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On the Twenty-Second Congress of the French Communist Party
I should like to thank the Sorbonne Philosophy Circle of the Union of Communist Students for inviting me to participate in this discussion.* I was left free to choose my own subject. I felt that in France today, not only for Communists but also for all who want to get rid of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, its exploitation, its oppression, its cynicism and its lies, there was no subject more important than the 22nd Congress of the French Communist Party. I shall therefore present a series of brief comments on the import of the 22nd Congress. To make my position clear, let me say that I regard this congress as a decisive event, a crucial ‘turning-point’ in the history of the Communist Party and the French workers’ movement. The reservations I may formulate on any particular point should be seen within this perspective from the start. If what is in question is indeed an event of such importance, then it is clearly impossible for us to restrict ourselves to French political history, the details of the Congress and its proceedings, or to the letter of its decisions and formulations alone. It is essential to go beyond these immediate manifestations and examine under what conditions the
22nd Congress took place: from what history it was trying to emerge, and what history it was attempting to make. Thus it is essential to understand what, not just on a national but also on a world scale, are the economic and political problems which gave rise to the Congress. It is essential to understand what general problems it attempted to respond to, and why it gave them the response with which you are all familiar. To do this it is indispensable to step back and situate the 22nd Congress at its date, 1976: in the history of imperialism, the ‘period of revolutionary movements’ (Lenin), and in the history of the international Communist movement. And if imperialism is in crisis, it is essential to add: so is the international Communist movement. I shall, therefore, argue that it is impossible to understand the 22nd Congress without taking into account two major facts which dominate the political situation and concern hundreds of millions of people throughout the world: 1. the aggravation of the crisis of imperialism; 2. the accentuation of the crisis of the international communist movement. After the first crisis of imperialism, sanctioned by the First World War (1914–18), then after its second crisis (the 1930s), when imperialism swept away any revolutionary stirrings by means of fascism and a Second World War (1939–45)—but on each occasion at the heavy cost of a revolution (Russian) or revolutions (China, Cuba)—it can be said that imperialism, for the third time in its history, is today in a pre-revolutionary crisis, one whose forms are quite new. The near impossibility of resort to world war (the classic solution for an imperialist crisis, re-dividing the world amid the destruction of vast quantities of capital and labour power) now leaves unchecked the insidious aggravation of the economic and political forms of the crisis, on a hitherto unknown scale. Sheltered by what is called ‘détente’, in which the strength of the people’s movement throughout the world and the balance between the super-armaments of the USA and the USSR hold the nuclear threat at bay, something becomes possible in the narrow space where the zones of influence cancel each other out and where the revolutionary movement of the masses is strong enough. As a result of the workers’ and people’s class struggle, despite all the anti-crisis mechanisms set up and ‘adjusted’ by the bourgeois states after and since the crisis of 1929, a ‘link’ may give way, somewhere, at the weak point of the ‘chain’. Somewhere, the revolutionary movement may prevail, but in forms which presuppose a sustained effort, stages to be traversed and the mastering of great difficulties. In fact, never has the mass movement, never has the workers’ and people’s revolutionary movement, despite serious local defeats and despite the problems raised by the socialist countries, been so powerful in the world. At the other end of the earth, the tiny Vietnamese people forced French imperialism to its knees and defeated on the ground the world’s strongest
*I here present the text of remarks made on 16 December 1976, in a lecture theatre at the Sorbonne, as an introduction to a public discussion. I have endeavoured to retain the limits and the theses of my original argument, doing no more than to make certain passages either simpler and clearer, or more explicit. 6 May 1977. L.A.
the most insidious and the most cynical means. imperialism has managed to ‘cut its losses’. the environment. in May 1968 in France. which also banks on the crisis of the international Communist movement. Nor should Portugal. its economic and political stand-ins. but fruitful in the long term. The movement of the masses today is shaking the big imperialist bourgeoisies in their national bastions. as have other groups. masked by declarations of solidarity). never has the crisis of the international Communist movement been so profound: whether it is open (Sino-Soviet) or concealed (between a number of Communist Parties and the USSR. But paradoxically. And as this 5 . will be understood. It would be just as dangerous to underestimate the local representatives of American imperialism. the most varied. It is reinforced by the struggle of the peoples of the ‘third world’—amid terrible difficulties of which you will be aware. transport. Before that victory. it would be dangerous to under-estimate the strength of world imperialism. in its junction with the student and petty-bourgeois revolt. partial. and within its paradoxical forms (crisis of the international Communist movement). re-establishment or even reinforcement of its domination over the zones it controls. But the general wave is immense and conceals unsuspected forces. The people’s movement has invented new forms of struggle. reservations on the other. the aims of struggle have widened to include conditions of labour and life. in the present situation. but also with the help of the contradictions reigning in the world—to strengthen their political independence and win their economic independence. Hence. the United States of America. the peoples of the third world. their emigrant workers and the dependent capitalist countries foot the bill for its crisis and the maintenance. If the 22nd Congress is not situated both within the basic contradiction of the class struggle (between the mass of workers and people on the one hand and imperialism on the other). education. it should not be forgotten that imperialism.military power. invent new forms of exploitation and oppression and begin again with new vigour on the bases preserved. It is armed with the most powerful. abortive. the family. such as Japan in Asia and the Federal Republic of Germany in Europe. women and youth have flung themselves into contestation and combat. It should not be forgotten that every time in history one of its ‘links’ has broken (Russia. its forms of domestic and international class struggle merciless. China. housing. and even occasionally here and there are being transformed into a united struggle (for example. Having said this. The horror of Vietnam and Chile should not be forgotten. Cuba. All this has not occurred without difficulties on the one side. health. etc. dominated by American imperialism. still has considerable resources and enormous forces at its disposal to make the international working class.). whereas some of the old divisions of the workers’ movement are tending to diminish. the biggest strike in world history. the Union of the Left in France). there is a risk that neither the true import of the 22nd Congress. its productivity considerable. Its finance capital is gigantic and tentacular. nor its peculiar problems and contradictions. announced that times had changed.
Germany is led by the classic Social-Democratic Party. are the historical conditions that have to be remembered. First Initiative The 22nd Congress presented itself as a historical event. In certain places. The fact that the bourgeois state is dominated by the monopolistic fraction. their import. the advantages of the fear that will be unleashed at any price. Such. political pressure. despite the shakiness of its policies and the direct threats to its power. to the play of the means. it may be possible to attempt to emerge from this historical impasse. does not alter the fact that it has at the same time to defend the mass base it needs socially and politically—and does not alter the fact that. if it loses them. at least tendentially.e. in order to understand what I shall call the initiatives of the 22nd Congress: the initiatives which give it historical import. electoral tricks and so on—not to speak. it approached the immediate history of the class struggle in France in the name of socialism. it would be dangerous to underestimate the threat of a substitute imperialist solution of a social-democratic type. i. which already has a very powerful grip on Europe (Portugal. Why is it a ‘historic’ congress? Because. and on quite a different front. It would be equally dangerous to underestimate the strength of a national bourgeoisie such as the French one. to save the threatened bourgeoisie. that this fraction openly and cynically dictates to it. this same fraction attempts to recapture it and to restore it to life. despite its open or concealed crisis. the bourgeoisie can still change men and demagogy. it would be dangerous to underestimate. their prospects. hence not just on the coming elections. The first efforts undertaken by certain important Communist Parties constitute in this respect a historical event of great import. Even when it can no longer change its general policies. This is the context in which I should like to examine. measures and arguments it has at its disposal. ready to exploit to the limit. while affirming that the transition to socialism will be democratic. of violent provocations to sustain its great theatrical scenarios of fear. It is no accident that behind Giscard there is a Chirac. and as a turningpoint in the history of the Party. but also. last-minute promises. of course. 6 . The document adopted by the Congress is indeed something out of the ordinary: it is not a concrete analysis of a concrete situation. for the first time. All these things have their effects on the fate of the bourgeoie’s mass base. one after another. the initiatives of the 22nd Congress: their meaning. schematically summarized. One must pay attention to the variations in the forms of the bourgeoisie’s political action. is an eloquent example). but inversely. It can go to the limit of its resources: economic measures. even if their prospects are still very uncertain. which has great influence in the Socialist International. on the bourgeoisie’s reaction and the revenge it is already preparing in advance. in a brutal demagogy. In the same way. and also their limitations and their contradictions. that have to be considered as a whole and in their often paradoxical dialectical effects. the capacities of the international communist movement. forced to ‘return to normal’ by its direct financial and political blackmail. when this base weakens or tires. and that French socialism will be democratic: ‘in liberty’.
affecting the imperialist countries dominated by American imperialism and its regional ‘representatives’. diversion of savings by the state to the advantage of the trusts. the intention of the 22nd Congress was to go beyond a limited. if it is true 7 . raw materials. At this moment it is warning that the transition to socialism will call for the development of mighty mass struggles: ‘Nothing can be achieved without a struggle’.an analysis of the state of the class struggle in France and the world. and to ‘resolve’ some of its problems precisely through the ‘crisis’ itself. At this moment it is starting a great recruiting campaign. In all cases the Party commits itself to respect the verdict of universal suffrage. by basing everything on a questionable interpretation of the ‘devaluation of capital’ and centring everything on the national state. crushing of democratic representation at all levels). and hence tactical point of view. but primarily of the Common Programme. by universal suffrage. under new forms of financial concentration and hence exploitation in which states play an unprecedented part in the service of the trusts. In speaking openly about socialism in this way. The Congress stated that the French people will not move to socialism by violence or constraint. we should here note. to shift its capital (money. Yes. But at the same time the Party did not hide the fact that it is unleashing all its forces in a struggle for which the electoral outcome will only be a sanction. However. and doing everything to gather the masses of the people behind the slogans of their demands. The great innovation of the 22nd Congress is to have affirmed that this whole strategy depends on democracy. but democratically. taking on the political and ideological armament necessary for that part. of the Common Programme and of socialism. and of the formulations it derived from them. dealing only with the application of the Common Programme. would lead to socialism. what is ‘the society the Communists want for France: socialism’. as nothing is without its contradictions and problems. and not just to the working class. it fails to provide any way to explain the world-wide forms of financial concentration: its ability to invest in exploitation and speculation according to the state of the class struggle throughout the world. and insistently recalling that union ‘is struggle’. under the crushing rule of the monopolies. alongside this very important initiative and the prospects of a socialism I shall discuss later. machines. intervening openly and powerfully in every quarter in the class struggle. What is known as the theory of ‘state monopoly capitalism’ has provided a good description of these essential aspects of the process (extension of the state’s productive sector. An important difference: the 21st Congress did not speak of socialism. labour force) from one country to another. For. the inadequate character of some of the analyses to which the 22nd Congress made implicit reference. in order to expound a true strategy which. we are living in the age of imperialism or ‘monopoly capitalism’ (Lenin). However. hence political alternation. but the whole of the 22nd Congress’s document is built round socialism. vigorously developing its factory branches. expounding to the French people. but a true Communist Manifesto. The theory may fail to explain why the monetary crisis and inflation are world-wide phenomena. through the Common Programme but beyond the Common Programme.
the ‘Cold War’ is more remote. And when it is said that the crisis is a ‘global’ or ‘structural’ one.). that is because class relations have changed and the masses have become aware of this in their own struggles. and as a class the bourgeoisie cannot be reduced to its monopoly fraction. Yes. that its results will not be the same everywhere. whereas it is a matter of limitations. where American 8 . even though the latter does overwhelmingly dominate it. But it must also be realized that this crisis goes beyond our frontiers. If that political line suggests a new perspective. Thus establishing an economic fact alone does not allow one to settle the political problem of the mass base of the rule of the bourgeoisie as a class: for politics cannot be reduced to economics. Second Initiative It is to the credit of the 22nd Congress that in its political line it drew the consequences from the important changes that have occurred in the world. Georges Marchais expressed this historical experience when he insisted on the fact that things have changed and that the Party had to change too. is subject to laws which cannot be reduced to the existence of national monopolies. It is a matter of realities which will clearly find their sanction in other difficulties than the electoral ‘barrier’. slightly too quickly put down to various secondary causes (‘television’. which are not so readily within our grasp. functions and effects of class politics. Obviously this question goes far beyond the coming elections and their results. etc. despite very dangerous flash-points such as the Middle East and Southern Africa.that imperialism is first rooted in each imperialist nation and its class structures. And to talk politics at last. its market and effects. ideology). their lucidity and their courage. Then everything will depend on the popular forces: their unity. the dialectic of world finance capital. it will not give up the fight. For if the ‘monopolies’ are beaten at the polls and the bourgeoisie loses power for a time. If as a class the bourgeoisie was reduced politically to its monopoly fraction.000 big bourgeois does not allow one to pose and resolve the political problem of bourgeois class power in all its breadth and complexity. if it can be removed: other difficulties and rather more formidable ones. that it involves the capitalist relation of production itself and all its forms of existence (exploitation. establishing that the ‘French economy’ is dominated by twenty-five great trusts ϩ 500 auxiliaries ϩ 500. however hard those struggles may be in a period of inflation and unemployment. This is not an ‘abstract’ or ‘theoretical’ remark. For this power always takes the political and social form of what Gramsci called a ‘power bloc’ allying directly or indirectly several class fractions beneath the domination of the monopoly fraction. definite and hence definable and analysable in every case. politics. and can hence shatter the rule of the national bourgeoisie. and that if the Left wins it will have to confront this crisis not just in its national roots but also in its international effects. this is correct so long as it means that it goes very deep. it would not hold out for a quarter of an hour. at stake are concrete realities which have already found their sanction in the famous electoral ‘barrier’ and other failures to advance.
vital for its class struggle. indispensable. Franco.e. Thus there is no serious problem on this point. The 22nd Congress was able to draw the lesson of the objective needs. The paradox is that the crisis of the international movement has been dealt with obliquely. the notion that the working class (or the proletariat) is at the head of a broad popular alliance. the word dictatorship has become intolerable.. Mussolini. It made central to its strategy the defence of existing liberties. and its silence cannot but weigh on the history it wants to make. to the long French revolutionary tradition which has also combined liberty with revolution. this was an allusion.’ Now. It lacks something very important. Third Initiative The 22nd Congress has taken up a new position in respect to the crisis of the international Communist movement. is too narrow a notion for the broad popular union we want. i. On the other hand. For the first time the historical horizon reveals a different form of socialism from the ‘grey’ form of constraint and even repression: a genuinely democratic popular socialism. Yes. and identified living socialism with living liberty. It went much further than a repudiation of the military occupation of Czechoslovakia. descends directly from Marx and Lenin. When it spoke of ‘socialism in French colours’. Mussolini. for it is incomplete. in its own terms. But as nothing is ever without its contradictions and problems.Imperialism is intervening directly or through its lackeys. Franco. etc. Yes. the experience and the demands of the people of this country. it should be pointed out that the same Communist party that speaks so generously and amply of liberty for the people. A new balance of forces suggests an unprecedented perspective: for the first time in history the transition to socialism may be peaceful and democratic in some places. without providing any analysis of this crucial question. The 22nd Congress was only repeating a classical thesis in speaking of the ‘leading role’ of the working class in a broad popular alliance. the struggle for new liberties.’ It was said: ‘The proletariat. In fact. It is the result of a very long struggle: it must be seized. the concrete forms of the liberty of Communists in their own Party. The paradox is that the Congress discussed this allusively. This historical opportunity is anything but an accident. For what is at issue is far more important than the explanations provided. indirectly: in the guise of ‘abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat’. Pinochet. The list of examples provided to show that the word ‘dictatorship’ is intolerable includes Hitler. the hard core of the working class. the economic crisis of imperialism is shaking the political power of the bourgeoisie and giving better opportunities to the workers’ and people’s class struggle. in the very perspective of the 22nd Congress. new social strata have been drawn into the ranks of wage-earners and have joined the working class in its struggle. it is difficult to take seriously the argument about the word dictatorship. Here is a case where it is essential to step back and not be content with taking these decisions and formulations literally. it was said: ‘After Hitler. remains silent about the current practices of democratic centralism. 9 .
And there is what still survives. All this obviously took place ‘over the head’ of the concept. but is bound up with a set of other concepts) cannot be the object of a political decision. ever. unforgettable.’ At any rate. the Partisans and Stalingrad. the confessions. For it is not words that determine their meaning. which is the objective reflection of a real problem with many implications. the line. or rather symbolic sacrifice of the dictatorship of the proletariat. the 22nd Congress was killing two birds with one stone. In this perspective. they expected from Soviet socialism. The commentators on the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat said: ‘Dictatorship ϭ Hitler ϩ Mussolini. of the theoretical meaning of the dictatorship of the proletariat. For the ‘abandonment’ of a theoretical concept (which—need it be said?— cannot be thought by itself. it in fact adopted a new position with respect to a decisive aspect of the crisis of the international Communist movement (relations with the USSR). there were the Red Army. they were also saying something else. something quite different from the régime of mass terror and extermination which held sway beneath Stalin after the 1930s.e. The dictatorship of the proletariat can be ‘abandoned’: it will be rediscovered as soon as we come to speak of the state and socialism. and not for a moment can one reduce the social reality of the USSR to Stalinist practices. etc. but their echoes. 10 . the ‘abandonment’ of the dictatorship of the proletariat has played its part as a symbolic act. The advantage of this new position is that the 22nd Congress gave reasons for thinking that it is now at least in part possible to get out of this crisis and its dead ends. But there were also the trials. On the contrary.’ Really. ‘theory’ and practices imposed by Stalin for forty years. without saying it: ‘Dictatorship ϭ Stalinism’. I am not pretending that this is a simple matter. not just in the USSR but on Communist Parties the world over. in which they had placed all their hopes for emancipation and liberation. Despite its immediate limitations. that is how the words made their way into their hearers’ heads. i. But fascism is fascism: the workers rapidly realized what they could expect from it.etc. making it possible to present in spectacular fashion the break with a certain past. That is why there is little doubt that in the ‘abandonment’. Since Galileo every materialist has known that the fate of a scientific concept. While adopting a new strategy of democratic socialism (a different socialism). Yes. all alone. while opening the road to a different socialism (from that reigning in the USSR). but the structure and the confusion of the Soviet Party and state. Really they were saying: ‘We want no more of that kind of socialism. cannot be the object of a political decision. this initiative may bear fruit. the massacres and the camps. It forgets to mention Stalin: not just the individual Stalin as such. and the practices that persist in the USSR sixty years after the Revolution and twenty-two years after Stalin’s death. left vague verbally.
urban districts and villages. too. already exist or are being sought in Italy. This slogan is not synonymous with the slogan of the Union of the Left. learning how to be attentive to the masses’ imagination and inventiveness. Spain and Portugal. not giving rise to the broad innovatory practices it implies. Why address the popular masses in this way? To tell them. the danger that it will be reduced to a form of voluntarism to extend the influence of the Party 11 . but opening one’s ears to them. but they are important and must be deciphered. But as nothing is ever without its contradictions and problems. that they will have to organize themselves autonomously. health. etc. stimulate it and at the same time force it to ‘wither away’. in firms. education. If the masses seize on the slogan of the union of the people of France and interpret it in this mass sense. parties and trade unions. at least tactical. over and above the organizations of the Left. things were not openly stated by the 22nd Congress. How are we to understand the slogan of the union of the people of France? In the best of cases. something which has been destroyed by Stalinist practices but which is central to the Marxist and Leninist tradition. the questions of housing. it is conceivable that the union of the people of France may become something quite different from the means to a new electoral balance. that George Marchais had proposed before the 21st Congress and that the 22nd Congress readopted in its strongest form. in a general way. then to maintain it. even if still only as a hint. Such mass organizations. if not verbal.. something which concerns the relationship between the Party and the masses: restoring their voice to the masses who make history. the environment. Not just putting oneself ‘at the service of the masses’ (a slogan which may be pretty reactionary). despite all difficulties. which no one can define in advance and on behalf of the masses. first to prepare for the establishment of a revolutionary state. as well as to other daring practices (the opening of branch and section meetings and of the Party press to workers who are not Party members) or. Something may come to fruition in the union of the people of France. but is rather aimed.Fourth Initiative Here. in original forms. It is broader than it. transport. around the questions of labour and living conditions. at the popular masses themselves. for it does not designate just the union or united action of the political organizations of the Left. where they play an important part. they will be re-establishing connections with a living tradition of popular struggle in our country and will be able to help give a new content to the political forms by which the power of the working people will be exercised under socialism. studying and understanding their aspirations and their contradictions. their aspirations in their contradictions. to everything that can assist discussions and common actions between Communists and nonCommunists. The conditions of the current broad Party recruitment may be favourable to these mass democratic practices. in order to define and defend their demands. a danger should be pointed out here: the danger that the slogan of the union of the people of France will remain. and different in nature. This is the question of the slogan ‘union of the people of France’.
he called them ‘the proletariat of modern times’. which are ‘democratic and parliamentary’ in France anyway. too. or anything else. starting with the concrete questions it discussed itself: e. not that a gain in influence would be insignificant. or even the working class. the question of the ‘destruction’ of the bourgeois state and that of the ‘withering away’ of the people’s state. In deciding to abandon the dictatorship of the proletariat. the sense in which the future of the workers’ and people’s class struggle is at stake: its mass sense. because not only did the Congress say nothing about this merit. the question of socialism. Hence there is a political battle to be joined and won to give the slogan of the union of the people of France its strongest sense. the 22nd Congress has made it imperative to reflect on a question obscure or obscured for most militants. Nor will it disappear from workers’ heads that the proletariat exists. Paradoxical. Indeed. publicly put on the agenda the theoretical and political questions of principle linked to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Indeed. I think a paradoxical merit must be recognized in the 22nd Congress. But the Party’s gains are far from exhausting the wealth implied by the slogan of the union of the people of France. Georges Marchais was understood when. Not that an electoral gain would be insignificant. 12 . Here is much the most surprising case. things count much more than words. The workers experience concretely every day the intervention of the bourgeois state in economic exploitation and ideological domination. the question of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. whether it is called the ‘hard core of the working class’. sometimes backed up by gangsterism pure and simple. for the first time since the Congress of Tours. the question of the state. They know that the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie cannot be reduced to its political forms alone. Here. In the end. They know that behind the word there is something that exists and resists.beyond the Union of the Left. We have to reflect on the following fact: whether it intended it or no.g. but extends from the worst forms of economic exploitation to the crudest forms of ideological pressure and blackmail. talking recently to semi-skilled workers. it will not disappear from workers’ heads that the hard conditions under which they work and live described in the document of the 22nd Congress are in fact those imposed on them by the class dictatorship or class rule of the bourgeoisie. the 22nd Congress. it does not much matter how things went in detail. Fifth Initiative The 22nd Congress has taught us several times to be very careful with words. it even— as it were— retreated before it. We have better things to do than subject the unusual procedure of the 22nd Congress to a legal examination. The 22nd Congress has already encouraged—and will do so more and more—reflection on the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. which had long since become no more than a password without any theoretical content except the travesty Stalin had forced on it (and in fact no serious study of the question was published by the Party before the Congress).
an experience that the working class and the mass of the people undergo every day. But short of abdicating in the face of a revolutionary situation. when it uses it. i. and if one cannot choose its hour.e. which is simply the state of bourgeois class rule (dictatorship). But if. neither can one choose its forms of action. it is concluded that under imperialism the revolution is generally ‘on the agenda’. The political form of this class dictatorship or class rule of the proletariat is ‘social democracy’ (Marx). ‘democracy taken to the limit’ (Lenin). they recognized that in general in their own times the process of the class struggle and the balance of forces were such that the bourgeoisie would use violence and the working class had no choice: it. as a function of the crisis of imperialism which in places is inhibited from direct intervention. It will gradually transform bourgeois forms of exploitation. as a function of the power of the people’s class struggle and its influence over very broad social strata. logical in their thought. had to resort to violence to take power. in addition a ‘revolutionary situation’ must present itself for the mass of the people to be able to conquer the bourgeois state. they never excluded the possibility of a peaceful transition to socialism. Now it is reasonable to think that today. then the masses can only respond by revolutionary violence. and highly unfavourable to world imperialism and the national bourgeoisie. at the end of a long class struggle and heavy sacrifices. But as the rule of a class. that holds the key to the famous formula ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ or class rule of the proletariat and its allies. then a peaceful and even democratic transition becomes possible and necessary. the class rule of the bourgeoisie. A correct grasp of this point is the way out of the absurd dilemma: either pure theory or pure historical relativism. for never in the Marxist tradition has it been a question of the class rule of the proletariat by itself. it is also class rule in production and in ideology at the same time. Neither Marx nor Lenin ever set up absolute and obligatory forms of action for the seizure of state power. it is conceivable that as a function of the overall balance of forces in the world.Now it should be realized that it is this experience of the class ‘dictatorship’ or. ‘mass democracy’. It is when the balance of forces in the class struggle shifts in favour of the masses of the people that a ‘revolutionary situation’ begins: but it is also the balance of forces that decides the forms of revolutionary action possible and necessary. a local balance of forces in some particular country may give rise to historically unprecedented political 13 . this class rule cannot be reduced to its political forms alone. It will be clear that the expression can retain intact its theoretical value while helping to think relatively ‘contingent’ elements. elements subject to ‘circumstances’. too. When the bourgeoisie is politically in a position to use violence. to be both highly favourable to the proletariat and united workers. the balance of forces is found. in other words to the existing balance of forces. Hence one cannot choose the hour of the revolution. if you prefer the old term from the Communist Manifesto. It is this new class rule (called dictatorship of the proletariat by Marx and Lenin) that will counteract bourgeois class rule (called dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by Marx and Lenin). Even when. bourgeois political and ideological forms. in some particular place. I say ‘and its allies’. by ‘destroying’ or revolutionizing the ‘state machine’ of the bourgeoisie. For the revolution cannot be made whenever one wants. after the bloody defeats of 1848 and the Commune. Hence.
since not only the seizure of state power but the forms and destiny of the socialism to come will depend on it. Hence the Revolution in Russia took place in non-peaceful forms. Thus the forms of action may also depend on the nature of the alliance. however. the 22nd Congress—in the paradoxical form of the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat—has dissipated some of the errors that some comrades may have entertained about the seizure of state power and socialism: errors inspired by the history of the USSR. or if the counter-revolution is strong enough to break it. not only against the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. I shall not discuss what has happened since. means that for all sorts of reasons these conditions may be united or may not. Just the same is true of the broadest alliance around the working class. Here too. a basic and vital objective. is still weak. how theoretical principles can be present in history. wholly or partially. if it is to be more than an incidental alliance. from the Communist Manifesto to Lenin and Mao. but also against other social strata that fall in behind it. is a constant leitmotif everywhere in the Marxist tradition. I just want to point out. in China in non-peaceful forms. vis-à-vis what have since Marx been two very sensitive points: 1. by 14 . this alliance has to be constructed at very long range. become durable. one is not always master of all the elements of the situation. 2. and with a worker-peasant alliance which proved weak. and the broadest and deepest possible alliance around the working class—are relatively ‘contingent’ elements of the dictatorship of the proletariat. that the balance of forces may allow other forms of action. This. this solo would be its ‘swan song’. the peaceful and democratic transition and the broadest alliance around the working class (which will perform the ‘leading role’ in it). since it is ultimately that balance which imposes them. when the revolutionary situation demanded the seizure of state power. If the class struggle gives rise to a ‘revolutionary situation’ when the class alliance. then the working class even in power may find itself relatively isolated and forced to resort to violent measures. I just want to point out the nature of the relations between a theoretical principle and history. On these two questions.possibilities. said Marx. when its conditions change (history changes constantly). Then the political forms of action may change: become peaceful and even democratic. It must go beyond the limits of political parties and become the property of all the mass of the people. when a ‘revolutionary situation’ breaks out. that it is vital to strengthen the broadest possible popular alliance around the working class. strong and as broad and deep as possible. its suicide. if it is to exist. As we know. being left behind or destroyed by it. Contingent Elements To say that these two conditions—a balance of forces allowing a peaceful and democratic transition to socialism. they were not really united during the 1917 Revolution in Russia. without tailing behind history. hence for revolutionaries the forms of action also depend on the power of the alliance. on the basis of a much stronger popular alliance. however broad. they were much more nearly united in 1949 in China. If the proletariat had to be alone in its struggle. Moreover. in the class struggle. As we know.
Now. this conception of socialism is foreign to the ideas of Marx and Lenin and. during which the class struggle survives in ‘transformed forms’.e. if we are really prepared to understand them in their difficulties. to the concrete historical experience that we have of the socialist countries. the quicksand that has to be avoided at all costs. in a new conjuncture. Socialism is one with the dictatorship of the proletariat. and at the same time as the end of a process. in the classic formula. as everyone knows: whether or no the dictatorship of the proletariat is abandoned. short of regarding the Stalinist positions and formulations as the truth of the long tradition from Marx to Lenin. it must be said. It was presented as a goal to be reached. in order to put paid to the bourgeoisie—ejected from state power but still powerful.Stalinist ‘theory’ and practices. no socialist law.g.e. finds its stability in relations of production of its own which resolve. in principle. wage labour) and Communist elements (e. like every other mode of production. to that reality such as we can conceive it not only in theory but by real experience. the problem the 22nd Congress supposed resolved by these means was an imaginary one. When it presented socialism as a society governed by generalized democracy and the generalized satisfaction of ‘needs’. Socialism was not presented as what it is: a contradictory period of transition between capitalism and communism. Socialism is the ‘transition period’ (the only one discussed by Marx and Lenin) between capitalism and communism. or advance towards communism. in which the working class fulfils the leading role over its allies in the broadest possible mass democracy. bog down and perhaps even fail. to save having to look 15 . An official who is not afraid of contradiction spoke aptly of ‘concrete utopia’. there are no socialist relations of production. For Marx and Lenin. according to the balance of forces and the ‘line’ followed. unless the revolution is to falter. the contradiction between the ‘developed’ forces of production (and here one can appeal to ‘the scientific and technological revolution’ as a back-up) and the old. and with force. Besides. It is an imaginary problem because it does not correspond to the reality of the problems of socialism. new mass organizations) co-exist in a conflictual way. i. the broadest possible alliance is vital). It thereby implies other theses which suggest to us in advance. forms which are unrecognizable for our own class struggle. and one which. theses that Marx and Lenin had constantly defended (the peaceful transition is possible in principle.g. etc. with a new class rule. to be clear: as a stable mode of production. It simply adopted. there is no socialist mode of production. Everything we know about socialism from historical experience (and we should be very wrong if we judged the socialist countries from on high just for what. it has moved to socialism and the state. for in a theory every concept is part and parcel of other concepts). the 22nd Congress contributed nothing really new on these two questions. out-dated relations of production. It is a period that is unstable in essence. the essence of the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat has shifted today. a contradictory period during which capitalist elements (e. Let us say. Now these theses have always been part and parcel of the dictatorship of the proletariat. i. hard to decipher and which may. either regress towards capitalism or mark time in fixed forms. For the dictatorship of the proletariat is not an isolated concept that can be ‘abandoned’ to its solitary fate (an absurd notion. But.
far from being a society in which problems are resolved automatically (under the rule of ‘needs’). and a strategy and forms of struggle be established from this moment that do not foster any illusions about socialism (such as ‘We’ve arrived: everybody out’—Lenin’s ironic comment) but treat socialism as it is. however ‘democratic’. it is necessarily the strategy of communism. be peaceful and legal. to pay very dear in struggles. will remain in place during the application of the Common Programme. in order to dominate its movement. because of the contradictions which have to be unmasked and dealt with at every step in it—as if. instead of thinking in the strategy of communism. but only by the contradiction between the capitalism it emerged from and the communism of which it is the first phase: hence as a function of its position vis-à-vis the capitalism from which it is gradually emerging and the communism which is its future. Here I am not talking about the seizure of state power which can. the 22nd Congress (and this is not to deny the importance of the first initiative) thought in a pseudo-strategy. This completely original conception of socialism. Nor am I talking about the bourgeois state which. Now it has to be said that the answer given by the 22nd Congress to this very important question is a disappointing definition sustained by an exaggerated optimism. is probably one of the most difficult periods in world history. without getting bogged down in the first ‘transition’ that happens to come along. by its own relations of production. socialism. which alone allows this contradiction to be thought and hence its forms unmasked and deciphered. but as a consequence also in the period preceding it. has one crucial consequence. in order at last to give birth to communism. which will bring immense advantages for the workers. if the national and international balance of forces allows. to be found in Marx and Lenin. Only on the basis of the strategy of communism can socialism be conceived as a transitory and contradictory phase. Very concretely this recalls Marx’s slogan: communism is not an ideal but ‘the real movement unfolding beneath our eyes’. because it does not have any of its own. I am talking about the state of the socialist revolution. the 22nd Congress presented socialism. as the general. Manifestly. the strategy of a socialism which runs the risk of concealing contradiction and hence of handling it wrongly. Very concretely this means: the strategy of the workers’ movement must take this dialectic into account: it cannot be merely the strategy of socialism.further. supposing that its peaceful attainment is 16 . non-contradictory and quasi-euphoric solution to all problems. if the United Left wins the election of 1978. intelligence and initiative for the right to reach it. not just in socialism. even after priceless social conquests. mankind had still. are called ‘shortcomings of democracy’ and so clearly ‘to be condemned’) also proves that this historical period. Far from stressing the decisive contradiction that characterizes the ‘transitional phase’. or else the whole process is in danger of marking time and getting bogged down at one moment or another (and this must be foreseen). Unlike modes of production that are defined by their own relations of production. Socialism and the State The same is true on the question of the state. socialism cannot be defined by itself.
not at all an annihilation. like ‘dictatorship’. the instrument of bourgeois class rule. political and ideological apparatuses. This is part of a basic thesis of Marx and Lenin: it is not just the bourgeois state that is oppressive. the suppression of the bourgeois break between the mass of the people and the parliamentary apparatus. The question is posed: it is not a simple one. to create others. In order to ‘smash’ it (or ‘destroy’ it). they thought the ‘destruction’ of the bourgeois state also on the basis of the ‘withering away’ and ‘end’ of any state. the suppression of the division of labour on which it depends (theoretical. It is here that the dictatorship of the proletariat makes its inevitable effects felt. Here too we must be careful about our words. profoundly linked to the mass of the people. i. the state apparatuses are not neutral instruments but in the true sense the organic repressive and ideological apparatuses of a class: the ruling class.e. in order to prepare for the ‘withering away of the state’. This is the ‘destruction’ of the state. to ‘destroy’ the bourgeois state. In order to ensure the rule of the working class and its allies and to prepare in the longer term for the ‘withering away’ of the state. the new ruling class may be defeated in its victory. for ‘destroy’ is a strong word which. It is something quite other than a formal and potentially reformist operation. This is a very special kind of ‘destruction’. proletarian ideology. and above all else. restructuring and revolutionization of an existing apparatus. it is to revolutionize their methods of work and the bourgeois ideology that dominates their practices. it is impossible to avoid attacking the existing state apparatuses. it is to transform the forms of the division of labour between the repressive. is not to add the adjective ‘democratic’ to each existing state apparatus. to suppress some of them. In other words. its replacement by mass organizations. is successfully established in it. it is to assure them new relations with the masses in response to mass initiatives. but the reorganization. but any state. it is to revolutionize in their structures. has to be ‘smashed’.possible. Without it. and I ask that these words be carefully weighed. This requirement is part of the Marxist theory of the state. the 22nd Congress could not avoid the thesis of the ‘destruction’ of the bourgeois state. Truly. giving up any serious prospect of the transition to communism. on the basis of a new. For Marx. practical). the suppression of the division of powers between the legislature and the executive. For this bourgeois state. And. Well here precisely is a concrete example which will make it clearer. practices and ideologies the existing state apparatuses. 2. just as it does in the case of socialism. they related this ‘destruction’ of the bourgeois state to the subsequent ‘withering away’ of the new revolutionary state—a ‘withering away’ which is indispensable if socialism is not to mark time indefinitely but to give rise to communism. 3. may be frightening if its meaning is not grasped. as Marx and Lenin repeatedly stated. in order to replace it with the state of the working class and its allies. Obviously. so that the rule of a new class. If you want examples in which the state has not been 17 . or forced to mark time and get bogged down in its conquests. what does Lenin suggest?—1. Lenin said: we must ‘smash’ the bourgeois parliamentary state apparatus. a much more important notion.
I insist that it is not just a question of the problem of the bourgeois state. which are class problems and not problems of law. which is oppressive too. . revolutionize the bourgeois state machine in order to ‘raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class’ (Communist Manifesto). but also one of the problem of the revolutionary state. It is not my part to anticipate the decisions of the Party. we are here in the order of a historical experience which concerns all Communists and the workers’ movement and which already goes beyond the borders of this country. you need only look towards the socialist countries and note the consequences that follow. To what is democratic centralism a response? To the vital political necessity of ensuring the best possible unity (for ‘we do not want unity for unity’s sake’) of thought and action in the Party. which governs the workings of the Party and the freedom of militants in the Party. so as to reply victoriously to the bourgeois class struggle. It is therefore essential to broach the question of democratic centralism. on the forms of expression and freedom of Communists. It is obvious that the new line of the 22nd Congress will necessarily have repercussions on the inner life of the Party. The strength of the 18 . But it is also a fact that by abandoning. But it is a real and inevitable problem which is thus signalled to us by a necessary element of the dictatorship of the proletariat. I have spoken of the need for Communists to take this contradiction seriously: the 22nd Congress spoke the language of freedom for the outside. certain of these practices must be modified. in order to emerge from a past which is only too familiar and in order to enter into new struggles. a difficult one. except in the vague and edulcorated form of ‘democratization of the state’. even a very difficult one. for obvious political reasons. Georges Marchais has insisted on the will to change in the Party. as if the mere legal form of democracy in general could be enough not just to handle and resolve.’ It is a fact that the problem of the state is. the simple and obvious notion that the proletariat and its allies have to knock down. as Lenin said.‘destroyed’ and is therefore not en route to ‘withering away’. but without serious theoretical reasons. but even to pose correctly the very redoubtable problems of the state and its apparatuses. but remained silent about the inside. hence on the current conception and practices of democratic centralism. i.e. . It is clear that. it is a fact that it deserves historical and concrete investigations and thoroughgoing theoretical reflections. of its militants and leaders. the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat—in other words. have to attack the substance of the bourgeois state they inherit—the 22nd Congress at the same time deprived itself of the possibility of thinking the ‘destruction’ and ‘withering away’ of the state. And it is indisputably one of the interesting things about the 22nd Congress that it forces us to reflect on this. Sixth Initiative Can it be said that it is contained potentially in the 22nd Congress or in the consequences foreseeable from the logic of the 22nd Congress? At any rate. The Soviet leaders state: ‘With us the withering away of the state is achieved via its reinforcement . I should just like to attempt to make some remarks about what is not a simple question.
but without any discussion. It must be in a state to hear and understand. This is ‘in itself’ not particularly ‘democratic’. Once decided and voted for by Party Congress. But in fact they are infinitely more complicated. to everything new and important that happens in the working class and in the social strata that join in its struggle. . three stages! (branches-section. the inner unity of the Party. and one step only. which produces unanimous decisions (which is not necessarily wrong ‘in itself ’). For the inner unity of the Party only has one raison d’être: to serve the workers’ and people’s class struggle. and in fact results in the elimination of all difference in the plenary sessions of the Congress. 19 . Hence it is only meaningful as a function of the struggle of the working class. the question of democratic centralism may become a formal one. then Congress). all militants can retain their own opinion. The aim of democratic centralism is this ideological and practical unity. It is at this point that things become complicated and have to be treated politically: not just as a function of the letter of the statutes.bourgeoisie in the conduct of its class struggle lies in its whole system of exploitation. It may be remarked that they are elected by majority vote in . or floating above the struggle. . Only on this condition can the Party take initiatives and perform its vanguard role without falling behind. And some of the arrangements and practices which ensure. attentive to their aspirations. Just as unity is not ‘an end in itself’. Now. Hence Lenin’s famous dictum: it must be one step ahead. federations-Congress). their contradictions. So long as they accept this discipline. decisions are freely discussed and democratically adopted at each level of the Party organization (branch. of its policy in its close relations with the masses. because this principle (democratic centralism) cannot be separated from another principle concerning not the unity but the very existence of the Party. in certain ‘inwardly’ satisfying forms. its theory and its free organization of the struggle. so the Party is not ‘an end in itself ’. Georges Marchais forcefully expressed the wish that the 22nd Congress would be ‘lively’ and that a ‘real discussion’ would take place at it. which essentially takes place outside the Party alone. concretely and at every moment. In the television appearance in which he evoked the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In a state to understand those who speak. First. sealed in the unity of thought and action. but as a function of the vanguard role of the Party. For example. more broadly of the workers’ and people’s class struggle. In a state above all to understand those who remain silent. Thus in principle things are clear: I would even say limpid. in the broad masses. Its mechanism is simple: according to the statutes. can block its vanguard function in the workers’ and people’s class struggle. i. then federation. reacting from day to day to. Georges Marchais was obviously talking about the final sessions of the Congress. sections-federation. If its existence is vital.e. The working class only has its revolutionary will. in the state and its apparatuses. then section. not just as a function of the principle of inner unity alone. they become obligatory for all militants in action. in order to be one step ahead of the masses and one step only. If this basic responsibility is not assumed. the question of the election of delegates to the Congress. it is for the struggle of the working class: to provide it with a vanguard organization. the Party must be profoundly linked to the masses.
for as everyone knows discussions are lively in the branches. but secondary). but also by splits and. not just united but also really open towards the masses. said that democratic centralism was a ‘plastic notion’: thus signalling that it is not immutable. i. divergencies and even contradictions. the question of the forms of organization has been more or less implicated in these struggles. But its existence can serve as an index of the existence of a certain filtration system that works ‘naturally’. There was no real discussion at the 22nd Congress. In certain neighbouring Communist Parties. is strengthened by it. Now. it is necessary to specify these terms. of course. enriched by all this discussion. the nature of their links with the masses. It is to be feared that it does not just work in the election of delegates or officials: and also that it does not just work from bottom to top (which is an easy assumption). and had himself to fight in a party in which there were organized tendencies. has been a very eventful one: marked not just by conflicts between organizations. In every Communist Party that is alive. it is also a historical question. but can change in form. 20 . tendencies. the apparatus controlling the process of its inner life. are one thing. Shall we say: factions. within organizations. there are necessarily differences of opinion. who counterposed it to ‘bureaucratic centralism’. the complexity of the political problems of the hour. the leaders themselves at Central Committee meetings publicly confront their different and sometimes divergent opinions on the policy to be pursued. by the creation of factions and by often very violent tendency struggles. Then the unanimity is a full one and the Party. and even of the Communist movement. with the structure of the Party. the echoes of the ideological struggle. which vary moreover with the moments and problems of the day. yes? In order to be serious here. Not only is a living Party not afraid of these differences. legally recognized. therefore. but it is their expression and confrontation that give a strong sense to the decisions taken in commom.. And every time. Without this two-way filtration. there are currents and even tendencies. It was Lenin who introduced democratic centralism as the form of organization par excellence of the revolutionary party. how can one explain the fact that Georges Marchais’ publicly expressed wish remained without effect? Tendencies and Factions For my part. before making their decision. differences. The question of the mode of election of the delegates (it can easily be improved) is not a decisive one. It should be realized that Lenin was against factions. but also occasionally from top to bottom.e. Now. the wish of the General Secretary of the Party himself could only remain a wish. the sections and many of the federations. For the question of democratic centralism cannot be reduced to a legal question: it is above all a political and theoretical question. and. etc. We know that the history of the organizations of the class struggle of the workers’ movement. I shall not linger over formal considerations (important. Why? This is a matter of the diversity of the social origins of its members. no. Gramsci. the habits of this apparatus and also of militants. stable. occasionally directly. as with this mode of election by successive elections. detailed amendments were tabled and speakers did no more than paraphrase the document.
by its more or less immediate effects. let me specify. the responsibility to think for them. Not organized tendencies. Organized tendencies did. I use ‘arbitrary’ not so much in its legal as in its political sense: a decision which is fixed below the level of the real requirements and possibilities and which. But in order to be serious here. It recruits and lives in quite a different way: on the basis of the workers’ and people’s class struggle and of Marxist theory (it represents one of the forms of their historical ‘fusion’).’ says Georges Marchais. it is to go beyond it. These appeals must be taken seriously. Today the party expects something else. For two reasons. but to unite all the most conscious workers. 21 . Not organized tendencies. Not for the pleasure of ‘freedom for freedom’s sake’. it is true. in a common will and strength. exist in Lenin’s Bolshevik Party. Communists know or feel that in the existence of organized tendencies there is a threat to the unity and hence to the existence and effectiveness of the Party. One must know where one has come from and where one wants to go. because the Communist Party is not constituted by individuals with particular opinions and their electoral ‘resultant’. ‘no puppets in the Party’. calling on them to shake off the habits of another period. said Maurice Thorez. on such and such an issue. Second. i. but not ‘bureaucratic centralism’. and it is right. to ensure a closer and deeper relationship with the aspirations of the masses of the people. an arbitrary decision.autonomous and hence organized tendencies are something else. manual and intellectual. as a function of Congresses and the problems they pose. to get the Party out of the authoritarianism of the Barbé-Celor period. I believe that the Party today expects something else and that it is right. ‘Communists should start to use their heads. Recognition of organized tendencies seems to me to be out of the question in the French Party. by tacitly abandoning to the apparatus or the leadership of the Party. but the better to respond to the demands of the political practice of the vanguard of the working class. ‘Open your mouths’. They know or feel that this form of representation of opinions does not really correspond to their aims or to the conditions of their struggle. to ‘think for themselves’ (Marx). militants can help reinforce this only too real tendency by neglecting to ‘use their heads’. because the Party’s goal is not in itself to represent opinions. For if recognized and organized tendencies are rejected. to give a revolutionary organization to the workers’ and people’s class struggle. to ‘open their mouths’. I am not speaking in opportunist terms here. not that ‘division of labour’ which gives one part of the apparatus (no Party can do without an apparatus) the material means (schools. press) and the political means (official posts) to think for militants and in fact to impose. but real discussions which are not confined to Congress periods but go on. not the ‘two-way filtration system’. can block the development of the struggle or the influence and reputation of the Party in some sector or other. the better to prepare itself for the hard struggles ahead. it is not so as to fall behind that political practice towards less freedom or the crushing of all freedom in the Party (as under ‘Stalinism’ or its variants). But it should be realized: if one part of the apparatus tends (by mechanisms that demand examination) as if ‘naturally’ to think for militants. towards more freedom. it is necessary to discuss the French Party of today. in such and such a domain.e. First. out of trust among other things. journals.
the better to serve the workers’ and people’s class struggle. while avoiding tendencies. and without avoiding those questions that have very often only become sensitive issues because they have not been approached openly and promptly. this same requirement will make itself more strongly felt within the Party. within the unity of the class struggle and Marxist theory. But in the current situation.g. a Party its militants really know and in which those militants know each other better. If the Party poses and confronts this problem in Marxist terms. discussion and debate. it will be making its contribution to the necessary change called for in the Party itself by the current state of the class struggle and the great popular movement now under way. And it will become the Party of the 22nd Congress. so what? It is infinitely better that they should all be expressed rather than smouldering in silence. a better press (on this point there is some movement). will allow a better flow of information. These are no more than suggestions. its organisms. and the Party will gain a more profound unity. The moment the Party opens itself wide to the exterior and practices new forms of exchange and discussion with non-Communists in order to strengthen the popular unity. or being relegated to the cupboards of the journals. it should be possible to initiate a discussion about the forms and practices of democratic centralism in the Party: with the aim of improving them and hence modifying them. better concrete analysis. the inner unity of the Party is only really strong if it ensures the decisive unity of the Party with the mass of the people. more attentive to the masses of the people. communication of information. More information (e. For. All militants will gain thereby in information and experience. non-academic discussions with real consequences. a Party more daring about itself. With the aim of seeking out and defining the new concrete forms which. free of niggling and tendentious controls that have had their day. a Party freer within in order to be more open to the exterior. real. In short. their practices). instead of being confined within the limits of the branch or some organism of study and research. a real freedom of expression and one which has real effects. about the real workings of the Party. once again. If these measures reveal differences or problems and even contradictions. exchange of experience. Translated by Ben Brewster 22 .It is clear that in the Party today there are new expectations and new requirements: for new forms of expression. broader.