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Dudley Edwards


Celebrations in Paris

(May 1981)

From Militant, No. 553, 22 May 1981.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Arriving in Paris on the night the poll was declared, I shared the elation of the mass of Parisians at the election of the first left president in France, François Mitterand.

Any impression received of apathy towards the result of the election was dispelled quickly. Almost as one, the population of the working class arrondisements [boroughs] poured into the Place de la Bastille as soon as the first rumour of Mitterand’s victory got around. The workers were joined by large section of the middle class.

I saw a small part of the enormous spontaneous celebratory gathering. I had previously gone out to the suburbs to meet a couple of comrades to watch the election results on the television.

Afterwards we went out and expressed surprise because the streets were deserted. When I returned to central Paris, the reason was obvious – the whole population seemed to be at the Place de la Bastille.

Only the packed Metro trains coming back home indicated there must have been tens, if not hundreds of thousands at the Bastille.

I sat till past midnight on the Boulevard St Michel, watching the extraordinary scenes of rejoicing. The noise of hooting cars was terrific, and made more deafening by a powerful thunderstorm which broke out at the same time.

After all the shilly-shallying of the Socialist and Communist leaders trying to gain the advantage, the workers, on this night at least, imposed their own awe inspiring and definitive unity. They made it crystal clear that they regarded Mitterand’s victory as an historic stage in transforming society and moving towards socialism.

I was also in France in 1936 when the first Popular Front government was formed and the great stay-in strikes broke out. As one older couple said at the Bastille assembly “it was like 1936 again – the first time we won the right to a paid holiday.”

Let there be no mistake, things will never be the same in France again. There may be many set backs due to the opportunist tricks of some of the leaders of both working class parties. The left reformist ministers may well fail to deliver the socialist goods.

But should they do, the French workers and large sections of the middle class too, will sweep them away and put in place men and women who have been tried and tested in the struggle and are prepared to carry it through to the end.

The French people are on the move. The long delayed transformation of old Europe may not just be around the corner but it is clearly beginning.

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