Communist International, August 1936

How French Communists Worked During the Election Campaign

A characteristic feature of the recent election campaign conducted by the French Communist Party was that the propaganda of the Party was carried out on a wide scale. For the first time it was carried on over the entire country, and reached even the farthest and most forgotten corners of France. In the past, the influence of the Communist Party did not penetrate the villages at a distance from the railways, and the inhabitants of these villages only learned of Communism from the slander and lies against the C.P. contained in the reactionary press.

This time things were quite different. The leaders of the Party spoke over the radio several times. The statements of the Communists were heard everywhere. The Central Committee of the Communist Party issued a great amount of agitational material, adapted to various strata of the population. Thanks to the growth of its organization and the great sympathy felt for it, the Party was able to spread this material far and wide. The Communist Party put forward candidates in all constituencies. The election campaign was carried out in the localities by all the Party members, and mainly by the persistent work of tens of thousands of active workers. For a period of one and a half to two months all the Party members were engaged in continuous activity, and they did great work. There were numerous examples of unwavering loyalty, wonderful initiative, and often even of heroism.

We will limit ourselves to a few examples:

The gardener Comrade Blachon, an old active Party worker, was put forward as a candidate in Montelimar-Nyons, in the department of Drome. He had to carry out the campaign in a district where the Party was exceptionally weak. On January 1, 1936, it had only 45 members. Comrade Blachon had to visit 148 villages, a great many of which were in the mountains at an altitude of 1,200 to 1,300 meters. Almost alone, without money, with only accidental means of transport, very often on foot, Blachon began in March to make his way from one end to the other of this constituency. He was everywhere, organizing meetings even in forgotten hamlets with only 25 or even 16 inhabitants, and where no active Party worker has ever been. A bourgeois newspaper published in Montelimar, which followed how our comrade, alone, with insufficient funds, threw himself into the battle, wrote ironically: "We should admire such bravery."

This bravery was combined with an ability to organize. Comrade Blachon set himself the task of recruiting 500 new members for the Party in his constituency before the end of the campaign. And while agitating for Communism, he at the same time recruited new members, and established a Party organization. In six days he traveled through two mountain regions, organized 50 meetings, recruited 300 new members to the Party, formed cells and sold Party pamphlets. Everyone was surprised at the results of his work. “The district which has slept up till now is surprised", wrote Blachon. "The comrades of the district leadership cannot send Party membership cards fast enough."

In Montelimar, the largest city in this constituency, and where there are few industries, there was no Party organization! But twenty workers joined the Party after the first meeting organized by Blachon. In the canton of Remuzat Comrade Blachon recruited 70 members and organized six cells in one week. In the canton of Bois he recruited 40 members and formed five cells in two days. And even in the most out-of-the-way localities he was able to awaken the sympathy of the peasants and to rouse a warm desire among them to become acquainted with the decisions of the Communist Party. "Will there be war?" "What do you propose to do to overcome the agrarian crisis?" – such were the questions put by the peasants to the representative of the Communist Party. And in clear and simple peasant language Blachon stated the position of the Party in face of the threats of onslaught by the fascists, and concretely stated the program of the Party which is directed towards saving French agriculture. In a few villages the peasants met him with red banners, and sang the Internationale. The peasants, who were members of the Socialist Party, were very much interested in the meetings organized by him, and in a number of localities some of them asked to be accepted as members of the Communist Party.

On April 21 Comrade Cachin came to Montelimar and spoke at a meeting. On this day 4,000 people came to the meeting, and among them were very many peasants who came from far-off mountain villages.

The result of the work done by Comrade Blachon was the following: Instead of the 1,008 votes received by the Communist Party in 1932 it received 5,485. The Socialist candidate received 7,244 votes (the Radicals withdrawing their candidate). In the second round, Comrade Blachon, according to a decision made by the Communist Party together with the Socialist Party, withdrew his candidature in favor of the Socialist candidate, who was elected, while the reactionary candidate was defeated. But Comrade Blachon not only increased the number of votes cast for the Communist Party by more than 400 per cent. He also formed a Party organization in that constituency. Five hundred new members joined the Party, and so he fulfilled the task he had set himself at the beginning of the electoral campaign. The district Party Committee is setting itself the task of covering and consolidating the newly established organizations, and training the newly recruited Party members.

Here is another example. Comrade Le Quements was put forward as a parliamentary candidate by the Communist Party in the first electoral district of Vannes in the department of Morbihant, one of the most backward sections of Brittany. His opponents were the Abbot Desgranges, the former deputy, the representative of the high clergy which kept the masses in ignorance, and Count Montaign, a big landowner and relation to Schneider – a member of one of the 200 capitalist families who rule France. It was against such powerful opponents that Comrade Le Quements had to carry on the struggle. There was no Party organization to carry on the campaign, there was no money to cover the cost of traveling through the constituency. From the very beginning Le Quements came up against difficulties. As everywhere else, it was necessary to get the names and addresses of the 18,000 electors in the district, in order to send them the program of the Party by post. Ordinarily, when you have funds, it is possible to ask the officials of the Prefecture to give you a list of the voters. Or if a Party organization exists, you can rally all comrades for this work. But Le Quements had neither. He had to do everything by himself. He was able to achieve something, thanks to his energy and initiative, by using the aid of sympathizers and even friends who have no sympathy to the Communist Party. He got his wife, his daughter, his parents, his brother, women and children to help.

Despite the atmosphere of hostility and the many difficulties which faced Comrade Le Quements, all the electors received the main materials published by the Party in connection with the elections, thanks to the energy and self-sacrifice he displayed.

He had no funds for traveling purposes, a sore foot made it difficult for him to walk. Nevertheless he covered five, seven and even nine kilometers a day in order to organize meetings. He would return home late at night, but the next morning would go to work, after finishing which he would once more begin organizing meetings.

Quietly and without complaint, Comrade Le Quements was able to get many sympathizers for the Party and increase the number of votes cast for it from the 148 cast in 1932, to 476.

Comrade Jardon, a mayor of a village community, an old Party worker, was put forward as candidate in the second electoral district of Montlucon, in the department of Allier. His opponent was the former Socialist deputy Max Dormoy, irreconcilable opponent of united action. The work of Comrade Jardon may serve as an example of how to carry on the struggle for the demands of the peasantry.

In February he distributed a very simple questionnaire which contained in particular the following questions: What funds did your community receive to provide aid to peasants in need? What money did you receive for easing the conditions of the unemployed and those in need? What part did the former deputy play in securing this aid? What are the needs of your community? etc. About 60 mayors answered this questionnaire. Then Comrade Jardon called a conference at which several dozen mayors and delegates of the People's Front were present. Then Comrade Jardon occupied himself with the question of all, even the smallest needs of the peasants, talked to peasants and as a Communist candidate listened to the stories of their conditions. In his talks with the peasants, he made his starting point the concrete questions put, and tried in reply to explain the part of the program of the Communist Party which refers to the agrarian question.

The work done by Comrade Jardon was so successful that Dormoy considered it necessary to attack him in his newspaper. But Comrade Jardon did not let himself be provoked by these attacks. As a real honest supporter of the united front he quietly asked Dormoy whether it would not be better to carry on a joint struggle to lighten the poverty of the peasants, who can win everything from unity among the people, and who should only be afraid of division of their forces.

As in 1932, Dormoy was not opposed by any reactionary or Radical candidates, and received 8,212 votes – losing nearly 3,000 votes. Jardon received 7,664 votes, instead of the 4,736 votes cast for the Communist Party in 1932.

This is how our comrades worked in the outlying districts. This heroism, self-sacrifice and stubbornness displayed by the Communists ensured the splendid victory of the Communist Party and the popular anti-fascist front during the elections.

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