The International Socialist Review (1900-1918)/Volume 1/Number 1/The Political Situation in France and the Municipal Elections

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The Political Situation in France and the Municipal Elections.


For the last three months the political life of the Socialist party has been absorbed by the municipal campaign which has just ended with the election of mayors throughout the French municipalities. I must first inform our American comrades briefly regarding the electoral system enjoyed by the cities and villages of France. To begin with, Paris must be distinguished from the rest of the country. The capital of the French republic, on account of its revolutionary record and especially the recent events of the commune, has been presented by our rulers with a special government. In all other towns, the largest and the smallest alike, the municipal council, chosen by universal suffrage, selects its mayor, who administers under its control, and directs the police. The city of Paris on the other hand does indeed elect municipal councilmen, but these are not empowered to choose a mayor, and the police is placed under the orders of the prefect of police, an officer named by the central government. Moreover, a part of the ordinary duties of a mayor is at Paris entrusted to a government official, the prefect of the Seine. While speaking of the difference between the municipal system of Paris and of the provinces, I should add that while most of the municipal councils in the provinces are elected on a general ticket for the whole city, Paris, on the contrary, is divided into eighty very unequal districts, each of which chooses a municipal councilman. The rich districts of the center and the west with an average population of fifteen to twenty thousand thus have a representation equal to that of the vast swarms of the east, the north and the southeast, like "La Riquette," "Clignancourt," "Belleville" or "La Gare," where the population reaches seventy, eighty or a hundred thousand.

In a very interesting article which Comrade A. M. Simons wrote for the new French Socialist review, "La Movement Socialists," he explains very clearly that in America you do not have to deal with those survivals of feudal, aristocratic and clerical reactionaries against which the organized proletariat must direct its best efforts in France, Germany and Italy. It is in a bitter struggle against this reaction, which in France is called "Nationalism," that at the present hour the French militant Socialists are obliged to direct their efforts. In truth you have even in America, as well as in England, an analogous movement, namely, imperialism. But your Anglo-Saxon imperialism, while it may imply militarism and chauvinism, seems to me more evidently economic at its root, while it does not like the French nationalism involve a medieval anti-semitism.

Nevertheless I would not leave the American comrades to suppose that French nationalism is at bottom anything but a mighty effort against socialism and the proletarian revolution. It is a movement which has succeeded in uniting all the forces of the large and the smaller bourgeois, the landed aristocracy and the army, with the braggart demagogues who deceive the unhappy, stupid and ferocious mob into the belief that the nationalist movement will bring remedies for their economic troubles.

Opposed to this nationalist party, the different factions of the bourgeois democracy cut a sorry figure. The republicans whom we call opportunists, and who represent bourgeois liberalism, have certainly passed over for the most part to the nationalist reaction, their chief, M. Meline, at their head. The radicals, who for a long time assumed the direction of the liberal element, and whose tendencies correspond exactly with those of the American Democrats and Populists, have offered a very ineffective resistance to the assault of the nationalists. It is moreover quite evident that demoralization and discouragement reign and will reign more and ever more in the radical camp. Nationalism is in great part, from the economic point of view, not only the party of the upper-class reactionary bourgeoisie, but also the party of the small bourgeoisie, of the little traders and of all that intermediate class from which radicalism formerly drew its strength. So today it finds itself deprived of the greater part of its little bourgeois following, while socialism is taking away daily what strength had remained to it among the workingmen.

Under these conditions the results of the municipal elections in Paris May 6th and 13th are not surprising. Nationalism such as we have described it is especially strong at Paris, where the reaction finds in the petty bourgeois demagogy the element required to enable it to present itself under a new mask. In the provinces socialism has only had to struggle against the bourgeois reaction properly so-called.

The Socialist party, perhaps for the first time, offered itself united, at least as far as voting is concerned, to the suffrages of the whole people. With some rare exceptions there was in each district of Paris only one Socialist candidate, and in each of the other cities of France only one Socialist ticket.

At Paris, among all the parties which struggled against nationalism, the Socialist was the only one which sustained no losses; on the contrary it increased the total of its votes. Of twenty outgoing Socialist municipal councilmen, sixteen were re-elected and four defeated. But on the other hand four seats were gained by Comrades Ranvier, Weber, Poiry and Paris. Of the four newly elected, three are manual laborers; on the contrary, of the four Socialists who were defeated only one was a laborer and represented a laborers' district, the other three were professional men and represented middle-class districts. As to the figures of the election, the Socialist party had 98,000 votes at Paris in 1896, while in 1900 they had 126,000.

All the bourgeois democratic parties have at Paris been crushed by nationalism. In the old municipal council there were 30 radicals, twenty Socialists, eighteen republican-opportunists and twenty-two reactionaries and nationalists. In the new one there are forty-four nationalists and reactionaries, twenty Socialists, fourteen radicals and two opportunists.

It is therefore the Socialist party which will be at Paris the only vigorous and solid defender of republican liberties, as well as the only representative of the interests of the working class.

But I hasten to inform the Socialist comrades of the United States of the results of the municipal elections in the provinces—altogether remarkable from a Socialistic point of view. Since the election of 1896 the Socialist party has controlled the municipal governments of a certain number of cities, the most important of which were Marseilles, Lille, Roubaix, Dijon, Montluçon and Ivry. Against the Socialist municipalities a terrible assault has been made by the capitalistic bourgeoisie. Let us see what has been the result. ,

At Marseilles our valiant friend, Dr. Plaissières, has carried off the victory in spite of the coalition of all the bourgeois parties against him. Likewise at Lille the Socialists are victorious with Gustave Delory, a weaver, as also at Roubaix, Montluqon and Ivry. Only at Dijon our friends have been defeated, but there in 1896 their victory was a surprise and came about from there being four bourgeois tickets in the field, which this year were fused against the Socialist ticket.

But brilliant victories and the capture of important cities are still to relate. Our friend, Dr. Augagneur, professor in the University of Lyons, one of the most learned physiologists of Europe, leads the victorious ticket of the Socialist party at Lyons, the second city of France, where thirty-three Socialists and radicals have been elected as against twenty-three reactionaries. The majority of the municipal council of Lyons is in the hands of our party, and Angagneur has been elected mayor of Lyons.

At St. Etienne, a manufacturing city of more than 150,000 population, the Socialist party is victorious as a result of the great strike of last winter, which the Socialist party conducted the striking workers to a victory, especial credit being due to the admirable work of Comrade Jaures. At St. Quentin, at Bourges, at Limoges and at Montceau-les-Mines the Socialist party has magnificent majorities, and it captured the administration in numerous smaller cities where today it is in full control.

Let me add finally that in a great number of cities the Socialist party has been beaten but has polled an immense number of votes. For example, at Vroyes it came out with 3,600 votes against 3,600 for the bourgeois ticket, with heavy gains at Toulon, Grenoble, Calais, Puteaux, St. Denis, Creussot, Sevaillais-Clichy and St. Owen.

Summing up, we may say that the municipal elections of May, 1900, have brought magnificent successes to the international Socialist party in all France, and that in Paris the Socialist party is today the only one capable of defending the interests of modern civilization against the barbarities of nationalism.

Paris, May 30, 1900.