Who started the French Revolution?

The French Revolution has begun

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Leon Trotsky


(June 9, 1936)

Written June 1936.
Published in German as part of the collection Where is France going? (Antwerp, August 1936).
Transcription:Oliver Fleig.
HTML tag:Einde O’Callaghan for that Marxists' Internet Archive.

The radio never seemed so precious as it did these days. Allows. to follow the pulse of the French Revolution from the distant Norwegian village. To be more precise: its reflection in the minds and in the voices of the ministers, trade union secretaries and other deadly frightened leaders.

The words "French Revolution" may seem exaggerated. But no! This is not an exaggeration. This is how the revolution comes about. Otherwise it cannot arise at all. The French Revolution has begun.

Admittedly, Léon Jouhaux, following Léon Blum's entourage, assures the bourgeoisie that it is a purely economic movement, strictly within the framework of the law. Certainly, during the strike, the workers seize the factories and take control of the owners and their management. But one can turn a blind eye to this sad "detail". Taken as a whole, they are "corporate and not political strikes," assert the leaders. In the meantime, under the effect of the “non-political” strikes, the entire political situation in the country has changed fundamentally. The government shows a haste in its actions that it had not thought of before: after all, according to Blum, the real force is patient! The capitalists are surprisingly easy to talk to. The entire counter-revolution is hiding behind the backs of Blum and Jouhaux, waiting and waiting. And this miracle was accomplished through ... simple "corporate" strikes. Where would we be if the strikes were political?

But no, the leaders are telling the falsehood. The corporation includes the workers of a single occupation and separates them from the other occupations. Trade unionism and reactionary syndicalism are doing their best to keep the labor movement within the corporate framework. This is the basis of the de facto dictatorship of the trade union bureaucracy over the working class (the worst of all dictatorships!) With the Jouhaux-Racamond clique slavishly dependent on the bourgeois state. The essence of today's movement is that it breaks through the professional, corporate and local framework and beyond that the demands, the hopes. the will of the entire The proletariat. The movement takes on an epidemic-like character. The disease spreads from factory to factory, from corporation to corporation, from area to area. All layers of the working class are calling out to one another, as it were. The metal workers make the start: this is the vanguard. But the strength of the movement wants it to be followed shortly after the plan by the heavy reserves of the class, including the most backward professions, their rearguard, which the gentlemen of parliament and trade union leaders usually completely forget. It was no coincidence that the “Peuple” openly admitted that some particularly low-paid categories of the Parisian population came as a complete “surprise” to him. However, it is precisely in the depths of these most oppressed layers that inexhaustible sources of enthusiasm, self-sacrifice, and bravery spring up. The mere fact of their awakening is an infallible sign of a great tidal wave. It is important to find access to these layers, no matter what the cost!

By breaking free from corporate and local frameworks, the strike movement became dangerous not only for civil society, but also for its own parliamentary and trade union bodies, which are now primarily concerned about not seeing reality. According to a historical legend, when asked by Louis XVI, one of the courtiers replied. "What is that, a revolt?", "No, Your Highness, this is the revolution". Today, when asked by the bourgeoisie, “Is this a revolt?” Their courtiers answer: “No, these are just corporate strikes”. By reassuring the capitalists, BIum and Jouhaux reassure themselves. But words will not help. It is true that the moment these lines appear in the press, the first wave may subside. Outwardly, life will recede into the old banks. But that doesn't change anything. What happened are not corporate strikes. These are not strikes at all. This is a Strike. That is the open union of the oppressed against the oppressors. This is the classic beginning of the revolution.

All the past experience of the working class, the history of its exploitation, misery. their struggles and defeats come to life under the onslaught of events and step everyone, even your most backward proletarian, into consciousness and push them into line with the others. The whole class started moving. This gigantic mass cannot be held back with words.

The struggle must end with either the greatest of victories or the most terrible of all catastrophes.

The Temps called the strike "General maneuvers of the revolution". That is incomparably more serious than what Blum and Jouhaux say. But also the definition of the temp. is nonetheless incorrect because in a certain sense exaggerated. Maneuvers require the presence of a command, a staff, a plan. There is no such thing in the strike. The centers of the workers' organizations. including the Communist Party, were taken by surprise. What they fear most is that the strike will wreak havoc on all of their bills. The radio plays a remarkable sentence by Marcel Cachin: "We all - one as well as the other - are faced with the fact of the strike". In other words, the strike is our common misfortune. With these words, the grim senator convinces the capitalists to make concessions so as not to aggravate the situation. The parliamentarians and trade union secretaries, who adapt to the strike from the side in order to suffocate it as soon as possible, are essentially outside the strike, hanging in the air and do not know whether they are with their feet or their heads on the ground will land. The awakened mass does not yet have a revolutionary staff.

The real staff is with the class enemy. This staff by no means coincides with the Blum government, even if it makes clever use of it. Capitalist reaction is playing a big and risky game today, but it is playing it reasonably. In the present moment, she is using the hit check system. “Let us give in today to all the unpleasant demands that are unanimously applauded by Blums, Jouhaux and Daladier. There is still a long way to go from recognition in principle to implementation. There is Parliament, the Senate, the offices, all obstruction machines. The masses will show impatience and try to push harder. Daladier will fall apart with Blum. Thorez will try to jump off to the left. Blum and Jouhaux will fall out with the masses. Then we will get back all today's concessions, even with usury. ”This is how the real staff of the counterrevolution thinks: the famous“ 200 families ”and their attacking strategists. You act according to a plan. And it would be frivolous to say that their plan is unfounded. No, with Blums, Jouhaux ’and Cachin's help can the counterrevolution will achieve its goal.

The fact that the mass movement achieved such grandiose proportions and such a great political effect as improvisation best characterizes the deep, organic, truly revolutionary character of the strike wave. Therein lies a deposit for the duration of the movement, for its tenacity and the inevitability of a series of growing waves. Without that, victory would be impossible. But all of this is insufficient for victory. Against the staff and the plan of the "200 families" a staff and plan of the proletarian revolution is required. Neither one is already there. But they can be created. All the prerequisites and elements of a new mass crystallization are given.


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The extension of the strikes is said to be brought about by “hopes” in the Popular Front government. That's only a quarter of the truth or less. The matter was limited to only HopesSo the workers would not run the risk of struggle. Mistrust or lack of support are the main factors in the strike trust on the part of the workers, if not to the goodwill of the government, then to their ability to tear down obstacles and get on with their tasks. The proletarians want to "help" the government, but in their own, proletarian way. Of course, they are not yet fully aware of their power. But it would be a rough caricature to portray the matter as if the crowd were only guided by pious “hopes” for Blum. It is not easy for her to hold her mind together under the pressure of the old leaders who are trying to drive her back as soon as possible into the old treadmill of bondage and routine. Yet the French proletariat does not start history all over again. Everywhere and everywhere the strike brought the most thoughtful and daring workers to the forefront. You own the initiative. So far they have acted cautiously, they feel the ground. The front departments try not to jump too far in order not to isolate themselves. The friendly echoes of the rest will give them courage. The class roll call turns into a rehearsal of self-mobilization. The proletariat itself most needs this manifestation of its own will. The practical successes achieved, shaky as they are in themselves, must greatly increase the self-confidence of the masses, especially of the most backward and oppressed classes.

The main conquest of the first wave is that leaders emerged in the workshops and factories. The elements for local and district staff were created. The crowd knows them. You know each other. The real revolutionaries will seek connection with them. Thus the first self-mobilization of the masses marked the first elements of the revolutionary leadership and formed them into part. The strike has shaken, revitalized, renewed the gigantic organism of the class. The old organizational shell is still a long way from being stripped off, on the contrary, it is still holding on fairly tightly. But the new skin is already noticeable under it.

About the pace of events, which will undoubtedly accelerate. let's not speak now. So far it is only possible to guess and guess. The second wave, its duration, its scope and its tension will undoubtedly permit a much more concrete forecast than is now possible. But one thing is clear from the start: the second wave will by far not have the same peaceful, almost good-natured, spring-like character as the first. It will be more mature, tougher, and more severe, because it is caused by the disappointment of the masses with the practical results of the popular front policy and their own first attack. Disagreement will take hold in the government, as will the parliamentary majority. The counter-revolution will suddenly become more confident and cheeky. The masses will not be able to expect new easy successes. Faced with the danger of losing what had been conquered, the growing opposition of the enemy, the weakness and disagreement of the official leadership, the masses feel a burning need for a program, an organization, a plan, a staff. It is important to prepare yourself and the advanced workers for this. In the atmosphere of revolution the re-education of the masses, the selection of the cadres and their hardening will take place quickly.

The revolutionary stick cannot be created through combinations of tips. The organization of the struggle would not coincide with the party even if there were a mass revolutionary party in France, for the movement is incomparably broader than the party. The organization cannot coincide with the unions either, for the unions encompass only an insignificant part of the class and at their head is an arch-reactionary bureaucracy. The new organization must correspond to the nature of the movement itself, reflect the struggling masses, express their growing will. It is a direct representation of the revolutionary class. There is no need to invent new forms here: there are historical precedents. The workshops and factories will elect their deputies, who will meet for the purpose of jointly working out battle plans and directing the battle. There is no need to invent the name of this organization either, it is Soviets of Workers' Deputies.

The bulk of the revolutionary workers are today with the Communist Party. In the past, it was not uncommon for them to shout, “Soviets everywhere!” Most of them undoubtedly meant it honestly and seriously by this slogan. There was a time when we felt that this was not the time. But now the situation has fundamentally changed. The powerful class clash is approaching a fateful end. He who vacillates, who lets time pass, is a traitor. It is a matter of choosing between the greatest of historical victories and the most terrible of defeats. You have to prepare for victory. "Soviets Everywhere"? I Agree. But it's time to move from words to action.


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Last updated on July 22, 2008