From New International, Vol.3 No.3, June 1936, Inside back cover.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
[Writing in the London New Leader of May 8, 1936, Miss Jennie Lee gives her impressions of a visit to Paris during the recent national election.]
... By security, the great middle and lower middle class following of the People’s Front thought in terms of their savings being unmolested and the value of the franc maintained. The security they voted for was protection against France’s financial dictators and a government that could be trusted to have no truck with Herr Hitler.
Their point of view was put to me very vividly by a group of Parisian business men who had gathered in front of the Café de la Paix on Sunday evening, April 26, to hear the first of the election results. This meeting place is in the heart of the West End of Paris. The crowds look better dressed than any others I had seen in the city. They were evenly divided in their sympathies between the Right National Front and the Left People’s Front. I watched, when a communist was announced as heading the poll in one district, how a group of well-to-do people gave every evidence of approval and called for champagne cocktails to toast the victory.
Later we got to talking. I congratulated them on their conversion to a revolutionary point of view. At that a lively discussion broke out. I had quite misunderstood the French political situation, they assured me. It was not they who had changed their minds. They were good Radicals, and hoped they always would be. But, on the other hand, the communist party had seen the error of its ways, and now has changed so drastically that it was possible for them to vote communist and still be good “Frenchmen”. Good Frenchmen they defined as meaning support for law and order, national defense, the family and the franc.
One of them went a stage further. We are business men he said. We are opposed to Fascism. So are the socialists and communists. These people realize that they cannot fight Fascism without our help. We are willing to make a deal with them. If they keep their hands off our property we shall see that Hitler keeps his hands off France. That is, in practise, you will find what the People’s Front will amount to.
Rightly or wrongly, this view of the policy and intentions of the People’s Front is widely shared by every class in France. Some effort was made to raise a scare against the Left. But the scare fell flat. People simply did not believe that the People’s Front had any revolutionary intentions. They expected it to carry on pretty much as its predecessors did with some modest efforts at social reform, some control of the Bank of France, active protection of all democratic rights, and a strong arms policy in relation to German aggression.
There is little doubt that the new government will begin cautiously. But there are slums and unemployed workers and bitter, galling poverty crying to heaven for redress in France, as in every other part of the capitalist world.
No government that fails to tackle these problems energetically can hope to retain the confidence of the French masses.
The testing time for both socialists and communists is still to come. When the People’s Front government of Radicals and Right wing socialists fails, as it must fail, the next move must be a great lurch forwards towards workers– power or a deadly swing backwards towards Fascist dictatorship.
Can the socialists and communists maintain a strong alliance and be ready to offer a convincing revolutionary lead when the opportunity is given them?
Or will any such opportunity be swept aside by the war tension between France and Germany reaching a breaking point sooner than the class antagonisms within France? If that happens, I prophesy that France, deeply peace-loving as it is, will shoulder arms to a man, and that communist, socialist, French Fascist and conservative, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, will one and all march off to the stirring music of the Marseillaise to the bloodiest war and biggest gamble in history.
Last updated on 2.8.2006