• 2005: In Their Own Words


    In Their Own Words: Some Trotskyist Autobiographies

    Paper presented at a conference at Loughborough University in September 2005.


    “What possible meaning(s) can ‘Revolution’ have today?” enquires the call for papers. A closely related question, which may help to illuminate it, is “what does it mean to be a revolutionary today?” Since the Jospin affair and the ten per cent vote for Trotskyism in the 2002 presidential election, a number of self-proclaimed experts have taken it upon themselves to explain to a bemused public what the mysterious Trotskyists are. One example of this is a certain Christophe Nick who, diverting his attention from other interests, has given the world a six-hundred page tome on Les trotskistes.[1] This combines sloppy research (notably an inability to get simple surnames correct) with a capacity for malevolent distortion that should entitle him to a senior position in the Labour Party. Nick wilfully misunderstands the concept of “entrisme” in order to develop fantasies about moles and infiltration, and portrays Trotskyists whose pathological addiction to violence can be traced back to the creator of the Red Army himself.[2]

    Fortunately for those who would like to go beyond such inanities, the recent publishing boom in Trotskyism has seen the appearance of a considerable number of autobiographies of Trotskyist activists.[3] Who better to explain how people become, and, even more importantly, remain, revolutionaries than those who have lived such a life in their own flesh?

    The eight texts considered vary enormously in form and purpose. Some are conventional autobiographies and others are in effect extended interviews. Some tell the life-stories of the leaders of organisations, while others recount the experience of rank‑and-file activists. The authors, or some of them, have much to tell us about the interaction of the personal and the political, and about such important historical events as the German Occupation, the Algerian War and the 1968 General Strike, as well as more mundane matters about the functioning of their respective organisations.

    Some are written by individuals who remain revolutionary activists, while others are by those who have now given up revolutionary activity. Yet it is striking that even those who have abandoned organised Trotskyism view their experience in positive terms. Unlike the ex-Maoist “nouveaux philosophes” such as Bernard-Henri Lévy, who have constructed a career on the renunciation of a militant activity which scarcely existed in the first place, there are no “gods that failed” here, and no “drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjays” either.

    For anti-Stalinist revolutionaries there are two great autobiographical models,  Trotsky’s My Life and  Victor Serge’s Mémoires d’un  révolutionnaire. Nothing here is on this level, but that reflects a generation which has lived through less momentous times. But there is an important difference between the two models. Trotsky wrote his autobiography as he was embarking on the last, and in his eyes the most important, phase of his political career, the building of an organised opposition to Stalinism. His book is a self-defence, a response to the absurd slanders thrown at his by the Stalinists. It is honest, but it is also fiercely partisan. For example, he stresses his closeness to Lenin and plays down their various disagreements.[4] Serge, on the other hand, wrote his memoirs when he was still loyal to revolutionary politics, but no longer had any organisational commitment. He was able to look back at his life self-critically, and to reconsider his positions. Thus on the thorny subject of the Kronstadt rising, he tells of his criticisms of the Bolshevik but also recalls that, with “une angoisse inexprimable”[5] he  supported the crushing of the insurrection. Serge’s account brings little comfort to dogmatists on either side of the argument. Of the texts considered here some are quite clearly intended to provide self‑justification for individuals and organisations, while others allow a much larger place for self‑examination and self-criticism.

    Most of the texts referred to here come from the 1968 generation, but it is worth mentioning the remarkable autobiography of Yvan Craipeau.[6]  Written not long before his ninetieth birthday, it is in many ways a model of what a political autobiography should be. Craipeau gives us ample detail on his political evolution, and the various socialist organisations he has participated in. But these are carefully integrated into a narrative which not only deals with his personal development (from his first ejaculation in a mathematics class)[7], but gives a vivid picture of the evolution in manners and lifestyle since his rural childhood at the time of  World War I. Thus he describes how his very respectable Catholic grandmother would habitually urinate standing up in the courtyard “à la manière des juments”.[8]

    He was first drawn to Trotskyism as a teenager through reading Trotsky. When in 1929, he contacted the organisation, he was shocked to discover that since the French Trotskyists saw themselves as a faction of the Communist Party (PCF), he was expected to join the Party. He was subsequently expelled – but the bureaucracy was only able to win a vote for his expulsion by threatening that all those who voted against would themselves be excluded. Craipeau’s account reminds us that the Stalinisation of the PCF was not such a smooth process as it appears in retrospect.[9]

    Craipeau portrays a Trotskyist movement which, which its tiny resources, had to fight both Stalinism and fascism. He tells how a single comrade would be sent out into the streets of the Latin Quarter to distribute anti-fascist leaflets. This would draw out the fascists, who were then attacked by the rest of the Trotskyists, armed with iron bars, who had been waiting in hiding.[10]

    Perhaps the most interesting section of the book deals with the situation in the immediate post-war period. Craipeau argues that the potential for the  Trotskyist movement was substantial. In 1946 Craipeau fell only 300 votes short of being elected as the first Trotskyist member of parliament in France. In 1947, he argues, there was a real possibility of fusion between the Trotskyist Parti communiste internationaliste [PCI] and two left splits from the Socialist Party (SFIO), leading to a party of some ten thousand members. But the Craipeau leadership was replaced and the merger came to nothing. Craipeau is clearly defending his own side in the faction fight. But the question as to whether revolutionaries should counterpose their programme to a broader movement, or join in that movement, remains one of the greatest relevance.[11]

    At the end of the book Craipeau gives us a picture of himself as an old man who has abandoned neither his belief in changing the world nor his curiosity about interpreting it. It sets a standard for revolutionary autobiography which many more recent works fail to live up to.

    Some of the recent autobiographical volumes are quite explicitly responses to the exposures and slanders of the revolutionary left. Such replies are quite legitimate, yet there is always the danger that self-defence turns into tedious self‑justification. The volume Itinéraires is a case in point.  It  is presented in the form of a dialogue between  Pierre Lambert, the veteran leader of the lambertiste[12] tendency, and Daniel Gluckstein, presidential candidate of the Parti des travailleurs and Lambert’s probable successor. Unfortunately the potential of the dialogue form is not exploited. During 300 pages there is not so much as the suggestion of a disagreement, or even a difference in emphasis, between the two speakers. Democratic centralism has its virtues, but it hardly facilitates a lively confrontation of views.  (Karl Marx’s insistence that “My property is the form, which is my spiritual individuality. Le style c’est l’homme.” is all too often forgotten by his latter-day disciples.[13])

    By far the most interesting section of the book is Lambert’s account of his own political development. He dates his first political consciousness from the age of thirteen,  when he became aware of the fascist threat in 1934:

    D’une part, je venais d’une famille ouvrière; d’autre part, du fait de mon état de juif, on pouvait prendre ma mère.[14]

    He joined the Communist Youth, but in 1935 he was expelled for asking questions about the Stalin-Laval pact, when Russia (and the PCF) approved French national defence. He was told he was a “Trotskyist”:

    J’avais vaguement entendu parler de Trotsky, mais je ne savais pas qui il était, ni ce que le “trotskysme” recouvrait.[15]

    Happily, witch-hunting sometimes produces exactly the opposite results to those intended. Lambert became a lifelong Trotskyist.

    His commitment was confirmed when, at the Liberation, he observed the potential of workers to run their own industries:

    Je suis descendu dans l’usine dans laquelle je travaillais. C’était une usine de fils électriques avec 3000 ouvrières et ouvriers… et nous avons commencé à discuter.

    Tout le monde était là: ouvriers, ouvrières, techniciens, cadres, ingénieurs, tout le monde était là mais pas de patron! Comme à ce moment-là la guerre se poursuivait, il fallait relancer la production. La première chose qu’il fallait faire, c’était donc le recensement de ce qui existait. Dans chaque atelier on a fait le recensement de ce qu’il y avait pour pouvoir faire repartir la production. On élisait des délégués d’atelier. On a fait une commission de la production. Dans le cycle de la production, chacune et chacun occupant une place selon sa qualification. La preuve concrète pouvait être faite: on n’avait pas besoin de patron.[16]

    Unfortunately, there is far too little of this sort of thing, and far too much advocacy of the organisation’s current line. The title is actually somewhat misleading, since we learn little or nothing about Gluckstein’s “itinerary”. He had his initial political formation in the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire [LCR], and was then part of a faction which split to join Lambert’s organisation. Admittedly the details might be only of interest to the aficionados of such matters. But Gluckstein’s reticence seems symptomatic of a broader reluctance to admit to any process of learning or development, or even of ever having changed his mind. Yet the ability to change one’s mind is one of the most essential qualities of any revolutionary (Lenin spent 1917 doing little else).

    Robert Barcia (alias Hardy, the political driving force of the Lutte ouvrière [LO] grouping), has also adopted the interview form, but here the interviewer is an independent writer, Christophe Bourseiller, and the responses are in many ways more frank.[17] The early part of the story gives a striking account of how Barcia became a revolutionary. Unfortunately the later sections do not live up to this promise.

    As a child, Barcia saw German troops enter Paris – and experienced the consequent rapid decline in working-class living standards. Aged only fourteen, he became involved with a PCF Resistance group, for which he was eventually jailed. In jail the Party network gave him a handwritten copy of the Communist Manifesto, on condition that he recopied it for other prisoners. [18]

    On his release, Barcia first made contact with Trotskyists, in particular one Pamp (pseudonym of Mathieu Bucholz). What happened next was to mark Barcia for the rest of his life:

    Ce qui me fit définitivement basculer dans le trotskisme, c’est qu’à la Libération Pamp fut assassiné par des militants du Parti communiste qui l’accusaient d’être Nazi. Pour moi qui le connaissais, le faire passer pour un nazi et l’assassiner, c’était vraiment un crime injustifié, inexplicable et impardonnable … C’est pourquoi, à partir de là, je me mis à étudier avec bien plus de détermination, avec mes tripes, l’histoire du parti communiste, celle de la IIIe Internationale, celle de l’URSS depuis la Révolution russe, jusqu’à cette fin de la Seconde Guerre mondiale.[19]

    He immediately discovered just how deep was the line dividing his new comrades from the Communists:

    Les parents de certains de mes compagnons de prison auxquels j’allais rendre visite refusèrent de me recevoir en apprenant que j’étais trotskiste.[20]

    Although Barcia does not make this explicit, it is hard not to see this traumatic realisation that the conflict between Stalinism and Trotskyism was quite literally a matter of life and death as lying at the very heart of Barcia’s lifelong commitment to the revolutionary cause. Fascism, Stalinism  and the German Occupation still cast a long shadow over the French left.

    Yet from here on the story gets progressively less interesting. Most socialists begin with a passionate opposition to the social system and a desire to change it. They then go on to recognise that certain means are necessary for this end, and they become involved in particular organisational practices.  The problem – most marked in social democratic organisations – is that the means become ends and the ends are forgotten. As Trotsky points out in Their Morals and Ours, there is constant dialectical relation between means and ends, and any revolutionary has to constantly return to the ends in order to criticise and revise the means.

    In Barcia’s case we observe a combination of a deep moral commitment, which has  kept him going through the ups and down of left politics over more than half a century, combined with a quite extraordinary lack of intellectual curiosity about the world he is committed to changing.

    Thus in the 1950s the predecessors of LO in the Renault car factory worked with Daniel Mothé of the Socialisme ou barbarie group. Socialisme ou barbarie, who analysed Russia as form of class society, was just about the only tendency on the French left at this time which was attempting to analyse how the post-war world had changed, with its analyses of the Eastern bloc, the French working-class and Third World struggles (notably Jean-François Lyotard’s studies of the Algerian national liberation struggle). Yet Barcia treats such work as of little interest, and caricatures its conclusions.[21] He is far more at home defending the organisational practices characteristic of LO – use of pseudonyms and discouragement of parenthood – on which he gives some fluent but disingenuous answers.

    Barcia is capable of some mild self-criticism with regard to his current’s responses to the events of May 1968:

    Et des “revendications poétiques”, face à la situation générale dans le monde, ne nous venaient pas à l’esprit. En quoi nous avons eu tort car, sans être une révolution sociale, mai 68 fut quand même une secousse pour le régime gaulliste et au moins une révolution dans les esprits et les moeurs.[22]

    Barcia’s account is undoubtedly an honest one as far as it goes. It tells us a good deal about LO, but it does so mainly by what it reveals despite the author.

    Daniel Bensaïd, a leading figure in the LCR for many years after 1968, has written a very different kind of autobiography. Bensaïd recently published a small volume in the Que sais-je? series entitled Les trotskysmes. [23] The title deliberately repudiates the notion that any current in the Trotskyist movement is the sole possessor of the apostolic succession. As a result he is able to take a more critical stance with regard to his own history and that of his chosen political current.

    Bensaïd is a generation younger than Lambert or Barcia, but the shadow of fascism also hangs over his life. He reproduces in his book the “certificat de non‑appartenance à la race juive” obtained by his mother in 1944, which saved his father from deportation, and made it possible for him to be born.[24]  In retrospect it is very easy to criticise the generation of 1968 for their rather too free use of the term “fascism” and for their somewhat cavalier attitude to violence. Bensaïd’s personal trajectory reminds us of the origins of these attitudes. In 1968 it was only a generation since a large section of the French bourgeoisie had agreed to collaborate, more or less actively, with the murderous rule of the Nazi Occupation. In 1968 it was easy to believe that, if it felt itself under threat, the French ruling class would be quite happy to resort again to the concentration camps. The experience of the Algerian war served only to reinforce such beliefs.  Hence a revolutionary analysis had a great deal of credibility for a newly radicalised younger generation.

    The title of Bensaïd’s book, Une lente impatience, ironically sums up one of the central political problems of the text. May 1968 transformed the whole perspective of the left; to fail to respond to the new possibilities of the situation would have meant condemning revolutionaries to complete passive abstention. Yet at the same time the hopes of revolution within a few years, the frenetic pace of activity imposed thereby, meant that all too many militants became disillusioned and exhausted. As Bensaïd puts it, referring to a phrase he had apparently himself coined:

    L’histoire nous mordait la nuque.

    Le temps n’était pas encore venu de la lente impatience.[25]

    Bensaïd shows a willingness to explore the intertwining of the personal and the political in a way that most of the other authors under consideration are not.  His thoughts on Jewish identity form one of the most interesting sections of the book, while his considerations on ill‑health and impending death are often moving.

    Bensaïd’s enquiring mind make him a totally different kind of thinker from Barcia or Lambert. He has read widely, drawing on material from many different sources, and seems constantly concerned to develop a Marxism which will be flexible enough to confront the problems of the modern world. Sometimes the autobiography almost transforms itself into a bibliographical essay.

    But the one major absence is the French working-class. What made 1968 in France so different from everywhere else – and what undoubtedly contributed to ensuring that so many student revolutionaries held on to their ideas for so long, was the general strike of ten million workers. But apart from a few brief references to the strike wave of 1995, Bensaïd has virtually nothing to say of the ups and downs of the French working class after 1968.

    If Barcia is the hidden face of LO, Arlette Laguiller, five times presidential candidate, is its public face. Her autobiography contains some interesting material, but overall it is disappointing. She describes her childhood poverty (stressing that the alleged benefits of the post-war boom brought only relatively small advantages to working people) and how she began work at the Crédit Lyonnais in 1956 at the age of sixteen.[26]

    But it was the Algerian war which radicalised her. As with many of her generation she drew parallels between the French Resistance and the resistance of the Algerian people, between the torture of the Gestapo and the torture of the French army.[27]:

    C’est au nom même des valeurs dont on m’avait dit qu’elles étaient celles de la France que je me suis très vite sentie solidaire du peuple algérien.[28]

    She joined the Parti socialiste unifié, then Voix ouvrière, the predecessor of LO.

    As for so many of her contemporaries, May 1968 was a vital turning-point for her. Her account of how the strike was launched at the Crédit Lyonnais on 20 May 1968 is one of the most exciting passages in the book, showing how she faced the hostility of both employers and union bureaucrats:

    Je me juchai sur une table et, à l’aide d’un porte-voix, je m’adressai à mes camarades de travail, expliquant quelle était la situation au niveau national, les appellant à se joindre à la grève générale qui commençait. J’eus quelques difficultés à terminer mon discours, car les militants PCF de la CGT essayèrent par tous les moyens de me faire descendre de l’estrade de fortune sur laquelle j’avais grimpé. Il y eut des bousculades, un début de bagarre, car mes camarades me protégeaient. Et puis, soudainement, les responsables syndicaux firent volte‑face et appelèrent à leur tour à la grève.[29]

    Equally interesting is her account of the establishment of an independently elected strike committee during the 1974 strike, showing how it was possible for the strikers to take control out of the hands of the union machines.[30] It is interesting to note that at the beginning of the 1974 presidential election she was absent from her own campaign since she was too busy with strike duties – a choice of priorities which quite clearly distinguishes the revolutionary from the reformist.[31]

    At the very beginning of her book Laguiller warns readers that they will learn nothing of her “vie sentimentale”. Of course, it is her absolute right to keep her private life private. Yet it seems a pity that we learn so little of Laguiller’s life as a militant. LO’s members have been described as “moines-soldats”[32] , and it would have been interesting to learn how Laguiller dealt with the competing pressures of militancy and private life. Instead we have several long sections which set out the LO analysis of the world rather than telling us of Laguiller’s own experience. Only in one short passage, where she is discussing the legalisation of abortion in the 1970s, do we get a real sense of how her personal life converged with her political vision:

    J’ai connu, et toutes mes amies, mes collègues, ont connu, la hantise de se retrouver enceinte, les adresses que l’on se passait discrètement.[33]

    For over twenty-five years Gérard Filoche was Bensaïd’s comrades in the LCR; he was also for many years an oppositionist critical of the leadership’s strategy. Filoche began as a member of the PCF in the 1960s. He soon found himself working with Trotskyist “entrists”, and was expelled. At his expulsion he was told

    Que j’étais “un flic et qu’il y avait d’ailleurs une quinzaine de flics infiltrés avec moi dans le Parti et qu’on les aurait tous”.[34]

    He also recounted how, in Rouen before 1968, the PCF mobilised some hundred people to physically prevent the holding of a Trotskyist meeting.[35] Such Stalinist methods served only to reinforce his Trotskyism, while 1968 showed the possibilities for a new revolutionary left.

    But all too soon the ends began to obscure the means. He describes the frenetic level of activity in the LCR in the early 1970s:

    Paris, autre vie. Rythme encore plus endiablé. Trois à quatre réunions par jour, sept jours sur sept.[36]

    Much of the book is devoted to internal debates and disputes within the LCR, and these can be of limited interest to most readers. For over twenty years Filoche and his associates presented a critique of the Krivine leadership of the LCR, but were constantly outvoted. In 1994 Filoche finally left the LCR and joined the Socialist Party. Yet he had not abandoned his original vision from the 1960s. He compared the strikes of 1995 to May 1968:

    Les leçons de mai et de novembre-décembre 1995 ne sont pas terminées, elles sont vivantes, incarnées dans notre mémoire, dans nos rapports sociaux, dans nos luttes. [37]

    Filoche’s tactical conclusions are certainly open to debate, as are his specific criticisms of the LCR, but his book is nonetheless an important record of the activities of the revolutionary left over a quarter of a century.

    Benjamin Stora is best-known as a historian of Algeria, but throughout the 1970s he was a full-time organiser for the lambertiste grouping. Stora came to France from Algeria in 1962, as a Jewish pied-noir, aware that his community  had lived in Algeria much longer than the European settlers. If this caused identity problems, the coming to France was also a form of proletarianisation: “Ma mere, qui n’avait jamais travaillé à Constantine, est entrée en usine en 1964 … dans une filiale de Peugeot”.  As a result, May 1968 became for him “un événement majeur dans mon existence, un choc toujours présent en moi” precisely because it represented “la valorisation du prolétariat”.[38]

    He was rapidly recruited to the lambertiste student organisation, and soon became a full-timer. Much of the activity which he recounts in detail now seems very remote. The fierce debate in 1973 between Communists and Trotskyists over whether a demonstration should be held on 21 March or 22 March doubtless seemed very important at the time, but its significance is now difficult to grasp.

    What was clear was that he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with his organisation. In fact he was living a double life, trying to pursue an academic career at the same time as being a frenetic political activist. “Il m’est difficile de comprendre aujourd’hui comment j’ai pu mener de front un militantisme de tous les instants, et la vie d’un étudiant toujours présent à ses examens.”[39]

    He experienced particular problems with the anti-intellectualism that was current within the organisation. It was common practice for the organisation’s leaders to mock academics who knew nothing of the class struggle. Yet at the same time Stora admits that Pierre  Lambert’s constant use of historical arguments had an important influence on his own decision to become a professional historian.[40] (The late Pierre Broué was also for many years a leading Lambertiste, and by all accounts felt similar contradictory pressures.[41])

    Stora records that when Mitterrand was elected in 1981, he had himself just passed the “âge fatidique” of thirty, and that despite the hopes invested in what this victory for the left might open up, his predominant feeling was simply to be “épuisé”. [42] And he was increasingly aware of the way in which the means were substituting themselves for the end:

    Je ne voulais pas faire de la politique un métier. Je m’étais engagé pour transformer le monde, pas pour en vivre, je détestais cette idée.[43]

    Stora scaled down his activity, left the lambertiste organisation in 1986, and finally abandoned political activity in 1988 when the personal conflicted with the political in a different form. His young daughter was diagnosed with cancer, of which she died four years later. Stora gives us no details, but simply observes: “J’ai perdu cette bataille, la plus importante de ma vie.”[44]

    Unlike a Hitchens or a Bernard-Henri Lévy, Stora resolutely refuses to spit on his own past. Whatever problems and conflicts he may have encountered, he insists:

    Le militantisme reste une période de ma vie que je ne renie pas. Je demeure nostalgique de ces engagements de jeunesse, comme d’un “paradis perdu”.[45]

    Stora’s life,  and his work too, are testimony to the sustaining power of revolutionary ideas.

    Yet neither Filoche’s factionalising nor Stora’s frenetic organising really tells us what is meant by living a revolutionary life. In this respect by far the most interesting autobiography is André Fichaut’s.[46] Fichaut has been an active Trotskyist since the 1940s, for most of the time as an active trade unionist and an industrial worker.

    He first met Trotskyists through the Youth Hostel movement. He recalls attending a PCF meeting at the Liberation when a man was howled down for merely mentioning the name Trotsky.  This could only excite his curiosity. [47] He worked, first in the shipyards, then for many years in a power station. Much of the book is devoted to details of his trade-union activity. In particular there is an account of the creation of an independent strike committee, and the successful involvement of non‑unionised workers.[48] He also managed to survive working within the trade-union movement, and attending CGT conferences, without being corrupted by either the miniature personality cults or the gluttony that seem to have prevailed there. He describes the CGT Congress of 1951:

    Quant aux discours et aux details, ils ne m’ont sans doute pas marqué car je n’en ai gardé aucun souvenir et je me suis profondément ennuyé la plus grande partie du temps. Je crois que le rapport d’ouverture fut présenté par Léon Mauvais, ou bien Gaston Monmousseau, devant près de sept heures avec quelques brèves interruptions, afin qu’il puisse se détendre et permettre aux délégués de faire fonctionner la buvette. Sinon personne n’aurait supporté un tel supplice.[49]

    Fichaut was also an ‘entrist’, and his account tells us far more about what that much misused term means than innumerable explanations offered by outsiders.  Following the decision of one section  of the French Trotskyists to pursue a strategy of long-term entrism, he joined the PCF in 1953, and one of his first duties as a trade-union official was to send a message of condolences on the death of Stalin.[50] Since he was there with a long-term perspective, he reluctantly consented. Entrism lasted until after 1968, and there were problems with exit. One of his fellow-entrists resigned from the LCR because after fifteen years he had developed habits of activity and established personal friendships which he was unwilling to abandon.[51] Obviously entrism was an experience which only the toughest and most principled could survive.

    Though he worked 52 hours a week, he made his contribution to the struggle for Algerian independence and smuggled reprographic equipment into Czechoslovakia. In addition he was a member of the central committee of the Parti communiste internationaliste. He also found time to raise two children, both of whom were later politically active – an effective response to Barcia’s claim that children are incompatible with the militant life. Anyone who wants to understand what motivates Trotskyists can learn more from Fichaut’s little book than from a dozen exposés by outsiders. As he himself summed up his life:

    Devenir militant révolutionnaire à 20 ans, au sortir immédiat de la seconde guerre mondiale, n’a rien d’extraordinaire. L’être encore à 75 ans, alors que le stalinisme s’est écroulé et que l’ensemble de la société semble irrésistiblement attiré par le libéralisme, ne peut en général pas être considéré comme quelque chose de naturel, surtout aux yeux de ceux qui ont été révolutionnaires et qui ne le sont plus.[52]

    In conclusion, a number of brief generalisations based on the consideration of these eight texts:

    • Those who want to understand the revolutionary left would do best, despite the limitations of particular texts, to examine what the revolutionaries themselves say about their commitment and motivation.
    • From 1933 to 1968 the crimes of Stalinism, fascism and imperialism (notably the Algerian war) led a significant number of French people to look for a revolutionary alternative.
    • Meanwhile, from June 1936 to the Liberation to May 1968, the demonstration of the power of the working class indicates what that alternative might look like.
    • The writings of Trotsky, despite the absurdities of some of his self-styled followers, have shown a continuing ability to inspire and enlighten those who have studied them.
    • The witch-hunting of Trotskyists, whether by Stalinists or in journalistic exposés, can have the contradictory effect of encouraging people to explore Trotskyist ideas more deeply.
    • There is a constant tendency, within revolutionary organisations, for means – organisational principles, factional disputes – to substitute themselves for ends.
    • Despite this, Trotskyism – unlike Maoism – has shown itself able to sustain commitments lasting over many decades, so that the legacy of the 1930s and 1940s still influences French political life today.
    • The books studied here generally refer to the older generation of revolutionaries produced by 1968 if not by earlier events.
    • But there is no reason to believe the younger generation are qualitatively different to their elders. As long as society is based on inequality and injustice, it will continue to produce revolutionaries of the sort studied here.

    [1]              Nick, Christophe, Les trotskistes, Paris, Fayard, 2002.

    [2]           For a consideration of some of this literature, see my review article in Historical Materialism volume 13:4 (2005), pp. 303-30.

    [3]           I am grateful to Sebastian Budgen  for making me aware of some of these works.

    [4]           Trotsky, Leon, My Life, New York, Grosset & Dunlap, 1960.

    [5]           Serge, Victor, Mémoires d’un révolutionnaire, Paris, Robert Laffont 2001, p. 606.

    [6]           Craipeau, Yvan  Mémoires d’un dinosaure trotskyste, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1999.

    [7]           Craipeau, p. 60.

    [8]           Craipeau, p. 35.

    [9]           Craipeau, pp. 88, 96.

    [10]          Craipeau, p. 105

    [11]          Craipeau, pp. 185-98.

    [12]          Since the organisation headed by  Lambert has changed its name several times, it seems simpler to use this label.

    [13]          Marx, Karl & Engels, Frederick, Collected Works, volume I, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1975, p. 112.

    [14]          Gluckstein, Daniel & Lambert, Pierre, Itinéraires, Monaco, Editions du Rocher, 2002, p. 127.

    [15]          Gluckstein & Lambert, p. 131.

    [16]          Gluckstein & Lambert, p. 55.

    [17]          Barcia, Robert alias Hardy, La véritable histoire de Lutte Ouvrière, Paris, Denoël, 2003.

    [18]          Barcia, pp. 39, 45, 60-1.

    [19]          Barcia, pp 79-80.

    [20]          Barcia, p. 81.

    [21]          Barcia, p. 171.

    [22]          Barcia p. 208.

    [23]          Bensaïd, Daniel, Les trotskysmes, Paris, PUF, 2002.

    [24]          Bensaïd, Daniel, Une lente impatience, Paris, Stock, 2004, pp 38, 244ff.

    [25]          Bensaïd, Une lente impatience, pp. 88, 126.

    [26]          Laguiller, Arlette, C’est toute ma vie, Paris, Plon, 1996,

    [27]          See Evans, Martin, The Memory of Resistance, Oxford, Berg, 1997.

    [28]          Laguiller, p. 34.

    [29]          Laguiller, pp. 97-8.

    [30]          Laguiller, pp 111-15.

    [31]          Laguiller, p. 119.

    [32]          The phrase was apparently coined by Olivier Biffaud in Le Monde, 14 August 1987.

    [33]          Laguiller, p. 134.

    [34]          Filoche, Gérard, 68-98, histoire sans fin, Paris, Flammarion, 1998, p. 40.

    [35]          Filoche, p. 54.

    [36]          Filoche, p. 143.

    [37]          Filoche, p. 349.

    [38]          Stora,  Benjamin, La dernière génération d’octobre, Paris, Stock, 2003, pp. 17, 35.

    [39]          Stora, p. 204.

    [40]          Stora, pp 199, 192.

    [41]          See Sebastian Budgen, “Pierre Broué”, Socialist Worker, 13 August 2005, p. 6.

    [42]          Stora, p. 235.

    [43]          Stora, p. 239.

    [44]          Stora, p. 259.

    [45]          Stora, p. 261.

    [46]          Fichaut, André, Sur le pont, Paris, Editions Syllepse, 2003.

    [47]          Fichaut, p. 27.

    [48]          Fichaut, p. 212.

    [49]          Fichaut, p. 60.

    [50]          Fichaut, pp. 64-6.

    [51]          Fichaut, pp. 159, 163-4.

    [52]          Fichaut, p. 11.