Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: July 2009

10 - The Party the Syndicalists Built


“I do not know two types of socialism, in which one is reformist and the other is revolutionary,” argued Léon Blum, centrist spokesman for the French Socialist party at the congress of Tours in December 1920. “I know only one socialism,” he insisted, “revolutionary socialism” (Kriegel 1964b, 118). But this Jaurèsian syncretism, of which Blum was the inheritor, now fell on deaf ears. It was, in fact, “The Hour of Choice,” as the right-wing Pierre Renaudel had titled an article in Humanité: “Between Lenin … and Jaurès,” he wrote, “it is necessary to choose.” By 3,208 votes against 1,022, the party chose Lenin. The Parti Communiste Français (PCF) was born.

The schism of the French labor movement that occurred in 1920–1 can be described in terms of two interdependent dynamics. The first was the breakdown of the balanced dualism that had previously supported broad-based solidarity in the labor movement. Chapter 9 has already shown that the institutional balance provided by the bourses du travail was being undermined by the attempts to routinize union organization. This routinization had encouraged a consolidation of sectoral industrial unionism and a centralization of strike control in the hands of these national unions. Political mobilization also became a more attractive option for these industrial federations, reopening the thorny question of the relative autonomy of party and union. Both developments tended to marginalize the bourses as institutions that could provide an effective cross-cutting balance against sectoral union federations or against partisan conflict.