The defeat of the Union of the Left has seriously confused the popular masses and filled many Communists with profound disquiet.footnote A ‘workerist’—or more precisely sectarian—faction is openly rejoicing at the break with the Socialist Party, presenting it as a victory over the social-democratic danger. But the majority of militants are alarmed, not only at the grave setback itself, but above all at the condition in which this strange defeat took place. Moreover, something new is happening. While they wait for an explanation from the Party leadership, the militants are themselves beginning to analyse the process that led to the defeat: namely, the line actually followed by the Party, with all its somersaults, and the vagaries of its practice. What they seek from the leadership is an assurance that it will respect the material conditions without which the analysis cannot be pursued or its conclusions discussed. In particular, they are demanding an open forum in the party press and genuinely democratic preparation of the Twenty-Third Congress.

Faced with this movement, the party leadership is progressively establishing a dual system of defence: at once dictating the conclusions in advance, and channelling discussion in order to defuse it. On 20 March 1978, the Political Bureau declared: ‘It will of course be necessary to draw all the lessons of the battle that has just been waged.’ They speak in the future tense, as befits the opening of an investigation; but they do so only in order to provide advance-conclusions. First conclusion: ‘The Communist Party bears no responsibility for this situation.’ Apart from anything else, this formula has the advantage of sheltering the leadership, which took all the decisions, behind the Party, which suffered all the consequences. Second conclusion: ‘The guiding line [of the Party] has remained consistent during the last six years.’ Thus, in his report of 29 March, Fiterman could emphasize the Party’s heroism in conducting a battle, under difficult conditions, that was lost through the fault of the socialists: ‘We did not want a defeat . . . We must reflect upon it, discuss it, and draw all the necessary lessons. But it is clear that, given the basic facts which I have just recalled, there was no other serious and responsible orientation than the one we took. Of that the Political Bureau is very firmly convinced.’

Thank you for the very firm conviction. The Political Bureau must be very ‘firmly convinced’ indeed, if it can dispense with any proof, offering us ‘conclusions without a premiss’ and a judgement without an analysis. This reveals in its true light the call launched by the Political Bureau: the analysis has to be made . . . only on the basis of the leadership’s ‘conclusions without a premiss’. And when Georges Marchais calls for analysis on the grounds that the situation requires ‘discussion and reflection’ (l’Humanité, 4 April), he indicates that ‘party units dispose of important material . . . with which to develop this examination’. What material? ‘In particular, the Political Bureau statement of 20 March, and the report which Charles Fiterman presented to regional secretaries on behalf of the Political Bureau.’ The circle is completed, then, the ground is staked out. On the basis of such rich material, the discussion can proceed in all freedom—that is, it can lock itself up in the conclusions presented beforehand.

Communists know what is really meant by Georges Marchais’s appeal ‘We must discuss, that is quite right.’ Discussion in partitioned cells, at the most a branch conference, but no more. And so, there will not be a generalized, free exchange of analyses and experiences among militants from different sectors, or between manual and intellectual workers—the kind of discussion which strengthens and sharpens. You will discuss freely, but on the basis of the conclusions contained in ‘important documents’ and exclusively in the framework of your basic organizations (cells, branches).

Such is the official response to a rising Party-wide demand for open forums in the Party press to make possible such exchange and comparison. The leadership has already said no: out of the question, not for a single moment. At first, Marchais even justified this refusal by talking of a clause in the statutes, according to which open forums are only organized in order to prepare a congress. But, in reality, no such clause exists. There is not a single reference to discussion forums in the statutes. It would be hard enough, in the present circumstances, to accept that a workers’ leader should invoke ‘the law’ against Party militants. But Marchais does more than that: he makes it up!

It is necessary to know of this outright refusal in order to understand why Communists are writing articles in Le Monde and elsewhere: for the Party daily and weeklies have been closed to them, by order of the leadership. More than anything, the leadership fears an exchange of experience and analysis among militants at the base. More than ever, it is in favour of partitioning—the number one technique for stifling rank-and-file reaction, through a three-tier system of delegation (cell—branch, branch—region, region—Central Committee).

As for that ‘broad discussion’ which will follow Marchais’s own appeal, we can turn to Paul Laurent for a clarification of its real meaning: ‘Evidently, the setback of 19 March calls for deep reflection in order to decide on the course to be pursued in the new stage opening before us.’ One thing is quite certain and evident: on the basis of the Political Bureau’s ‘very firm conviction’, the analysis will very quickly be ‘called upon’ to leave behind examination of the past and concentrate entirely on the future, on ‘the path of fresh advances’ (Political Bureau statement, 4 April). This is an old leadership practice, kept in perfect working order: an appeal to the tasks ahead very quickly serves to bury the past, together with its contradictions, mistakes and enigmas. As for those who dwell on past errors, they of course will turn aside ‘from life’, and so ‘from the struggle’, and so ‘from the line’, won’t they comrades?