Croix-de-Feu (Cross of Fire) was a French league of the Interwar period, led by Colonel François de la Rocque (1885–1946). After it was dissolved, as were all other leagues during the Popular Front period (1936–38), de la Rocque replaced it with the Parti social français (PSF).
The Croix-de-Feu were primarily a group of veterans of the First World War — those who had been awarded the Croix de guerre 1914-1918. It was founded on 26 November 1927 by Maurice d'Hartoy, who led it until 1929; the honorary presidency was awarded to writer Jacques Péricard. Also in 1929, the movement acquired its own newspaper, Le Flambeau. At its creation, the movement was subsidized by wealthy perfumer François Coty, who supported Mussolini, and hosted in Le Figaro's building.
It benefited from the Roman Catholic Church's 1926 proscription of the Action Française which prohibited practicing Catholics from supporting the latter. Many conservative Catholics became members of the Croix-de-Feu instead, including Jean Mermoz and the young François Mitterrand.
Under La Rocque (1930-1936)
Under Lieutenant colonel François de La Rocque, who took over in 1930, the Croix-de-Feu took their independence from François Coty, leaving the Figaro's building for the rue de Milan (Milan Street) in Paris. It organized popular demonstrations in reaction to the Stavisky Affair, hoping to overthrow the Second Left-wing Coalition government. De la Rocque quickly became a hero of the far right, opposed to the influences of Socialism and "hidden Communism", but skeptical about becoming counterrevolutionary.
Under de la Rocque, the movement advocated a military effort against the "German danger," supporting corporatism and an alliance between Capital and Labour. It enlarged its base, creating a number of secondary associations, thus including non-veterans in its ranks. To counter the monarchist Action française and its slogan Politique d'abord! (First Politics!), de la Rocque invented the motto Social d'abord! (First Social!). In his book, Le Service Public (Public Service, published in November 1934), he argued in favour of a reform of parliamentary procedures; cooperation between industries according to their branches of activities; a minimum wage and paid holidays; women's right to vote (also upheld by the monarchist Action française, who considered that women, often devout, would be more favorable to their conservative thesis), etc. The Croix-de-Feu and its satellite organizations gradually took on momentum, reaching 500 members in 1928, 60,000 end of 1933, 150,000 in the months following the 6 February 1934 riots and 400,000 end of 1935. In November 1937 the number of 700,000 members was mentioned in a German journal.
The Croix-de-Feu did not participate to the 1932 demonstrations organized by the Action française and the far-right leagues Jeunesses Patriotes against the payment of the debt to the United States. It did take part in the massive rally of 6 February 1934 which led to the toppling of the Second Cartel des gauches (Left-Wing Coalition), but de la Rocque refused to engage in rioting (although parts of the Croix-de-Feu disagreed with him). They had circled the seat of the parliament (the Palais Bourbon), and remained grouped, several hundreds meters away from the others rioting leagues. As one of the most important paramilitary associations, and because of its nationalist position, the Croix-de-Feu and de la Rocque were considered by the left to be among the most dangerous of the imitators of Mussolini and Hitler. However, as a result of de la Roque's actions during the riots, they subsequently lost prestige among the far-right, before being dissolved by the Popular Front government on 18 June 1936.
The Parti Social Français (1936-1940)
François de la Rocque then formed the French Social Party (PSF) as a successor to the dissolved league. Moderate estimates place the membership for the PSF at 500,000 in the buildup to World War II — making it the first French conservative mass party ; although its slogan Travail, Famille, Patrie ("Work, Family, Fatherland") was later used by Vichy France to replace the Republican slogan Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, the party had remained eclectic. The party disappeared with the Fall of France, without being able to profit from the immense popularity.
During World War II
During the occupation of France, La Rocque joined the Resistance but was nonetheless the subject of considerable controversy immediately after the war.
The Parti Social Français (PSF) of François de La Rocque was the first major conservative party in France (1936–1940). He advocated a presidential regime to end the instability of the parliamentary regime, an economic system founded upon "organised professions" (corporatism), and a social legislation inspired by Social Christianity.
Continuing debate over the Croix-de-Feu
Some historians have argued that the Croix-de-Feu were a distinctly French variant of the European Fascist movement: if the uniformed rightist "Leagues" of the 1930s did not develop into classical Fascism, it was because they represented a shading from conservative right-wing nationalism to extremist fascism, in membership and ideology, distinctive to French inter-war society.
Most contemporary French historians (René Rémond, Pierre Milza, François Sirinelli in particular) do not classify the "leagues" of the 30s as a native "French Fascism", particularly the Croix-de-Feu. The organisation is described by Rémond as completely secret in aims with an ideology "As vague as possible." Rémond, most famous and influential of these post-war historians, distinguishes "Reaction" and the far-right from revolutionary Fascism as an import into France which had few takers. In the 1968 third edition of "La droite en France", his major work he defines fascism in Europe as a "revolt of the declasses, a movement of those on half-pay, civilian and military. Everywhere it came to power through social upheavals ... Although with a handful of fascists [in 1930s France], there was a minority of reactionaries and a great majority of conservatives." Amongst these he places much smaller groups like the Faisceau, a tiny minority compared with the Croix-de-Feu, whose membership peaked at over a million.
Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell, on the other hand, has argued for not only the existence of a native French fascism, but for groups like the Cercle Proudhon of the nineteen-teens being amongst the more important ideological breeding grounds of the movement. He, though, does not include the Croix de Feu in this category: "The 'centrist' right always had its own shock troops that served its own purposes, and took good care that they did not become confused with the fascists." Sternhell, interested in the Fascism as a "anti-material revision of Marxism" or an anti-capitalist, cultish, corporatist extreme nationalism, points out that groups like the Jeunesses Patriotes, the revived Ligue des Patriotes and the Croix de Feu were derided by French fascists at the time. Fascist leaders in France saw themselves as destroyers of the old order, above politics, and rejecting the corruption of capitalism. To them the Leagues were a bulwark of this corrupt regime. Robert Brasillach called them "old cuckolds of the right, these eternal deceived husbands of politics.." and claimed that "the enemies of national restoration are not only on the left but first and foremost on the right." American journalist John Gunther in 1936 described de la Rocque as a "Would-be Hitler ... French Fascist No. 1, the chief potential French March-on-Romer", but added that he was "a rather pallid Fascist", did not attempt to seize power during the 6 February riots, and peacefully complied with the government's ban of the Croix de Feu.
Other scholars, such as Robert Soucy and William D. Irvine, argue that the La Rocque and the Croix de Feu were, in fact, fascist, and a particularly "French" fascism. De la Rocque, however, if tempted by a paramilitary aesthetic and initially advocating collaboration with the Germans during WWII, finally came out against the more radical supporters of Nazi Germany.
- Far right leagues: these groups, in which the Croix-de-Feu are normally included, range from the 1890s-1930s, and range ideologically from Republican Nationalists, to Monarchist to Fascist.
- Ligue des Patriotes ("League of Patriots")
- Jeunesses Patriotes ("Young Patriots")
- Solidarité Française ("French Solidarity")
- Camelots du Roy ("Paperboys of the King"), the Youth Militia arm of Action Française.
- Ligue antisémitique de France ("Anti-semitic League of France")
- Le Faisceau ("French Fascist Party")
- Mouvement Franciste "French Nationalist Movement"
- 6 February 1934 crisis
- Parti Populaire Français (PPF, "French Popular Party")
- Rassemblement National Populaire (RNP, "National Popular Rally")
- Rassemblement des gauches républicaines (RGR, "Rally of the Left Wing Republicans") A post - 1945 organisation which traces its ideology to the Croix-de-Feu.
- Nationalist Foreign Volunteers
- Concerning François Mitterrand, see Pierre Péan, Une jeunesse française, pp. 23 à 35: Mitterrand arrived in Paris in autumn 1934, and the National Volunteers (Volontaires nationaux), a sub-section of the Croix-de-Feu, were dissolved in June 1936
- Weiße Blätter, Issue December 1937 in Der November brachte: 19th, p. 265
- Passmore, Kevin (1995). "Boy Scouting for Grown-Ups? Paramilitarism in the Croix de Feu and the Parti Social Francais". French Historical Studies 19 (2): 527–557. doi:10.2307/286787. JSTOR 286787. The title takes exception to René Rémond's dismissing of the Leagues as "...adults' enthusiastic feeling for reliving their childhood by participating in a kind of boy scout game.." Rémond, 1968, p. 290.
- Soucy, Robert J. (1991). "French Fascism and the Croix de Feu: A Dissenting Interpretation". Journal of Contemporary History 26 (1): 159–188. doi:10.1177/002200949102600108.
- 1968, p. 290
- first published in 1954, and primarily concerned with the traditions of Bonapartist and royalist "Reaction",
- (p.293,294. For the Faisceau, p. 277. For his focused examination of the Croix de Feu, see pp.285-297, passim. of "The Right in France", University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971 printing, ISBN 0-8122-7490-3
- 1983/86, p.103
- one restatement of this comes in pp. 101-108
- cited by Sternhell, 1983/86, p. 225 Neither Right nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France, Princeton Univ. Press, California (1986 translation of 1983 French work) ISBN 0-691-00629-6
- Gunther, John (1936). Inside Europe. Harper & Brothers. pp. 148–149.