Open Letter to Jules Guesde, October 11, 1916

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written 11 October 1916


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Published in La Vie ouvriere (1916).
Printed copy in pamphlet form (in English), entitled Against Social-Patriotism (Colombo, 1952)
Collection(s): La Vie ouvrière, La Vérité

PARIS

30, October, 1916

To M. the Minister of State, Jules[1]:

Before quitting the soil of France, under the escort of a police officer, who personifies the liberties over whose defence you stand guard in the National Cabinet, I deem it my duty to express to you a few thoughts which, while they will most likely not be of any use to you, will at least be of use against you. In expelling me from France, your colleague, the Minister for War, did not think fit to indicate the causes for prohibiting the Russian Newspaper Nashe Slovo[2], one of whose editors I was, and which had for two years, suffered all the torments of a censorship, operating under the aegis of this same Minister for War.

Still, I shall not conceal from you the fact that for me there is no mystery about the reasons for my expulsion. You feel the need for adopting repressive measures against an international socialist, against one of those who refuse to accept the part of defender or ready slave of the imperialist war.

But while the reasons for this measure have not been communicated to me, who am the one concerned and at whom it is directed, they have been stated by M.[3] to the deputies and to the journalists.

In Marseilles last August, a group of mutinying Russian soldiers killed their colonel. The investigation is alleged to have disclosed that a number of these soldiers were in possession of a number of copies of Nashe Slovo. In any case, this is the explanation given by M. Briand in an interview with Deputy and with the President of the Chamber Committee of Foreign Affairs, M. Leysques, who in turn, transmitted this version to the Russian bourgeois press.

To be sure, M. did not dare to assert that Nashe Slovo, which was subject to his own censorship, was directly responsible for the killing of this officer. His thoughts may be expressed as follows: In view of the presence of Russian soldiers in France, it is necessary to sweep Nashe Slovo and its editors off the soil of the Republic. For a Socialist newspaper that refuses to spread illusions and lies may – in the memorable phrase of M. Renaudel – “put bees in the bonnets” of the Russian soldiers and lead them into the dangerous path of reflection.

Unfortunately, however, for M. Briand, his explanation is based upon a scandalous anachronism. A year ago, Gustave Hervé, at that time still a member of the permanent Administrative Commission of your party, said that if Malvy were to kick out of France those Russian refugees guilty of revolutionary internationalism, he, Hervé, guaranteed that the public opinion of his janitors would accept such a measure without any objection. Obviously, there can be no doubt that Hervé quaffed his inspiration in a ministerial closet.

At the end of July the same Hervé whispered, semi-officially, that I was to be expelled from France.

At about the same time – i.e., still before the killing of the colonel at Marseilles – Prof. Durkheim, the President of the Commission for Russian refugees, appointed by the Government, informed a representative of the refugees, of the impending suppression of Nashe Slovo and the expulsion of the editors.

Thus everything had been arranged in advance, even the public opinion of M. Hervé’s janitors. They waited only for a pretext to strike the final blow. And the pretext was found at the moment the unfortunate Russian soldiers – acting in somebody’s interests – killed their colonel.

This providential coincidence invites an assumption which, I fear, may offend your still virginal ministerial modesty. The Russian journalists who have made a special investigation into the Marseilles incident have established the fact that in this affair, as almost always in such cases, an active role was played by an agent provocateur. It is easy to understand what was his aim, or rather what was the aim of the blackguards who directed him. They required some excess on the part of the Russian soldiers, first, to justify the regime of the knout which is still somewhat offensive to the French authorities, and then to create a pretext for measures to be taken against Russian refugees who take advantage of French hospitality in order to demoralize Russian soldiers in wartime.

It is not hard to acknowledge that the instigators of this scheme did not themselves believe that the affair would go so far or such was their intention. It is probable that they hoped to achieve ampler results by smaller sacrifices. But undertakings of this sort involve an element of professional risk. In this case, however, the victim was not the provocateur himself but Col. Krause and those who killed him. Even the patriotic Russian journalists, who are hostile to Nashe Slovo, have advanced the theory that copies of our paper may have been given to the soldiers, at the right moment by the same agent provocateur.

Try, M. Minister, just try to institute, through the services of M. Malvy an investigation along this line! You do not see that anything could be gained by such an investigation? Neither do I. Because – let us spreak frankly – agents provocateur are at least as valuable for the alleged “national defence” as Socialist ministers. And you, Jules Guesde, after you assumed responsibility for the foreign policy of the Third Republic, for the Franco-Russian alliance, and its consequences, for the territorial ambitions of the Czar, and for the aims and methods of this war – it remains for you to accept, along with the symbolic detachments of Russian soldiers, the in no way symbolic exploits of the provocateurs of His Majesty the Czar. At the beginning of the war, when promises were spread with a lavish hand, your closest companion,[4], gave the Russian journalists a glimpse of the highly beneficial influence to be exerted by the allied democracies upon the internal regime in Russia. Moreover, this was the supreme argument used persistently but without success by the government socialists of France and Belgium to reconcile the Russian revolutionists with the Czar.

Twenty six months of constant collaboration, of communion with generalissimos, diplomats and parliamentarians, the visits of Viviani and Thomas to Tsarkoe-Selo, in short, twenty six months of incessant “influence” exerted by the allied democracies upon Czarism, have only served to strengthen the most arrogant reaction, moderated only by chaos in the administration and have succeeded in transforming the internal regime of England and France until they have become very similar to that of Russia. As may be seen the generous promises of M. Sembat are cheaper than his coal.[5] The luckless fate of the right of asylum is thus but a striking symptom of police and martinet rule prevalent on both sides of the Channel.[6] and M. Astride Briand, for whose characterzation I beg to refer you, Jules Guesde, to your articles of earlier days – these two figures best express the spirit of the present war, its rectitude, its morality, with its appetite both class and individual. Can there be a worthier partner for Messrs. Lloyd George and Briand than M. Sturmer, this truly Russian-German, who has made a career by clinging on to the cassocks of the Metropolitans and the skirts of the court bigots? What an incomparable trio! Decidedly, history could have found no better colleagues and chieftains for Guesde the Minister.

How is it possible for an honest socialist not to fight you? You have transformed the Socialist Party into a docile choir which accompanies the choir-masters of capitalist brigandage in an epoch when bourgeois society – whose deadly enemy you, Jules Guesde, used to be – has disclosed its true nature to the very core. From all the events which were prepared by a whole period of world-wide depredation and whose consequences we so often predicted, from all the blood that has been shed, from all the suffering and the misfortune, from all the crimes, from all the rapaciousness and felonies of governments, you, Jules Guesde, you draw but one single lesson for the French proletariat: that[7] and[8] are two criminals, who, contrary to[9] and M.[10] fail to respect the rules and regulations of international law.

An entire new generation of French working youth, new millions of workers morally awakened for the first time by the thunderbolts of the war, learn about the causes of this catastrophe of the Old World, what the Yellow Book of MM.[11], Poincaré, Briand, want to tell them. And you, old chief of the proletariat, you sink to your knees before this Evangel of the peoples, and you renounce all that you learnt and thought in the school of the class struggle.

French Socialism, with its inexhaustible past, with its magnificent phalanx of fighters and martyrs, has at last found – what a fall, what a disgrace! – a[12] to translate, during the most tragic period in the world’s history, the lofty thoughts of the Yellow Book into the language of a press of the same colour.

The socialism of[13], of[14], of[15], of[16], of the Commune, of[17], and of Jules Guesde – yes, of Jules Guesde too – has at last found its Albert[18] to consult with Romanov concerning the surest ways of capturing Constantinople; has found its Marcel Sembat to promenade his dilettante nonchalance over the corpses and ruins of French civilization; it has found its Jules Guesde to follow – he too – the chariot of the triumphant Briand.

And you believed, you hoped that the French proletariat, which has been bled white in this senseless and hopeless war by the crimes of the ruling classes, would continue to tolerate quietly, to the end, this shameful pact between official socialism and the worst enemies of the proletariat. You were mistaken. An opposition has come forward. In spite of the martial law and the frenzy of nationalism – which, whatever its form, be it royalist, radical or socialist, always preserves its capitalistic substance – the revolutionary opposition is gaining ground every day.

Nashe Slovo, the paper that you have strangled, lived and breathed in the atmosphere of awakening French socialism. Torn from the soil of Russia by a counter-revolution which triumphed thanks to the aid of the French bourgeoisie – which you, Jules Guesde, are now serving – the group of Nashe Slovo was privileged to echo even if in the incomplete form imposed upon it by the censorship – the voice of the French section of the new International which is raising its head amidst the horrors of fratncidal war.

In our capacity as “undesirable foreigners” who linked our fate with that of the French Opposition, we are proud of having sustained the first blows of the French Government – your government, Jules Guesde!

We have the honour together with Monatte, Merheim, Soumoneau,[19], Bourderon, Loriot,[20] and so many others, to be accused, all of us, of being pro-German. The Paris weekly of your friend[21], who shared with you your glory as he shares with you your fall, denounced us week after week to the police of M. Malvy, as agents of the German General Staff. Time was when you knew the value of such accusations, for you yourself had the honour of being their target. Now you stamp your approval upon M. Malvy, for the government of national defence, the reports of the stool-pigeons. Yet my political files contain a very recent prison sentence pronounced upon me, in contumacium, during the war, by a German court, for my pamphlet The War and the International.

But aside from this brutal fact, which ought to make an impression even upon the police brain of M. Malvy, I believe I have the right to assert that we revolutionary internationalists are far more dangerous enemies of German reaction than all the governments of the Allies taken together.

Their hostility to Germany is, at the bottom, nothing but the simple rivalry of the competitor; whereas our revolutionary hatred of its ruling class is indestructible.

Imperialist competition may unite again the enemy brethren of today. Were the plans for the total destruction of Germany to be realized, England and France, after a decade, would again approach the Empire of the Hohenzollerns to defend themselves against the excessive powers of Russia. A future Poincaré would exchange telegrams of congradulation with Wilhelm or with his heir; Lloyd George, in the peculiar language of the clergyman and the boxer, would curse Russia as the bulwark of barbarism and militarism; Albert Thomas, as French ambassador to the Kaiser, would receive lilies of the valley from the hands of the court ladies of Potsdam, as he did do recently from the Grand Duchesses of Tsarkoe-Selo. All the banalities of present day speeches and articles would be warmed over, and M. Renaudel would have to change, in his articles, only the proper names, a task entirely within his capacities.

As for us – we shall remain what we have been and are, sworn enemies of Germany’s rulers, for we hate German reaction with the same revolutionary hatred that we have vowed against Czarism or against French plutocracy. And when you dare, you and your newspaper lackeys to applaud[22],[23],[24] and[25] as the intrepid enemies of the Hohenzollerns, you cannot deny that they are of our own stripe, our comrades-in-arms. We are allied with them against you and your masters by the indissoluble unity of the revolutionary struggle.

Perhaps you will console yourself with the thought that we are few in number? Yet we are greater in number than the police of every grade believe. In their professional myopia, they do not see the spirit of revolt that is rising from every hearth of suffering and spreading throughout France, though all of Europe in the workmen’s suburbs and in the countryside, in the shops and in the trenches.

You have incarcerated Louise[26] in one of your prisons; but have you thereby diminished the despair of the women in the land? You can arrest hundreds of Zimmerwaldists after having ordered your press to besmirch them again with police calumnies. But can you return husbands to their wives? Can you restore sons to their mothers, fathers to their children, strength and health to the sick? Can you return to a duped and debilitated people the trust in those who have deceived them?

Jules Guesde, get out of your military automobile, leave the cage in which the capitalist state has imprisoned you. Look about! Perhaps, fate will have pity, for the last time upon your wretched old age, and let you hear the muted rumble of approaching events. We expect them, we summon them, we prepare for them! The fate of France would be too frightful if the Calvary of its working class did not lead to a great revenge, where there will be no room for you, Jules Guesde, and for yours.

Expelled by you, I leave France with a profound faith in our triumph. Over and above your head, I send fraternal greetings to the French proletariat, which is awakening to its grand destiny.

Without you and against you.

LONG LIVE SOCIALIST FRANCE!

Leon Trotsky

  1. Guesde, Jules Basile (1845–1922): Communard. Founder member of French Workers Party 1879. Left-wing socialist. Deputy 1893–1921. Fought reformism and ministerialism. During the War advocated “Sacred Union” with the bourgeoisie. Minister without Portfolio August 1914 to October 1915.
  2. Nashe Slovo (Our Word) published in Paris by unemployed Russian printers from January 29, 1915 to October 15, 1916, succeeded Golos (The Voice) and was succeeded by Nachalo (The Beginning). It ran 213 numbers. Trotsky arrived in France from Switzerland late in Novembr 1914.
  3. Briand, Aristide (1862–1932): Once a militant member of the French Socialist Party; fought Millerand and his “Ministerialism” but later became Minister of Education 1906–1909. Expelled from SP, he founded the Republican Socialist Party with Millerand (1911). Premier several times, especially October 1915–March 1917. Delegate to the League of Nations.
  4. Sembat, Marcel (1862–1922): French Socialist. Deputy from 1893. Chauvinist in War. Joined Cabinet of National Defence as Minister of Public Works August 1914–September 1917.
  5. Marcel Sembat was French Minister of Public Works 1914–1916.
  6. Lloyd-George, David (1863–1945): Welsh M.P. Premier of Great Britain 1916–1922.
  7. Wilhelm II (1859–1941): German Emperor 1888–1918. Last Hohenzollern ruler. Overthrown by the November 1918 revolution, retired to Holland.
  8. Franz-Joseph I (1830–1916): Habsburg emperor of Austria, king of Hungary and king of Bohemia from 1848 until his death in 1916.
    Geissler:
  9. Nicholas II (1868–1918): Tsar of Russia from 1894 until his abdication during the February Revolution in March 1917. Executed in 1918.
  10. Poincaré, Raymond Nicholas Landry (1860–1934): Premier of France 1912, 1922–24, 1926–29. President 1913–1920. Militarist.
  11. Delcasse, Theophile (1852–1923): French Foreign Minister 1898–1905, 1914–1916. Promoted Entente Cordiale with British.
  12. Renaudel, Pierre (1871–1935): Left-wing French Socialist. During War led Majority. Deputy 1914–1919 and after 1924.
  13. Babeuf, François Noël (Gracchus) (1760–1797): Egalitarian, utopian Socialist in the French Revolution. Planned the “final revolution” called the “Conspiracy of the Equals” for 11th May 1796. Arrested on its eve, was executed a year later.
  14. Saint-Simon, Claude Henri (1760–1825): French Utopian Socialist.
  15. Blanqui, Louis Auguste (1805–1881): French revolutionary, a romantic and colourful character, who believed in the dictatorship of the proletariat through a conspiratorial putsch. He was twice condemned to death and spent 33 of his 76 years in prison.
  16. Fourier, François Marie Charles (1772–1837): Great French Utopian Socialist.
    Geissler:
  17. Jaurès, Jean Auguste (1859–1914): French Socialist leader. Founder and editor L’Humanité 1904–1914. Right Winger, Leading figure in the 2nd International. Anti-militarist. Assassinated by French officers on 31st July 1914, the eve of the War.
  18. Thomas, Albert (1878–1932): French Socialist. Deputy 1910–1914, 1919–1921. Minister 1914–1917. Visited Russia in Spring 1917 in attempt to get revolutionary Russia to resume the War.
  19. Rosmer, Alfred (1877–1964): French syndicalist. Leader CGT minority. Zimmerwaldist. Joined French CP 1920. Member ECCI, 1920. Expelled from French CP 1924. Close friend of Trotsky till the end.
  20. Guilbeaux, Henri (1885–1938): Originally anaracho-syndicalist. Later French Socialist. In War a pacifist, later left Zimmerwaldist. Supported Russian Revolution and attended Comintern Congresses (1st, 2nd and 5th). Sentenced to death in absentia 1919, amnestied 1924. Later became anti-Soviet and anti-Semite.
  21. Plekhanov, George Valentinovich (1856–1918): Pioneer Russian Marxist. Patriot in World War I, and opposed Russian Revolution 1917.
  22. Liebknecht, Karl (1871–1919): Left Wing German Social Democrat. Member German Reichstag and Prussian Landtag. Anti-militarist. He was the first, and at first only, Deputy to oppose war credits in the Reichstag in 1914. Drafted during the war, he was imprisoned for anti-war activity, May 1916 to November 1918. Leader International Group and later, Spartacus League. One of the leaders of the Berlin uprising 1919. Assassinated by counter-revolutionary soldiers, January 15th 1919, with Rosa Luxemburg.
  23. Mehring, Franz (1846–1919): German scholar and historian. In later life joined the Social Democracy and was leading member of the left wing. Spartacist and founder German CP. Author of biography of Karl Marx, and history of Social Democracy. Died soon after assassination of Luxemburg and Liebknecht.
  24. Luxemburg, Rosa (1870–1919): Polish Socialist. Joined German Social Democracy 1897. With Karl Liebknecht led Left Wing. Brilliant theoretician (Lenin called her “an eagle”). Imprisoned many times for anti-war activity. Leader of the “Spartacists” and founder of the German Communist Party. Assassinated by reactionary officers January 15th, 1919.
  25. Zetkin, Clara (1857–1933): Left-Wing German Social Democrat. Organizer of women’s movement. Founder German CP. Active in Comintern Executive, Member of Reichstag.
  26. Saumoneau, Louise (1875–1949): French socialist feminist of working class origin. Jailed for her opposition to the First World War.