Foreword to ‘Reflections on the Future of French Trade Unionism’ (Monatte, 1921)


Dans les archives

Nous avons trouvé Pierre Monatte traduit en anglais: un petit livre édité à Londres en 1922, qui reprend ses Réflexions sur l’avenir syndical, suivies du texte d’une brochure de Théo Argence et Auguscle Herclet: Le Contrôle ouvrier et les comités d’atelier. Le livre entier: Left wing trade unionism in France ( pdf externe), a été numérisé par l’Université de Californie. Nous publions ici le texte (en anglais donc) de l’avant-propos de Monatte à l’édition en brochure  en 1921 de ses chroniques écrites au front pendant la première guerre mondiale et envoyées à la presse syndicale enseignante.


I HAVE long hesitated to gather together and republish this series of articles written at the Front at the beginning of the year 1917, and published in the organ of our friends the teachers, L’Ecole Emancipée ( » The Emancipated School »), which was suspended by the Censorship but immediately revived as the L’Ecole de la Fédération ( » The Federated School « ).

For some years past the leaders of the General Confederation of Labour have considered it good form to speak of the organised teachers with irony. Some of them cannot forget that only one Trade Union Federation remained faithful throughout the war to  working-class internationalism, proving thus the vigour of its revolutionary spirit, and that it published, in the face of all sorts of difficulties, a weekly journal of from sixteen to twenty-four pages, proving thereby its virtues of method and administration. The others, the renegades of the minority, cannot forgive the Teachers’ Federation for having held out to the last.

It was in this organ, which is worthy of our special esteem, that the five articles which compose this text-book appeared under my initials between 31st March and 14th July 1917, under the title : Reflections on the Future of Trade Unionism.

The first of these articles bears the date and place at which it was written — Avocourt, 25th February; and the last — Eglingen, 15th  June. I remember the nights when I wrote them by the light of a candle in the front-line dug-outs. No isolation or peace could be found elsewhere ; in the rest camp there was no way of keeping to oneself or of being able to write anything but short notes to one’s relatives and friends. It was while my comrades slept and I awaited my turn for guard that I set down these reflections on paper.

For a long while I had carried these articles about in my head, but, jostled from one point to another in the Verdun sector, then in the Alsace sector, and finally in Champagne, I was unable to send my copy regularly to our friends in Marseilles who assume heavy but worthy responsibility for L’Ecole. I did not even finish the series, or rather the last three articles were victims of a commonplace accident — my haversack, in which they were carefully guarded, got lost on one day of rush and peril. In vain I searched for them afterwards.

I had at that time neither courage nor desire to rewrite these articles. No more have I to-day ; and, besides, the time has passed. They would be reflections not on the future but on the present. Let us just keep the first five of an unfinished series, from which articles on the three following subjects are missing : — Decentralisation and District Centres ; Our Written Propaganda and our Press ; The Necessity of a Revolutionary Trade Union Faith.

Jotted down on paper four years ago — four long years, each of which counts as ten — I wonder if these reflections have still any interest. I hope so. I make myself believe so. I imagine that what I was then loudly pleading for — a group for study and propaganda to supplement the work of the union — has now taken form and is in process of realisation. I refer to the C.S.R. (Comités Syndicalistes Révolutionaires, or Revolutionary Trade Union Committees).

To assist its task of reorganisation and clearing away the Trade Union minority has formed Revolutionary Trade Union Committees in hundreds of localities and Unions. A deep, broad movement has been started ; it has as yet run its first lap only, but already important results have been obtained. Big industrial federations like the Builders and the Railwaymen, large district federations like those of the Seine and the Rhone, have adhered to revolutionary Trade Unionism. To-morrow perhaps the C.G.T. (General Confederation of Labour) will join us.

Will the C.S.R. disappear in the event of a victory at Lille ? [1] Will their progress be arrested ? That would be regrettable, disastrous. In my opinion, they should get ready to run another lap, as important and as difficult
as the first. Their task is to ascertain exactly the inarticulate but emphatic needs of our working-class movement.

We have need of leaders. Who will train them, who will provide them. » The C.S.R.

It is a defect of the Economic Council of Labour that it is outside the union organisations and dominates them from such a height or such a distance that it does not hear what they are saying and is not heard or understood by them. A real Economic Council of Labour presupposes and demands economic sections and commissions of inquiry in each industrial or district federation, nay more, in each union.
Without that it will never be in a position to equip Trade Unionism for the control of production ; it will be powerless to fulfil one day the great role of a French Council of National Economy. Who will bring about this incorporation? The C.S.R., either by encouraging the formation of these commissions of inquiry in their own unions and watching over their working, or by themselves fulfilling this function.

Our working-class movement has need of remoulding its unions and perfecting them. Nine out of ten of them have no relationship with the individual workshops, docks, shipyards or warehouses of their district. The union is ignorant of what is happening in the workshop and what is thought there, and the workshop is ignorant of what is being done in the union, of what is being discussed there and what is being decided. It is imperative to establish such a relationship, to create the Trade Union workshop delegate and form factory committees. If the union itself does not form them, they will soon form themselves of necessity and in spite of it, as in England and in Italy. Revolutionary Trade Unionism does not wear the blinkers of the older Trade Unionism and has not its short-sighted craft view ; it will apply itself gladly to this development of its organisation, which will ensure it a veritable rebirth. Who will bring about this reconstruction ? The old organism needs must be convinced, must be made to advance by pressure from behind, and in some cases,
perhaps, hustled. There we have a new task for the C.S R.

Here is positive and immediate work for the C.S.R. — remoulding of the unions, formation and functioning of Commissions of Inquiry which will give substance to the work of the Economic Council. In undertaking this task our C.S.R. members will become active fighters ; they will acquire accurate knowledge of their surroundings, their industry, the regime they are fighting and the ideas in the name of which they join battle with capitalism. The C.S.R. have therefore a great role to fill even if the C.G.T. passes into the hands of the revolutionaries, and more than ever if it does.

Having pulled the C.G.T. out of the ditch, we must set the engine going again, prove the superiority of revolutionary methods and at the same time revive the Unionist forces and give them back their fighting spirit.

For that purpose a great number of leaders are necessary. We have few, too few. And on this small number we impose a system of propaganda which wears them out rapidly, and prevents their intellectual development and self-culture. They have to speak every day, every night, at one public gathering after another, at meeting after meeting. Little matters it what they say. Suffice it to speak, to occupy the platform, to expend breath.

For pity’s sake, let us speak less, less often and at less length. Let us reserve meetings for great occasions, when the workers must be faced with a duty to fulfil. Let us make our general assembly a real general assembly, where every Unionist shall be able, not to make a speech, but to make some comment on the subjects on the agenda.

First of all let us see clearly. Ah ! if all leaders had seen clearly in the matter of the policy of the C.G.T. that policy would not have ruled from 1914′ until to-day; its credit would not have lasted so long, and the harm it worked would not have been so great. All this Chauvinist and Reformist trifling, this democratic demagoguery, this so-called realist and constructive Utopia would have been weighed and estimated at its right value — i.e. nil. Themselves seeing clearly through the famous schemes of the C.G.T., how quickly would our leaders have been able to make the masses see clearly too. Alas ! the masses had more often than not only their own proletarian instincts to guide them.

The Russians have given us a remarkable example of method in propaganda. Before taking any decision they draw up their thesis in precise analytical form to serve as a useful guide to their discussion. Let us be inspired by this extmple. By this means we shall know exactly what our thoughts are and why we think them. Those who join us will do so with their eyes open, and will be less liable to abandon us en route.

Men act only when they are convinced of the usefulness of their action. Let us convince people. The noisiest and most violent are not those who possess the firmest convictions.

I remember that I addressed these five articles on  » Reflections on the Future of Trade Unionism » to a friend whom I was in the custom of going to see on each of my leaves from the Front. He was then a miner in the Loire. J could only spare him a few hours, but I never missed seeing him. The train deposited me at his house at eight or nine o’clock at night and brought me back at four o’clock in the morning. We used to pass the evening and part of the night in talking and arguing, sometimes even in our beds. I remember well what he said to me then about these Reflections :  » I shall never understand how you can write about our Trade Union Movement at such a moment and with such calmness ; after all we have suffered, after all the harm they have
done. … I should have thrown vitriol at them. » He reproached me for not hating men enough, for going on my way without concerning myself about their persons, and with absorbing myself too much in investigation
of methods of propaganda capable of giving new vigour to our movement.

As for him, he did throw vitriol at them shortly afterwards, but only to throw himself into their arms some months later, to become a close intimate of theirs, and do more harm than ever they could have done. To-day it is he who has begun the schism ; he is the man who, in November and in February last, presented, defended and pushed through the Resolution to expel the Undisciplined Minority. You will all have recognised him. I mean Dumoulin himself.

In the meanwhile, the man whom he reproached for his serenity is trampling on the corpses of very many friendships and resolutely pursuing his work in the ranks of the minority.

Pierre Monatte.

June 1921.

[1] Monatte’s Foreword was naturally written before the recent C.G.T. Congress at Lille, but his prediction
that the C.S.R. would survive that assembly has been fulfilled [Ed.].

Left wing trade unionism in France; containing Reflections on thpdf

2 Réponses to “Foreword to ‘Reflections on the Future of French Trade Unionism’ (Monatte, 1921)”

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