The Road to a Popular Front

Helen Graham on the political coalitions in Spain in the 1930s and their role in blocking Fascism.

The Popular Front initiatives of the 1930s in Spain and France were parliamentary experiments in social and economic reform conceived, against a background of ever-increasing Fascist aggression in Europe, as a means of checking political reaction in the domestic arena. But the Popular Front was more than just similar political strategies being put into action in two different countries, rather it was the product of the convergence of national and international political initiatives. The factor connecting the French and Spanish experiences was the adoption of the Popular Front strategy at the VII Congress of the Communist International in July-August 1935.

The Popular Front was envisaged as a policy of inter-class alliance at national level which would complement the Soviet Union's international strategy of collective security. This latter project, though never realised, was to be an alliance system based on the mutual defence pacts the Soviet government wished to make with the western democracies of Britain and France. The Soviet reason for seeking such pacts was clearly to shore up her national defences against potential external aggressors, in particular Nazi Germany. The Popular Front and the idea of international collective security were complementary strategies, in that both involved the forging of alliances across class boundaries in opposition to a common enemy, Fascism. With the Popular Front, in both France and Spain, proletarian political parties allied with those of the bourgeoisie, and, likewise, internationally, collective security sought alliances between bourgeois democratic states and the prototypical proletarian state.

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