• 1999: Alfred Rosmer


    Alfred Rosmer

    Notes for a meeting on Rosmer given at Marxism 1999.


    Alfred Rosmer is not a well-known name today. A life-long fierce opponent of capitalism, he has little place in official histories. Yet at the same time socialist histories often give him little space; he has been written out by Stalinism, and even official Trotskyism has found him an awkward figure to deal with. Yet he played a part in some of the most important events of the century. He was a committed revolutionary for fifty-five years, from 1909 to 1964; he was one of the few who actively opposed the First World War from the very first day; he played a key role in the early years of the Communist International, about which he later wrote one the best accounts in his book Lenin’s Moscow; and he was one of the pioneers of the left opposition to Stalinism. Rosmer was never a top-rank leader, and as a very modest man he never sought to be; but he was one of the key cadres without whom the revolutionary movement could not exist. Revolutionaries have to know when to swim with the stream and when to swim against it. In 1914 Rosmer found himself in a group of a few isolated individuals, defending internationalist principles when the whole movement seemed to have disintegrated; yet a few years later he was at the centre of the Communist International when it was trying to build mass revolutionary parties.

    Alfred Griot was born in the United States in 1877, but his French family returned to France in 1884. As a young man he worked as an office worker, a municipal official and as a proof-reader, and he was attracted towards anarchist ideas. He was also passionately enthusiastic about the theatre, and began his writing career as a drama critic; he took his pseudonym, which he used through his life, from a character in one of Ibsen’s plays, Rosmersholm.

    In 1909 Rosmer got himself involved in the syndicalist movement. The French working-class movement before 1914 was divided into two currents, which were hostile to each other and had relatively little contact wih each other. One the one hand there were the socialists, members of the French section of the Second International., a party which contested parliamentary elections and had a number of deputies; this was in turn divided between a more moderate wing, led by Jean Jaurès, and a dogmatically orthodox Marxist wing, led by Jules Guesde. On the other hand there were the syndicalists, organised in the CGT, the General Confederation of Labour.

    Now it is important to be clear what the word ‘syndicalist’ meant. Nowadays we tend to use the word syndicalist to refer to someone who confines their activity to purely trade union questions, and doesn’t raise political questions – say opposition to war – in the trade-union movement. It’s important to stress that this is not quite the sense in which the term was used by people like Rosmer. Perhaps it is best to begin with the definition Rosmer himself gave of French syndicalism at the time of its Congress at Amiens in 1906:

    The task of everyday demands is only one side of the task of syndicalism; at the same time it is preparing for the  total emancipation of the working class. Its tactic is direct action (that is, non‑parliamentary action), culminating in the general strike. In the future (after the revolution) the trade union will be the agency of production and distribution, the basis of social reorganisation. Syndicalism declares itself to be exclusive of all political parties and of philosophical sects (which means it is against them, against the Socialist party and against the anarchists) .

    So – leaving aside the question of how a future socialist society would be organised – the syndicalists had two major differences with the socialists. They refused any involvement in parliament, and they rejected the need for a political party – They did of course recognise that the working class was uneven, but rather than a structured party organisation they talked about a much looser grouping, an ‘active minority’ perhaps gathered around a journal.

    Now of course these were important tactical and organisational questions, and the inadequacies of syndicalism were to be revealed in the struggles of the next couple of decades. But what can’t be said – as Rosmer himself insisted repeatedly over later years – is that the syndicalists were unpolitical. They were accused of being unpolitical by those socialists for whom ‘politics’ was identified exclusively with participation in the parliamentary system, who saw politics as nothing but the contesting of parliamentary elections.

    The revolutionary syndicalists were committed to the revolutionary transformation of society. They believed this would be achieved through the self‑activity of the working class, using its own specific form of struggle, the mass withdrawal of labour in the general strike. The syndicalists therefore did not ignore the question of the state – on the contrary, they were committed to smashing the capitalist state. In particular, the CGT had a long tradition of anti-war campaigning. In 1900 the CGT had established a special fund called the sou du soldat – the soldier’s halfpenny – which was to be used for anti-militarist propaganda and in particular for activity with young soldiers doing their compulsory military service.

    So I think it is very important to stress that while there were serious weaknesses in pre-1914 syndicalism in France – and France was probably the country which had the strongest syndicalist tradition – these weaknesses were certainly no more grave than those of the Second International socialist parties, and that we certainly shouldn’t echo or endorse the criticisms of revolutionary syndicalism that came from the reformists of the socialist party. Rosmer summed up these criticisms in a speech in Moscow in 1921:

    The Second International stood on the point of view that the decisive role belonged to political parties, that they should take all politics into their hands, that they alone were competent to indicate the general direction for the advance of the proletariat. The trade unions were shoved into the background as organisations which were supposed to confine themselves to the area of purely trade-union questions. This perspective was never shared by our comrades.

    And Rosmer was particularly contemptuous of the position that there was a division of labour between the political party and the unions – an argument that is still very much around among bureaucrats in the Labour Party and the unions today, a position which Rosmer summed up as follows:

    You deal with political matters and we’ll deal with economic questions: don’t stick your nose into our affairs and we’ll keep out of yours.’

    So for Rosmer the trade union was the most important working-class organisation, since it brought together all the exploited at the point of production; but at the same time it was crucial to bring all political questions, from opposition to war up to the revolutionary seizure of power, into the trade union.

    These were the principles that guided the young Rosmer, who became a political journalist for the  syndicalist paper la Vie ouvrière (Working-class Life) which was run by the printworker Pierre Monatte. VO never had a massive circulation – its total number of subscribers never exceeded 2000, but it became a widely respected journal which was read by activists throughout Europe and helped to lay the basis for a network which would become very important during and after the war. As a regular contributor on a variety of subjects  Rosmer rapidly developed as a writer and as a political thinker. Being bilingual in French and English he soon became an authority on the international movement; he travelled to Britain to report on the suffragettes and to Belgium to report on the general strike there. He became involved in a variety of debates that reflected the ferment of often weird ideas that flourished in the syndicalist and anarchist milieus. (Around this time Victor Serge was having an argument with one of his comrades who wanted to have the slogan ‘Don’t Eat Salt!’ as the main headline on the paper – imagine that for a Saturday sale.) Rosmer wrote a polemic against a group of so-called neo-Malthusians who were arguing that the working class should practice birth control to cut the numbers on the labour force and thereby make it easier to push up wage levels.

    Rosmer was also involved in some more serious arguments. There had long been a current within syndicalism which argued that women should be excluded from industrial employment, notably in the printing trade; it was claimed that the employers wanted to bring in women in order to have a more docile labour force and thus weaken trade-union organisation. In 1913 a very undocile lady in Lyons, called Madame Couriau, took a job in the printing industry. The local union refused to accept her as a member, and instructed her husband, also a printworker, to make her give up the job. When he refused to do so, he was expelled from the union. Rosmer devoted a whole series of articles to the case, in which he very firmly took up the right of women to work wherever they pleased. He argued that the unions should welcome women into membership, so that they could not be used to divide the work-force; and he insisted on the right of women to equality:

    Is it so difficult to admit that women can act for themselves, and that they should have a say in things when it comes to  controlling their own lives and destinies.

    These five years from 1909 to 1914 were a crucial apprenticeship for Rosmer that prepared him for the upheavals and surprises of the next fifteen. Although nobody could have predicted the series of shocks and reversals that came during those years, Rosmer’s grounding in syndicalism had left him attached to one basic principle – that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself. It was a principle that was to be forgotten by many so-called Marxists who on the face of it were far more knowledgeable and sophisticated than Rosmer.

    The outbreak of war in August 1914 had a catastrophic effect on the French – and the international labour movement. The anti-militarism which had seemed so strong in both the socialist and the syndicalist wings of the movement seemed to evaporate over night. Jean Jaurès was assassinated just before the outbreak of war, so it impossible to say what position he would have taken. But Jules Guesde, who had always opposed Jaurès from the standpoint of a rigorous and dogmatic adherence to Marxist doctrine, became a minister in the war cabinet. Jouhaux, the general secretary of the CGT, became as enthusiastic for the  war as Guesde. Even the hero of the anarchists, the Russian veteran Kropotkin, came out in support of the war. The Socialist Party now did everything it could to support the war effort. In 1915 one of the Socialist Party’s leading deputies, a man called Marcel Cachin, went to Italy on behalf of the French government in order to contact an Italian Socialist called Mussolini in order to encourage him to persuade the Italian government to join the war on the Franco-British side. Remember the name – Marcel Cachin – it will come up again later on.

    What was really remarkable about the impact of the First World War was the suddenness with which the labour movement collapsed. In his history of the anti-war movement which he published in 1936 Rosmer described how a week before the outbreak of war there was a huge demonstration in the streets of Paris. Police who attempted to control it were outnumbered and all the streets in the centre of Pairs were taken over by a huge wave of demonstrators. A week later, when war was declared, the movement evaporated; workers went willingly to war while labour leaders turned into recruiting sergeants. Rosmer summed it up in a single sentence:

    When war starts, it means the working class has already been defeated.

    I think when any of us look back at the recent war against Yugoslavia and remember our disappointment or even shock at learning that people we had always thought of as being on the left had come out in support of the war, we can get a very small sense of the isolation that people like Rosmer must have felt in August 1914. But only very very small; their isolation was a thousand times worse than anything we have experienced. Rosmer describes how the Paris of the anti-war demos had given way to one full of marches chanting ‘To Berlin, to Berlin’ and singing the Marseillaise. He and Monatte went to visit some of their closest collaborators and found that they had either decided to support the war now that it could not be prevented, or that they were too crushed and demoralised to do anything. Only a handful were willing to resist. They got a letter from the poet and writer Marcel Martinet, which Rosmer sums up as saying:

    Am I mad, or is it everyone else?

    A tiny group began to meet regularly in the offices of La Vie ouvrière  – the journal was unable to appear any more. A little later they were joined by a Russian exile who had come from Vienna to Paris when the war broke out – he was called Leon Trotsky, and he and Rosmer developed a friendship that was severely shaken on occasion but never broken and lasted until Trotsky’s death.

    Slowly the small group began to organise itself more effectively and to try to make anti-war propaganda.

    In the Spring of 1915 Rosmer was involved in one of the first public actions against the war. The metal-workers’ union had decided to bring out a special issue of its newspaper for May Day. Rosmer worked closely with Merrheim, a leading member of the metal-workers union. Government censorship was in force which strictly controlled any published material that was critical of the war. Merrheim and Rosmer prepared an issue with a number of articles critical of the war, including a piece by Rosmer about the strikes on the Clyde in February 1915, of which French workers knew nothing. The proofs were submitted to the censors, who demanded the removal of the offending articles. Then a few papers were run off with the appropriate blank spaces, and a large number with the full version. They were then carefully packed up into packets with the censored papers at the top and the rest underneath and put into the post.  They thus succeeded in distributing some seventeen thousand papers to members of the metal-workers union and to former subscribers to the Vie ouvrière.

    Rosmer was centrally involved in organising for the  Zimmerwald conference of 1915, which was the first attempt to regroup the anti-war forces on an international level. Rosmer himself did not attend but was closely involved in mandating the two delegates from the Vie ouvrière and with publicising their reports on their return.

    In November 1915 Rosmer circulated a letter to all the former subscribers to la vie ouvrière, nearly two thousand people, stating clearly the case against the war and asking for support in developing an anti-war movement. Rosmer himself was called up into the army, but because of his age (he was nearly forty) and rather frail health he was not sent into combat. He continued to be involved in anti-war campaigning throughout the duration of the war, and at the same developed correspondence with socialists in a number of countries.

    One of the features of the French anti-war movement was the large number of women involved in it. During the course of his anti-war activities Rosmer met Marguerite Thévenet, who was to become his partner for the  rest of his life – although he only got round to marrying her in 1932. Thévenet was a remarkable woman, and  I should love to be able to write something at length about her but very little documentation seems to exist. Her speciality in the period during the war and after was in smuggling people across frontiers. At the time of the founding congress of the French Communist Party in 1920 it was Thévenet who smuggled the veteran German Communist Clara Zetkin into France so that she could make a surprise and illegal appearance at the Congress – a wonderful internationalist gesture just two years after the end of the war.

    By the end of the war the situation had again been totally transformed. Workers had taken power in Russia, and Rosmer was one of the first to campaign for solidarity with the new regime in which his old friend Trotsky was now holding high office. With the end of the war there was enormous radicalisation in a working class which realised it had been duped by the lies and false promises of its leaders in 1914. In France that meant a rapid growth in working‑class organisations. The Socialist Party grew to two hundred thousand members, more than twice as big as it had been at the start of the war, while the CGT grew to two million members, far bigger than before the war.

    When the Bolsheviks took the initiative in founding the Communist International in 1919, they faced a number of difficulties. The collapse of the Second International – and of the syndicalist organisations – in 1914 had meant that most of the established leadership of the working class had capitulated to nationalism and imperialism. Now, at the end of the  war, there was a wave of radicalisation – mass strikes and the formation of workers councils – throughout Europe. If the Russian Revolution was to survive it had to spread, and it had to do so very quickly, before the spontaneous militancy subsided and the forces of reaction got themselves organised. This meant the building of new revolutionary parties – very quickly, amid circumstances that were pre-revolutionary if not immediately revolutionary. To build a revolutionary party in such circumstances is extremely difficult – amid frenetic activity there was little time to train and develop and a new leadership.

    Additionally, the new-born Communist International faced pressure from both left and right. When there is an upturn in struggle large numbers of people are drawn in who have no memory or experience of previous defeats; therefore they believe the revolutionary process will be much simpler and quicker than it in fact turns out to be; they tend to substitute their own hopes and aspiration for the  realities of the situation. They assume that because they personally have lost all their illusions in, say, parliamentary democracy or the trade-union bureaucracy, everybody else will have also have seen through them. Hence what has traditionally been called ultra-leftism.

    At the same time many of the old leaders were looking to jump on the bandwagon. The rank-and-file were turning to the left and were enormously enthusiastic about the Russian Revolution. Therefore if the MPs and party full-timers wanted to keep their jobs they would have to go along with the movement. A prime example was Marcel Cachin, whom I mentioned a few minutes ago manoeuvring with Mussolini to get Italian support for the  war. By 1920 Cachin had discovered a sudden enthusiasm for the  Russian Revolution, and with the same fervour with which he had sent young men to the trenches – he had a talent for crying while making public speeches – he now began to advocate that the French Socialist Party should affiliate to the Communist International – a spectacle which gave no pleasure whatsoever to Rosmer, who scarcely believed his old enemy was a suitable person to lead a new revolutionary party.

    The new Communist International needed to build mass parties rapidly – it also needed cadres – people with judgement and experience who could resist pressures from left and right and provided the newly radicalised workers with the leadership they needed. It was in this context that Alfred Rosmer was invited to Russia for the  second Congress of the Communist International in July 1920.

    Rosmer had been a revolutionary for only eleven years, but by the standards of the time he was a seasoned veteran. Moreover he had the confidence of Trotsky – and soon won the respect of Lenin. Rosmer recounts that on his first meeting with Lenin he explained the situation in France to Lenin, who immediately responded:

    If that’s the case I must have written something stupid in my theses. Ask for a copy of them… and send me the corrections you are proposing.

    Rather different from the image of Lenin as arrogant and authoritarian that is generally projected.

    Over thirty years later Rosmer wrote an account of his experiences in the early years of the Communist International, called Lenin’s Moscow, (now, I think, out of print). It is one of the best accounts of the early years of the Comintern precisely because it avoids falling into two traps. On the one hand, the official bourgeois myth – echoed by some left historians – that the Comintern was from the beginning manipulated in authoritarian fashion by the Russian leaders who imposed their will from the top down. Rosmer shows that the early congresses were a place of vigorous and lively debate, where people from a variety of political origins came together. But at the same time he avoids the romanticisation that sometimes appears in works from the Trotskyist tradition, which would have us believe that the first four congresses provide some sort of model of revolutionary perfection, a text-book of how to do it on the basis of perfectly correct resolutions. Rosmer shows both the enormous dedication of the early Comintern activists and the fact that there was a rather ramshackle organisation facing almost insuperable obstacles. Rosmer was well aware that his fellow revolutionaries were not saints or superpersons. Thus at the end of his account of the Third Congress he notes:

    A long report… presented by the German Koenen was discussed amid the apathy normal at the end of congresses.

    Anyone who has been to a party or trade-union conference knows the feeling – and this congress had lasted twenty-one days.

    Rosmer did not return to France after the Second Congress. He was kept in Moscow for some seventeen months in order to assist with the building of the Comintern and especially of the Red International of Labour Unions. The war had broken down the traditional divisions in the labour movement in Europe. The split between socialist and syndicalists had been overridden by that between those who had supported the war and those who had opposed it. The Comintern was now anxious to draw in the best militants from the syndicalist and indeed anarchist traditions. After all, in Russia anarchists like Bill Shatov had held key posts in the post-revolutionary regime. Of course the Bolsheviks had not abandoned their criticisms of the syndicalists on tactical questions like participation in parliamentary elections or on organisational questions like the need for a revolutionary party. But there was little to be gained at this stage in time from reciting a list of the political errors of syndicalism. It was easy enough to denounce the crimes, past and present, of anarchists and syndicalists, but it did not help to build new mass parties. The rather more demanding task was to win over the syndicalists and draw them into the Comintern’s organisation.

    Rosmer quotes Bukharin’s reply when a young Spanish comrade proudly announced that:

    We are waging a pitiless struggle against the anarchists.

    Bukharin replied very sharply:

    What do you mean by fighting against the anarchists? Since October, there have been some anarchists who have come over to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Other have come closer to us and are working in the soviets and in the economic institutions. It’s not a question of “fighting” them, but of discussing frankly and cordially, seeing if we can work together, and only abandoning the attempt if there is an irremovable obstacle.

    Trotsky made a very similar point in the debates at the Second Congress. When a German delegate said that there was no point arguing about the need for a revolutionary party because this was already understood by the great majority of European workers, Trotsky responded angrily that merely reciting the word ‘party’ was not enough; right-wing social democrats like Scheidemann – one of those who had conspired to murder Rosa Luxemburg – were quite happy to accept the need for a party, but they were not revolutionaries. He went on:

    Just because I know that the party is indispensable, and am very well aware of the value of the party, and just because I see Scheidemann on the one side and, on the other, American or Spanish or French syndicalists who not only wish to fight against the bourgeoisie but who, unlike Scheidemann, really want to tear its head off – for this reason I say that I prefer to discuss with these Spanish, American and French comrades in order to prove to them that the party is indispensable for the fulfilment of the historical mission which is placed upon them…

    Like Victor Serge, who had come to Russia in 1919, Rosmer was to do the job of trying to attract syndicalists and anarchists into the orbit of the Comintern. Because of their previous record and contacts they were well placed to do such work. Rosmer was given particular responsibility for the  establishment of the Red International of Labour Unions – the RILU – which was to provide an alternative to the existing reformist international organisation of trade unions. Rosmer was happy to do this because in his view Bolshevism was the heir to all that had been best in revolutionary syndicalism.

    Rosmer had a difficult task here; many of the Russians involved had little understanding of the western labour movement. Zinoviev, who worked with Rosmer on this project, seemed to think it was enough to issue ringing denunciations of the right-wing trade-union leaders as scabs and traitors, rather than to make a real effort to win over the rank and file activists. Many syndicalists from France, Spain and Italy were worried that the RILU would simply be a subordinate appendage of the Comintern, and the trade unions would be seen as subordinate to the new Communist Parties and be expected to take orders from them. At the same time many of the right‑wing union leaders saw the existence of the RILU as a good pretext to force a split and drive the revolutionaries out of the unions; this in fact happened in France with the split in the CGT.

    In fact the Comintern line was firmly against splits in unions and against party manipulation of unions; what it proposed was that Communists should organise cells within the unions:

    It is the union cell, not the union as such, which is under the authority of the party. It is only by patient, devoted, and intelligent work by the cells in the unions that the party will be able to bring about a state of affairs in which the unions as a whole will readily and joyfully follow party advice…

    This remains pretty good advice today.  But Rosmer had great difficulty steering a course between the Comintern bureaucrats who didn’t understand their own policy and the dogmatic syndicalists who saw no need to move on from their pre-war positions. The RILU did not achieve any significant success.

    At the end of 1921 Rosmer went back to France. In his absence the French Communist Party had been founded, as a result of a congress of the Socialist Party which had voted to affiliate to the Third International, those opposed splitting to form a new Socialist Party. Thus a mass Communist Party had been created – but as Rosmer quickly observed, most of those who held leading positions in the Party had stayed in order to hold on to their jobs rather than because they had a principled commitment to Communist politics. Rosmer played an active role in the new party over the next couple of years – for a time he effectively edited L’Humanité, the party’s daily paper, because the nominal editor – his old adversary Marcel Cachin – was keeping his head down in the internal disputes in the party. Rosmer also had to fight for the  line of the United Front against many within the French Communism Party, whether on the opportunist right or the sectarian left, who did not wish to apply the policy.

    Rosmer was clearly not very happy with the developments within the French Communist Party. The Russian leaders were equally unhappy. Trotsky recalls a meeting with Lenin when the latter said to him:

    Could we not advise the French Communists to drive out those corrupt parliamentarians Cachin and Frossard and replace them with the Vie Ouvrière group….

    that is, with Rosmer and Monatte. Of course, at this time the Comintern was not run by an authoritarian centre and there was little that Moscow could do to get rid of the corrupt opportunist leaders of the French party.

    When Lenin disappeared from the  Comintern leadership, things got rapidly worse. Zinoviev now became the dominant figure in the International. He began to pursue a policy almost the exact opposite of what Lenin had advised in his final speech to the Comintern. While Lenin had said that Communist Parties in different countries must not imitate Russian models but find their way according to local conditions,. Zinoviev tried to impose a bureaucratic ‘bolshevisation’ on parties throughout Europe, promoting leaderships which would co-operate with him.

    Rosmer could not survive long in this new atmosphere. Matters came to a head over the question of the MacDonald Labour government in Britain. The official line was that it would be enough to denounce this treacherous Labour government and workers would quickly see the nature of the Labour regime and flock to the Communists. Rosmer argued that a more patient strategy would be necessary; the raising of concrete demands and systematic united front work with the Labour left. At the end of 1924 Rosmer, together with Monatte, was expelled from the French Communist Party. Cachin, of course, was on the side of the expellers, and remained in the Party, justifying every crime of Stalin, until his death in 1958.

    In just ten years the wheel had come full circle. In 1914 Rosmer had been with a tiny handful of anti-war activists; by 1920 that handful had grown to a new International organising hundreds of thousands of workers and a mass Communist Party in France. But in 1924 Rosmer was back with a tiny group of comrades. For the time being he had broken even with his old friend Trotsky. Trotsky was having enormous difficulties in deciding when it was time to go over to overt opposition – and in 1925 he urged his supporters Rosmer and Monatte to try to rejoin the PCF and condemned them for setting up an independent publication, La Révolution prolétarienne (Proletarian Revolution).

    Rosmer knew how to swim against the stream as well as with it, and he began to wrote regularly for the new journal. But, not surprisingly, he was somewhat disorientated by the new situation. This is shown by an article which he wrote early in 1926 in which he saw Zinoviev as the main threat to the International:

    Zinoviev is the supreme demagogue, incapable of any constructive effort and of any organisational work. When the history of the Comintern is written, it will be seen that he is primarily responsible for its lamentable functioning.

    On the other hand

    Stalin is a man of a different quality. He’s a revolutionary by temperament and by will … He is too much of a manouvrer and an apparatus man for his politics to be entirely reassuring, but that should not prevent us recognising that he spoke to the Congress in the language of a man who is conscious of the needs of the present time and concerned to create a collective leadership uniting all the forces of the party.

    That a man like Rosmer could make such a mistake shows just what a difficult period this was.

    But by 1929 Rosmer had joined forces with his old friend Trotsky in the task of trying to regroup the forces of the Left Opposition. Trotsky travelled across Europe – top Germany, Austria, Belgium – holding meetings and trying to group together small numbers of oppositionists. At the same time he was concerned to bring on a new generation of militants. He and Marguerite took a special interest in two young militants, Pierre Naville and Gérard Rosenthal. Rosenthal was a lawyer while Naville had been a surrealist; Trotsky was very suspicious that these were bourgeois intellectuals who were out of place in the workers’ movement. Marguerite wrote to Trotsky to reassure him:

    They are very devoted to our cause and really belong to it heart and soul…. They go and sell papers at 6.00 in the morning, give out leaflets at the factory gates and are always ready for any material task; that will certainly deintellectualise them, I promise you.

    In 1914 the anti-war movement had initially been small, but it had grown rapidly, encouraging its activists to ever greater efforts. But the Trotskyist movement did not grow; and rapidly disputes between individuals took on an importance they would not have had in a larger movement. The quarrel between Rosmer and Trotsky erupted over the person of Raymond Molinier, a bright young man whom Trotsky had high hopes of. Molinier was a somewhat dubious individual, who earned his living as a debt-collector, buying up debts and collecting them for a high commission. Rosmer regarded this as an ‘unspeakable’ profession and was contemptuous when Trotsky compared him to Engels being a factory-owner. Moreover, he regarded Molinier with complete contempt:

    He has never read a line of Marx, never will read a line and will never understand anything about Marxism. As I’ve told you, he’s an illiterate.

    By early 1931 Rosmer had broken all ties with Trotsky. Their personal friendship was renewed and Alfred and Marguerite visited Trotsky in Mexico shortly before his death.. But it was effectively the end of Rosmer as a political activist. He devoted himself to his monumental history of the anti-war movement in World War I. After 1945 he wrote copiously for Révolution prolétarienne. He had little sympathy with official Trotskyism and when Trotsky’s widow Natalia broke with the Fourth International on the grounds that Russia was in no sense a workers’ state, Rosmer wrote an article applauding her.

    In the early fifties Rosmer came to Britain and met Tony Cliff who got great encouragement from him when Rosmer told him how small the French anti-war group had been at the beginning. So in some sense the SWP can be seen to be continuing in Rosmer’s tradition.

    In 1960, at the age of 83, Rosmer signed the Manifesto of the 121, encouraging French soldiers not to fight in the Algerian war. 46 years on from 1914, he was still prepared to defy the law in implacable opposition to imperialism and war. The American historian Robert Wohl, who interviewed him shortly before his death in 1964 noted:

    To the end he never gave up his belief in the Leninism of 1917-22, which in his view was corrupted but not called into question as a doctrine.