Saturday, July 09, 2011

Le Front Populaire

Between Wars, in a world lurching from the financial crash of 1929, The French elected a leftist coalition government, headed by Leon Blum operating under the banner of Le Front Populaire in 1936.
It was only 75 years ago during this brief window of humanist optimism rallying against the economic despair of the depression, that the ideals and rights we take for granted today began to come into existence. The right of workers to organize, the rights of women to work in factories, things as basic as the 40 hour work week, vacations, the idea of health care, social security, raising the standards of mandatory education from 13 to 14 years and setting higher standards for teachers to qualify were all dreams until this rising of the people took place in France. Indeed, part of the inspiration for Blum and the success he achieved in such a short period was derived from the success of Roosevelt, with the grand national works programs he initiated in the United States which did so much to reinvigorate the nations economy. Indeed the Front Populaire Government under Blum nationalized the arms industry, involved the government in air transport, which was the birth of Air France, nationalized the railroads, creating the present SNCF and petrol and energy. The economic results were immediate and the rise in the national morale was undeniable.
The coalition Front Populaire was not an easy achievement. The various factions, the Communists and the assorted Socialist parties had been bitter ideological enemies for decades. Socialism had been gaining ever since the days of the author Emile Zola in the last decades of the 19th century. His great book, Germinal, did so much to depict the brutal injustice and the repression of the basic humanity of the workers at the expense of the upper classes. He depicted in his intricate, realist novels the struggle of the workers to organize and promoted socialism in popular literature.
These were the posters from the 1930's promoting the idea of a 40 hour work week.
The CGT is still the main Union Body in France today

Spain showed that it could be done. The warring ideologies united in the first real Front Populaire. The Socialist coalition which was brutally suppressed by the Fascist Franco with Nazi assistance in the Spanish Civil War. Many French volunteered to fight in the Spanish War.
The ruling rich found it very convenient as propaganda to use the international aspect of Socialism as a red herring; a threat against the national security and interests. The Communists, by the very nature of the organization of the party was easily portrayed as a foreign dominated behemoth intent on world conquest. It was the rise of Fascism that really empowered the Front Populaire. In fact the greatest opponents of Nazi Germany in France were the Communists and Socialists, just as Hitler saw his biggest threats in the unity and social progress of people under Socialism.
against this, vote communist!

But, as the wealthy ruling class recovered from the dual trauma of the Depression and the Empowerment of the People, they worked fervidly to destroy the Blum Government. Using fascist propaganda, they funded and encourage the rise of The Nationalist Fascist Political Movements such as Le Croix-de-Feu.
They encouraged thuggery and violence and tried to portray the Socialist Left Coalition as being anti French in the right wing controlled papers such as  Le Figaro, Le Matin and Le Temps, which regularly purported to uncover left wing internationalist plots to take over the government. The Catholic Church was a willing participant in this propaganda war. Le Croix de Feu today has it's descendants in the Front National, the extreme right nationalist party that is "changing' it's image to become more "mainstream". They are still very firmly allied with the Catholic Church. This is the period when the anti Semitism of France came into full flower. Blum was Jewish and anti-semitism was a staple of the far right. The Jewish Internationalist threat wild card was played as it had never been before.
Meanwhile, the corporate heads and the great fortunes of France started to move their capital out of the country. The economy was being sabotaged, not by outside alien influences, but from the top to destroy the power and influence of the workers.
When in fact, Germany did declare war on and invade France, the country was not prepared and more than ready to accept the collaborative anti Semetic Conservative Fascist Regime of Petain. The Petainists tried to blame France's lack of preparation on the workers, but under Blum, the arms industry had worked as never before to arm the country against the perceived Fascist threat. For a short period, the country had been unified as never before. The need to rearm france and the stress put upon this issue is one of the issues that led to the abandonment of some of more radical initiatives by the Blum Government. The arms industry, the industry of the country, the unity and the economy had been destroyed by the wealthy in their attempt to crush the working class's influence. The Jews were libeled and branded as traitors and then deported under the Nazis with an illogical fanatical fervor. 
When the war ended, DeGaulle restored the reforms of the Front Populaire. He had to. The influence and the patriotism of the Socialists and Communists during the war were the backbone of the Resistance.
But he had to crush the influence of the Communists, but even today, the Communist Party is a viable force here in France. May 1, the International Workers Day is a National Holiday. And the
Fete de'l'Humanitie...a big left wing party is celebrated every year. Perhaps, we will see a unifying of the disparate forces on the left in the next election? 
Time for a little musical break, here's the Who at the 1972 Fete de L'Humanitie.

But, why is this history so important? The rise of the workers and the concerted effort of the wealthy to crush them at the expense of the national welfare, economic and morally? Why does this seem so poignant in light of the stance of the American GOP, The Tea Baggers and the rampant racism and anti semitism on the rise in America? Coupled with the faux indignation, the moralist pandering of the religious right, it echoes all too loudly the collaboration of the Catholic Church with the rise of Fascism in France.
In France, this Randian Greed, allowed the nation to sink into anti Semetic Fascism. Something we are still dealing with here 65 years later. The disaster of WW2 seems horrific enough, but the world economic disaster being ignited by the Corporate Monsters, who want to roll back a century of social progress, bring back child labor, destroy the public education system, destroy the unions, deny the poor social services, only for their unbridled augmentation and amassing of power and profits those who control the reins of Right Wing Ideology and Propaganda and are using their manipulative tactics to create a bigger political crisis and panic the population to vote  for them, could easily create a cataclysm that will eclipse anything we have seen before. 
We still are the people, the masses, we still have the power if we  can only figure out how to unite and use it.

1 comment:

Laci the Chinese Crested said...

It really scares me that worker's gains from this period are being willingly lost. Even more frightening is the rise of a facist right wing in the US. Fortunately, the US is so historically ignorant that it can get away with this happening.

People who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

And repeat they are.