Thomas Bell
(British Delegate)

French Communists in Congress

Source: The Communist, November 4, 1922.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE Congress of the Communist Party of France which opened at the Maison de Syndicates, Paris on Sunday, Oct. 16th, and lasted till Thursday, 19th, marks another milestone in the Consolidation of all the forces of the Communist International.

Since the Congress at Tours when the French S.P. decided by a majority to adhere to the Third International, and become the Communist Party of France, there has been a fierce struggle around policy within the Party between the elements of the LEFT and the elements of the RIGHT and the CENTRE. In this struggle the relation of the Press to the Executive has occupied a prominent place.

The Party is still top heavy with intellectuals and literateurs. It suffers from a corps of free-lance journalists who air their own views to the confounding of the Party membership and the working class generally. It is, for example, no uncommon thing to have prominent writers opposing the Communist International and Soviet Russia.

The same thing applies to its organisational machinery. Federation is still the keystone of the Party, with the result that that centralised direction and control demanded by the Communist International is absent.

It was well known that this struggle was bound to come to a head at this Congress and probably result in an open cleavage. Not that the Comintern desired a cleavage. As a matter of fact the patience, and tolerance of the Comintern has been astonishing considering the things that have been said and done by leading personalities in the Party especially since the Thesis on the United Front issued last December.

The Comintern knows that one cannot transform an old standing social democratic party into a Communist party by a mere change of name. It knows that there are still elements in the Party that would be considered RIGHT WING even in the camp of the Longuets. For many of these elements Communism is a big debate; the class struggle something to orate about.

But the Communist International is above all an international of action, and when the French Party or a section of it argue that the E.C.C.I. has no authority to declare for a United Front but that we must wait for the next Annual Congress, or begins to argue with the Central Executive about the impracticality of its application to France, then we land back into the camp of the Second International and the situation becomes intolerable.

At the enlarged Executive meeting in Moscow of February this year, these problems of the French Party came up given special consideration. Pledges were given and remedies to be effected to bring the Party into line with the requirements of the Comintern. After long arguments consent was given to the Executive demands and brave words uttered about being loyal to and accepting like soldiers, the discipline of the Third International. But the French were always great at histrionics.

The crux of the crisis in the French Party is to be found in the indecision of the CENTRE, led by Cachin, Frossard and Ker. The LEFT, led by Souvarine, Trient and Couturier, have put in some fine work for the Communist International. But personal prejudice is their strongest opponent. Souvarine and Frossard will never unite. That was made evident to me at the Congress debates as well as in conversation with different representatives of tendencies. Nothing much need be said about the RIGHT. They are pure and simple socialists. The big problem of the Congress was the political direction of the Party. The LEFT are unable yet to secure a majority on the Executive. They must pay more attention to the training of the rank and file. At best they could only hope for a compromise on the basis of parity in representation. This seemed to have been accomplished until Ker announced in his speech, to the astonishment of the Congress, that the agreement was at an end. I was unable to divine for why. This announcement almost turned the Congress into a bear garden. Recriminations were hurled right and left. Each side denied responsibility, and blamed the other. In point of fact no serious effort was made to find it agreement.

The control of Humanité is a big obstacle for the Unity of the French Party. The CENTRE are much attached to the spirit of Jaures which finds its expression in Humanité. There is much personal feeling aroused at the suggestion of making changes in the direction of the paper. In France there are still Communists who do not realize that so long as Party organs are not subject to Executive control the free lance writer can work wondrous harm to the Party.

Again, the Comintern had demanded the expulsion of Verfeuil and his supporters. When the report of the commission on expulsions were given and 42 including Verfeuil were recommended for exclusion, the suggestion was made that they were being expelled for following the tradition of Jaures. This led to wild scenes. Frossard declared his readiness to be expelled, too, if these exclusions were for following the traditions of Jaures and seized his hat and papers to leave the Congress. Only the deftness of Cachin, after vindicating the honour of Jaures, saved the Congress from breaking up in disorder.

It was amusing in a sense to watch the procedure of the chair at this Congress. The chairman was more concerned to get the orators a hearing than to put them down when evidently there was no desire to listen to them. The result was that an enormous amount of time was frittered away in useless talk. Hours and hours were wasted in senseless reiterations.

At length, after three days and an all night sitting, the voting began. For the Frossard-Souvarine resolution which declared for the United Front there voted 2,690. With reservations, 156.

The Dondical-Ronoult resolution against the United Front being applicable to France received 696 votes.

The other resolutions of the right elements were hopelessly beaten. A proposal was made by the LEFT to the Centre for the principal of parity of representation on all official posts. This was rejected by the Centre, which insisted on a list from the CENTRE of 24 members to act provisionally as the Executive till the FOURTH Congress. The voting on this was close. 1,698 for the CENTRE, and 1,516 for the LEFT, with 814 abstaining.

Immediately following this vote Renoult declared that his tendency would abstain from all official posts in the Party till the FOURTH Congress. The Executive Committee and the administration of the Press, it will be seen, are still in the hands of the CENTRISTS and the struggle must still go on. By 1,190 votes against 803, with 136 abstaining, Verfeuil, Francois Mayoux and Mari Mayoux were excluded and the others were sent to the E.C. for deliberation.

As I said at the beginning of this article, another milestone has been reached in the evolution of the French Party towards becoming a real Communist Party. No doubt the FOURTH Congress will have something to say on the matter. In the meantime the Socialist Party has issued an appeal for those expelled to join up with it and return to the fold. The S.P. is welcome to them. It is their native home.

In conclusion, I should mention the fine tribute paid the Communist International by the French police. The closest watch was maintained throughout the whole proceedings for the foreign delegates. They succeeded in picking up the Italian, the German delegate and myself, but not before we had all delivered our messages and were thinking of departing.

Our French comrades are to be congratulated for the arrangements in connection with our Comrade Manoullsky. His two hours’ speech was a masterly criticism of the French Communists and will do much good. It will be doubly interesting to hear the verdict of the Word Congress at Moscow after this important Conference at Paris.