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Béla Kun: ‘The French Communists are guilty of opportunist conduct’

February 6, 2018

Béla Kun

Newly published speeches by Lenin, Trotsky, and Béla Kun, part 2

See also:

** Leon Trotsky, “Clear-headed revolutionary thinking is needed”
** V.I. Lenin, “Trotsky was a thousand times right”
** “Newly published speeches by Lenin, Trotsky, and Béla Kun”

Béla Kun, an exiled leader of the Hungarian communist movement and a leader of the Comintern Executive Committee, spoke immediately after Trotsky. Kun, who was known for his “leftist’ views, had come under criticism for his role in the March Action, an unsuccessful general strike called by the German Communist Party in March 1921. For explanation of the term ‘Turkestaner,’ see endnote 1.

Béla Kun: Comrades, first of all, an episode from the experiences of a Turkestaner[1] (Laughter) that includes mention of a French comrade. It was during the March Action. The machine guns jumped into action. The Turkestaner was sitting in a room in Berlin with a friend from the German party, talking to a French comrade. The Turkestaner was not addressing the French comrade in the spirit of a Moscow diktat. He was not demanding that the revolution be carried out at once. He was merely asking quite unassumingly that if the Rhineland was occupied, could they please carry out a small amount of propaganda in the French army. The French comrade, a member of the party leadership, answered this quite unassuming question as follows: ‘Dear comrade Turkestaner, how do you imagine that we could carry out propaganda in the French army? Dear Turkestaner, that would be high treason.’ (Laughter)

This statement typifies the outlook of the French so-called Communist Party. This incident shows that the revolutionary outlook of the French party after Tours is the same as before Tours. What you could call a mechanical division is made between the periods before and after Tours, but there is very little actual difference between the two periods. The state of the French party is best indicated by the fact that Serrati’s statements in his defence have repeatedly referred to the stance of the French party. After the Livorno Congress he even declared that in the French party he would be part of the left wing. As for L’Humanité, the [USPD’s] Freiheit is by comparison a revolutionary newspaper. Certainly no one can maintain that I cherish great sympathy for Freiheit, but L’Humanité is not even able to speak to the masses in as revolutionary a spirit as Freiheit. No one, not a single Communist, could claim in good conscience that L’Humanité is a revolutionary Communist newspaper.

The way that L’Humanité speaks to the French comrades is very important because, while we do not expect the French party to make the revolution instantly, we do ask that it carry out revolutionary propaganda. The politics of the party is a somewhat different matter. Perhaps the party’s politics need not be as Communist as its propaganda. In reality, the party’s politics are not revolutionary and not Communist. The proof of this is the party’s conduct on the questions of reparations, sanctions, and the call-up into the army.

Reparations are just another way of demanding indemnities. Every pacifist writes and agitates against annexations and indemnities. Every pacifist takes a rather clear position on this. But what has the French party done? I’m not going to speculate here; I will simply refer to what Comrade Rappoport, a long-time Marxist and leader of the French party, wrote in an article in Die Rote Fahne. The French party has declared its policy on this awkward and important question. For the French party, and above all Comrade Cachin, reparations are viewed as a justified demand on the Germans, he said.

And when the military call-up took place, and the French bourgeoisie mobilised its troops to occupy the Rhineland, what did the French party do? L’Humanité said very little about the response of the working class and its prevailing mood. However, we can conclude from L’Humanité that the working class did not at all approve of the leadership’s position on this question. Thus we read daily reports in L’Humanité from Tours, Nancy, Troyes, and other cities that the called-up soldiers sang the ‘Internationale’, demonstrated against the war, often threw away the […], and so on. The party took no initiatives before and during this period of the call-up, although it knew very well from the outset that mobilisation was coming and that new levies would be called up. Only on 4 May did the party publish a statement, which provides most convincing proof that the French party is not a Communist Party. This declaration reads:

The party will not delay a single day in raising its protest against the call-up decreed by the government. The present difficulties arise out of the Versailles Treaty, which the party condemns as imperialist, unworkable, and tending toward generalised war. They flow from the brutal policies of the National Bloc, which the party combats unrelentingly. The government’s resort to violent measures will not resolve these difficulties but only aggravate them.

This passage reveals that there is no difference between the party’s position and that of Longuet. Further on, we read:

The party reiterates that the government is being guided by sinister reaction and by heavy industry’s thirst for annexations, while doing absolutely nothing regarding reconstruction of the devastated areas and reparation.[2] The party regards this as a hoax perpetrated against the French nation. The party believes that the young men, torn from homes, jobs, and personal freedom, do not have any duty toward the handful of profiteers who compelled the government to decree the call-up.

Absent here is any serious argument against indemnities, against reparations. The appeal also speaks passionately of revolution, just as Freiheit does in addressing the masses.

Yesterday, Comrade Trotsky thoroughly pummelled the French youth.

Radek: In a fatherly manner.

Kun: Trotsky spoke of the youth with much irony and asserted that the young comrades had presented foolish demands to the party leadership. That may be true. But if they made foolish demands, that is simply a result of the French party leadership’s immobility, impotence, and anti-Communist outlook. (Hear! Hear!) More could be said about the blunders of the French youth comrades, but they result from the opportunist conduct of the French party. However, Comrade Trotsky has thoroughly studied all the documentation concerning the French party. Yet he said not a word about the fact that the Communist municipal councillors in France, with two or three exceptions, all signed the call-up decree, and that the party said not a single word against that and did nothing to call these Communist municipal councillors to account. It stands to reason that in such circumstances the youth can only conclude that it is the vanguard and that it must absolutely advance and not go backward like the party. That is what causes the youth’s blunders. The party has committed much greater blunders, opportunist blunders. This can be shown by a few quotations from L’Humanité. On 5 May, Comrade Frossard wrote an article entitled ‘Sangfroid and Discipline’, which reads:

There are times in the life of a party activist in which he cannot remain silent and bears a duty to speak out. We are now in such a situation. The party’s sections in Paris are in a feverish condition, in which they impatiently desire to test their young forces in the hard battles of class struggles and urge us on to action. They know that the country is being led into war. Our rulers do not even take the trouble to conceal their imperialist policies.

And after this introduction, Frossard comes to the remarkable conclusion that the [call-up] orders should nonetheless be obeyed.

It is easy to comprehend why the youth under such conditions would commit blunders. When I consider the fact that the French party did nothing in this situation except to write pretty articles like that of Comrade Frossard, in his article ‘Sangfroid and Discipline’, I can easily grasp why the youth would not feel so bound by this discipline. No discipline can be maintained in a party that calls itself revolutionary but does not act in a revolutionary manner.

Lenin arrives in the meeting room.

Kun: All the regions and all party organisations took a clear position against indemnities; only the party itself failed to do so. Let me stress again that we are not expecting the French party to carry out a revolution, only revolutionary propaganda and revolutionary Communist agitation. If L’Humanité continues to be edited in this manner, if the French party continues to issue protests written with this kind of tone, not only will the French working class be repelled by communism, but it will also forget the revolutionary language of France. In that case, the French working class must recall the French Revolution of long ago in order to learn the French revolutionary language of old. I propose that the [Communist International] Executive Committee dispatch a commission to thoroughly investigate the situation in France and pose a series of conditions that must absolutely be fulfilled in a very brief time period, before the party is finally admitted by the world congress. (Loud applause)


[1]. ‘Turkestaner’ was a term used mockingly by Paul Levi in his pamphlet Unser Weg to refer to Béla Kun, one of the ECCI’s envoys to Germany during the March Action. Later in the congress, Karl Radek uses the term ironically as a synonym for ECCI emissary (p. 654).

The origin of the term is unclear. According to some accounts, based on Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary (Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, 2012, p. 164), it refers to Lenin’s exile of Kun to Turkestan as punishment for atrocities committed by Kun during the Soviet conquest of Crimea in 1920. This explanation is effectively refuted by György Borsányi. Anti-Soviet exiles and the capitalist press did claim Kun to be responsible for reprisals in Crimea, but without convincing evidence. They habitually blamed ‘foreigners and Jews’ for alleged Soviet misdeeds, and Kun was the most prominent potential target, Borsányi notes. (Borsányi, The Life of a Communist Revolutionary, 1993).

Jean-François Fayet, who drew on the Serge account in his biography of Radek, now believes the epithet ‘Turkestani’ was current in Comintern parties before the March Action, as does David Fernbach (communications to the editor; compare Fayet, Karl Radek, 2004, p. 368 and Fernbach (ed.), In the Steps of Rosa Luxemburg, 2011, p. 18). Fayet recently wrote that ‘[i]n several parties, acerbic comments were [then] increasingly to be heard regarding “Turkestanis” or “Moscow’s leather boots”; shadowy figures allegedly conspiring behind the backs of national party leaderships in the executive’s name. (Fayet, in Norman Laporte et al, Bolshevism Stalinism and the Comintern, p. 113)

According to Stefan Weber, Levi, in using the epithet, based himself on Kun’s dark complexion (Weber, Ein Kommunistischer Putsch, 1991, p. 72).

[2]. The German word used by Kun, Reparation, means ‘reparations’ or, less frequently, ‘repairs’. The French text Kun is quoting probably used the same word, which in French means ‘repairs’ or, less frequently, ‘compensation’.

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