Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

A Letter to Comrade Treint

July 28, 1922. Moscow

Dear Comrade Treint [1],

I am very much obliged to you for your extremely interesting letter which on the whole confirms the information we have received here both from our French press as well as from letters and interviews. We have not as yet surmounted in France all the difficulties in the task of forging the revolutionary proletarian party. The victory at Tours came too easily. History is now demanding of Communism that it justify this overall victory and realize it in life through a number of partial victories. This results in a struggle inside our own party. This struggle exacts a certain expenditure of forces, a certain transfer of attention from external enemies to internal impediments and leads to a deterioration in personal relations, and so on. All this is, in general, quite unpleasant; and if all this is considered outside space and time, then it can furnish a pretext for bitter lamentations about internal party struggles and the like. But sad to say, there is no other and more economical way for a revolutionary party to evolve, especially in France.

Sentiments are betimes expressed to the effect that the party ought to be cleansed and regenerated on the basis of mass actions and then the very process of cleansing would be less painful. In so general a form, this idea is correct. But it is far too general and therefore can become a source of false conclusions. French Communism can grow stronger as a genuine revolutionary party only on the basis of mass actions. But on the other hand, the present condition of the party (conflicting tendencies, lack of leadership, vague character of the press) provides the worst possible deterrent to its engaging in mass activities. In this connection I am not even referring to how harmful is the party’s position on the question of the united front. In other words, there is not a mechanical but a dialectical connection between mass activities and the present condition of the party. The one is thwarted or facilitated by the other. Precisely in order to initiate actions, the party requires a certain minimum of unity of consciousness and unity of will. To secure this internal unity, an expenditure of energy, and a very considerable expenditure at that, becomes imperative. This expenditure of energy, which from a superficial standpoint might appear as so much waste, will be completely recouped during the party’s very first serious test in mass action. Conversely, a participation of this sort by the party, which is more united than it is now, will serve further to augment its fusion and dynamism. That is why we are following the internal struggle in the French party without undue alarm. On the contrary, this struggle is evidence of the party’s healthy reaction to the bacilli of centrism, pacifism, journalistic individualism, anarcho-syndicalism, and so on. Le vin est tiré, il faut le boire. (The bottle has been uncorked, the wine must be drunk.) The struggle must be waged to the very end. It will take place the more painlessly, all the less indulgence is shown by the revolutionary elements of the party, that is, its unquestionable majority, to individualistic journalism and parliamentary oratory whose practitioners lack desire or capacity to re-educate themselves in a revolutionary spirit and to submit to the discipline of a combat party.

The results of the Saint Etienne Convention [2] undoubtedly represent a forward step. It would, however, be brought to nothing unless followed up immediately by the second and third steps. Impunity for anarcho-syndicalist proclivities under the banner of Communism, was, as it remains, the greatest danger. So long as pseudo-Communists, counteracting the influence of Communism in the trade unions, are not automatically expelled from the party, the latter will remain unable to establish correct relations with the trade unions. In this connection I should like to say a few words about the totally false impression which some French comrades labour under, apparently owing to an imperfect presentation by Comrade Frossard of my attitude toward Monmousseau’s group and its resolution. An impression might have arisen that I propose to declare war against the La Vie ouvrière group. This is completely wrong. What I, together with all other members of the ECCI, demanded was that the Communists conduct themselves in accordance with the orders of the Communist Party. When the party decides to vote in favour of adhering, without any reservations, to the Profintern (Red International of Labour Unions or RILU), then every Communist who votes against such a resolution (and, let us say, in favour of Monmousseau) must be expelled from the party. The whole question is: whether it is possible in the existing party situation to adopt a binding decision to vote in favour of adhering (to the RILU) without any reservations. Comrade Frossard has declared categorically that the relationship of forces is such as to preclude the party’s adopting this decision. In that case there remains only a bloc with Monmousseau’s group. But here again, the Communists could cast their vote for Monmousseau’s resolution only by the decision of the party. In this case, too, they are duty-bound to submit to the discipline of their own party and not that of Monmousseau’s faction. Otherwise they face expulsion. At the same time I strongly stressed that it was imperative for us to go hand in hand with Monmousseau’s group, which represented very precious elements of the French labour movement. In this there is, of course, no contradiction. We can and should respect Monatte and Monmousseau and their co-thinkers, striving at all costs to reach an agreement with them, while at the same time expelling from the party those Communists who place the discipline of Monmousseau’s faction above the party discipline.

You ask my opinion of how we envisage here the coalition between the lefts and all the revolutionary elements of the centre; and how we envisage the existence of the left wing. One must proceed from facts. The left, the centre and the right exist as tendencies toward personal groupings, and to a certain extent and under certain conditions, each threatens to become converted into a shut-in faction. Under the conditions of internal party struggle, it would be the height of philistinism to demand of co-thinkers that they refrain from meeting, taking counsel and discussing their line of conduct. Naturally this also applies to the left, because the left wingers, who are striving to defend the resolution of the International, have no reason whatever of depriving themselves of means of struggle at the disposal of all other groupings. But it seems to me, the following conditions ought to be observed:

  1. Under no circumstances should the left constitute itself as an organized faction, that is, it categorically rejects the idea of split.
  2. The left vigorously strives to draw closer to all revolutionary elements of the centre, without falling into despair because of individual failures, and all the while defending “the united front” between the centre and the left against all anti-Communist elements and groupings within the party.
  3. The left lays down a correct perspective with regard to the various deviations inside the party and sets as its aim to convince the centre to accept this appraisal and perspective.

As touches the appraisal and perspectives of the internal party struggle, they appear to me to be as follows:

  1. There are the reformist and pacifist elements, partisans of the “Left Bloc”, nationalists, parliamentarian and journalistic individualists; we must mercilessly settle accounts with this intellectual grouping, burning out once and forever with white-hot irons these running sores of shyster and parliamentarian individualism inside the Communist Party and therewith increase the respect and confidence in the party among revolutionary workers.
  2. There are syndicalist elements, that is, workers who belong to the Communist Party but who at the same time follow the tendency of Monatte and Monmousseau, which rests on the mistrust of the party’s revolutionary spirit and of its proletarian essence; required here is a patient and persistent ideological struggle against anti-Communist tendencies, with the aim of winning over to the Communist Party all the healthy elements, i.e., the overwhelming majority of this group.
  3. There are the federalist elements, the extreme leftists, and others; the rank and file of these groupings is unquestionably revolutionary, many of their confusions and blunders flow from youth and inexperience; required here is a calm, comradely and, in part, even a pedagogical approach.
  4. There is (as you put it) the so-called paysanism (peasantry-ism): if the party permitted this tendency to develop to its logical conclusion, it would unquestionably lead to the formation of a faction in the spirit of our SRs; here criticism is absolutely indispensable, but naturally every efforts should be exerted lest such valuable and greatly promising Communists as Renaud Jean be repelled into the camp of the right from which Renaud Jean is far removed by his revolutionary spirit.

Permit me, dear Comrade, to close my letter on the above note. I am forwarding a copy to Comrade Frossard.

Sincerely yours,
L. Trotsky

Moscow, July 28, 1922


1. Treint, a teacher by profession, was one of the leaders of the pioneer French Communist movement. In 1919-20 he was one of the organizers of the Left Wing that supported the line of the Comintern. In 1923 he served as one of the political secretaries of the French Party. Expelled from the Comintern in the late Twenties, he flirted for a time with the Trotskyist Left Opposition only to become one of its opponents.

2. The Saint Etienne Convention of the CGTU took place at the beginning of 1922. The bloc of Communists and syndicalists who favoured adherence to the Red Trade Union International (RILU) won the majority. The Saint Etienne Convention marked the first time in France that a Communist trade union fraction was gathered together and functioned throughout the sessions of the convention.

First 5 Years of the Comintern (Vol.2) Index

History of the Communist International Section

return return return return return

Last updated on: 17.1.2007