Le Pen, Julien (1878-1945)

Le Pen, Julien (1878-1945)

A short biography of Julien Le Pen, French anarcho-syndicalist

Julien Le Pen, the son of a quartermaster, was born on 21st June 1878 at Merand in Brittany. As a youth he became active in Les Jeunesses Syndicalistes( Syndicalist Youth). These dynamic groups, founded in 1902, were at their inception composed mainly of young anarchists with the aim of defending the interests of young workers - mostly organised within the syndicalist union central the CGT and campaigning around issues like anti-militarism.

In 1917 he became active in the Comité de Défense Sociale. This organisation carried out anti-militarist work within the unions, above all among the building workers and metal workers. He was then a member of the executive of the building workers’ union the Fédération du Bâtiment and a militant within its electricians’ section. He argued within the CGT against class collaboration and for direct action and anti-Statism. He resigned from the executive in January 1921 in protest at the campaign against the revolutionary minority and in May 1921 was one of the spokespeople for the minority at the building workers union. After the victory of the minority there, he was elected propaganda secretary. He was at the founding congress of the CGT-U ( United CGT) at St-Etienne when it broke with a CGT dominated by reformists.

With the split he returned to Brittany to organise building workers’ sections. After the murder of 4 workers during the strike at Le Havre on 27th August by State forces, he and Célestin Ferré, propaganda secretary of the metal workers union and a fellow anarchist, were arrested and imprisoned. They were released at the end of October.

Anarcho-syndicalists and revolutionary syndicalist were in the majority within the building workers sections of the CGTU. He helped organise an anti-militarist campaign by the building workers union for which he and other activists received 4 months in prison. At the CGTU conference in 1923 he put forward a motion for independence from political parties (meaning above all the Communist Party). With Boudoux ( see libcom bio) Courtinat, Jouteau, Parant and Mercenier, he helped found the Cercle Syndicaliste Fernand Pelloutier.

After the break with the Communists( see Shoot-out at Rue Grange-aux-Belles here at libcom) his political integrity in his refusal along with Albert Guigui to denounce the Communist killers to the police is commendable. His opponents were not so honourable. When Le Pen went to visit the Socialist Henri Sellier, director of the hygiene commission for Paris, in order to get his son Robert, who had contracted TB, into a sanatorium, the Communists denounced him as collaborating with the Socialists in the pages of L’Humanité.

As a result of these frictions the building workers union broke from the CGTU and became autonomous.

He advocated the return to the CGT opposing himself to Pierre Besnard and others who went on to found the anarcho-syndicalist CGT-SR. He advocated this return at the building workers’ congress in 1924. but his motion was narrowly defeated.

He now returned to the CGT, helping organise the revolutionary minority within its building workers’ sections. He denounced the « permanent collaboration » of the CGT with the bosses at the 1927 congress. Pierre Besnard made some acute criticisms of Le Pen’s positions. He saluted him as a fighter but warned him that work in the reformist CGT in an effort to return it to its revolutionary positions was a SIsyphean task, a task that would finally crush him.

With the return of the Communist-led CGTU to the CGT Le Pen made many sharp criticisms of Communist Party behaviour. He acidly remarked that in Paris you had to disguise yourself as a boxer to make sure you could hold your meetings, emphasising the violence of the Communists.
From 1923 Le Pen contributed to the anarchist paper Le Libertaire, to Le Voix Libertaire, paper of the Association des Fédéralistes Anarchistes from 1929-1939 as well as other anarchist and anti-militarist papers. Whilst he denounced the ruling class in the pages of these papers and within the union, nevertheless he was one of those who were responsible for negotiating with the self-same bosses, something which involved mediation and the giving of concessions.This process led to the political evolution of Le Pen in the 1930s.

During the Nazi Occupation Le Pen condemned the Vichy Charte du Travail (Charter of Labour) and condemned Dumoulin( see Benoit Broutchoux bio at libcom), Froideval and other revolutionary syndicalists who now supported Vichy. It would seem he was involved in a resistance network probably in conjunction with Guigui and other old libertarian syndicalists. With the Liberation, Le Pen was evicted from the secretariat of the electricians union although he remained active within the building workers’ sections. He was one of those who negotiated new collective agreements in the building industry. He died of a heart attack on 4th February 1945.

Le Pen’s evolution had involved his adaptation to the structures of the CGT. Whilst he maintained a libertarian and revolutionary language in newspaper articles and at meetings, his actual practice was profoundly reformist. As Besnard had warned, he had not conquered the CGT, the CGT had conquered him.

Nick Heath

Sources : Julien Le Pen ou le paradoxe du syndicalisme Libertaire at:
http://www.pelloutier.net/dossiers/dossiers.php?id_dossier=212 ( a fine analysis of the political trajectory of Le Pen ( in French)
Entry on Le Pen at http://www.militants-anarchistes.info/spip.php?article3300