A few weeks ago, the latest book on French fascism landed on my doormat. Entitled Fascisme français? La controverse, the book is a collection of essays edited by French historians Serge Berstein and Michel Winock. It is not the first book to bear this title. Robert Soucy’s Fascisme français? (the French version of his French Fascism: The Second Wave) appeared in 2004. Why should two books on French fascism be posing the subject as a question? Because since the 1980s, historians have disputed the strength and import of French fascist groups during the interwar years. One school of thought (to which Berstein and Winock belong) holds that fascism was a minority pursuit in interwar France, and it denies that the largest extreme right-wing group at the time, the Croix de Feu (which later became the Parti Social Français) was authentically fascist. Soucy, on the other hand, was one of the first historians to argue the opposite case – that the Croix de Feu and its successor were large fascist movements. At stake in the debate is the (apparent) inherent commitment to democracy of the French, and their ‘allergy’ (a term used by Berstein) to fascism.
From my point of view, the most welcome aspect of Berstein and Winock’s new book is that it engages to some extent with the English-language literature on the topic. Jean-Paul Thomas’s chapter on the Croix de Feu/PSF refers to (‘engages with’ would be too strong a term for this short chapter) the recent publications by Samuel Kalman and Sean Kennedy, among others. Even the acknowledgement that this literature exists is a good sign, even if Thomas is dismissive of it. For too long it has seemed that English-language scholarship has been ignored by some historians of French fascism. Indeed, Soucy should feel himself honoured that his work has even been published in translation. Other historians of French fascism have not been translated – one wonders if they are ever likely to be…
Anyway, I haven’t yet had chance to read the whole book, and so I’ll reserve my judgement until then. But the appearance of a new book on fascism gives me the chance to plug a forthcoming publication of my own, co-authored with Brian Jenkins, who has published in this area previously. Below is the blurb from the Routledge website:
‘France and Fascism: February 1934 and the Dynamics of Political Crisis is the first English-language book to examine the most significant political event in interwar France: the Paris riots of February 1934. On 6 February 1934, thousands of fascist rioters almost succeeded in bringing down the French democratic regime. The violence prompted the polarisation of French politics as hundreds of thousands of French citizens joined extreme right-wing paramilitary leagues or the left-wing Popular Front coalition. This ‘French civil war’, the first shots of which were fired in February 1934, would come to an end only at the Liberation of France ten years later.
The book challenges the assumption that the riots did not pose a serious threat to French democracy by providing a more balanced historical contextualisation of the events. Each chapter follows a distinctive analytical framework, incorporating the latest research in the field on French interwar politics as well as important new investigations into political violence and the dynamics of political crisis.
With a direct focus on the actual processes of the unfolding political crisis and the dynamics of the riots themselves, France and Fascism offers a comprehensive analysis which will be of interest to undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as scholars, in the areas of French history and politics, and fascism and the far right.’