‘Vistas of the Revolution in France’ by Helena Blonina (Inessa Armand) from Communist International. No. 3. July, 1919.

Inessa Armand

Transcribed for the first time here, Inessa Armand (writing as Helena Blonina), flush with revolutionary possibilities, surveys the chaotic and inspiring events in France during the first year of ‘peace’ with this essay for the Comintern.

‘Vistas of the Revolution in France’ by Helena Blonina (Inessa Armand) from Communist International. No. 3. July, 1919.

A year ago the revolutionary movement in France already assumed such considerable dimensions that the country was on the eve of a revolutionary outbreak. In the spring of 1918, mutinies occurred in many regiments, and, bore such a decided character that there was a moment that the Command of the French Army was doubtful of its ability to restrain this movement. In the summer a wave of strikes and demonstrations surged throughout France, and in many places soldiers who were ordered out against the demonstrators refused to obey (as in Lyons). But especially significant was the political strike, begun by the metal workers, who brought forward only one demand, — the immediate revelation of the true aims of the war. This strike spread also into the provinces. In Paris alone several hundred thousand workmen ceased work, and this strike, which had been organised by factory delegates, might have attained something yet more grandiose, if the whole enterprise had not miscarried in the hands of the Syndical centres, with Merheim at their head, who thus proved himself a traitor to the revolution. In one word, France was ready for Revolution last year, but the course of military events having hastened the development of the Revolution in Germany suspended it for a time.

During the first months after the Armistice, there was a full in France. The French workmen were under the illusion that the Peace and Wilson’s ‘League of Nations’ would heal their wounds and give vitality to their aspirations. But, little by little, as the demobilized soldiers returned from the Front, and the incapacity of the Conference became more apparent, this illusion faded — it was clear that the Peace Conference would lead to nothing.

At the present moment, we again observe amongst the French Workers, a long unheard of outburst of the Revolutionary spirit. Worn out by five years of war, the slaves of French Imperialism are beginning to present their ‘bill of costs,’ and the costs are hearty — one million and a half killed, as any more maimed for life, industry destroyed; about a million of unemployed (this figure was given in March when the demobilization was not half accomplished); an unending financial crisis.

Day by day, the workmen see more and more clearly that they have only themselves to rely upon; that the only war out of the present complicated situation is through Socialism. Sympathy and solidarity with the Russian Revolution, with the soviets, with Communism, with its leaders Lenin and Trotzky, and faith in the possibility of realizing the vitality of the Soviets, is increasing. There is scarcely any workers’ meeting in France at present that does not pass a resolution of sympathy with Soviet Russia; or a protest against intervention in the affairs of nations struggling for Socialism.

At the Jaurès’ demonstration in Paris, in which 300,000 persons took part, the predominant cry, which drowned all others was — ‘The Soviets, the Soviets, the Soviets! Long live Lenin and Trotzky!” This demonstration, which has not been equaled in France for a long time, and which by its grandeur and enthusiasm surpassed all the expectations of the French Socialists, was not only a manifestation of the increasing strength and unity of the Parisian workmen but a revelation of their growing revolutionary spirit and readiness for fight. The Bourgeoisie was amazed, and directly after the demonstration, hurriedly passed through Parliament the law for the ‘Eight hours working day’; thus hoping to calm the workmen, and, by the way, to prevent the demonstration of the First of May. But this last object was, apparently, not attained, inasmuch as (according to the press) the streets of Paris became the scene, not only of demonstrations, but also barricades and armed collisions, Never before had the celebration of the First of Mav been prepared with such assiduity as this year. Tho most extensive preliminary campaign was carried through. In every corner of France, the organizations of the Party and of the Syndicates arranged workers’ meetings which unanimously passed resolutions for the ‘Eight hours working day,’ for participation in the celebration of the First of May; for the abolition of the tax on wages, in most cases these resolutions were accompanied by greetings to the Soviet Republics, and by a protest against intervention in Russian affairs. At many meetings such decisions as the following were voted: “To continue to aim at the realization of Communism in the Communist International” “To summon all the Labour Organizations to commence an immediate struggle against the regime of crime and injustice; against the dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie and ruling classes,” And to rouse the Proletariat to the final contest for the extermination of ‘class distinctions’ and for the institution of a collectivist or Communist society,” etc.

In the provinces, the First of May probably passed in a no less revolutionary manner than in Paris, and this fact must be especially taken into consideration, that, at the present moment the provinces are not only not behind, but even surpass Paris in revolutionary spirit. At the same time we observe a considerable development of the French Labour organizations, and also an extraordinary (for France) influx of members to the Syndicates.

Inessa Armand

The Confédération Général du Travail counts more than a million regularly paying members. Even the clerks have organized themselves and joined the Labour-Exchange. The number of unemployed, in the month of March, had reached nearly a million. Tho cost of living is continually Increasing in the provinces. The wages paid out constitute only three-fifths of real wages. The working day is still very long. Economic strikes are continually breaking out in one branch of industry or another.

Of special interest was the demonstrational strike of the railway workers, in the course of which, at a given time, all railway work throughout France stood still for a quarter of an hour. The same experiment was tried by the post office officials. In the army also, things do not stand well; the soldiers are worn out, and in one voice with the workmen claim an immediate demobilization. Meanwhile the demobilization has reached the1906 class. The rest of the soldiers are still under arms, as the Allies want troops for the occupation of Germany and other countries. Discontent and insubordination are growing amongst the French soldiers.

The prisons are all overcrowded with soldiers. The number of these arrested amounts to 60,000, and many of them are confined for having refused to fight against Russia. More than once, the French Imperialists have had to remove from Russia different detachments, which declined to use their arms against the Russian Soviets. On board the «Austria» the crew and the soldiers refused to go to Russia and mutinied, during the course of which all the officers were arrested and the General who was sent on board to calm the soldiers and sailors, declared that their claim to be immediately disembarked on arriving at Marseilles, would be granted and that the police would not interfere with them.

The working masses are so much against intervention that not a single meeting is held without a resolution, embodying this principle, being passed. Marcel Callien, from the Parliamentary tribune, implored the soldiers to refuse to go to Russia. Maleras, to enforce the same principle, incited them even to rebellion.

In the Soviet Party and in the Syndicates, just as in the masses the influence of the Russian and German revolution, together with that of the Third International, is growing, and amongst the advance-guard of the French working-class there exists already an important communistic nucleus; but neither in the Party nor in the Syndicates is there, as yet, any dissension. Perical stands near to Jeheux, Loriot, and Somone; Paul Faure and Frossart still associate with Renaudel, Compére-Morel and Albert Thomas. The Socialist fractions are, at present, completely compromised in the eyes of the masses. At the meetings they are not allowed to speak, and it is enough fur Jeheux and Renaudel to make their appearance on the platform, for furious cries to break out. There have been cases even of open fight. The speakers on the ‘Right’ were expelled and the tribune taken possession of by those on the ‘Left’ whose names are not even mentioned in the lists. The Social-traitors continue to warm up their doctrine of ‘civil-peace’ but with a different sauce. Jeheux, Weber, and Compere-Morel assert that the economic conditions are not yet ripe for Socialism, and that therefore, in order to find the best way out of the present intricate condition of imminent ruin, it is necessary for masters and workmen to unite in friendly union. Jeheux, who is simply a satellite of Louchor (the Minister of Commerce), proposes to form a ‘National Economic Council’, in which representatives of the enterprises of the workmen and of the Government would take part. In the League of Nations there exists an organ of Labour, which, according to the designs of its promoters, must evaluate all labour questions on an international scale and which must also comprise representatives of the government, employers, and workmen, By the way, Jeheux and Vandervelde take part in this organ.

All these things taken together are rapidly and unrestrainably destroying the last vestiges of confidence and authority which these persons still enjoyed. The former minority of the party has already become its majority and hold in their hands the appears and the centres of the party. The elements on the Right have lost their influence to such a degree that at the last Congress of the party they had not the courage even to bring forward their resolutions. At the Federation of Gard Compère-Morel, who, once upon a time was a god and a king, was left in such a minority that he was obliged to withdraw his resolution.  

The masses are irresistibly forcing their leaders more and more to the Left. Tho circulation of the central organ of the French Socialist party ’Humanite’ which in the course of the war, when this paper was in the hands of majority socialists, fell to an insignificant number, ran up to a 100,000 as soon as it was taken over by the minority and the Right had ceased its collaboration. Populaire, which is not read throughout France, but only in Paris and the Department of the Seine, has attained a circulation of 15,000 copies. But the number of the Populaire which was devoted to Soviet Russia reached the high number of 56,000 copies. At present all the ‘Left’ papers sell rapidly for instance — La Vague, a small very popularly controlled weekly, edited by Brison, circulates its 60,000 copies. The International, a weekly, edited by Pericals, which openly proclaimed itself a Bolshevist organ, is already, from its seventh number, a sale of 15.000 copies. In the Party, the struggle between the Left and the Right elements is emphasizing Itself. The question of the Russian Revolution; of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and of the Third International, give rise to heated debates, and the orators of the Right cannot speak on the subjects of Bolshevism, the October Revolution, and the proletarian Dictatorship, without foaming mouths.

The so-called “minoritists” (something like the Russian menshevists), who at the present moment compose the majority of the party, uniting most varied elements, from Paul Faure and Frossert, to Longuet and Marcel Callien, cling at all costs to the idea of unity and will not consent to expel the Right of the party, trying to smooth off all angles and reconcile what is irreconcilable. Thanks to such a course of action, L’Humanité for instance, is completely colourless, or such curious instances occur, as with the Franchise Bill. In order to create a level on which all the currents would unite the minoritists, or at any rate, their Left elements, modified their position, and insisted that this scheme also should be brought forward at the Congress in the quality of a resolution on the current moment. This project was signed both by the Social-patriots and by the Minoritists; but two of our comrades, Loriot and Somone, opposed to this plan one of their own which had been worked out by ‘The Socialist Section of the Committee for Renewing International Relations.’ After a very good preface, which speaks of the incapacity of the Bourgeoisie to repair the general havoc created by the war; and of the necessity of revolution and proletarian dictatorship our comrades proposed the following programme:

1. Seizure of power by the proletariat;

2. institution of obligatory labour;

3. the socialization of all means of production and exchange, of the land, of commerce, of transport, under the immediate administration of peasants and workmen.

4. the distribution of all products by means of cooperative and municipal shops under the control of labour societies;

5. the municipalization of dwelling-houses, hotels, etc.;

6. the abolition of the bureaucracy, and the transfer of the management of all their affairs to the hands of the employees;

7. General disarmament, as result of the union of all proletarian republics in the socialist International.

Not only in the working-class but also in the midst of the socialist party, in the advance-guard of the proletariat and in the assemblies of the Confederation of the Socialistic Party, the voting proved clearly that great is already the influence of Communism in France. The International Congress of the Third International and the formation of the Bureau gave a strong incentive to self-criticism in the party and showed the necessity of an explicit answer to the question as to whither they were trending, and what path they ought to pursue: either with the Communists in the Third International or stay with Scheidemann in the Second International. It was this that forced the French minoritista to raise the question in the order of the day as to what their standard would be.

This question had been put previously, at the meetings of the Federation. Only two points of view were brought forward — that of the minoritisis and that of the Communists, The Right elements, Compere-Morel, Renaudel and others, hesitated to propose the special resolution as they felt helpless. The minoritiss point of view was the following. For the present we do not definitely decide to join the Third International, but at the Congress of the Second International, which was to be held in the summer, we shall form the Opposition, having previously tried to induce the Bolshevists Iikewise to be present. We shall expel the extreme Right and undesirable elements and thus transform and improve the Second International. Should we not succeed in doing this, we shall forsake the Second International and definitely join the Third International.

The Communists, on the contrary, proposed to join the Third international immediately. The voting on those two different standpoints is interesting. At the Congress of the Federation of the Seine, on the question of general politics, the resolution of the minoritists obtained 3,851 votes; the resolution of Loriot 2,363; the resolution of Bluhme (a little more Right than the first)1,298: on the question of the International, the minoritista obtained 3,999 votes; Loriot obtained 2,214, and Bluhme 1,305. For the franchise bill, the programme proposed by the minoritists received 2,351 votes and that of Loriot 2,015. The first steps towards the creation of a ‘centre’ are already being taken, and at the end of last April was to appear the first number of The Workman’s Life. On the editorial staff, we find on one side the Socialists Loriot, Somone and Boris Suvorine; aad on the other the Syndicalists Rosmer and Monat. Unfortunately Perient does not collaborate in the work of this organ but separately edits the paper International. However, we hope that in the near future our French comrades will comprehend the necessity of a breach with the Social-patriots and complete harmony amongst the revolutionary elements of the Labour movement in France in their common struggle for the Third International, All the conditions necessary for the Revolution are apparent. France is passing through a grave economic and financial crisis. Her principal centres of industry are destroyed; hundreds of towns and villages laid waste; the blast-furnaces are extinguished; the mines are flooded; the transport is in confusion. The Bourgeoisie can find no way of escape from financial ruin. The victory has proved a Pyrrhic victory. The French bourgeoisie is desperately struggling to extricate itself, in some way or other, from a situation in which it is threatened with destruction, but it Is trying to arrive at this end by the boldest, barefaced dictatorship. The role of Parliament is, in a way evident to everyone, reduced to a nonentity, The entire Bourgeois press stands openly for the government. Militarism, with state of siege and martial law, are predominant in France. The labour organizations are persecuted, the press mercilessly curtailed. The French Bourgeoisie is nourishing the sword and trying to force its dictatorship on to all Europe. Paris has become the centre of universal reaction. But all these attempts only reveal, more clearly, to the eyes of the proletariat in France and in other nations, that the Bourgeoisie is helpless, and that the only way out of this situation is through Revolution and Socialism.

At the same time, the idea of Communism, which until so recently exercised only an insignificant influence, is now growing and spreading. One of the last ramparts of imperialism is rapidly falling to pieces. We cannot predict exactly to a day, or to a month, when the Revolution will break out, but that France is now on the eve of Revolution can be asserted with confidence.

The ECCI published the magazine ‘Communist International’ edited by Zinoviev and Karl Radek from 1919 until 1926 irregularly in German, French, Russian, and English. Unlike, Inprecorr, CI contained long-form articles by the leading figures of the International as well as proceedings, statements, and notices of the Comintern. No complete run of Communist International is available in English. Both were largely published outside of Soviet territory, with Communist International printed in London, to facilitate distribution and both were major contributors to the Communist press in the U.S. Communist International and Inprecorr are an invaluable English-language source on the history of the Communist International and its sections.

PDF of full issue: https://archive.org/download/communist-international-no.-1-17-1919-may-1921/Communist%20international%20no%2001-6%201919.pdf

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