Having Congress: The Shame of the Thirties

  • Roger Shattuck


During the last two weeks of June 1935, the heat in Paris became pitiless. It was precisely the moment when scores of intellectuals from Europe and America and Asia had been summoned to that city to discuss the fate of their world. Inside the sweltering Palais de la Mutualité in the Latin Quarter, a mixed crowd of close to three thousand proletarians and mandarins, watched by muscular ushers, listened to the opening session. They anticipated excitement, portentous statements to match the turn of events. Their newspapers were still discussing a financial panic and a double cabinet crisis earlier in the month. The year had opened with the Saar plebiscite in favor of Germany and with Hitler’s re-establishment of compulsory military service, followed closely by Ethiopia’s second protest to the League of Nations about Mussolini’s intervention in her affairs. In May Laval, now premier, had brought forth the Franco-Soviet Mutual Aid Pact, a package that confounded the French Communists, for it was accompanied by an unexpected statement from Stalin endorsing the long opposed French rearmament policy. The package also included the summary expulsion of Leon Trotsky after two years of political refuge in France. One wonders how many of the audience, most of them Soviet sympathizers, could acknowledge to themselves the murder of Kirov in Russia six months earlier and of the 105 people shot without trial to foil the “plot.” Only a few days later this same auditorium in the Mutualité would house a mass meeting to celebrate the election in the Fifth Arrondissement of Paul Rivet, the first candidate in all Europe put up on a Popular Front ticket. Obviously the assembled intellectuals had multiple occasions to rise to.


Communist Party Unite Front Saturday Night Compulsory Military Service Political Refuge 
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© Tom Conner 2000

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  • Roger Shattuck

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