Who says symbolic and historical union says will to formalize it definitively around an equally symbolic and historical date. The rebellious dreamed of appearing hand in hand with environmentalists, communists and socialists during the parade on May 1, the traditional workers’ day. But if the talks between the different parties were well advanced, the family photo did not take place during the demonstration, the fault of final details still to be settled behind the scenes. Even Olivier Faure and Jean-Luc Mélenchon displayed a nice tightening of pliers in public.
Two irreconcilable blocks
Failing to have been able to agree on May 1, it is now May 3 that the left has in its sights, the anniversary date of the victory of the Popular Front in the legislative elections of 1936. Fabien Roussel referred to it on France info this Monday morning, stars in his eyes, when Jean-Luc Mélenchon evoked him, at length the day before, on a platform on the sidelines of the Paris parade.
To understand the importance of such a date and what the Popular Front still represents today in the collective memory of the left, we must take a look far back in time. And go back to the 1930s. At the time, for a good decade and the Congress of Tours, the left was divided and two irreconcilable blocks opposed each other. On the one hand, the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO), the ancestor of the Socialist Party (PS). On the other, the French Section of the Communist International (SFIC), ancestor of the French Communist Party (PCF). Finally, the Radical-Socialist Party, a sort of centrist soft underbelly of the time, trails on the margins.
Economic crisis and fear of fascism
While the stock market crash of 1929 in the United States had concrete consequences in Europe, causing unemployment, bankruptcies and social uncertainty, fascism began to make a worrying place for itself on the old continent. Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 in Germany and quickly installed a dictatorship, when Benito Mussolini had already ruled Italy for more than a decade.
On February 6, 1934, many believed that it was France’s turn to rock when a demonstration was organized by the far-right leagues in front of the Chamber of Deputies where the new head of government was to be invested. No coup d’etat finally, nor arrival of the fascists to power in Paris, but a big blow of stress.
Worried about a German or Italian destiny, the French lefts are getting closer. A “anti-fascist action unity pact” was first signed between socialists and communists, before the radicals and trade unions attached themselves to it. The objective of this alliance is to maintain democracy, revive the economy and succeed in achieving power together to implement social progress.
A “social firework”
For two years, the movement is structured, until the legislative elections of May 3, 1936 which will be a great success. The Popular Front won 386 seats out of the 608 in the Chamber. In parallel, a huge strike movement is organized. More than two million workers are paralyzing the country’s industries, thus giving more weight to the social advances wanted by the left.
At the beginning of June, a government was formed headed by the socialist and very charismatic Léon Blum. In the days that followed, major reforms followed to put an end to the strike: Matignon agreements establishing the exercise of trade union rights, establishment of collective agreements and wage increases, reduction of weekly working time from 48 to 40 hours, introduction of fourteen days of paid leave, nationalization of industries, reform of the agricultural world… In our columns in 2006, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Popular Front, the historian Michel Winock spoke of this month of June as a “social fireworks”a direct consequence of the victory in the legislative elections.
However ephemeral the Popular Front would have been – dissension quickly returned and the alliance was definitively broken at the beginning of 1938 – it would have enabled major advances from which French workers still benefit today. And it has since remained in the collective imagination as an example of the possibilities for the left to make things happen, provided that its various currents manage to unite.
A quick deal to campaign
It is therefore quite natural that in 2022, in the light of a historic agreement between four left-wing and environmentalist parties, we begin to dream, eighty-six years later, of a new Popular Front. A union capable of opposing an extreme right that is more threatening than ever and a President who pursues a right-wing liberal policy, even if he refuses this label. All of this headed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon who has imagined himself for ages as a post-modern Léon Blum. What could be better, therefore, than a May 3 to formalize such an alliance?
In addition to the symbolism, aiming for this date also has everything of a calendar imperative. A quick agreement is necessary so that everyone can then get in working order, while the first round of the legislative elections will take place on June 12, in barely five weeks. Because the union is not everything. Once acted, it will then be necessary to designate the candidates in each constituency, print the leaflets, stick up posters, organize meetings… In short, campaign to hope to color the Assembly red-pink-green.