Click below to link to the Revolutionary History Journal index.
Peter Paul Markin comment on this series:
This is an excellent documentary source for today’s leftist militants to “discover” the work of our forebears, particularly the bewildering myriad of tendencies which have historically flown under the flag of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his Fourth International, whether one agrees with their programs or not. But also other laborite, semi-anarchist, ant-Stalinist and just plain garden-variety old school social democrat groupings and individual pro-socialist proponents.
Some, maybe most of the material presented here, cast as weak-kneed programs for struggle in many cases tend to be anti-Leninist as screened through the Stalinist monstrosities and/or support groups and individuals who have no intention of making a revolution. Or in the case of examining past revolutionary efforts either declare that no revolutionary possibilities existed (most notably Germany in 1923) or alibi, there is no other word for it, those who failed to make a revolution when it was possible.
The Spanish Civil War can serve as something of litmus test for this latter proposition, most infamously around attitudes toward the Party Of Marxist Unification's (POUM) role in not keeping step with revolutionary developments there, especially the Barcelona days in 1937 and by acting as political lawyers for every non-revolutionary impulse of those forebears. While we all honor the memory of the POUM militants, according to even Trotsky the most honest band of militants in Spain then, and decry the murder of their leader, Andreas Nin, by the bloody Stalinists they were rudderless in the storm of revolution. But those present political disagreements do not negate the value of researching the POUM’s (and others) work, work moreover done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.
Finally, I place some material in this space which may be of interest to the radical public that I do not necessarily agree with or support. Off hand, as I have mentioned before, I think it would be easier, infinitely easier, to fight for the socialist revolution straight up than some of the “remedies” provided by the commentators in these entries from the Revolutionary History journal in which they have post hoc attempted to rehabilitate some pretty hoary politics and politicians, most notably August Thalheimer and Paul Levy of the early post Liebknecht-Luxemburg German Communist Party. But part of that struggle for the socialist revolution is to sort out the “real” stuff from the fluff as we struggle for that more just world that animates our efforts. So read, learn, and try to figure out the
wheat from the chaff.
6: How to organize-From La voix des travailleurs de chez Renault, No 8, 3 June 1947La voix des travailleurs de chez Renault was a printed paper, price 2 francs. Though on the front page, the Bois piece is not the main article. Whatever opinion readers may have of its contents, its style and vocabulary are simple, direct and so very easy to translate. Simply from the point of view of the technique of communicating with workers; it may have something to teach many of us.
How can we stay as united as we were during the strike? To run a strike we had a strike committee. But a strike committee stops functioning when the strike ends.
Some comrades think that we should turn the strike committee into an action committee.
Now a committee is a body which has a clear job to do. It can only exist for a well-defined purpose. For instance, a committee can be set up which groups together workers of every type, to run canteens, which will try to control the canteen.
A committee can be set up to purge, which has the well-defined task of purging (whether this is a good or bad thing is another question). A committee can be set up for workers’ defence which will have the job of defending workers’ meetings, premises and press.
But there are continual daily jobs to do in the working class movement. I am thinking of the collection of subs, getting premises for meetings, putting out agitational propaganda and creating continual liaison between workers in different shops and factories; in a word organising the most militant workers. That is the job of a union. And if we disagree with the CGT union it is because they have not done these jobs. Do they tap us for subs? Then they do it to put out lies about strikes. Trade union meetings? They do not do this – they want to prevent the workers from speaking. The shop next door can be on strike and they are not even told about it by their union.
The CGT does not organise workers – it just collects their subs.
We need a real union, that is a union which is not controlled by operators, but which is controlled by the trade union’s rank and file.
We must have democracy now. And we cannot do that in the CGT today. Everyone who has contradicted the leadership has been chucked out. And even where a tiny opposition can still hold out they are forever prisoners of the ‘majority’.
That is why the Collas comrades, after electing an executive from their ranks, are heading into opposition from the trade union bureaucracy, which has refused to recognise them. That is why this Executive Committee, which has organised itself into an Action Committee, has decided to create a union.
Some comrades think that this is too difficult a job. That is to underestimate our strength, and to overestimate that of the leadership of the CGT.
In actual fact the union does not contain millions of trade union members. The union groups and organises the most conscious and combative workers. If today there are a lot of trade union members it is because the trade union only asks them for 40 francs a month. Fifty active trade unionists are better than 2,000 passive subpayers.
The position that we put forward is not that of building a union opposed to the CGT. What we wish to do is to reconstruct the union from its base upwards. We will not build a single separate union either, for that would be to say that we are limiting ourselves to Renault. We are in favour of a single all-embracing union, that is to say a federation of unions grouped into a confederation – like the CGT.
But we think that at the moment there is no CGT. There is only a trade union bureaucracy putting our subs in the bank.
We do not want to pay subs to those people who only betray us. To reform the CGT without its bureaucracy we must rebuild the trade union from the bottom up, which will then group together federations which will then unite in a national confederation. This work may seem difficult, but we have no choice in the matter – there is no other way. What we must do is to reform our union from the base up to create a real democracy through a continuous control of the union by its rank and file. That is why the Collas workers are building the Renault Democratic Union, whose constitution will soon be available and will be put before all the Renault workers.
They appeal then to these workers to support them.
7: The democratic union at Renault
From Front Ouvrier Renault, 10 July 1947More than five weeks later, this and the following article appeared in Front Ouvrier Renault, 10 July 1947, as a reply to the above statement after the elections to the works council. Front Ouvrier Renault, subtitled Organe de la Tendence Revolutionnaire de la CGT, was four badly duplicated pages. There is no price given, so it was probably handed out as a leaflet. Daniel Renard (1925-1988) remained a member of the PCI and the OCI led by Pierre Lambert until his death on 15 November 1988
The creation of an independent union is not a new thing in the history of the workers’ movement. This question raises numerous problems which we cannot deal with here for lack of space. We will take up this problem in future issues
No.8 of the Voix des Travailleurs tells us of the formation of a Renault Democratic Union. Straightaway we must clearly say that this union, which the comrades of Union Communiste wish to create, has nothing to do with the strike committee which led last April’s strike. The strike committee arose from, and so represented, all the strikers, whatever their political or trade union opinions, but the majority of these comrades do not agree with this initiative of the Voix des Travailleurs. In this sense no tendency can claim to be the rightful successor of the strike committee and to state falsely that: “The most combative elements of the strike committee find themselves in the embrace of the CB of the Democratic Union”. 
Is it correct to create an independent union opposed to the CGT and the CNT? In our opinion, no! Today, in spite of their unspeakable behaviour, the trade union bureaucrats have still been able to win the whole list of workers’ delegates. This means that the trade union leaders who betrayed the demands of the workers are going to continue to represent them to Lefauchoux. Was this inevitable? Not at all! During the strike, when these representatives showed themselves to be scabs, the strike committee could have openly called for new trade union elections throughout the works. It would have been possible to throw out the scabs and to elect an EC of those who had shown themselves to be the best defenders of the claim. If this slogan had been given at that time, today the Trade Union Council of the works would have had on it a majority from the strike committee. The CGT would then become again what it had ceased to be: an organisation for the defence of the workers.
Instead of doing this, the SDR, which actually does not represent anyone, will isolate the best fighters from an absolutely vital struggle which must be waged against the Stalinists of the CGT in order to throw them out of its leading positions. So they have committed the same, or an even worse, error than the comrades of the CNT. And when the SDR asks the CNT why it played no role in the strike, which is true, if they continue in this orientation then tomorrow, in another movement, we will put that same question to them. For, if the CNT, despite the devotion of many of its members, was incapable of playing a role, it was because it was isolated from the real struggle of the masses, on the terrain where, in spite of all deceptions, they wished to fight. The terrain of the CGT must be returned to the workers. That is why the old ‘hards’ of Renault, even if they tore up their union cards, even if they did not get their cards stamped up, have voted for the CGT. Not for the Stalinists, but for a trade union organisation which they hoped would one day be theirs again. That is why the militants of Front Ouvrier called upon the workers to take up their cards, to go to the general meetings and to rejoin the union ranks because we want to throw out the incompetents and scabs.
The SDR, because of its narrow character, will not be able to play the role which is that of a mass trade union and to defend the interests of workers. The trade union of a sect renders sterile those tempted by it. It is not too late for comrades embarked on the wrong road to overcome their errors and return to the CGT and force on them a Works Council which is representative of all the workers.
1. Note by translator: this does not appear to be a quote from the Bois article though such a statement could be thought as implicit in its contents.
8: Are the elections a victory for the CGT?
From Front Ouvrier Renault, 10 July 1947Fifty nine per cent of the voters and 80 per cent of those who voted, such is the CGT score in the last delegate elections.
By comparison with the elections of last year, it is a reverse, but in comparison with the strike pushed against the CGT leadership this is only half a defeat. Why?
The so-called Democratic Union was incapable of putting a list forward in the elections and its call for abstentions was not followed. Faced with the reactionary CFTC, the workers had no other choice but the CGT.
If these are the same delegates as before, this is because the revolutionaries are still unable to destroy their treacherous leadership. But the results of the vote justify the work undertaken by the Front Ouvrier to throw out the scabs and strike-breakers from the leadership of the CGT.