Polemic: Where is the F.O.R. going?

Printer-friendly versionSend by emailThe Ferment Ouvrier Revolutionaire is a component part of the revolutionary milieu. It is one of the rare groups to defend communist positions (against the unions, parliamentarism, national liberation struggles, frontism, state capitalism, etc...) and to intervene with them in the class struggle. For this reason it is worth while making a political balance sheet of this group, whose positions are not very well known in the proletarian milieu.

Through one of its best known militants, G. Munis, the FOR came out of the old Spanish Trotskyist group formed in the '30s. The evolution of Munis and his positions towards revolutionary positions didn't take place without difficulties. Munis - following Trotsky's directives - was in favour of the 'Bolshevik‑Leninists' entering the Young Socialists, but on he other hand opposed fusion with the POUM, a 'left socialist' party which was to play an essential role in the defeat of the Spanish workers in 1936-37.

In 1936, Munis and his friends spent a period in the Socialist militias on the Madrid front. This was an itinerary which was far from revolutionary and was a long way from the intransigent positions of the communist left at that time (the Italian Left, and even the Dutch Left). It was only in May 1937, when the proletariat in Barcelona was massacred by the Popular Front government, that the Munis group began to abandon its false trajectory[1], resolutely placing itself at the side of the insurgents and denouncing the POUM and CNT-FAI as well as the Stalinists. Munis' courageous revolutionary attitude led to his imprisonment in 1938. In 1939, he managed to escape, evading an assassination attempt by he Stalinists and finally reaching Mexico.

The immense merit of Munis and his friends in Mexico - who included the surrealist poet Peret - was to have denounced the policy of the 'defense of the USSR' and the integration of the Trotskyist '1Vth International' into the imperialist war. This led to Munis and other former Spanish Trotskyists breaking with the Trotskyist organisation in 1948, because of its betrayal of internationalism. But - and this was a characteristic of the Munis group which still exists today in the FOR - the group considered that the revolution was simply a question of will and decided to return to Franco's Spain to carry out clandestine activities. Seized by the police, Munis was subjected to a harsh term of imprisonment.

It is worth noting that the Munis group's rapprochement with the positions of the communist left, at the beginning of the 50's, was facilitated by the discussions it had with groups coming from the Italian Communist Left. The discussions with Internationalisme and then with Damen's group[2] were not unconnected to the fact that little by little the Union Ouvrere Internationaliste ( the name of the Munis group ) was able to cleanse itself of a whole Trotskyist ideology and finally arrive at a real revolutionary trajectory.

During the 50's and 60's, the group of Munis and Peret ( who died in 1959 ) bravely held on to revolutionary proletarian positions in a period of counter-revolution. It was during this difficult period, when revolutionary elements were extremely few and dispersed, that the ancestor of Itoday's FOR published texts of political reference: Les Syndicats contre la Revolution and Pour un Second Manifeste Communiste[3]. These texts, after the long night of counter-revolution which enveloped the world until the international resurgence of proletarian struggles marked by May '68 in France, played a by no means negligable role for those young elements who were trying , with great difficulty, to reappropriate the positions of the communist left and to combat the nauseating theories of Maoism and Trotskyism. The FOR, which today publishes Alarme in France and Alarma in Spain[4], is the organizational continuation of the old Munis group and consequ­ently defends the political positions expressed in these texts. Unfortunately, the FOR also refers to and continues to distribute texts from the 40's which show that the Munis group was only just ridding itself of the Trotskyist gangrene[5] as if there was a continuity between the old Spanish and Mexican Trotskyist groups of that period and the FOR of today.

It is therefore necessary to see to what extent the FOR of today is situated on the terrain of the communist left and to what extent it is still marked by the ambiguities of its origins.

 

The heritage of trotskyism

 

Unfortunately it has to be said that Munis and the FOR have not proclaimed their break with the Trotskyist current without reticence.

While on the one hand they affirm that Trotskyism has passed over to the counter-revolution since the Second World War, on the other hand they display a great nostalgia for this current in the 30s when it still had a proletarian character.

It is astonishing to see the following assertions in the literature of the FOR:

"It was the (Trotskyist) Left Opposition which best formulated the opposition to Stalinism" (Munis, Parti-Etat, Stalinisme, Revolution, Cahiers Spartacus, 1975).

Or again, more recently:

"Trotskyism, being the only internation­alist current active in dozens of countries, embodied the continuity of the revolutionary movement since the First International and prefigured the pertinent liaison with the future".(Munis, Analisis de un Vacio, Barcelona, 1983, p.3).

Reading this pane to Trotskyism and Trotsky in the 30's, you would think that there had never been a communist left. By proclaiming that only the Trotskyist current was "internationalist" in the 30's, you end up with a gross and shameful falsification of history. Munis and his friends remain silent about the existence of a communist left (in Italy, Germany, Holland, Russia... ) which, well before the Trotskyist current existed, was waging the battle against the degeneration of the Russian revolution and for internationalism. This glossing over the real revolutionary movement in the 20's and 30's ( KAPD, GIC, Bilan... ) can only have one aim: To absolve the original opportunist politics of Trotsky and Trotskyism and to pin a revolutionary medal on the activities of the Spanish Trotskyists of whom Munis was a part. Have Munis and the FOR 'forgotten' that the Trotskyists' position of 'defense of the USSR' directly led to their participation in the second imperialist butchery? Have they 'forgotten' the anti­fascist policies of this movement, which led them to propose a 'united front' with those executioners of the proletariat, the Stalin­ists and social democrats? Has Munis 'forgotten' the policy of entrism into the Spanish Socialist Party which he supported in the 1930's? Such silences express serious ambiguities in the FOR, which it is a long way from having overcome.

Such lapses of memory are not innocent. They derive from a sentimental attachment to the old Trotskyist current, which leads directly to lies and falsifications. When the FOR proclaims so lightly that "Trotsky never defended the Popular Front even critically, neither in Spain nor anywhere else" (L'arme de la critique, organ of the FOR, no 1, May 1985 ), this is simply a lie[6]. Unless the FOR is totally ignor­ant of the real history of the Trotskyist movement (..of course, it's never too late to learn...).

We will provide Munis and his friends with a few 'edifying' quotations from Trotsky. They are from Broue's selection of texts La  Revolution Espagnole 1930-40 and need no comment.

"To renounce supporting the Republican armies can only be done by traitors, agents of fascism,"(p 355); "every Trotskyist in Spain must be a good soldier alongside the Left," (p.378); "Everywhere and a1ways, when the revolutionary workers are not strong enough to overthrow the bourgeois regime, they defend against fascism even a decaying democracy, but above all they defend their own positions inside bourgeois democracy," (p. 431); "In the Spanish civil war, the question is democracy or fascism," (p. 432).

In fact, it has to be said that this attachment of Munis and his friends to the Trotskyist movement of the '30s isn't just 'sentimental'. There are still important vestiges of Trotskyist ideology in today's FOR without making an exhaustive list, we can mention some of the most significant ones.                

a) an incomprehension of state capitalism in Russia, which leads the FOR like the Trotskyists - to talk about the existence not of a bourgeois class but of a bureaucracy:                                              

"...in Russia there is no property-owning class, either new or old. The attempt to define the bureaucracy as a sort of bourgeoisie are just as inconsistent as describing the 1917 revolution as bourgeois...When the concentration of capitalist development has reached world-wide proportions and has through its own dynamic eliminated the function of private capital acting in a chaotic manner, this isn't the time for a brand new bourgeoisie to constitute itself. The characteristic process of capitalist civilization can nowhere be repeated, even if one imagines it modified forms," (Munis, Parti-Etat, p. 58). 

Like the Trotskyists then, the FOR considers capitalism is defined by the juridical form of appropriation: the suppression of private appropriation implies the disappearance of the bourgeois class. It doesn't occur to the FOR that the 'bureaucracy' in the Eastern Bloc (and in China, etc), is the form taken by the decadent bourgeois­ie in its appropriation of the means of production.

b) the drawing up of a new 'Transitional Program' after Trotsky's example in 1938 shows the FOR's difficulty in understanding the histor­ic period, the period of capitalism's decadence. In its 'second Communist Manifesto' the FOR con­sidered it correct to put forward all kinds of transitional demands in the absence of revolut­ionary movements of the proletariat. These go from the 30 hours week, the suppression of piece work and of time and motion studies in the fact­ories to the "demand for work for all, unemployed and youth" on the economic terrain. On the political level the FOR demands democratic 'rights' and 'freedoms' from the bourgeoisie: freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly; the right of workers to elect permanent workshop, factory or professional delegates "without any judicial or trade union formalities," (Second  Manifesto, p. 65-71).

This is all within the Trotskyist logic, according to which it is enough to pose the right demands to gradually arrive at the revolution. For the Trotskyists, the whole trick is to know how to be a pedagogue for the workers, who don't understand anything about their demands, to brandish in front of them the most appetizing carrots in order to push the workers towards their 'party'. Is this what Munis wants, with his Transitional Program Mark 2?

The FOR still doesn't understand today:

  • that it is not a question of drawing up a catalogue of demands for future struggles: the workers are big enough to formulate their own precise demands spontaneously, in the course of the struggle;
  • that this or that precise demand -- like the 'right to work' for the unemployed -- can be taken up by bourgeois movements and used against the proletariat (labor camps, public works, etc.);
  • that it's only through the revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie that the workers can really satisfy their demands.

 

Decadent capitalism is no longer able to concede lasting reforms to the proletariat

 

It's very characteristic that the FOR should put on the same level its reformist slogans about democratic 'rights and freedoms' for workers, and slogans which could only arise in a fully revolutionary period. We thus find mixed pell-mell such slogans as:

"expropriation of industrial, finance, and agricultural capital;

workers' management of the production and distribution of goods;

destruction of all the instruments of war, atomic as well as classical, dissolution of armies and police, reconversion of war industries into consumer industries;

individual armament of those exploited by capitalism, territorially organized according to the schema of democratic committees of management and distribution;

suppression of frontiers and constitution of a single government and a single economy to the extent of the proletariat's victory in diverse in countries."

And the FOR adds the following comment to this whole catalogue: "It's only on the wings of revolutionary subjectivity that man will overcome the distance between the reign of necessity and the   reign of freedom," (ibid, p.71). In other words, the FOR takes its desires for reality and considers the revolution as a simple question of subjective will, and not of objective conditions (the revolutionary maturation of the proletariat in the historic crisis of capitalism, a capitalism that has sunk into its economic crisis).        

All these slogans display enormous confusions. The FOR seems to have abandoned any marxist compass. There is no distinction made between a pre-revolutionary period in which capital still rules politically, a revolutionary period in  which a dual power is established, and the period of transition (after the seizure of power by the proletariat) which alone can put on the agenda (and then not immediately!) the "suppression of wage labor" and the "suppression of frontiers."

It seems clear that the FOR's slogans show not only poorly digested vestiges of the Trot­skyist Transitional Program, but also strong anarchist tendencies. The slogan of 'workers' management' is part of the anarchist, councilist or 'Gramscian' baggage but certainly not of the marxist program. As for the "individual armament" (and why not collective?) of the proletariat and the exaltation of "subjectivity" (individual no doubt), they are all part of anarchist confusionism.

Finally, the FOR's 'theory' looks like a melange of confusions inherited from Trotskyism and anarchism. The FOR's positions on Spain 1936-37 show this in a striking manner.

 

The "Spanish Revolution" in the gospel according to the FOR

 

In the ICC's press (footnote 6) we've already had occasion to criticize the conception Munis and his friends have of the events in Spain in 1936-37. It's necessary to come back to this because the FOR's interpretation leads to the worst kind of aberrations, fatal for a group situating itself on the terrain of the proletar­ian revolution.

For the Munis group, the events in Spain were the highest moment in the revolutionary wave which began in 1917. What it calls the 'Spanish revolution' was even more revolutionary than t':)e Russian Revolution:

"The more we look back at the years down to 1917, the more the Spanish revolution gains in importance. It was more profound than the Russian revolution..." (Munis, Jalons de Défaite, Promesse de Victoire, Mexico, 1948, postface Réaffirmation, 1972).

There's more: the events of May '37, when the Spanish proletariat was crushed by the Stalinists with the complicity of the anarchist 'comrade ministers', expressed "the supreme level of consciousness in the struggle of the world proletariat," (Munis, Parti-Etat, p. 66).

Munis simply takes up the Trotskyist analy­sis of the events in Spain, including concessions to anti-fascism. For him, the events in Spain weren't a counter-revolution which enabled the bourgeoisie to crush the proletariat, but the most important revolution in history. Such assertions are justified in the following way:

  • in July '36, the state had virtually disapp­eared; 'government-committees' had appeared in place of the state[7];
  • the collectives in Spain '36 had installed a real local communism ( and why not communism in one village?);
  • the international situation was objectively revolutionary with France "on the edge of civil war" and "the rebirth of the workers' offensive in Britain," (Jalons, p. 380).

It is useless to dwell too much on the falsity of the gospel according to Jalons. It is characteristic of a sect which elevates itself 'on the wings of subjectivity' and takes its fantasies for reality, to the point where they acquire an autonomous life of their own. Munis' invention of the 'government-committees', which never existed (what did exist were the militias which were a cartel of left parties and unions), is evidence of a tendency towards self-mystification, and above all of the kind of bluff which the Trotskyists have always specialized in.

But the most serious problem with Munis' position is that he takes up the analysis of the Trotskyists and anarchists of the time, puts them to his own use and, in the end, justifies them. By saluting the activities of the Spanish Trot­skyists as 'revolutionary', Munis absolves them of their call "to ensure the military victory" of the Republic against fascism (ibid, p. 305). And what we can say about his enthusiasm for the much-vaunted 'International Brigades' -- an enthusiasm shared with the Stalinist Marty, the butcher of the workers of Albacete. Munis sees them as a magnificent example of thousands of men offering "their blood for the Spanish revolution," p. 395). As for the workers' blood shed by the Stalinist butchers who acted within these brigades, a coy silence is maintained.

By persisting in repeating the same errors committed by the Spanish Trotskyists in '36, the FOR ends up in a complete failure of understand­ing, fatal to any proletarian group:

  • first, there is an incomprehension of the conditions for the disappearance of the capital­ist state and the opening up of a real period of transition from capitalism to communism. When he says that on 19 July '36 "the capitalist state ceased to exist" (Jalons p. 280), not only does Munis make a travesty of historical reality, but he is also arguing that the state can disappear in a few hours, on the spot, in one country. Such a view is identical with anarchism;
  • Munis and his friends consider that the proletarian revolution can take place without workers' councils and without a revolutionary party; that, even with no unitary or political organizations, the revolution can still unfold in a spontaneous manner. Despite his recognition of the necessity for a revolutionary party to catalyze the process of revolution, Munis and the FOR here introduce councilist conceptions on the rebound.

Finally, the FOR displays a complete incomprehension of the conditions for the proletarian revolution today.

 

The future of a sect

 

The FOR today stands at a cross-roads. Its whole raison d'etre has been its affirmation that the revolution is a question of will and subjectivity. It has continually insisted that objective conditions (general crisis of capitalism, economic decadence) are of little importance. In an idealist manner, the FOR still claims that there is no economic decline but a 'moral' decadence of capitalism. Even worse, since the 1970s it has seen the economic crisis of capital­ism as no more than "a tactical ruse of the bourg­eoisie," as Munis himself put it at the beginning of the 2nd International Conference of the Groups of the Communist Left[8].

At a time when the two 'black Mondays' of the 1987 stock exchange crash (19 and 26 October) have provided a striking confirmation of the economic bankruptcy of the world capitalist system, is the FOR going to go on calmly insisting there is no crisis? At a time when the collapse of capitalism is becoming more and more obvious,     is the FOR going to say - as it did in 1975 - that capitalism "will always be able to solve its own contradictions - the crises of overproduction" (cf Revolution Internationale no 14, March '75, 'Response a Alarme')?                                                              

If the FOR continues to hover above reality in the rosy clouds of 'subjectivity', it will be seen as a sect condemned by objective reality itself. And, by definition, a sect which has withdrawn into itself to defend its own hobbyhorses - like the 'Spanish revolution' and the absence of economic crisis - and which denies reality, is doomed either to disappear or to break up into multiple segments in the most abject confusion.

The FOR is situated at the confluence of three currents: Trotskyism, councilism and anarchism.

Vis-a-vis Trotskyism, the FOR conserves not only ideological vestiges (Spain '36, 'transitional demands', voluntarism), but also a singular attraction for its 'critical' elements, those trying to break from it. While the FOR today is clear that "nothing revolutionary can have its source in any Trotskyist tendency," (Munis, Analisis de un Vacio, 1983), it retains the illusion that splits from Trotskyism "could contribute to building an organization of the world proletariat," (ibid). This same illusion could be seen in the FOR's response to the form­ation of the group Union Ouvriere in 1975 which emerged from Lutte Ouvriere in France. The FOR didn't hesitate to see this split - which proved itself to have no future - as "the most positive organic fact to have taken place in Franc since the war at least," (Alarma no 28, 1975, 'Salut a Union Ouvriere').

The FOR now has to say clearly, when the responsibility of revolutionaries is much weight­ier today than ten years ago, whether or not it sees itself as part of the communist left, work­ing for its regroupment, or as part of the marshy milieu inhabited by 'critical' grouplets coming out of Trotskyism. The FOR must pronounce unambiguously on the conditions for the formation of the revolutionary party. It must say clearly whether the party will be formed around the groups coming out of the communist left, around those who lay claim to the contribution of the lefts in the 20s and 30s (KAPD, Bilan, Dutch Left, or around groups coming out of Trotskyism. A clear response to this question will determine whether the FOR is to participate in any future conferences of the communist left - something rejected in 1978, in a sectarian manner.

In the second place, it seems that the FOR has left the doors wide open to councilism. By seeing the economic crisis of capitalism as secondary or even non-existent, by arguing that the consciousness of the proletariat can only arise from the struggle itself[9], the FOR underestimates not only the objective factors of the revolution, but also the subjective factor, that of the existence of a revolutionary organization, which is the highest, most elaborated expression of class consciousness.

In the third place, the FOR shows a very dangerous attachment to and attraction for anar­chist conceptions. If the FOR has rejected the Trotskyist vision of 'political revolutions', it is mainly to proclaim that the revolution is first and foremost 'economic' and not political:

"This political vision of the revolution shared by the extreme left and the majority of what can be called the ultra-left is a bourgeois vision of the seizure of power" (L'arme de la critique, no 1, May '85). This conception is exactly the same as that of the Dutch councilists of the GIC (see the forthcoming pamphlet on the Dutch-German Left), which is close to that of anarchism. In believing and in spreading the belief that the revolution will immediately do away with the law of value and quickly realize the economic tasks of communism, the FOR has fallen into the anarchist illusion that communism is a simple economic question, and thus evades the issue of the political power of the proletariat (the dictatorship of the councils on a world scale, which alone can really open up the period of the economic transformation of society).

The FOR is at the crossroads. Either it will remain a sect with no future, doomed to die a beautiful death, or it will decompose into various segments drawn towards Trotskyism, anarchism or councilism, or it will orient itself resolutely towards the communist left. As a hybrid sect somewhere between a rabbit and a fish, disdainful of present day reality, the FOR is not a viable group. We can only hope, and we will contribute all that we can to this, that the FOR will orient itself towards a real confrontation with the revolution­ary milieu. In order to do this, it should make a self-criticism of its negative attitude in 1978, at the second conference of groups of the communist left.

The proletarian milieu has everything to gain if revolutionary elements like the FOR don't lose themselves and are able to unite with the existing revolutionary forces, those of the comm­unist left. The brutal acceleration of history is making the FOR face its historic responsibilities. What's at stake is its existence, and above all the survival of the young revolutionary energies which comprise it.

Ch.


[1]    The militants of the FOR who were ironic about the "false trajectory" of Revolution Internationale - the title of the pamphlet they gave out at the second conference of groups of the communist left - would do better to analyze the false trajectory of the Spanish Trotskyists before 1940 (cf the texts cited by Munis himself in his book Jalons and Broue's book La Revolucion Espagnole, editions de Minuit, 1975).  

[2]    This was Damaen's Partito Communista Internazionalista, which came out of the '52 split with Bordiga's fraction which publishes Battaglia Communista.

[3]    Pour un Second Manifeste Communiste French and Spanish, Eric Losfeld, Paris 1965; Les Syndicats contre la Revolucion by B. Peret and G. Munis, Eric Losfeld, Paris 1968. Publishing Peret's text fom the 50's (which can be found in the latter selection) in Libertaire, organ of the anarchist federation, was more than a little ambiguous. It giving a revolutionary aura to the anarcho-syndicalist elements who chose their camp in the anti-fascist war in Spain in 36-37 and who continue to sing the praises of the CNT.

[4]    Alarme: BP 239, 75624 Paris, cedex 13;

      Alarma: Apartado 5355 Barcelona

[5]    Cf text criticizing the IVth International published in Mexico between 1946 and 1949. 

[6]    Cf IR 25, 1981 'Critique of Munis' and the FOR'; the ICC pamphlet on Spain 36-37 (1987 in Spanish) and the articles 'Critica de Jalones de derrota, promoesa de victoria'

[7]    It's not by chance that the Trotskyist Broue takes up Munis affirmation that there were 'government committees' equivalent to workers' councils, in order to prove the existence of a 'Spanish Revolution', cf Broue, La Rebolution Espagnole 1931-39, Flammarion 1973, p. 71

[8]    2nd Conference of groups of the Communist Left, November '78. The FOR having decided to remain 'in the margin of the conference', finally left it soon after it began, not wanting to recognize the crisis of capitalism.

[9]    "... the school of the  proletariat is never theoretical reflection or experience accumulated and then interpreted but the result of its own realizations in the heat of the struggle. Being precedes consciousness of it for the overwhelming majority of its protagonists ...

"... In sum, the material motivation for the liquidation of capitalism is given by the declining (?) contradiction between capitalism and the freedom of the human species," (Alarme no 13, July-Sept 1981, 'Organization et conscience revolutionaires').