French Nationalism At Home and Abroad:
An Interpretive Essay
France's military defeat in June 1940 did not merely strike at a European state but rather at a world empire at whose heart lay a long-independent and unified mother country which dominated the colonies she had conquered barely a century before. Despite appearances, it was impossible for the nature of the reactions to this shock and its immediate consequences -the limits placed on France's sovereignty and the change of régime--to be the same in France and overseas. Do they, in fact fall into two neat categories, with a national awakening that tended to contest the German victory on the one side, and a series of demands for independence on the other? In reality, there were a variety of forces which the defeat brought to light and released both in France and in her possessions, and these forces had been there before the war began.
To understand the situation during the war, its mechanisms have to be clarified beforehand, especially so that their interaction, as a function of French power, can be identified. France built a colonial empire at the beginning of the twentieth century because she was already a power at that time, and was able to remain as such from 1914 to 1918 because she still had a world empire. These facts make it easier to understand the reaction of French nationalism to indigenous nationalism at the end of the Second World War.
1. Setting the Stage, 1919-1939
France was forged as a sovereign nation in the face of external threats. Successive regimes always used success in war to strengthen their own legitimacy and guarantee France's sovereignty and integrity. The Third Republic was born out of the ashes of the Second Empire. Its mission was clear if never formally stated: to protect France against Germany and to bring her to her feet again after her crushing defeat. The mission was, as it were, hallowed by the conquest of the colonies, but it was not confirmed until the victory of 1918. Could France continue, after the armistice, to stand up to old or new threats in the face of which the nation hesitated, or even seemed to be divided?
The election of the Horizon Blue parliament in November 1919 was less a sign of the exultation of the victor than it was of his fear. Germany was already disputing its defeat, while one of the former allies was identifying itself with a resolution that questioned international order.
In 1870, France became aware of her weakness in the face of a united Germany bent on continental domination. The reaction to this in France was to strengthen the armed forces and seek continental and maritime alliances. This policy enabled France to hold firm in 1914 and win in 1918. Although she wore a mask of jingoistic complacency--which worried her allies--France was tragically aware of her weakness. She had lost a million and a half men, her northern provinces had been devastated and her finances exhausted. She had been unable to dismember Germany, whose economic potential was still intact and which described itself as
unvanquished; for Germany's revival seemed necessary to maintain the balance in Europe. Furthermore, neither the USA nor the USSR nor yet the League of Nations agreed to recognize the Treaty of Versailles. Italy denounced its "mutilated victory"; England kept her distance.
The result of all this was a general policy line that can be described as "national": to prevent Germany's revival or to slow it until the new Reich had been integrated into a diplomatic system capable of containing it, and until France had rebuilt her army and contracted new alliances. While she played at international solidarity at the League of Nations, France's intention was to maintain a strong army, develop a fleet that would be capable of assuming the freedom of the seas, and form continental alliances. Above all else, it seemed essential for France never to cut herself off from England, for only England, through the Commonwealth, could ensure the breathing space necessary in a modern war, and obtain American support. This explains the fact that all of France's leaders rejected the possibility of going to war against Germany without the guarantee of British support.
This policy was implemented differently by two factions. Those who identified with the Bloc National and Poincare really only believed in military superiority and alliances. They demanded the rigid enforcement of a Carthaginian peace: disarmament, demilitarization, occupation, reparations and sanctions. Their opponents in the Cartel des Gauches thought that the League of Nations constituted the best guarantee. With Briand and Herriot, they believed that Weimar could be bound by "Peace through Law". The existence of the two factions conceals the fact that there were appreciable differences in political temperament, especially on the fringes. There were those who had described themselves as nationals or even nationalists ever since Deroulede and Barres and who mistrusted the parliamentary system, while others rallied to the crown in the name of Maurras' nationalisme integral. All accused Parliament of congenital impotence in the face of external threats and the dangers that were undermining French society from within under the guise of social progress.
Because the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) was the embodiment of both of these dangers, it crystallized the national demands and conservative tendencies of French opinion. In order to be accepted as a member of the Third International, which was held in Tours in 1920, the PCF had to accept democratic centralism and cells in the Comintern, as well as act against national armies and colonial domination. By identifying with the Bolshevik revolution--and they were the only ones to do so--the communists shouldered the mantle of Russia's collapse in 1917, the Black Sea mutinies, the refusal to honour debts, and the Hungarian and German revolutions. Following their revolutionary logic, they attempted to set the soldiers against the officers, supported the Ruhr saboteurs, encouraged Alsatian autonomy and supported the struggles of the colonial nations, especially in the Rif. In addition, Rapallo seemed to be preparing a German-Soviet military pact that would strengthen the ties between the Reichswehr and the Red Army.
"Since Lenin returned on a German train, the Bolsheviks, consciously or unconsciously, have been playing Germany's game." Those who accept them as political allies are guilty. Out of this argument a neat dichotomy was born: the conservative right claimed to be the only nationalists, while the left rediscovered pre-war internationalism and pacifism. In both word and deed, however, the communists rejected the socialists and radicals as being in the nationalist camp whether they liked it or not. Nevertheless, the left was united in its denunciation of fascism in Italy, whereas the right saw in it a traditional Latin model of order. Could not Mussolini's Italy become an ally against German imperialism? Its colonial ambitions
made it a rival mainly overseas, where it was threatening the bases of French power.
The concept of empire, which was born about 1890, blossomed forth during the twenties. The First World War had lasted so long and had been so radically different from previous wars that the value of the human, industrial and financial resources of the colonies, dependent on control of the seas, became evident. This awareness was sharpened by the need for oil to mechanize the land, sea and air forces. For the nationalists, this was an argument in favour of a structure built on state authority and the maintenance of ties with metropolitan France. The liberals and socialists used it as an argument for implementing generous reforms within the framework of French sovereignty. For the debate was wider than one about freedom and progress; it was also about demands for independence.
Were these movements national, or was there a world-wide wave that could easily be described as a conspiracy? There can be no doubt that the internationalizing process strengthened each colony's refusal to accept defeat; this, in turn, kept armed resistance alive. Black Africa was still free of this, which left the two other great world cultural groups in the foreground--Indochina and the Arab Muslim world. In the far East, first Japan's victories and then the Chinese revolution fired the imagination. In north Africa, Muslim reform, the Young Turks' revolution, and the alliance between Turkey and Germany awakened the hopes that had been placed on the emancipation of the Arab kingdoms in the near East. The young "évolués" in both of these areas had demanded equality before 1914. They thought that the loyalty that they had shown during the war and their willing sacrifices justified liberal changes. Their demands certainly threatened those who were profiting from colonialism, and also worried those in power in France, for the reformists also invoked the Wilsonian doctrine of the rights of peoples and they haunted the corridors at the peace conference and later in the League of Nations. Was not their final goal independence? On all sides, political hedging placed narrow limits on social and administrative reforms.
The general spirit of revolt spurred two explosions of activity. Traditionalists saw themselves justified in falling back on religious, historical and sociological values and exalting an often mythical past. The intellectuals in Indochina and Madagascar, and the Ulama in Algeria reacted similarly, despite the differences in their civilizations. In this way, revolutionary forces set themselves up as an echo of the call sent out by the Third International to be oppressed peoples. In the colonies themselves, there was already a proletariat in the mines and ports as well as the country. In France, the demands of the war had necessitated sending colonial manpower. Trade unions were formed and communist cells set up, sometimes run by Europeans, sometimes not. Revolutionary cadres were formed, exactly how is still unclear: the Maghreb had Messali Hadj, the far East Nguyen Ai Quoc. Were these men communists or nationalists? Were they making a tactical subordination of their nationalism to internationalism in order to secure Comintern support? Or did they think that nationalism was a necessary step in the march to world socialism? This question bothered the congresses of the Third International and worried the masters of the Kremlin. As far as the French were concerned, their goal was still the same; schism.
The Levantine mandates, Syria and Lebanon, reacted with the spirit of the Mashreq, the cradle of Arab Muslin reform, the hearth of anti-Turkish nationalism and the centre of the coexistence of the Christian and Muslim religious communities. Whereas the British had recognized Egypt and Iraq's independence in 1922 and 1930 respectively, the French dodged their obligations as mandatories out of fear of possible repercussions in their possessions in the
Maghreb. Similar tensions surfaced in the western Mediterranean, such as the Druze uprising in 1925. But north Africa was the scene of more immediate crises: Abd'el Krim's revolt in the Spanish Rif, Italy's conquest of Libya, France's occupation of the outer borders of Algeria and Morocco. In Geneva, Shekib Arslan became the spokesman for this turbulence to the Syria-Palestine Pan-Arab Committee, which had been awakened by the existence of the Jewish National Homeland.
Aware that they were part of the Islamic world, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco saw France's blunders in 1930-31 as provocations. In Algeria, the centenary of the conquest revived the old bitterness. The "évolués", who had been disappointed by the insignificance of the 1919 reforms, had formed, in vain, the Fédération des Elus Indigènes, under the domination of Ferhat Abbas. Their support, already small, shrank before that of the Ulama, who invoked Arab reform in their call: "Islam is my religion, Algeria my country, Arabic my language." In 1931, they joined under the leadership of Ben Badis. In Tunisia, the Congr&egrae;s Eucharistique de Carthage humiliated the faithful. The Destour, which was demanding a constitution and strict application of the 1912 Protectorate Treaty, increased in popularity. In Morocco, the Dahir Barbére, which truncated internal Moroccan sovereignty, was also seen as a challenge to Arab identity and was instrumental in bringing together the Young Moroccans.
In Indochina, 1930 was marked by the military insurrection of Yen Bay and the workers' and peasants' risings of Nghe Tinh. At the same time, anti-communist repression was sweeping China. The Yen Bay rising was carried out by nationalists who drew inspiration from the Kuomintang to form the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD), while the other risings were claimed by the Vietnamese Communist party, newly created by Nguyen Ai Quoc out of various revolutionary factions that was to become the Indochinese Communist party during the same year. In Madagascar, nationalism carried the day before assimilationism.
The Depression that brought on the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 also speeded the rise of Nazism in Germany. In 1933, Hitler's success was seen in two lights: vengeful nationalism and socio-political reaction, while his antisemitism illustrated the racist foundations of his doctrine that differed in precisely this respect from other fascist systems. In France, as elsewhere, ideologies stressed or minimized one or other of these factors. However, despite the fact that Mein Kampf was hardly known, it was becoming clear that war was coming.
With the later Depression came a deterioration of a socio-political situation already degraded by financial scandals and a presidential assassination. The nationalists denounced parliamentary corruption and the passivity of the Chamber elected in 1932 in the fact of German provocation. It was the hour of the Ligues, the inheritors of the Bonapartist and Boulangist right, who reflected the sensibility of a petty bourgeois France that was uncomfortable about the loss of its rustic structures and impregnated with the myth of the veteran. Order and greatness were their demands, yet they remained attached to peace. Various minor fascist groups attempted to break into them: the Camelots du Roi, who set the tone; the more numerous Jeunesses Patriotes, who were close to them; the Croix de Feu, which constituted the stormtroopers who, "united as if at the front" behind their leader, Colonel de la Roque, were believers in solidarity, discipline and authority.
In February 1934, Daladier broke up the anti-parliamentary riots and repressed the PCF's attempted proletarian uprising. Later, the dissolution of the Ligues showed up both the
weakness of the fascistic groups and the need for order. This need was reflected in the increasingly popular Parti Social Français, and the weakness of the fascistic groups in the practice of legislation by decree. In response, the democrats, already brought up with a jolt by the setback to the German left, formed rank. A Vigilance Committee of anti-fascist intellectuals was formed, a forerunner of the Front Populaire, a coalition of radicals, socialists and communists that won the 1936 elections.
As far as the nationalists were concerned, the communists were leading this coalition for the benefit of the Third International--little, indeed, was known about its development at that time. The Comintern, against which Chiang Kai Shek had struck a major blow in China, watched with concern the Japanese attack on Manchuria and departure from the League of Nations, which the USSR entered in 1934. Hitler's consolidation, the new life in the German economy, the rearming of the Third Reich and its withdrawal from the League of Nations all confirmed the existence in western Europe of a political and military threat that went under the mask of a demand for Lebensraum; a threat of geopolitical and geostrategic encirclement that was further confirmed by the 1936 Anti-comintern Pact. In July 1935, however, the Seventh Congress of the Third International had reacted by listing the dangers, hitherto confused, in order of priority. They saw themselves--hence the USSR--as better off with bourgeois democracy, even social democracy, in China as well as Europe, than with German Hitlerism and Japanese militarism.
In France, Barthou elaborated a lucid policy in 1934, in the only framework that Great Britain would accept, that of the League of Nations. In order to give the alliances with Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania some weight, there had to be a military alliance with one of the great continental powers, the USSR or Italy, preferably both. The USSR was worried about German pressure, while Italy, in order to save Austrian independence, had taken strong stand on the Brenner, but was carving out an empire in east Africa and was unhappy about seeing the Franco-Yugoslav Treaty renewed. After Barthou was assassinated, Laval continued his policy as a military alliance, but rather called an end to the PCF's antimilitarism and anti-colonialism. The Franco-Italian agreements left Italy's hands untied in Abyssinia without extracting any real concession in return. The Stresa Front for safeguarding western Europe ignored the USSR.
Only a display of determination on France's part could bring into focus the fears aroused by Germany; but she was unwilling and unable, as was seen in her inactivity when Germany remilitarized the Rhineland. On the one hand, France's armies were behind the Maginot Line, waiting for the Germans to come, worn out by a naval blockade, and be decimated on their defences. At that point, together with the imperial forces and her allies. France would launch a counter-offensive. On the other hand, the Quai d'Orsay was counting on condemnation from the League of Nations and a reaction from the British. This strategic contradiction dealt a moral and military deathblow to the continental alliances, while Italy, fresh from its victory in Abyssinia, was irritated by the League's sanctions. The Franco-British declaration of mutual aid in the case of unprovoked aggression in 1936 went some way to restoring the balance lost by this resignation. It is the key to France's behaviour. At the time of the Anschluss, of Munich, of Prague, Paris was waiting for London to recognize Hitler's actions as unprovoked aggression.
This consistent policy was subtly altered by events in France and outside. The victory of the Front Populaire in 1936 brought to power an anti-Nazi left that was a prisoner of its own
pacifism. The left started to rearm France, voted the necessary credits and provided the country with modern economic structures, especially in the aircraft industry. Overseas, Blum hesitated to weaken the bases of French power with far-reaching reforms. In Spain, he resigned himself to nonintervention in order to accommodate England. How could he say that war was inevitable and had to be prepared for, admit a preventive offensive, when nobody had called for one in March to prevent the occupation of the Rhineland, and openly renounce his pacifist and social beliefs?
The right denounced the strikes and marches that accompanied social reforms. They thought they saw in the demonstrations, over which red flags flew while the Internationale rose, a prelude to excesses similar to those perpetrated by the Frente Popular, which was being supported by the International Brigades raised by the Comintern and sometimes armed by Paris. Of course Hitler was supporting Franco; but less so than Mussolini, and should this paragon of christian Latin civilization be forced to abandon his success to the continental and colonial enemies of France? Would it not be better to set up a Mediterranean bloc of orderly regimes capable of containing German Nazism, even if it did mean allowing it some latitude in the face of the Soviet Union, where Stalinism was sullying the party image? Anti-Sovietism and anti-communism brought forth a French fascism: the Parti Populaire Français. At the same time, traditional nationalists were shunning an Italy that was exalting the Rome-Berlin Axis (1936), and whose departure from the League was followed by its joining the German-Japanese Anti-Comintern Pact (1937).
The call for Daladier in April 1938 sealed the fate of the Front Populaire. It was a reflection of the national will: a slow-down of social progress, the defence of democracy, and firmness abroad. And it was already a call for a saviour. The veteran of 1914-18, who had saved the Republic in 1934, was seen as the symbol of the General Staff and the Franco-British Alliance. But France expected him to avoid war and acclaimed him when he returned from Munich. Did not his speeches give the impression of a land attached to peace under Law but resolved to defend her security in the face of the Pact of Steel which, in May 1939, ensured Germany of Italy's support and left the Mediterranean to Italy?
Daladier's trip to North Africa in January 1939 illustrates the importance France attached to her empire. The triumphant welcome he received, especially in Tunisia, expressed the loyalty that was soon to be confirmed by the war. But did it reflect an attachment to metropolitan France of the fear of Italian colonization? The fate of Libya did not exactly make the inhabitants of the Maghreb fall over each other in their haste to join the camp of France's enemies, in spite of the fact that they were becoming more receptive to nationalist propaganda. On the other hand, the Franco-Turkish agreement of June 1939 upset Syrian nationalists, who were already disappointed by the refusal of the French Parliament to lift the mandate on the two Levantine countries.
The Depression hit France's colonies hard, through France, their main trading partner. Its effects were beginning to be felt in 1931, when the colonial exposition was held at Vincennes, and they culminated in the Metropolitan and Overseas France economic conference at the end of 1934, which made a real effort to create some political and economic solidarity similar to that which had been established for the Commonwealth at the Ottawa Imperial Conference two years before.
The Slump and the falling prices hit both colonial farmers and native Algerians
without bringing them any closer to each other. Factory closures set off urban unemployment, which was aggravated by the Depression in the mines and ports. The state, consolidating its latent tendency to direct, intervened by making loans and funding special work projects without starting a process of business concentration. The poverty was further increased by the growth in population, and created fertile soil for a revival of the nationalism that the colonial administration had been vigorously combatting before and after the brief truce in 1936. The Front Populaire, which was more aware of Arab-Muslim problems than Indochinese difficulties, was effectively split between its desire for social progress and political emancipation and its reticence to a religious nationalism that could weaken the French position.
In the Levant, the troubles in Palestine mobilized Arab opinion in 1936 against Jewish immigration, which had been speeded up because of Nazi persecution. In this strained climate, France signed a treaty granting independence to Syria within three years, but did not ratify it. In Tunisia, Bourguiba had broken with the Vieux Destour, which was not demanding enough, and created the Neo-Destour in 1934, which combined evolutionary pragmatism with eventual independence. In 1938, however, rioting broke out, which led to the leader's being imprisoned and to a strengthening of his authority. In 1934 in Morocco, the Comité d'Action had demanded strict application of the Protectorate, and recognized the youthful sultan Muhammad Ben Youssef as their leader; henceforth he was to be alive to Morocco's demand for unity, greatness and sovereignty. In 1937, troubles shook Meknes.
In 1936, a congress drew up a Charter of the Demands of Algerian Muslims. It was answered by the Blum-Violette plan which, however, restricted itself to offering citizenship to 30,000 Algerians. Its rejection by Parliament discredited the "évolués", who were still betting on personal integration based on respect for the status of each individual, and isolated the Parti Communiste Algérien, which was run by Europeans. It gave new life to the Ulamas' rejection of integration, and opened the way for Messali Had j, who founded the Parti du Peuple Algérien in 1937. A revolutionary movement had been formed from emigre proletarians which took Algerian nationalism into account within Algeria itself. All that it retained from the Communist International were the methods of its first period.
By contrast, the Parti Communiste Indochinois remained loyal to the Third International, structuring itself alongside the PCF. Despite strong and effective repression between 1931 and 1936, it achieved coherence during the 1935-36 watershed by reconciling communism and nationalism in a class front that located its action in a global context under the cover of the Front Démocratique and the Congrés Indochinois. The guiding force behind this came from the International, no less, which was represented in Yunnan by Nguyen Ai Quoc. He had returned to China after five years of training in Moscow, which had itself been helped by the Sino-Soviet rapprochement in response to Japanese aggression.
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While military negotiations were going on at the beginning of the summer of 1939 between the French, the British and the Russians, the political confrontations in France and the tension in the colonies appeared to be swept aside by the concerted threats of Germany, Italy and Japan. The Third International, the apparent if not always actual ringmaster of these confrontations, was pursuing a policy of appeasement. Its need for a military and diplomatic entente with the bourgeois democracies was reflected in France and the colonies alike in its accepting the demands for war, despite the setback to the Front Populaire and the abandonment
of various social measures.
This harmony in France and the colonies was shattered on August 23, 1939 by the Soviet-German Non-aggression Pact. Moscow, to gain time and protect the socialist homeland, was dealing with Berlin under the pretext of the hesitation and reticence, which were real enough, of the French and the English, who had been paralyzed by Polish and Romanian anti-Sovietism. The PCF justified the agreement, while public opinion condemned it as a de facto alliance with Germany. On the eve of the war, the nation fell apart to the sound of the nationalists proclaiming with a mixture of strategic concern and ideological complacency, "henceforth all France's enemies are in the same camp".
Were they really? The communists voted war credits on September 2, and the PCF was only dissolved on the 26th, after the USSR intervened against Poland. It was a symbolic dissolution, for the communist deputies set up a Groupe Ouvrier et Paysan Français which, on October 1, attacked the "imperialist warmongers" and demanded that "Parliament be called upon to publicly debate the question of Peace". The "opening of an inquiry into complicity with the enemy" did not intimidate the party, which organized secretly and distributed a leaflet on October 16 denouncing "the war imposed upon the French people", "a capitalists' war" that "reserved for the people of France the mission of carrying out the orders of the London bankers". The Union Sacrée, that had been accepted by the socialists in August 1914, was rejected by the Third International in the autumn of 1939.
2. A Game of Strength, 1939-1945
From September 1939 to May 1940, France was bogged down in the phoney war because she was waiting for something to happen: the miracle that would allow her to escape, if not victorious then at least unvanquished, from a war she did not want. France lived in dread of losses like those she had suffered during the 1914-18 war, knowing unconsciously that they would mean the end of the French nation. In the absence of the Russians, she was waiting for the colonial troops, the British Expeditionary Force, the Italians to change their minds, the Americans to intervene, the famine that the blockade would produce in Germany, and the blows which the Baku and Finnish expeditions would strike against the USSR, Germany's supplier. Anti-Sovietism and anti-communism were not so much a class reaction as a desire to tip the balance in the war in the east even at the price of concessions in the west. This loss of confidence and willpower led to the "étrange défaite" that rival nationalist factions either accepted or rejected; at the same time, the colonized peoples in the empire wondered about French power.
By a curious paradox, the military defeat sounded the "call for a soldier". France swallowed the nationalist myth of Déroulès, Maurras and La Roque entirely, by entrusting her destiny to Marshal Pétain rather than acclaiming General de Gaulle. Was this a simple substitution of the man in uniform for the knight in shining armour? The question assumes that there was a confrontation of forces, the sources of which have to sought in the immediate past, even if they appeared to have been thrown up by the situation and the relations between them influenced by the development of a war that brought first one, then another, to the fore.
The régime set up on July 10, 1940 existed solely because of the armistice, which had been demanded on June 17 and signed on the 22nd to avoid the capitulation of the French army. Pétain refused to carry on the war from abroad beside England, as had the other defeated allies,
and he thought that since Germany's victory was already won, its consequences should be mitigated. The French were reassured by the decision of the old Marshal and almost unanimously approved of the overthrow of the Republic; certainly, they were not surprised by it. They had been taught in school that defeats were the punishment for the weakness of regimes. Granted plenary powers by the representatives of the nation, despite eighty dissenting voices, Pétain became the head of the Etat Français. The National Revolution he instituted was less of a surprise than his announcement of collaboration.
The National Revolution is more easily defined in terms of what it condemned than what it proposed. Nonetheless, its inner workings have to be found in the values it proclaimed. Pétain replaced Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité with Travail, Famille, Patrie (Work, Family and the Fatherland). Everything that weakened the fatherland had to be expunged and everything that strengthened it exalted. For this reason, internationalist ideas and the men who defended, represented or embodied internationalism or foreign things were condemned: the wandering Jew, the recently naturalized citizen, the communist of the Third International, and the capitalist who knew no frontiers. The same applied to everything that undermined the hierarchy that the life of the people, just like any army, required: learned societies, political equality, elective representation, revocable power, human rights, and even the very notion of the Republic that was the embodiment of these values. France was to be rebuilt by returning to the traditional order: a rural land ruled by her notables, educated by the catholic church and fashioned by the army, while at its head stood a charismatic leader whose past victories and national support expressed by the Lésion des Combattants conferred legitimacy on him. French fascism? In reality, a régime based on moral order that dared not refer to the monarchy and that came to grief on what it was to become.
This "France seule", however, still belonged in an international system where she had been a great power. Before regaining this place through lengthy demographic, moral and institutional reform, she had to find a place in a new European, hence world, order that was characterized by German domination. Who could resist Germany after France's defeat? The English had no army, the Americans were closeted away in their isolation, the Russians had become Germany's ally. All that remained was to take second place in German Europe, and not to leave that for Italy. Just as Greece had conquered Rome, France would civilize the Germans. Since England's useless resistance was delaying the peace, the hardships of the armistice had to be alleviated, the fate of over one million prisoners of war softened, the demarcation line between occupied and free France made more flexible, and the financial burden of occupation lightened. Both long and short term considerations justified the offers of collaboration that Hitler, reluctantly, accepted; reluctantly, because his intention was to use the peace once and for all to break France, whose submissiveness he did not believe. At the same time, he had to accommodate Italy.
Why did he not do it at once? At this stage of the war it seemed better to neutralize France without provoking the fleet, the empire and the overseas armed forces to go over to the English. These concessions turned out to be dangerous once the struggle continued, for they constituted arguments for those at Vichy who were translating collaboration into action. Two men took turns in running French policy with Pétain: Laval, the politician, and Darlan, the sailor. After his eclipse from December 1940 to April 1942, Laval was in charge. He declared total willingness to collaborate, even if it meant accepting the consequences. Darlan, strengthened by the loyalty of his navy, accepted limited military collaboration which he justified by British aggression but which he thought would include France in the final
settlement, not among the conquered but among the conquerors. Twice he granted facilities to the German forces in Syria and Tunisia (Berchtesgaden, May 11, 1941).
In contrast to them stood General Weygand, the archetypal anti-German conservative officer who understood 1940 in terms of 1918. He demanded an armistice so as to avoid having the army capitulate, prevent a Bolshevik revolution and prepare for revenge. He was firmly committed to the National Revolution, but was preparing the army to take up arms again against Germany in two or twenty years, as the situation dictated. Under his protection, the officers kept the English informed, concealed weapons, prepared for mobilization and raised replacement forces. But, like him, they were waiting for Pétain to give the order to start fighting again. This was partly because of the military code and partly with good reason, for they thought that no shots should be fired until the time was ripe; that is, until the United States had intervened. For this reason, they refused to follow de Gaulle and resisted the English and Free French so as not to give the enemy an excuse to occupy north Africa.
Over and against these men were the ultra-collaborationists around Brinon, Deat and Doriot in Paris, who denounced the double game and the belated nationalism of the Marshal's entourage despite Laval's return. Germany's invasion of Russia lifted their last remaining ideological objection. The new Europe was to be cemented through the struggle against communism both at home and abroad. Vichy approved the creation of the Légion Antibolchévique to fight on the Russian front; and, in order to repress the resistance, which was likened to communist terrorism, the Ordre Légionnaire, soon to become the Milice. But, like the Milice, the LVF fought more in defence of christian western Europe and French traditions than for a new order. And when the allied Landing in 1944 set off the flight to Sigmaringen, the unquestioning supporters of Nazi Germany inclined to the Waffen SS, in its police or military form, and assembled all the helmeted dreamers in the Charlemagne Division.
Of all the names borne by the organizations and men who opposed Pétain and gathered around de Gaulle, the most meaningful was France Combattante--for this clearly indicated that they had rejected the armistice. Rather than being the rejection of a man or a régime, however, their decision expressed their will to continue, or resume, the fight against a conqueror who was only temporary. It was their struggle that entailed the condemnation of Vichy's policy of collaboration long before it led to the uneasy gathering around the first man to say no.
De Gaulle first denounced the armistice on June 17, then on the 18th. Like him, many of those who rallied condemned the parliamentary system. Their analysis, however, was radically different from Pétain's. France had lost a battle but Germany had not won the war. The conflict was world-wide. England and the Commonwealth--which the USA would not sit by and allow to sink--were able to resist. France's recovery, therefore, did not depend on a National Revolution but on continuing to fight until final victory. This was a geostrategic approach that set the continent against the ocean. Nonetheless, it did have two drawbacks: could England resist in the immediate future? What would Russia do?
The Free French forces fought wherever their limited numbers and total logistical reliance on others would permit: in west Africa, the Sahara, the Channel, the Atlantic, and the far north or Russia. What mattered most to de Gaulle was to prevent the Free French forces from being absorbed into the British army; instead, they were to be the symbol and guarantee of national sovereignty. Without hesitation or qualification, he set himself up not as a military leader, but as the holder of national sovereignty, and this in the face of the allies, who
challenged whether he represented France and who doubted that country's future. For Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt, the man who held legal power and authority was Pétain, for he had been invested by Parliament, acclaimed by the French, and was obeyed by the armies. No major military leader and no major colony had answered de Gaulle's appeal; indeed, Dakar, Gabon and Syria had rejected it, although the Pacific territories and Equatorial Africa had certainly rallied to him, and his forces were growing and had distinguished themselves at Bir Hakeim and Koufra. But how could it be known if the resistance, then organizing in France, would accept him as its leader? Above all, what would be its role?
Before openly engaging in combat, the resistance was to be seen in its opposition to the occupation. Its military actions were either slowed or prevented because of the difficulties of communicating with England, Soviet behaviour, US isolationism, the existence of two zones on which the weight of the occupation was different, Pétain's charisma and the ambiguity of the National Revolution. But the resistance very soon took on a political color in both the occupied and Vichy zones. The abolition of the Republic, the racist and corporatist measures, and the moral order mobilized the hard core of the left. When the nationalist right weighed the consequences of collaboration, which denied them their basic option, they were bound to condemn both the Etat Français and Pétain. The struggle against Germany presupposed fighting against Vichy and preparing new institutions.
Some members of the resistance joined the intelligence networks or even helped in the Deuxieme Bureau and the Intelligence Service. Others founded movements that combined intelligence, propaganda, occasional action, and training for future collaboration with the allied forces. In the northern zone, the German presence hindered the formation of groups, but in the southern zone, three major movements took shape that eventually coalesced into the Mouvements Unis de la Résistance. Their leaders' intentions were to co-ordinate their activities without losing their individuality, and to associate themselves with the resistance outside France and benefit from allied aid, without placing themselves under de Gaulle, for their determination had not been born out of the June 18 appeal, even if they had drawn some comfort from it.
In June 1941, the PCF brought in its resolve and experience. Its intervention reestablished the coherence among its members that had been broken by the Comintern demands between 1939 and 1940. PCF militants had been persecuted by Vichy and were often already in the resistance. For the first time they reconciled their patriotism and proletarian internationalism. By fighting for France, they were fighting for the USSR, and the struggle against the Nazi occupier was preparation for the world revolution. The PCF Francs-Tireurs and partisans favoured an immediate renewal of action everywhere, aimed at drawing the masses into a general popular uprising that would bring to power the Front Populaire which they were trying to infiltrate, though with much less success than in other countries where the Third International was finding it easier to control matters.
The resistance in France needed de Gaulle just as de Gaulle needed it. One man played a dominant role in this meeting of two forces that had been thrown up separately out of a common national reaction. He was Jean Moulin. His past as a Front Populaire deputy typecast him as a rallying point in the tradition of Jacobinism--which the left had rediscovered and de Gaulle had taken up. Between January 1942 and June 1943, he succeeded in uniting in the Conseil National de la Résistance (CNR) not only the mouvements but also the old parties and trade unions from the Third Republic, and in having them recognize de Gaulle as their leader.
This recognition became decisive when the attentiste faction among the nationalists took up the struggle again after the allied landing in north Africa and the occupation of the southern zone, which in turn led to the fiction of a captive Marshal acting through silent delegation.
In November 1942, the Anglo-Americans had ignored the Free French in favour of the African army which at worst was weak and at best merely wanted revenge, a desire symbolized by General Giraud. And they slowed his arrival so as to limit his rule. Darlan, who happened to be in Algiers, became the leader since Pétain had designated him his successor. The French forces joined in the fight alongside the allies and fought well. At the same time, the scuttling of the fleet and the dissolution of the army left Pétain's authority intact in France. In the desire for military efficiency, the allies resigned themselves to Darlan, who rallied the empire and who, because of his past, could take no part in politics in the future. His timely assassination on December 13 1943 set off a crisis, lasting almost a year, about who was to succeed him -Giraud or de Gaulle.
Unlike Darlan, Giraud was politically irreproachable, and had the advantage of symbolizing and justifying the Weygand aspect of Vichy: the resolute, vigilant wait of an army that wanted only military revenge, disdaining politics, and that was already fighting in Tunisia, Italy and Corsica. De Gaulle wore the halo of the June 18 appeal, which was witness to his grandeur and political astuteness. The constitution of the CNR in May 1943 proved decisive: it gave de Gaulle the recognition and forces he lacked. The Comité Français de Libération Nationale, founded on June 3, 1943, was confirmed by the Assemblée Provisoire in September that revived Parliament and laid the foundations for the Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Française that was set up on June 3, 1944.
The loyalty shown by the colonies during the war left France ill-prepared for the violence of their demands in 1945. The defeat, the break between the Etat Français and the Free French, the crisis of November 1942, and the isolation of Indochina, of course, explain this lack of perception. Basically, however, it seems that the nature of the changes that had taken place in the world simply had not been understood in Vichy, London or Algiers. All of the European colonial powers had suffered humiliating reverses. Temporarily, they had been replaced in the world hierarchy by Germany and Japan, and were to be by the USA and USSR, on which the two factions in the decolonisation movement were already leaning. In August 1941, the Atlantic Charter had stated the Wilsonian doctrine of the right of each people to choose the form of government under which it wanted to live and the legitimacy of re-establishing the "sovereign rights" that had been abolished by forces. The principles were adopted by the United Nations in 1944.
The French Levantine mandates, enclaves in a zone of British influence, suffered the after-shocks of the German and Italian drive toward the near East, the objectives of which were Suez and Baku. In order to free themselves from English and French tutelage and eradicate the Jewish homeland, which had been strengthened by emigrants driven out by the Nazis, Arab nationalists hoped, at one time, for a German victory. In April 1941, Iraq rose against the British, and Iran and Egypt appeared ready to follow suit. The logistic facilities in Syria, which Vichy had agreed to place at the disposal of the Germans, provided the English with the long-awaited excuse to intervene in the Levant. The Free French took part in the operation in order to uphold France's rights on behalf of the League of Nations, but they immediately undertook to implement the 1936 independence agreements, on condition that they maintain a military presence.
In Damascus and Beirut, representative institutions were set up; in Lebanon, they reflected a difficult compromise between the religious communities. The English supported those who were preparing for the elimination of the French presence, which they regarded as incompatible with the future of the near East. London, in effect, redressed the military situation and then, after May 1941, played the independence and Arab unity (under British influence) cards. From this point on, the nationalists were convinced that the allies were going to be victorious and threw in with them. There followed conferences and congresses, and in September 1944, an Arab League was set up to be officially proclaimed in May 1945. The future of the west concerned it just as much as that of the near East.
In north Africa, which had remained loyal to Pétain, the military leaders were preparing their revenge, thereby off-setting the loss of prestige caused by their defeat. Various factors made their work easier: the military order symbolized by Pétain, Weygand and Noguès was regarded as more just than the parliamentary system that had been imposed on the colonials. There were echoes of antisemitism. Germany's reticence was not seen as a strategic move aimed at temporary neutralization of the Maghreb. Nonetheless, the events in the near East were still common knowledge and foreign propaganda, whether American or German, still commanded attention. In Vichy, the Conseil National gave Muslim Algerians equal representation with the French in the colony. This encouraged Ferhat Abbas to renew his demands; the measures taken against the Ulama and especially the PPA since 1939 had left the field open to him. The brief which he sent to Marshal Pétain in May 1941 revealed the permanence of the ill-feeling and the hopes, and the latter were still formulated within a French framework.
The Anglo-American landing shook the colonial structure. Unable to repel the Americans, the French joined them, claiming to be their "poor relatives". The campaigns in Tunisia, Italy, Corsica and France certainly showed the wartime loyalty of the Maghrebin and France's military revival; but political power was in the hands of the Americans, while the French, who were fighting for power locally and in France, cancelled themselves out.
Encouraged by R. Murphy, Abbas wrote a "message to the responsible authorities", both French and allied, at the end of 1942, in reply to the appeal to support France and the peoples' liberation struggle. The message was developed in the Manifesto of the Algerian People, produced in February 1943. Its very title showed that economic, social and administrative demands had been left behind and that the former assimilationists had brought Algerianism to the fore. Without severing contact, General Catroux contained the latent agitation in 1943. On December 12, de Gaulle, who was in Constantine, dusted off the Blum-Violette plan and made it his own: easy access to citizenship without forfeiture of personal status; increased Muslim representation in local assemblies; administrative recruitment and economic reform. These liberal, decentralizing moves were confirmed by the Brazzaville Conference in January 1944 and set in place by the order of March 7. Immediately, there was created an Association des Amis du Manifeste du Peuple Algérien, which was a means for the Ulama and the PPA to re-enter politics; for them, liberalization was only a means towards independence. In March 1945, Messali's claims for a parliament and government at the First Congress of the Friends of the Manifesto defeated those of Ferhat Abbas for an autonomous Algerian republic federated with France. The PPA, which was helped by a socioeconomic climate that had deteriorated as a result of two years' poor crops, became involved in carefully planned clandestine operations that supplemented its propaganda and intensified the agitation.
On May 8, 1945, on the very day when there were mutterings in Beirut and Damascus about the relief of the French troops, which was interpreted as a refusal to evacuate, insurrection broke out in Algeria, prematurely so, since it was limited to the region around Setif. In the Levant, a British ultimatum paralyzed the French forces. In Algeria, the military repression was thorough, aiming at the general uprising, abortive though it was, instead of the one place it had occurred.
The two neighbouring protectorates avoided open crisis. Nonetheless, the ways in which they, too, were changing (their pasts and the ways in which the war had affected them set them apart) also betrayed the rise of nationalism. In January 1943, Roosevelt had promised Sultan Muhammad Ben Youssef support for his aspirations towards sovereignty. The Anfa meting persuaded the nationalists of this, and they set up the Istiglal, the Independence Party, around Balafrej. The manifesto of January 1944 was unambiguous: Moroccan independence and integrity under the Sultan and the establishment of a democratic régime similar to those in the eastern Muslim countries. In the face of intransigeance in the GPRF, the Sultan kept in the background, out of tactical considerations, but the Istiglal, despite the arrest of its leaders, continued to act. Fez and Rabat were torn by riots in February 1944, and the reforms undertaken later that year did not stop the group, which demanded Moroccan admission into the United Nations in March 1945.
In June 1942, The Tunisian nationalists found support in Moncef Bey. The crisis of November 1942 took place in a tense atmosphere made tenser by Italian action. The Regency, which had been spared by the Anglo-Americans, suffered German intervention. This was supported by Admiral Esteva, who was loyal to Vichy, but was fought by his forces, who joined Algiers in its fight against the Axis. The ambiguous attitude of the Bey's family and the compromise of certain supporters of the Destour with the Axis powers revealed that the real goal was Tunisian independence after France's final defeat. The allied victory in May 1943 led to the destitution and deportation of the Bey, the abolition of the Italian colony and the dissolution of the Neo Destour. Its leader, however, Mr. Bourguiba, had not fallen into the trap of collaborating with Italy and returned, offering his services to France. The party leader was still there, even if his party, now banned, was suffering from both the rise of the Vieux Destour, again and the growing support for the Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens. On 26 March 1945, Bourguiba sailed secretly for Cairo and the Arab League.
East of Aden the situation was based on the Japanese threat, even if it was merely hypothetical insofar as the Indian Ocean was concerned. The authorities in Madagascar, like those in Indochina, remained loyal to Pétain, and the blockade forced the country to turn in on its traditional economic structure; this was to be beneficial. The island passed relatively soon under British control. They took Diego Suarez in May 1942 and the entire colony in September, later to turn it over to the Free French. The nationalists were helped by France's defeat, conquest and internal dissension, and set up the Mouvement Démocratique de la Révolution Malgache."
In Indochina, the Japanese had demanded on June 19, 1940 that the Chinese border be closed and the port of Haiphong come under military control. After a vain appeal to the British and the Americans, General Catroux demurred. Then, disowned by Vichy, he went to London. His successor, Admiral Decoux, was obliged on June 28 and September 22 to acquiesce to new demands for Japanese presence and control. In this way, Indochina was occupied by the Japanese without any resistance, simply because of France's defeat in Europe. In January 1941,
the Japanese imposed territorial arbitration which, although they had been repulsed by force, was favourable to the Thais. All this took place before the dramatic attacks in December 1941 that still further enhanced the prestige of the Empire of the Rising Sun.
Decorum, like Noguès, had a policy of openness to the Indochinese elites and put forward a legitimate descendent of the Emperors of Annam, Bao Dai. The Japanese, thinking it better to hold the country indirectly, respected French administrative and military structures. Compared with Indonesia or Malaya, France was at an advantage until the situation triggered off by the events of 1943. Without repudiating Pétain, Decoux accepted a representative from Algiers and ignored any resistance which he was not in charge of. On March 9, 1945, the Japanese crushed the French forces so as to prevent them from attacking, and systematically humiliated them. In answer to the wishes of the pro-Japanese nationalists, they had Bao Dai proclaim Vietnam's independence and the sovereigns of Cambodia and Laos, hitherto protected, imitate him. On August 15, Japan capitulated. North and South of the 16th parallel, the Chinese and English were occupied with watching over their evacuation from Indochina, where the French Far East Expeditionary Forces was preparing to land.
Within two weeks, the communist party completely reversed the situation, thus bringing to a close textbook revolutionary process. In November 1939, like all the communist parties under the Comintern, the PCI had condemned the (French) imperialist war and ordered the struggle against (Japanese) fascism. It supplemented these international orders with: "win back independence". The heavy repression that followed the 1940 insurrections ensured the success of the progressive line laid down by Nguyen Ai Quoc, who linked the development of urban political structures with the establishment of bases in northern Tonkin and had the Doc Lap policy adopted in 1941, under which social reforms took second place to independence. Around this policy, the Viet Minh developed, and in the Viet Minh the communists ensured that they were the exclusive leaders.
The Chinese, however, demanded that room be made for nationalist organizations close to the Kuomintang: the VNQDD and the DMH, and for two years they held Nguyen Ai Quoc in prison. He re-emerged in 1944 under the name of Ho Chi Minh. Served by a party which controlled the personality cult better than elsewhere, he ensured his authority through his ability. Putting the brakes on a general uprising, he enlarged the "liberated bases" in northern Tonkin, created an Armed Propaganda Brigade parallel to the clandestine militia as a core of regular forces, and ensured himself above all, through intelligence and guerilla activities, of the support of the Americans, who were determined not to allow the return of the French colonialists.
On August 15, the Viet Minh came out of hiding everywhere and came down from their liberated bases and China. Moving faster than the VNQDD and DMH, and outmanoeuvring them, they called for a general insurrection on August 19, 1945 and, on August 25, obtained the abdication of Bao Dai, who handed their representatives the seals of the empire. On September 2, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was officially proclaimed. Before the French had resumed power, independence had been acquired de facto, and had been given historical legitimacy.
The old colonials regarded this situation as temporary. On December 8, 1943, the Comité National had traced out the framework for the future status of Indochina some days before the Constantine declaration. By so doing, they had set out the real destiny of the empire:
France was willing to reform it but not to abandon it. It was her intention to give the Indochinese people a new political status within a federal organization. Freedoms in the various countries in the union would be extended at the same time as economic, social and administrative measures would ensure equality and progress. In this way, France intended to continue, through free and close association with the Indochinese people, her mission in the Pacific. France's Indochina policy did not change on March 4, 1945. In Paris, the GPRF clarified: "the five countries will maintain their own character within the Indochinese federation." This was a rejection of Vietnamese unity and independence and the charter for the reconquest that started at the end of September.
The empire was to remain. This had been solemnly affirmed in January and February 1944 at the Brazzaville Conference: "the aims of France's civilizing task in the colonies preclude any ideas of autonomy and any possibility of evolution outside the French imperial bloc. The eventual, even distant, constitution of selfgovernment in the colonies is precluded."
During the year between the recreation of the Comité Français de Libération Nationale and the Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Française, that is, between June 1943 and June 1944, the national fabric, rent asunder by the defeat and the ideological confusion, was rewoven. Once again, there was a national consensus based on the identification of the enemy, or rather the re-identification of Germany as that enemy. Nazi excesses probably contributed as much as the allied victories to the general resumption of open or clandestine fighting, a struggle which was led in Italy by the armed forces of the empire, and in France by the FFI. De Gaulle, who had left London for Algiers, had been the leader of a parcel of sovereign French territory since then, thus achieving what had been his aim since 1940. Whatever reservations might have been prompted by his past or his character, and despite the attachment that many Frenchmen both in France and overseas still had to Pétain, he was the acknowledged leader of France.
This support, whether it was spontaneous or well-considered, bolstered his authority to pursue the policy from which he had never deviated and which was in the best French tradition: sovereign independence and international greatness. It is impossible to understand the actions of the GPRF until September 1945 in their totality unless these two objectives are seen as complementary. It was not enough for France and her empire to be liberated: French forces had to take part in liberating them. After driving the Germans from France and the Japanese from Indochina, they had to take part in the final battles so that they could sit with the victors, for they would decide on the new balance in the world. Hence the need for an army made up not of auxiliary forces working or fighting for the benefit of the allies, but of large units equipped with modern weaponry and led, within the coalition, by French generals.
The new French army was built up, in the tradition of the Revolution, through a successive amalgamation of the Free French forces, the African army, colonial troops and the FFI. Its mission was not only to fight the enemy but also to be the instrument of the sovereignty of the GPRF in the face of the allies who still did not legally recognize it, and of members of the resistance who were trying to share in its authority. Bluntly speaking, its mission was to stop the Anglo-Americans from imposing a provisional allied military government on France, and to prevent a possible seizure of powers by the communists.
For these reasons, the Commissaires de la République were appointed before the liberation, in the spring of 1944, while the offensives carried out by 2 DB and I Army were conducting the liberation and supporting the national insurrection. At the same time, the
immediate presence first in Normandy and then in liberated Paris of the Head of the Provisional Government, who rallied all the vital forces of the nation to him and hence obtained legal recognition from the allies at the end of October 1944, meant that the liberation itself could be exploited. France's national revival was seen and symbolized in three decisions taken at that time: the nationalization of the major companies, so as to meet the requirements of social justice and future development; the Franco-Soviet alliance, that was designed to counterbalance Anglo-American influence in the immediate future and the post-war period; and the creation of a Far East Expeditionary Force to re-establish the integrity of the empire.
By repressing the Constantine uprising and then by landing troops in Indochina, France seemed at the close of the Second World War to be denying the ideals of her own resistance, to be running counter to the world-wide movement towards decolonization, and to be overestimating her strength. This sort of attitude deserves an attempt at explanation--one without the benefit of hindsight. It would not be enough to talk about the weight of private interests or the attachment of France's leaders to the past--even though these were true. At the risk of falling into a contradiction, France's liberation and the independence of the colonies have to be seen as being fundamentally opposed to each other, no less.
France had become aware of her weakness at the price of defeat: loss of independence, territory sliced away, occupation, despoilment, repression, and social and political regression. However, not all of those who were members of the Fighting French in 1945 had reacted at the same time and place of for the same reasons, and even though there was general support for the restoration of parliamentary democracy, social progress and colonial reform, they had differing political and social motives. The only common denominator was the fight against the occupying power, that is, the struggle to liberate France and restore full independence. This had been clearly understood by the Third International, which baptized all the movements it created or tried to infiltrate: "Front National".
France's lesson from the war was that the salvation of the nation was dependent on reserves apparently tied to the empire. It was the empire, or rather that part of it that had rallied to the Free French, that had enabled de Gaulle to remain free of total subjection to the English or the Americans. It was the empire that had made it possible for those seeking revenge on Vichy to resume the struggle. It was the empire that had provided a sovereign French base for the CNR and the GPRF and the bulk of the landing forces. Once the empire had been reformed and liberalized, could it not assist in France's rise, bear witness to her generosity and guarantee her a place as a world power?
This kind of interpretation appears to leave out the Third International and the role assigned it in our approach, which aims at being systematic, and would be impossible had the PCF refused to share the responsibilities of the Provisional Government and the Fourth Republic until 1947.
This essay does not include a bibliography. This is the result of living among major monographs and history and political science journals, as well as of reading as yet unpublished works made accessible to me through my participation on thesis committees or University Consultative Committee specialized commissions.
Nonetheless, mention should be made of the essential writers in the field and of some of the more recent and more standard works. For the details see the Suggestions for Further Reading which follows the essays.
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