To what extent was there a threat of domestic Fascism in 1930s France?
The ambiguous, often contradictory, nature of fascism and the gaps which often exist between fascist ideologies and policies, and the different forms in which fascism took in Europe make fascism extremely difficult to define. Between World War I and II fascism did not come to power in France, in contrast to other European countries. Yet the threat of domestic fascism in 1930s France was still very real and substantial. The 1930s saw the growth of far right leagues in membership and strength, often seen as proto-fascist if not fully fascist organisations, and the polarization of French politics as a whole. The Stavisky Riots and the events that took place in Paris on the 6th February 1934 saw some of the most serious street violence in Paris since the Paris commune of 1871 and led to the resignation of the Daladier government.1 The transformation of the Croix de Feu, under the leadership of François de La Rocque, into a mass populist movement from February 1932 is seen as one of the major threats fascism posed to France, and the extreme right’s reaction to the popular front government’s victory in the legislative elections of May 1936 are all signs of the threat of fascism in 1930s France. There has been much debate surrounding domestic Fascism in France during this period. Rene Remond, one of Frances foremost historian of the right, concluded that fascism had not existed in France. He argued that although some French reactionaries and conservatives had let themselves be won over by the rhetoric, and taken in by fascist propaganda, truly fascist currents that appeared in France were the work of only a small number of writers and intellectuals on the political outskirts who eventually achieved success only in Vichy and with the help of Nazi occupation.2 This would become the basis of the orthodox school of thought in regards to domestic fascism in France. Michel Dobry went so far as to even say that France was immune to Fascism.3 This view has been challenged by historians of interwar France, it has been argued, by ‘revisionists’ historians such as Robert Soucy, that movements with fascist characteristics gained a very significant following and that their tactics and style , even if not all of their policies, were distinctively fascist and not conservative.4 The Far-right leagues were several far right movements opposed to parliamentarianism and were characterized by their nationalist, anti-communist, pro-militaristic and sometimes anti-Semitic opinions. One of the most prominent of these leagues was Action Française which became the main focus of the French radical right and played a vital role in the Stavisky riots. The German historian Ernst Nolte claimed that Action Française was Fascist. However this is not the case as Action Française was too monarchist, aristocratic and elitist to be genuinely fascist. 5 Nor did Action Française focus on denouncing one social or political group as the source of ills befalling France. They did however play one of the main roles in the Stavisky Riots in Paris. Much closer to fascism was Solidarité Française who imitated the German Nazi Party. The most significant of these leagues was the Croix de feu, and the debate surrounding domestic fascism in France is usually heavily weighted around them. It became a mass populist movement from February 1932, with an approximate membership of 30,000 in 1933 rising up to 1 million by April 1936, and sought to force through major changes in France.6 Croix de feu and La Rocque blamed France’s ill on conspiracies of corrupt politicians and party members, Marxists and freemasons and held a strong dislike of international capitalism. It had many fascist characteristics and shares much of the same rhetoric and characteristics of other European fascist movements at this time. It recruited predominantly from the middle class, embraced popularism, mass mobilization, a cult of...
Bibliography: Blatt, Joel, The Cagoule Plot, 1936-1937, in Kenneth Moure and Martin S. Alexanders, eds., Crisis and Renewal in France 1918-1962, (Berghahn Books, 2002) 86-104.
Bingham, John, Refining French Fascism, Finding Fascists in France, Canadian Journal of History, 29, 3.
Brogan, Denis W., The French Nation From Napoleon to Petain 1814-1940, (Cassell History, 1989)
Forescue, William, The 3rd Republic in France 1870-1940, Conflicts and Continuities, (Routledge, 2000),
Jenkins, Brian ed., France in the era of Fascism: Essays on the French Authoritarian Right, (Berghahn Books 2007)
Soucy, Robert, French Fascism: The Second Wave, 1933-1939, (Yale University Press, 1995)
Irvine, William D., Fascism in France and the Strange Case of the Croix de Feu, (University of Chicago Press) http://www.jstor.org/stable/2938485
Jenkins, Brian, The Six Fevrier 1934 and the ‘Survival’ of the French Republic, http://fh.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/3/333.full
Paxton, Robert, The Anatomy of Fascism, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ZmV1moZB6EAC&pg=PT7&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false
Please join StudyMode to read the full document