The Way Out (1934)

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The Socialist Party in France, we have written, is developing in a direction opposite to that of the state: whereas for parliamentarism has been substituted Bonapartism, which represents an unstable stage on the road to fascism, the Social Democracy, on the contrary, has been moving towards a mortal conflict with fascism. However, can one invest this view, which at present has an enormous importance for French politics, with an absolute and, consequently, an international significance?

No, the truth is always concrete When we speak of the divergent paths of development of the Social Democracy and the bourgeois state under the conditions of the present social crisis, we have in mind only the general tendency of development and not a uniform and automatic process. For us, the solution of the political problem depends upon the degree of effective realization of the tendency itself. The contrary theorem can also be advanced, which, let it be hoped, will not encounter any objections among us, namely, the destiny of the proletariat depends, in large measure, in our epoch, upon the resolute manner with which the Social Democracy will succeed, in the brief interval which is vouchsafed it by the march of development, in breaking with the bourgeois state, in transforming itself and in preparing itself for the decisive struggle against fascism. The very fact that the destiny of the proletariat can thus depend upon the destiny of the Social Democracy is the consequence of the bankruptcy of the Communist International as the leading party of the international proletariat and also of the unusual acuteness of the class struggle.

The tendency for reformism to be pushed aside by centrism, as well as the tendency toward the radicalization of centrism, cannot help but have an international character, corresponding to the overall crisis of capitalism and the democratic state. But what is of decisive importance for drawing practical and, above all, organizational conclusions from this is the question of knowing how this tendency is refracted — at the given stage of development — in the Social Democratic party of a given country. The general line of development defined by us should only guide our analysis, but it should by no means presage our deductions from it.

In prefascist Germany, the approach of the break between the bourgeois state and reformism found its expression in the constitution of the left wing within the Social Democracy. But the power of the bureaucratic apparatus, given the complete disorientation of the masses, proved sufficient to cut off in advance the still feeble left wing (SAP) and to keep the party on the rails of a conservative and expectant policy. At the same time, the German Communist Party, under the spell of the drugs of the "third period" and "social fascism," substituted "Amsterdamian" parades for the revolutionary mobilization of the masses, unrealizable under the actual relationship of forces without the policy of the united front As a result, the powerful German proletariat proved incapable of offering the slightest resistance to the fascist coup d'état The Stalinists declared: it is the fault of the Social Democracy! But by that alone, they recognized that all their pretensions of being the leaders of the German proletariat were nothing but empty braggadocio. This tremendous political lesson shows us, above all, that even in the country where the Communist Party was the most imposing — in the absolute as well as in the relative sense — it was incapable, at the decisive moment, of lifting even its little finger while the Social Democracy retained the possibility of barring the road by virtue of its conservative resistance. Let us bear that firmly in mind!

The same fundamental historical tendency has been refracted in France in an essentially different manner. Under the influence of specific national conditions as well as of international lessons, the internal crisis of the French Social Democracy has experienced a much deeper evolution than that of the German Social Democracy in the corresponding period. The Socialist bureaucracy found itself forced to deliver a blow at the right Instead of seeing a weak left wing expelled, as was the case in Germany, we have witnessed the break with the consistent right wing (in its quality as an agency of the bourgeoisie), the Neos. The essential difference existing between the evolution of the German and the French Social Democracies could not better be underscored than by the symmetry of these two splits, in spite of the presence in both parties of common historical tendencies: the crisis of capitalism and of democracy, the crumbling of reformism and the break between the bourgeois state and the Social Democracy.

What ought to be done is to gauge, from the indicated angle, the internal situation in the Socialist parties of ail the capitalist countries passing through the various stages of the crisis. But this task goes beyond the framework of this article Let us mention only Belgium, where the Social Democratic party, swathed throughout by a reactionary and corrupted bureaucracy — a parliamentary, municipal, trade-union, cooperative and banking bureaucracy — is at present engaged in a struggle against its left wing and trying not to remain behind its German prototype (Wels-Severing and Co. ). It is clear that the same practical deductions cannot be drawn for France and for Belgium.

Yet it would be erroneous to think that the policy of the German and Belgian Social Democracies, on one side, and of the French Social Democracy, on the other, represent, once for all, two incompatible types. In reality, these two types can and will more than once transform themselves into one another. One can support with certainty the idea that if, in its time, the German Communist Party had pursued a correct policy of united front, it would have given a powerful impulsion to the radicalization of the Social Democratic workers, and the whole political evolution of Germany would have acquired a revolutionary character. On the other hand, it cannot be considered excluded that the Social Democratic bureaucracy in France, with the active aid of the Stalinists, will isolate the left wing and give the evolution of the party a retrogressive direction; it is not difficult to foresee its consequences in advance: prostration in the proletariat and the victory of fascism. As for Belgium, where the Social Democracy retains virtually the monopoly as a party in the proletariat, one cannot, in general, imagine a victorious struggle against fascism without a decisive regrouping of forces and tendencies within the ranks of the Social Democracy. A hand must be kept on the pulse of the labor movement and the necessary conclusions must be drawn each time.

What has been said suffices, in any case, for an understanding of the enormous importance that the internal evolution of the Social Democratic parties has acquired for the destiny of the proletariat — at least in Europe and for the coming historical period. By recalling to mind that in 1925 the Communist International declared in a special manifesto that the French Socialist Party no longer existed at all, we will easily understand how great is the retreat made by the proletariat and, above all, by its vanguard during the years of the domination of the epigones!

It has already been said that with regard to Germany, the Communist International has acknowledged — after the fact, it is true, and in a negative form — that it was totally incapable of fighting against fascism without the participation in the struggle of the Social Democracy. With regard to France, the Comintern has found itself forced to make the same avowal, but in advance and in a positive form. So much the worse for the Comintern, but so much the better for the cause of the revolution!

In abandoning, without explanation, the theory of social fascism, the Stalinists have at the same time thrown overboard the revolutionary program. "Your conditions shall be ours," they have declared to the leaders of the SFIO. They have renounced all criticism of their ally. They are quite simply paying for this alliance at the cost of their program and their tactics. And yet, when it is a question of the defensive against the common mortal enemy — defensive, in which each of the allies pursues his vital interests — nobody needs to pay anybody for this alliance, and each has the right to remain what he is. The whole conduct of the Stalinists has such a character that they seem to want to whisper to the Socialist leaders: "Demand still more; squeeze harder; don't stand on ceremony; help us rid ourselves as rapidly as possible of those coarse slogans that inconvenience our Moscow masters in the present international situation."

They have thrown overboard the slogan of the workers' militia. They have declared the struggle for the arming of the proletariat a "provocation." It is better, isn't it, to parcel out "spheres of influence" with the fascists, with the "honorable" prefects of police as arbitrators? This combination between wholes is by far most advantageous to the fascists: while the workers, lulled by general phrases on the united front, will occupy themselves with parades, the fascists will multiply their cadres and their arms supplies, will attract new contingents of masses and, at the suitable hour chosen by them, will launch the offensive.

The united front, for the French Stalinists, has thus been a form of their capitulation to the Social Democracy. The slogans and the methods of the united front express the capitulation to the Bonapartist state which, in turn, blazes the trail for fascism. By the intermediary of the united front, the two bureaucracies defend themselves not unsuccessfully against any interference by a "third force." That is the political situation of the French proletariat, which can very speedily find itself faced by decisive events. This situation might be fatal were it not for the existence of the pressure of the masses and the struggle of tendencies.

He who asserts, "the Second as well as the Third Internationals are condemned; the future belongs to the Fourth International," is expressing a thought whose correctness has been confirmed anew by the present situation in France. But this thought, correct in itself, does not yet disclose how, under what circumstances and within what intervals the Fourth International will be constituted. It may be born — theoretically it is not excluded — out of the unification of the Second International with the Third, by means of a regrouping of the elements, by the purging and tempering of their ranks in the fire of the struggle. It may be formed also by means of the radicalization of the proletarian kernel of the Socialist Party and the decomposition of the Stalinist organization. It may be constituted in the process of the struggle against fascism and the victory gained over it But it may also be formed considerably later, in a number of years, in the midst of the ruins and the accumulation of debris following upon the victory of fascism and war. For all sorts of Bordigists, all these variants, perspectives and stages have no importance. The sectarians live beyond time and space. They ignore the living historical process, which pays them back in the same coin. That is why their "balance" is always the same: zero. The Marxists can have nothing in common with this caricature of politics.

It goes without saying that if there existed in France a strong organization of Bolshevik-Leninists, it could and should have become, under present conditions, the independent axis around which the proletarian vanguard would crystallize. But the Communist League of France has not succeeded in becoming such an organization. Without in any way shading off the faults of the leadership, it must be admitted that the fundamental reason for the slow development of the League is conditioned by the march of the world labor movement, which, for the last decade, has known nothing but defeats and setbacks. The ideas and the methods of the Bolshevik-Leninists are confirmed at each new stage of development. But can it be anticipated that the League, as an organization, will show itself capable, in the interval that remains until the approaching denouement, of occupying an influential, if not a leading, place in the labor movement? To answer this question today in the affirmative would mean either to set back in one's mind the denouement for several years, which is confuted by the whole situation, or just simply to hope for miracles.

It is absolutely clear that the victory of fascism would mark the crumpling up of all the labor organizations. A new historic chapter would open up in which the Bolshevik-Leninists would have to seek a new organizational form for themselves. The task of today should be formulated concretely in indissoluble connection with the character of the epoch in which we are living: how to prevent, with the greatest probability of success, the victory of fascism, taking into account the existing groupings of the proletariat and the relationship of forces existing between these groupings? In particular, what place should be taken by the League, a small organization that cannot lay claim to an independent role in the combat that is unfolding before us, but that is armed with a correct doctrine and a precious political experience? What place should it occupy in order to impregnate the united front with a revolutionary content? To put this question clearly is, at bottom, to give the answer. The League must immediately take its place on the inside of the united front, in order to contribute actively to the revolutionary regrouping and to the concentration of the forces of this regrouping. It can occupy such a place under present conditions in no other way than by entering the Socialist Party.

But the Communist Party, object certain comrades, is nevertheless more revolutionary. Assuming that we give up our organizational independence, can we adhere to the less revolutionary party?

This main objection — more exactly, the only one made by our opponents — rests upon political reminiscences and psychological appreciations, and not upon the living dynamics of development The two parties represent centrist organizations, with this difference: the centrism of the Stalinists is the product of the decomposition of Bolshevism, whereas the centrism of the Socialist Party is born out of the decomposition of reformism. There exists another, no-less-essential difference between them. Stalinist centrism, despite its convulsive zigzags, represents a very stable political system that is indissolubly bound up with the position and the interests of the powerful bureaucratic stratum. The centrism of the Socialist Party reflects the transitional state of the workers, who are seeking a way out on the road of the revolution.

In the Communist Party, there are undoubtedly thousands of militant workers. But they are hopelessly confused. Yesterday, they were ready to fight on the barricades by the side of genuine fascists against the Daladier government Today, they capitulate silently to the slogans of the Social Democracy. The proletarian organization of Saint-Denis, educated by the Stalinists, capitulates resignedly to PUPism. Ten years of attempts and efforts aimed at regenerating the Comintern have yielded no results. The bureaucracy has showed itself powerful enough to carry out its devastating work to the very end.

In giving the united front a purely decorative character, in consecrating with the name of "Leninism" the renunciation of elementary revolutionary slogans, the Stalinists are retarding the revolutionary development of the Socialist Party. By that they continue to play their role as a brake, even now, after their acrobatic flip-flop. The internal regime of the party excludes, still more decisively today than it did yesterday, any idea of the possibility of its renaissance.

The French sections of the Second and Third Internationals cannot be compared in the same way as two pieces of cloth: which fabric is the best, which the best woven? Each party must be considered in its development, and the dynamics of their mutual relations in the present epoch must be taken into account. It is only thus that we shall find for our lever the most advantageous fulcrum.

The adherence of the League to the Socialist Party can play a great political role. There are tens of thousands of revolutionary workers in France who belong to no party. Many of them have passed through the CP; they left it with indignation or else they have been expelled. They retained their old opinion about the Socialist Party, that is, they turn their backs to it They sympathize wholly or in part with the ideas of the League, but they do not join it because they do not believe that a third party can develop under present conditions. These tens of thousands of revolutionary workers remain outside of a party, and in the trade unions they remain outside of a fraction.

To this must be added the hundreds and the thousands of revolutionary teachers not only of the Federation Unitaire but also of the Syndicat National who could serve as a link between the proletariat and peasantry. They remain outside of a party, equally hostile to Stalinism and reformism. Yet, the struggle of the masses in the coming period will seek for itself, more than ever before, the bed of a party. The establishment of soviets would not weaken but, on the contrary, would strengthen the role of the workers' parties, for the masses, united by millions in the soviets, need a leadership that only a party can give.

There is no need to idealize the SFIO, that is, to pass it off, with all its present contradictions, as the revolutionary party of the proletariat. But the internal contradictions of the party can and should be pointed out as a warranty of its further evolution and, consequently, as a fulcrum for the Marxist lever. The League can and should show an example to these thousands and tens of thousands of revolutionary workers, teachers, etc., who run the risk, under present conditions, of remaining outside the current of the struggle. In entering the Socialist Party, they will immensely reinforce the left wing; they will fecundate the whole evolution of the party; they will constitute a powerful center of attraction for the revolutionary elements in the "Communist" Party and will thus immeasurably facilitate the emergence of the proletariat on the road of revolution.

Without renouncing its past and its ideas, but also without any mental reservations from the days of small-circle existence, while saying what is, it is necessary to enter the Socialist Party, not for exhibitions, not for experiments, but for serious revolutionary work under the banner of Marxism.