‘Revolutionary Strikes in France’ by George Andreytchine from One Big Union Monthly. Vol. 2 No. 7. July, 1920.

What a wonderful introduction to the politics of post-war working class France. George Andreytchine writes on the wave of mass strikes that rocked France after World War One; the struggle in within the C.G.T.; the role of the syndicalists, Communists, and Socialists; state repression; and sees the future in a coming together of Syndicalists and Bolsheviks in the new International.

‘Revolutionary Strikes in France’ by George Andreytchine from One Big Union Monthly. Vol. 2 No. 7. July, 1920.

“Qui veut manger doit produire!”’

Great and heroic days have just passed in France; days in which the revolutionary will of the vanguard of the proletariat attempted to assert itself in no dubious way. The revolutionary syndicalists of the Railroad Workers’ Federation called a general strike on all lines on the eve of May Day. The dock, marine and mine workers struck in solidarity with the militant “cheminots” (railroaders). Later on, the gas workers and electricians, the street car and subway workers of Paris were called out by the General Confederation of Labor in support of the striking railroaders. The metal workers of Paris, the rank and file, also struck, ignoring the pleas and supplications of their conservative officials. At a certain time the country was face to face with spontaneous insurrectional outbursts here and there.

greve des cheminots de 1920 pierre Semard au 1er rang

But the time was not propitious for a revolution, for revolutions are not decreed by executive committees or union militants. It is evident that the causes of this strike were not deep-seated; were of no elemental nature.

The Struggle for Supremacy in the C.G.T.

The leaders of the railroad workers knew thoroughly well that a revolution was an impossibility at this particular moment. They declared the strike more against the conservative leaders of the General Confederation of Labor and of their own organization rather than against the capitalist regime and its government. They hoped to create the necessary sentiment and class solidarity, to awaken the pre-war militancy of the French proletariat and demolish the machine that is sapping the revolutionary will and energy of the working class—Jouhaux, Dumoulin, Merrheim, Bidegaray and their associates.

This strike was a challenge to them. If they refused to support it, their goose would be cooked; if they supported it whole-heartedly, the revolutionary syndicalists could wrest it from their control and give a new direction to its forces, possibly attempt a revolution. But the shrewd politicians of the C.G.T. chose neither of those courses. After seeing the folly of opposing this tornado, which would have meant suicide, they reluctantly “sympathized” with the struggle of the railroaders and stabbed them from behind. The unions they called “in sympathy” with the railroad strike were allowed to make their own choice of striking or not.

The burning of a tramway on the Saint-Germain line by transport strikers with the intervention of troops on horseback. June, 1919.

Some of the leaders of the railroad workers’ unions actually scabbed and carried on an insidious propaganda against the new “bolshevist regime” of their federation. Especially notorious were the leaders of the Northern Railway, who called off the strike just then when it was assuming a general extension.

The Consolidation of the Militants

During the war, as in all European countries, the majority of the syndicalists and socialists gave their support and connivance to the capitalists in the great murderfest. But in each country there remained an incorruptible and brave minority which rejected the infamous “union sacree”’ with the eternal enemy of the working class and held high the red flag of the workers’ International above the treason and odious compromises of the majority.

The minority in France was grouped round our valiant Fellow-Worker Pierre Monatte, editor of the syndicalist review, “La Vie Ouvriere”’ (The Toilers’ Life). All of the readers of The One Big Union Monthly know already the picturesque revolutionary career of Monatte. The men and women who joined his group are destined to play an important part in future events; nay, they have been in the thick of the battle against capitalism for many years and have carried the brunt of it ever since the armistice, when syndicalism of pre-war times assumed its function once more in some of the most important unions.

‘Coming out of the printing house of the CGT (1906). Pierre Monatte is third from the left.’

The railroad workers and metal workers were the center of all syndicalist action and propaganda. Since the defection of Merrheim, the Zimmerwaldian pilgrim, and of Dumoulin, the man who had pitilessly unmasked and denounced Jouhaux and his clique, the railroad workers’ union became the arena for the death-or-life struggle of the two tendencies. Monatte’s group was strengthened by the adherence of several important figures who had a considerable influence in this key industry: Gaston Monmousseau, a young and powerful orator, writer and organizer, leading spirit of the revolutionaries in the State Railway; Leon Midol, a man of forceful character and determination, who time and time again has harassed the railroad companies and their government with his “personal strikes” (“the one minute strike” on the P.L.M. in January, 1919, and the February railroad strike, 1920), a great student of transportation and production, general secretary of the most important railroad union, the Paris, Lyons and Mediterranean line; Dejonckere, of the State lines; Delagrange and Olivier, of the Paris-Orleans lines; Totti, of the P.L.M.; Leveque, of the State lines; Chaverot, of the P.L.M. We must not fail to mention here the capable and fear- less anarchist Sirolle, who is very close to Monatte’s group.

Class Struggle Against Class Collaboration

Marcel Bridegaray.

These militant syndicalists worked ceaselessly for the triumph of the principle of the class-struggle as opposed to the class collaboration practised by the officials of their general organization and the C.G.T. In the congress of their federation in May, 1919, Fellow Worker Monmousseau’s revolutionary motion was supported by 108,000 members as against 130,000 for that of Bidegaray, the conservative secretary of the federation.

In July, 1919, Bidegaray and the officials of the C.G.T. sabotaged the general strike called for protest against intervention in Russia and Hungary, and that was considered as an act of treason by the “minority,” who were in no mood to allow their government to stangulate the Russian revolution. The strike was called off on the eve of July 21st; Hungary was invaded and the intervention in Russia given an impetus. But that spelled the doom of Bidegaray’s power. The propaganda carried on against him and the other social traitors was very fruitful. In February, 1920, the workers of the State railway held their congress. By an overwhelming majority of 57,047 Monmousseau defeated Bidegaray in his own union, who rallied only 8,030 votes. The blow was stunning to the conservatives and an inspiration to the “bolshevist minority.” One by one the unions have been repudiating their “‘leaders” and the contingent of the militant syndicalist tendency was being reinforced with fresh recruits.

The February Railroad Strike

The companies and the government also played into the hands of the revolutionary minority; they delayed the granting of the demands of the railroad workers in spite of their solemn promises. The arrogant railroad magnates and directors were dreaming of crushing the revolutionary minority who constantly interrupted traffic and transportation; one line strikes today, another tomorrow. This, of course, means curtailment of profits and dividends. Besides, they were never too sure of their power if the revolutionary syndicalists were at the helm of the most important and powerful union. These “agitators’’ were never satisfied, and their battle-cry was, “the railroads to the railroad workers!’’

Lucien Midol in the 1930s.

The plunderers of France and their political dummies, Millerand, Lefevre (both ex-socialists, and now henchmen of the bourgeoisie), Steeg and Le Trocquer, knew that if Monmousseau, Midol, Sirolle and their fellow workers ever captured the Railroad Federation (or, as Monatte puts it masterfully, “render the organization to the rank and file”, the day will not be far off when they and their tactics will reconquer the General Confederation of Labor with its 2,500,000 members and “render the land to those who till it and the factories to the workers!”

The air was charged with disquieting portents; a shop delegate in the yards of Villeneuve-St. Georges, Campanaud, was suspended for forty-eight hours from work for unauthorized leave of absence. He had gone to Dijon to a shop delegates’ convention in spite of the refusal of the superintendent to grant him the necessary leave. The shop repairers at Villeneuve immediately struck in defense of their fellow worker; they considered the suspension an insult to their union and an invasion of their syndical rights, conquered with so much sacrifice.

Campanaud happens to belong to the most militant railroad union, the P.L.M., and in a few days Fellow Worker Leon Midol called out on strike the whole line. The order was obeyed by all; not a train moved on the main railroad artery in France. The Paris Central Railroad Committee, comprising delegates from all railroad lines (representing the rank and file, and not officials) decided to call out all other lines. Their jurisdiction did not embrace so much authority, but they knew where Bidegaray and his clique stood. The strike, a purely rank and file affair, was a marvelous demonstration of solidarity and class consciousness.

Mobilization Order Ignored

The officials were completely discredited by their compromise with the government and companies. The victory of the “minority” was assured for the next congress. Chaverot, Sirolle, Sigrand, Leveque and Hourdeaux, who were arrested for inciting the military to disobedience and revolt, were released. The Millerand government had learned a lesson from the other ex-socialist, Briand, who in 1910, broke the railroad strike by calling the strikers to the colors. Mobilization orders were issued but less than10 per cent responded. At Lyons the strikers piled up their mobilization orders in the Bourse du Travail, thousands refused to accept the registered letters with the orders; at other centers they were burned.

Railway workers on strike at Saint-Lazare station in October 1910,

The French workers have had enough of war and militarism. Besides, in 1910 they were only 40,000. Now they are over 300,000.

This “outlaw” strike accomplished a threefold mission: It dislocated and undermined the authority of the officials of the Railroad Federation and ultimately all the conservative leaders of the C.G.T.; strengthened and gave a momentum to the left syndicalist movement and beat the companies and government to a frazzle. The effects of the strike soon became evident: One by one the unions of the various systems began “cleaning their house,” getting rid of the cumbersome and timid “leaders,” and the rank and file, through the militant and young “extremists,” became masters of their own destiny.

The General Congress in April

The final coup-de-grace was delivered at the annual congress which lasted from April 21 to 24 in the famous Japy hall. That congress will be a landmark in the future revolutionary history of France. The two tendencies, revolutionary and evolutionary (not to call it reactionary), of syndicalism, which have relentlessly struggled for supremacy in directing the policies, tactics and ideals of the formidable union, met there for a decisive combat. There Monmousseau and his fellow workers mercilessly dealt with their Gomperses. In spite of the defense of Dumoulin and Jouhaux and his own followers in the federation, Bidegaray was vanquished. The “minority” of yesterday became actually a revolutionary majority. Bidegaray’s “moral” report was rejected and he and his executive were repudiated by a vote of 196,298 against 123,000 for it, with 16,031 abstention, the P.L.M. and Paris-Orleans voting almost unanimously “against,” while the Alsace-Lorraine unions voted en bloc “for” the report.

Thus the policies and conduct of Bidegaray were condemned and the criticisms and attacks of our fellow workers, Sirolle, Monmousseau and Midol, justified; they were contemptuously sneered at and told to keep their mouth shut, for, forsooth, “the majority had confidence in our wise and careful (read criminal) inaction!” This reply was always on the lips of the so-called majority, who camouflaged with it all their double-dealings and unclean business of strangulating the revolutionary tendencies of the rank and file.

The resolution on action of the new majority, which is a splendid declaration of syndicalist principles, reminding us of the pre-war C.G.T., is a classic document. “…the workers’ organization repeats that its final goal is the disappearance of capitalism and the wage system; it prepares the complete emancipation of the proletariat, which cannot be realized except through the expropriation of the capitalists, and it extols the general strike as the means of action; it considers that the union, today an organization of combat, in the future shall be the organ of production, the basis for social reconstruction.” It calls on the “cheminots” not to respond to the order of mobilization in time of strike.

“Complete Transformation” Their Demand

“Considering the lamentable situation of the economic life, which demands a profound modification of the actual state of affairs, and that the complete nationalization of the great public services, the land and water routes, the mines and the great industrial enterprises, will facilitate this transformation for the exclusive benefit of the collectivity, the congress decides, in the face of government provocations and the postponement of indispensable decisions, to commence an immediate strike action by putting forth the following demands:

Gaston Monmousseau.

“1, Nationalization.

“2. Immediate reinstatement of the revoked to their posts.

“3. The abandonment of judiciary prosecutions,

“4, Recognition of the syndical rights.”

This resolution was adopted by a vote of 171,037 (147,282 against, with 13,593 abstentions), the P. L. M. voting 65,248 for the resolution of the revolutionary syndicalists, which was read by Fellow Worker Totti of Marseilles, and 5,425 for that of the conservatives; the Eastern, 22,163 for it, 6,346 against; the Orleans road, 26,170 for, 20,000 against; the State lines, 42,091 for, 10,699 against; Alsace-Loraine, 23,000 for, 26,000 against. The biggest vote for the conservatives comes from the Compagnie du Nord, 41,491 against Monmousseau’s motion and 9,337 for it. This union is the most conservative and it scabbed during the first and second (May) strikes. They are helping rebuild the devastated regions and evidently are against all strikes hampering that task.

But at the final session in Aubervilliers, the congress unanimously adopted the following resolution:

“The congress, leaving aside all questions of tendencies and conceptions, and in complete accord upon the general demands presented by the federation, (1) nationalization, (2) reintegration of the revoked, (3) suspension of all judiciary prosecutions, (4) the recognition of syndical rights,

“Decides to call a general strike on all systems, leaving to the federal committee the care of fixing the date and examining if May First can be the pivot for action in accord with the C.G.T.”

The New Administration of the R.R. Federation

On May 26th the federal council of the “cheminots” elected the executive commission. By a vote of 28 against 18 for Bidegaray, Fellow Worker Edmond Leveque was elected administrative secretary; Fellow Worker Gaston Monmousseau, secretary of the propaganda bureau; Leon Midol, editor of the official organ (which has a circulation over 300,000) and documents. Fellow Worker Henri Sirolle was elected as delegate to the C.G.T. The majority of the executive committee is frankly revolutionary, and that makes the work of propaganda and agitation so much easier.

When the new administration, hailed by the venal press as “extremists,” “bolsheviki’? and what not, assumed its duties, they immediately put themselves to the task of calling the railroad workers on strike for the above mentioned program. The C.G.T. opposed any such move, but the militants of the Railroad Federation rammed down their throats the declaration of April 27, which could not be revoked. The glove was already thrown in the face of the insane government and arrogant railroad magnates.

The C.G.T. had to accept this bitter truth; once again they have been outmaneuvered by the “bolshevist elements,” as ‘‘Le Temps’ put it.

The strike, according to the Associated Press, was a complete tie-up on four systems out of the five. On May 6th the “Chicago Journal” published the following special cablegram:

“The Extent of the Strike Marseilles and Havre were completely tied up today by the strike of dock workers, while railroad service was greatly reduced. Only fifty-two trains were dispatched from St. Lazare station yesterday, while in normal times 562 leave this terminal daily. Ninety-four Ships Stranded at Marseilles. Developments of the French strike are assuming alarming proportions. The position of the seaports is becoming increasingly serious. Ninety-four ships with over 10,000 passengers are stranded at Marseilles, unable to continue their journeys. The strike, which has hitherto been confined to railroad men, dock men, seamen and miners, now threatens to overrun the metal and building trades. The metal workers declare they will throw down their tools tomorrow and the building workers have been instructed to be ready for the labor federation to call them out. Strikers attacked express trains near Lyons with rifles and stones, and the labor leaders assert that another important additional strike became effective today.”

1920 rail strike.

Persecutions a la Palmer

The government and the capitalist regime were in a state of hysterics. In spite of the fact that Jouhaux and his clique, who control the C.G.T., its press and unions, are as harmless as Gompers, and that on May 19 they called off the “sympathetic” strike, the ruling class felt a foreboding storm which might sweep them off with the rest of the useless dust filth and make a clean slate of the bloody reign of the bourgeoisie. ‘Soviets” began to be talked of; the general trend of thought began drifting toward a communist revolution. The fear and terror of the bourgeoisie might have been groundless, but it began reprisals by striking at the noblest and bravest worker Pierre Monatte. He was arrested on May 3rd, early in the morning, for “plotting against the internal safety of the State.”

The papers, the yellow, stinking prostituted press, began vomiting its sterile accusations. ‘“Lenin’s agent, who has takes money for his influential weekly, ‘La Vie Ouvriere’.”’ They told us that Monatte was once a teacher, but dismissed for revolutionary propaganda; that ever since the war has been occupied in fighting Jouhaux and all social traitors and that he is the leader of all French communists, recognized by Lenine and Trotsky and supported by them.

Just fourteen years ago Monatte was arrested and charged with the same “crime” for having incited the miners of Pas-de-Calais to rebellion. That time Clemenceau had his hands full when Monatte, Broutchoux and Griffuelhes were in prison. We hope that this time, too, Clemenceau’s successor, Millerand, will soon be compelled to release our heroic fellow worker and his associates.

The editorial team of the newspaper La Bataille syndicaliste in 1911. Bottom left, Amédée Dunois and right, Pierre Monatte.

After Monatte, Fellow Workers Totti and Verdier were arrested, one in Marseilles, the other in Decazeville. The latter was forcibly taken from the hands of the police by 500 railroad and metal workers and so far has not been rearrested. Some solidarity! Then Henri Sirolle, railroaders’ delegate to the C.G.T., was arrested. After these, Fernand Loriot, another prominent militant of the Teachers’ Federation and leader of the communist wing of the Socialist party; after Loriot, Fellow Worker Edmond Leveque, secretary of the Railroad Workers’ Federation; after him Delagrange, Courage, Briard; then the arm of “law and order’’ reached for Comrade Boris Souvarine, editor of the ‘‘Bulletin Communiste,” who, together with Monatte and Loriot, form the executive secretariat of the Third International in France; and on May 19 our brave Fellow Worker Monmousseau joined the above-mentioned in the famous “Sante” prison.

A Parallel Between France and Russia

The capitalist press informs us that seventeen arrested “‘bolsheviki” will be tried under the in- famous anarchist laws, commonly called scelerates” (rascally laws), in spite of the fact that only a few of the accused are avowed anarchists and they are arrested for activities in connection with a purely syndicalist manifestation. Sirolle, Leveque, Sigrand and Chaverot, all railroaders, are members of the Anarchist Federation and the “Libertaire” group; Monatte, Monmousseau, Dela- grange, Totti, Rey, Briand, Verdier and Midol are “pure”? syndicalists; Loriot and Souvarine — Marxians. But what does it matter to the hysterical bourgeoisie? It wants to get rid of them, and one law is just as good to them as another. But we are sure that the French proletariat will have more to say about the imprisoned fellow workers than the capitalist judges.

In the summer of 1917 the Russian Bolsheviki made a great demonstration in Petrograd against the useless and criminal murder of Russian soldiers by Kerensky and Kornilov, at the behest of the Allies’ agents in Russia. The same day, on the insistence of the same Allied agents, Kerensky and the ‘comrades’ of the Mensheviki ‘issued an order for the arrest of Lenin, Trotzky, Mme. Kollontay, Kamenev, Zinoviev and others. Zinoviev and Lenin went into hiding, while the rest were immured in the infamous Czarist fortress Sts. Peter and Paul. But they did not stay there very long. Two months after their release, Trotsky, Kamenev and Mme. Kollontay were at the head of the first workers’ government.

George Andreytchine.

The French bourgeoisie is in the same boat as the Russian was at that time. The productive and distributive organs of France have long ago ceased to function normally. Persecution of militant revolutionaries will not make them run any better. The capitalist system is completely discredited. Its end is nearer than we suspect. But a conscious revolutionary action and organization is necessary to accomplish the great transformation—the revolution.

Monatte and his fellow workers have looked into that matter and they have devoted not in vain their lives to the education and organization of the workers in industrial unions. They have well merited the love and devotion of the working class the world over. We wish them freedom and realization of their ideal, which is, as Monatte puts it: “Syndicalization of industry; the factories to the workers, the land to the peasants!’

The next encounter with the bourgeoisie will spell the doom of the rotten and criminal, bloodthirsty capitalist class. The Communist Revolution will succeed, thanks to the ready organization of our fellow workers, the syndicalists.

One Big Union Monthly was a magazine published in Chicago by the General Executive Board of the Industrial Workers of the World from 1919 until 1938, with a break from February, 1921 until September, 1926 when Industrial Pioneer was produced. OBU was a large format, magazine publication with heavy use of images, cartoons and photos. OBU carried news, analysis, poetry, and art as well as I.W.W. local and national reports. OBU was also Mary E. Marcy’s writing platform after the suppression of International Socialist Review., she had joined the I.W.W. in 1918.

PDF of full issue: https://archive.org/download/sim_one-big-union-monthly_1920-07_2_7/sim_one-big-union-monthly_1920-07_2_7.pdf

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