French Workers Party

French Workers’ Party

 

the first French Marxist party. The party was headed by J. Guesde and P. Lafargue. It was formed in 1879 by a decision of the Marseille Workers’ Congress, and the party program was adopted at the Le Havre Congress of 1880; the introduction to the program was written by K. Marx.

A struggle within the Workers’ Party between the Guesdists and Possibilists led to a split in 1882; the Guesdist faction retained the name of the Workers’ Party. The party strengthened its influence with the working class after it rid itself of reformists. It systematically propagandized Marxism, opposed the policy of colonial aggrandizement carried out by the bourgeois republicans, and supported proletarian strikes.

The party exerted a strong influence on the trade union movement until the mid-1890’s. The parliamentary successes of the Workers’ Party (12 members were elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1893) caused the leadership, and Guesde in particular, to overestimate the importance of electoral campaigns. The Workers’ Party upheld the Marxist principles of expropriating large land holdings and creating collective peasant ownership of the land. However, certain sections of the party’s agrarian program adopted by the Congress of Nantes in 1894 could only be interpreted as tending to perpetuate the system of small-scale peasant land ownership. F. Engels criticized the party’s program on these points (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 22, pp. 517–18).

Although the leaders of the Workers’ Party in theory correctly understood the leadership role of the proletarian party in trade unions, in practice they were not sufficiently flexible and at times attempted to simply subordinate unions to the party. This attitude led some workers to be dissatisfied with the party and weakened the party’s influence on the trade union movement in the mid-1890’s.

In the political crisis created by the Dreyfus Affair, the Workers’ Party initially demanded that the unjust verdict be reexamined; Guesde and several other leaders later adopted a position of nonintervention, asserting that the affair was foreign to the interests of the proletariat.

Of the greatest importance in the history of the Workers’ Party was its decisive struggle against Millerandism in the French and international socialist movement. In 1899 the Workers’ Party joined the Committee of Unification (Comité de L’entente) of the Meeting for the Formation of the Committee of Socialist Preparedness (Reunion de Constitution du Comité de Vigilance Socialiste). However, the acute struggle that had developed over the Millerand affair split the committee into revolutionary and reformist groups. In 1900 the Workers’ Party left the General Committee. In 1901 the Workers’ Party joined the Blanquists and other anti-Millerand elements to form the Revolutionary Socialist Union, which became the Socialist Party of France in 1903.

REFERENCES

Belkin, I. D. Zhiul’ Ged i bor’ba za rabochuiu partiiu vo Frantsii. [Moscow] 1952.
Istoriia Vtorogo Internatsionala, [vols.] 1–2. Moscow, 1965–66.
Ligou, D. Histoire du socialisme en France (1871–1961). Paris. 1962.
Lefranc, G. Le Mouvement socialiste sous la Troisième République (1875–1940). Paris, 1963.
Willard, C. Les Guesdistes. Paris, 1965. [Le Mouvement socialiste en France (1893–1905).]

B. L. VUL’FSON

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