David Barta (Korner)

1904-1976 • Romania


Korner joined the Romanian Communist Party as a teenager, but was converted to Trotskyism as a student in Paris in 1933 and 1934. He returned to Paris in 1936 and was active in the French Trotskyist organisation, the Internationalist Workers’ Party (Parti ouvrier internationaliste).

In October 1939, at the outbreak of war, when the French far left was in disarray, he split to form his own group, the Groupe communiste, later the Union communiste (UC). He considered the rest of the French Trotskyists had become a “a petty bourgeois milieu whose organisational practices were social democratic and not communist”. Barta argued for ‘revolutionary defeatism’

From October 1942 with fewer than a dozen supporters in his renamed organisation the UC, he produced an illegal duplicated publication called Lutte de Classes (Class struggle). It was highly critical of the other Trotskyist currents’  alleged concessions to nationalism. His group gave gave priority to factory organisation. The UC did not therefore participate in the reunification of the other three Trotskyist organisations towards the end of the war.

After the end of the war the group’s membership was tiny, but it had a little support at the giant Renault-Billancourt factory on the Seguin island in the Seine to the West of Paris., where it regularly distributed Lutte de Classes leaflets.

One member inside the Renault factory that was nationalised on January 19 1945 because of Louis Renault’s collaboration with the Germans was the activist Pierre Bois [1922-2002]. For nearly three years after the war the French Communist Party had ministers in the government, and took a position of opposing all strikes. In April 1947 Bois was in the leadership of a strike, initially against the policy of the main union, the CGT.

Korner wrote a leaflet calling for a general strike. As support for the strike spread through Renault, the Communist Party were obliged to switch to support for the action, which led to their exclusion from the government (some months before the onset of the Cold War that would have certainly forced them quit their posts in any case).

The 1947 strike led to the formation of the Syndicat Démocratique Renault (SDR – Renault Democratic Union). But this created difficulties for the small organisation; as Barta put it later “In an extremely complicated political situation the disproportion was far too great between our tasks and the inexperience of our young activists”.  In 1950 Barta’s UC collapsed.

Some of the members, however, including Bois and Robert Barcia stayed in contact and came together in 1956 to launch what was to become Voix ouvrière. Although this organisation and later Lutte  ouvrière claimed Barta’s heritage, he did not return to activity, though he had some contacts with the new organisation.

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Daniel Bensaïd

1946 – 2010 • France

Trotskyist • Internationalist

Bensaïd’s Jewish father’s two brothers were killed during the German  Occupation. In his autobiography he reproduced the official document certifying his mother’s “non-membership of the Jewish race”. Without it, he noted, he would never have been born. He joined the Communist Party at the age of sixteen. But he soon became a dissident.

In 1966 with Alain Krivine [b. 1941] he helped found the Trotskyist Jeunesse communiste révolutionnaire (JCR – Revolutionary Communist Youth).

During the 1968 general strike he became prominent as a speaker and activist in the student movement. When the JCR was banned in 1968 he helped to found what became the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR – Revolutionary Communist League).

Bensaïd became part of the leadership of the new organisation, which grew rapidly in the aftermath of 1968. Krivine ran for the presidency twice, in 1969 and 1974, and the organisation launched a weekly paper, Rouge (red), which between 1976 and 1979 became a daily (Bensaïd was heavily involved in this).

He also took responsibility, as part of the Ligue Communiste‘s leadership, for the military-style attack on an anti-immigrant meeting of the far right Ordre Nouveau at the Mutualité in Rue Saint Victor on June 21 1973. The attack was a serious error of judgement that led to the Ligue communiste and Ordre Nouveau both being banned a week later.. 

Bensaïd also became a leading figure in the Fourth International, and took particular responsibilities for Latin America. He was a university lecturer in philosophy, and wrote copiously; he was the author of around forty books, on topics ranging from the history of Trotskyism to Joan of Arc.

He survived AIDS for some sixteen years before dying of cancer as a result of the drugs he had been obliged to take.

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Pierre Frank

1905-1984 • France

Communist • Trotskyist • 4th International

Member of the Fourth International secretariat from 1948 to 1979.

Of Russian parentage, Frank trained as a chemical engineer. He joined the Communist Party in 1925, but by 1927 supported the Russian Left Oppositio. Early in 1929 hetravelled to Prinkipo, the Turkish island where Trotsky lived after first being exiled by Stalin.

Returning to France a Trotskyist in August 1929 Frank and others launched La Vérité (the Truth), France’s first Trotskyist publication and was accordingly expelled from the Communist Party. From July 1932 until June 1933 he worked for Trotsky as one of his secretaries on Prinkipo.

On Trotsky’s suggestion Frank and other Trotskyists joined the SFIO in June 1935 – only to be expelled in October. In the later thirties Frank had tactical divergences with Trotsky. After an arrest warrant was issued for him in June 1939 he escaped to Belgium and then spent the Second World War in Britain, where he was interned on the Isle of Man until November 1943..

He returned to Paris in 1946 and became part of the leadership of the Trotskyist Parti Communiste Internationaliste. He sided with Pablo [1911-1996] at the time of the split in 1952 and supported the strategy of entry work in the Communist Party.

The PCI was one of the first French organisations to engage in solidarity work in support of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). Frank was briefly jailed for his activity. Although the organisation was very small it contained some courageous activists who “carried suitcases” for the FLN, including Henri Benoits [b 1926] and Clara Benoîts [1930] who organised solidarity with Algerian workers at Renault-Billancourt, Denis Berger [1932-2013] who organised jailbreaks, and Alain Krivine [b. 1941] who turned to the Trotskyists in the 1960s out of disillusion with the Communist Party.

Frank continued to play a leading role in the organisation, which grew rapidly after 1968, becoming the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, until his retirement in the late 1970s. He wrote several books, including a history of the Communist International.

Pierre Frank died in the Pitié-Salpêtrière University Hospital, one of Europe’s largest publicly-owned, a former prison in the Boulevard de l’Hôpital. Others who died there included Josephine Baker in 1975, Michel Foucault in 1984, the same year as Frank, and Princess Diana in 1997.

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Pierre Lambert / Boussel

1920 – 2008 • France

Communist • Trotskyist • Parti des travailleurs

One of the few leaders of the fragmented French Trotskyist left to actually put themselves up for an electoral test, in 1988 Lambert stood in the Presidential elections for a ‘Movement for a Labour Party’ and did miserably (116,823 votes).

In 1992 he founded the Parti des Travailleurs (Labour/Workers’ Party) that dissolved itself into the Parti ouvrier indépendant (Independent workers’ party) in 2008.

Arguably, one of his main legacies was the fact that a former member, Lionel Jospin, was prime minister in a cohabitation government with the corrupt President Jacques Chirac from 1997 to 2002, and that several leading trade unionists from the anti-Communist Force ouvrière trade union confederation acknowledged his influence.

Of Russian Jewish parentage Pierre Boussel joined the Communist Youth at the age of fourteen and became a Trotskyist soon afterwards when he failed to understand how the PCF could abandon its anti-militarist positions after the Soviet Union signed the Franco-Soviet treaty of mutual assistance in May 1935.

Some of the tiny numbers of Trotskyists and their sympathisers like Lambert decided to join Maurice Pivert‘s ‘Revolutionary Left’ tendency from 1935 and then the PSOP, the breakaway Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan (Socialist workers and peasants party). This was set up in 1938 and had around 8-10,000 members.

It was here that Lambert met Pierre Frank and Raymond Molinier (whose membership the PSOP refused). In December 1938 he joined their tiny group first established in March 1936, the Parti communiste internationaliste.

The PSOP, however, decided quickly to expel those like Lambert who attended a meeting of ‘friends’ of the ‘Truth’ newspaper on May 30 1939. This had taken place at the Auger restaurant in the Brasserie du Commerce at No. 48, Rue des Archives, and the expulsions by the PSOP took place a few days later, on June 3 1939.

During the German Occupation Lambert worked clandestinely with the otherTrotskyists in the small circle. On February 15 1940 he was arrested and convicted of threatening the security of the state with a three-year jail sentence. He was being transferred during the collapse of the French army in May 1940 and was able to escape and reestablish clandestine contacts in Paris.

While working to rebuild the CGT under the Occupation, as early as October 1943 he argued for the unification of the divided French Trotskyist groups.

After the war Lambert became part of the leadership of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI producing the journal ‘Truth’ (La Vérité ) from 46, Rue de l’Arbre Sec.

In 1952 the PCI split. Lambert led the faction that opposed Pablo‘s strategy of entry into the Communist Party and insisted on maintaining an open revolutionary organisation.

Within the Fourth International  Lambert was aligned with James P Cannon in the USA and Gerry Healy in Britain, though he later broke with both. Over the years his organisation had several names, but the group was generally known by his name as the “Lambertistes”.

During the Algerian war the Lambertistes supported the Mouvement National Algérien of Messali Hadj, the bitter rivals of the FLN, who fought a savage war with their fellow nationalists, leaving some four thousand dead on French soil.

On 16 January 1955 Lambert and Piveau organised a meeting demanding the release of Hadj at No. 8 Rue Danton, in the meeting room of the ‘Knowledge Societies’ (Hôtel des sociétés savantes). This led to very bitter relations with the other French Trotskyists, who supported the FLN.

In 1968 it was a member of the Lambertist organisation, Yvon Rocton [1938-2008], who led the very first strike and occupation at Sud-Aviation in Nantes. That sparked off the wave of workplace occupations eventually involving ten million workers.

In 1988 Lambert stood in the presidential election, but obtained only 0.38% of the vote.

Lambert’s insistence on the importance of the history of the movement perhaps explains why a number of France’s most important left-wing historians have been members of his organisation – Pierre Broué [1926-2005], a specialist in the history of communism, Jean-Jacques Marie [b 1937], a biographer of Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky, Benjamin Stora [b. 1950], expert on the Algerian war, and Jean Marc Schiappa [b. 1956], an authority on Babeuf and Buonarroti.

Some 2,000 people attended Boussel’s funeral at the Père Lachaise cemetery, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon  and the three FO-CGT trade union general secretaries who followed Leon Jouhaux from 1963 to 2018, André Bergeron, Marc Blondel and Jean-Claude Mailly.

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Michel Pablo (Raptis)

1911 – 1996 • Egypt

Communism • Trotskyism • Fourth International

Pablo grew up in Greece, where he became a Trotskyist as a student in Athens, but was first jailed and then expelled in 1937 by the Metaxas dictatorship.  He came to Paris in 1938 and attended the founding conference of the Fourth International in Alfred Rosmer‘s house in Périgny in the Paris suburbs. During the German Occupation he was involved with attempts to organise among German soldiers with the publication Arbeiter und Soldat (Worker and Soldier) – this was extremely dangerous work and several of those involved were killed by the Germans.

One of those killed was Martin Monath (1912-1944) , a German Jew who had left Germany in 1938 for Belgium, where he worked with Ernest Mandel. In 1943 he was sent to Paris and once or twice a week he travelled to Brest to make contact with a small group of German soldiers. He was arrested, shot and left for dead in the Bois de Vincennes, but survived to be taken to hospital where the Gestapo captured him again and hanged him.

Another one of those undertaking this dangerous work, was Jean-René Chauvin (1918-2011). Arrested in Paris on February 15 1943, the French police passed him on to the Gestapo. Deported he survived Mauthausen, Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Throughout his life he kept his concentration camp number tattooed on his forearm. [Later he was a member of the Voix communiste, which gave active support to the Algerian FLN and then of the PSU and Ligue Communiste revoutionnaire].

Pablo played a key role in uniting three factions of French Trotskyists into the Parti communiste internationaliste (PCI).

In 1946 he was elected General Secretary of the Fourth International, based in Paris, where the PCI journal, ‘Workers’ Truth’ (La Vérité des travailleurs) was based at 64 Rue de Richelieu.  By the early 1950s he began to develop a distinctive political perspective. Believing that a Third World War was imminent, he argued that in this war the class struggle would acquire the new form of a conflict between blocs of states.  He therefore argued that Trotskyists must enter the mass working‑class parties in order to intervene in the new situation.

But entering the French Communist Party, with its tight organisation and a phobia of Trotskyists, was not easy – only seven Trotskyists succeeded. One of those who did, from 1953, was Denis Berger (1932-2013). He was later the founder in 1958 of the review called ‘The Communist Path’ (La Voie communiste) and also organiser of the escape on February 25 1961 from the Roquette prison of five women members of the Jeanson Network from ten year prison sentences for supporting the FLN.

But Pablo’s strategy led to an acrimonious split in the PCI, with two organisations emerging, one led by Pierre Frank [1905-1984] and one by Pierre Lambert [1920-2008]. 

There was also an international split in the Fourth International, with James P Cannon in the USA and Gerry Healy in Britain denouncing Pablo for abandoning the building of revolutionary organisation. The word “Pabloism” became a term of abuse for some political currents.

But Pablo was also very much aware of the significance of revolutionary movements in the so-called “Third World”. He was one of the first to make contact with the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) and began to organise solidarity action (the so-called “suitcase carriers” who assisted the FLN with publications and transferring funds.

One of the ‘bag carriers’ was Jakob Moneta (1914-2012), who was a Trotskyist employed as the trade union representative at the West German embassy at 28 Rue Marbeau. He used his ‘diplomatic bag’ to transport documents for the FLN.

Pablo was personally involved with two more ambitious ventures – setting up an arms factory in Morocco where Trotskyist engineering workers from France and elsewhere worked, and a project for forging currency; for the latter he was arrested and jailed in the Netherlands in 1960.

After Algerian independence in 1962 Pablo became an adviser to Ben Bella until his being overthrown in 1965.

Subsequently he only visited Paris briefly. He was marginalised from the Fourth International which he left in order to build his own tendency; he travelled widely before returning to his native Greece, where he advised Andreas Papandreou.

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