Jean Longuet July 1902

The Socialist Party of France after the Elections

Source: Jean Longuet, “The Socialist Party of France after the Elections,” International Socialist Journal (United States) July 1902, Vol. III no.1, pp.15-24;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford

Regarding the general elections which took place in France on April 27 and May 11 of this year, our American comrades have certainly had thus far only incomplete and contradictory reports. Especially everything that has to do with the situation of our party has been transmitted to them through bourgeois agencies, very skilful in concealing our successes when we were victorious and still more so in magnifying our defeats when we were beaten.

In places where Socialism is still in its first stage of propaganda, where it appears new-born, and shows as yet no great expansive force, it may enter into electoral contests without taking more than slight account of the general political situation. But where, as in France, the Socialist party has become an important factor in the national life, it is obliged to take account of the immediate results of its acts and its tactics, to take political contingencies into consideration and to act accordingly.

In Europe, where there are still vestiges of the regimes of absolute monarchy, feudalism and clerical reaction, the Socialist party is obliged to distinguish between the enemies of the working class and to support the “advanced” sections of the bourgeoisie against the reactionary sections. Not even the most uncompromising of our comrades, whose conception has reached the greatest doctrinal rigidity, — not even these escape this common law, whether it be our Socialist brothers of Germany, allied with the progressives against the agrarians, our Belgian comrades united with the liberals against the clericals, our friends of Italy allied with the radicals, the progressives and the republicans against the reactionaries, or, again, our friends Hyndman, Quelch and Keir Hardie in England, struggling against the tories by the side of radicals like Morley and the Irish Nationalist party, — everywhere it is the same phenomena that we recognize.

And by the way, Marx and Engels said as long ago as 1867 that the Socialist proletariat should always support the liberal section of the bourgeoisie “as often as it acted in a revolutionary fashion against absolute monarchy, bourgeois landed property and the petty bourgeoisie.”

But we must needs be clear-headed when we speak of union with the bourgeois parties, and not confuse the two ideas of momentary and provisional coalition with the advanced parties of the bourgeoisie and on the other hand of a permanent understanding, a normal alliance, not actuated by anything exceptional and which might even end, as in the case with our ministerialists in France, in the conception of a permanent participation by the Socialists in the central power of the bourgeoisie.

Between these two conceptions there is a deep gulf. The former permits Socialism to maintain its integrity as a party clearly distinct from all bourgeois parties; it permits it to pursue its own work of awakening in the laborers a clear-cut sense of the fundamental antagonism which exists between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It has led the Socialist parties of Germany, Belgium, Austria and Italy from victory to victory. The second conception, on the contrary, ends in setting up the idea of collaboration of classes as opposed to the class struggle, while for the clear and definite concept of the organization of the proletariat it substitutes the worst sort of confusion.

France was precipitated into the last electoral contest while in the gravest sort of a political situation. The great landed proprietors, the larger portion of the industrial capitalists, the feudal and clerical elements more or less opposed to the republican regime and desirous of re-establishing the monarchy, — all these had formed themselves into a formidable coalition to get control of the government and to use it at once against the bourgeois republican parties and against organized labor. It was under the mask of patriotism, working artfully on national sentiment, that the party calling itself “Nationalist” was thus established. It comprised the old Orleanist, Bonapartist and clerical Ultramontane parties, and also certain chauvinistic elements of the small bourgeoisie, like those called Jingoes in England, who declared with great vehemence that “'republicans’ and ‘democrats’ are only other names for Socialists.” These elements had formed a powerful organization, the Ligue de la Patrie Française (French Patriotic League), which at Paris controlled several large and widely circulated newspapers. A league called “Les Dames Francaises” (French Ladies), formed by the elegant women of the aristocracy and the upper bourgeoisie, set itself about raising enormous sums of money for the expenses of the electoral campaign, and the money expended by the Ligue de la Patrie Française is estimated at more than $5,000,000.

As for the Socialist party, its situation at the opening of the battle was bad enough. On the one side, the “ministerialist” Socialists had exaggerated their concern for defending public liberty up to the point of tolerating the worst compromises and often to the point of confounding themselves with the bourgeois “democratic” parties and totally forgetting the duty that as intelligent Socialists they owe to their class. On the other hand, by a natural but deplorable reaction the “Guesdist” and “Blanquist” Socialists, who have formed another organization under the name of “Revolutionary Socialist Union,” have often exhibited an “impossibilism” quite analogous to that of your Deleonites.

It is true that in fact these comrades of the “Unité Socialiste Revolutionnaire,” who had most bitterly declared their disdain for “republican defense,” have, in presence of the facts, and once having entered on the electoral struggle, seen the need of acting more wisely. Apart from a few exceptional cases their attitude has been that of good and loyal Socialists, equally removed from compromises with the bourgeois parties and from clumsy acts of assistance to the parties of pure reaction.

The ministerialist Socialists thereupon greeted the Socialists of the “Unité Socialiste Revolutionnaire” with raillery and sarcasm, and instead of congratulating them on the correction of their absurd exaggerations (like those of your “Deleonites”), they declared triumphantly that the “Guesdists” and “Blanquists,” once entered on the electoral contest, and in order to hold or gain seats in Parliament, had abandoned all their former tactics. As I wrote in Comrade Enrico Ferri’s handsome new review, Il Socialismo, for May 25, this was an act of bad faith on the part of the ministerialist Socialists.

The French electoral law, like that of the principal countries of Europe, England excepted, provides for two ballots. At the first there are three, four or even five candidates to be voted for. At the second there remain but two, the two who have received the highest number of votes. Sometimes these two candidates at the second ballot are, for example, a reactionary nationalist and a democratic bourgeois republican, and then the Socialist voters who at the first poll registered their votes for one of their own number, do not hesitate to vote at the second ballot for the bourgeois republican against the reactionary.

On the contrary, in another district, there remain at the second ballot only the Socialist and the reactionary. Our friends are then justified in appealing for the votes of those who at the first ballot voted for the bourgeois radical, who happens to be only third in number of votes and consequently disappears at the second ballot. That is what all the Socialists do and what was done for example by our comrade Delory, Mayor of Lille, candidate of the “Unité Socialiste Revolutionnaire,” and in reproaching him for it the ministerialist Socialists are, I repeat, acting in bad faith. The anti-ministerialists had never seriously reproached the others for these coalitions on the second ballot. What they had criticised is the theory of permanent participation on the part of the Socialists in the central power of the bourgeoisie, that is to say, ministerialism. Consequently the ministerialists have no right to say that the candidates of the “Unité Socialiste Revolutionnaire” have done what they reproached the members of the “Parti Socialiste Francais,” or ministerialists, for doing.

The elections of April 27 and May 11 of the year have resulted in a most complete check for the reactionary nationalists, and in spite of the enormous sums of money expended by them, in spite of the formidable effort that they made, the republican parties are completely victorious. The Socialists can only rejoice at this, for a victory of the reactionaries of the Patrie Française would have put back the progress of Socialism in France by at least ten years. It would have been impossible for our comrades for a long time to follow up the organization of the laborers as a class party; all their energy would have been called out by the work of defending political liberty represented in the bourgeois democracy.

This bitter struggle between republican and nationalist so complicated the task of our party that it was often difficult to proclaim clearly the ideas that are distinctively Socialist, or to bring the voting masses to consider them, under circumstances where the economic question was reduced to the second place

Nevertheless our party has little to complain of in the issue of the struggle; if it has not made such considerable progress as it should have made, it has none the less increased its strength, and in certain regions its progress has been surprising.

The “ministerialist” tactics, the presence of an old member of the Socialist parliamentary group in the democratic but capitalist government of M. Waldeck-Rousseau, must according to the partisans of these tactics have brought over to our ideas innumerable masses of timid and artless voters. Socialism, which till then had passed for a doctrine of “savages,” of people without hearth or home, now becoming governmental, “decent” and “polite,” would convert to itself all those whom its revolutionary character had frightened away. That is an illusion common to all those who incline toward that dangerous tendency known as “State Socialism.”

In France, when the election returns of this year came in, the awakening from their illusions must have been a rude shock for certain people. The Socialist gain, measured by the number of deputies in Parliament, or by the number of votes cast, is on the whole small and where there is evident progress it is impossible to attribute it to the attraction exercised by “ministerialism.” On the contrary, the districts where the progress of socialism is most marked are those where the tendencies of the active workers are clearly revolutionary.

In the department of the Iser, in the region of the Alps, where our ideas had brought together 72,861 votes in 1898, we had but 27,861 this year. But in the department of Saone et Loire, in the region of Lyons, where we had 2,069 votes in 1898, as a result of the great strikes of the miners of Montceace-les-Mines and of the metal workers of Creusot and Chalon, we now have 22,539. Again, the Loire, including the mining region of St. Etienne and the textile region of Roannes increases its Socialist vote from 19,357 to 32,436.

In other regions where the Socialists have sacrificed more to ministerialisin, as, for example, on the coast of the Mediterranean, our ideas have also progressed, but it is impossible to say that the ministerial tactics have been of advantage to the Socialists of these regions. On the contrary, it is certain that without the ministerlaiism their progress would have been greater.

Among these departments on the Mediterranean should be mentioned that of the Bouches du Rhone (around Marseilles) where we obtained 36,214 votes in 1898 and 43,868 this time, that of Gard, where we had, four years ago, 21,899 votes, and now 36,637; Herault, where we had 12,603 and now have 15,414; Var, where we had 16,792 votes and now count 19,569.

In the region of the north and of Paris, for various reasons, in the terrific assault of the reactionaries, socialist divisions, economic depression, we have in general simply maintained our positions.

In Paris (city and suburbs) we obtained 197,000 votes in 1898; we have 200,499 in 1902.[1] In the department of the North the Socialists polled 82,000 votes in 1898, this time 80,587. It is evident that in this great industrial region Socialism is not progressing as we might fairly have hoped. For this there are various reasons: alcoholism, the depressing force of the Catholic church, and the terrible tyranny exercised by the employers explain up to a certain point the slowness of our growth and this time a slight check. There are, however, other causes, and among them there must be some for which the Socialists themselves are responsible.

In another department of the northern region, that of Hisne, although the Socialist deputy of the district of Guise, Eugene Fournière, was beaten, there was. nevertheless, a considerable increase in our vote, which passes from 12,213 to 17,600.

In the department of the Rhone, around Lyons: the progress realized by our party is also perceptible. Our vote increased from 28,181 to 32.397. Also at Cher, in the region of the Center, it increased from 16,596 to 20,309.

If we examine the different regions of France with regard to the Socialist vote and the vote obtained by each Socialist organization, and if we class them accordingly, by the proportion of Socialist voters to the total number of inhabitants, we shall arrive at the following figures:

1. Region of the Mediterranean (departments of Bouches-du-Rhone, Gard, Var, Herault, Aude, Vaucluse), 2,470,000 inhabitants, and 132,671 Socialist votes, divided as follows:

66,520 for the Parti Socialiste Français.

27,559 for the Unité Socialiste Revolutionnaire.

33,210 for the Federations Autonomes (composed of Socialists who have preferred not to join either of the two large organizations.

2. Region of Lyons (Rhone, Loire, Saone-et-Loire), 2,100,000 inhabitants and 87,390 Socialist votes.

49,323 for the P.S.F.

34,025 for the U.S.R.

4,042 for the A.

3. Region du Nord (Nord Aisne, Pas de Calais, Somme), 3,995,000 inhabitants, and 153,200 Socialist votes, of which 63,688 were cast for the P.S.F., 80,921 for U.S.R., and 8,630 for the F.A.

4. Region du Centre (Cher, Allier, Indre), 1,110,000 inhabitants, and 48,148 Socialist votes, of which 15,277 were for the P.S.F., 30,201 for the U.S.R. and 2,670 for the F.A.

5. Region Parisienne (Seine, Seine et Oise, Oise, Eure et Loire, Seine et Marne), 5,286,000 inhabitants, and 214,100 Socialist votes, of which 89,066 were for the P.S.F, 85,067 for the U.S.R., and 28,961 for the F.A.

6. Region des Ardennes et de la Champagne (Ardennes, Marne, Aube, Haute Marne), 1,298,000 inhabitants, and 35,746 Socialist votes, of which 22,037 were for the P.S.F. and 13,581 for the U.S.R.

7. Region des Alpes (Isère, Hautes Alpes, Basses Alpes, Alpes Maritimes et Drome), 1,399,000 inhabitants, and 26,083 Socialist votes, of which none were for the P.S.F. (who have no organizations in this region), 22,483 were for the L.S.R. and 3,660 for the F.A.

8. Bourgogne et Jura (Cote d'or, Yonne, Ain, Jura, Nievre), with 1,719,cm inhabitants, and 32,258 Socialist votes, of which 27,977 were for the P.S.F. and 2,077 for the U.S.R.

9. Region de la Saintonge et de Poitou (Deux-Sevres, Charente, Charente-Inferieure, et Vienne), with 1,530,000 inhabitants, and 21,760 Socialist votes, of which 14,719 were for the P.S.F. and 6,991 for the U.S.R.

11. Region de Vouraine, d'Anjou et du Maine (Indre et Loire, Lou et Cher, Maine et Loire, Mayenne, Sarthe, Loire), with 2,264,000 inhabitants, and 18,836 Socialist votes, of which 13,020 were for the P.S. F., 2,961 for the U.S.R., and 2,738 for the F.A.

12. Region Girondine (Gironde, Dordogne, Landes. Lot et Lot d’ Garvin) with 2,178,000 inhabitants, and 18,499 Socialist votes, of which 8,320 were for the P.S.F. and 10,179 for the L.S.R.

13. Region des Pyrenées et Bas Languedoc (Haute Pyrenées, Basses Pyrenées, Pyrenées Orientales, Haut Garonne, Gars), with 2,570,000 inhabitants, and 15,563 Socialist votes, of which 10,362 were for the P.S.F. and 5,178 for the U.S.R.

14. Normandie (Seine Inferieure, Eure, Calvados, Manche, Orne), with 2,470,000 inhabitants, and 12,845 Socialist votes, of which 12,222 were for the P.S.F. and 622 for the U.S.R.

15, Bretagne (Finisterre, Cotes du Nord, Morbihan, Ile et Vilaine, Loire Inferieure), with 3,215,000 inhabitants, and 18,091 Socialist votes, of which 2,750 were for the P.S.F., 2,493 for the U.S.R., and 12,558 for the F.A.

16. Lorraine et Franche Comté, with 1,830,000 inhabitants, and 2,232 Socialist votes, of which 430 were for the P.S.F. and 1,830 for the U.S.R.

It occurred to me that this classification of France from a Socialist point of view might interest our American comrades and especially the readers of the International Socialist Review who enjoy scientific processes of analysis, precise facts and figures. I should add that until now this classification had not been made in France. It had been thought sufficient to give the enumeration of the Socialist votes, simply by departments. Now our departments, created a hundred years ago, during the Revolution, in an artificial fashion, do not always represent anything well defined. On the contrary the regions, such as I have enumerated them, correspond to characteristic historical formations, and represent actual groupings. This classification shows us that the regions of France where Socialism is strongest are the regions of the Mediterranean, of Lyons, the Center, the North and the region of Paris.

The truth is that the regions of Lyons, of the Center and of the North are especially characterized by a very clear class-consciousness on the part of their active Socialists. On the contrary, in the region of the Mediterranean, and that of Paris, the Socialist movement assumes the form of an “advanced” movement, democratic and slightly Jacobin. In the Mediterranean region especially, the 132,000 Socialist voters are in great part not industrial laborers, but “democratic” peasants, quite republican in their ideas, and wishing to belong to the most “advanced” party, but not always having a very clear idea of socialism. Thus for example, in the department of the Gard, where three out of six of the Deputies to Parliament are members of the Socialist group, most of the Socialist voters are small proprietors of Vignobles, in whose eyes the Socialist movement is a matter of politics rather than economics.

On the contrary, at Lyons, at St. Etienne, at Montcean-les-Mines, at Lille, at Roubaix, at Montlucon, and at Commentay, that is to say, in the regions of Lyons, the North and the Center, the Socialist voters, who number about 280,000, are mostly metalworkers, textile-workers and miners.

If we classify the Socialist votes according to organizations, we have the following results:

The “Parti Socialiste Français,” which includes on the one hand the ministerialist Socialist elements and on the other hand some federations not ministerialist, but very closely allied, mustered 316,053 votes in the departments and 84,320 at Paris, a total of 432,373 votes.

The “Unité Socialiste Revolutionnaire,” which unites the old organizations of the “Parti Ouvrier Francais” (Guesdists) and “Parti Socialiste Revolutionnaire” (Blanquist), polled 262,050 votes in the provinces and 76,14.7 in Paris, in all 338,197.

The Federations which have remained independent and the old “Allemanist” organization (“Parti Ouvrier Socialiste Revolutionnaire”) received 67,961 at Paris, 96,602 in all.

We have thus a total of 863,159 Socialist votes; by adding the votes of candidates like Pascal Grousset and Millerand, which we have not counted, and those cast for the Deputy Calvinhac, who sits with the Socialist group, but whose candidacy has not a very clear Socialist character, we obtain a total of 893,720 Socialist votes.

In 1898 the Socialist party cast 790,000 votes; there is then an evident increase, though less than what we might have hoped.

As to the number of candidates elected, we had thirty-nine in the old legislature; in the new we have forty-four (omitting Grousstt and Millerand in both cases). Of those elected, fourteen belong to the group of the “Unité Socialiste Revolutionnaire” and thirty-two to the “Parliamentary Socialist Group,” which includes twenty-five elected by the “Parti Socialiste Francais,” four elected by the “Federation des Bouches du Rhone,” and three doubtful Socialists (Grousset, Millerand and Calvinhac).

The number of Deputies does not correspond to the real Socialist strength of each department in view of the alliances which were concluded, if party discipline on the second ballot had been observed by the bourgeois republicans. These, as a matter of fact, appealed to the Socialists to assure their victory over their reactionary competitors, when the Socialists came out in the third place on the ballot, and in general the Socialists always vote a the second ballot for the bourgeois radical republicans against the pure reactionaries. On the contrary, in many cases, the bourgeois radicals, even when they call themselves “radical Socialists,” prefer rather to see a reactionary win than a Socialist, and it is under these conditions that we lost several seats.

Moreover, by reason of the chances of the ballot and the defective system of election by arrondissements, the elections result in surprising inequalities. Thus in the department of the North the “Unité Socialiste Revolutionnaire,” which polled 62,261 votes, had but a single Deputy, Delory, elected at Lille, when he has already been Mayor of the city for six years; on the contrary, the “Federation de la Cote d'Or,” belonging to the “Parti Socialiste Français,” which polled 11,600 votes, succeeded in electing two Deputies, Bouhey-Allex and Camuzet.

On the whole, the Socialists may regard with confidence the political situation in France and the future reserved for them. In the Parliament, which has just held its first session, in which the groups of the Left have already obtained a complete victory by electing their candidate, the radical Leon Bourgeois, to the presidency, our party will be able to play an important and sometimes even a decisive part. It includes in its ranks some of the most eminent orators and politicians of France. At the side of Vaillant, Marcel Sembat, Rouanet and Poulain, who have been re-elected, Jean Jaurès, de Pressense, A. Briand, Delory and Constant. This will permit our party to assert itself impressively on all important questions of national and international policy.

This parliamentary action is but a part, and not the most important part, of Socialist activity. Something even more important than success at the polls is the progress of Socialist consciousness in the masses, and successes at the polls are in themselves of interest only so far as they permit us to judge of the increase of this Socialist consciousness. Moreover, the development of the economic institutions of the proletariat, the label unions and co-operatives, are also essential. But it is very evident that with the success of the party on the political field, its success on the economic field will be multiplied.

To permit our ideas to pursue their victorious march it is essential in France, as everywhere, that our friends resolutely put aside the grave danger of state socialism. I see by reading the Appeal to Reason that a certain number of our American comrades are also dominated by this deplorable state Utopianism and that they are confusing public ownership, or “Statization” of certain monopolies with the socialization of all the means of production by the organized proletariat, taking into its hands production and exchange. Our ministerialists are also the dupes of this governmental illusion. I have shown in this article what harm “ministerialism” has done to French socialism. Only in proportion as all Socialists renounce such dangerous illusions will it be possible for our party to regain its unity. That depends on men like Jaurès and on their willingness to have done with the deplorable opportunist tactics, for in spite of all there is no doubt that among all true Socialists there exist plenty of points of contact. Our victorious march depends on our union.

Jean Longuet (translated by Charles H. Kerr).
Paris, June 7, 1902.

1. In the Paris election returns in 1898 those who voted for such deputies as Pascal Grousset and Millerand were counted as Socialists though the Socialism of the candidates can evidently be contested. However, the great majority of those who voted for them were Socialists. If we should subtract their votes from the total we should have in 1898 about 183,000 and in 1902, 189,200. The figures of the Socialist votes are made from the results of the first ballot, April 27, for the results of the second ballot do not admit of exact calculation.