VariaBy Chloé Gaboriaux
Little known to researchers, the debates raised in the late 1860s by the vain efforts of a publicist to launch a “party of agriculture” nevertheless provide many lessons. Whereas parties were being structured in a way that led them, at the end of the nineteenth century, to become parties in the modern sense of the word, this case enables us to better understand the paradox of the absence of a true agricultural or peasant party in France—a country where rural people have long constituted an overwhelming electoral majority. Distrust for parties, often invoked, is not sufficient to account for the failure of the “party of agriculture” under the Second Empire. It is, above all, an effective argument for its opponents, in a conflict that rural voters finally resolved against their self-proclaimed spokespersons. Reluctant to mistake their interests for those of the agricultural elites, the peasantry was also attracted by the arguments of their adversaries, who did not hesitate to denounce them as former notables eager to re-establish feudal relations. In a France where power relations are forcefully determined by the social and political imagination left behind by the Revolution, the “party of agriculture” was doomed to failure, not in spite of, but because of the electoral predominance of rural people.