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The Nature of Fascism in France

The Nature of Fascism in France

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The Nature of Fascism in France Author(s): Robert J. Soucy Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 1, No.

1 (1966), pp. 27-55 Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/259648 . Accessed: 03/01/2012 11:18
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The
in

Nature France

of

Fascism

Robert J. Soucy
In I96I Maurice Bardeche, a French writer who had been a fascist before the war, published a provocativenew work entitled
Qu'est-ce que le Fascisme ?. Bardeche boldly reaffirmed his commit-

ment to fascism and arguedthat it is an ideology, especiallyin its French version, that has been badly misunderstood, unfairly maligned,and wrongly given up for dead. True fascism, he contended, is no more brutalthan the democraticor Marxistphilosophies that condemn it; German atrocities committed against Frenchmenduring the Occupationderived largelyfrom wartime conditionsand the need to deal with guerrillawarfare,atrocities duplicatedin any case by Allied soldiersagainstGermancivilians. Nor should true fascism be confusedwith Nazi racist and extermination policies - aspects of German national-socialism which were 'deviations'from the basic creed. Becauseof confusionin the public mind as to what fascism really is, said Bardeche,therehas been a failureto acknowledgethat fascismis rapidlybeing reborn todayin many partsof the world,includingFrance,although,because the word itself has fallen under a cloud, the phenomenon itself now exists under new labels. Consequently, neo-fascistslike Nasserin Egyptandyoungtechnocrats France,men workingto in fuse nationalismand socialism together once again, are seldom associatedwith an ideology that is discreditedin theory if not in practice. Thus, there are thousands of young men in the world today who are fascists without knowingit. Whateverthe shortcomingsor insights in Bardeche'sanalysis, it once againraisesa basic problemfaced by historiansof modern France:what exactlywas the natureof Frenchfascismboth before and duringthe Second World War; what exactly were its fundamental or predominantcharacteristics Bardechehimself points ? out one of the very real difficultiesin dealingwith the subject: the 27 3

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

very diversityand complexityof the movement. This is perhaps muchmorethe casewith fascismin Francethanin othercountries, becauseit neverhad a single, unified,centralized party.Insteadof one fascist party, there were several, running all the way from Georges Valois' Faisceaufounded in 1925 to Jacques Doriot's
Parti Populaire Franfais established in I936. Even if the historian

limits himself to discussingthe two largest French fascist movements of the I930s, Doriot's PPF and Marcel Deat's Rassemble-

mentNationalePopulaire by (RNP), or to the ideasadvanced one of France'sleading fascist newspapers, suispartout,or by promiJe nent French fascist intellectualslike Robert Brasillachand Pierre and Drieu La Rochelle,a greatdeal of variety,contradiction, sheer ideologicalconfusionremains.Nevertheless,patternsand common about even a do denominators exist which permit generalizations phenomenonas proteanas French fascism. The few historicalstudiesto datethat have attemptedto characterizefascismin Francebeforethe war1have raiseda series of imthe portantquestionsin approaching matter. Was Frenchfascism rooted in native French political traditionsor was it simply an ideology imported from abroad? Why was it a relativelyweak force on the French political scene before, and even during, the Second World War - because it was not an indigenous philosophy? Was it closely relatedto traditionalFrench conservatism or separate (or, as some prefer,conservatisms), was it an altogether or ? nationalistic European Did it entity? Wereits goalsprimarily and from Germannational-socialism, if it did, why differmarkedly did many French fascists collaboratewith the Germans during the war? And finally,did Frenchfascismeven possessan ideology, a clearlydefinedset of political,social, and economicgoals, or was it, as some have said, a sort of fever, an emotionalindulgencelacking doctrinalrespectability?Several scholarshave suggested, in one this regard,that it was essentiallya kind of romanticism, which relied upon a vague 'aesthetic'approachto politics, an approach wantingin both reasonand realism,and that consequentlyFrench fascismcan hardlybe viewed as a seriousideologyat all.
1 Ren6 Remond, La Droite en France de Ir85 a nos jours (Paris, 1954); Eugen Weber, Varieties of Fascism (New York, 1964); Jean Plumyene and Raymond Lasierra, Les Fascismes franfais I923-63 (Paris, I963); Paul S6rant, Le Romantismefasciste (Fasquelle, I959); Peter Viereck, Conservatismfrom John Adams to Churchill (New York, 1956); Michele Cotta, La Collaboration, 1940-1944 (Paris, I964).

28

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

Certainly,of all these questions, the problem of the origins of French fascism is one of the most difficult. According to Rene Remond's La Droite en France,fascism was a phenomenonquite alien to French political traditions. Most of the so-called fascist
leagues of the I92os and 30s were not really fascist at all but Bona-

and partistand Boulangistin character inspiration,connectedwith past nationalistic movements rather than with 'contemporary foreignexperiences'.The riotsof 6 FebruaryI934, whichled many at the time to talk of a fascist peril, actually resembled more a 'Boulangist agitation than the March on Rome'. There were, which did copy - in a dull Remond concedes, a few organizations and unimaginativeway - Italian or Germanfascism, movements
like Francisme, the Solidarite Franfaise, and the Parti Populaire Franfais, but by their very failure, by their inability to win any Franfais, founded in 1936, was able to win any significant political Remond.2

mass public support, they demonstratedjust how foreign was fascismto Frenchpoliticalthinking.Only Doriot'sParti Populaire

following and even it remained relatively feeble. 'Thus, before I936, nothing justifies the legend of French fascism,' concludes

This kind of analysis has several drawbacks.First of all, it totallydiscountsvariousstatementsmadeby leadingFrenchfascist writersacknowledging their ideologicaldebt to thinkerslike Sorel, Peguy, Barres,Proudhon,La Tour du Pin, and Maurras.As one French national-socialist declared:'Our doctrinehas its roots in the soil of France.'On the other hand, Frenchfascistslike Marcel Deat freely admitted that there was a 'European'side to their fascism, that it was part of a general revolution which crossed
2 Remond, La Droite en France de i815 a nos jours, p. 207. In general agreement with Professor Remond's interpretation is the recent book by Jean Plumyene and Raymond Lasierra, Les Fascismesfranfais 1923-63. The authors of this work argue that fascism in France was at first, that is, in the I92os and 30s, largely a myth manufactured by propagandists of the Left for their own partisan purposes, a means of discrediting the Right in its entirety and of uniting their own camp by presenting it with a stereotyped, villainous opponent, a technique which it used again during the Liberation. Eventually, genuine fascist organizations were established in France, say Plumyene and Lasierra, but these organizations received their doctrines 'at first' from abroad, through newspaper reports and journalistic commentary on fascist teachings in other countries. 'Fascism in its origins is a phenomenon foreign to France' (p. 15). Yet earlier the same authors remark that French fascism 'indeed seems to have formed itself from something other than itself, from political formations of the [French] Right as well as of the [French] Left' (p. io).

29

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

frontiers,and that some imitationdid occur. True as this may be, it by no means rules out the many intellectualantecedentswhich fascism had in French thought well before the I920S. As Eugen Weber has pointed out, national-socialistand fascist ideas in Francehave a lengthy history; they can be found in the political of campaigns MauriceBarresat the turnof the centuryand even in the Jacobinismof the French Revolution.3Certainly,in terms of intellectualhistory, there was little that was un-French about a great many of the ideas associatedwith fascism. Anti-Semitism, surely, was nothing new to a nation that had lived through the Dreyfus Affair, nor were such things as anti-parliamentarianism, and justificaauthoritarianism, anti-intellectualism, hero-worship, tions of politicalviolence. Simplybecausethese ideas were rooted in Bonapartismor Boulangismor some other political heritage makes them no less proto-fascist,for not only were these movements events unto themselvesbut they sowed the seeds for later movements,and some of these were fascist. If Frenchfascismwas influencedby otherfascisms,it also had a nationalpast of its own; consequently, in many instances developments abroad merely servedto fortify a set of pre-existingattitudesat home. Moreover the fact that fascism failed to achieve mass public backing in that Francehardlydemonstrates it was an ideologynon-indigenous A politicalpartyneed not win popularsupportto to that country. be rootedin severalof its country'spoliticaltraditions. Were this not so it might be said that Hitler's Nazi partywas 'un-German' because it lacked mass public support before the onset of the depression. If it was not because of the lack of a native intellectualancestry, why then did fascism fail to capture a wide public following in France? Why was it that even France'slargestfascist party, the ? morethan 250,000adherents Economicand PPF, neverattracted Francenot onlyescaped socialfactorswereundoubtedly important. the economic consequences of the devastating inflation which plaguedGermanyin the earlyI920s, but she was sparedthe politias cal andsocialconsequences well; the threatthatthe lowermiddle was be proletarianized never as seriousin Franceas classesmight it wasin Germany,andthus the pressureon this segmentof French society to support the cause of fascism was considerablyless.
3 Eugen Weber, Varieties of Fascism, pp. I2, I9.

30

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

Moreover,the depressionitself neverhit Franceas catastrophically as it did her neighbour across the Rhine; partly because of the balance,partlybecauseof the relativestagnation,of her economy. Less industriallydevelopedthan Germanyand more agricultural, France, although far from untroubled during this period, never suffered the same degree of widespreadeconomic hardship and mass discontentwhich gave such a boost to the Nazi Revolution. Bardechemakes the point, for example, and quite cogently, that fascism is a doctrine which lacks a natural clientele among the electorate;only during times of crisis does it find one among the from aboveand petty bourgeoisie,a classwhich, feelingthreatened below, respondsemotionallyto 'heroic'leadership.Consequently, 'when there are no occasionsfor heroism',fascismdeclines. Another major weakness of French fascism was its failure to coalesce behind a single individual or a single party. Fascism in Francewas a movementof sects whichneverovercametheirdifferences, often largelypersonalitydifferences.Even duringthe Nazi Occupation,Doriot's PPF and Deat's RNP failed to merge; the reasonsare still vague, but the personalanimosityand distrustbetweenthe leadersof the two formations at times almostcomic.4 was There were also bitter conflicts,both personaland political,within the PPF, conflicts which eventuallytore the party apart. Sometimes feelingswererootedin old literaryfeuds, as was primarily the casewith Brasillach Drieu La Rochelle.5But the most devastaand ting division of all involved important matters of policy. In October I938, just after the Munich settlement, several leading membersof the PPF resignedin protestover Doriot's positionon foreign policy; they now denounced the policy of pacifism and
4 There was, for example, the episode during the last weeks of the war, Doriot and Deat having fled to Germany, when first Ribbentrop then Hitler recognized Doriot as the most qualified representative of French interests in Germany - at which point Deat and Darnand formed their own counter organization to speak in the name of France. Not until the very last moment did Doriot and Deat arrange a personal meeting, at a village half-way between their two residences, to settle their differences. It was on his way to that meeting that Doriot's car was strafed by an Allied aircraft and he was killed; Deat disappeared into Italy during the last days of the war 'sans laisser de traces'. 5 Although not a member of the PPF as was Drieu, Brasillach expressed great sympathy for the movement in his articles inJe suis partout; but Drieu could never a brutally critical review of his work written by Brasillach in 1935, in forget which Drieu was described as a rate who wrote 'the most empty and the most stupid stories', notable for their 'bad taste, bombast, and confusion' and for their 'clumsiness, digressions, tedious passages, and emotional falseness'.

3I

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

towardsGermanythey had accepteduntil then, and appeasement called for a rapidbuild-up of France'smilitarystrengthand for a firmstandagainstHitler. Amongthose who defectedwere important partyideologueslike Drieu La Rochelle,Bertrand Jouvenel, de and Paul Marion. The issue of foreign policy was not their only reasonfor leaving.Doriot'squestfor financial supportfromFrench business interests helped disillusion individuals like Drieu who took the party'savowed 'socialism'somewhatmore seriously.As he later complained,Doriot was no different from the Radical politicianshe had so long despised: both in domesticand foreign policy, Doriot had behaved'like a vulgarLa Rocque'. In effect, both Doriot and Deat failed to build a lastingpolitical bridge to either the Right or the Left. Accordingto Brasillach, French businessmen eventually concluded that it suited their interests more to subsidize the Radical Party than the fascists, while, at the same time, the PPF and the RNP were unable to overcome the image the working classes had of them, that they were simply agents of capitalism,an image abettedby newspaper accounts of fascists killing workers in the Spanish Civil War. for 'Fascism, Hitlerism, [and] totalitarianism twenty years have succeededeach other in the naive abominationof the mob,' Deat wrote bitterly in 1942. 'Simply because,very astutely, they have been made synonyms for social and political reaction.'After the fall of Francein I940, of course,fascismfor most Frenchmenalso became associatedwith the hated invader, but it had begun to decline as a domesticpoliticalforce as earlyas 1938, havingfailed miserablyin its attemptto become a mass movement. In this regard, it is necessary to make a distinction between in fascismand conservatism Francebeforeand duringthe Second WorldWar;millionsof Frenchmen were conservatives,but only a small minoritywere ever fascists. The Vichy regimewas chiefly not a regime of conservatives, fascists, at least until the very last of the war when French fascists, with the help of the months Germans,were finally given several key governmentalpositions. The differences between conservatism and fascism in France have been underlinedrepeatedlyby students of the French Right since the war, by Rene Remond, Eugen Weber, Peter Viereck, and others. Not only were French fascistsoften criticsof 'socialand reactionaries' 'bourgeois'valuesduringthe I920S and 3os, but their editorialsattackedVichy policiestime and time againduring
32

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

the war years. In I942, for example, Doriot accused the men of Vichy of havingled Francedown the roadto decadenceand defeat before I940 by opposing social change at home and war against bolshevism abroad,adding that France would suffer further setbacks if Vichy insisted upon continuinga policy of conservative attentisme. Weber has shown how French fascists were often at loggerheadseven with the ActionFranfaise,how Maurrasbroke with GeorgesValois,for instance,in 1925, whenValoisfoundedthe Faisceau,and later with Brasillach,anotherformerdisciple, when Brasillach took the leap to fascismand then to completecollaborationism.

Understandably,perhaps, post-war scholarshiphas tended to emphasize the various areas of disagreementbetween men like Maurrasand Brasillach.Conservativehistorians especially have concentrated their effortson showingthe doctrinalincompatibility between the fascist Right and the conservativeRight (denying at times that fascism even belongs to the 'Right'). Scholars have and arguedthat Maurras his followers,as well as most Frenchconservatives,were fundamentallydifferentfrom fascists in several respects: they were enemies of 'Jacobin'centralization,etatisme, and the authoritarian of state; they were devotedto the restoration decentralized governmentand local freedoms;they were hostile to theoriesof popularsovereignty(whichsubmergedthe pays reelbeneaththe pays legal);and they were believersin socialstabilityand a rationalapproach politics ratherthan in revolutionary to turmoil and fascist romanticism.'Fascism dreamsonly of upheaval,'says Remond. 'The Right wants to be reassured and aspires after conservatism France in stability.'Aboveall,it has been emphasized, was a philosophy of the bourgeoisie, of the socially-reactionary bourgeoisie, and as such it was clearly at odds with the 'social' programme forwardby Frenchfascists,men who failedto view put socialjusticewith the same'horror' conservatives.6 as Finally,some scholars have held that fascism and conservatismin France also differed radically in their respective loyalties to nationalism. Whereasconservatism a highly nationalistic was faith in the I930s,
6 Eugen Weber, Varieties of Fascism, pp. I34, I4I; Ren6 Remond, La Droite en France, p. 204; Rene R6mond, 'Y a-t-il un fascisme fransais ?', Terre Humaine, No. 7-8, 1952; Stanley Hoffman, 'Aspects du Regime du Vichy,' Revuefranfaise de sciencepolitique, January-March I956, pp. 45, 50; Paul Serant, Le Romantisme fasciste, pp. 12, 265; Jean Plumyene and Raymond Lasierra, Les Fascismes franfais, p. 8; Peter Viereck, Conservatismfrom John Adams to Churchill, p. 62.

33

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

grounded as it was in the thought of anti-Germanpatriots like BarresandMaurras, wasthe European, it non-nationalistic orientation of Frenchfascismwhich led manyof its adherents collaborto ate with the Nazis during the Occupation.Because of all these differences then, it is a mistaketo regardfascismand conservatism as one: 'The two notions are, in fact, irreducible.'Indeed, Paul Seranthas even gone so far as to declare:'to pretendto establisha doctrines kinship between fascism and traditional[conservative] wouldbe in vain. . .' The difficultywith this view of the relationshipor lack of relain tionshipbetweenfascismand conservatism Franceis that many of the lines that have been drawndividing the two were never as that the distinctand tidy as has been suggested,and furthermore, which were two philosophiessharedmany common denominators often far more importantin determiningtheir politicalbehaviour than the elementswhich separatedthem. Ideologically,certainly, thinkerslike Barres there were many ties. Respectedconservative and Maurras had long preached many of the doctrines which fascists like Brasillachand Drieu adheredto, from a glorification of power, 'realism', and authoritarian leadershipto a hatred of parliamentarianism,politicians, and humanitarian liberalism. Moreover, those who emphasize Maurras' commitment to decentralized governmentand local freedomsfail to mention,at least in this regard,his willingnessto condoneand even praiseauthoritarianand etatistemeasureswhen they were taken by the Vichy regime.There was nothing surprisingaboutthis, however,for, as ProfessorRemond himself once observed, the principles of the ActionFranfaisehad long been, in effect, a 'melangeof authority and indiscipline,traditionandinsubordination'. Hence, while conMaurras acknowledged that demning 'Jacobin' centralization, when a monarchiststate came to power again it might have to in institutea temporary dictatorship orderto impose a properstate of affairs.In this, Remond notes, Maurraswas not unlike totalitarianMarxists.7Nor, one might add, was he unlike totalitarian
fascists.

differedfromfascistsin As for the contentionthat conservatives their coolness towards theories of popular sovereignty(although Barres,for one, advocatedduring his lifetime a kind of authoritariandemocracybased on his notion of la terreet les morts),this
7

Rene Remond, La Droite en France, p. 107.

34

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

coolness, in fact, was much more of a common trait with French fascismthan an uncommonone, for French fascismgenerallywas moreelitist in doctrinethan Germannational-socialism. More true is the observation that Frenchfasciststendedto glorifyrevolutiontacticsfarmorethanconservatives, ary,direct-action althougheven here one can cite the violent activitiesof the Camelots Roi, the du activist wing of the ActionFranfaise,to show that resort to force was not foreignto 'conservatives'. Nevertheless,on balance,fascists did talk revolutionmore than conservatives, especiallymore than the sort of conservative who dominatedthe RadicalPartythroughout most of the I920S and 30s. Still, the lines between fascism and

conservatism Francewereoftenblurred. in

What the two camps had most in common, of course, was their anti-communism.It was this above all which made them political bedfellows on so many occasions, uncomfortableones no doubt but still bedfellows. Indeed, French fascist writings sometimes leave the impressionthat all else was secondaryto one primary goal: to mobilize Franceagainstcommunismat home and abroad. 'Our policy is simple; we seek the union of Frenchmenagainst Marxism,'declaredDoriot in I938. 'We want to clear France of agents of Moscow.' Or, as Bardechesaid of fascismafterthe war: 'Its mission of defendingthe West remainsin one's memory, and it is still the principal meaning of the fascist idea.' It was this fixation,among others, which led many French fascists to favour with Germanyduringthe Munich crisisof 1938and to collaborate the Nazis after 1940: Germanypresenteda check against Soviet penetrationinto Europe.This notion, too, contributedmightilyto the often remarkable, perhapsnot so remarkable, or editorialagreement betweenthe conservative pressandthe fascistpressin France with a duringthe late I930s, this and the growingdisenchantment Third Republic which among other things could allow Leon Blum's Popular Front to come to power. Consequently,as Professor Remondputs it, the conservative press in Franceafter 1936 displayed'a more and more markedinclinationfor fascism' as it happenedthat 'a part of the classicalRights let themselvesbe won over by the vocabularyand circumventedby the propagandaof fascism'(pp. 220, 218). Actually,it is probablymore correctto say that instead of being 'won over' and 'circumvented'by fascist notions, French conservativessimply found that many of these 35

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

for notionscoincidedwith their own. A conservative traditionalist, would not have had to change thinking caps to have example, contentionthat one's identityis rootedin the acceptedBrasillach's soil and heritageof one's country(an idea that Brasillach himself receivedfrom Barresand Maurras),or to have approvedDoriot's statementthat 'a nationalism itself only if it looks for understands its sourcesin the old traditionsof the Frenchprovinces'. Too often historiansof the FrenchRight have madethe mistake of rigidly divorcingconservatism from fascismin theory when in one practice,that is historically,these movementsinterpenetrated at anotherin a very disconcerting way - disconcerting least if one expects intellectual and political phenomenato be nicely compartmentalizedand self-contained. Scholars like Serant, Plumthat fascism in yene, and Lasierra,it is true, have acknowledged Francedid take some of its elementsfrom the conservative Right, but then they contendthat, once formed,fascismactedagainstthe Right.As has been shown,this simplywas not alwaysthe case.The had beliefswhich fascismand conservatism in commondrewthem togetheron more than one occasion,especiallywhen communism or Soviet Russiawas at issue. That they disagreedon some questions does not mean that they did not agree on others. The most to that canbe saidis thatwhile Frenchconservatives, be sure,were not fascists, they often behavedas if they were, and while fascists were not conservatives posithey often sharedmany conservative tions. Perhapsthe best way to see how blurredand untidy were the them is to examinetheir respectivepositions lines which separated which many on the question of socialism. It is this measurement historiansof the French Right have selected as the primarycriterion for dividing the two camps, despite the fact that socialism was only one of manyelementsin fascistideology- and not necessarily the most importantelement at that. Eugen Weber, for example,hasarguedin his study of the ActionFranfaisethat Maurras cannot be called a fascist because he was opposed to socialism and in any case always regardedeconomic questions as secondd'abord',not economicreform,was Maurras'prinary. 'Politique concern.Weber'sdefinitionof fascismat this point becomes cipal quite important.By focussingon the economicissue, his definition on excludes conservative the Right; yet had he concentrated other Maurrasian conservative and doctrines,he might just as well have 36

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

included it. Moreover, if one assigns so much weight to the matter of socialism in defining fascism, one might wonder whether Hitler was a fascist or a conservative; after all, in purging the socialist wing of the Nazi party in I934, Hitler, too, followed a policy of politique d'abord. The same can be said of Mussolini's much publicized corporatism, a 'social' programme which, once in operation, benefited Italian employers more than Italian workers. Finally, if one closely examines the economic programmes advocated by France's two largest fascist parties in the I930s, one can question whether these movements, too, were not less concerned with a fundamental economic transformation of society than with other matters. To be sure, French fascist speeches and tracts were filled with attacks upon 'plutocratic' capitalism and expressions of devotion to 'fascist socialism'. Typical was Drieu's proud comment in Socialismefasciste (I934): 'Fascism is a reformist socialism, but a reformist socialism which has, it seems, more fire in its belly than the old classical parties.' Yet when one examines the exact content of the socialism which was espoused, the gap between their socialeconomic programme and that of many conservatives is not nearly as wide as expected. This is particularly striking in regard to the position which Doriot and the PPF took vis-a-vis the middle classes. In Refaire la France (I938), for example, Doriot lamented the 'ruin' of the middle classes and the 'frightful' crisis they faced as a result of the devaluation of the franc and the fiscal burdens they had to bear. He noted sympathetically that not only did their situation differ from that of the proletariat but that they represented 'a state of soul quite distinct from the proletarian state of soul'. The real enemy, he emphasized, was not the bourgeoisie as a whole but rather big business, monopolies, the great financial trusts. In fact, one of the major sins of the Popular Front was that it favoured these large institutions at the expense of small and middle-sized businesses. The solution was not to nationalize industry (which was to confuse socialism with 'the bureaucratization of production' and 'super-protected industry'), but to suppress the protected sector of the economy, the web of monopolies, and to strengthen the free sector, the sector of small private enterprise. Under fascism, political representation would be based upon new criteria, upon professional rather than geographical lines, but economic life would operate according to traditional capitalist 37

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

principles, especially accordingto the principle that 'Individual profitremainsthe motorof production'.There would be a ceiling, however,on the profitsof big business (the surplus falling into a social welfare fund), and corporationswhich used their capital but withoutsocialresponsibility wouldbe challenged; the principal economic task of governmentwould be to protect the free sector from the protected sector by taking measures to decentralize industryanddemocratize capital. which Deat presentedin his book Le The economicprogramme
Parti Unique (I942) was much the same. Like Doriot, Deat paid

his respects to the petty and middle bourgeoisieas 'guardiansof precious traditions' and declared that their position in French if society had to be safeguarded they were not to be wiped out by A the largerindustrialand commercial enterprises. corporatestate would help small businessmenband togetherin employerorganizations which would enable them to overcome their weakness vis-a-vis big business. Fascist socialism, consequently, was far fromhostileto the greatbulkof the middleclasses;in fact it would be theirsaviour: will of The necessary rescue ourmiddleclasses be oneof the happiest Revolution. of the National one of the mostessential effects, objectives shouldmeanto them.At thispoint,we area Andthatis whatsocialism concentration nonsense aboutthe automatic longwayfromanyMarxist of elimination oursmall and of ourlargeenterprises abouttheinevitable them into woulddiscard, whomMarxists throwing people producers, class. the wage-earning Deat made it quite clear also that fascist socialism was not an enemy of privateproperty.'All propertyis legitimateto the degree that it is not harmfulto the common interest, even more so if it servesit.' Industry,he insisted,shouldbe controlledand regulated indicateddistrustof industry Nationalization but not nationalized. on the part of the State and failed to make wage-earners less any A fascist economywould be a plannedeconomyto wage-earners. the extent that no factory would be allowed to manufacture'no matter what at no matter what price and pay no matter what which had the competenceand salaries',but privatemanagement, the staff,would look afterthe 'details'.Fascistsocialismwould excommunicateno one; services renderedwould alone count. The industrialist who was intelligent and efficient would prosper, 38

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

althoughhe would no longerbe drivensolely by the profitmotive, for he would be a leader in the full sense of the word, one who would continueto know the 'joysof command'but who wouldalso know the joys of responsibilitytowardshis workers.Finally, unlike Marxism,fascist socialismwould not be abstract,doctrinaire, instead and monolithic,a systemrun by a centralized bureaucracy; it would be 'realisticand concrete',empiricaland dynamic,leaving each employerto take his chances,with a great deal of freedomto operatehis businessas he sawfit. Both Deat and Doriot agreed,therefore,that a 'brutaltransferof property'was unnecessaryand unwise and that there was no need of for the workersto become 'co-proprietors' the factories.Once the powerof big businesswas broken,small businessmencould be counted upon to meet their social responsibilities.'Our personal working-classexperience has taught us', said ex-workerDoriot, 'that small employerseasily come to agreementwith their workers againstthe Marxistsin orderto insuresocial justiceand to protect themselves against the enemies of production and prosperity.' Fascism, therefore,would end class struggleand inaugurateclass cooperation.Indeed, wrote Deat, this was the very meaning of totalitarianism:'Totalitarianism conciliation,a reconciliation.' is Strippedof its rhetoric,whatDoriotandDeat'ssocialismamounted to was a programmedesigned more to suit the small and middle bourgeoisiethan the proletariat.Highly significantin this regard was Deat's statementin I942 that the socialismhe advocatedwas not simplya programme the workingclassbut a programme for for all classes,for, he said (andhere his candourwas exceededonly by his opportunism),France was not a country of large industrial enterprisesnor was it even primarilyan industrialcountry, and thus if fascism addresseditself to only one part of the nation it
would lack 'elan'.

No doubt this was one reason why French fascist party programmeswere as attentive to the grievancesof the peasantryas they were to those of the lower bourgeoisie.Doriot and Deat both expressedtheir regretat fallingagricultural pricesand the growing exodus fromthe farms.Deat calledfor a rigorouslyequalexchange of products and services between the countrysideand the cities, and condemnedwhat he said was a situation in which the citydwellers 'duped' the peasantry.Doriot emphasizedthat fascism, 39

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

unlike Marxism,had no intention of makingthe peasanta 'diminished citizen'; it wantedto put an end to the migrationfrom the farms because it abhorred'the frightful concentrationof large cities generating misery, unemployment, and social troubles'. Insteadof liquidating collectivizing peasantry, or the fascismwould work to preservethe small private farm by creatingnew credit facilities, by helping the peasants to specialize in products of quality,and by expandingthe domesticmarketfor their products by divertingthe agricultural outputof France'scolonieselsewhere. Such measureshad to be takenbecause'the peasantis the essential the supportof a society such as ours', and 'represents best virtues of our people'. Deat agreed. He, too, insisted that France must maintaina strongpeasantry,'physicallyrobustand healthy, morally solidandbalanced'.Indeed,so muchdidhe agreewith Doriot's and of glorification the peasantry its virtuesthat he announcedthat the cultivationof these virtueswas a majorgoal of fascistsocialism. 'Peasantsocialismhas no otheraim andno othermeaning,'he said. 'And it is indeed socialismsince here againit is a questionof integratingthe mass of the peasantry,in accordancewith its proper rankand place, into the community.' seemedto havesomethingfor As a matterof fact, fascistsocialism At the same time, for example,thatthe PPF called for everybody. less etatismeand fewer bureaucrats,it stated that 'dignity commanded'that lower functionariesbe paid better salariesand that be higherfunctionaries treatedin a manner'worthyof their func- especiallyin regardto pensions.The dignity and rights of tions' women were also identifiedas special concernsof the PPF; subsidies should be grantedto motherswith many childrenand jobs to easy for womento fill shouldbe made available them. The 1936 of the PPF also made provisionfor the materialneeds of platform the liberalprofessions,the intelligentsia,and the artisanclass. 'In short,'it said, '[thePPF] will defendthe interestsof all thosewhose activity constitutesa traditionalelement of social equilibriumin France.' If this was socialism,it was hardlya socialismfar removedfrom In Frenchconservatism. the middle-class a greatdealof traditional and peasantorientationof its partyplatforms,at least, it was certainly much closer to French conservative thought than to Marxiansocialism.If Frenchfascismoffereda 'thirdway'between as communismand liberalism, its proponentsargued,it was a third
40

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

way which nudged the Right far more than the Left. To point to the socialism advocated by French fascists as the major factor beforeand during distinguishingtheir ideologyfrom conservatism of the Second World War is to misjudgethe character that socialism. This is not to discountentirely,of course,the Frenchfascist nor criticismof the evils of capitalism,especiallybig capitalism, its commitmentto a certainamountof governmenteconomicregulation and planning.This kind of socialismwas part of their creed, nor but it was simply not as revolutionary as divorcedfrom conservatismas many scholarshave suggested.8 Some French fascists, it is true, did take the avowedsocialism of and anti-capitalism fascist ideologymore seriouslythan others, and like especiallyliteraryintellectuals Drieu, Brasillach, Bardeche, men who were violently opposed- emotionally,intellectuallyand morally- to bourgeoissociety and bourgeoisvalues. Indeed, one must alwayskeep in mind the temperamental differencesbetween literati like these and party organizerslike Doriot and Deat; the latter, constantlyfaced with the practicalproblemof trying to enrol large sections of the public, often a bourgeoispublic, behind their banners,were more apt to dilute the movement'ssocialism than were some of their followers(a phenomenonlikewisepresent in Germannational-socialism). One reasonwhich Drieu latergave for his breakwith Doriot in I938, it will be recalled,was his disenchantmentwith Doriot's dealings with conservativefinancial backers. Yet even in the fascism of someone like Drieu, a concern for socialism or economic reformwas not the primarymotive force. Like many French fascists, Drieu was more concerned with advancinga 'spiritual'revolutionthan a materialone. As a result, his conceptionof socialismwas almostasceticat times, equatingas
8 This is one reason, perhaps, for the curious phenomenon which Professor Weber describes, the phenomenon of wealthy business interests pouring money into the campaign coffers of fascist and proto-fascist organizations at various times during the 1920S and 3os despite the 'anti-capitalist' programmes which these organizations advanced. (Eugen Weber, 'Nationalism, Socialism and National-Socialism', French Historical Studies, Spring I962, p. 302.) Weber sees this mainly as a technique which men of wealth used to channel the activist energies of these groups away from the Left and into a useless sound and fury. This may have been true, but also, surely, the 'anti-capitalist' programmes of these movements could not have been particularly frightening to such backers, while the anti-communism which French fascists espoused was a definite attraction.

4I

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

he did materialismand creaturecomfortswith moral decadence and physicalweakness,and rejectingMarxiansocialismbecauseof what he felt was its too great emphasison materialand scientific goals. Moreoverhis contempt for those who hungered after the for, goods of this worldwas not restrictedto the bourgeoisie, as he once scornfullyremarked,the workersin this regard'were more bourgeois than the bourgeois'. Yet his brand of socialism was sufficientlydifferentfrom Hitler's to cause him, on several occasions during the I930s, to condemn Hitler's professions of socialismas sheer hypocrisy.After visiting Germanyin 1934, for instance, he expressed his disappointmentat the fact that Nazi economic policies remainedquite conservativeand that German capitalistscontinued to profit handsomely;in I936 he dismissed Hitler and Mussolini as nothing more than 'armed guards of capitalists';and in I939 he agreedwith HermannRauschningthat the Nazi Revolutionwas, for this reason,essentiallya revolutionof nihilism. Consequently,it is highly questionablethat Drieu dewith the Germansin I940 primarilyout of a cided to collaborate commitmentto socialism.Nor did men like Doriot and Deat have any more reasonthan Drieu to believe that the Nazis would bring economic reformsin their wake. Before Hitler came to power in Germanythis might have been the case, but by I940 his economic recordwastherefor all to see. ? Why then did many Frenchfascistsbecome collaborators If the 'socialism'of the Nazis was not the majorreason,then what was ? a Was it becausethey sharedwith their Germancounterparts belief in racism, a mystical faith in the masses, a devotion to the in becausethey were Nazi sympathizers all things? Fiihrerprinzip, Or was it because they were Europeans first and nationalists the second? Or finally,was their anti-communism most important factor? Of all these possible reasons,only the last seems to have motive playeda majorrole, and even it was not the most important for some Frenchfascists. Paul Serantindicatesin his Le Romantisme fasciste (p. 78) that anti-semitismand racismwere not centralto Frenchfascismuntil ratherlate in the day. He gives I936 as the turningpoint, the year Blum's PopularFront came to power in France. It was only then that the fascist press in France made anti-Semitisma cardinal issue, for at least two reasons,neitherof which had much to do at
42

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

first with racial theory: Blum's Popular Front government,the vulmajorthreatto French fascism at that time, was particularly nerableto such a campaign(Blumhimself and severalof the members of his governmentwere Jews); and the chargecould also be madethat it was the Jewsin Francewho, becauseof theirhatredof Hitler, were tryingto dragFranceinto a war with Germany.That this campaignwas more a matterof expediencythan convictionis seen from the fact that even after 1936most spokesmenforFrench fascism equivocatedagonizinglyon the question of race, not becomingfull-fledgedracistsuntil the GermanOccupation. Drieu La Rochelle is a good example of this development. In 1931 he heapedscorn upon the Nazi idea of a biologicallydistinct German race, ridiculingit as a delusion held by 'nostalgicpetty bourgeois'who ignoredthe migrationsof history.In 1934,afterhis visit to Germany,he took issue with the 'eugenicconservatism' of the Nazis and what he called their tendency to divide humanity into casteson the basis of blood. After I936, however,his writings reflecteda definiteturn towardsanti-semitism,yet of a sort which still condemnedHitler'sbrandas excessiveand which was notably ambiguousas to whetherJewishnesswas 'an irreduciblebiological fact' or a matterof culturalconditioning.At one point in 1938, for example,he was tortuouslyon both sides of the questionwhen he differentiated Europeansfrom Jews, but at the same time refused to dismiss the possibility that certainJews could be modifiedby education and assimilatedinto French society. (Even as late as 1942, MarcelDeat distinguishedbetweenthe Jew who was harmful to the Frenchcommunityand who shouldbe deported,and the Jew who fought and shed his blood for Franceand who should be accepted as 'an honourableand honouredally'.) It was not until after the fall of France that Drieu began to talk about 'the very simplelawsby whichthe life of peoplesis baseduponthe fecundity of soil and blood', and even then he felt it necessaryto justify his new position by equating racism with Aryanism and Aryanism with Europeanism. 'Fromthis point of view, Germanism simply is the advancedguard of Europeanism,'he wrote. Does this suggest then that Frenchfascismwas more Europeanin orientationthan nationalist Not necessarily.Here again the gap ? between conservatismand fascism in France was not so wide as
43
4

concluded that there was a biological difference which 'en gros'

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

might be expected. It is true that after 1940 Drieu and many of his colleagues tended to emphasize the European aspect of fascism, presenting Hitlerism as a means of creating a third force between communist Russia and the democratic capitalist powers. In Drieu's case, Europeanism had been a major tenet of faith as far back as I93I, when he wrote a tract entitled Europe contre les patries. However, by the late I930s, after his conversion to fascism, he was like most French fascists a nationalist first and a European second. Indeed, so prominent was his nationalism during these years that he presented French fascism as an important means of strengthening France against Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, believing as he did that it was 'the only method capable of barring and turning aside the expansion of [other] fascist countries'. French national security came first, he said, and it counted far more than ideology when it came to making alliances. Thus he urged France to bolster its diplomatic ties with liberal-democratic England against national-socialist Germany. 'Systems change, but countries remain,' he declared. He vehemently condemned the idea of allowing France to be invaded by foreign troops, even fascist troops. In retrospect, a passage he wrote in 1937 is both ironic and tragic: It is all very nice to shout: 'Long live the Soviets' or 'BravoHitler' when one is tranquillyat home, amongFrenchmen,comfortablysettled. It might not be so pretty when there are thousands of Stalinist or Hitlerianmercenaries trampingtheir boots acrossour soil, singing their own songs, swearingin their own languagesand looking at our women. ... Why do you expect Russiansor Germans trained by dictatorships to conduct themselves better than French soldiers during the Revolution, men thought to have been made tender by utopian speeches? Foreign troops can be nothing but humiliating. This kind of nationalism, however, did not prevent Drieu and other spokesmen for French fascism favouring the appeasement of Hitler during the Munich crisis of 1938, although not without misgivings. They did this not so much because they were proGerman as because they were anti-Russian, and also, even more important, because they felt that France had no chance of winning a war against Germany in 1938 - a position, it should not be forgotten, that was generally shared by the French conservative press - a nationalistic press - at that time. Nor should it be forgotten that shortly after Munich, Drieu and several others quit the PPF 44

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

in protest against Doriot's continued pacifism towards Germany and that, not long afterward, Doriot himself adopted an ultranationalist, anti-German posture. Indeed, the reasons for this split within the PPF are still obscure. It may well have resulted more from a dispute over tactics than from any fundamental differences over ideological issues like nationalism. After all, Doriot himself had left the PCF in 1936 in order to establish a party of national socialism, free from Russian dictation. The doctrine of the PPF was one of 'intransigent nationalism', Doriot said; 'Our credo is la patrie'. Later, in less happy circumstances, he collaborated with the invader - for the same reason many conservatives did: to serve the interests of France (as he conceived them). In 1942 he insisted that French fascism must retain a certain identity and autonomy of its own within the New Order - the pathetic plea of a hard-pressed nationalist. Finally, the notion that French fascists before the war were sympathetic to Germany in all things and therefore collaboration was temperamentally a natural path for them to take after the fall of France is one that can easily be disputed. Not only were most French fascists quite nationalistic before 1940 and committed to a distinctively French brand of fascism, but most of the leadingintellectuals of the movement looked more to Latin fascisms for inspiration - to Italy, Spain, and Portugal - than to German nazism. Drieu's disenchantment with many aspects of Hitler's Germany from the mid-I93os onward has already been mentioned. When Drieu wrote what was perhaps the most popular French fascist novel of the pre-war period, Gilles (1939), it was among the fascists of Spain not those of Germany that his hero sought fulfilment. Brasillach, also, was much more an admirer of Spanish fascism than German. The ideas of its founder, Jose Antonio de Rivera, were a major source of his early attraction to fascism, while Spain itself was for Brasillach the place of 'all audacities, all grandeurs, all hopes'. On the other hand, when he crossed the Rhine and attended the Nuremberg rallies in I937, he failed to respond with equal enthusiasm. Although some recent commentators on Brasillach's career have made a great deal of his descriptions of these rallies, suggesting that they were wholly sympathetic accounts, what Brasillach actually emphasized a great deal of the time was the strangeness with which these rites struck him. To him, he said, Germany was 'prodigiously and profoundly and eternally aforeign 45

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

country'. He did admire the emotion and vitality which these ralliesgeneratedin their Germanaudiences,and he admiredtheir emphasis on youth, but many of the ideas and symbols which characterized them, and which he foundpeculiarlyGerman,struck him at times as almostridiculous. When he wrotein his death cell in 1945that throughoutmost of his life he had not been intellectually in touch with Germany,he was being perfectlyhonest. The differencesbetween French and Germanfascism, certainly, were many and great.Not only was racismmuch less importantin the French version, but (perhapsas a consequenceof this differon ence) neitherwas there such an emphasison Massendemokratie, totalitariandemocracy, on the Volk as the ultimate source of politicalsovereigntyand nationalgreatness.Despite the provisions aimedat winninga broadmass following, in its partyprogrammes Frenchfascismwas generallya much more elitist ideologythan its In Germancounterpart. part, it may have been forcedto exaggerate its elitistside becauseof its failureto becomea massmovement. But there was also a genuine ideologicaldistaste on the part of many of the intellectualsof the movementfor any doctrinewhich glorifiedthe masses ratherthan small groups of exceptionalmen. After all, the majorcriticismwhich French fascists made of their countrywas that it was decadent- and by implicationthat most of weredecadenttoo. Men like Drieu and Brasillach theircountrymen were especiallycriticalof what they felt was the lackof vitalityand will displayed by the French people in comparisonwith other elite to peoples, and consequentlythey calledfor an authoritarian of its slothful habits. Even the politiciansof pull the nation out Frenchfascism,men like Doriot and Deat, sensitive as they were the to publicopinion,madeit clearthat,in the lastanalysis, governhad in mind would be a governmentmuch more for the ment they peoplethanby the people.Despite theirtalkof politicalrepresentation through syndicalist corporations,ultimate political power, under fascism, was to reside in the hands of a single party and a single elite. The membershipof this elite, it is true, was to be recruitedfrom all classesof the populationand from all regionsof France.This was an importantdifferencebetween fascistthought and a great deal of conservativethought, for fascist theoreticians insisted that those who governedshould not be drawnfromjust the traditionalhierarchiesand authorities but from the lower 46

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

classesas well, from whereverexceptionalabilitymanifesteditself. Thus, while both camps shareda common distastefor notions of popular sovereignty,they disagreed,although only in part, as to who would compose the ruling elite. Fascists, in this respect at least, were more democraticthan many conservatives.However, their attitude towards the broad body of the masses remained quite as undemocratic. Indeed, one of the majordifferencesbetween French and German fascism was that Nazi ideology conceivedof the Leaderas a figurewho derived his powers from the Volkand whose will was thereforelaw even unto the ruling elite, whereas French fascism with its far less exalted notion of the masses never subscribedto with the Fiihrerprinzip the samedegreeof zeal. Drieu, for example, insisted that membersof a true elite were partnersnot servantsof their leader,and that their voices carriedgreatweight in the decisions that were made. In fact, in Socialisme fasciste,he denounced all dictators, contemptuously remarking that they arose only when men were at their weakest. He concluded that while the masses, being 'a little female',were prone to abandonthemselves to these 'living gods', a truly virile elite would always resist this kind of subservience.As he had declareda yearearlier in his play Le Chef: 'There is an appallingweaknessin men who give themselves to anotherman. When there is a dictator,there is no longer an elite; it means that the elite is no longer doing its duty.' This elitist side of French fascism cannot be emphasizedtoo much. It was one of the majorattractions which fascism held for sensitive, intelligent literatilike Drieu, Brasillach,Bardeche,and others. They were especiallyseduced by the notion of being part of a tightly-knitgroup of young, loyal, virile comrades- of being partof a team.Fascismwas firstof all a spirit, Brasillach once said, and 'it is the spirit of the team above all else'. At times the fascism of these men seemed little more than a schoolboydream,a cult of masculinefriendship,a notionof camaraderie but therewas more thanthis involved:therewas the sense of enhancedpersonalpower which comes from being part of a dynamiccompanyof men, and, perhapsmost of all, therewas an end to the feeling of isolationand alienationwhich plaguedpeople like Drieu. No longer,said Drieu shortly after his conversionto fascism, did one have to be like thousandsof individualsin the modern world who tremble with
47

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

cold in theirlittle roomsin the greatcitiesandwho feel the need to rush togetherto keep warm.By joiningthe PPF, the 'paralysis' of individualismis overcome and men relearn 'la vie de groupe'. 'There, one no longerlives alone, one lives together,'Drieu wrote vidual autonomybut of personalforce, and the greatestpersonal forcecomesfrombeingin andlivingthrougha group.Hence Drieu definedliberty as 'the power a man receivesfrom being bound to other men'. Much the same sensationwas describedby Brasillach of his fascist comradeswere exhilaratedby 'living together' in mass meetings 'in which the rhythmicmovementsof armies and crowdsseemed like the pulsationsof a vast heart'. Drieu underlined,however,that not just any group would do; it had to be a truly elite group, its membersyoung, militant and courageous.It was these qualities,he argued,which particularly distinguishedfascists from their political opponents, especially from the great bulk of communistsand socialists,and herein, he said, lay one of fascism'sgreatestappealsand sourcesof strength. In fact therewere momentswhen Drieu put so much emphasison personal qualities, activist qualities - aggressiveness,courage, vitality,force- that his fascismseemedlittle morethana mystique
of action for action's sake - as when he declared in 1937, for in his Notre Avant-Guerre (I94I) when he told how he and many in Avec Doriot (I936). 'There, one does not die each in his corner, ... there one lives.' Freedom becomes no longer a matter of indi-

of example,that it was not the programme the PPF which counted so much as its spirit, its spirit of combatand action. Perhapsthe most strikingexample of this aspect of his fascism occurs in his novel Gilles,duringthe episodein which the hero, afterwitnessing the FebruaryI934 riots in Paris, proposes a remarkable plan of actionto the leaderof one politicalorganization:
Open an office immediately to recruit combat sections. No manifestos, no programme,no new party. Only combatsections, which will be called combat sections. With the first section that is formed, do no matter what. Attack Daladier or defend him, but with acts that are completely concrete. Invade, one after another, a newspaper of the Right and a newspaper of the Left. Have this person or that person beaten up at his home. At all costs, breakwith the routine of the old parties,of manifestos,of meetings, of articlesand speeches. A revolution of nihilism ? Not necessarily. The fact that Drieu

48

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

was inclined to downgradecertainideologicalquestionsat certain momentsdoes not mean that he lackedan ideology or that he was unconcernedwith doctrine.His cult of action and force was itself a doctrine and the source in turn of other doctrines.It was precisely because fascists like Drieu glorifiedpower and energy and vitality, and condemnedFrench society for its decadence,for its lackof these qualities,that they demandeda radicaltransformation anda spiritual of regeneration thatsociety.Not onlywasthis critique the inspirationfor a variety of doctrines and programmes,but more than anythingelse, perhaps,it separatedfascists in France fromconservatives traditionalists. and For what preoccupiedone French fascist writerafter anotherand what was one of the most distinctivefeaturesof their ideology - was theiroverwhelming sense of nationaldecadence,theirfeeling that France was debilitatedand weak, that it was sunk in torpor and somnolence. The underlying premise of so much of their since her former thought was that Francehad declineddrastically daysof gloryandthatthis was largelydue to the moralandphysical of degeneration her people.Partof the blamewas placedon 'plutocratic capitalism',and thus a brand of national 'gocialism'was advocated to enhance the economic power of France vis-a-vis other nations, but on the whole French fascists viewed French decadenceas primarilya moralproblem(whichis one reason,perhaps, why the economic programmes they devised seem mild by Marxianstandards).Like Drieu, most French fascists conceived their revolutionto be essentiallya spiritualrevolution.They argued that France sufferedfrom a declining birthrate,from egoism and individualismand materialism,from a lack of vitality and force, not so much because of economic conditions (French fascist thinkersunanimouslyrejecteda strictly economic or materialistic explanationof historyand society), but becauseof certainphilosoand phical conceptions,especiallydemocratic liberalphilosophical conceptions,which had misledthe Frenchpeople. Once these conceptions were replaced by superior conceptions, French society wouldbe regenerated. For someonelike Brasillach fascismwas also,in no smallmeasure,a revolt of youth against its elders, a revolt of a young, healthy, idealistic generationagainstan old, sick, rottenone. It was not a point of view likely to endearitself to middle-agedconservatives. 49

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

No doubt, too, most Frenchmen were less interested in being regenerated than in eating well, less concerned with youthful asceticism than with the material comforts of life. Here again there was a distinct difference between fascists and many conservatives, especially well-established, comfortable conservatives. Like Drieu, Brasillach and his friends at Je suispartout despised the materialistic values of the bourgeoisie and their debilitating attachment to creature comforts, and, like him, they dreamed of a new generation of Frenchmen, strong in body, comradely in spirit, and 'scornful of the thick possessions of this world'. One result was that there was often a good deal of primitivism involved in their revolt. 'In truth,' Bardeche tells us, 'man, such as he is conceived of by fascists, is a young savage who believes only in those qualities which one needs in the bush or in the arctic; he denounces civilization, for he sees in it only hypocrisy and imposture.' But there was a great deal more to the fascist concept of man than that. Indeed to a large extent the central vision of French fascism was its vision of ideal manhood, its concept of the homofascista, its notion of the 'new man' that a fascist society would produce. The aim of fascism, said Deat, was to create the 'total man', or, as Bardeche later said, 'to form men according to a certain model'. And they were sure that the model was there before them. Brasillach declared proudly in I94I: ... during the last twenty years we have seen the birth of a new human type - as distinct and as surprisingas the Cartesianhero, as the sensitive encyclopedist of the eighteenth century, as the Jacobin 'patriot' - we have seen the birth of fascist man. In fact, as science distinguishesthe homofaber from the homosapiens,we should perhaps present to classifiers and to amateursat this sort of thing this homo fascista. Again and again, spokesmen for French fascism emphasized that it was 'this new image of man' that was the most essential part of their movement and which more than anything else set them apart from their rivals.9 What is the portrait of the homofascista which emerges from their writings ? He is a man of energy, virility, and force - above all
9 One of the shortcomings of Paul S6rant's work is that he deliberately ignoresthe fictionalwritingsof Frenchfascist authors.Yet it is preciselyin such writingsthat the fascist image of the ideal man is often best found. 50

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

of force.He views life in Darwinianterms,as a strugglefor survival in which the strong triumph over the weak. He believes that the only justice there is in this world, as Brasillachexpressed it, is 'that which reigns by force'. Hence he does not avoid fightingand bloodshed but welcomes it, for only in combat does he fully become a man. His physicalcourageis fortifiedby a strongbody. In times of peace he is an athlete hardenedby sport. He is no egocentric individualist,however, because he realizes that he finds personalfulfilmentonly through the group, and consequentlyhe respectscohesion,discipline,and authority.He is a man of action, will, and character;he is, in short, a hero, one who determines history ratherthan being determinedby it. Thus, said the defendersof Fascist man, he contrastssharply with Marxist man or Democratic man. Men are born neither naturallygood nor naturallyequal. There is no inevitableprogress in historynor is historydeterminedsolely by economicconditions. The fundamentalerrorof Marxismis to believe that mankindis forcesand thatmanhimself is nothsimply the productof material ing more than 'a certain number of kilos of organic materials'. Unlike Marxism, fascism does not ignore the 'human factor' in historyand the role of dynamicindividuals.'Fascism,'said Drieu, '... surpassessocialismby its sense of man.' Or as Bardeche puts it: Fascismdoes not furnishas does communism explanation the an of a historyof the world;it doesnot propose keywith whichanyonecan it decipher reality.It does not believein fate; on the contrary denies it fate, opposing insteadwith the will of men and believing man that his eventsandmenin relation to forges owndestiny .... Fascism judges a certain of manwhichis its own. idea This certainidea of man, it was emphasized,has little in common with whatdemocracies to makeof man. Democratictheoryprotry duces humanbeings who can readbut have no morality,who seek comfort and security rather than the heroic life, who are petty individualistsconcernedsolely with their own self-interestrather than membersof a communitydevoted to somethinggreaterthan themselves. Fascism wants to break the 'shell of [this] egoism',
wrote Paul Marion in his Programme du Parti Populaire Franfais

(1938), and revive 'the taste for risk, the confidencein self, the sense of the group, the taste for collectiveelansand the memoryof
5I

CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

and those unanimous faithswhichmadepossiblethe cathedrals the miraclesof France'.Democracieslack this beauideal, and consequently they fail to producethe heroesfascistsocietiesdo. Nor do often mostconservatives, ActionFranfaise, even thoseof the royalist approachthis ideal, bogged down as they are in material selfinterestand bourgeoisdecadence,lackingdynamismand - according to Drieu La Rochelle at least - a certainnecessarybrutality: 'A monarchist never a true fascist,becausea monarchist never is is a modern: he has not the brutality,the barbaricsimplicityof the modem.' It was this strikingvision of man, perhapsmore than anything to else, which attractedfigureslike Drieu and Brasillach fascismin the I930s and was responsiblefor their eventualconversion.Certainly it was one of their most powerfulmotivesfor collaborating with the Germansafter I940. It was something which they did have in commonwith the Nazis, somethingwhich weighed more heavily in the scales of decision than the differenceswhich separated them. Sickenedby France'seasy defeat,convincedthat their had countrymen proventheirdecadencein that defeat,they looked to the Germansto provideFrenchmenwith a new ideal to pattern themselvesafter,and they felt that the Germanspresentedsuch an ideal in what Drieu called the 'Hitlerianman', the new kind of conqueringGermanforged by the Third Reich. As Bardechesaid later,not only did nazismappearto him and his friendsas the best agency available at the time for combatting communism and liberalismin Europe,but if the Germanslost the war there would be no chance at all of implementing'the new idea of man' which not the Nazis embodied.Men like Bardechecollaborated so much because they agreed with each and every doctrine the Germans espoused, but becausethey were enamouredof many of the personal qualities of the invader, their vitality, their force, their capacityfor struggle.Indeed,even at the end, in 1945,when all was lost andnazismlay undera cloudof warcrimes,Brasillach, writing in prison while awaiting execution, would, partly to justify the cause which had been his undoing, call attentionto the last-ditch stand the Germanshad made againstthe Allies:
In these years when she had been hard on others, Germanyshowed that she accepted,with the same hardness,the blows she receivedfrom her others. She proved,superabundantly, vitality,her genius for adaptation, her courage,her heroism. Throughouther cities burned by phos52

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

and counbombs,a wholepeoplestiffened, in the conquered phorous triesfromwhichAmerican Russian and him,the expelled powerfinally German as of soldier,besieged he was,foughtwiththe energy the outlaw thatsomeusedto admire whentheirsoulswereloyal.... It is impossiblethat all thesevirtueswill be lost forever. They arepartof the common treasure our civilization. of A final question remains.Was French fascism an ideology at all ? Was it, as some scholars have concluded, primarily a 'fever', a movement lacking clear-cut goals and doctrinal seriousness, a movement,to quote ProfessorWeber,in which 'the ends of action count less than actionitself', a movementlacking'an anteriorplan or series of plans inspired by the original doctrine'? Was it, as these scholarssuggest, essentiallya romanticadventure,a kind of were 'more intersentimental,emotionalfling whose participants ested in gesturesthan in doctrine',more concernedwith style than substance, more apt to be irrational,subjective, and aesthetic in their approach to politics than realistic, objective, and toughminded?10The troublewith descriptiveadjectivesof this kind, of course, is that they have a way of rebounding.In the first place, all ideologies no doubt have a certain emotional content that affectstheir doctrinesif it does not inspirethem. There is nothing about French fascism in this respect. 'To treat very remarkable ideas as the offspringof pure reasonwould be to assign [political] them a parentageabout as mythologicalas that of PallasAthene,' Sir Lewis Namieronce said. 'Whatmattersmost is the underlying emotions,the music, to which ideas are a mere libretto, often of a very inferior quality.' Secondly, most ideologies have what could be called a subjectivevision of the good society (all value-systems, surely, are subjectivein this sense), and most ideologies,certainly, are accompanied a definiteaestheticof their own. To be sure, a by man like Brasillach speakof fascismas a 'poetry'and was fascidid nated by 'poetic' images, images of young men camping around firesat night, of mass meetings,of heroicexploitsof the past - but then Marxism,too, has its conceptionof life in the classlesssociety, and conservatives theiridylls of the hallowedpast. An image-laden
10 Eugen Weber, Varieties of Fascism, pp. 138-42; 'Nationalism, Socialism and National-Socialism in France', loc. cit.; Paul Serant, Le Romantismefasciste, pp. 10, 3I; William R. Tucker, 'Politics and Aesthetics: the Fascism of Robert Brasillach', The Western Political Quarterly, December I962; Jean Turlais, 'Introduction a l'histoire de la litterature "fasciste" ', Les Cahiersfranfais; May I943, quoted in S6rant, op. cit., p. II.

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CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

vision of the good society - which few ideologiesequate with the presentsociety,with presentobjectivereality- is hardlyunique to Frenchfascismand cannotbe dismissedas mere 'subjectivism' or 'aestheticism'. Finally, French fascism was certainlyas notable of for its glorification realismand pragmatism for its expressions as of 'romanticism'. Its belief that the strongtriumphoverthe weak and that might makes right, its scorn for ivory-towerintellectuals divorcedfrom concrete reality,its emphasisupon confrontingthe harsh'facts' of life, its equation of violence with virility, its contempt for 'Romantics'who refuseto dirty their hands in political action - were all fundamentalaspects of fascist 'realism'. As to whether French fascists, realistsor romantics,were seriously committed to a definite ideology or not, the evidence is mixed. Literaryintellectualslike Drieu and Brasillachdid often emphasizethe spirit of fascism more than its programmes,and even Doriot, on one occasionat least, admittedthat the doctrines of the PPF were 'insufficientand flabby'comparedto the energy and force of its members. (Indeed, this emphasisupon spirit instead of doctrinemade it that much easier for French fascismto
penetrate the conservative Right during the I920S and 30s, and for

conservativeattitudesto penetrateit.) Still, it would be wrongto conclude that French fascism was only a 'fever'. Its party protook quiteexplicitpositionson the majorissues of domesgrammes tic and foreign policy, and even if some of its doctrinesmay be labelled romanticthey were still doctrines.As suggested earlier, Frenchfascism'sdisgust with all that was decadentand its cult of energyand force had importantdoctrinalconsequences.Not only did France,the nation-state,have to be made strong again, but a new society had to be createdto producea new kind of man. In this, Frenchfascistswere just as doctrinaireas Lycurguswhen he set out to legislatea new Spartanman into existence.Besides corstate, French fascist writers called poratismand an authoritarian for 'a revolutionof the body', a multiplicationof athletic teams, youthhostels, sportstadiums, scoutinggroups,hikingassociations, and above all, the eventualreplacementof France'slargest cities by coloniesscatteredthroughthe countrysideconnectedby ultraOnly when the bodies of Frenchrapidmeans of communication. effects of a purely urban men were freed from the dehumanizing existence, wrote Drieu La Rochelle, would they overcome the spiritualdecadencethat engulfed them. 'Thanks to us,' said Paul 54

THE NATURE OF FASCISM IN FRANCE

Marion of the PPF, 'the France of camping, of sports, of dances, of voyages, of collective hiking will sweep away the France of aperitifs, of tobacco dens, of party congresses and of long digestions.' According to Drieu, all the other reforms of fascism should be subordinated to the reform of the body, to what he called physical reform: ... the physical reform of man must be our immediate enterprise, inasmuch as it is the most urgent task before us, and it must be instituted concurrentlywith the reform of the economy; in fact, the reform of the economy must take its lead from the necessities of physical reform (which is the essential programmeof the fascist revolution). Not only did French fascism have a definite ideology, as should be clear by now, but it was a highly moralistic, highly serious-minded one. Indeed, despite its glorification of realism and force, perhaps the most striking thing about this ideology was its moralism, its righteous indignation at all it deemed decadent and its zealous determination to root out sinfulness (e.g. weakness) wherever it was found. Bardeche remarks in Qu'est-ce que le Fascisme?, for instance, that no regime is more concerned with the 'moral health' of a society than a fascist regime, and this is why fascism devotes itself to 'the systematic elimination of all that discourages, dirties, or disgusts'. Democracies, on the other hand, are known for their moral laxity: [Democracies]allow all aspects of life to be open to all sorts of inundations,to all sorts of miasma,to all sorts of fetid winds, building as they do no dikes against decadence, expropriation, and especially mediocrity.They have us live on a steppe where anyone can invade us. There is only one purely negative password:to defend liberty.... The monsters who make their nest on this steppe, the rats, the toads, the snakes,they transformit into a cesspool.... As for mediocrity,it takes over like an insidious poison in peoples whom democraciescram with educationwithout ever giving them a goal and an ideal; it is the leper of the souls of our time. It was this kind of moralism which led many French fascists to risk public animosity and even death in behalf of their cause - and which also led them to condone some of the most authoritarian and ugly political acts of their times.

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