Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

100th Anniversary of the Congress of Tours: the Split that Created the French Communist Party.

with 5 comments

Congrès de Tours 1920 - 2020

Congrès de Tours. December 1920.

The Tours Congress was the 18th National Congress of the French Section of the Workers’ International, or SFIO, which took place in Tours on 25–30 December 1920. During the Congress, the majority voted to join the Third International and create the French Section of the Communist International, which became the French Communist Party in 1921.

This was the reaction of tendency which became the French Communist Party, le Parti Communiste Français (PCF).

In December of 1920 the French Socialist Party held a congress in Tours to decide the question of whether or not to join the Communist International. Supported by Marcel Cachin and L.- O. Frossard, and opposed by old-time leader Jules Guesde and the former Dreyfusard and future head of the Popular Front government Léon Blum, the Congress voted overwhelmingly to support entry into the Comintern. L’Humanité, the newspaper founded by Jean Jaurès, and which now became the official organ of the PCF, carried the following account.

Violence is often nothing but the most obvious sign of strong and sincere convictions. So if bourgeois newspapers delight in publishing this morning that “violent incidents” marked yesterday’s meeting of the congress, we have nothing to be surprised about. It’s not in the serenity of academies or tribunals that the destiny of the revolutionary proletariat is decided: it is in the fever and tumult of action.

By 3,252 votes out of 4,763 — a majority of more than two thirds — the Congress of Tours voted for the membership of the Socialist Party in the Communist International. Our emotion is great in writing these lines. At long last French socialism is publicly and solemnly breaking with the out of date traditions of the Second International; with the humiliated, as well as humiliating routine of a purely electoral, purely parliamentary socialism which, under the pressure of historical circumstances, ended up by reducing revolutionary Marxism, which they claimed to be inspired by, to the role of a “king who rules but doesn’t govern.”

The Second International has been dead for a long time — dead since August 4, 1914 — four days after Jaurès. Alas, it was one of those dead who have to be killed. Take off your hat for its remains as they pass by. Let us pledge ourselves to the immense obligation we have assumed to the coming revolution in joining the Communist International.

Marxist Internet Archive.

The response, cinglante, of Léon Blum is so memorable that many of us know many of the original words almost by heart,

The second International Congress held in Moscow last July had the visible appearance of a sort of constituent assembly. (Uproar) My voice is naturally very weak. I am, moreover, very tired, like all of you, and it would be physically impossible for me to surmount, by the strength of my lungs, this tumult and these violent interruptions.

The second International Congress at Moscow had, then, to all appearances, the character of a sort of constituent assembly. In all areas, the doctrinal as well as the tactical, it formulated a set of complementary resolutions. The whole set forms a sort of architectural structure, entirely patterned after a single design, in which every part is related to every other. It is impossible to deny the power and even the majesty of it. You are in the presence of a totality, of a doctrinal ensemble. Thus, the following question is posed: Do you or do you not accept this body of doctrine formulated by the Congress of the Communist International? And to accept – I hope there will be no divergence of opinion on this point – to accept means to accept with mind, heart, and will and with the intention of strictly conforming, in thought and action, to the new doctrine.

Any other kind of adherence would be a comedy, unworthy of the Communist International and unworthy of the French party. You are in the presence of a totality. “There is not even room to quibble over this or that detail. It is a question of looking at the unifying theme, the central idea. It doesn’t much matter if your acceptance entails this or that reservation about a detail. There is no trickery or deception in that. But if you contest the doctrine in its essentials, you really have no right to accept with second thoughts or mental reservations, to say “I agree, but I only pay lip-service, with the conviction that this is nothing but a joke, and that tomorrow the party will continue to live and to act as it did yesterday.” We are all agreed in rejecting such an interpretation. (Applause) The Congress may believe this of us. With an effort at intellectual impartiality and honesty that no one here will deny, we faced the problem squarely and said to ourselves: “Studying the texts of the Communist International, its theses, its statutes” – and I will not dwell on the difficulties and really excessive slowness with which we were given each of the materials under discussion – “can we or can we not accept them?” For us to accept would really mean to accept in the strongest possible sense of the word. We had the duty of making that textual examination.

… What is the result? It is twofold. First of all (and I believe there will be no disagreement about this), we are in the presence of something new. Some have tried to prove the contrary, and perhaps will try again. I remember the meeting of the Federation of the Seine when I was responding to Frossard, who had made the most ingenious and clever effort to combine the communist theses with the traditional principles of the Socialist Party. I tried to show him that those theses reflected a force, a will to construct something new, differing entirely from the essential tenets of the traditional socialism we had until then known and practiced. I remember that the most qualified delegates of the Third International supported me. “It’s true,” they said. “That is what we think; that is what we want. It is a new socialism that we want to create in our country and in the whole proletarian world.” That is what Lenin and Trotsky have said. It is what you yourselves said when returning from Russia. For example, Cachin, in the last letter that he sent from Moscow, spoke of a break with the past. Trotsky, in the most recent document that the Communist Bulletin has published, said that it was a new party.

 What is the new party that you want to create going to be like? Instead of a popular will formed at the base and rising by degrees, your regime of centralization involves the subordination of each organ to the one which is hierarchically above it. It entails an executive committee at the top to which everyone is subordinated, a sort of military chain of command whose orders are formulated at the top and transmitted from one rank to another down to the mere members in their sections. The autonomy of groups and federations? That, the theses will tell you, is a heresy pure and simple and must be excluded from communist organization. … Alongside public organization, underground organization.

In lines that echo throughout the ages, Blum described what a socialist party is,

Your vocation is to gather together all the proletarians of all countries. There is no other limit to the size of the Socialist party than the number of workers and wage-earners. Our Party was therefore a party with as large a recruitment as possible. As such, it was a party of freedom of thought, for the two ideas are necessarily related. If you want to group all workers, all wage-earners, all the exploited in a single party, you can only unite them around simple and general slogans. You will say to them: “All those who want to work to change the economic system, all those who believe, for this is the foundation of Marxism, that there is an ineluctable connection between the development of capitalism on the one hand and that of socialism on the other – all of you are socialists. If you are with us in this task, your act of faith is completed. You are socialists.” Within this credo, this essential affirmation, all varieties and shades of opinion are tolerated. ..

Speech at the Socialist Party Congress at Tours, 27 December 1920

There is an excellent documentary which an algorithm on FB has alerted people to this week.

Congrès de Tours. 1920 : la naissance des deux gauches – Documentaire (12/12/2020)

Watching it, there are not just pictures but newsreel images of the delegates outside the Hall, it is more than striking just how male the participants were.


The present General Secretary of the PCF Fabien Roussel is interviewed here, reproduced on in Mediapart.

Congrès de Tours: 100 ans après, le communisme « plus que jamais d’actualité »

Le communisme est « plus que jamais d’actualité face aux crises » sanitaire, économique et sociale, affirme le secrétaire général du PCF Fabien Roussel qui n’écarte pas une candidature communiste en 2022, dans un entretien à l’AFP pour le 100e anniversaire de son parti.

Communism is “more relevant than ever in the face of the present day health, economic and social crises”, says PCF secretary general Fabien Roussel who does not rule out a communist candidacy in 2022, in an interview with AFP for the 100th anniversary of his party.

The PCF got 2,5% of the vote in the 2019 European Elections.

The Tendance wrote, a few years ago, a piece on a recent biography of Léon Blum.

A State Jew? Léon Blum – David A. Bell on Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum.





Written by Andrew Coates

December 23, 2020 at 5:55 pm

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Fascinating – remarkable images in the documentary – pity there are no English subtitles

    David Officer

    December 24, 2020 at 8:27 pm

    • As a French speaker obviously that is not problem for me, but as you say the images alone are worth it.

      Andrew Coates

      December 24, 2020 at 8:40 pm

      • Watch this and weep;

        Andrew Coates

        December 25, 2020 at 11:23 am

  2. There was a smaller grouping in the SFIO that wanted to break with the Socialist International (for good reason) and join the Communist International but didn’t agree with all of the 21 conditions. I think they were the most clear-thinking of the different sides. Of course, they didn’t get anywhere. Blum was not among their ranks.


    December 26, 2020 at 8:36 pm

    • Yes, there are some really serious studies of the complexities of the split, including, whether you like her or not Annie Kriegel (I mention this one because I have a copy): Édition abrégée : Aux origines du communisme français, 1914-1920 : contribution à l’histoire du mouvement ouvrier français, Paris, Flammarion, coll. « Champs. Champ historique


      And there was also the evolution of Boris Souvarine (1895 – 1 November 1984), also known as Varine, was a French Marxist, communist activist, essayist and journalist.

      A founding member of the French Communist Party, Souvarine is noted for being the only non-Russian communist to have been a member of the Comintern for three years in succession.[1] He famously authored the first biography of Joseph Stalin, published in 1935 as Staline, Aperçu Historique du Bolchévisme (Stalin, Historic Overview of Bolshevism) .


      There an excellent translation of that book, by C.L. R James available for free.


      Andrew Coates

      December 26, 2020 at 9:12 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: