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Boris Souvarine

In the Camp of Our Enemies

Paul Boncour

(30 May 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 43, 30 May 1922, p. 326.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Although France is the blessed land of barristers, the Yellow Internationals did not find it very easy to discover anyone in their midst with sufficient courage to defend, as a. Socialist, the Russian Social Revolutionary Party before the revolutionary tribunal. In fact the barrister of their choice, Paul Boncour, was appointed more on the strength of his “naiveté” than his courage.

Paul Boncour is a former and future minister of the bourgeoisie. He made his mark in politics at the time of his Secretaryship in the Waldeck-Rousseau Ministry when he devoted himself to the movement for the introduction of trade union legislation among the State officials. He had what is termed “a brilliant career” in the field of politics, became deputy, and subsequently Minister of Labor. However, this career received a serious check in 1914 when Paul Boncour was defeated at the elections.

To be or not to be a deputy is a matter of the greatest importance for a French politician. No political career can be made outside Parliament. Hence Paul Boncour went back to obscurity until another election returned him again to the Chamber of Deputies. He had emerged from it under a modestly Republican label, and he returned to it under the bolder label of Socialism.

For in the meantime Paul Boncour had joined the Socialist Party which was under the leadership of Renaudel, Albert Thomas, Marcel Sembat, not to mention the two veterans Vaillant and Jules Guesdes, who had lost all faculty of understanding the new trend of events. Thus Paul Boncour’s adhesion to patriotic, reformist and petty-bourgeois Socialism is only of recent date. But it is only right to say that it was not Paul Boncour who adhered to the Socialist Party, but that it was rather the Socialist Party which adhered to the bourgeois-republican views of Paul Boncour.

In fact, Paul Boncour hao not changed. It is the Socialist Party, which has renounced the class struggle, has betrayed the interests of the proletariat, has made common cause with the imperialist bourgeoisie and has given its support to the “useful intervention” of the reactionary Entente against revolutionary Russia. Thus Paul Boncour is not a social-traitor, but a social-patriot, an avowed opportunist who never dissimulated his opinions by revolutionary phraseology. He cannot be accused, like Renaudel and Scheidemann, of having abjured his opinions of yesterday. Personally, he is not responsible for the fact that the old deteriorated French Socialist Party has descended to the level of Milioukoff’s Party, and after the war, to that of Savinkov.

The chief characteristics of people like Paul Boncour are their belief that Socialism is the normal and logical issue of the bourgeois republic, perfection of bourgeois democracy. Because they are the Left wing of the Republican Parties, they imagine that they are the Party of the proletariat. The latter showed them, that they were mistaken by boycotting their Party and their Press and by forming the Communist Party which is the only real and conscious revolutionary force. As to Paul Boncour’s Party, impregnated as it is with parliamentary traditions, alien to the class idea and concerned above all with the interests of the “Nation”, the utmost it can do is – to form a reservoir of deputies and ministers for the bourgeoisie. The fact that people like Paul Boncour call themselves Socialists is a proof that they have not the least idea of what modern Socialism is, and that they still cling to the conception of the forties of the last centuries.

Paul Boncour is not only a clever politician but also a barrister of repute. The consensus of opinion is that he is a brilliant orator but when put into print, his oratory does not amount to very much. In other word’s nature has endowed him with dramatic gifts, a fascinating personality (which conjures up the classic type of the Jacobin) an insinuating voice, in fact with everything which ensures the applause of a select audience. Proletarian audiences, as a rule, demand something else, which Paul Boncour is unable to give them. As barrister, he made a name especially by his part in the trial of Jaurès’ assassin when he pleaded in the name of the family and of the friends of the victim.

It is in connection with this trial that one is justified in saying that Jaurès was assassinated a second time – by the man who was called upon to glorify his memory. Paul Boncour endeavoured to prove to the bourgeois court of justice that Jaurès was not the supposed legendary revolutionary, but above all a good patriot, nay even a specialist in the question of “National Defense”, namely of the defense of the interests of French capitalism and imperialism. He surpassed himself in the art of ignoring the flame which inspired the thoughts, the words and the writings of Jaurès, and in only making use of the ashes. Moreover, he failed in his attempt to make the bourgeois judges share his admiration of Jaurès, the patriot. The judges, more perspicacious than Paul Boncour, recognised the revolutionary character of the part which Jaurès played in the defense of the proletarian cause, and as defenders of the bourgeois order they acquitted the assassin.

Such is the man whom the Yellow Internationals have chosen to defend the members of the Russian Social Revolutionary Party. I said that he was probably chosen on the strength of his naiveté. The fact is that owing to his ignorance concerning Communism and his failure to understood the real meaning of the Russian Revolution, Paul Boncour sincerely believes that to be a Social Revolutionary one has only to fly the Social Revolutionary colours, just as one has only to join a party which calls itself Socialist, that the divergences of opinion between the S.R.’s [and] the Bolsheviks represent only shades of the same opinion, and he fails to understand why one of these parties is in power while the members of the other are emigrés abroad. What will he say when trial will have revealed to him the true character of the relentless campaign of the Social Revolutionary Party against the first proletarian State? What will this man, who extols the Jacobins, say in defence of the Girondins and the Russian emigrés? What will the spiritual descendant of the great Terrorists of 1793 say in order to deny the fighters of the great Russian Revolution the right to use the weapon of the revolutionary Red Terror in order to crush the reactionary White Terror?

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