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France in the 1930s


Great Depression to France
Great Depression to France

In 1935 the Communist Party, acting on Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s orders, offered to ally with the Socialists and the Radicals to stem the tide of fascism sweeping Europe. This coalition would be called the Popular Front. Stung by previous communist attacks on them as social fascists, the Socialist Party was reluctant to join, but did so. To solidify the alliance with the Radicals, both Communists and Socialists dropped earlier plans to socialize the economy, but even the coalition’s mild calls for government intervention to improve the lot of workers scandalized the right.

The bitterly fought 1936 elections witnessed the beginning of the end of the broad centrist consensus that had supported the Third Republic. The center’s failure to solve the Depression drove voters to extremes on both right and left at the expense of the center, and the Communist Party increased its seats from 10 to 72. This gave Léon Blum the support he needed to form the Popular Front, the first French government led by a Socialist.

The record of the Popular Front was mixed. Blum settled a wave of strikes by arranging for wage increases, collective bargaining, a 40-hour workweek, and paid vacations. He also attempted to support farm prices. But Blum’s government lacked an adequate theory to explain the Depression and had no better idea than earlier ones for how to cure it. When the Popular Front was toppled by the Radicals in 1937, the economy was no stronger than before. Except for a very brief period in 1938, Radicals dominated the government from 1937 until 1940. During this time, they managed to nudge production up, through tax cuts and concessions to business at the expense of labor. Even so, by the summer of 1939, economic activity had returned only to the level of 1928. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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