does not exist here, justified by the need to modernise workplace legislation, and the necessity for applying this to the working population in Cochin China, which is backward on a world scale, and on the other hand carrying on secret underground work and profound anti-French opposition.'69
In the end, one of the results of the strike movement was the formation of important underground unions, of which the police took notice at the end of December 1936. The Communists had created the Tong Cong Hoi (General Workers' Union), and were represented in at least11 important enterprises, notably the Arsenal, the FACI and Shell, 70 and had published at the end of January the first number of Hop Nhut (The Union). By 1 March 1937 they numbered 800 members in Saigon and 700 others in several sympathising groups.71 In addition the underground Trotskyist militants were in the process of getting an important audience in the Saigon working class. They were active in the factories, notably the Arsenal - where they were more influential than the Communists72 - on the railways, in the water and electric companies, and had formed another embryonic general union, the Lien Hiep Uy Tho Thuyen (The General Workers' Federation) which, after November 1936, regularly published the monthly Lien Hiep (The Union), a union propaganda organ.73
10. The break74
The split in La Lutte in June 1937 had led within two months to the ruin of the political project that was conceived the year before by the Vietnamese Communists and Trotskyists. The event is not a superficial one in Vietnamese political history. In a sense it opened the way to the ideological reorientation of Communism, which culminated in the foundation of the Vietminh, and through this established new roots in the national revolutionary tradition. Crucially, however, this split brought into play the principle factors which affected the general evolution of the revolutionary parties: the changes in the dynamism of the mass movements on the basis of doctrinal choice, the personality of human beings, and the impact of the policy of the colonial government and of the Comintern on the course of the national movement, etc. It is still necessary to add that, like all splits during the Stalinist epoch, it harboured no fewer emotional repercussions than reasoned elements. Their combination would result in the widening of the split into an irreconcilable conflict, culminating in its tragic end in 1945.
Underground Trotskyism did not have the same strength. In Vietnam, as in many other countries, it seems, moreover, to have always kept a group structure without ever truly acquiring that of a solidly organised and geographically spread party.75 Ta Thu Thau was above all an orator, perhaps by personal temperament and certainly as a result of his ro1e in legal political life. Nevertheless, since the scuttling of Militant in October 1936, the illegal Trotskyist group of Ho Huu Tuong, because of the difference in its experience in 1931-32, had succeeded in providing a complete system of both legal and underground publications, and it was in the process of becoming a force to be reckoned with.76 It published its constitution in the May 1937 issue of its paper, Tien Quan (The Vanguard). The Trotskyists had won young followers in the Saigon factories in which they had done their best to build trade union committees. These, the embryos of a working class trades unionism, absorbed most of their efforts, apart from propagandist action in Saigon-Cholon, as well as in some central provinces like Mytho and Travinh,77 and some help they gave to the Action Committees.
In the spring of 1937 their members had set up a trade union federation of Nam Ky (Lien Uy Tho Thuyen), whose rules were published and adopted on 1 May.78 It had active organisers in at least 39 workplaces in Saigon and Cholon: the Arsenal, where they were particularly influential, the French Est-Asiatique, the FACI, the railways, rubber manufacture, the tramways company, Indochina distilleries at Binh Tay, the water and electricity company, Franco Asiatique oil, the rice mills at Hiep Xuong, Duc Hiep, Extreme Orient and Hang Thai at Cholon, among the dockers, the labourers in the ricemills, and among the workers in the potteries and the sugar mills of the provinces Cholon, Giadinh and Thudaumot.79
Fairly numerous documents show that the Trotskyist worker militants and their sympathisers played a leading part in the organisation of strikes in 1936-37 in the South. In the absence of sufficiently conclusive pieces of evidence it is difficult to be more positive, but it is probable that their role was considerable in the great strikes from May to July 1937.80 The Vietnamese Trotskyist movement - the expression already corresponds to reality -had from the beginning a successful implantation in the Saigon region, whose importance moreover can be measured by the frequent warnings against Trotskyism in the underground Communist press.
This double development had significant consequences. The underground groups now had the necessary resources to keep the autonomous legal organisations alive, but the latter had to show themselves to be more willing to conform to the orientation of the underground groups. The relative independence from which La Lutte had benefited could only be put into question in the long term.
The aborting of the Indochinese Congress and the disappointments caused by the Indochinese policy of the Leon Blum government had brought into question the unconditional acceptance of the Trotskyist and Communist lines. Since the reappearance of Militant, the legal Trotskyist weekly, on 23 March 1937, the publications of the Indochinese Communist Party denounced the campaign conducted by the Trotskyists against the Popular Front, and in parallel, against the Moscow Trials. At the centre of this polemic there was the attitude to be adopted vis-a-vis the Popular Front. Thus the 15 May 1937 issue of the Trotskyist paper Tien Quan:
`The supporters of the Third International persist in supporting the Popular Front, alleging that it is not responsible for the actions of the Popular Front government and the government of Indochina. The reality is that without the support of the Popular Front, there would not be a Popular Front government, and that, without the confidence accorded by it to Brevie, and without the confidence given in his turn to the local administrative heads and so on, there would not be the repression from which the Indochinese are suffering.'81
This analysis of the real relations between the different levels of the pyramid of colonial power undoubtedly rings true. For the Trotskyists, imperialism under a Popular Front government was still imperialism. There were thus no new variables to be introduced into the tactics of the revolutionary movement. After 1936, just as before it, these consisted in preparing the working class and the peasantry through the daily experience of class struggle and anti-imperialist conflicts for the distant future perspective of a revolution with a proletarian direction and newrh_content. All the same, it remained for Vietnam to resolve the near-Sisyphean tasks which were posed at the same historical moment, and presented to all the sections of the international Trotskyist movement, that is the construction of workers' parties, at once both revolutionary and connected to the masses.
1. From pp 105-7.
2. Let us above all recall that the group included men who were radical patriots such as Nguyen An Ninh, Tran Van Thach and Le Van Thu. There is nothing to suggest that they felt uneasy with the Trotskyist or Communist critique of nationalism, and everything to suggest that their sympathy for the two varieties of Communism took root in their patriotism.
3. Significant of this reserve is the restrictive title of the most important of these articles, `Let us Talk about National Aspirations'.
4. From pp 140-1.
5. He participated in the first activities of the Vietnamese Trotskyists in Paris (he was arrested in the course of the demonstration outside the Elysee), and he was active in the Comité d'amnistie aux Indochinois.
6. The League Against Imperialism came out of the Liga Gegen Koloniale Unterdruckung (which emerged in Berlin in 1925), and was founded at the Brussels Congress (10-15 February 1927). Ta Thu Than spoke at the Second Congress (Frankfurt 20-30 July 1929), and Tran Van Thach wrote in the first number of its bulletin in 1928. In 1934 it had a Vietnamese section in Paris with a paper Phan De (The Anti-Imperialist). Its French section disappeared in 1936.
7. According to Pierre Naville, La Lutte appeared too `populist' and they had reservations about the alliance with the Communists.
8. Or at least those that have been published.
9. Naville recalls that the correspondence which he had with Trotsky defended the opposite idea, according to which the major crises of French capitalism would be found on its colonial periphery. Trotsky did not allow himself to be convinced.
10. From pp 199-200.
11. We should recall the Jura Federation in the First International.
12. From pp 253-56.
13. The administration did not allow Nguyen Van ,Tao, Tran Van Thach, Nguyen Van Nguyen and Ho Hun Tuong to stand, as they were not old enough, but they stood for the principles of La Lutte.
14. The following were elected: Tran Van Kha, Vo Ha Tri, Tran Van Sang (first constituency); Nguyen Phan Long, Huynh Van Chin and Nguyen Dang Lien (second); Bui Quang Chien, Thuong Cong Thuan at Gocong, Bentre, Travinh and Vinhlong; Le Quang Liem, Nguyen Tan Duoc (fourth, Rachgia, Longxuyen, Chaudoc Hatien and Sadoc); Huynh Ngoc Nhuan, Tran Trinh Huy, Truong Dai Luong (fifth, Cantho, Soctrang, Baclieu); Duong Van Giao (in the third) and Pham Van Tiec (in the fourth) seem to have been the only independents elected.
15. Report of Governor Pages, I 1 March 1935.
16. In Cai B6 the electoral address of La Lutte was written by hand and taken to the electors' homes by schoolboys. On 1 March the police seized 8,000 leaflets in Vietnamese at the printshop, but La Lutte was able to produce several dozens of thousands of leaflets.
17. A demand personified by the candidature at Giandinh of Nguyen Van Nguyen, who had just been released from the Poulo-Condore.
18. Let us just cite the matter that interested the peasantry - the remission of rents and debts until the end of the crisis, the division of the cong dien and the cong tho among the agricultural workers, the distribution to the poor of 300,000 hectares of abandoned rice land and the stocks of rice belonging to the dien chu, the abolition of the poll tax, and the exemption from the land tax for those with less than five hectares.
19. La Lutte, 19 February 1935.
20. Police report of 15 May 1935.
21. Report on the Saigon electoral college sent by Pages, 9 July 1935.
22. From pp 263, 270-1.
23. According to the police archives of June 1936, Ta Thu Thau had the perspective of gathering together a large legally recognised Communist Party, and would have proposed to the constitutionalists the calling of a conference of their party, which would have created a useful precedent. At the very most this is only a hypothesis.
24. The only conflict appeared after 21 months. Tran Van Thach was opposed to the idea of negotiating with the other Vietnamese and French councillors for the election of Ta Thu Thau to the post of first assistant, and the appointment of Nguyen Van Tao and Tran Van Thach as delegates to the Administrative Council. The La Lutte people had spoiled their ballots at the time of the Mayon's election, and Tran Van Thach had been publicly reprimanded.
25. La Lutte, 25 June 1935.
26. Police archives, November 1935. `Mixing closely in the life of the workers, denouncing all the abuses of which the humble are victims, leading strike movements, the young men of La Lutte have become the idols of the Annamite population'. (L 'Oeuvre Indochinoise, Hanoi, 9 December 1935)
27. `Ta Thu Thau had great hopes for this sort of propaganda. He thought it would be a step in reaching out to all classes of the Annamite people.' (Police archives, March 1937)
28. Le front populaire et les aspirations des masses Indochinoises, published 8 July 1936. Other titles were Le Fascisme et la guerre civil en Espagne (Fascism and the Spanish Civil War) and Etude sommaire de la lutte des classes (A Short Study of Class Struggle) which appeared in 1937.
29. Founded in great number after the First World War, often at the initiative of the constitutionalists, who had at that time perhaps seen in them a way of establishing a centre of cultural resistance.
30. Phan Van Hum taught Vietnamese language and literature at the Lyceum P Downer, from which he was sacked in 1935 after a strike by lecturers. Ta Thu Thau taught French, ethics and history in the Institute of Huynh Khuong Ninh, Chau Thanh and at Nguyen Trong Hy school in Giadinh. Anh Van, who was his pupil, has a moving portrait of his old teacher. The police accused Ta Thu Thau of having led the pupils of Chan Thanh on a hunger strike at the end of 1934 (Police report, fourth quarter 1934) but this hardly agrees with the recollections of Anh Van (Hoang Don Tri).
31. In particular against the tyrannical principal of the Mechanics School. See the letter from the pupils in La Lutte, 10 January 1935.
32. Then the police arrested at Song Phuoc (Mytho), two militants who had escaped from Paulo-Condore who were persuading a farmer to vote for La Lutte's candidate. (Political report of December 1935) According to the police reports of December 1935, the leadership of the ICP in the South still hesitated in February 1935 whether to support the La Lultelists, but the Bureau in exile gave Tran Van Giau the task of organising the illegal organisations' participation in La Lutte's campaign.
33. At this date (June-July 1936) the police reckoned the effective members of the Indochinese Communist Party in the South to number 70, and the unions of peasants and workers to be 7,000. (Note on the ICP and unions much abbreviated - Eds)
34. By Luu Sanh Hanh, released from prison at Cap St Jacques and a journalist on Duoc Nha Nam. The chief members of the group were the white collar worker Ngo Van Xuyet, the students Trinh Van Lau and Ngo Chinh Phen, the returnee from France, Nguyen Van Nam, the printer Ky and the coolie Don. With the help of Ho Hun Tuong from October the Ligue published the review Cach Mang Truong Truc (Permanent Revolution) and the paper Tien Dao (Vanguard).
35. The Arsenal, the tramways, the petrol stores at Nha Be, the aerodrome at Cat Lay, etc. Their trial took place on 31 August 1936. (Seven were found guilty and sent to prison from six to 18 months).
36. From pp 285-7.
37. We have not been able to find this document, and we have relied on the recollections of Ho Hun Tuong and Ngo Van Xuyet.
38. He saw in this a way of breaking what he called `the anti-revolutionary resistance of the party and trade union apparatus' and of preparing to arm the workers, anti-Fascist self-defence and the general strike. The idea of elected Action Committees had also been put forward by Dimitrov in his report to the Seventh Congress, but was then abandoned by the Communist International. At any rate, Action Committees were created by the Vietnamese Communists for some years. Thus, at the beginning of 1936, the Provisional Committee of Nam Ky recommended the formation of Action Committees in each village against the tax system.
39. From Depeche d Indochine, 15 June 1936.
40. And vice-versa, we are tempted to say. But no text or document justifies this supposition.
41. Cf the article 'A Tous' in Le Militant, 8 September 1936.
42. From pp 314-318.
43. At least that of the La Lutte action committee which had, according to the police, put out at least 20,000 leaflets, and which was the active antenna of the Organising Committee of the Congress.
44. Nguyen Van So was a member with Dao Hung Long of the provisional Action Committee of the neighbourhoods of Cho Dui, Cau Ong Lien, Cau Mui, Cau Kho and Choquan. Ganofsky and several other supporters of La Lutte belonged to that of the outer suburb of Dakao. Tran Van Thach, Ho Huu Tuong, Ninh and Hum led the Action Committee of La Lutte, Nguyen Thi Luu that of the women of Saigon, Le Van Thu Ca, that at Choquan, Truong Thi Sau, wife of Nguyen An Ninh, that of the village of My Hoa, and Duong Thi Lai, wife of Phan Van Hum, the Action Committee of An Thanh (Thudaumot) etc. 'The La Lutte group controls to our knowledge about 200 Action Committees in the Saigon-Cholon region and its outskirts.' (All from police archives)
45. Abbreviated translation in the police archives.
46. Only this would avoid the dissolution into the party of the Committees which were more rigidly structured.
47. Cf the friendly exchange in Agir, 3 August 1936, between Ta Thu Thau and C Metter, who attacks the La Lutte people for allying with the Vietnamese bourgeoisie ('the marriage of the carp and the rabbit'). Ta Thu Thau replied to him that the progressive elements of the bourgeoisie, like the working class, wanted democratic liberty, and that the Organising Committee had made provision for the French left equal to the other ethnic minorities, and invited him to take part in the La Lutte Action Committee. Cf La Lutte, 2 and 9 September 1936.
48. According to Ho Huu Tuong, during the summer of 1936, the legal Communist activists of Tran Huy Lieu sent Dang Thai Mai and Vo Nguyen Giap (released from prison 18 November 1931) to Saigon to consider with the La Lutte people the creation of a legal paper in the North. Dang Thai Mai was stopped at the frontier, but Vo Nguyen Giap was able to get to Saigon. He met Ta Thu Thau, Nguyen Van Tao, Ho Huu Tuong, etc. Hanoi being under direct French rule, it was possible to publish a French paper there. The La Lutte people would have passed on the name of the experienced Trotskyist militant, Huynh Van Phuong, who finished his law studies in Hanoi in 1935, and two other Trotskyist sympathisers, Tran Kim Bang and Le Cu. If the participation of the two latter in editing Le Travail is uncertain, that of Huynh Van Phuong did take place. So the Travail group had a few Trotskyists and a majority of Communists and their sympathisers, including Giap, and without counting the clandestine editors: it was in regular correspondence with La Lutte. Le Travail came out from 1 November 1936 to 16 April 1937. Tran Van Thach wrote several articles for it. From the summer of 1937 until 1945 there was a tiny Trotskyist group in the North.
49. Cf for example Bilans et perspectives, 15 September 1936. The paper, edited by Ho Huu Tuong, contains Trotsky's main articles written at the time.
50. Among the Action Committees led by Trotskyists which the police mention are those of the Saigon pupils led by the young Nguyen Van Cu, that of Giarai (Baclieu), organised by Nguyen Van Dinh, who had returned from France, the provincial Action Committee of Camau with Tran Hai Thoai, the provincial Action Committee of Cantho in which Tran Van Hoa (alias Tu Thai Mau) was active, and that of Thoi Thanh (O Mon, Cantho province) with Tran Van Mao.
51. Cf the leaflet Tuyen Ngon (Manifesto), spread massively through the South.
52. Doi voi phai phu hao (With Regard to the Bourgeoisie), op cit.
53. To which articles did this allude? However, let us quote Ta Thu Thau’s sarcasm to Nguyen Phan Long on 7 November, who had demanded 'stopping all propaganda relating to class struggle, for we work in a spirit of concord'. The reply of Than was 'that is a little inexact, for we organise numerous public meetings all the same to accustom the masses to this revelation'. (Police note of 3 October 1936)
54. Police sources.
55. Note on revolutionary propaganda in Indochina, April 1937. Police sources.
56. From pp 326, 327, 331.
57. La Lutte, 1 October 1936.
58. With Regard to the Bourgeoisie, op cit.
59. Political report of December 1936 by Pages.
60. In the Chomoi region the Action Committees contained quite a number of Caodaists, La Lutte, 25 March 1937.
61. Note by translator: I have translated 'cochers de "boites d'allumettes"'as hackney cab drivers, since a coach which is a 'box of matches' seems to be that.
62. `Ta Thu Than, Nguyen An Ninh and Nguyen Van Tao have become legendary heroes for their hunger strike which they undertook during their incarceration' wrote the police (December 1936). When they came out, the Vietnamese journalists organised a party in their honour and declared them to be 'inspirers of Vietnam'.
63. 'If things had gone wrong you would have had to account for the situation in which you had put the government', he wrote about the hunger strike of the La Lutte leaders.
64. They stopped their hunger strike at the demand of Duong Bach Mai (cf his telegram of 3 November 1936. `Good policy. Suspend the hunger strike.') in order not to upset his mission.
65. Cable of 21 November 1936.
66. From pp 333-5, 367.
67. Giai Phong, 7 November 1936.
68. According to the underground fellow-travelling paper Tan Cong (The Offensive) 1 February 1937 (in police archives), the workers' list of demands in COFAT had been drawn up by the Trotskyists.
69. Report sent by Pages.
70. Police archives January 1937. Other enterprises concerned were the Garage Scama, the Ardin printworks, Le Bucheron (timber), Garages Chamer, the Port of Commerce shipping, Stacindo (piping and building materials manufacturers) and the Orsini Shipping Co.
71. Police report derived from ICP documents.
72. A note by the police states (even if this is doubtful), that the underground Trotskyist group, the Lien doan Cong San Quo to Chu Nghia (League of Communist Internationalists) had become numerically the rival of the underground Communist party.
73. Police files February and March 1937.
74. From pp 395, 398-400.
75. A hypothesis which a study of Vietnamese Trotskyism at its height between 1937 and 1939 would be able to verify.
76. Tap Chi Noi Bo (Workers' Fight), no 1, 1 December 1936, Lien Hiep (Workers' Union), no 2, 4 December 1936. On 1 February Tho Thuyen Tranh Dau was replaced by Tien Quan (The Vanguard) which appeared regularly until the autumn of 1937. Furthermore, Ho Huu Tuong ran the publishing firm Quang Min (The Light) and edited Le Militant (no 5, 23 March 1937) of which the managing editor was the French returnee Nguyen Van Cu.
77. At Nam Ky in the North, Trotskyism was still organised in illegal conditions.
78. Police files.
79. They were discovered during a police raid on an underground meeting in the village of Binh Hoa Xa (Giadinh). Forty-three delegates from workplaces were arrested. (Police files)
80. See Appendix 24 in the original.
81. In July 1937 the police reckoned that 'there was increasingly a larger working class element in the Trotskyist party than in the Dong During Cong San Dang', which cannot be proved on the evidence available. But a more detailed analysis of these sources, which is not part of this work, would throw a general light on the broad evaluation of the national movement.
Comrade Ratner’s letter on the French Resistance (Revolutionary History Vol 2, No 1) serves, in my view, to perpetuate two serious misconceptions about the role of the Trotskyists during the Second World War, and the political aspirations of the resistance in general. In his letter Comrade Ratner argues that; (a) the Trotskyists made “a huge mistake to refuse to participate in the Resistance because it was a bourgeois movement”, and (b) that even if the Trotskyists had participated in the resistance their political influence would nevertheless have been restricted because the movement was “unfortunately more patriotic than revolutionary”. On both counts Comrade Ratner is incorrect!
Firstly, regarding Trotskyist participation in the resistance, it is true that in the early stages of the war strong doubts were expressed about participating in this movement. It was argued that the resistance was merely an appendage of the Allied imperialists’ war machine, and that consequently to support the resistance would be tantamount to supporting one imperialist camp against the other. However, this position was only sustained until 1943. After this date, Trotskyists were in actual fact encouraged to join and participate in the resistance.
The evidence in this change in line is to be found in the documents of the Provisional European Secretariat of the Fourth International. In its Resolution on the Partisan Movement of December 1943 (reproduced in Prager’s L’Internationale Dans La Guerre, La Breche, 1981), the Secretariat argues that because the resistance had by this time transformed itself from small groups of individual terrorists, into a more or less mass organisation, it was now necessary for Trotskyists to participate in this movement. The relevant section of this resolution states that:
the Bolshevik-Leninists today cannot remain content with denouncing these organisations [the resistance – ID] as working in the interests of imperialism. They cannot confine themselves to stressing to the workers the priority of factory work. They must at the same time, penetrate the ranks of the partisans with their own policy in order to organise the latent revolutionary forces in them on a class political and organisational basis. [Emphasis mine]
Further evidence of Trotskyist participation in the resistance is provided by Andre Calves, who in his book Sans bottes ni medailles (La Breche, 1984), recounts his adventures as a member of the Communist-controlled FTP. Indeed, it would seem from his book that Calves was an advocate of entry into the resistance long before the European Secretariat decided on this line of action.
Secondly, on the question of the political nature of the resistance, whilst it may be true that many resistants were pure and simple patriots who fought for the re-establishment of bourgeois democracy, this is not to say, as Comrade Ratner appears to do, that a powerful revolutionary and Socialist wing did not exist within the movement. On the contrary, historians of the resistance have noted that there was in fact a fairly extensive left current within the movement. This current was motivated by a widespread revulsion against the pre-war bourgeois order, which was held responsible for the horrors of capitulation, collaboration and occupation. Against this background, many resistants therefore felt that not only was it necessary to fight the Nazis but at the same time it was equally necessary to launch a simultaneous struggle for a more just and Socialist post-war society.
Such feelings found a practical expression in the resistants’ opposition to the reestablishment of the status-quo antebellum at the time of the liberation. For example, there was great reluctance within the movement to comply with De Gaulle’s directive to incorporate the popular resistance militias into the regular army and police force. Likewise, there were countless examples of local resistance leaders/committees who opposed the imposition of Gaullist prefects in their particular localities.
The Trotskyists who participated in the resistance orientated themselves towards such developments, and through their propaganda and activities attempted to separate the interests of Socialist resistants from the embrace of bourgeois nationalism. Indeed, it was the French Trotskyists who actually encouraged and led the seizure of a number of factories in the Paris area from their bourgeois owners during the liberation period.
To conclude with, it is my view that the failure of the French Trotskyists cannot thus be explained, as Comrade Ratner attempts to do, in terms of their refusal to enter the resistance, and nor can it be explained by the lack of a left wing within the resistance – both of these factors were present. The truth of the matter is that the Trotskyists and revolutionary Socialists in general failed to advance their cause because of their numerical weakness and the perfidious role of Stalinism.
This fact is attested to by the rô1e played by Maurice Thorez, leader of the PCF. On his return from Moscow in 1945, Thorez used his not inconsiderable personal prestige, and the tremendous prestige and influence of his party to smash and suppress any and all resistance to the re-establishment of the bourgeois state. In fact it was Thorez who in 1945 put an end to any illusions that the Communists would seize power when he declared that “there was only one state, one police force and one army” – the state, police and army of De Gaulle.
Finally, it must also be pointed out that in their efforts to maintain their wartime alliance with Anglo-US imperialism, the Stalinists committed terrible acts of treachery and brutality against Trotskyists and revolutionary Socialists. For example, many Chinese Trotskyists who participated in the resistance struggle against the Japanese were murdered by the Communists, or betrayed to the Kuomintang or Japanese. European Trotskyists who were transported to the concentration camps were subject to similar treatment by their fellow Stalinist prisoners, and one can only assume that Trotskyists who participated in French resistance continually faced the risk of betrayal and assassination by the Stalinists.
Hopefully, these brief points will serve to set the record straight and show that it was not the Trotskyists who were responsible for retarding the advance of revolutionary Socialism during the war, but rather the counter-revolutionary Stalinists.
`Marxism and the Great French Revolution', International Socialism, no 43, Special Issue, June 1989, pp214, £2.50
Although we do not usually review magazines in this section, the one under consideration here in fact amounts to a considerable book, and is well worth more than a passing mention. It is made up of three extended essays, one by Paul McGarr, who gives us an overview which extends beyond a mere narrative to take in class questions, one by Alex Callinicos which discusses the various attacks upon and defences of the traditional Marxist class analysis, and a final piece by John Rees attempting to understand the development of Hegel's thought against the background of 1789-1815. Apart from Peter Taaffe's good basic book and a thoughtful essay in Permanent Revolution no 8, it represents the only effort by the Trotskyists in Britain to rise to the theoretical problems posed by the French Revolution, which Marxists have always believed was the classic model of a bourgeois revolution.
Paul McGarr's contribution is so compact that it can be recommended to anyone whose prior knowledge is less than encyclopedic. Apart from at the end, where Callinicos feels obliged to advertise Cliff's ersatz theory of 'deflected permanent revolution', most of the arguments for and against a class analysis appear to be taken in, even if enough is not made of the fact that the bourgeoisie already has strong influence within a feudal society, and therefore does not need any high degree of class consciousness to be able to organise for complete power, as opposed to the working class, which not only needs this but a fully developed theory of social relations and historical understanding to be able to gain control of society. The last contribution is interesting but one-sided, but as it is meant to look at Hegel's thought through the prism of the French events, the writer cannot be blamed. But some indication should have been given to first time readers that there is far more to Hegel than that.
Nonetheless, the whole makes up a valuable contribution, if only to take the British Trotskyist movement out of its parochial concerns and remind it that it is meant to be the heir of all previous revolutionary traditions.