Ishould like to thank the Sorbonne Philosophy Circle of the Union of Communist Students for inviting me to participate in this discussion.footnote I was left free to choose my own subject. I felt that in France today, not only for Communists but also for all who want to get rid of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, its exploitation, its oppression, its cynicism and its lies, there was no subject more important than the 22nd Congress of the French Communist Party. I shall therefore present a series of brief comments on the import of the 22nd Congress. To make my position clear, let me say that I regard this congress as a decisive event, a crucial ‘turning-point’ in the history of the Communist Party and the French workers’ movement. The reservations I may formulate on any particular point should be seen within this perspective from the start. If what is in question is indeed an event of such importance, then it is clearly impossible for us to restrict ourselves to French political history, the details of the Congress and its proceedings, or to the letter of its decisions and formulations alone. It is essential to go beyond these immediate manifestations and examine under what conditions the 22nd Congress took place: from what history it was trying to emerge, and what history it was attempting to make.

Thus it is essential to understand what, not just on a national but also on a world scale, are the economic and political problems which gave rise to the Congress. It is essential to understand what general problems it attempted to respond to, and why it gave them the response with which you are all familiar. To do this it is indispensable to step back and situate the 22nd Congress at its date, 1976: in the history of imperialism, the ‘period of revolutionary movements’ (Lenin), and in the history of the international Communist movement. And if imperialism is in crisis, it is essential to add: so is the international Communist movement. I shall, therefore, argue that it is impossible to understand the 22nd Congress without taking into account two major facts which dominate the political situation and concern hundreds of millions of people throughout the world: 1. the aggravation of the crisis of imperialism; 2. the accentuation of the crisis of the international communist movement.

After the first crisis of imperialism, sanctioned by the First World War (1914–18), then after its second crisis (the 1930s), when imperialism swept away any revolutionary stirrings by means of fascism and a Second World War (1939–45)—but on each occasion at the heavy cost of a revolution (Russian) or revolutions (China, Cuba)—it can be said that imperialism, for the third time in its history, is today in a pre-revolutionary crisis, one whose forms are quite new.

The near impossibility of resort to world war (the classic solution for an imperialist crisis, re-dividing the world amid the destruction of vast quantities of capital and labour power) now leaves unchecked the insidious aggravation of the economic and political forms of the crisis, on a hitherto unknown scale. Sheltered by what is called ‘détente’, in which the strength of the people’s movement throughout the world and the balance between the super-armaments of the usa and the ussr hold the nuclear threat at bay, something becomes possible in the narrow space where the zones of influence cancel each other out and where the revolutionary movement of the masses is strong enough. As a result of the workers’ and people’s class struggle, despite all the anti-crisis mechanisms set up and ‘adjusted’ by the bourgeois states after and since the crisis of 1929, a ‘link’ may give way, somewhere, at the weak point of the ‘chain’. Somewhere, the revolutionary movement may prevail, but in forms which presuppose a sustained effort, stages to be traversed and the mastering of great difficulties.

In fact, never has the mass movement, never has the workers’ and people’s revolutionary movement, despite serious local defeats and despite the problems raised by the socialist countries, been so powerful in the world. At the other end of the earth, the tiny Vietnamese people forced French imperialism to its knees and defeated on the ground the world’s strongest military power, the United States of America. Before that victory, the biggest strike in world history, in May 1968 in France, in its junction with the student and petty-bourgeois revolt, partial, abortive, but fruitful in the long term, announced that times had changed. The people’s movement has invented new forms of struggle; women and youth have flung themselves into contestation and combat, as have other groups; the aims of struggle have widened to include conditions of labour and life, housing, transport, health, education, the family, the environment. All this has not occurred without difficulties on the one side, reservations on the other. But the general wave is immense and conceals unsuspected forces. The movement of the masses today is shaking the big imperialist bourgeoisies in their national bastions. It is reinforced by the struggle of the peoples of the ‘third world’—amid terrible difficulties of which you will be aware, but also with the help of the contradictions reigning in the world—to strengthen their political independence and win their economic independence.

But paradoxically, whereas some of the old divisions of the workers’ movement are tending to diminish, and even occasionally here and there are being transformed into a united struggle (for example, the Union of the Left in France), never has the crisis of the international Communist movement been so profound: whether it is open (Sino-Soviet) or concealed (between a number of Communist Parties and the ussr, masked by declarations of solidarity).

If the 22nd Congress is not situated both within the basic contradiction of the class struggle (between the mass of workers and people on the one hand and imperialism on the other), and within its paradoxical forms (crisis of the international Communist movement), there is a risk that neither the true import of the 22nd Congress, nor its peculiar problems and contradictions, will be understood.