IN Once Again, Whither France? (March 1935) Leon Trotsky discussed the call for a general strike.
He wrote: ‘The general strike, as every Marxist knows, is one of the most revolutionary methods of struggle.
‘The general strike is not possible except at a time when the class struggle rises above particular and craft demands, and extends over all occupational and district divisions, and wipes away the lines and the parties, between legality and illegality, and mobilises the majority of the proletariat in an active opposition to the bourgeoisie and the state.
‘Nothing can be on a higher plane than the general strike, except the armed insurrection.
‘The entire history of the working-class movement proves that every general strike, whatever may be the slogans under which it occurs, has an internal tendency to transform itself into an open revolutionary clash, into a direct struggle for power.
‘In other words: the general strike is not possible except under the conditions of extreme political tension, and that is why it is always the incontestable expression of the revolutionary character of the situation. How then can the Central Committee propose a general strike in this case?’ (Whither France? by Leon Trotsky, New Park, p65)
In the next article in the book, Committees of Action – Not People’s Front (November 1935), Trotsky dealt concretely with developing local organisations for the revolutionary struggles of the working class.
He wrote: ‘The workers will be able elect a Committee of Action only in those cases when they themselves participate in some sort of action and feel the need for revolutionary leadership.
‘In question here is not the formal democratic representation of all and any masses but the revolutionary representation of the struggling masses. The Committee of Action is an apparatus of struggle.’ (ibid, p101)
He continued: ‘The task is not to miss a single situation (mass movements RA) of this kind.
‘The first condition for this is a clear understanding of the import of the Committee of Action as the only means of breaking the anti-revolutionary opposition of party and trade union apparatus.’3
Trotsky added: ‘Such tasks as the creation of workers’ militia, the arming of the workers, the preparation of a general strike will remain on paper if the struggling masses themselves through their authoritative organs do not occupy themselves with these tasks.’ (ibid, p102)
In June 1936 in The Decisive Stage, Trotsky wrote: ‘From one industry to another, from one factory to the next, from one working class district to another, from city to city, the Committees of Action must establish a close bond with each other.
‘They must meet in each city, in each productive group in their regions in order to end with a Congress of all the Committees of Action in France. This will be the new order which must take the place of reigning anarchy.’ (ibid, p130)
During the period 1934-36 Trotsky advocated entry into the Socialist Party (SFIO) in order to turn the small, predominantly middle-class Communist League into the mass workers’ movement and expand its membership. (The Crisis of the French Section, by Leon Trotsky, Pathfinder)
Trotsky proposed, what became known as ‘The French Turn’ in June 1934 after the February 1934 events as there were signs that the ranks of the SFIO were moving to the left. This would enable his supporters to work more effectively for the United Front and oppose the ‘People’s Front’.
The Communist League voted to dissolve into the SFIO in August 1934 and became the Bolshevik-Leninist Group (GBL).
The GBL began to build a base in the left wing of the SFIO, particularly in its youth organisation, the Young Socialists, and in its Paris branches.
When the SFIO officially adopted the policy of the ‘People’s Front’ in 1935, Trotsky then fought for the GBL to break with the Socialist Party and form a new revolutionary party.
The Trotskyists left the SFIO early in 1936 having more than doubled its membership to 600.
Trotsky’s fight in the situation that existed in France in the period 1934-36 has important lessons for the revolutionary struggles in European countries today.
He put forward A Programme of Action, campaigned for the formation of Committees of Action as organisations of struggle and built a revolutionary party orientated to the mass movement of the working class.
Today, confronted by a deepening of the world capitalist crisis, the imminent disintegration of the eurozone and the EU, and the rising tide of revolutionary struggle of the working class in general strike actions, the capitalist classes of Europe are being driven to change their forms of rule.
They are being forced to dispense with the trappings of bourgeois parliamentary democracy and bring in dictatorial forms of rule.
At the centre of this will be the capitalist state forces of the police and military. They will mobilise fascist movements such as New Dawn (Greece) and the National Front (France) for this task.
However, they confront a working class which has been undefeated since World War II.
This is the key difference between Europe in 2012 and France in the mid-1930s when Mussolini fascists had been in power for more than a decade and the Nazis had just taken over in Germany.
The break-up of the EU provides the working class with an opportunity to engage in the struggle for power within the countries of the continent and go forward to a United Socialist States of Europe.
The European Socialist Revolution has begun.
The most urgent and essential task facing the working class and youth is the building of parties of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) to organise and lead this struggle for power.
Parties of the ICFI, like the Workers Revolutionary Party in Britain, the Revolutionary Marxist League in Greece and new sections must draw lessons from Trotsky’s Whither France?
Using the method and demands of The Transitional Programme of the Fourth International a Programme of Action must be developed and organisations of revolutionary struggle formed in order to carry forward the struggle for workers’ power.
As Trotsky declared in The Transitional Programme: ‘Workers – men and women – of all countries, place yourselves under the banner of your approaching victory.’ (The Transitional Programme, by Leon Trotsky, Union Books, p46)