Popular Front in the Street
The Communist Party of Philadelphia holds a rally on May Day, 1935, across the street from City Hall.
I will speak on the question of the Popular Front.
However, I do not want to equivocate.
We are not politicians.
We will not try to add new maneuvers to the already complex and often divergent maneuvers of the politicians.
When we speak to those who want to hear us, we do not essentially address their political finesse. The reactions we hope for from them are calcula.tlOns of positions, nor are they new political alliances. What we hope for is of a different nature.
We see that the human masses are at the disposition of blind forces which condemn them to inexplicable hecatombs, and which, while making them wait, give them a morally empty and materially miserable life.
What we have before our eyes is the horror of human impotence.
We want to confront this horror directly. We address ourselves to the direct and violent drives which, in the minds of those who hear us, can contribute to the surge of power that will liberate men from the absurd swindlers who lead them.
We know that such drives have little to do with the phraseology invented to maintain political positions. The will to be done with impotence implies, even in our eyes, scorn for this phrasemongering; the taste for verbal agitation has never passed for a mark of power.
On this point, we want to express ourselves in a precise way.
Derided humanity has already known surges of power. These chaotic but implacable power surges dominate history and are known as Revolutions. On many occasions entire populations have gone into the street and nothing has been able to resist their force. It is an incontestable fact that if men have found themselves in the streets, armed, in a mass uprising, carrying with them the tumult of the total power of the people, it has never been the consequence of a narrow and speciously defined political alliance.
What drives the crowds to the street is the emotion directly aroused by striking events in the atmosphere of a storm, it is the contagious emotion that, from house to house, from suburb to suburb, suddenly turns a hesitating man into a frenzied being.
It is evident that if, in general, insurrections had had to wait for learned disputes between committees and the political offices of parties, then there never would have been an insurrection.
Still, as astonishing as this may seem, one frequently notes, among militant revolutionaries, a complete lack of confidence in the spontaneous reactions of the masses.
The need to organize parties has resulted in unusual habits among the socalled revolutionary agitators, who confuse the entry of the Revolution into the street with their political platforms, with their well-groomed programs, with their maneuvers in the halls of Congress.
Amazingly, a distrust of the same order prevails against intellectuals. The distrust of intellectuals only apparently contradicts the one that underestimates the spontaneous movements of the masses.
As much as they can, certain professional revolutionary activists would like to eliminate, from the human tragedy that the Revolution necessarily is, all its emotional resources, the brutal convulsion of the masses, the atmosphere charged with hope, the rages and enthusiasms expressed in periods of crisis by those who write.
We are as far as we can be from the belief that a movement can do without its leaders, as far as we can be from the belief that this leadership can do without the resources of human knowledge contributed by the most recent advances of human understanding. But first of all we must protest against everything that is born in the poisoned atmosphere of professional congresses and committees, all of which are at the mercy of hallway maneuvers.
We do not think it possible to raise a political question without having a debate. And for us having the debate means having it in the street, it means having it where emotion can seize men and push them to the limit, without meeting the eternal obstacles that result from the defense of old political positions.
If we are to speak of the Popular Front, we must first identify what holds us firmly together, what links our origins to the emotions that constitute it, namely, the existence of the Popular Front in the street.
Comrades, we must say of the Popular Front that it was born on the Cours de Vincennes on the day of February 12, 1934, when for the first time the masses of workers gathered to demonstrate the strength of their opposition to fascism.
Most of us, comrades, were in the street that day and can recall the emotion that overcame us when the Communist marchers, coming out of the rue des Pyrenees, turned into the Cours de Vincennes and took up the entire width of the street: this massive group was preceded by a line of a hundred workers, shoulder to shoulder and arm in arm, marching with unprecedented slowness and singing the lntemationale. Many among you, no doubt, can remember the huge old bald worker, with a reddish face and heavy white moustache, who walked slowly, one step at a time, in front of that moving human wall, holding high a red flag.
It was no longer a procession, nor anything poorly political; it was the curse of the working people, and not only in its rage, IN ITS IMPOVERISHED MAJESTY, which advanced, made greater by a kind of rending solemnity-by the menace of slaughter still suspended at that moment over all of the crowd.
Comrades, at that moment, on the Cours de Vincennes, the Communist masses marched in front of the Socialist masses, and a little later merged with them through an identical cry for unity of action. This was the period, however, when, in L 'Humanite, professional politicians indulged in precise definitions of the situation: according to Marty, in an article whose delirium moreover must nevertheless be acknowledged, they had shot not fascists but workers on the Place de la Concorde. For the entire editorial board of L 'Humanite, Daladier's government then became a government of executioners, and unity of action continued to be impossible with the Socialist traitors. On this question, the Central Committee of the party published, a few days after February 12, statements that clearly indicated their refusal.
This is how revolutionary activity can be expressed in the street with force and at the same time with an incomparable instinctive certainty, when from the poisoned atmosphere of committees and editorial offices nothing comes but political directives testifying to a scandalous blindness.
Political wrangling was again superseded by the reality of the street at the time of the definitive formation of the Popular Front.
The Popular Front was conceived by its founders as a defensive organization, reuniting all the forces hostile to fascism. It is impossible not to see that its birth coincided with the salvation of Stalin by the French Army. The grave, and perhaps even tragic, situation of the Soviets engaged them in a Franco-Russian political alliance, which then linked their interests to social conservatism in France. Clearly, from the moment that Soviet security depends on the French military forces, the Soviets cannot at the same time work to undermine these forces. In the spirit of its Communist founders, the Popular Front's goal was, without a doubt, the maintenance of a nonfascist, but strong, France, thus at the disposal of socially conservative elements.
In a certain sense, the Popular Front meant nothing more than the revolutionaries' abandonment of the anticapitalist offensive; the move to the defense of antifascism; the move to the simple defense of democracy; the abandonment, at the same time, of revolutionary defeatism.
Now comrades, what can we think of this abandonment of the anticapitalist offensive, at precisely the time when a great number of people, independently oftheir political tendencies, agreed upon the disastrous character of the capitalist system? From the revolutionary point of view, the abandonment of the anticapitalist offensive in the midst of the present crisis would represent the most scandalous possible weakness; isn't it incredible to leave to the worst slaves of capitalism, to the fascistic Croix de feu lackeys of the de Wendels, the rallying cry awaited by the anxious, disconcerted masses, the rallying cry to fight against a capitalism despised by the vast majority of men?
The default of the politicians thus would abandon the real world, the world oftragic sufferings and hopes, to the degrading verbal comedy of barracks-room thugs.
And at the same time, while dread mounts from day to day before the imminence of the physical extermination of men and human wealth, wouldn't it be incredible to anticipate a new conflict by giving the idea of antifascism a value on the level of military struggle, when we know, meanwhile, that stupid imperialism precisely engendered this fascism that we mean to fight while marching in the ranks assigned to us by generals and industrial magnates.
Comrades, if human reality, or to be more precise, human reality in the street-personally, it is in tying to it all the hope that stirs me that I use this term "street," which opposes life, real life, to the schemes as well as to the isolation of the absurdly involuted individual-if human reality did not in every possible way go beyond the mediocre conceptions and betrayals of conniving politicians, then the Popular Front would not have, for any of us, the profound meaning that it has acquired in the circumstances that we have lived and that we continue to live.
Even today, while many people-rightly or wrongly-are claiming that the popular Front is falling apart at the top, that, beyond an antifascist defense it will be incapable ofsetting forth a plan for concerted action essential to the exercise of power, we continue to see growing among the masses who make up its strength, who were in the street yesterday, who will invade the street tomorrow, the agitation of the people's omnipotence.
Badly formed political conceptions have set these people in motion, but the Popular Front does not depend on the will of its founders to work exactly for their goals: the Popular Front is above all now a movement, an agitation, a crucible in which formerly separated political forces meld with an often tumultuous effervescence.
Now that the various social strata that constitute it have become conscious of the strength they represent when reunited, this strength, going to their heads, will attract them to each other and will break the chains meant to hold them.
Therefore, when our comrades of the revolutionary Socialist left call for the transformation of the defense against fascism into an anticapitalist offensive, of the Popular Front into the Popular Front of combat, they are only expressing the dynamic movement inherent in the makeup of forces in motion. Today it is not advisable for anyone to be opposed to the rise of the all-powerful populace.
We must not be unaware, however, that difficulties must be overcome, before the offensive can be realized, without which the party will find itself in the hands of those who are still criminally talking of the "lost victory."
We do not believe that organized parties should disappear, but we do not believe either that the masses can attain the power to put an end to domination by capitalist lackeys unless a movement appears that can escape the sterilizing control of these parties.
We must above all recognize as critical the period following the formation of a government that, without being the direct expression of the Popular Front, could nevertheless be brought to power by the parliamentarians who belonged to this Front.
From time to time the spokesmen of the Popular Front themselves are led to make statements that show an extreme uneasiness on this point. Concerning a Popular Front government, Pierre Jerome, secretary-general of the Vigilance Committee, a few weeks ago expressed the fear that he could not cover budgetary expenditures with foreseen income: "In that case," Pierre Jerome states, "we will see our enemies furnished with the best weapon they could hope for. To be sure, if panic sets in, we ourselves should not faint with fear ... " Jerome in any case sees a way out of this great difficulty: "In the end, all we need do is make the rich pay... "
In fact, nothing is more likely in the near future than a repeat of the disastrous events that sooner or later followed the electoral victories of the so-called Left of 1924 and 1932.
Without being able to have confidence in more or less arbitrary details, one can foresee, at one time or another, a serious crisis of the entire Left, a crisis that will not fail to seriously affect the Popular Front itself.
To tell the truth, those of us who see the Popular Front as a reality in motion have nothing to become excessively alarmed about in such a crisis. We must only foresee it, knowing full well that no development of forces and no great social transformation can take place without a crisis, knowing as well above all that the forces destined to prevail are those that not only overcome their crises, but are capable of profiting by them.
The Popular Front means for us the awareness the people first attained, in the days of February, of their strength in the face of Fascist thugs and lackeys. We do not believe that this awareness will allow itself to be shaken on the day miserable directors betray their own impotence.
These conditions are, on the contrary, in our opinion, necessary so that the masses, who have no desire for the reactionary solutions leading to poverty and war, this time can become aware of the inherent necessities of power. It is possible that a crisis is indispensable for the transformation-as indicated from the outset by the menacing attitude of the masses in the street-of the defensive Popular Front into the Popular Front of combat, and, of course, of combat for the anticapitalist dictatorship of the people.
It is clear from now on that, in order to have confidence in its own resources, the Popular Front must first lose the confidence it currently has in its principal leaders.
I do not think it necessary here to insist upon our reasons for having the greatest distrust and even the greatest contempt for given professional political parliamentarians, who tomorrow risk being entrusted with the position of leadership.
What interests us above all-the analysis of the economic bases of society having been accomplished, its results having proven, moreover, to be limitedare the emotions that give the human masses the surges of power that tear them away from the domination of those who only know how to lead them on to poverty and to the slaughterhouse.
But we would not want to suggest that we blindly abandon ourselves to the spontaneous reactions of the street.
We are led to make an essential distinction between the reactions that agitate men in the street and the phrasemongering of politicians, and all the teachings of the present period at the very least show that this distinction credits the men who have nothing going for them but their passions, to the detriment of those corrupted and often emptied of human content by the strategic task.
But we find no reason to renounce the decisive intervention ofjudgment and of the methodical understanding of the facts. We only wish to apply intelligence less to so-called political situations and to the logical deductions that ensue, than to the immediate comprehension oflife. Even independently ofthe tragic events now taking place, we believe that there is more to learn in the streets of great cities, for example, than in political newspapers or books. For us a significant reality is the state of prostration and boredom expressed inside a bus by a dozen human faces, all of them complete strangers. For anyone not already hardened by the emptiness of life, there IS in this world, which seems to have at its disposal limitless resources, a confusion remedied only by a kind of lazily accepted general imbecility. Even poverty seems at the very least less incurable than this stupid distress. A beggar whose broken voice cries out a song one can barely hear in the rear of a courtyard seems at times to have lost less in the game of life than the human matter arranged in buses and trains during rush hour.
Someone told me the other day, correctly, that the source of the Croix de Feu's might was very simple: the Croix de Feu, in general, are people who are bored. The minimum of contagious passion animating the Croix de Feu, the low budget exaltation-to tell the truth, an exaltation good for workroomsmaintained by this pillar of human boredom (family barracks) known as the Count Colonel de la Rocque, is somehow enough to maintain a vague gleam of life in empty brains, but no taste for what is burning or colorful in life grips them, and the sinister job of the Croix de Feu becomes their whole life.
The opium of the people in the present world is perhaps not so much religion as it is accepted boredom. Such a world is at the mercy, it must be known, of those who provide at least the semblance of an escape from boredom. Human life aspires to the passions, and again encounters its exigencies.
It can appear out of place and even absolutely absurd to those who worry about which platforms must serve as the basis for future actions, when we respond by saying that the world in which they bustle about is doomed to boredom.
This remark, however, has a very simple meaning: in the Communist opposition, I have personally known a great number of people for whom the definition of platforms has had an essential value. Their activity resulted only in stunning boredom, which they saw precisely as the mark of revolutionary seriousness.
We want to say that we oppose these preoccupations.
We believe that strength will belong not to those for whom action is a demand for morose and disagreeable work, but to those who, on the contrary, will deliver the world from its exhausting boredom.
We want to give precise answers to questions that demand precise answers, but we maintain that what is essential lies elsewhere.
We must contribute to the masses' awareness oftheir own power; we are sure that strength results less from strategy than from collective exaltation, and exaltation can come only from words that touch not the reason but the passions of the masses.
We want to hope that soon the masses will know how to gather and find together, in this reunion, the burning heat that attracts men from all sides and that will become the basis for an implacable popular domination.
We ask all those who, along with us, mean to pursue an action parallel to the one we see open before us how they hope to achieve the dictatorship of the working masses, how, first of all, they hope to realize the transformation of the defensive Popular Front into a Popular Front of combat.
As for us, we want to pose the question in a precise way. It seems to me personally that the only way to pose the question is the following: it is not really a question of knowing first of all what must be done, but what result must be envisioned. We know that the question of the takeover of power is now being posed. We know that, in all likelihood, the democratic regime, which struggles amidst mortal contradictions, cannot be saved.
The succession is open. We have many reasons to think that the Croix de Feu provide no response to the necessities resulting from the current situationneither in their social content, the tenor of their program, nor in the personality of their chief. Their effective value seems to us in this respect to be situated far below that of the Italian Fascists or the German National Socialists.
The Popular Front in its present form is not, nor does it present itself, as an organized force within sight of taking power. It must thus be transformed, according to the plan of the socialist revolutionary Left, into a Popular Front of combat.
As for us, we say that this presupposes a renewal of political forms, a renewal possible in the present circumstances, when it seems that all revolutionary forces are called upon to fuse in an incandescent crucible. We are assured that insurrection is impossible for our adversaries. We believe that of the two hostile forces that will engage in the struggle for power, the fascists and the people, the force that gets the upper hand will be the one that shows itself most capable of dominating events and imposing an implacable power on its adversaries. What we demand is a coherent, disciplined organization, its entire will straining with enthusiasm toward popular power; this is the sense of responsibility that must devolve on those who tomorrow must be the masters, who must subordinate the system of production to human interests, who must impose silence, in their own country and at the same time throughout the world, on the nationalists' criminal and puerile passions.
After February 16.
500,000 workers, defied by little cockroaches, invaded the streets and caused an immense uproar. Comrades, who has the right to lay down the law?
This ALL-POWERFUL multitude, thus HUMAN OCEAN...
Only this ocean of men in revolt can save the world from the nightmare of impotence and carnage in which it sinks!
excerpt from the book: Visions of Excess Selected Writings, 1927-1939 Georges Bataille
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