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Post Place de la Concorde Riots, 1934: Did France Nearly Embrace Fascism?
Created by John Eipper on 12/19/20 4:01 AM

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Place de la Concorde Riots, 1934: Did France Nearly Embrace Fascism? (Patrick Mears, -Germany, 12/19/20 4:01 am)

I wish you all the best of the Holiday season and may you and your loved ones remain safe and sound during this time.  And John, I hope that you and family are having a wonderful vacation in Yucatán.  I have longed to visit there, especially the town of Mérida.  I remember reading years ago about the Caste War in the Yucatan--the revolt by the indigenous Mayas against the Yucatecos--and became fascinated by the story.  

Which leads me to the theme of this note. Approximately 30 years ago back in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I went on a reading spree about France, especially its history in the 20th Century.  One topic that I came across then was the civil riots that broke out on the Place de la Concorde on February 6, 1934.  This subject grabbed my attention in 1990 somewhat by accident while I was reading a published volume of selected columns by Janet Flanner published in The New Yorker from 1929 to 1935, when she lived in and reported from Paris.  The title of my paperback copy of this volume is Paris Was Yesterday, which was printed by Harcourt Brace Yovanovich in 1988.  Three of her columns addressing both the "Stavisky Affair" and the riots of February 6, 1934 appear in this volume but, as a virgin reader of French history back then, I found on my first time through that these columns were a bit opaque, to me certainly.  I also recall that William Shirer's account of these riots in his 1969 work, The Collapse of the Third Republic, did not engage in a detailed analysis of their causes, etc.  At the time that I read Flanner's columns and Shirer's history, I promised myself that I would read more about these events, but I haven't followed through on that pledge until now.   

Concerning the change of governments in the 1920s beginning with Benito Mussolini's 1922 march on Rome, it strikes me that there might be  a few models for the seizure of national political power that took place in Europe from 1922 to 1940. The first one may be classified as the Italo-German experience, which began with civil protests that led to street violence, and ended with a somewhat peaceful and ostensibly legitimate transfer of power to a new regime.  The second model might be the triggering off of intense political strife that ultimately resulted in the Spanish Civil War, Franco's complete military victory and his acquisition of power.  Finally, the third model might be the French experience, beginning with the left-right polarization of the French populace that blossomed into the February 6th riots, but without quickly resulting in a seizure of power by an authoritarian regime.  That development had to wait for the surrender of France to Germany by the newly-installed government of Phillipe Pétain in 1940. This so-called Vichy Government then established a fascist state in the south of France, the État Francais.  Perhaps there are additional "models" for this time period out there (e.g., the creation of the Sándor Garbai/Béla Kun "dictatorship of the proletariat" in Hungary in 1919), but the four mentioned above seem to be the most obvious ones, to me at least. 

When the civil disturbances arising from George Floyd's death and similar events broke out in the United States earlier this year, I thought back to the February 6th riots in Paris and wondered whether, in the time between 1990 and 2020, scholars had carefully and thoroughly examined these riots in detail and explored the many questions that arose from those events.  I was delighted recently to come across an excellent volume in this vein, titled France and Fascism: February 1934 and the dynamics of political crisis, by Brian Jenkins and Chris Millington, which was published in 2016 in paperback by Routledge.  I highly recommend this volume to readers who are interested in the topic.

Finally, rather than discuss here in detail the ideas and theories advanced in this volume, I thought that, because we have so many WAISers who are experts in this time period and the countries involved, e.g. Paul Preston, Carmen Negrin, Angel Vinas and Eugenio Battaglia, I would like to ask our group to please transmit any relevant thoughts and insights that you undoubtedly have concerning the topic above.  Thank you for your time and patience.

JE comments:  Pat, I believe this is the first time the February '34 crisis has appeared on WAIS.  The riots were described as "anti-parliamentarian," with the far-right organizers hoping to drag France into fascism on the heels of Germany.  Can anyone in WAISdom give us an appraisal of how close they got?  Imagine what a Franco-Italo-German fascist "axis" would have looked like in the 1930s--as well as its impact on 1939 and beyond.


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  • What If France Had Embraced Fascism in 1934? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/20/20 8:08 AM)

    The failure of the riots of 6 February 1934 in Paris (see Patrick Mears, 19 December) was a missed opportunity for peace in Europe.


    Various right-wing groups participated in the riots:


    Action Francais--monarchist

    Jeunesse Patriotes--republicans but authoritarian

    Solidarité Francais--a small group

    Fancissme--probably the only one with similarities to Italian Fascism

    Croix-de-Fer--social/Catholic

    Union Nationale des Combatants--a nationalistic Veterans association.


    What was missing was a charismatic leader with clear ideas, and therefore they were doomed.


    Our esteemed moderator JE asked: "Imagine what a Franco-Italo-German fascist axis could have looked like in the 1930s as well as its impact on 1939 and beyond."


    As I suggest above, a "fascist" axis (the real Fascism, with its social programs, existed only in Italy and was different from other right-wing ideologies) would have meant peace in 1939.


    Do not forget that Poland was long under the rule of the benevolent dictator (may we call him "fascist" too according to the modern vulgate?) Pilsudski, admired by Hitler. The latter participated in his funeral and when in 1939 the Germans troops entered Poland, an official German Army delegation paid its respects at the tomb of the great Polish leader.


    We justifiably blame the theory of the Untermenschen, but suppose that the US had lost against Japan.  Imagine the fuss that would been made about the popular American indication of the Japs as yellow monkeys?


    Without the pressures from UK and France, probably an accord between Poland and Germany would have been reached for the settlement of the German "Free City" of Danzig. After all, Hitler reached an accord with Italy about the ethnic German Sud Tyrol and for the German ethnic groups in the Baltic States, Bucovina, and Bessarabia.


    Without the French cannon fodder (someone said that the British fight until their last ally), the UK would not have opposed Hitler and maybe Edward VIII would have regained influence while Hitler, as he wrote in his Mein Kampf, would have had friendly relations with the British Empire.


    Hopefully, the British Empire could have given up Malta, as at the time the majority of the Maltese would have supported a union with Italy.


    Even the Holocaust would not have happened as Hitler wanted the Jews out of Germany and he, at least initially, supported the creation of a Jewish state somewhere, as long as it was far from Germany. Himmler collaborated with the Haganah. In spite of the support of the emigration of 60,000 Germans Jews through the Ha'avara from 1933, the German Diplomatic Corps especially after 1938 was worried that such support would antagonize the Arab Communities and was worried about the strong opposition of the Jewish communities in the Western States.

    Do not forget that Ze'ev Jabotiski arranged with Mussolini to found in Italy a Nautical School for Jewish captains of the future Israeli Navy.  Also, Avraham Stern leader of the Stern Gang, as late as January 1941 was in favor of military support for Germany against the UK for the creation of Greater Israel in Palestine.  Unfortunately, Palestine was already the land of the Palestinians and another solution should have been found.


    A war from the Axis (practically all Europe) against the USSR would then have been possible, followed by an easy victory. The results of such a victory are difficult to imagine, considering the various ethnic groups, including the Soviet Jews, who already had an Autonomous Oblast, all longing for independence. Maybe Israel could have been founded there.


    Finally, the US would have had to stick to its Monroe Doctrine.


    JE comments:  These "what ifs" make you think.  My Western liberal sympathies of course cringe at the thought of a Europe unified under fascism, but it may indeed have averted World War II.  Still, in the above scenario, WWII would have meant Europe vs the USSR, which would have been anything but a cake walk.  And which side would the US have taken, especially if the UK had remained neutral in this continental struggle?


    So in a nutshell, the French Right was missing its Mussolini or Hitler.


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