A. Rosmer

The Split Danger in the French C.G.T.U.

(December 1929)

Throughout the World of Labor, The Militant, Vol. III No. 2, 11 January 1930, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The battle that took place at the last congress of the C.G.T.U. [1] involved an inevitable sequel. Only a few weeks have passed and already it is clear what it must end in. In the Parisian trade unions, the struggle between the minoritaires and majoritaires is intense, the latter contesting the most certain votes, demanding extraordinary conventions, and when they are defeated, sounding the call for factions – but without much success. The turmoil is complete and the restlessness lively. The struggle is taking place between the most active and earnest elements; most frequently it passes above the masses of trade unionists who stay at home discouraged. What will happen in January when union cards are renewed? How many will remain members of the C.G.T.U.?

The split is in the air. At first it was merely talked about. Now it is beginning to enter into reality. A few isolated cases. But that is how things begin. One has never seen trade union splitters saying frankly that they want the split – except for a few ultra-Leftists who understand nothing of the trade union movement and imagine that it is easy to create new trade unions and even a new confederation. The tactic of the majoritaires is everywhere the same: it consists primarily in maneuvering adroitly so as to throw the responsibility for the split back upon the minoritaires. French experience is quite recent and it must look back upon it at the moment when history seems compelled to begin all over again.

Jouhaux never declared openly that the split was necessary and that he was going to carry it out. Quite the contrary. He did not cease repeating that it was Moscow that wanted it, even when he capped his maneuver by having the first expulsions executed. He did not precipitate the operation until the minority became so strong that the normal course of trade union democracy would have sufficed to drive him from leadership.

He had no lack of advisors – strange to the trade union movement – to push him onto the road of split. They even found that he was delaying too long and sermonized him publicly, asking whether he would foolishly allow the leadership to be taken away from him.

The leaders of the C.G.T.U. are in a similar position. Even though the votes of the confederal congress appear to leave them a wide margin and consequently permit them to wait not to press events needlessly they know well enough that this position is insecure and may change very rapidly. In the present organization, they no longer have a solid basis. They know that there are still many “panic-mongers” among those who voted for them at the congress and that as a result they run the risk of seeing their majority give away abruptly. The trade unions are not the party – something they have completely forgotten – and a leadership that practises a supposedly revolutionary gymnastic which is only incoherence, stupidity and incompetence, cannot be imposed from above for long, for each trade unionist measures the consequences of it. A Communist nucleus can be a fiction and exist only on paper – there are more than one of them – but in a trade union there must be members, and when it is deprived of them, it is not easy to rebuild it.

Besides, the Confederation leaders have seen what happened in Czecho-Slovakia not so long ago, where, all of a sudden, the minority found itself the majority and turned the leadership out of doors.

Also, events are proceeding with an accelerated rhythm. Where three years were necessarily in Jouhaux’s time, not even three months are needed now. The Confederal congress was held the middle of September. At the beginning of December, the decisive move is already begun. There are sharp conflicts, actual splits. At Tourcoing, two unions are cut off from their federations which have established new organizations against them. It is around them that the struggle will be concentrated.

From the day after the confederal congress, we pointed out the intention of the confederal leadership to split. Comrades reproached us for it. They did not believe it themselves and told us: “Why speak so soon about a split?” Experience shows how difficult it is to defend oneself in such a case and how the majority triumphs precisely because it alone knows well what it wants, because it takes the offensive and systematically conducts the fight to attain its aim. By constant provocation it seeks to drive the minoritaires into blind alleys, it pushes them to commit mistakes which it thereupon does not fail to exploit to the full.

The defence against the trade union directing center’s intention to split demands above all an exact policy which alone makes it possible to pursue the battle as a whole. It is possible that for some trade unions life is possible, for a time, only in autonomy. The minority must be able to judge. It must be able to decide the necessary retreats, to give up, for example, trade union leadership, when the forces are substantially equal and there are always a thousand ways to contest a vote, rather than to sanction a partial split. We know what weight the position of the railwaymen had at the time of the time of the first split; the break among them was made precisely under these conditions. But all this is impossible unless the minority is given a solid basis at the outset.

We are convinced that the minority has weakened itself by the position it has taken; it has shown itself primarily anxious about numbers, as was demonstrated by its publicly affirmed solidarity with the “six” municipal councillors of Paris [2], a strange political action on the part of men who make use of the name of revolutionary syndicalism. But whatever may be the mistakes committed by the minority and those it will be led to commit tomorrow it would none the less hold true that the responsibility for the split would devolve entirely upon the confederal leadership and that it would be the result of the incoherent and pernicious policy of the last few years. That there should be “Right wingers” in a trade union organization, even of the type of the C.G.T.U., is inevitable; a trade union is not the party and even, the Communist parties find it hard enough to eliminate their Right wingers. The right policy for the C.G.T.U. consists precisely in educating and winning progressively the timorous and too-prudent elements, and to increase constantly the number of trade unionists fully conscious of the revolutionary task they must accomplish. Its present leaders have believed that they can lead the trade unions as they lead the party. The resistance did not take long in making itself felt, and in order to save themselves, they now want to break up the C.G.T.U. But that is what they must he prevented from doing.

Paris, December 13, 1929



1. Confederation Generale du Travail, the Left Wing trade union federation under leadership and control of the Communist Party, against whose mechanical, arbitrary and erroneous policies a growing minority has rebelled – Ed.

2. Leaders of the French Right wing, led by Louis Sellier, who recently quit the Communist Party and ranks of Communism. – Ed.

Last updated on 20.8.2012