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Ian H. Birchall

Roads to Power

(Spring 1967)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.28, Spring 1967, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Le Socialisme Français et le Pouvoir
Michelle Perrot & Annie Kriegel
Pologne-Hongrie 1956

Ed. Jean-Jacques Marie & Balázs Nagy
Études et Documentation Internationales

These two volumes, available to subscribers to Études et Documentation Internationales, are further valuable contributions from this source to working-class history. All IS readers able to read French should write for further details to 29 rue Descartes, Paris 5. Those unable to read French should think about the possibilities of establishing a similar socialist publishing-house in Britain.

Le Socialisme Français et le Pouvoir consists of two essays on French labour history and attitudes to political power. Michelle Perrot traces the struggle against reformism in the French socialist party up to 1914. Among features bolstering reformism were participation in.local government – a Guesdist paper saw control of the Lille municipality as a more successful repetition of the Paris Commune – and the tradition of eighteenth century static materialism and the Revolution of 1789, which hung like an albatross around the neck of French socialism, while reformists proclaimed the French people were living in a post-revolutionary society.

Annie Kriegel’s study of the French Communist Party from the 1920s, through the Popular Front and the de Gaulle Government of 1945 to the present day, contains a wealth of facts and documents about PCF attitudes to power. Controversies such as poly-centrism, and especially about the class support of the Party at. various times, bringing out clearly the marked decline in active working-class participation, if not in electoral support. In 1924, of 38 PCF candidates in the Paris region, all but five were manual workers. In 1966 in the same area only 10 out of 65 candidates were manual workers.

Pologne-Hongrie 1956, edited by Jean-Jacques Marie and Balazs Nagy, is a collection of texts and documents on the events of 1956 in Poland and Hungary. To anyone still dubious that the events of 1956 were working-class self-activity, these documents provide the proof. In particular the growth of workers’ councils in Poland is shown in true perspective and not overshadowed by .the more dramatic events in Budapest. The Ninth Plenum of the Polish trade unions in November 1956 was invaded by a thousand delegates elected directly from the factories.

But the collection goes much further than this, and scotches a popular myth among the ‘libertarian’ left – that the Hungarian Revolution was a product of pure spontaneity. In fact these documents bear witness to the deep theoretical consciousness which underlay the revolution, and the way in which the events of the Revolution went hand in hand with the redevelopment of the Marxist critical method. A long testimony by F. Töke, a factory-worker and vice-president of the Budapest Central Workers’ Council stresses the quick transmission of the ideas of the Petöfi Circle into the factories. In the fighting in Budapest, students and workers came together to concretise the unity of theory and practice.

The theories which fomented the revolution were far from uniform – Pierre Broué in his introduction is perhaps a little too eager to see a confirmation of The Revolution Betrayed. The question of ‘socialist property forms’ caused deep pondering and some confusion. The legend of Yugoslav workers’ control played a considerable role in inspiring belief in the possibility of workers’ power.

The penultimate document of the book is a noble but tragic statement of the Csepel metal-workers’ council of January 1957, saying that, rather than cause confusion by continuing to exist without power ‘we return our mandate to the hands of our workers.’ But the last document of all, an extract from Kuron and Modzelewski’s Open Letter to the Polish Workers’ Party shows that the theoretical and revolutionary heritage of October 1956 lives on.

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Last updated: 5.2.2008