Maurice Thorez 1960

The Popular Front

Source: Maurice Thorez, Fils du Peuple. Editions Sociales 1970 Paris;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2004.

On April 27 (1934), the day after the first round of the elections, L'Humanité ran this headline: “All For the Popular Front!” We declared that, in order to complete the defeat of reaction, our Socialist and Radical allies would not miss a single one of our votes. Our signature can be found at the bottom of a common appeal in favor of rigorous discipline on the part of all groups and personalities of the Popular Front.

140 of our candidates stepped aside in the second round: a hundred in favor of Socialists and thirty in favor of the Socialist Union. The Popular Front carried off a triumphal success.

The formations associated with the Rassemblement Populaire had 375 of 610 seats at the Palais Bourbon. Our Party obtained 72 instead of 10. Paris and its suburbs gave us 33 deputies; the Seine et Oise 9.

In the North would registered a series of victories. In Marseilles the population, disgusted by gangsterism and the general rot, responded to the Party of Cleanliness and gave us two deputies. In the Var and the Alpes-Maritimes, where our adversaries claimed life was too sweet for Communists to get a foothold, four mandates went to the Communists.

A few days later the Central Committee, joined by our parliamentary group, held a meeting in the same Salle des Fetes of the Ivry town hall where, two years before, at our national conference of June 1934, we had spelled out the political directives which were to lead us to victory.

We brought out the meaning of the vote:

The people of France expressed its ardent will for peace in the face of Hitler’s threats, which frightened them.

The people of France want to have done with fascist threats against democratic freedoms.

The people of France want to come out of the economic crisis, assure work for all and make the rich pay.

The people of France want things to change.

The people — attached by all its fibers to democracy and jealous of its independence — had just given a magisterial reply to the rioters of February 6 and manifested its disgust for fascist dictatorship.

But fascism, defeated in the elections, didn’t disarm. In the shadows it began to prepare its vengeance. L'Ami du Peuple, a newspaper that dragged in the mud the beautiful title stolen from Marat, affirmed that reaction would not capitulate; that it wouldn’t bow before the people’s verdict: “We have in sight,” it said, “ tough and bloody battles.”

The question of government was posed. With the people behind me — reflecting the victory of the Popular Front and our own electoral success — I put forward the idea that our Party prove its boldness and delegate its men to the future Blum government, instead of limiting itself to a policy of parliamentary support. The Politburo thought otherwise.

On May 6, Jacques Duclos and I explained the party’s future attitude at a press conference:

“We will support without reserve the forces of democracy and peace; we will support all efforts to improve the lot of the workers.

“We assure the government of our total support — in both the Chamber and the country — in the application of a policy in conformity with the indications given by the last election.

“We are convinced that the working class will fulfill its historic mission: the transformation of capitalist society into a society in which the exploitation of man by man will not be known. But for the moment it’s not a question of this, but of responding to the wishes of the people.

“The masses gave the victory to the Popular Front; they will watch over us to make sure that the program is applied.”

The Central Committee approved these resolutions on May 25, and we confirmed them a little later, to the Socialist Party assembled at its national congress.

When the Blum ministry was presented to the Chamber, Jacques Duclos renewed our assurances of strict and loyal collaboration. The government was in a position to overcome all difficulties because it owed its authority to the people. The supreme guarantee resided in the effective support of the masses, coherent and organized, and developing their action.

The electoral victory of the Popular Front had unleashed a powerful movement of the workers, conscious of their force. Everywhere the same demands were formulated: readjustment and raise in salaries, union rights, delegates from the workshop, collective contracts, the 40-hour week, paid vacations.

The degradation of salaries, the arbitrary nature if the bosses’ actions, unemployment, the mocking of union rights, the almost complete lack of collective agreements, backwards social legislation, heavy responsibilities, and taxes, made the lives of French workers extremely difficult. In 1934 there were 5,500,000 paid workers in France who earned less that 18,000 francs per year. Of these 5,500,000, two thirds earned less than 9,600 francs per year; the others earned 20 to 32 francs a day.

In less than two weeks the strike, in a formidable outburst, took over the whole country. The struggle took on new forms: it developed inside the enterprises in an impressive display of order and discipline.

During the strike, on factory gates, across the facades of houses, and at the top of tall chimneys and scaffoldings, a blossoming of red and tricolor flags burst out, the association of which revealed the political understanding of the working class.

No serious incidents occurred. Not a single agent provocateur managed to slip into the factories. Neither products nor machines were touched, except to preserve them and to maintain their cleanliness. So much awareness and serene dignity; so much unity among working men, working women, the young and the old, white collar and blue collar exploited workers, common laborers and technicians, such calmness; all of this produced such an effect of maturity and of tranquil force that the bosses were overwhelmed.

They reacted with violence by unleashing a campaign against the “violations of property” committed by the strikers; this in order to frighten the middle class.

We Communists had frequently explained that we are not adversaries of all property. In a letter addressed to the Radical congress we had declared that we must “respect private property, the fruit of labor and economy.” We rise up only against capitalist property, against the privilege that permits a minority of parasites to exploit the labor of millions of men and to take control of the nation’s riches.

It’s not communism that expropriates the peasant’s field, or the merchant’s store, that ruins the small and medium industrialists, helpless to put up with the competition of the trusts. It’s not communism that set alight class struggle. But it’s capitalism that destroys the property of the little people in order to take it over; that buys at a low price the labor of the worker and makes weigh upon him the full weight of oppression and coercion. War, economic crisis, unemployment, the expropriation and ruin of the middle classes are not our doing. They are the result of the private property of the great means of production, which has become — after having been a stimulant — a hindrance to economic life and progress. The property of the great means of production is the only one that should be socialized, if we want to lay down the base for a rational economy.

During he week of June 7-14 the strike movement reached its culminating point. Alarmist news spread fear in the countryside. Despite the Matignon Accords, signed June 7 between the representatives of the working class and those of the bosses, many employers refused to sign contracts with their workers. There were several cases of police intervention. Suspect elements, Trotskyists or Croix de Feu,[1] snuck into the movement with the hope of causing it degenerate into an adventure prejudicial to the working class.

Our party had supported the strike with all its forces; its militants had unstintingly given of themselves. Its municipalities and its organizations had put themselves entirely at the disposal of the unions that guided the immense army of workers.

This active solidarity called us to assume new responsibilities. There was a risk of dislocation of the Popular Front. Was the proletariat going to cut itself off from the largest part of people’s army?

The tragic experiences of June 1848 and May 1871 came to our memory. The July Monarchy was overthrown in February 1848 by the Parisian proletariat, united with the middle bourgeoisie. But Reaction soon succeeded in rising up the peasants and the shopkeepers against the proletarians. In the name of “order” the big bourgeoisie crushed the proletariat during the June days. Once the terrain was cleared, it attacked all the conquests of the Republic, and December 2, 1851 Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte installed himself in power, on the ruins of democracy.

The Paris Commune as well allowed itself to be isolated from the French peasantry. Its valorous fighters were massacred by an army of “rurals” incited against the “sharers” of the big city. Even so, the Commune was right in saying to the peasants that “its victory was their only hope.” But they didn’t yet understand that truth. Marx, sensing the danger, had put the Parisian workers on their guard against premature action. Of course, once the insurrection was unleashed he was — from the first hour and with all his soul — with the heroic Communards, those Titans who “rose up to assault heaven.” He saluted the epic that they wrote with their blood; “ with what flexibility, with what historic initiative , with what faculty for sacrifice are these Parisians blessed.”

Here, too, democracy took long years to recover from the blow reaction had delivered against it in massacring 30,000 Parisian workers, the elite of the French proletariat.

In no way could we allow a similar situation to come into being. We remembered the teaching of Lenin; don’t give in to impatience. He wrote to French workers in 1920: “What has always caused much harm in France is the anarchist phrase.”

On June 11, in a capital in a state of fever, we called an information assembly for members of the Party.

In the name of the Central Committee I declared:

“...If it’s important to lead well a protest movement, one must also know how to end it.

“It’s not a question of seizing power now.

“...If the goal now is to obtain satisfaction of the economic demands — while progressively raising the consciousness and organization of the movement of the masses — then one must know how to end the strike as soon as that satisfaction is obtained. One must even know how to consent to compromises if all demands haven’t yet been accepted, if we have gained victory on the most essential and important of the demands.

“One must know how to organize, prepare the future...

“We must not risk breaking up the cohesion of the masses, the cohesion of the Popular Front .We can’t allow the working class to be isolated!”

The accents of the Internationale saluted this conclusion.

This political wisdom bore fruit. Numerous collective contracts were concluded. The victorious workers evacuated the factories, led by music and flags.

The Popular Front wasn’t a revolution, nor was it a vulgar electoral operation. It offered the possibility of a progressive politics within the framework of republican institutions. As realists, we would only demand what was possible in the conditions of the moment, in order to call for it in greater numbers and to be sure of obtaining it: but we would strongly demand it. Didn’t Jules Guesde speak of “security measures that are really public, compatible with the present order of things.”

We had put people on alert against exaggerated illusions — which would be followed by tragic awakenings — when we declared that “everything isn’t possible.” To those who claimed to unhook the moon, we simply asked that they help us to apply the common program. In every circumstance we made an effort to maintain the language of reason, never forgetting that in order to beat fascism the largest assembly of forces was needed.

The clear attitude of the Party earned it a redoubling of confidence. New memberships flowed in at a rate of 1500 a day. The middle classes were able to differentiate between our militants calling for union, the bus burners of February 6, [2] and the fomenters of civil war. To those who said to them that we prepared disorder, the Radicals of the old school answered that they'd learned to distinguish between “the Communists, guardians of freedom, and the fascists, hateful enemies of that freedom.”

Every Wednesday morning I went with Jacques Duclos to Leon Blum’s house on the quai Bourbon. Our goal in these visits was to ensure the effectiveness in all domains of the policy of the Popular Front.

The first of these interviews took place immediately after the formation of the government and before its presentation to the Chambers. When we arrived at Blum’s office Salengro, Minister of the Interior, and Lebas, Minister of Labor, were already assembled As we have just seen, the strike movement was in full force. We took the occasion to protest against the presence of police forces at all the intersections of the capital and near all the big factories of the suburbs. To our great surprise Salengro declared that he had taken these measures because he feared that we envisaged pushing things to a revolution! Our entore attitude put the lie to that ridiculous idea.

In the following months we had many other discussions with Leon Blum. We couldn’t accept either the devaluation nor — above all — non-intervention in Spain.


1. Extreme Right-wing group active between the two World Wars.

2. Date of demonstrations and riots in 1934 by the extreme- and fascist Right against the government.