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Interwar France: Fascism and the Popular Front

V1303/1440: France at War, 1870-1962

Karine Varley

on 6 November 2014

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Transcript of Interwar France: Fascism and the Popular Front

Dr Karine Varley

Impact of First World War
Cultural responses
Interwar Fascism
Popular Front
Survival of Third Republic
Impact of First World War

8.5m men mobilised over course of war
Heavy losses: 1.3m dead; 4m wounded
Pyrrhic victory for France?
Turning point

Stavisky affair
6 February 1934 riots – 14 killed, 236 injured
Fascists accused of attempted coup
‘Beginning of civil war’ (Julian Jackson)
Riots in Paris, 6 February 1934
Parti populaire français (PPF)
Charismatic leader Jacques Doriot
By 1937 c.100,000 members
Interwar leagues
Croix de Feu (CF)
Led by Colonel de la Rocque
By 1931 c.450,000 members
Becomes Parti Social Français (PSF), 1938
Largest party in France: 700,000 – 1m members
Action Française (Charles Maurras)
Faisceau (Georges Valois)
Mouvement Franciste (Marcel Bucard)
Greenshirts (Henry Dorgères)
Case downplaying fascist threat

'Immunity thesis' - democracy deeply embedded in French political culture
France ‘allergic to fascism’ (Serge Bernstein)
Croix de feu ‘boy-scouting for adults’ (René Rémond)
Case for significance of fascist threat:
Zeev Sternhell, Michel Dobry, Robert Soucy
Fascism a significant force in terms of ideas and political movements
Rallying to the Republic

9, 12 February 1934 left-wing demonstrations
Agreements between communists, socialists and radicals
Win elections as Popular Front, May 1936
Popular Front policies

Wage increases, paid holidays, 40 hour week
Peace through League of Nations
Dissolution of extra-parliamentary leagues
Economic problems

Victory fuels strikes
Causes tensions between parties
February 1937 Blum announces ‘pause’
Rearmaments programme
Spanish Civil War

Should France help Spanish Popular Front?
Radicals and socialists oppose intervention, communists in favour
Soviet policy of alliances against fascism
Non-intervention seen as betrayal of left

Impact of Popular Front
Policies hindered by rearmament
Undermined by internal divisions
Polarising impact of anti-communism
Factor in French defeat of 1940

‘Troika’, Le Gringoire, August 1935
Survival of Third Republic

Survival of liberal democracy bucks European trend
But - deeper, long-term divisions
Julian Jackson – civil war beginning in 1934 is primarily class war in the context of depression but rooted in upheavals of WWI
Impact of First World War on political culture
Significance of fascist threat
Divisive impact of Popular Front
Interwar France: Fascism and the Popular Front

You are all indicted; stand up! Stand up as you would for the Marseillaise or God Save the King....
Dada alone does not smell: it is nothing, nothing, nothing.
It is like your hopes: nothing.
like your paradise: nothing.
like your idols: nothing.
like your politicians: nothing.
like your heroes: nothing.
like your artists: nothing.
like your religions: nothing.
Hiss, shout, kick my teeth in, so what? I shall still tell you that you are half-wits. In three months my friends and I will be selling you our pictures for a few francs.
Marcel Duchamp, 'L.H.O.O.Q' (1919)
German war graves
Marcel Gromaire, 'The war' (1925)
Nature of fascism

Debate about whether fascism on left or right
First school:
Rémond, Ernst Nolte, Sternhell
Origins of fascism on left
Second school:
William Irvine, Robert Soucy
Fascism compatible with conservatism
Strength of fascism

CF/PSF at heart of debates
Rémond – fascism left-wing, whereas CF/PSF is conservative
… so French fascism is weak
Soucy – fascism conservative, and CF/PSF is conservative
… so French fascism strong
Cultural Responses

Paris becomes global centre for new cultural movements
Avant-garde reactions against old order held responsible for war
1920s Social and economic problems

Demobilisation brings high unemployment and high inflation
Mid-1920s to mid-1930s government unstable, ongoing financial crisis
Delayed impact of Wall Street crash
Political deadlock after 1932 elections
Strasbourg war memorial
Ruhr crisis

French govt adopts hard line over German reparations
After Germany and Russia sign Rapallo Treaty (April 1922), Franco-German relations collapse
German default on deliveries leads to French and Belgian occupation of Ruhr
Role of war veterans

WWI veterans at heart of Nazi and Italian Fascist movements
Antoine Prost – French veterans pacifist and committed to Republic
But – revisionists argue veterans are main clientele of right wing groups
Full transcript