Peter Sedgwick

France Goes Pop

(Autumn 1964)

From Reviews, International Socialism (1st series), No.18, Autumn 1964, p.33.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Front Populaire – Revolution Manquée
Daniel Guerin
René Julliard, Paris, 18.50F.

Daniel Guerin’s invaluable account of French Socialism during the Popular Front period is dedicated to the memory of Marceau Pivert, and revolves principally around the activities of that exemplary militant and of his comrades in the revolutionary left of the SFIO. He does not overlook the weaknesses and confusions of Pivert, whose very vices of conciliationism (towards e.g. pacifism and freemasonry) served admirably to unify the otherwise centrifugal groupings that made up his following. ‘Few men’, Guerin writes, ‘to my knowledge, have awakened and kept alive so much friendship from among rank-and-file Socialists.’ The tale is taken up to the transient formation of the Parti Socialiste Ouvrier et Paysan, which rallied some thousands of militants under an independent banner for about a year after the expulsion of the left from the SFIO in 1938.

The record of the PSOP is an unhappy one: torn by rival and entirely contradictory attitudes within its leadership upon questions of peace, war and Trotskyism, the party expired definitively at the outset of World War Two. The instability of loose centrist alliances has never been more clearly or more depressingly shown. And yet Guerin’s story by no means leaves us with the conclusion that the only way forward for socialists lies in progressive subdivision on the basis of purer and purer principles. The struggles of the revolutionary left, whether conducted within or outside the official Social Democracy, steeled a whole milieu of brave and incorruptible comrades who to this day have withstood capitalist pressures, Stalinist sophistries, and (perhaps the most difficult) the conscientious squabbling of Marxist minorities.

The issues for which they fought – the struggle for power in the factories, the liberation of the colonised, the battle against war – retain their vitality and significance: for men such as these, the record of the Thirties is by no means a superannuated retrospect of lost causes, and so Guerin’s account is nimble, vigorous and fresh. In most of the photographs that compose the pictorial supplement to this volume, the central characters are smiling infectiously. The holiday atmosphere of the Popular Front days arose above all from the sit-in strikes when the workers of France. all too briefly, came into their own. Those whose loyalties were primarily to the workers’ movement, and not to the factions, parties and governments whose bankruptcy was subsequently demonstrated, are entitled, and enabled, still to smile.


Last updated on 20.8.2007