Albert Treint

1889-1971 • France

Communism • Trotskyism

Albert Treint was one of the first speakers at the Tours 1920 Congress of French Socialists (SFIO) to propose French affiliation to the Communist Third International and proposed the formation of the SFIC (Section Française de l’Internationale Communiste). At 31, he was then head of the Paris Federation of the SFIO. 

The son of a Parisian bus conductor, at 17 Treint won a three-year scholarship to train as a primary school. He then did two years’ military service before teaching for three years near Nanterre from 1910 to 1913. He joined the SFIO in 1914, the year he was called up. In the 21st Infantry regiment he was promoted captain.

Wounded in the Somme in both 1915 and 1917, in 1919 he was teaching again at Belleville’s rue Ramponeau boys’ primary school. From outside the school there is an amazing view all over Paris. Treint did not enjoy it for long.

The view over Paris from the school where Albert Treint taught in 1919-1921 before being fired for his active role in the formation of the French Communist Party

Shortly after his December 30 1920 election to the steering committee of the brand new SFIC he was first arrested in May for a speech calling on French soldiers to disobey orders to fight in Russia, and then fired from his teaching post in September 1921.

A key participant in the internal Communist faction fights between those like Monatte, arguing for greater unity with other revolutionary syndicalists, and those defending the Third International’s anti-unity and disciplinary positions, Treint’s hard-line faction won.

In November-December 1922 at the first enlarged executive meeting of the Third International he defended the United Front in these terms:

We get closer to and then further away from (reformist leaders) alternating in the same way as the hand gets closer to and further away from the chicken it is plucking.

Albert Treint 1922

In 1923-24, on behalf of his left faction he shared the General Secretaryship of the PCF with a centrist, first Frossard (who left the PCF on January 1 1924) and then Sellier.  He then spent four months in jail with Gaston Monmousseau (1883-1960) and others for having attended a conference with German communists calling for opposition to the French occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923.

Albert Treint successfully defended himself in May 1923 after being charged with calling on soldiers to mutiny. He is pictured here with a lawyer advising him.

In Moscow representing the PCF from 1924 to 1927, he transited politically from supporting Stalin to supporting Trotsky and Zinoviev and the Left Opposition. In 1928 he returned to live in Belleville. He was expelled from the Central Committee of the PCF and then from the PCF itself. For the next ten years Treint tried to build left opposition groups in France, before adopting the view of a tiny minority fringe of the communist left that saw the Soviet Union as a form of ‘state capitalism’ rather than as the Trotskyist sects did, as a ‘degenerated workers’ state’.

Treint rejoined the SFIO after the threat of a fascist coup d’etat in February 1934. As a virulent anti-Stalinist he opposed the Popular Front between the SFIO and PCF. Yet with the return of the 1936 Popular Front government headed by Léon Blum, he was reinstated in his teaching post by Jean Zay, the new Jewish minister of Education and Culture.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, the PCF was dissolved by the Daladier government on September 26 1939 for supporting the August 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact. 317 town councils controlled by the PCF were shut down. 2,800 councillors were declared illegal. 620 trade union branches were immediately closed by the now right-wing majority controlling what had been a reunited CGT since 1934.
On 18 November 1939 the government adopted a decree allowing internment of anyone considered dangerous to national defence or public safety. Treint aged 50, was fired again along with tens of thousands of other communists and those suspected of communist leanings.
Treint sought safety about 100 miles south of Paris, and probably (although this is uncertain) joined the resistance. After the war he played no part in political life, dying at the age of 82 in 1971.
Expelled from the giant French Communist Party; far too left-wing for the French Socialists (SFIO and PS); too troublesome for the Trotksyist sects; suspected of allowing three anarchists to be killed while they were trying to break up an early PCF meeting; married with one son born in 1914… it’s perhaps not surprising I can’t much about where this Parisian lived in Paris, except that in 1928, when he was expelled from the PCF he was living at 3, rue Carducci.
But it is a pity that so many socialists who spent their lives trying their best to change the world and achieve international workers’ unity are largely unremembered. So for them, this beautiful red poppy photographed by Ivor Penn in 1968 (and then photographed by me in another Paris museum).

Ivor Penn photographed this wilting red poppy in 1968. It is still beautiful today.

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