ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Ces refondateurs qui tournent la page
by Mina Kaci
Translated Friday 11 June 2010, by Henry Crapoand reviewed by
After many faithful years, their adventure with the Party has ended in a divorce “without anger or tears.” Jacqueline Fraysse, Roger Martelli, Lucien Sève and Pierre Zarka explain why they are leaving.
Jacqueline Fraysse, Roger Martelli, Lucien Sève and Pierre Zarka are four different personalities who have played a leading role in the French Communist Party (PCF), some of them at the very top level. They are four activists who, after decades of fidelity, are leaving in 2010. This is a traumatic experience both for them and for the communist organization. How is it to be explained?
Jacqueline Fraysse has expressed her disagreement with her party’s idea of rallying support for the past fifteen years. This first germinated in 1995, when as mayor of Nanterre she initiated a participatory action with, notably, the Notebooks for the City, which met with “wild success.” She had the disagreeable surprise of encountering “the Party’s hostility, which saw in this a form of unfair competition with the Party” because she had not put the PCF label on the municipal action. “I continue to think that it was necessary to do it in a broad way, which in no way prevented the party from being involved in this action. The PCF’s reticence perturbed me, I could not understand its attitude.”
Pierre Zarka’s doubts date from 1992, when he joined the management of l’Humanité. “For a long time, for me, communism and the Communist Party were synonymous. I very quickly understood that the newspaper could not be the Party’s internal bulletin, that it was necessary to open it up to all the experiences of social transformation, on an equal footing with the PCF. My first tension with the PCF leadership began with the conception of the newspaper.”
Much questioning was aroused by the electoral decline of the PCF. Georges Marchais only scored 15.35% (4,457,000 votes) in the 1981 presidential election. In the 1984 European parliament elections, the score fell to 11.24% (2,261,000 votes). “It was a big falling-off which showed that we did not have a suitable policy,” the philosopher Lucien Sève commented.
But Lucien Sève, Jacqueline Fraysse, Roger Martelli and Pierre Zarka put the point of no return at the 2007 presidential elections. Two years earlier, the whole left of the left felt it was really taking off after the victory of the “no” vote in the referendum on the European constitution treaty, before sinking into mutual antipathy. The Revolutionary Communist League (A Trotskyist party) and the PCF each presented their own candidate in the presidential elections. The anti-neocon committees, which contributed to the referendum result, fell apart.
“I maintain that the Party broke the momentum,” Jacqueline Fraysse charged, “this is unforgivable on the part of a revolutionary party, and to obtain 1.96% of the vote in the end.” Fraysse, a doctor who has never given up her practice, joined the PCF the year she graduated from high school. “I saw how far the Party could go to impose its candidate, come hell or high water. That’s when I left, but I didn’t do it publicly. I couldn’t imagine to what degree the Party was capable of pushing the interest of the popular movement into the background relative to the Party organization.” But it must be remembered that Marie-George Buffet was chosen by an 81% vote (41,533 for, 9,683 against) in an internal Party vote in the run-up to the presidential elections.
The year 2007 deeply marked Jacqueline Fraysse and the three other known and recognized personalities. It marked them to the point that they are definitively leaving the political organization to which they have dedicated a good part of their lives. “It was a crude political blunder. It has ruined a party which, in principle, is the tool that is needed for a human and social transformation that is of capital importance and urgency.” said Lucien Sève.
In fact, the causes of these disagreements are deeper and older. “The leadership has never come up with basic arguments to answer the elementary question of explaining why the Party has fallen to 1.93% (of the popular vote). The PCF has stopped questioning itself on its own history,” the philosopher added. He joined the PCF in 1950, in the middle of the Cold War, and he is leaving this Party, “which has been (his) for sixty years, having lost all hope in its internal capacity to change.”
As a professeur agrégé, Lucien Sève taught philosophy, notably in Marseilles, where he encountered Roger Martelli as a high school student. Later the two men became close and were elected to the Central Committee, which later was renamed the National Council. The young Martelli dated his entry into “communism” to May 13, 1968; he joined the PCF in 1969. “At the time, I had the image of an unsophisticated party. But Lucien Sève’s book, “Marxism and the Theory of Personality,” fascinated me. I was reassured, I need feel neither shame nor embarrassment at being a communist intellectual.”
The 2007 episode was a real shock to Roger Martelli, a historian. “The Party’s candidacy reveals that, by dint of impoverishing itself, of going backwards, it has lost its sense of reality. I felt a deep failure. I had fought for years for this anti-neocon coalition. There was an extraordinary opportunity; the political scene could have been shifted to the left.” Martelli said that he reached the end of the road when even “the less than 2% of the vote did not give rise to anything at the Party congress that followed. It was a routine congress, whereas we were expecting an electroshock, a revolution. We were even preparing for a tighter leadership in the name of the idea that it had been too much of a mess and that an effective Party was needed and consequently a leadership that was capable of speaking with a single voice.”
Roger Martelli was “removed” from the National Council, as was Pierre Zarka, who willingly defines himself as “a pure product of the Party apparatus.” “We wanted a broad coalition,” he said, “on condition that the PCF be the main force. To be just one among others is something the Party cannot accept. A self-defense reflex animates the Party organization against what it considers to be an attack, a calling into question of its leading role. The Party matrix catches up with us each time that progress is made, because the PCF considers that its identity is called into question. Basically, despite the speeches that have been made, the Party rejects no longer being the leader-party.”
The beginning of Lucien Sève and Roger Martelli’s dissidence can be situated in 1984. That year, the historian wrote in the weekly Révolution that the PCF’s electoral fall expressed “the end of a long phase, the inappropriateness of a whole approach with regard to the new conditions of French society.” At the same time, Lucien Sève was explaining himself before the Central Committee on the same subject: “I was feeling my way. I knew that there was a fundamental strategic problem that we had not mastered. And that something like the historic refounding of the Party had to be put on the agenda.” The philosopher entered the refounding path.
Emotions ran high in the Party. “Comrades, including members of the Central Committee, began kicking over the traces. It was seething. Georges Marchais reacted poorly and felt that it was a question of bourgeois opportunist unrest. Everything was bolted down,” recounted Lucien Sève.
Roger Martelli recalled that “at the Central Committee, there was, to my mind, a possible majority to not validate the leadership’s official analysis. Now, for the first time, the leadership decided not to put the report to a vote, fearing a slap in the face.”
During this time, Pierre Zarka remained in agreement with “the Party line.” In 1985 he became Charles Fiterman’s deputy in the national secretariat for communication. Jacqueline Fraysse followed what was happening in the Central Committee from a great distance.
After the unrest and rebellion manifested in the Central Committee, “order was restored,” Roger Martelli stated. “From one day to the next,” he and other members of the group of historians active in the Institute of Marxist Research stopped being invited to conduct courses at the PCF training schools. “They said that we had been teaching doubt for too long, whereas what was needed was certainty,” Martelli recounted. But neither he nor Lucien Sève joined the dissidence of the renovators, led by Pierre Juquin, which began in 1984. Two years later, this tendency disappeared. “It was beaten, and like all minorities, was subjected to so much pressure that most of its activists left,” Roger Martelli said.
The reconstructors, including Félix Damette, Claude Poperen and Marcel Rigout, took over from the renovators. They failed and left. Once again, Lucien Sève and Roger Martelli did not follow in their path. “Between 1984 and 1989, we thought that we had to respect the rule that says that he who speaks from within is condemned to marginalization and forced to leave,” Martelli said.
The collapse of the Soviet system offered an opportunity to the two intellectuals to openly enter into dissidence. “It made urgent the refoundation without which political communism was dead,” said Roger Martelli. Hence he and Lucien Sève ended “the latent criticism” when a hospitalized Charles Fiterman addressed a letter to the Central Committee in which he called for “an electroshock within the Party and its renovation,” Martelli recounted.
“I was floored by the leadership’s attitude to him,” Martelli confided. “And to my great shame, I did not dare intervene. In that organization, when you speak up, you sign your political death warrant.” But in the following Central Committee meeting, Roger Martelli redeemed himself and backed Charles Fiterman’s action, the same as Lucien Sève, Jack Ralite, Anicet Le Pors, Roland Favaro and Jean-Michel Catala. Thus nearly a dozen members of the Central Committee sided with the refounders. Some of them left the Party. Roger Martelli and Lucien Sève continued their minority struggle for twenty years, later joined by Pierre Zarka and several other members of the present National Council.
Lucien Sève dates this turbulence to 1976 when, at its 22nd Congress, “the PCF abandoned the dictatorship of the proletariat without fundamentally thinking out either a substitute strategy or a new organizational form.” Since then, according to him, the communist organization still has not resolved these questions. “Beginning in 1976, I say that the Party has suffered from a lack of theoretical thinking. This is something quite different from the supposed quarrel of the intellectuals with the leadership. It is the primordial question of the work of knowing and thinking the unexhausted dramas of the preceding century, the unparalleled threats that are brewing for this century, and at the same time the possibilities of every sort that are taking shape for getting past capitalism.”
Having abandoned the dictatorship of the proletariat, and later democratic centralism, the French Communist Party found itself, according to our interviewees, in such a void that it clung to simply defending the apparatus. “The way in which the Party leadership rejects any questioning of the matrix indicates the dead-end into which it is pulling us,” Pierre Zarka argued. He, like Jacqueline Fraysse, insisted on the PCF’s “error” in only inscribing itself in society via established parties. According to Pierre Zarka, “it is according to the measuring stick of the relationship of forces, in particular relative to the Socialist Party, that the PCF thinks that it can measure the aspirations of the people. The more it goes down that road, the more it cuts itself off from real expectations. And the more it cuts itself off, the more it reduces its world to just institutional spaces.”
All four reproach the communist organization for orienting its activity solely according to the electoral calendar, at the risk of becoming indistinguishable from the purely electoral parties. Leaving the Party to which one has belonged for so many years is no easy thing. “For me, it was a school in human and political training. Spending sixty years in the Party is a major, a total commitment. In the abstract, I know that I have left, but I haven’t completely interiorized it,” Lucien Sève confided. “I’m leaving with my confidence all used up,” he added.
“Forty years of commitment, that’s the commitment of a lifetime, it is painful,” murmured Roger Martelli.
“It’s hard because it’s my history. It’s also hard in political terms because I am a deputy,” whispered Jacqueline Fraysse.
“Like all tools, when they prove to be inadequate, you change them, without anger or tears,” Pierre Zarka said modestly.
Disappointed but neither bitter nor rancorous, they have left the Party, thus joining the multitude of other PCF members who left without making waves. Paradoxically, they have taken this decision when a new perspective, the Left Front, has been born. They are leaving the PCF while remaining deeply communist. It is an “irrevocable” collective departure, despite the appeal made by Pierre Laurent, the national coordinator of the PCF, urging them to remain and to participate in the debate at the Party Congress on June 18, 19 and 20.