The Great Return Of “Class Against Class

Jean-Luc Mélenchon would no longer be admitted to the Republic while Marine Le Pen would be enthroned there with great fanfare? Unacceptable and incredibly dangerous, denounces Roger Martelli. But the absurdity of the concert which excludes La France insoumise from the so-called “republican arc” cannot be the justification for turning in on oneself, even in the name of popular unity.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has just published a scathing blog post, in which he denounces the maneuvers around the “republican arc”. He is a thousand times right to criticize the use of this notion, which legitimizes the trivialization of the National Rally, erases the accelerated rightwardization of the Republicans and makes the authoritarian order chosen by the government a possible basis for national unity. We can and we must stand up with him against the unacceptable amalgamation that is made between the “extreme”, which allows us to strike blows against La France insoumise and to remain discreet about the National Rally, which we rank less and less on the side of the extreme right!

But Jean-Luc Mélenchon is wrong, in the name of this intolerable exclusion, to return the stigma to include, in the denunciation of the republican arch, everything that is not La France insoumise, left and right together. In fact, he seizes the opportunity to take up the theory, described by Chantal Mouffe as “left populism”, which explains that the political scene is no longer a matter of conflict between the right and the left, that it is reduced to the face -to-face of “them” and “we”, of “people” and “caste”. France, he tells us, is already on the side of the countries that have chosen the extreme right: Hungary, Poland, Italy. The caste, “gôche” included, is gathered in the detestation of LFI? The people therefore no longer have any other rallying point than La France insoumise…

In the 1930s, the communist movement was tempted by this withdrawal which, in the name of the “fascization” of democracy, deduced that political life was reduced to the dilemma of “communism or fascism” and that everything that was not not communism, on the right as on the left, was only the expression of a beleaguered bourgeois bloc (the socialists themselves were then treated as “social-fascists”). Fortunately, this phase of isolation was abandoned in 1934 and the PCF had the intelligence to move from the disastrous line of “class against class” to that of the “popular front”.

Unite the people, unite the left, promote a left that is well on the left; to oppose the projects of the right and the extreme right with a project of the left (not only a program) and to unite around it, without a spirit of exclusion: these are the only ways to avoid the worst. Any other way can give the impression of clarity and a salutary radicalism: it risks being in fact only the legitimization of a formidable political isolation. It’s too good a gift to Marine Le Pen and to those who have their eyes fixed on her.

The following text is taken from a book to be published at the end of the summer. He evokes the years of the disastrous communist strategy of “class against class”, which almost cost communism and democracy dearly. History never repeats the dishes. But, if it does not give lessons, it forces you to think. Perhaps to avoid tirelessly repeating the same mistakes…

At the time of “class against class” (early 1930s)

At the beginning of the 1930s, the young PCF was in a double-sided situation. He settled in the political landscape, has a real militant dynamism, acts on the union level with the so-called “unitary” CGT, installs the bases of a municipal communism and engages with courage in the pacifist and anti-colonialist fight, at the time of the occupation of the Ruhr by French troops or during the Rif War, which saw the Moroccan rebel leader Abd el-Krim rise up against the French and Spanish occupiers.

However, while a majority of French Socialists declared themselves in favor of joining the Communist International, created in Moscow in 1919, voters subsequently gave the main advantage to the maintained Socialists, who received twice as many votes than the enemy communist brothers. The PCF is a party of militant workers rooted in the suburbs, but it is an isolated party, soon subjected to violent police repression. “Communism is the enemy,” declared the radical-socialist Minister of the Interior Albert Sarraut in April 1927.

It must be admitted that the Communists gladly return the courtesy. They do so all the more so as the Communist International, now dominated by Stalin, pushes them in this direction. For a few years now, Moscow has stopped dreaming of the world revolution expected after 1917. Soviet Russia no longer believes in the great planetary revolutionary tide and withdraws into itself, waiting for better days. In the absence of a “permanent revolution”, we will temporarily be content with “socialism in one country”.

Around 1927-1928, a new political line took shape within the Communist International, which was created in Moscow in 1919 and which was now entirely controlled by Stalin. The capitalist world, explain the Russian leaders, entered a “third period”: after the revolutionary wave which followed 1917 and the stabilization of 1924-1927, came the time of crises, of the “fascization” of the regime and new revolutionary perspectives. But this implies that the Communists renounce compromises, legalism and parliamentarism: the time has come for direct and decisive confrontations, “class against class”.

In this tense context, where the fear of war takes a paroxysmal turn, the question of alliances is no longer relevant. From now on, these are blocks that are face to face: on the one hand the bourgeoisie and its imperialism, on the other the proletariat backed by its “Soviet fatherland”. There is no longer any half measure in the face of a bourgeois bloc where one no longer distinguishes between right wing and left wing, where fascism and socialism are so close together that from now on one will vilify the “social fascists” of the Socialist International. Ultimately, it was the socialists who were then considered the most dangerous, because they prevented radicalized workers from joining the ranks of the communists…

Willy-nilly, the French CP is fully committed to this line, which leads to unprecedented state repression. Under the erratic impulse of Moscow, the French communist leadership is tightened and purified. On the ground, the mass political strike and the violent occupation of the street (“for one eye, two eyes, for one tooth, the whole face”) are the recommended forms of militant mobilization. “In the present situation of the workers’ movement, of the fascist development of the government and of the reformist organizations, of the transition to open fascist dictatorship, we must pose the proletarian solutions, give the antifascist mass movement a class character, and the only way to to do so is to already propagate among the masses the essential ideas of proletarian democracy” (Raymond Barbé, before the Political Bureau, February 13, 1930).

The new line is disappointing. On a European scale, the reaction is gaining momentum almost everywhere, authoritarian regimes are settling in the East, Nazism prevails in Germany, the labor movement is crushed in Austria. In France, the left certainly won the legislative elections of 1932 by a wide margin. But it was divided, the radicals hesitated between loyalty to the Cartel des gauches and alliances with the right, while the socialists were disconcerted by the extent of the economic crisis. and politics. As for the PCF, which had well passed the course of the first round of the legislative elections of 1928 (11.3% of the votes cast), it was barely above 8% in 1932 (10 deputies against 26 in 1924). His mobilization attempts all fail, one after the other, and the failures accentuate his isolation. The icing on the cake, on February 6, 1934, the republic was once again directly threatened by the pressure of an extreme right which drew its resources from the tradition.

Officially, the Communist International is sticking to its “class against class” line. But Moscow is worried about European developments. At the head of the International, under the impetus of the Bulgarian Georges Dimitrov, part of the management expressed doubts about the viability of the strategy in place. In Paris, uncomfortable with a closing line that he accepts, but which does not correspond to the slightly more open culture of the “united front”, Maurice Thorez carefully follows what is simmering in Moscow . In the spring, he seized the first signals from the international centre. In June, the PC signs a Pact of unity of action with the “social-fascists” of yesterday. In the fall, a further step is taken in the direction of the radicals. The “Popular Front” is now in motion and becomes an official line in 1935, for the entire communist movement. At the beginning of the 1930s, the reference model of the International was the German Communist Party, whose entirely proletarian harshness was willingly opposed to the latent opportunism of the French; in 1935, the PCF appeared as a substitute model.

We know the effects of this unexpected turn. At the beginning of 1936, the Rassemblement Populaire program was signed by around a hundred political, social and cultural organisations. In 1936, the left alliance won the legislative elections. The PCF, which spectacularly consolidated its municipal communism in 1935, exceeded 15% and multiplied by seven its number of deputies in the legislative elections of 1936. The left regained its colors, the red joined the tricolor, the Popular Front won , the socialist Léon Blum becomes head of government, the ballot boxes and the strike impose major social measures, the worker figure is then at the center of the French social landscape. Between 1934 and 1936, the division of the left gives way to their rallying, under the auspices of anti-fascism, but around a slogan that suggests a much broader ambition: “Bread, peace, freedom “.

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