In his essay 'The Communists and Peace', originally published in Les Temps Modernes in 1952, Sartre addressed an article written by Mandel, under the pseudonym Ernest Germain. Mandel responded with this letter, originally published in Fourth International, April 1953.
Dear Mr. Sartre, Your article 'The Communists and Peace' raises issues that concern the entire French Left. It deals with the crucial issues of our time. All currents of public opinion have taken a stand on it. Now, in the second part of this article, published in the November 1952 issue of Les Temps Modernes, you enage in debate with the Trotskyist movement within which I am active, on the occasion of a text I published in the newspaper La Vérité des Travailleurs. Through the Trotskyist movement, it is moreover the whole of the 'anti-Stalinist Marxist Left' that you address. We are fully ready to accept the debate on the grounds that you have set, and within the limits that you assign to it. But, for there to be a debate, one has to confront the diffferent opinions. The readers of your journal know so far only your point of view. From our ideas they only possess the image you have sketched. We hope that, faithful to the democratic traditions of the French Left and to the spirit of your philosophy, you will allow us to speak for ourselves, by reproducing, despite its perhaps excessive length, our response to your article. We think that this reply will be of interest to the readers of your journal, because it expresses a concern that is common to all of us: how to aid the working class and the French Left as a whole to block the reactionary offensive and organize a victorious response.
The real and the possible
It appears to you that our attitude - the attitude of the 'oppositonists' - is 'more or less tinged with idealism' since we affirm that what is not, is more true than what is. The party in power - in this case the French Communist Party, the - is realistic 'since it asserts and claims to prove that the actual is the only possible’. We, on the other hand, are obliged to refer continuously to 'missed opportunities which exist only because they are thought’. We cannot 'claim certitude’. The goal of our research, 'not having really existed... will be the abstract object of an idea; in a word, it will be because it is thought. Thus, one abandons the properly Marxist scheme for a probabilistic idealism, the inductions are based most often on simple extrapolations' (pp. 107-108)1.
It is true that you recognize the existice of possibility, but only as part of a future action, not as an element of a retrospective analysis. And you specify: what was possible in 1944? 'The relation of forces were favourable' to the working class, you write, 'its interests impelled it toward taking power but its leaders prevented it from doing so. Granted: but could they not do so?' And you conclude, since they were what they were, 'the chips were down’; 'and if a few enthusiasts could believe that they were going to lead the working class to victory, it was because they had seen the details of the situation without considering its totality' (p. 109).
The Trotskyists are an opposition party in regards to the PCF, which dominates the workers' movement. But you seem to forget that the PCF, in turn, is an opposition party within a national framework in which power is still in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Once this is taken into account, your whole argument turns against the policy of the PCF. The PCF protests against the policy of the Atlantic Pact. It opposes the Indochina War. Does it then not abandon 'the properly Marxist scheme for a probabilistic idealism’? The PCF maintains that the Atlantic Pact has chained the nation to the chariot of American imperialism. It argues that adherence to the Atlantic Pact will mean economic misery and loss of democratic freedoms for the French people. It argues that another policy would have been possible, 'a policy of French independence’. But is it not a fact that the French government joined the Atlantic Pact? Does this fact not correspond 'to the situation considered in its totality’? Were the chips not down, the bourgeois (and Social-Democratic) leaders being what they are? It is easy to see that with your way of reasoning, any actual policy applied at a given moment becomes the only possible policy. Any other policy - the policy that the PCF proposes in the place of bourgeois policy - the policy that the Parti Communiste Internationaliste2 proposes in the place of that of the PCF - becomes unreal because it is only 'possible' and not yet realised.
Let us continue: today's PCF policy is the only realistic one because it is the only real one. 'Everything which is real is praxis, everything which is praxis is real' (p. 107). But if such realisation is the only criterion of realism and efficiency, you get caught up in other contradictions. In France, the PCF dominates the workers' movement and still has the possibility of - sometimes - realising its policy. But in Great Britain, Belgium and West Germany, to take the nearest examples, the Communist Parties are to the Social Democratic workers' movement what the Parti Communiste Internationaliste is to the PCF. The Communist Parties have been devoted for thirty years to the role of the eternal 'oppositionist’. Consequently, would you say that their policy is imbued with 'probabilistic idealism’? Does a political programme that is 'realistic' in Forbach cease to be so in Saarland? Does the same policy conform to the Marxist scheme in Feignies but no longer in Quevy?
In addition, there are countries where Trotskyist organisations have the support of the majority of the working class, such as Bolivia or Ceylon. Would the same criticism of Stalinism that in such countries is 'real and realistic' be 'probabilistic idealism' in the rest of the world?
The contradiction does not only envelop you in space but also in time. Workers' parties were not born as 'in power' or as 'oppositionial' parties. They become one or the other in the course of a more or less protracted historical process. During fifteen years the PCF represented only a minority of the French working class. It only became the dominant party after 1936. Thus, a political line that did not conform to the 'properly Marxist scheme' - because it was not yet applied in practice by the masses - can tomorrow 'realistic' and conform to this scheme, as soon as the masses apply it? And the subject of your article itself, what do you think about it in the light of this strange principle that you have put forward? Since the masses did not follow the call for a strike on 5 June, any more than they followed the call in 1944-1945 of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste to build their own organs of power, was not the policy of the PCF also a policy 'not in conformity with the Marxist scheme’, 'tinged with idealism’, a policy whose only reality was 'because it was thought’?
It is not true, moreover, that we never reach the masses with our 'ineffective diagnosis’, that we are some sort of eternal oppositionists always complaining about what 'ought to be' without our ideas 'producing effects by itself' (pp. 258). Do you not know that, as early as 1923, Trotsky led the campaign for the industrialisation of Russia, for a five-year plan, for the construction of the Dnieprostroi? Stalin replied in 1926 that the Russian peasant needed the Dneiprostroy as much as he needed a gramophone. Did Trotsky's conception of the Dneiprostroy have no bearing on real history? From 1929 to 1934 our movement campaigned for the united front of the Communist and Socialist parties as a means of fighting fascism. Stalin and his people—including Mr. Lecoeur today—told us that 'objectively' we were fascists, since we proposed to the PCF to cooperate with the Social-Democratic, 'social-fascist' leaders! It appears to us, however, that Thorez ended up cooperating with Blum. For twenty years, Trotsky and the Trotskyists explained that it was impossible to win the revolution in China without the seizure of power by the party of the proletariat. We were told in all sorts of ways that we underestimated the peasantry; that we wanted to leap over stages; that we ignored the difference between bourgeois and proletarian revolutions—in short, that our ignorance 'objectively' aided imperialism. However, if we are not mistaken, the Chinese revolution was victorious not thanks to the alliance between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-Tung, advocated for twenty-five years (with brief intervals of 'soviet' madness) by the Kremlin's master strategists, but thanks to the crushing of the Kuo-Min-Tang by the Chinese CP, thus jumping over Stalin's mechanistic thinking. We could extend this list ad infinitum. From the end of 1944 we were fighting for the sliding scale of wages. Did this propaganda have no effect? At the end of 1946, our rally to oppose the war in Indochina, which was attended by three thousand people, was banned by a government presided over by a Socialist, and to the applause of L'Humanité. What do the Socialist leaders and L'Humanité think of the war in Indochina today? Have we really been preachers in the desert?
Your rigid system of the actual-as-the-only-realist-possibilty leads you into an impasse. In reality, it means the end of revolutionary politics. If you wanted to apply it consistently, you would have to consecrate the whole of reality, because all what is actual comes from a bundle of possibilities of which it is the only one realised (for the moment). This is the very argument used by Hegel to consecrate the absolutist state, an argument which Marx ruthlessly mocked. As long as it is neither a question of interpreting the world nor of accepting it as it is, but of changing it, then there are possible realities other than the existing one!3 In reality there exist contradictory elements that need to be laid bare. Such contradictions determine trends of possible developments that need to be encouraged. It is therefore that an objective analysis of reality is necessary, and that the first criterion of an effective policy is whether it is based on a correct or false analysis of reality. Therefore the right or wrong character of a policy is judged by its effects, in other words whether, thanks to this policy, the objective situation has been modified in the sense considered necessary on the basis of the preceding analysis. All this you cannot ignore. But you throw it peremptorily overboard when it is a question of judging - and condemning - the policy of the from the point of view of the interests of the French working class, the international working class and the USSR itself.
Marxism and fatalism
Lenin denounced as 'traitors to the proletariat' the Social Democratic leaders who entered in 1914 into the Union Sacrée with their bourgeoisie, and explained the social basis of this betrayal: the formation of a layer of labour aristocrats and a workers' bureaucracy that benefited from imperialism and had an interest in maintaining it. Lenin formulated an alternative policy: 'We should have opposed the war, even it if meant that we would be locked up like Liebknecht, that trade unions would be banned, etc.' Lenin was by no means 'probabilistic' or 'idealist'. He wanted to unmask the leadership of the Social Democratic parties. By doing so, he in a twofold way influenced, materially, the historical process. On the one hand, those leaders who claimed to speak in the name of socialism and the working class and peace were mercilessly confronted with the objective effects of their policies, which were contrary to the interests of socialism, the working class and peace. The critical spirit of the great mass of their party members, which in any case had to sharpen as a result of the objective results of the policies of their leaders, was thereby sharpened more quickly. Oppositional currents were forming within these parties and forced the leaders to change, at first imperceptibly, then increasingly strongly, their political attitude. Hereby the first effect was achieved. On the other hand, the most critical, the most aware, the most advanced elements of the class, who from the outset, thanks to internationalist propaganda, understood the true character of social-patriotic politics, were able to organise themselves, to act in a concerted way, to prepare the new party of tomorrow that was made necessary by the collapse of Social Democracy. And so the second effect was achieved. The greater or lesser success of this policy depended on a host of contingent factors, including the skills, knowledge, social position, and background of the people who carried it out. In Great Britain, Austria, the United States, to take three examples, the first effect was considerable, but the second was practically nil. Nevertheless, the subsequent weakening of Social-Democratic policy, the great events which confirmed the accuracy of the Leninist forecasts—the increasing hostility of the workers to the imperialist war, expressed in violent mass struggles—completely justified the attitude and language of the internationalists of 1914, even if there had not been the October victory, and even in the countries where this victory barely modified the structure of the workers' movement.
The same is true for the Trotskyist criticism of Stalinist policy. If these criticisms were drawn from the air, in flagrant opposition to the truth or to the interests of the working class and socialism, they would by now have been long forgotten. For those who defended them were a small handful, fighting against the most powerful state apparatus in the world, without any material power, without money, without means, without any other force than the force of conviction of their ideas. After the assassination of their main leader and their entire preceding leading generation, the Trotskyists not only did not disappear but saw their numbers increase with new workers cadres all over the world. In countries where Trotsky's works were unknown, where there was no communist tradition, it was sufficient for the workers' movement to be reborn, for Trotskyist organizations to be spontaneously constituted on the basis of concrete experiences of workers' struggles. I am thinking in particular of India, Italy and Japan. It is therefore something that is common to Stalinist politics throughout the world that provoked parallel, if not identical reactions among communist cadres. This is why our movement has solid roots in today's global reality. And next to those who, like the internationalists of 1914 in regards to Social Democracy, understood from the outset the reasons why Stalinist policy had ceased to be in conformity with workers' interests, there was the mass of communists who while continuing to be active in their old party, showed increasing unease, listened to Trotskyist criticism, forced their leaders to polemicise against Trotskyist arguments, in short, behaved as the majority of the members of the Social Democratic parties did in 1914 and 1917.
In truth, the Trotskyists were so little 'out of touch with reality' with their opinion of the possibilities of 1944, that a man as 'realistic' as the head of the military formations of the PCF, the commander in the FFI Charles Tillon, at the time put forward the same view. And this view was shared by thousands of communist militants: all those who took part in the life of the PCF at that time can confirm this to you.
In reality, Marxism has nothing in common with fatalism, which considers that an objective situation can evolve in only a single direction. On the contrary, Marxism asserts that there are historical periods in which an objective situation can evolve in two diametrically opposed directions. A revolutionary situation is typical in this respect. It could advance towards revolutionary victory. It could retreat towards the weakening and defeat of the revolutionary class. These two possibilities are decided, it is true, by a great number of factors. But among these factors, the role of the leadership, which you classify among the contingent factors, is decisive. It is not only Trotsky and the Trotskyist movement that explain that in our time the revolutionary leadership is the decisive historical factor. The same definition can be found in Lenin's documents for the second Congress of the Communist International. (See his 'Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Communist International').
Perspicacity and pragmatism
You say that our 'attitude is somewhere between that of the militant who analyses the present situation with a view to a decision to be taken, and that of the theoretician who determines the significance of past events' (107). It is true that you add: 'the former has the right to draw up the inventory of possibilities: but his subject is subject to the pressure of the moment (?), clarified by the events, modified by the ''historical process'', constantly corrected by experience and, finally, it is tested in praxis itself'’. (107) Nevertheless, you conclude with your predetermined thesis: in any question the is not in question! Is that really so? You forget that the 'two doctrinal conceptions...two ''scientific'' interpretations of the situation' (p. 118), which according to you sum up the differences between Stalinism and Trotskyism, were facing each other not only in 1952, but were also facing each other in 1944, 1945. Why do you not examine which of these two 'interpretations' was 'tested in praxis itself’?
Because what I am writing today is after all what we have been saying since December 1944. It is not sufficient, but strictly for the reproduction of the facts that I affirm that our insight was not after but before the fact. It was in February 1945 that our Party published a brochure under the telling title With Maurice Thorez on the road back to Vichy. (Does that mean nothing to you today, after the ministry of the Vichyste Antoine Pinay?). It was was shown, with evidence to support it, that the dissolution of the partisan army, the reconstruction of the bourgeois army of de Gaulle, Leclerc, de Lattre and Juin meant the handing over to the bourgeoisie of the bourgeois state apparatus, in preparation of new repressive actions against the workers' movement. Even arrests such as those of Duclos and Le Léap were foreseen; in response to Thorez, who asked the workers to have confidence in the 'regular police forces’, we said: 'All freedoms will be curtailed.... It will be the workers' parties and the unions that will be gagged and silenced’. In another pamphlet published in December 1944, it was stated that the slogan 'production first' meant putting the apparatus of production in the hands of the bosses, and hence the reconstruction of a capitalist economy which would be consolidated by increasing profits, thanks to the lowering of the workers' share of the social product. It was shown that the policy of collaboration of the workers' parties with de Gaulle and with the bourgeois parties was going to push the petty bourgeoisie, which had just by the millions flocked to the workers' parties, back into the arms of bourgeois organisations. It was shown that once its strength had been restored, with help of the workers parties, the bourgeoisie would turn against them, as it had done in 1933, and that it would also turn against the USSR. Moreover, we draw no glory from these insights. As soon as we admit the existence of objective laws governing the dynamics of revolutionary situations, it was, after the experience of 1935-1939, after the experience of 1918-1933 in Germany, after the recent experiences of revolutionary situations that failed for similar reasons, easy to formulate such predictions
Faced with this overall analysis of the PCI, there was another general analysis that we can look for in the CP journal Cahiers du Communisme, an analysis that you mention only in fragments of sentences, and that today Thorez, Duclos and Fajon could not quote without blushing. There was supposedly a 'fundamental difference' between 'democratic countries' like the USA, Great Britain, etc. and the imperialism of the fascists and the Nazis. The Allied powers were 'firmly resolved to collaborate with each other’. (Not a word was said about the class interests that made this collaboration impossible in the long run!). The 'refused to choose among its allies’. The France of De Gaulle, of General Juin, of the war in Indochina and of the tripartite government [of Communists, Socialists and Christian-Democrats] was a 'new democracy’, which could little by little, in its own way, enter on the path towards socialism. 'All the classes of the nation' had an interest in economic reconstruction (the reconstruction of a capitalist economy!). The Constantine mob had to be crushed, since the Parti du Peuple Algerien, opposing a democratic country like France, could only be a 'fascist party’. We needed to support general Leclerc landing in Hanoi, because, 'if France left Indochina, other powers would take its place’... We could continue giving examples. Which of these theses has been confirmed by praxis? Has not this whole 'scientific' analysis collapsed, barely three years after it was formulated? 4
In reality, while appearing to oppose 'two scientific analyses of the situation’, you fall into a crude pragmatism. What matters to you is not whether an analysis is objectively correct. The only thing that matters is that there are objective laws, governing not only the 'historical process' from century to century, but also the evolution of specific situations from year to year. You seem to be unaware that revolutionary politics must be a scientific technique. Under cover of concreteness and preoccupation with praxis, you get lost in the details of a situation by ignoring its dominant features. You only see the static. The laws of development escape you. This revolt of pragmatism against scientific socialism explains how little room you leave for foresight in politics. In any scientific system, forecasting is the touchstone for judging whether or not the system conforms to reality. To understand the laws of development of reality is to be able to predict its outcome, the next step. If our perspicacity was indeed an a priori perspicacity; if in practice our analysis was proven to be right, then perhaps it should be explained how the 'had something to do with' the failures of May 28 and June 4? That from its false analysis could only result a false policy? And that the paralysis in which the French workers' movement finds itself today can be explained largely by the objective effects of this false policy of the PCF?
Spontaneity and leadership
Throughout your article you state that today the French working class is 'defeated, broken, resigned' (page 119), that it is dominated by a 'feeling of powerlessness’, that it is 'in pieces' (p. 78). You add; 'in a battle that has been going on since the Liberation, with the French bourgeoisie managing to win and keep the initiative' (p. 63). A nice way to dodge responsibility! How did the French bourgeoisie know how to conquer the initiative? Was it because it did not have it from the beginning? In fact, who had the initiative in August-September 1944, in February 1945? Among all the 'contingencies' that you mobilise to explain the reversal of the situation, does the role of politics, of the leadership of the really not count for anything?
For pages and pages, you polemicise against ghosts in the Marxist camp (?) who pretend that the working class refused to go on strike on 4 June in order to inflict blame on the . Skilfully mixing the arguments put forward by the opponents of the working class with the critics of Stalinism from within the camp of the working class, you try to get rid of the latter with the help of the former. You finally arrive at the great discovery that if the working class did not go on strike on 4 June, it was because it felt too weak! We have never denied that.5 But we still have to ask the question: did this same weakness exist in 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948? Benoît Frachon told us several times how, during the miners' strike in 1948, delegations from metal factories in the Paris region came to him to beg him to widen the movement, to proclaim the general strike. At that time he refused. 'He saw the situation in its totality!'' It is a strange general-staff who knows the situation 'in its totality' so well that, when the workers push for a strike, they refuse to organise it, but when the workers, exhausted by the defeats caused by this policy of missed opportunities, no longer answer every call, can not eternally repeat the 'violent upsurges' (p. 73), this same general staff is astonished, indignant and leaves it to you, Sartre, to blame the workers themselves for it. It is a strange critical spirit of yours, which makes no connection between the fact that the masses, from 1944 to 1948, responded in their hundreds of thousands to all the calls for limited action by the (which at that time refused to give general guidelines for action), and the fact that in 1952 they were no longer capable of responding to the increasingly vehement and general calls for action by the same !
With heavy irony you write about the concept of spontaneity. You even quote Trotsky who claims for the workers' party the right to evaluate popular dynamism in light of the overall situation. Allow me, but you have missed the point. It is not a question of whether or not a workers party has the 'right to evaluate' the dynamism of the masses. It is a question of judging whether this evaluation was correct or false. We find it was doubly false. From 1944 to 1948, the masses were ready to go very far : it did not take the arrest of Mr Duclos, but only the seizure of l'Humanité for tens of thousands of Parisian workers to gather in a few hours around the building at the crossroads of Chateaudun. But at that moment, the put on the brakes, counselled caution, caved in, broke up the actions into a thousand small pieces without scale or prospects. Today, the masses are obviously weakened, disoriented by the lack of clear perspectives, by years of waiting in vain and engaging in ineffectual partial struggles. Yet this is the moment that they chose to launch the great battle, the general political strike, the open attack on the state apparatus, and so on! The general who goes to war in the valleys the same as he does in the mountains is a very poor general, don’t you think?
By pretending to discover in our thinking some universal divination of 'spontaneity’, you make your task quite easy by proving that this spontaneity does not exist at all (p. 114). You are not serious with this system of metaphysical absolutes, as if spontaneity is either everything or nothing. Either it explains the whole attitude of the working class, or it explains nothing at all. In reality, it is not your mysterious 'unobservable impetuosity' (p. 116), invisible to the common observer, which is at issue. Only you have invented this kind of 'spontaneity’, and put into the mouth of an imaginary Trotskyist in order to score easy points in your polemic. What is under discussion is the fighting will of the masses, a will which is by no means invisible or imagined, but which is perceptible in its multiple manifestations. When the workers flock to the unions; when the workers' votes increase in elections; when referendums give huge majorities in favour of strike action; when the masses take part in strikes launched, even for unclear reasons, in a clear majority if not unanimously; when the slightest provocation by a foreman in the factory or a foreman in the mine provokes a work stoppage; when the slightest provocation by the bourgeoisie against a workers' organisation provokes a large demonstration in the street; when the workers' speakers at general assemblies demand that general actions be initiated; when one workers' delegation after another demands of the trade union centres and the party leaderships to 'get going’...., then, it seems to us, there are enough concrete manifestations of the will of the class to fight, enough for us to be able to say that it is real. Then all those who who want to put off the struggle, not for a few days, or even a few months, but to a different period, and take refuge in the excuse of the 'overall situation' objectively play the role of saboteurs of workers' combativity.
As Rosa Luxembourg said so well, the mass strike, the generalized action of the working class, is not some kind of pocket-knife which can be unclasped and used at will. For the mass strike to be possible requires the convergence of a large number of favourable conditions. These conditions have been enumerated many times by Lenin, by Luxemburg, by Trotsky and even by Marx himself. Certainly, as Trotsky tells you about the days of July 1917 in the passage quoted by you (p. 117), these conditions can at any given time be judged to be still insufficient to risk a major battle. The deadline can be postponed by trying to improve these conditions as much as possible in the meantime. But there will be a peak in the development of the fighting will of the masses. If this is unused, slowed down, broken and fragmented, it will decline. The absence of workers' initiative restores the enemy’s confidence. The latter strikes in turn. If the counter action of the workers is again fragmented, is hesitant and without a sure direction, the enemy succeeds again and retakes the attack. Each lost opportunity, each missed partial battle, makes it possible that the other camp grows more confident. Finally the transformation from quantity to quality occurs. The masses, seeing the lost opportunities, seeing the hesitant policy of their leaders, lose confidence, resign themselves to passivity, no longer go out into the streets. Then the favourable conditions for the outbreak of vast struggles have been lost for a whole period. The combination of a correct evaluation of the fighting will of the masses and an adequate use of the credibility and discipline of the party to unleash the movement at the optimal moment is one thing. The combination of a false evaluation of the fighting will of the masses and the use of the party as a bureaucratic motor or brake of the movement, unrelated to the real aspirations of the masses, is something different. The first led from July 1917 to the victory of October. The second led from June 1936 to November 1938, from September 1944 to the failure of May-June 1952 (these two retreats of the workers' movement are not naturally on the same level. The latter was far from constituting a defeat as important as the one suffered in 1936).
The proletariat and its party
But to clear the PCF from all suspicion of wrongdoing, you needed to go still further. You still needed to put the blame on the working class. By not following the PCF, according to you, the class 'disintegrates' into mass, and the mass is 'precisely the class denied' (p. 239). And it is on Marx that you seek to rely on to assert such a claim!
The proletariat becomes class— a class for itself, because class in itself it is by virtue of its place in the production process—by constituting itself as a political party? Of course it does. But what Marx has in view here is not an act of adhesion, repeated thousands of times, to the exact daily policy of a specific party. What Marx has in view is the historical conquest—periodically repeated at great turning points in history—of class consciousness, by breaking with the organisations, the modes of thought and action of the opposing class. Marx is a dialectician; you are a metaphysician balanced between the absolute and nothingness. That is the difference.
Each serious working class defeat is followed by a decline in class activity. The number of workers who follow the slogans, especially the calls for action, of the workers' party decreases rapidly. This was notably the case in Russia after the July days of 1917, and even more so after the revolution of 1905. Lenin castigated the 'liquidators' who thought to conclude from these temporary defeats the disintegration of the class or its movement. And, to speak of a more recent past: With the scheme you irresponsibly put forward, the French working class, which 'disintegrated' from 1928 to 1933, had to be miraculously 'reconstituted' between 1934 and 1938, only to 'disintegrate' again from November 1938 until July 1941, from when it begins to reconstitute itself until 1948, to 'disintegrate' yet again. To make the reality of the class, the existence of class consciousness, dependant on each change in the conjuncture, is to reduce this concept to the absurd. Only historical defeats, such as the one suffered by the German working class in 1933 or by the Spanish working class in 1939, defats that for decades dissolved workers' organisations into nothingness and thoroughly eliminated any organised manifestation of class struggle, bring forth a new generation that has not been able to assimilate the experiences of the past. Of such a generation, which has not been educated in the experiences of the class, it is justified to say that the working class has disintegrated, that the workers' movement has decomposed, and that new and favourable conditions will be needed for the proletariat to transform itself again from class in itself to class for itself.
Secondly: it is true that Marx said that one actual step forward is better than ten programmes. It is true that the practical membership of the working class in a class party is the precondition for class politics. But this is only the precondition, not the guarantee. While Marx declared that one actual step forward was better than ten programmes, he was no less strongly critical of the Gotha programme, which was full of errors. It is not difficult to demonstrate today that the 'Gotha compromise' contributed, in its own way, to facilitating and encouraging the spread of reformist illusions of German Social-Democracy, meaning that it helped prepare for the catastrophes of 1914, 1918 and 1933. Even when the working class overwhelmingly follows a party, this does not automatically imply that the party is right about everything it says or does, or even about its general political line. It does not exempt us from scrutinising the party’s political line through the lens of experience and theoretical criticism.
This is all the more true when the masses turn away from a workers' party for a certain period of time. First of all, one has the right to ask: is not the policy of this party at issue here? Perhaps the errors of the past have caused the apathy of the masses today? Even more one has the right to ask: Is the present party policy capable of helping the masses to overcome their fatigue and disorientation? Or is it itself an additional factor in confusing the masses?
You say that in 1944 the masses had nationalist illusions. But had the not done everything it could to create and maintain such illusions? And what, even after 1944, did it undertake to fight such illusions? Did it not, on the contrary, maintain them with all its strength? You say that today the masses are sceptical, disoriented, filled with a feeling of weakness. You say that they refuse to fight because they are certain of defeat (p. 229). You say that the actions of the seem to them to be marred by inefficiency (p. 232). But at the same time you add: 'the Communist leaders studied the international situation, evaluated the forces confronting each other, and decided that a limited (!) operation would contribute in its feeble way to modifying the relationship of these forces' (p. 71). Excuse me: if the masses were really what they are, the adventure of 4 June was... an adventure, an undertaking that was doomed to inevitable failure. It was destined to increase 'in its feeble way' the fatigue and scepticism of the workers, to modify even more the relationship of forces in favour of the bourgeoisie. And you blame it on the masses, disoriented by the past policy of the , and not on the leaders of this party, incapable not only of learning from their past mistakes, but even of correctly assessing the conditions resulting from these mistakes?
There have been times in the history of the workers' movement when the parties that had the support of the majority of the working class did not follow a policy in line with the interests of that class. The reasons for this historical diversion must be analysed concretely on a case-by-case basis. These reasons can be discussed. It cannot be denied that the phenomenon exists.6 Macdonald and Attlee, the support for the Empire, narrow-minded parliamentarianism, all this certainly did not reflect the immediate or historical interests of the British working class. And yet the Labour Party, for half a century, has been at the head of the British working class. The destruction of the revolution of 1918, the alliance with the general staff of the army, the surrender without a fight to the Nazis: all this certainly did not reflect the immediate and historical interests of the German proletariat. And yet Social Democracy retained the support of the majority of the German working class between 1918 and 1933, and if we are not mistaken, it has retained this support even today. Such situations obviously impose complicated tasks on revolutionary minorities who are conscious of expressing the interests of their class, but who have not yet convinced the majority of that class itself. Again, one could argue about the correct attitude that such a minority should adopt. But it remains no less true that the fact that to know whether or not a political current reflects the interests of its class is first studied in the concrete analysis of its political line, and of the real or probable effects of this political line on history. This analysis is carried out with the help of the Marxist principles that embody the experiences of one hundred and fifty years of proletarian class struggle, and not with the help of the banal syllogism: every class chooses for itself the direction that suits it and whose politics therefore automatically corresponds to its interests, otherwise it would choose another direction. 'Like leaders, like mass; like mass, like leaders' (p. 114, 115).
In your analysis of the French worker today, there are elements of a correct assessment. But you do not succeed in bringing them together because your metaphysics of the absolute hinders your efforts. You say on the one hand that the proletariat is weakened and discouraged by the lack of perspectives for generalized action, and you correctly establish the enormous role played by the trade union split in this state of affairs. On the other hand, you note that the working class deeply disapproves of current bourgeoisie politics. You even say that it has a profoundly revolutionary attitude, that it desires a fundamental upheaval of things (pp. 230-321). You could have added: its class enemy, the French bourgeoisie, has not succeeded in stabilizing the economic and political situation. And as a result, it is exposed to a hundred financial, military, political, economic crises, from which the proletariat can profit, which can suddenly lead to an explosion. That this bourgeoisie has to face the growing pressure of the popular revolts of Indochina and North Africa, which obliges it to disperse its forces and which increase the chances of a revival of workers activity. You could also have added that the cadres of the French workers' movement are still intact, not broken or atomized as they were in 1939-1940. From all this analysis it follows that, in sum, it is only a question of partial defeats and not of the decisive step backwards. Those who sang Hallelujah yesterday are the same ones who sing the De Profundis today, and both attitudes correspond little possible to reality. A turnaround is still possible. All forces must be spend towards reaching this turn-around. The first condition needed to achieve for this is the policy of the united front. We must be wary of all violence of language, of all battles for communication and prestige. The 'workers fatigue' is far from increased if its acknowledged (p. 206), on the contrary, it is increased when such are methods used.7 It is necessary to restore the forces and the confidence of the class in itself through a series of partial battles, based on the realisation of the unity of the workers' front, and by this assured of success. Such a policy alone is today realistic and effective. The current policy of the PCF, which links to crude opportunism a propaganda of empty-headed activist sectarianism, is itself a factor which each day pushes labour a little more into powerlessness and disorientation. The task for those who want to help the French working class to redress the situation of the country consists, among other things, in a ruthless criticism of this incorrect policy of the , and not in the excuse or apology of this policy on the pretext of the fatigue of the masses!
Workers' leadership and bureaucratic orders
By identifying the party with the class, you are led to condemn the class instead of the party when this metaphysical unity practically dissolves before your eyes. By identifying the class and the party a priori, without regard to the real, concrete content of the party, without analysing its politics and its effects on social development, you are obliged to make apologies for the bureaucrat, for blind discipline, for mystical and irrational faith. In this way you trample on all the qualities which, for a Marxist, are the essence of revolutionary struggle.
What deep contempt for the proletariat that you wish to help, which you wish to join, comes through in these terrible words: 'The great majority of workers [...] give birth to the class when they obey (!) all the orders of the leaders. In exchange for observing discipline they observe, they have the right not to be bothered by ''powwows'' (p. 128). 'Freedom of criticism, on the other hand, makes not only the cell leader or the union representative frown: everyone is afraid of it in others; it recalls the earlier isolation, the discords’' (p.130). How you have to fear your own isolation to flagellate your own critical spirit! How ignorant you are of the real workers' movement, the real working class!
In the large factory the capitalist regime takes away from the workers their human dignity and the value of the human person. It transforms them into simple means of production endowed with language. It degrades and dulls them. It turns the worker into a finished product of human alienation. The workers' movement begins by lifting up the person. It takes the worker out of the darkness and leads him towards the light. It diverts him away from the entertainment hall and towards the public library. It does not only give the worker the feeling of strength through common action and discipline. He gives him a sense of his own human worth through conscious action and freely accepted discipline. The bridge between bourgeois society and socialism is not just any agglomerated proletariat movement, regardless of its direction - just look at the American trade unions! - it is the proletariat coming to the understanding of its historical interests. It is the practical and theoretical education of the working class in Marxist theory, the supreme expression of working class consciousness. Remove the development of workers' consciousness, and the party becomes a form without content. Take away the development of the workers' critical sense towards their own leaders, and you take away the same critical sense towards existing society and its leaders. Then you will have precisely that 'deformed mass' that Stalinist leaders will want to 'educate' with a stick. 8
It is true that by overcoming the maleficence of the division of labour, by accumulating study and practical experience, the leaderships of workers organisations are capable of a better grasp of the situation as a whole, of correcting the narrow horizon of the ordinary worker and his tendency to limit his ambitions to what is immediately accessible. But by rising above their class, the directions inevitably to an extent diverge from it. When diverting from their class, they feel the constant pressure of opposing classes and social strata. The critical examination of their attitude, their way of life, their thoughts and above all their actions by the mass of the members, the widest possible freedom of criticism by these members in relation to their leaders represents one of the essential guarantees against degeneration.9 Such critical evaluation makes possible participation in the development of political work! Thus we are moving towards the abolition of the division of labour between 'followers' and 'leaders", which is the basis for the disappearance of all workers' bureaucracy. This is, of course, a goal to be achieved, not a 'state of affairs' to be established overnight. But this goal is inseparably linked to the advancement towards socialism. The less there is freedom of criticism within the Party, the more the workers are accustomed to 'obeying' instead of thinking for themselves, the more the apparatus becomes autonomous and separates itself from the base; and the more this apparatus will follow a policy which no longer defends the interests of the class, but its own particular interests, the less it will act effectively from the point of view of the victory of socialism. This dialectic of ends and means seems to be something you suddenly seem to forget after having stated it so many times yourself.
Consider the profound words that Lenin devoted to the central role of the consciousness of the proletariat, of the consciousness of each member of the Party, as he liked to say, in the struggle for socialism: 'It is entirely a matter of knowing how to apply these tactics [of compromise] in order to raise—not lower—the general level of proletarian class-consciousness, revolutionary spirit, and ability to fight and win.'10
'How is the discipline of the proletariat’s revolutionary party maintained? [...] First, by the class-consciousness of the proletarian vanguard and by its devotion to the revolution, by its tenacity, self-sacrifice and heroism. Second, by its ability to link up, maintain the closest contact, and—if you wish—merge, in certain measure, with the broadest masses of the working people [...] Third, by the correctness of the political leadership exercised by this vanguard, by the correctness of its political strategy and tactics, provided the broad masses have seen, from their own experience.'11
It is true that when the greater masses convince themselves by their own experience of the fallacy of strategy and tactics, obedience, which has no place in Lenin's analysis, must occupy a principal place in apology for the PCF!
And again, in another text by Lenin:
'To conceal from the people the fact that the enlistment of bourgeois experts by means of extremely high salaries is a retreat from the principles of the Paris Commune would be sinking to the level of bourgeois politicians and deceiving the people. Frankly explaining how and why we took this step backward, and then publicly discussing what means are available for making up for lost time, means educating the people and learning from experience, learning together with the people how to build socialism...12
It is true that Lenin was an 'idealist possibilist' who imagined himself building a state where 'the whole population learns to govern and begins to govern". Did he not write that 'Our aim is to draw the whole of the poor into the practical work of administration, and all steps that are taken in this direction—the more varied they are, the better—should be carefully recorded, studied, systematised, tested by wider experience and embodied in law. Our aim is to ensure that every toiler, having finished his eight hours' “task” in productive labour, shall perform state duties without pay; the transition to this is particularly difficult, but this transition alone can guarantee the final consolidation of socialism.' As if to answer the sad objections of a thousand intellectuals dragging themselves through the mud in front of a Stalinist bureaucrat, he wrote:
"The more resolutely we now have to stand for a ruthlessly firm government, for the dictatorship of individuals in definite processes of work, in definite aspects of purely executive functions, the more varied must be the forms and methods of control from below in order to counteract every shadow of a possibility of distorting the principles of Soviet government, in order repeatedly and tirelessly to weed out bureaucracy.'13
It is also true that historical experience teaches us that the periods of growth of the workers' movement—I am thinking of Russia between 1903 and 1917, Germany 1913 to 1923, Spain and France from 1934 to 1937—are periods of the most intense critical activity of tens and hundreds of thousands of proletarians participating in meetings, asking for the word, expressing personal opinions, forming groups and sub-groups, forming trends and fractions, editing specific journals, taking a thousand new and unexpected initiatives. It is precisely from this intense, feverish activity by the masses that the revolutionary party constantly draws its strength. It correctly establishes a real authority by the practical confrontation of its politics with those of its opponents and allies. This same experience also teaches us that periods of 'obedience' are periods of retreat, of defeat, of numb passivity of the workers' movement, in which the 'movement' is practically reduced to 'the apparatus", because of the inactivity of the masses.
But all these lessons no longer mean anything to you, J.P. Sartre. You no longer seek to establish objective laws. You seek to subjectively justify your submission to the bureaucratic command system of Stalinism. That is why you have to glorify obedience, submission, the degradation of the rank and file workers in the Stalinist organisations, when the whole spirit of the workers' movement and communism lies precisely in the education of workers to independent judgment, to a critical spirit, to first leadership of their own organisations and then of entire society! 14
The contradictory nature of the Stalinist parties
Still enveloped in your metaphysics of the absolute, you barely understand the real nature of the Stalinist parties. 'From what does the bureaucracy of the French CP arise?’, you ask yourself. 'It doesn't come from the masses, since you accuse the Political Bureau of 'sacrificing their fundamental interests' [...] Nor out of the structure of our society, since it's a bourgeois society [...] And as to its submission [inféodation] to the USSR, there are two possibilities: either you show that this submission is necessary today for a revolutionary party [...] or you will say, like Bourdet, that it is possible to escape this domination: in this case, individual errors, lack of understanding of the situation, character defects (conformism, cowardice, etc.) which will explain the inertia of the CP. (p. 745).
All these rather simplistic 'contradictions' are resolved when one asks a simple question: where does the reformist bureaucracy Lenin talks about come from? Where does the trade union bureaucracy in Britain and the United States come from? From the structure of our bourgeois society? But if a Laval, a Briand, a Millerand, a Macdonald pass into the ranks of the bourgeoisie, they cease to be workers bureaucrats and become mere bourgeois politicians! Obviously, the reformist bureaucracy comes from the links between the workers movement and bourgeois society. The trade-union leaders, the intermediaries in the sale of labor-power, are as attached to trade unionism as they are to bourgeois democracy. If by misfortune the bourgeoisie suppresses the unions, the trade-union leaders lose their situation, their privileges. But this relationship is complex. It gives the bureaucracy of the reformist parties a contradictory character. The specific ideology of this bureaucracy—Marxism watered down with reformism—corresponds roughly to its contradictory character of bureaucratic interests. It in turn reacts to the behaviour of leaders and parties. Caught in the trap of their own illusions, the German Social Democratic leaders allowed themselves to be disarmed without a fight by Hitler, and were chased into concentration camps or emigration. This experience in turn changed the behaviour of the reformist leaders in Austria and Spain, where an armed struggle against fascism was just about to begin. But this armed struggle was led by reformists and not by revolutionaries. It was by forcibly confined within the framework of bourgeois democracy. The revolutionary fighting potential of the masses was shattered and thus an inevitable defeat was realized.
The analogy with the Stalinist parties is striking. The mass Stalinist parties are led by a powerful bureaucracy, which has largely become autonomous from the masses and is immovable in relation to its militants. It draws its material privileges from on the one hand the strength of its organisations and on the other from the authority it receives from the Kremlin. The Kremlin in turn is interested in the existence of strong Stalinist parties as effective instruments of its policy of pressure on the bourgeoisie. But it sees in them exactly such instruments, and not means for the conquest of power by the proletariat.15 The bureaucrats of the Stalinist parties are prisoners of this system which results from the strangulation of the critical spirit and of internal democracy in the Communist parties. They cannot rebel against Moscow because there is always a spare-team already there to take their place. They cannot bend one hundred percent to the interests of the Kremlin because this would risk alienating the masses and becoming powerless and ineffective, even from the Kremlin's point of view. They are forced to waver constantly between these two poles of attraction—the Kremlin and the mass movement—which explains their innumerable 'tactical turns' and 'self-criticism", the 'purifications' whether as scapegoats for yesterday's mistakes or as potential elements for the crystallization of workers' opposition. In the end, these turns of events engender a purely pragmatic, opportunist policy, incapable of understanding reality, bewildered by a rapidly evolving situation: that of the disorientation of the throughout 1952. It is not the mood, or the character, or the individual error, but the social nature of the Stalinist parties, based both on the workers' movement of their countries and on the Soviet bureaucracy, and caught in the contradictions of bureaucratic centralism, which explains the oscillations of their politics. It is this social nature that explains both why Stalinist leaders sometimes scuttle revolutionary situations (1936, 1944-45) and sometimes make themselves the channels through which the revival and expansion of the workers movement pass (1934-36, 1942-44).
But here your argument turns against yourself. You admit that the PCF was mistaken in the manner in which it launched the action of 28 May (p. 71). You also admit that the Italian PC made a mistake in not making sufficient use of the magnificent spontaneous explosion of July 14, 1948. You will doubt admit that halting the magnificent movement in June 1936, far from having protected the country against Hitler, ensured him of victory in June 1940. You will no doubt also admit that the refusal of the German CP to stand in Hitler's way by concluding a unity of action pact with the SPD was a grave mistake. The list of these 'mistakes' could be extended at will. How do you explain them? Because of their allegiance to the USSR? But the coming to power of Hitler, the defeat of the French and Spanish working class in 1938-1939, the retreat of the French and Italian working class today, are contrary to the interests of the USSR. They have cost the USSR thousands of dead, the devastation of its most fertile provinces, ten years of delay in industrialisation (according to Georgy Malenkov). Those 'mistakes' today cost the USSR a threatening Third World War, the exhausting burden of rearmament, and losing years of progress towards socialism. How then to explain these 'errors"? There is no point in taking them off Thorez's shoulders and putting them back on those of Stalin or Andrei Zhdanov. The errors of a small number of people could, at most, explain this or that historical incident. But such errors cannot explain an entire historical epoch without making history incomprehensible, irrational, devoid of any internal logic. No other coherent explanation of these events has been given apart from the coming into existence of a Soviet bureaucracy with its own specific, precise and contradictory interests, the product of the isolation of the revolution in a backward country. This explanation is more than enough for us to see meaning where you see the absurd, to sketch out laws where you declare from the outset that only future generations will be able to see clearly (p. 109).
You quote (p. 253) a passage from Trotsky which says: 'The present Soviet society cannot get along without a state, nor even – within limits – without a bureaucracy.".16 One has a right to demand more good faith and knowledge from you when dealing with such matters. Naturally, Soviet society, as well as any society in transition from capitalism to socialism, cannot do without the state and, for the same reason, without a bureaucracy (of full-time civil servants). The withering away of both is a long and painful historical process, for which many material and social preconditions must first be created. It is not only Trotsky who says this. You can find this in Marx and in countless passages of Lenin. But that is not what we are talking about in the case of the USSR. That is not the kind of state and bureaucracy we are talking about when we deal with the question of Stalinism. Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, when they said that after the victorious socialist revolution it was inevitable to keep the state, social inequality, bureaucracy—a certain bureaucracy—for a prolonged period, added at the same time: but the closer one gets to socialism, the more the state, the social inequality, the bureaucracy must wither away! In order to ensure this process, the mass of workers must very closely control this bureaucracy from the very beginning. Lenin, in the article you had the unfortunate idea of quoting to prove that Stalin became executor of his last will, 17reduces the whole problem to the question:Who controls whom?
The Soviet reality shows: the state, far from withering away, has taken on the most monstrous dimensions encountered in human history. Social inequality, far from diminishing, is constantly increasing. The bureaucracy, far from showing any tendency to disappear, has submitted to it the state and the party,18 based its power on exorbitant material privileges and to a large extent uses the omnipotent state apparatus to secure and defend these privileges. The defence of such privileges is not only a hindrance to building socialism in the USSR, but is also damaging to the cause of socialism outside the USSR. In Trotsky's opinion, this uncontrollable and omnipotent bureaucracy is so unnecessary in the USSR that he spent eighteen years fighting it. Lenin considered this bureaucracy so dangerous to the survival of the workers' state that in the last years of his life he focused on attacking it. It is this bureaucracy, its place in today's USSR, which explains the question 'how has October 1917 been able to end up in the cruelly hierarchical society whose features are gradually becoming clear before our eyes?' It is this bureaucracy that explains why, whereas 'in Lenin, Trotsky, and a fortiori Marx, there is not a word which is not sane, which does not still speak today to men of all lands, which does not help us understand what is going on in our own', 'after so much lucidity, intelligence, and sacrifice' follow 'the ten million deported Soviet citizens, the stupidity of censorship, the panic of justifications.' No doubt you recognised the prose of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Temps Modernes, January 1950)?19
The intentions pave the road to the confessional
The metaphysics you have embarked on is a coherent system. The gears are interlocking, the mechanism is ready to turn. The only realistic possible is the realised possible. Ergo, the only possible workers' policy in France is the effectively realised policy, that of the . The proletariat is a class only to the extent that it is one with the workers' party as it is, that is to say with the bureaucratised of today. There is therefore only one way to act in the interest of the proletariat: to accept, to follow the policy effectively advocated by the PCF. There is therefore also only one way to integrate oneself into the workers' struggle: to obey the orders of the bureaucrats, and no longer be troubled by the eternal 'waffling' of the opponents. This is your royal road to the workers' movement and communism, J.P. Sartre!
But you have to be logical with yourself. If the policy of the PCF is the only possible, realistic policy of today, anything that thwarts this policy offers no alternative to the working class. So, to counteract Stalinist policy, to criticise it even, is simply to disintegrate the working class somewhat, because by detaching it from the does the class not disintegrate? So, is not fighting, countering, even criticising the policy of the 'objectively' helping the bourgeoisie and imperialism, is it not 'objectively' betrayal? But in fact, have you not, until very recently, criticized, even virulently, the PCF, Stalinism, the USSR? Are you not yourself at best a repentant traitor? The intention, of course, is honourable: to join the working class, to help it in its heavy struggle against a bourgeoisie as infamous as it is degenerate, to help it to go against the stream, to help it bring to the country the bright future of socialism [les lendemains qui chantent du socialisme]. But the best intentions in the world can lead to the confessional, if the critic is paralysed by irrational faith, if one surrenders the ability to analyse, to conclude, to know, to take action, into the hands of an infallible pope, of a beloved leader or of mysterious 'future generations'. Adherence then becomes submission, theory becomes apologetics. Is the path to the confessional so appealing to you?
Maybe you are outraged. You will invoke your text: 'The purpose of this article is to declare my agreement with the Communists on precise and limited subjects, reasoning from my principles and not from theirs' (p. 68). This is what makes the intention decidedly honourable. But all the same, you did not leave it at intention. You wanted to prohibit the playing of Dirty Hands while the congress of Vienna was taking place. Performing your play—from which you have not yet taken anything away, of course—at that very moment was to objectively help the imperialists in the Cold War. In fact on can asks: why only at that very moment? Did the imperialists not use your play against the USSR as soon as it was written, as soon as the Cold War broke out? And at that Congress in Vienna, where you spoke to 'unanimous' applause, did you say a single word about the terrible defeat of humanity that had just occurred in Prague, about the thirteen hanged as traitors, as 'imperialist-Zionist-Trotskyist' agents?20 I already tire you? How can Roger Vailland write: 'So much noise for the shooting of a few generals!'21 Is keeping the peace not a much more important undertaking than saving a few unfortunate people, victims of a miscarriage of justice, and after all, not any protest would have saved them. Come on, let us be 'effective ', let us silence our disagreements, let us cover the groans of the victims with the applause of Vienna. 22 It is for a good cause, the intention is pure, whatever, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. And then, what a relief it is to get rid of the 'waffling', including of the interior monologue. What a joy to be able to finally stop thinking for oneself, to surrender into the hands of the Party the responsibility one felt for the fate of the world. What joy and relief, in a word, to finally be able to obey...
You know them, these despicable sophisms, for many years you fought and refuted them. You know very well that ultimately the truth can not harm communism, however painful it may seem. You know that Lenin wrote that to deceive the masses is to stoop down to the level of a bourgeois politician. You know very well, because you wrote it yourself, that if there is permanent repression and the repressive apparatus becomes autonomous, it is because productive forces are stifled by the forms of production. With beautiful irony you fought all the traps laid by the concept of the 'lesser evil’. Did all of this suddenly cease to be true? Or are you already ripe for your first 'self-criticism'? After the first step, are the second and third already on the way to the confessional? Can we already hear the hammering of the gallows for the accused to confess all his crimes?
Do you know why they confessed, the unfortunate victims of the trials in Moscow, Budapest, Sofia, Prague? Not because they were 'trotskyites’, but because they never were (or had not been for a long time). Not because some kind of poison had paralysed their mental faculties, but because the physical and moral pressure was sinking into a defenceless mental organism, paralysed by an overall agreement with Stalinist themes. The mystery of the confessions becomes clear as soon as it is known that the accused broadly agreed with their accusers; the disagreements, if there were any, only concerned the details; they therefore already more than half believed in their guilt. For if it is true that the only possible workers' policy is Stalinist policy, by opposing this policy, one has objectively...and so and so on. All the same, Sartre, not so long ago you took the measure of 'the illusion of today 's Communists in regard to the origin of the concentrationist system'!23 Does it tempt you to sacrifice yourself for the greater good of this system?
Your intentions, I say, are pure. Even more, your intentions are honourable. It is to your credit that you attempt to join the workers' movement not when it seems all-powerful, but when it seems weak and in retreat; to declare yourself outright in favour of revolution, refusing Camus' sophisms; to refuse to join any anti-Soviet campaign, rejecting the even more crude sophisms of a David Rousset, and finally, faced with the threat of war, you put yourself on the side of the USSR against imperialism. On all these points we agree with you. As long as the capitalist regime persists, not the least of its crimes can be excused by parallel misdeeds of the Soviet bureaucracy. As long as proletarians stand up against this regime, we must participate in their struggle, regardless of the momentary leadership that leads these struggles. For twenty-five years we have followed this line of conduct consistently and without wavering, despite all the attacks and repression we suffered.
But such participation is not an honourable attitude. It is an action that has to be effective, meaning subject to conditions, that is goal-oriented. The goal is to help proletarians to free themselves, therefore to give a leadership capable of freeing themselves. The aim is to create the best conditions for this emancipation. The conditions are never to surrender one's own critical thinking, one's independent analysis of the politics of the 'bosses", but to use the smallest breaches, the slightest incidents, to increase the workers' confidence in their own strength, their critical spirit and their awareness of their own interests. It is, in a word, to participate in the real movement aiming not to adapt to it, but to raise it to a higher level. It is to stand shoulder to shoulder with the comrades of the , not in order to apologise for Stalinism but to emancipate them from Stalinism.
At the same time, this is the most important prerequisite for your participation to be effective! When you addressed the 'Congrès des peuples pour la paix", the vast majority of whose participants were paid functionaries and isolated 'personalities", you had the impression that you were connecting with the French working class.24 You are mistaken. The working class was not present at that meeting. Ask Andrè Marty and Charles Tillon how little interest they have in these interminable collections of signatures, these interminable calls for the conclusion of a 'peace pact between the Big Five". You will render a thousand times more service to the working class, you will have a thousand times more echo within it, if you engage in a courageous campaign in favour of the United Front, from the bottom to the top, between the PCF and the SFIO. You say that today Auguste Lecœur is against? Perhaps he is, but is the local worker also 'against'? You say that we underestimate the ravages of anti-communism among the socialist workers? Do you not also underestimate the fear of reaction, of the police state, of war, which is growing among socialist voters? Do the elections in the Lot and the North, where thousands of undecided voters abstained in the first round, but in the second round supported the front-running workers' candidate, tell you nothing? The Unity of Action Pact of 1934 was concluded after four years of 'unsuccessful' attempts on our part to bring it to a successful conclusion. But it was concluded all the same and how salutary its effects were! And to conclude it, independent personalities from both parties played an important role as intermediaries. This is a role that you, Sartre, should try to play more than take the road to the confessional!
Communism will win!
You are seriously mistaken when you assume (p. 251) that in our opinion we are going through a 'counter-revolutionary period' since the masses are still following the Stalinist leadership. Such childish conclusions, unworthy of Marxism, are absolutely foreign to us. For us, the nature of a period is not primarily determined by the leadership of the movement of the masses, but by the magnitude of the movement. There is for us no absolute, mechanical determination of one over the other. Never in the history of capitalism has there been a period in which, worldwide, the number of participants, the vehemence and the scope of this movement of the masses has been as great as it is today. This is why we consider the present period an eminently revolutionary period.
The growing global imbalance of the capitalist economy; the revolt of colonial and semi-colonial peoples; the fact that the proletariat in the advanced countries retains its strength, despite many partial defeats; the scepticism of the possessing classes about the future of their own regime; the impetus with which the exploited launch each time anew into struggles of truly revolutionary scope—all these dominant features of our time justify this characterisation and our confidence in the final victory of communism. On a global scale, the balance of power is evolving in a way that is increasingly unfavourable to capitalism. Hundreds of millions of people are standing up against it. Its fate, in fact, is already settled. It is only a question of shortening the suffering that capitalism will still be able to inflict on humanity before it disappears.
This eminently revolutionary character of our time also sounds the death knell for the Soviet bureaucracy. The Soviet bureaucracy 'is the product of an epoch of reaction and the world victory of counter-revolution. It reaches the apogee of its power when the masses are passive, skeptical, take no interest in what the 'leaders' are up to, and are without the capacity to intervene in political life. Such an epoch belongs, on a world scale, irrevocably to the past. Today, a large part of humanity is filled with hope in the cause of socialism. It is not receding, it is flowing into political life. It is not passive, obedient, demoralised; it is active, often with arms in hand, and it is taking its final push to defeat the enemy. It is very difficult to educate such a working class in 'strict obedience", to break it down, to make it conformist. Above all, such an impulse becomes more and more difficult to control. In Yugoslavia it was already impossible to do so. The Stalinist leadership preferred to throw the PCY into the bourgeois camp. It could no longer be done in China were they were obliged to admit a kind of alliance with China on an equal basis. Tomorrow, they can no longer exclude or dominate large parts of the workers' movement in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Britain. This is how the emancipation of the proletariat from Stalinist control accompanies its emancipation from capitalist exploitation.
Of course, there is no mechanical correspondence between these two processes. Not every single broad movement of the masses allows the French or Italian working class to reject the Stalinist leadership, to build in the heat of battle a new and true communist party. The construction of such a party, the gathering of its cadres, the preparation of its victory, requires a lot of time, a lot of experience, a lot of skill on the part of those who are preparing for it, inside and outside the . The shock of great events will be necessary to make the project advance. But these events are not sufficient in themselves. There stills needs to be the diligent, patient, tenacious and, above all, efficient, skillful work of those who see today the historical necessity of it. The new workers' leadership, in order to be effective, will have to emerge from the fusion between the cadres who embody the programme and those who embody the practical experience of the class. Working towards this goal is our task. The possibility of success has been demonstrated in many foreign countries.
You say that Trotskyism appears to be an art of waiting. To a certain extent this is true. It was Lenin who said that the art of knowing how to wait is the first quality that distinguishes revolutionaries. They must have the patience to wait for the revolution, for which they work and prepare themselves, even when it does not seem to be waiting for them at the first turn of the road. But the era of waiting historically ended in 1944. Today it is about something else. It is about giving the awakened, growing international working class an effective leadership. If you absolutely want a formula in line with your concerns, say that Trotskyism is the art of adapting the means to the end, the art of achieving victory over capitalism by the only means which ensure a rapid and real transition to socialism : the blossoming of the working class' awareness of strength and self-confidence. All the means that lead to this result are good. All means which divert from this result, whatever the intention or pretext or immediate effect, are bad, because in the end they move away from the worldwide socialist goal. There was a time when you seemed to be on the threshold of grasping this simple and fundamental truth.25 We still hope that you will grasp it one day, today or tomorrow. Without grasping it, you will never make the rendezvous with the real workers' movement, you will never make the rendezvous with communism.
Paris, 9th January 1953
1 [Page-numbers in brackets refer to Jean-Paul Sartre, The Communists and the Peace. With a Reply to Claude Lefort (New York, 1968). Translation by Alex de Jong]
2 The French section of the Fourth International at the time.
3 ‘When the metaphysician hears that one who serves society must take his stand on reality, he imagines that he is being advised to make his peace with that reality. He is unaware that in every economic reality there exist contradictory elements, and that to make his peace with reality would mean making his peace with only one of its elements, namely that which dominates for the moment. The dialectical materialists pointed, and point, to another element of reality, hostile to the first, and one in which the future is maturing.' G. Plekhanov: The Development of the Monist View of History, 1895. Online at: [www.marxists.org/archive/plekhanov/1895/monist/conc.htm].
4 ‘[T]o act is to modify the shape of the world; it is to arrange means in view of an end; it is to produce an organized instrumental complex such that by a series of concatenations and connections the modification effected on one of the links causes modifications throughout the whole series and finally produces an anticipated result. (emphasis added). See: Sartre, Being and Nothingness (New York, 1978), p. 433. The policy of the PCF does not even deserve the adjective 'practice' according to this criterium. The Vichyists are in power, and France is pat of the anti-Soviet alliance – is this the 'anticipated result' of the PCF policy from 1944 to 1947? There is no worse condemnation of a powerful party than to find that it was an objective instrument of hostile forces, that its actions led to the opposite of what it sought to achieve, that despite its power it proved powerless to determine the general direction of developments.
5 We do not know where you find in our writings that the working class by ignoring (!) the untimely strike, proved its dynamism (?) by not participating in the 4 June movement (p. 260). The text you quote says something else: It says that as a consequence of the missed opportunity of 1944, in 1952 the disoriented and weakened working class is momentarily passive, but it will learn from this experience, and then, when it sees a new upsurge, it will no longer miss such opportunities.
6 'The need for expression may also come from the fact that existing parties, for various reasons, do not fulfil their task, which is precisely to express needs' (J. P. Sartre in Sartre, David Rousset, Gérard Rosenthal, Entretiens sur la Politique (Paris, 1949), p. 20).
7 You admit (p. 66) that the arrest of Mr. Duclos was a trap set by the bourgeoisie of the P.C.F. You admit that the demonstration of 28 May was in advance condemned to failure (p. 71). But you justify the crude way in which the disoriented leaders of the PCF allowed themselves to be trapped, by affirming... that the Party must advance or disappear (p. 59). Reread Lenin's lucid pages on the fools who do not know how to retreat when the balance of forces is unfavourable! It is true that for you politics are theatre (p. 57). For Lenin, politics demanded a sense of responsibility rather than a sense of drama, because the lives of millions of human beings depend on it.
8 'Wanting to save others without them means to remove all value from the salvation imposed on them',
Francis Jeanson, Le problème moral et la pensée de Sartre (Paris, 1947), pp. 354-5).
'Marx himself distinguishes between two conditions of action: one is that each moment of this struggle is a stage in the emancipation of the proletariat.... I seem to remember that class struggle and emancipation of the proletariat were conceived by Marx as always having to go hand in hand. This was even what could serve as a golden rule, which allowed to push back, in certain cases, certain tactics or certain procedures because it seemed that, even if they allowed a provisional success, they were not compatible with this emancipation.' (J. P. Sartre in Entretiens sur la Politique, p. 23).
9 Another guarantee is fidelity to the principles of Marxism, the highest expression of workers' interests, verified in the light of the whole history of workers' struggle.
10 Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder, 1920. Online at [https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch08.htm].
11 Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder, 1920. Online at [https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch02.htm].
12 Lenin, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, 1918. Online at [https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/mar/x03.htm].
13 Lenin, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government.
14 "We must not forget that ignorance in all its forms is an effect of oppression, and that it prepares for new oppressions' (J. P. Sartre in Entretiens sur la Politique, p. 141).
15 Where they (the leaders of the PCF) think 'use of the masses", we think 'liberation of the proletariat". (J.-P. Sartre in Entretiens sur la Politique, p. 204).
16 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, 1936. Online at: [https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/revbet/ch05.htm].
17 He even attempted to prevent it from being published (see the article by my friend Pierre Frank in the October 1952 issue of Fourth International: 'Jean-Paul Sartre, le léninisme et le stalinisme’ [online at https://www.marxists.org/francais/frank/works/1952/10/sartre.htm].
18 At the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR, figures on the social composition of the party were carefully avoided. But the party delegate in Moscow, comrade Furzewa, speaking on October 10, said that out of 475.000 party members and candidates in the Soviet capital, more than a third were officials of ministries and central state administrations! Add to this the economic, party and military officials, and you find that the party has become a party of bureaucrats in the immediate sense of the word.
19 [Maurice Merleau Ponty, Signs (n.p., 1965), p. 289].
20 There is no point in saying that this action of the united front was limited to points on which you agreed with the CP. If the united front leads to abandoning the freedom of criticism, it ceases to be a united front and becomes subordination, the first step towards capitulation.
21 [This was a comment on the 1952 Slansky trial, a show trial against members of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia with anti-Semitic overtones].
22 'We cannot evade our responsibility to others. Our silence acts on them as our words do, our departure disturbs them as much as our presence, our indifference can cost them as much as our intervention, our unthinking care can sometimes be fatal to them'. Prophetic words when applied to your 'situation' in Vienna in regards to the hanged men in Prague. You have undoubtedly situated them. They are by your friend Francis Jeanson (Le problème moral et la pensée de Sartre, p. 364).
23 [A reference to Sartre's cooperation with David Rousset, a political activist who had denounced the use of concentration camps by the USSR and other regimes.]
24 By the way, you who insisted so much in your recent article in Le Monde on the democratic character of this Congress, what do you say about the gross distortion made by Pravda of interventions critical of Soviet policy? What do you say about the fact that Joliot-Curie, Nenni and Co. left unanswered the request for participation in the Congress by the Executive Committee of the Fourth International?
25 'If the leader can make mistakes, if failures can compromise his action, if, conversely, he needs to distort the positive qualities to the extreme in order to be successful, then the masses again become the main factor in the social struggle. Depending on whether or not they clearly discern the goals of the project, depending on whether or not they adhere to them, depending on whether or not they exhaust all their energy towards their realisation, or whether or not they allow themselves to be passively led (sic), the goals have more or less chance of being achieved [...]. From there one can understand how the necessary dictatorship of the proletariat can be reconciled with the exercise of socialist democracy'. (J.-P. Sartre in his preface to Louis Dalmas Le Communisme Yougoslave Depuis La Rupture Avec Moscou, 1950, p. xxxviii).