French Social Party

French Social Party

The French Social Party (French: "Parti Social Français", PSF) was a French nationalist political party founded in 1936 by François de La Rocque, following the dissolution of his Croix-de-Feu league by the Popular Front government. France's first right-wing mass party, prefiguring the rise of Gaullism after the Second World War [Jacques Nobécourt, lecture at the Academy of Rouen, 7 February 1998; published in "AL" № 59, July 1998.] , it experienced considerable initial success but disappeared in the wake of the fall of France in 1940.

Background and origins (1927–36)

La Rocque envisioned the PSF as the more explicitly political successor of the Croix-de-Feu, the World War I veterans' organization founded in 1927, which had by the early 1930s emerged as the largest [P. Machefer. "Les Croix-de-Feu 1927-1936", "Information historique", № 1 (1972), p. 28-33.] and one of the most influentual of interwar France's numerous far-right leagues. Though the Croix-de-Feu had adopted as its slogan "Social d'abord" ("Social First") as a counter to the "Politique d'abord" ("Politics First") of Action Française, it espoused the political goals elaborated by La Rocque in his tract "Service Public" — including social-Catholic corporatism, the institution of a minimum wage and paid vacations ("congés payés"), women's suffrage, and the reform of parliamentary procedure [François de La Rocque. "Service public" (1934).] . The programme of the Social Party would further develop these same themes, advocating "the association of capital and labour", a traditional platitude of French conservatism, and the reform of France's political institutions along presidential lines, in order to bolster the stability and authority of the state [La Rocque (1934).] .

Though the Croix-de-Feu participated in the demonstrations of 6 February 1934, La Rocque forbid its members from involving themselves in the subsequent riot, demonstrating a respect for republican legality that the PSF would also uphold as one of its essential political principles. Thus La Rocque, who had previously maintained a certain mystique with regard to his attitude towards the Republic, explicitly rallied to it, denouncing, in a speech on 23 May 1936, totalitarianism — both Nazi and Soviet — along with racism (with regard to which he explicitly rejected antisemitism) and class struggle, as the principal obstacles to "national reconciliation" [François de La Rocque. "Bulletin d'infomation du PSF du 8 juillet 1938, discours au Congrés PSF de Marseille, le 8 juin 1937", "Bulletin des Amis de La Rocque", № 60 (1998).] . Nevertheless, critics of the left and centre denounced the Croix-de-Feu, together with the other leagues, as fascist organizations. A desire to defend the Republic was not their sole motivation: politicians of the centre-right and left alike opposed La Rocque due to the perceived threat of his success in mobilizing a mass base within their traditional, and particularly working-class, constituencies [William D. Irvine. "French Conservatism in Crisis" (Louisiana State University Press, 1979), p. 93.] .

Due to the disruptive nature of the leagues' activities, the Laval government outlawed paramilitary groups on 6 December 1935, and although this decision was succeeded by the law of 10 January 1936 regulating militias and combat organizations, the law was only partially implemented — of all the leagues, only Action Française was dissolved, and the Croix-de-Feu was allowed to continue its activities essentially unimpeded. Following the victory of the Popular Front, which had included in its electoral programme a promise to dissolve the right-wing leagues, in the parliamentary elections of May 1936, the government issued a decree banning the Croix-de-Feu, along with the "Mouvement social français", on 18 June. Within weeks, on 7 July, La Rocque founded the French Social Party to succeed the defunct league.

Political success and cooperation (1936–40)

Organization and mass mobilization

The PSF inherited the large popular base of the Croix-de-Feu — 450,000 members in June 1936, with the majority of them having joined since 1934 [Julian Jackson. "The Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy, 1934-38" (Cambridge, 1988), p. 252.] — and, mirroring the Popular Front movement of the same period, achieved considerable success in mobilizing it through a variety of associated organizations: sporting societies, labour organizations, and leisure and vacation camps. PSF members also orchestrated the development of "professional unions" ("syndicats professionels"), envisioned as a means of organizing management against labour militancy, which espoused class collaboration and claimed one million members by 1938 [P. Machefer. "Les Syndicats professionels français (1936-39)", "MS" (1982), p. 90-112.] .

Unlike established right-wing parties such as the Republican Federation and Democratic Alliance, which had traditionally lacked a formal membership structure and relied instead on the support of notables, the PSF aggressively courted an extensive membership among the middle and lower classes. By 1940, the PSF had become not only France's first right-wing mass party, but the nation's largest party in terms of membership: with over 700,000 members (and more than a million according to some historians [Jackson (1988), p. 254.] ), it eclipsed even the traditionally mass-based Socialist (SFIO) and Communist parties (202,000 and 288,000 members, respectively, in December 1936 [Jackson (1988), p. 219-20.] ).

The party's central committee included its president, La Rocque, vice-presidents Jean Mermoz and Noël Ottavi, Edmond Barrachin, Charles Vallin, Jean Ybarnegaray, Jean Borotra, and Georges Riché. The party had two newspapers: "Le Flambeau" and "Le Petit Journal".

Electoral success

The nascent PSF elected six members to the Chamber of Deputies in 1936, to which three were added in by-elections between 1936 and 1939 and two more by desertions from other right-wing parliamentary groups. The true measure of the party's electoral potential, however, came with the municipal elections of 1938-39, in which it won 15% of votes nationally [Jacques Nobécourt, "La Rocque" (Fayard, 1996), p. 646.] . As a result of the proportional representation law passed by the Chamber in June 1939, this promised to translate into approximately one hundred deputies in the legislative elections planned for 1940. By 1939, the party's elected officials, its eleven deputies aside, included nearly three thousand mayors, 541 general councilors and thousands of municipal councilors [Nobécourt (1996), p. 647.] .

Competition with established right-wing parties

Of all the PSF's successes, it was the party's popularity among the "classes moyennes" — the peasants, shopkeepers, and clerical workers who had been hardest hit by the Great Depression — that generated the most fear from the left. This demographic was historically one of the primary bastions of the Radical-Socialist Party, and its falling under the influence of the "fascist" right was viewed by Popular Front leaders as a serious threat to the stability of the republic. The PSF, for its part, actively courted the "classes moyennes", arguing that their traditional Radical defenders had abandoned them by supporting the Popular Front [Jackson (1988), p. 254.] .

Despite this demographic threat, however, the PSF generated the most fervent hostility within the parties of the established parliamentary right, most notably the conservative Republican Federation. The tensions between the Federation and the PSF were demonstrated, as early as 1937, by a Normandy by-election in which the Federation candidate, after having placed behind the PSF candidate in the first round, initially refused to stand down and support the latter in the runoff round. The rancor of the feuding parties, despite the Federation candidate's eventual endorsement of the PSF, resulted in the seat falling to the centre — demonstrating to Federation and PSF leaders alike the undesirability of coexistence. Thus, although the two parties were in fact in agreement on many questions of ideology, notably their defense of the far-right leagues, the PSF was viewed by the long-established Federation as a rival "to its own electoral fortunes" [Irvine (1979), p. 157.] .

A second victim of the PSF's popularity was Jacques Doriot's far-right "Parti Populaire Français" (PPF), which incorporated nationalist as well as virulently anti-communist and openly fascist tendencies. Founded, like the PSF, in June 1936, the PPF enjoyed initial success, attracting a membership of 295,000, according to the party's own statistics, by the beginning of 1938 [Jackson (1988), p. 255.] . With the continued growth of the PSF, however, the PPF fell into decline, paralleling the demise of the Popular Front to which it had largely been a reaction [Jackson (1988), p. 255.] .

In March 1937, Doriot proposed the formation of a "Front de la Liberté" ("Front of Liberty") with the objective of unifying the right in opposition to the Popular Front. Although the Republican Federation, followed by several small right-wing parties which stood to lose little from allying themselves to the more extremist PPF, quickly accepted Doriot's proposal, it was rejected both by the moderate Democratic Alliance and by La Rocque, who identified the Front as an attempt to "annex" the popularity of his party [P. Machefer. "L'Union des droites, le PSF et le Front de la Liberté, 1936-37", "Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine", Vol. 17 (1970), p. 112-26.] . Due to his insistence on the PSF's independence, La Rocque was attacked violently by other figures on the right — including former Croix-de-Feu members who had abandoned the more moderate Social Party [Machefer (1970).] .

Rapprochement with the Radical Party

The major parties of the right fell in disarray after their electoral defeat and the strike movement of June 1936: although the Republican Federation, at least, was consistent in its opposition to Popular Front policies, the Democratic Alliance and the small, Christian democratic Popular Democratic Party (PDP) were reluctant to criticize the government lest this sabotage their efforts to lure the Radical Party into a center-right coalition [Jackson (1988), p. 257.] .

Thus the Independent Radicals, gathering right-wing Radical parliamentarians, constituted the most effective opposition to the Popular Front, particularly in the Senate. With the prospect of a PSF breakthrough in the 1940 elections in mind, the Independent Radicals sought to cooperate with this new force; for their part, the PSF deputies voted confidence in Édouard Daladier's Radical government in April 1938 [Nobécourt (1996), p. 647.] . With the collapse of the Popular Front the PSF-Radical alliance seemed inevitable to many on the left, with the Socialist newspaper "Le Populaire" writing, in 1938, that "the PSF-Radical bloc has become a reality of political life", although this observation appeared premature to most contemporary observers [Cited in Nobécourt (1996), p. 1063, note 58. In the original French: "le bloc PSF-Radicaux devient une réalité courante de la vie politique".] .

Wartime activities (1940–45)

The Danzig crisis of 1939 deprived the PSF of the chance to make serious inroads in parliament: on 30 July, prime minister Daladier, fearing that the imminent electoral campaign would distract the Chamber of Deputies from the business of national defense, used the decree powers granted him by the Chamber to extend its term until May 1942 [William Shirer. "The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry Into the Fall of France in 1940" (New York, 1969), p. 434.] .

Following the fall of France and the establishment of the Vichy regime, which La Rocque denounced as defeatist and antisemitic — while still proclaiming his personal loyalty to Marshal Pétain [Jean Lacouture. "Mitterand, une histoire de Français" (Le Seuil, 1998), p. 55.] — the PSF was renamed "Progrès Social Français" (French Social Progress) and took on the form of a social aid organization due to the occupation authorities' prohibition of organized political activities. La Rocque's attitude towards the Vichy government was initially ambiguous. As stated, he continued to affirm his loyalty to Pétain and was amenable to certain of the more moderate aspects of Vichy's reactionary program, the "Révolution Nationale", notably its corporatism and social policies. The PSF further refused to recognize De Gaulle's Free French, along with the National Council of the Resistance, as the legitimate French authorities in opposition to Vichy, which also claimed constitutional legitimacy (although some members of the PSF, among them Charles Vallin, did join the Free French). However, La Rocque was hostile to Vichy's enthusiastic collaboration with the Nazi occupiers, and forbid PSF members from participating in Vichy-sponsored organizations such as the "Service d'Ordre Légionnaire", the Milice, and the Legion of French Volunteers.

In August 1940 La Rocque began actively to participate in the Resistance, transmitting information to the British Secret Intelligence Service via Georges Charaudeau's "Réseau Alibi" ("Alibi Network"), and forming the "Réseau Klan" ("Klan Network") in 1942 as a means of coordinating intelligence-gathering activities among PSF members. Nevertheless, he continued to believe that he could convince Pétain to abandon his collaborationist line, to which end he requested, and was granted, three meetings with the Marshal in early 1943. Two days after their last meeting, on 9 March, La Rocque was arrested by the Gestapo during a nationwide roundup of over one hundred PSF leaders [Nobécourt (1998).] . Deported first to Czechoslovakia and later to Austria, he returned to France only in May 1945.

As with nearly all political parties that had existed under the Third Republic, the PSF produced both collaborators with and resisters of the Vichy regime. In most cases, individual circumstances dictated more ambiguous loyalties and actions: although former PSF deputy Jean Ybarnegaray, for instance, served in the first Vichy government under Pétain as Minister for Veterans and the Family; he resigned his post in 1940 and was in 1943 arrested and deported due to his efforts in helping Resistance members to cross the Pyrenees into Spain [Robert O. Paxton. "Vichy France" (Columbia, 2001), note p. 212.] .

Postwar legacy (1945–58)

Official continuation

In August 1945, following the liberation of France, La Rocque and his remaining followers — principally Pierre de Léotard, André Portier, and Jean de Mierry — established the "Parti Républicain Social de la Réconciliation Française" (Social Republican Party of French Reconciliation), known generally as "Réconciliation Française" and intended as the official successor of the PSF [Éric Duhamel. "Matériaux pour l'histoire du Rassemblement des Gauches Républicaines (RGR)", "Recherches contemporaines", № 5 (1998-99), p. 178. The article is available for download here [ (1)] .] . On the initiative of Léotard the PRSRF participated in the right-wing Rally of the Republican Lefts (RGR, see "sinistrisme") coalition in the elections of June 1946, November 1946, 1951, and 1956. The death of La Rocque in 1946 deprived the party of unifying leadership, however, and the pre-war popularity that it had hoped to exploit never materialized. Though the PRSRF had effectively disappeared by 1956, with the schism that year of the RGR into center-left and center-right groups, certain of its members would later continue their political careers within the conservative CNIP party.

Ideological successors

Despite the postwar insignificance of the party itself, elements of the PSF's and La Rocque's ideology strongly influenced the political formations of right and centre during the Fourth Republic. La Rocque had advised his followers to create "a third party, sincerely republican and very bold from a social perspective" [Nobécourt (1998). In the original French: " [...] "Un tiers parti, franchement républicain, très hardi d'un point de vue social".] — by which he meant "Réconciliation Française" within the Rally of the Republican Lefts: but for some former PSF loyalists and sympathizers the statement applied more accurately to the newly-formed, Christian democratic Popular Republican Movement (MRP); and, for others (notably François Mitterrand [Éric Duhamel. "L'UDSR ou la genèse de François Mitterrand" (Paris, 2007).] ), the conservative Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance (UDSR).

PSF ideology, particularly its corporatist emphasis on the association of capital and labour, and its advocacy of a strong, stable presidential regime to replace the parliamentary republic, would also contribute to the development of Gaullism, culminating in the establishment of the presidential Fifth Republic in 1958 [Nobécourt (1998).] . The postwar Gaullist party, the Rally of the French People (RPF), like the MRP, enthusiastically adopted the mass-based model of organization and mobilization that had been pioneered by the PSF — a sharp and permanent break from the cadre-based parties of the prewar classical right.


Historical debate over the PSF, like its predecessor the Croix-de-Feu, has been driven by the question of whether they can be considered, in at least some respects, the manifestations of a "French fascism". Most contemporary French historians, notably René Rémond, Michel Winock, Jean Lacouture, and Pierre Milza, have rejected this assertion. Rémond, in his "La Droite en France", identifies the PSF instead as an offshoot of the Bonapartist tradition in French right-wing politics — populist and anti-parliamentarian, but hardly fascist [René Rémond. "La Droite en France" (Aubier-Montaigne, 1968).] ; Milza, in "La France des années 30", writes that, "the PSF was more anti-parliamentarian than anti-republican" [Pierre Milza. "La France des années 30" (Armand Colin, 1988), p. 132.] . More recently, Lacouture has written that "La Rocque's movement was neither fascist nor extremist" [Lacouture (1998), p. 29.] . Furthermore, Rémond has identified the PSF, at least in part, as a populist and social-Catholic "antidote" to French fascism; thus: "Far from representing a French form of fascism in the face of the Popular Front, La Rocque helped to safeguard France from fascism", by diverting the support of the middle classes away from more extremist alternatives [Rémond (1968). In the original French of the 1952 edition: "Loin d'avoir représenté une forme française du fascisme devant le Front populaire, La Rocque contribua à préserver la France du fascisme".] . Jacques Nobécourt has made similar assertions: "La Rocque spared France from a pre-war experiment with totalitarianism" [Nobécourt (1998). In the original French: "La Rocque évita à la France l'aventure du totalitarisme avant guerre".] .

The lasting confusion over the "fascist" tendencies of the PSF can be ascribed, in part, to two factors. First, the PSF's predecessor, the Croix-de-Feu, "did" aspire to a paramilitary aesthetic (described by Julian Jackson as a "fascist "frisson" and dismissed by Rémond as "political boy scouting for adults") outwardly similar to that employed by the more overtly fascist of the right-wing leagues; furthermore, La Rocque continued to defend the leagues' activities even in the face of their condemnation by the parties of the established moderate right (though not the Republican Federation) [Jackson (1988), p. 253.] . Second, the PSF's condemnation of parliamentarism, considered synonymous with French republicanism by most politicians of the left and centre, marked it as inherently anti-republican — and thus "fascist" in the political discourse of the period — in the opinions of the latter.

A number of foreign historians, however, have questioned these defenses of La Rocque and the PSF: Zeev Sternhell, criticizing Rémond's classification of the PSF as Bonapartist in "Neither Right Nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France", associates the party and its leader with a "revolutionary right" tradition that owes its political heritage to Boulangism and the revolutionary syndicalism of Georges Sorel [Zeev Sternhell. "Neither Right Nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France" (University of California Press, 1995).] . This minority view is partially shared by Robert Soucy [Robert Soucy. "Fascismes français? : 1933-39" (Autrement, 2004).] , William D. Irvine, and Michel Dobry [Michel Dobry. "Le Mythe de l'allergie française au fascisme" (Albin Michel, 2003).] , who argue that the Croix-de-Feu and the PSF were partially-realized manifestations of a distinctively French fascism, their political potential (though not their tactics of organization and mobilization) destroyed by the German invasion and thus permanently discredited. Sternhell, pointing to the democratic path to power followed by the Nazi Party, has also made the argument that La Rocque's apparent respect for republican legality is not sufficient ground to disqualify his movement as fascist.

ee also

*Far right leagues | History of far right movements in France
*François de La Rocque
*"Travail, Famille, Patrie", PSF motto appropriated by Vichy


Further reading

*Dobry, Michel. "Le Mythe de l'allergie française au fascisme", Paris: Albin Michel, 2003.
*Irvine, William D. "French Conservatism in Crisis: The Republican Federation of France in the 1930s", Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979.
*Jackson, Julian. "The Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy, 1934-38", Cambridge: CUP, 1988. Specifically, see Chapter 9, 'The view from the right', p. 249-68.
*Kennedy, Sean. "Reconciling France Against Democracy: The Croix-de-Feu and the Parti Social Français, 1927-45", Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007.
*Machefer, P. "Les Croix-de-Feu 1927-36", "Information historique", № 1 (1972).
*Machefer, P. "Le Parti social français en 1936-37", "Information historique", № 2 (1972).
*Milza, Pierre. "La France des années 30", Paris: Armand Colin, 1988.
*Nobécourt, Jacques. "Le colonel de La Rocque, ou les pièges du nationalisme chrétien", Paris: Fayard, 1996.
*Rémond, René. "La Droite en France", Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1968.
*Sternhell, Zeev. "Neither Right Nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France", Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

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