political revue


Year XXVIII, 1986, Number 2-3, Page 119



1. Born in 1908 in Prades, the son of Catalan peasants, Jean Rous died on February 21st, 1985 in Perpignan, a few weeks before the thirtieth anniversary of the Bandoeng Conference in which he had taken part.
In his obituary, Senghor wrote: “All Africa is assembled here today to pay her last homage to Jean Rous, the socialist militant, but also the writer, that is to say the humanist of the civilisation of the universal”.
Béchir Ben Yahmed, the director of the French language weekly Jeune Afrique, had written a few years earlier in his preface to one of Rous’ books[1]Itinéraire d’un militant: “Too few people know that in France this man was the teacher and guide for all those who, today, occupy a position of responsibility in the Third World”.
It is important not to forget that during entire his life Rous never ceased to proclaim himself a federalist and affirm his faith in the advent of the world federation and a true international democracy. His extraordinarily rich and eventful life led him firstly towards militant responsibilities in the extreme socialist left, then to the IV International at the side of Leon Trotsky from 1934 to 1939, then to certain Resistance movements such as Libérer-Fédérer and, finally, after 1945, towards the attempts in France to “renew socialism” and freedom movements of colonized peoples.
2. In the middle of the 19th century, an organised trade union movement grew up in Barcelona (under the influence of different utopian socialist schools in the French tradition of Saint-Simon, Cabet and Fourier) at the same time as the Federal Republican Party which was very successful with the politicised working-class masses in Catalonia, the cradle of the Spanish industrial revolution.
In 1868, a few years after the creation of the International Workingmen’s Association in London by Karl Marx, the overthrow of Isabella II, Queen of Spain, opened up a period of freedom during which working class forces were able to emerge from their clandestine activity. In December 1868, the Dirección Central de las Sociedades Obreras de Barcelona held a congress in Barcelona and declared its support for a Republican and federal government. In his book Federalismo, anarcosindicalismo y catalanismo, Josep Termes wrote that “during these first post-revolutionary years (1868-1870), the Republican and federal ideology (substantially the creation of F. Pi i Margall) dominated in active working class circles, and that, among the proletarian classes, in Catalonia at least, it co-existed with anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism till the end of the Civil War in 1939”.[2]
In the autumn of 1869, the federal Republicans in Catalonia, the Valencia region and Aragon rose against the new monarchic constitution. The uprising’s failure marked the beginning of the split between federal Republicanism and the revolutionary working class movement. Besides, the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871 and the repression that followed resulted in a hardening of anti-socialist repression in Spain and led the Spanish section of the First International to lump Monarchists and Republicans together, so that the rift between federal Republicans and the majority of the International kept widening.
The Spanish political revolution, which began with the overthrow of Isabella II, culminated with the proclamation of the First Republic in 1873. It lasted less than a year, ending at the beginning of 1874 with a military coup d’état which proscribed federalism and internationalism.
Spanish federalism suffered a serious setback with the failure of the First Republic and the discredit that ensued: “the Republic’s domination by federalists in 1873 was followed by their modest representation in the constituent Cortes in 1931”.[3]
This brief historical survey brings out the role played by federalism in Spain, and in Catalonia in particular, in the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, i.e. in the years immediately preceding Rous’ birth. He himself stressed the impact that one of his uncles had on him: this uncle became a socialist deputy in 1932 and Rous was his parliamentary assistant until his adhesion to Trotskyism in 1934: “during my adolescence, he made me read Proudhon. He also taught me to be faithful to certain Catalonian values”.[4]
Attachment to his native Catalonia and reading of Proudhon are without doubt the sources of Rous’ federalism. Other values were to be added only later as a result of his militant activity. “My attachment to Catalonia is authentic. In Paris, from 1928 onwards, I was friend with the team of Colonel Macià. This Colonel Macià was tried for having organized a plot against the Spanish monarchy. He wanted to set up a Catalan Republic. Time has merely confirmed me in this direction: today, in 1983, it seems to me that all economic division is a step backwards. The important point is to safeguard unity within diversity, whether this is within a French context or within an Iberian federation. As for the fusion of the two Catalonias to form a state independent from both Spain and France, this would seem to me to be totally utopian for the moment.”[5]
Rous made it clear that his socialism, described by André Fontaine in Le Monde on January 25th, 1984 as humaniste, autogestionnaire et fédéraliste, originated with the French utopian socialists: “There are in old French socialism prophetic premonitions inspired by a deep instinct for freedom. Proudhon and Fourier gave early warning of the dangers of statism and bureaucracy. They foretold this kind of totalitarian barbarity which we have suffered and whose consequences we still suffer. They have shown us its necessary and indispensable counterweight: free associations.”[6]
Rous also wrote: “The great positive demand that dates from Proudhon is the demand for self-management: an old militant like myself took up this demand in Spain in 1936, in 1947 in the SFIO (Section française de l’Internationale ouvrière, i.e. the French Socialist Party) and in 1948 in the Yugoslavian experience”.[7]
Involved in the Trotskyist movement from an early age, Rous did not allow himself to be pinned down by an exclusive, narrow and sometimes reactionary cult for Proudhon, which has often paralyzed and harmed the federalist movement in France. He pointed out the limits of French utopian socialists when he wrote: “There can he no doubt that their system, in its utopian and reactionary form, is completely outdated”.[8]
3. Rous explains to us in his introduction to Itinéraire d’un militant that he adhered to Trotskyism as a reaction against fascism: “I joined the ‘Trotskyists’. They seemed to me, at least through the writings of Leon Trotsky, as the most radical supporters of the anti-fascist workers’ alliance”. A young supporter of Trotsky’s tendencies in the SFIO, he met Trotsky in February 1935 and it was in his home in Paris in 1936 that the International Communist League’s Bureau met to decide, in the absence of Trotsky, who was in exile in Norway, to create the “Movement for the IV International”.
Rous, who later wrote that “Marxism… is not a dogma or even a system, but a method of investigation”[9] found new ideas in Trotskyism with which to strengthen his federalist thinking. In agreement with what Trotsky wrote in his The Permanent Revolution, Rous felt that the socialist revolution “begins on the national borders, but cannot remain there”, that it “can only be maintained within the national framework as a temporary measure”. Rous himself wrote in 1971 that “socialism presupposes an area of development with at least a continental character which goes beyond national frontiers”.[10]
When Rous observed the USSR in the wake of the Second World War, he wrote that “Russia federates autonomous republics, but holds them on a leash both politically and economically”[11] and that, moreover, the “regime is the by-product of a proletarian revolution which failed as a result of a number of bureaucratic deviations, which were often the consequences of its suffocation in the framework of national confines”.[12]
At the end of the Resistance Rous remarked that “the state-run economy within national confines contains as many dangers of conflagration as monopolist capitalism itself… To a large extent, national autarky exacerbates the contradictions and gives rise to the permanent danger of war” and, hence, “all attempts to depart from the national framework must be considered by Marxists as progress towards federalism which widens the arena of social struggle and will, subsequently, facilitate the federation of the peoples on socialist lines”.[13]
Meanwhile, Trotsky had been assassinated and Rous tells us that his Trotskyism was transformed into a kind of “Titoism before its time” considering that, from this moment on, the entire socialist left struggling against Stalinist totalitarianism more or less consciously borrowed from Trotskyism.
4. During the occupation of France and the Resistance, Rous was successively a militant in two movements. The first was the Mouvement National de la Résistance (MNR), founded in Paris with other left-wing and extreme left-wing militants, which “offered an answer to the national problem, when we were mired, some in pacifism, some in ethereal internationalism. So as not to burn our bridges with internationalism, we felt that the most practical form was federalism: we needed to respect the independence of nations so that they could, in time, come together in larger bodies”.[14] Two years later he took part in Libérer-Fédérer, a movement founded in the Toulouse region thanks to the efforts of an Italian bookshop owner, an anti-Fascist refugee, Silvio Trentin, a former Italian member of Parliament for the Democrazia Sociale party from 1919-1922.
Rous, who had taken refuge in Lyon, collaborated with L’Insurgé in this period, following this group’s merger with Libérer-Fédérer in March 1944 to form the Mouvement révolutionnaire socialiste. He wrote different studies for the clandestine cahiers of Libérer-Fédérer, some of which were republished after the Liberation by the Rhone Federation of the French Socialist Party.
Rous later wrote in his book with Dominique Gauthiez: “The movement (Libérer-Fédérer) interested me immediately because it recalled certain ideas of the MNR: it was federalist and at the same time advocated self-management; it was anti-Nazi without being anti-German. It promoted the idea of a European federation and regional autonomy within France… Its theoretical contribution was far from negligible. We plunged into the major task of drawing up a doctrine using, among others, the personnalistes ideas of Emmanuel Mounier as our source of inspiration: I even joined Esprit that he ran in 1944”.[15] In 1945, like other members of Libérer-Fédérer he became a member of the SFIO and participated, either within or on the margins of the movement, in various attempts at “renovation of socialism”.
5. Also dating from this immediate postwar period is Rous’ “adherence” to Titoism which “arising from a national reflex… showed that internationalism could lead to a sort of federalism of national movements instead of a centralized headquarters favouring the expansionism of the strongest nation”.[16]
His adherence to Titoism was motivated, in addition to the principle of self-management, by his agreement with Yougoslav communists’ ideas who said that “two basic processes determine the social development of mankind today as a whole. We have, on the one hand, a process of centralisation, unification, fusion and interdependence, increasingly on a world scale, arising with the state and the expansion of production forces and from the need to widen, intensify and plan the international division of labour. We have, on the other hand, a process of reinforcement of the autonomy of individual entities (individuals, peoples), different social activities, and, hence, the need to decentralize them according to the degree of socialization and the process of work itself, and the need to promote socioeconomic relationships between men. Both these processes are merely two inseparable sides of the same general social process”. For this reason it is appropriate to envisage means of going beyond the nation “by means of the development of production forces and a higher level of human civilisation in agreement with these new production forces of mankind”. Consequently, “the principles of self-determination and the equality of rights of nations should not be merely transitory policies or purely democratic principles. They must be considered, on the contrary, as an indispensable subjective and objective condition, without which it is impossible to progress normally towards socialism and to bring the process of rapprochement and authentic integration of nations to a successful conclusion”.[17]
Finally, from the experience of war, Rous acquired a clear understanding of the failure of workers’ internationalism.[18] “A hundred years later, the International has not yet become mankind... Oppression, war and the threat of war, poverty have not been banished for ever from the surface of the earth… When we consider summarily the history of the different Internationals, we notice that they went to smithereens under the effect of crises caused by the national needs of the different countries”.[19]
6. When Rous, with Jean-Paul Sartre and Leopold Sédar Senghor among others, founded the Rassemblement démocratique révolutionnaire whose 1948 manifest placed their action “with all those who work towards the unity of Europe and the world”[20] and when he writes in La Pensée socialiste in 1947 “the true programme must be to found a new democracy (…) enabling producers and consumers to manage their own affairs, creating the French Union as a free association of peoples, or federating nations by continent so as to move towards the United States of the world” their inspiration may be qualified as federalist and as having a “world governmentalist” outlook.
With the end of the Second World War and the ensuing collapse of the European system of states, decolonisation was placed on the agenda and made inescapable. Rous dedicated the rest of his life to this issue. He was among the first to criticize the French policy in Indochina and acted principally as General Secretary of the Congress of Peoples against Imperialism between 1948 and 1955, then from 1960 to 1968 as counsellor to Senghor, the President of Senegal. In the sixties he became a member of the World Association of World Federalists and attended different meetings on UN reform. From 1948, the Congress of Peoples took up positions on the question of the Middle East and affirmed that the solution to the Israel-Arab. crisis could only be federal; Rous did not depart from this basic position and in agreement with Pierre Mendes-France 25 years later he was behing the first contacts between Palestinians and Israel doves.
Rous was convinced that postwar Europe “must break with colonialism, to serve both democracy and its own interests at the same time. Otherwise, it will lose all influence in Africa and Asia and will in its turn become a colony”.[21] This analysis led him to consider (as he subsequently stated later in Tiers-monde: réforme et révolution) that the Euro-African bloc corresponded to an unquestionable reality and that colonial ties can and must be turned into a form of association in which dependency and inequality are replaced unequivocally by co-operation based on equality. In 1951, in collaboration with Ronald Mackay, the socialist MP and former Federal Union general secretary before the Second World War, he was among those who proposed the Mackay Plan to the Council of Europe.[22] He explained it thus: “A proposition of federalist inspiration, designed to create a joint European-African commission where the delegates of both continents would be represented. The goal was to prepare the independence of African states, their federation, and to organize, subsequently, close co-operation between Europe and Africa”.[23] But Europeans showed no interest in this project which represented “in principle, the only possibility of co-operation beyond colonialism” and which had been accepted with hope “by the colonial peoples, in their main movements of North and Black Africa”.[24] Rous participated in the Afro-Asiatic Conference at Bandoeng in 1955, with representatives of 24 countries, which marked the birth of the Third World at the same time as it condemned European colonialism. He represented the Congress of Peoples against Imperialism, which had been founded a few years earlier with the approval of Gandhi, and was Senghor’s official observer, at that time a Secretary of State in the French Government.
Elected President of Senegal, Senghor was later on the only statesman to give him an official capacity, however modest, as an advisor. In this capacity, Rous spent 8 years in Africa and took part in the most important Third World conferences until his return to France during the May 1968 troubles.
In Senegal’s socialism he saw an essentially innovative experience and wrote in L’Unité Africaine, in April 1961, that this experience “participates in this worldwide renaissance of federalism, which we are experiencing both as regards domestic and international federalism”. A spectator at the first faltering steps for the African unity movement, he saw independence and unity as the two driving forces in the African revolution, independence being the reply to colonial oppression, and unity the answer to the arbitrary carve-up of the 1885 Berlin Congress.
In 1963 he took part in the Addis Abeba Conference where the Organisation of African Unity was set up, and subsequently in the 1964 meeting in Cairo. He fought hard to reconcile the positions of Senghor and Nkrumah, “the prophet of African Unity”. Pondering over these facts, he wrote later: “The stage where Africa was, only recently and partly decolonized, could not permit either total revolution or immediate unity. De facto those who wanted to do everything and at once sinned by their impatience, broke their necks and disappeared from the political scene”.[25] We now know that, the line advocated by Nkrumah not having been followed, Africa is, de facto, always tragically divided and subject to the imperialism of the superpowers.[26]
Rous, who stressed the complementary nature of and need for Euro-African solidarity, equally supported the exemplary nature of the process of European unification. He was pleased with the Yaoundé and Lomé conventions in which he saw limited but concrete progress in the “constant movement of Africa for its economic freedom” and that Europe with its imperfections, hazards and vicissitudes has opened “the march towards regional unions”. Certain regional unions were inspired, he wrote, “by European organization, juridically at least. In this parallel development, the Africa-Europe dialogue has revealed a new type of regional cooperation of which the Lomé agreements, despite their imperfections, are an example. Thus, by means of regional unions, a new network of relationships has grown up between peoples, which represents a step on the road to unity and is a counterweight to superpowers”.[27]
7. It may seem a little strange that Rous wrote so very little stricto sensu on European questions and took such little part in specific struggles for European federation when we consider that, during the Resistance and the struggles for decolonisation, he never tired of referring to the values of federalism, defined variously as “union in diversity”, “independence within interdependence” or “organised pluralism”. Nor did he tire from stressing the necessarily federal nature of the solutions for the future, whether it was a question of the reconstruction of Europe, the establishment of the French Union, peace in the Middle East or the necessary reforms of the UN Charter. In 1947 he participated, however, at the creation of the Committee for the United Socialist States of Europe[28] with other socialists (who came principally from the left wing of the SFIO and the British Independent Labour Party).
Even though Rous fully accepted that “within the national framework which is historically outmoded, it is not possible to bring about a true change, that the outmoded structure of the nation-state inevitably leads to outmoded forms and formulae in all fields, and that therefore all revolutionary effort used in this field is necessarily and a priori destined to failure”[29], he nevertheless considers that “the idea of the necessary end to national antagonism is not an original idea or one that belongs to socialism” and that “the entire question is thus to know whether the unity of the world will be accomplished so as to consolidate capitalism or to achieve a socialist order”.
In those days he considered that “European federation such as Churchill wanted it could easily be the western bloc with a reactionary orientation. Socialism thus should not have any responsibility in these initiatives… It is indispensable not to create confusion in objectives, in programmes, in flags and classes, by joining the same federalist movement, made up of bourgeois and reactionary groups, in a cartel…. In conclusion, the Socialist Party must lead the campaign for European unity, but would not do so in any union with capitalist groupings”.[30]
Despite his friendly and militant ties with some of the former Federal Union leaders he does not seem to have had any knowledge of the teaching of British federalists between the two wars. Equally he does not seem to be aware in the 1950s of one of the basic tenets of the Ventotene Manifesto written in 1941 by Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi. “The line of demarcation between the progressive parties and reactionary parties thus no longer follows the formal line of greater or lesser democracy or socialism; it is the essential line, the most recent one, which separates those who consider the former goal, the conquest of national political power, as the political goal who will involuntarily help reactionary forces by letting the incandescent lava of popular passions solidify in the old mould and letting old absurdities reappear, and those who consider the creation of an international stable state as an essential task and who will thus direct the popular forces towards this objective and who, after having conquered national power, will use it primarily as an instrument to achieve international unity”.[31]
Rous’ limited specific involvement in Europe was not, however, due to indifference. His European faith did not change from the days of the Resistance. He was Jean Monnet’s personal guest at the ceremonies marking the creation of the ECSC in Luxemburg and later expressed his regret in Un homme de l’ombre at the failure of the EDC. In the same work, comparing it with Africa, which had just achieved its independence and which had just begun the march towards continental unity, he expressed regret that Europe, 25 years after the creation of the Common Market, had been as yet unable to equip itself with any valid political institutions, that it was dominated by big international companies and that the European Assembly was, in his eyes, only a forum.
It is once again clear that a certain faith in the spontaneity prevented Rous from seizing another fundamental point which would probably have led him to become more deeply and actively involved in European federation. Indeed, even though federalism can only be fully achieved at the world level, its construction can only be brought about as this review recently pointed out “through a process, which must begin in a precise place, where it must create a model with the capacity to spread through the rest of the world, just like another model, the national state, which originated in Europe, did”.[32]
Nevertheless, in the last months of his life, Rous once again responded to the call of history when the second historical chance (after the battle for the EDC) arose to found the European federation, namely the European Parliament’s Draft Treaty establishing the European Union. It was then, two years after contacts by means of correspondence, that we met him and discovered in him a friend so close to our ideas but utterly ignored by French federalists. He immediately agreed to sign the appeal for the European Union published a few days before in Le Monde. Though he had not had any strong contacts with organized federalism in France for many years, he wrote spontaneously in L’Indépendant de Perpignan, the leading North Catalonia newspaper, that “if this project was to be ratified by national parliaments, it could be said that Europe, in the extension of the Treaty of Rome, has taken a giant step forward in the declaration of its existence as an entity which is independent from the great power blocks”.
Jean-Francis Billion, Jean-Luc Prevel

[1] Jean Rous published various works, notably, those which interest us, biographies of his friend Léopold S. Senghor (Léopold Sédar Senghor, un President de l’Afrique nouvelle, John Didier, Paris, 1967) and biographies written of people he considered, in addition to Jaurès, his spiritual fathers, Trotsky and Tito (both published by Martinsart, in the collection “Les grands révolutionnaires”, Paris, 1978). In addition, he wrote many articles and studies in many reviews, throughout his militant life which lasted for more than 6 decades. Some of these have been republished in three volumes: Chronique de la décolonisation (Présence africaine, Paris, 1965), Itinéraire d’un militant (Jeune Afrique, Paris, 1960) and Tiers-monde: réforme et révolution (Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines, Présence africaine, Dakar/Paris, 1978). Finally, he published, at the end of his life, in collaboration with Dominique Gauthiez, Jean Rous, un homme de l’ombre (Cana, Paris, 1984). At the moment of his death, he was completing a work on federalism and the Catalan revival; the manuscript has been sent to the Union régionale catalane. This manuscript would have been important for a greater understanding of the man and his perception of federalism.
[2] Ed. Anagrama, Barcelona, 1976, p. 10.
[3] See: Gumersindo Trujillo, El federalismo español, Cuadernos para el diálogo, Madrid, 1967, p. 210.
[4] J. Rous, D. Gauthiez, Un homme de l’ombre, op. cit., p. 14.
[5] Ibid., p. 19.
[6] J. Rous, «Le socialisme et les nouvelles perspectives », Esprit, n. 9, August 1945.
[7] J. Rous, D. Gauthiez, Op. cit., p. 292.
[8] J. Rous, «Le socialisme et les nouvelles perspectives », Esprit, n. 9, August 1945.
[9] J. Rous, ibid.
[10] J. Rous, Tiers-Monde: réforme et révolution, op. cit., p. 97.
[11] J. Rous, «Peuples dépendants et puissances coloniales devant l’ONU», Esprit, n. 4, April 1950.
[12] J. Rous, observations on a study seminar held by the French Socialist Party in July 1947, La Pensée socialiste, n. 16, July-August 1947.
[13] J. Rous, «Le socialisme devant le capitalisme d’Etat, nouvelle étape du capitalisme », La Pensée socialiste, n. 16, July-August 1947.
[14] J. Rous, D. Gauthiez, Un homme de l’ombre, op. cit., p. 80.
[15] Ibid., p. 82 et 83.
[16] J. Rous, Itinéraire d’un militant, op. cit., p.265.
[17] Edouard Kardelj, «La nation et les relations internationales», in Questions actuelles du socialisme, quoted in J. Rous, Tito, op. cit., p. 405.
[18] For a federalist analysis and criticism of the myths of internationalism (and Marxist internationalism in particular) see: Lucio Levi, «Marx ed Engels e l’internazionalismo», Chap. 2, in Crisi dello Stato nazionale, internazionalizzazione del processo produttivo e internazionalismo operaio, Stampatori, Turin, 1976.
[19] J. Rous, «Réflexions sur le centenaire de l’internationale ouvrière», L’Unité africaine, n. 121, October 1964.
[20] «1948 — Manifesto of the Rassemblement démocratique révolutionnaire», in J. Rous, Itinéraire d’un militant, op. cit., p. 143 to 145.
[21] J. Rous, «Peuples dépendants et puissances coloniales devant l’ONU», Esprit, n. 4, April 1950.
[22] On the role of Ronald Mackay in Federal Union see the article by Charles Kimber, «The Birth of Federal Union», in The Federalist, XXVI (1984), p. 206 to 213.
[23] J. Rous, Senghor, op. cit., p. 28.
[24] J. Rous, «Suggestions pour un redressement de la politique coloniale de la France», La Nef, n. 75-76, April-May 1951. Also of interest is Jean Rous, «The Sophistry of Colonialism», in Common Cause, vol. IV, n. 3, October 1950, p. 154 to 161 (published by the Committee to Frame a World Constitution, the so-called Committee of Chicago) in the conclusion of which he makes explicit the reasons which brought the Congress of Peoples against Imperialism to work jointly with the World Association of World Federalists. In the same issue is the text of the Mackay Plan (p. 162 to 166).
[25] J. Rous, Tiers Monde: réforme et révolution, op. cit., p. 52.
[26] For a federal analysis of decolonisation, see the book by Guido Montani, Il Terzo mondo e l’Unità europea, Guida, Naples, 1979. Also see his anthology of federal texts by African leaders Senghor, Nkrumah and Nyerere, while noting that Rous seems to have overlooked the latter, who had, on the other hand, seen the planetary dimensions in federalism beyond the mere resolution of problems of the African continent, and perhaps even more so than Senghor, whose ties with world federalists were anyway never disowned.
[27] J. Rous, Tiers monde: réforme et révolution, op. cit., p. 55.
[28] On the creation of the USSE and the ties of the Socialist Movement for the United States of Europe with the Congress of Peoples against Imperialism on the one hand, and the UEF and the other federalist organisations, on the other hand, see the note published by R. Garros, in Esprit, n. 150, November 1948, p. 635 to 638.
[29] Henri Brugmans, President of the UEF, in Esprit, n. 150, p. 625.
[30] J. Rous, «Socialisme et fédération européenne», in La Pensée socialiste, n. 19, 1948.
[31] Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, «Il Manifesto di Ventotene», latest republication in Altiero Spinelli, Il progetto europeo, Biblioteca federalista, Il Mulino, Bologna, 1985, p. 30.
[32] «A decisive battle»,The Federalist, XXVI (1984), p. 177.




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