In the France of 1934, similarly gripped by a world financial crisis, a scandal with some similarities to today’s — the exposure of the links of several Radical deputies to the embezzler Alexandre Stavisky — led to the resignation of the then Prime Minister Camille Chautemps on 30 January.
The growing far-right of French politics mobilised massive support for a demagogic campaign against parliamentary corruption. There was a huge fascist demonstration on 6 February 1934.
It led to the resignation of Edouard Daladier (who had replaced Chautemps), in favour of the more conservative Gaston Doumergue on 9 February.
Leon Trotsky wrote: “To the program of deflation, of the reduction of their means of existence, the workers must counterpose their own program of fundamentally transforming social relations by the complete ‘deflation’ of the privileges and profits of the band of Oustrics [Albert Oustric was the Fred Goodwin of his day] and Staviskys who exploit the country! This is the only road to salvation.”
The Trotskyist movement had also been calling for a united front of the workers' organisations against fascism, a perspective rejected by the Communist Party because it branded the social-democrats “social fascists” and by the social democrats because they preferred to call on bourgeois governments to restrain the fascists.
In the days after 6 February, the Trotskyists saw their idea taken up at last. On 12 February the Communist Party and the Socialist Party organised a joint demonstration, backed by the syndicalist CGT.
This “united front” generated great enthusiasm in the working class; but the leaders of the CP and the SP were able, by mid-1935, to convert it into a “Popular Front”, drawing in the bourgeois Radicals and rejecting class-struggle policies.
Striving to build on the united front mobilisation, Trotsky wrote in June 1934: “The workers’ alliance of parties and trade unions must be organized, uniting all the forces of the labouring people without exception...
“In the struggle against fascism, reaction and war, the proletariat accepts the aid of petty-bourgeois groupings, but such alliances can be only of secondary importance. Above all, the task is to secure the united action of the working class itself in the factories and the workers’ neighborhoods of industrial centres...”
Further, he argued that: “As long as the majority of the working class continues on the basis of bourgeois democracy, we are ready to defend it with all our forces against violent attacks from the Bonapartist and fascist bourgeoisie.
However, we demand from our class brothers who adhere to ‘democratic’ socialism that they be faithful to their ideas, that they draw inspiration from the ideas and methods not of the Third Republic but of the Convention of 1793...” — and he outlined a series of demands to extend and deepen parliamentary democracy..
“A more generous democracy would facilitate the struggle for workers’ power...
”Workers adhering to democratic socialism must further understand that it is not enough to defend democracy; democracy must be regained. The moving of the political centre of gravity from parliament towards the cabinet, from the cabinet towards the oligarchy of finance capital, generals, police, is an accomplished fact.
“Neither the present parliament nor the new elections can change this. We can defend the sorry remains of democracy, and especially we can enlarge the democratic arena for the activity of the masses only by annihilating the armed fascist forces that, on February 6, 1934, started moving the axis of the state and are still doing so”.