The right and the extreme right in the department of the Rhône, 1928-1939
This thesis begins with some old questions about the French conservatism. Why has the French right failed to create a united party on the British model'? Why have conservatives so regularly turned to authoritarianism? More precisely, how is the emergence the Croix de Feu in the 1930s to be accounted for? Was it fascist? Did it pose a threat to the established order? These questions have been addressed by means of a detailed study of the right and the extreme right in one French department, the Rhone. It is argued that from 1870 until the early 1960s the French right was divided by two fundamental problems: the desirability or otherwise of industrialization and the legacy of the French Revolution, especially the historic quarrel over the place of the Catholic Church in French society. Neither of these issues were primary; what is important is the way in which they were related in the minds of conservatives. In the 1930s these problems became acute. The efforts of conservative governments from 1928 to 1932 to stabilize and modernize the Republic initiated, on the contrary, a process of fragmentation. Instability was exacerbated by the world economic crisis. By 1935 coalition politics had become impossible. Government could be carried on only thanks to the grant of special powers. This was the context in which the Croix de Feu emerged. The league represented a mobilization of the rank and file of the right against leaders who were perceived to have failed in domestic and foreign politics. Hence its combination of radicalism and reaction. It is argued that the Croix de Feu (though not its successor, the PSF) was a fascist movement. It is also suggested that in the period which ended with the "fascist riots" of 6 February, 1934, a crisis had been developing out of which a fascist regime might have emerged. But the formation of the Popular Front and its success in manipulating the French Republican tradition, prevented this crisis from developing beyond its early stages. The electoral victory of the Popular Front, the strikes of June 1936 and the dissolution of the leagues put paid to the fascist threat. But the right remained as unstable as ever. So authoritarianism survived in different ways. In the Rhone this crisis took the form of a breakdown of the liberal tradition which had dominated conservative politics since the 1840s, and which was deeply rooted in the silk industry. In the 1920s this liberal conservative tradition was concretized in the Chamber of Commerce and the Federation republicaine. From the end of the decade it was undermined from two directions. On the one hand th~re was a challenge from a coalition of Catholic integrists, merchant-manufacturers and large landowners who were worried by certain aspects of economic and social change. In the early 1930s this group won control of the Federation republicaine. On the other hand there emerged a reformist challenge to the liberal tradition. In the countryside independent peasant proprietors turned to the Jeunnesse agricole chretienne. In Lyon the bureaucratization and feminization of white collar work coincided with the formation of a Catholic trades union movement. The diversification of the economy led to the emergence of a challenge from engineering employers. In the late 1920s these groups were sympathetic to the parties of the centre right. During the crisis of the 1930s they turned to the Croix de Feu and the PSF.