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Althusser Party

Althusser Party

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Louis Althusser
What Must Change in the Party
The defeat of the Union of the Left has seriously confused the popular masses andfilled many Communists with profound disquiet.
!
A ‘workerist’-----or moreprecisely sectarian-----faction is openly rejoicing at the break with the SocialistParty, presenting it as a victory over the social-democratic danger. But themajority of militants are alarmed, not only at the grave setback itself, but above allat the condition in which this strange defeat took place. Moreover, somethingnew is happening. While they wait for an explanation from the Party leadership, themilitants are themselves beginning to analyse the process that led to the defeat:namely, the line actually followed by the Party, with all its somersaults, and thevagaries of its practice. What they seek from the leadership is an assurance that itwill respect the material conditions without which the analysis cannot be pursuedor its conclusions discussed. In particular, they are demanding an open forum inthe party press and genuinely democratic preparation of the Twenty-ThirdCongress.Faced with this movement, the party leadership is progressively establishing adual system of defence: at once dictating the conclusions in advance, and
19
 
 
channelling discussion in order to defuse it. On
20
March
1978
, thePolitical Bureau declared: ‘It will of course be necessary to draw all thelessons of the battle that has just been waged.’ They speak in the future
 
tense, as befits the opening of an investigation; but they do so only in
 
order to provide
advance-conclusions. First conclusion 
: ‘The Communist
 
Party bears no responsibility for this situation.’ Apart from anything else,
 
this formula has the advantage of sheltering the leadership, which took all
 
the decisions, behind the Party, which suffered all the consequences.
Second conclusion 
:
 
‘The guiding line
[
of the Party
]
has remained consistentduring the last six years.’ Thus, in his report of 
29
March, Fiterman couldemphasize the Party’s heroism in conducting a battle, under difficultconditions, that was lost through the fault of the socialists: ‘We did notwant a defeat . . . We must reflect upon it, discuss it, and draw all thenecessary lessons. But it is clear that, given the basic facts which I havejust recalled, there was no other serious and responsible orientation than
 
the one we took. Of that the Political Bureau is very firmly convinced.’
 
Thank you for the very firm conviction. The Political Bureau must bevery ‘firmly convinced’ indeed, if it can dispense with any proof, offeringus ‘conclusions without a premiss’ and a judgement without an analysis.This reveals in its true light the call launched by the Political Bureau: theanalysis has to be made . . . only on the basis of the leadership’s‘conclusions without a premiss’. And when Georges Marchais calls foranalysis on the grounds that the situation requires ‘discussion andreflection’ (
Humanité 
,
 
4
April), he indicates that ‘party units dispose of 
 
important material 
. . .
with which to develop this examination’. What
 
material
?
In particular 
,
 
the Political Bureau statement of 
20
March, and
 
the report which Charles Fiterman presented to regional secretaries on
 
behalf of the Political Bureau.’ The circle is completed, then, the ground
 
is staked out. On the basis of such rich material, the discussion canproceed in all freedom-----that is, it can lock itself up in the conclusionspresented beforehand.Communists know what is
really 
meant by Georges Marchais’s appeal‘We must discuss, that is quite right.’ Discussion in
partitioned 
cells,
 
at the
 
most a branch conference, but no more. And so, there will not be ageneralized, free exchange of analyses and experiences among militants
 
from different sectors, or between manual and intellectual workers-----thekind of discussion which strengthens and sharpens. You will discuss
 
freely, but on the basis of the conclusions contained in ‘importantdocuments’ and exclusively in the framework of your basic organizations(cells, branches).Such is the official response to a rising Party-wide demand for openforums in the Party press to make possible such exchange and
 
comparison. The leadership has already said no:
out of the question 
,
 
not for a
 
!
 
The text that follows was published in four parts in
Le Monde 
,
 
on
24
,
25
,
26
and
27
April
1978
. Publication was timed to coincide with the first Central Committee meeting after the
 
elections (first round
12
March, second round
19
March), which was held on
26
,
27
and
28
 April. A slightly revised version of Althusser’s text has since been published by François
 
Maspéro in book form, with a foreword commenting on Marchais’s report to the April
CC
 
meeting. All footnotes to the English translation have been added by
NLR
.
20
 
 
single moment. At first, Marchais even justified this refusal by talking of aclause in the statutes, according to which open forums are only organizedin order to prepare a congress. But, in reality,
no such clause exists 
.
There is
 
not a single reference to discussion forums in the statutes. It would be
 
hard enough, in the present circumstances, to accept that a workers’
 
leader should invoke ‘the law’ against Party militants. But Marchais does
 
more than that: he makes it up!
It is necessary to know of this outright refusal 
in order to understand whyCommunists are writing articles in
Le Monde 
and elsewhere: for the Partydaily and weeklies have been closed to them, by order of the leadership.More than anything, the leadership fears an exchange of experience andanalysis among militants at the base. More than ever, it is in favour of 
 partitioning 
-----the number one technique for stifling rank-and-file reaction,through a three-tier system of delegation (cell-----branch, branch-----region,
 
region-----Central Committee).
 
As for that ‘broad discussion’ which will follow Marchais’s own appeal,
 
we can turn to Paul Laurent for a clarification of its real meaning:
 
‘Evidently, the setback of 
19
March calls for deep reflection
in order todecide on the course to be pursued in the new stage 
opening before us.’ One thingis quite certain and evident: on the basis of the Political Bureau’s ‘veryfirm conviction’, the analysis will very quickly be ‘called upon’ to leavebehind examination of the past and concentrate entirely on the future, on‘the path of fresh advances’ (Political Bureau statement,
4
April). This isan old leadership practice, kept in perfect working order: an appeal to thetasks ahead very quickly serves to
bury the past 
,
 
together with itscontradictions, mistakes and enigmas. As for those who dwell on past
 
errors, they of course will turn aside ‘from life’, and so ‘from the
 
struggle’, and so ‘from the line’, won’t they comrades
?
 
 
Strategy: the Disguised Turn
 
The more the future opens up, the more the past closes on itself. Already
 
it is no longer a question of the
CP
, but only of the
SP
: ‘The disastrous,
 
suicidal strategy of the
SP
and that alone 
is the direct cause of the fact thatthe Left did not achieve victory.’ While the militants reflect, theleadership slams down its conclusions: the
CP
S
 
lack of responsibility forthe outcome logically passes into the
SP
S
 
total responsibility. Thushemmed in between a sweeping judgement on the past and ‘tasks for thefuture’, reflection and discussion on the role of the Party can be in nodoubt of their destiny. They will be left a few ‘blemishes’, but the line willbe proclaimed to have been ‘consistent’ and ‘correct’. The mechanism of structuring and stifling discussion is in place and fully operative.However, between the leadership’s concept of ‘reflection’ and the Party
 
militants’ method of reflecting, there is a ‘slight contradiction’ that willnot easily be removed. The militants do not agree to discussing on thebasis of the ‘important documents’ mentioned by Marchais (PoliticalBureau statements; Fiterman Report). They do not wish
to begin thinking 
with a conclusion that assigns responsibility or non-responsibility to aparticular party, or with the argument that if the
CP
is responsible fornothing, then the
SP
is responsible for everything. They are fed up withthat kind of Manichean thinking-----one, moreover, which is both
 
21
 

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