The Far-right leagues (Ligues d'extrême droite) were several French far-right movements opposed to parliamentarism, which mainly dedicated themselves to military parades, street brawls, demonstrations and riots. The term ligue was often used in the 1930s to distinguish these political movements from parliamentary parties. After having appeared first at the end of the 19th century, during the Dreyfus affair, they were common in France in the 1920s-1930s, and famously participated in the 6 February 1934 riots which overthrew the second Cartel des gauches (a center-left coalition government). For a long time, the French left wing had been convinced that these riots had been an attempted coup d'état against the Republic. Although contemporary historians have shown that, despite the riots and the effective overthrow of the governing left wing, there had been no organized plan to overthrow Édouard Daladier's Radical-Socialist government, this belief led to the creation of the anti-fascist movement in France, and later to the dissolving of these leagues in 1936 by the Popular Front government headed by Léon Blum.
A "French fascism"?
The debate on a "French Fascism" is closely related to the existence of these anti-parliamentary leagues, of which many adopted at least the exterior signs and rituals of fascism (Roman salute, etc.) and explicitly imitated on one hand Mussolini's squadristis or, on the other hand, Hitler's Nazi party's organization — one should bear in mind, when analyzing "French fascism", international relations: in the 1930s, conservative president of the Council Pierre Laval initiated relations with Mussolini's Italy and the USSR against Germany, seen as the "hereditary enemy" of France (see French-German enmity). After Laval's meeting with Mussolini in Rome on 4 January 1935, this policy led to the signature of the Stresa front in 1935. Thus, the French far-right was split between Italian fascism, Nazism and nationalism, which forbade them from allying themselves with Hitler and pushed towards an alliance with Mussolini. Individual trajectories during Vichy France, when some far-right members ultimately chose the Resistance against the German occupant, illustrate these ideological conflicts.
Leagues created in the 1920s from veterans' associations are usually distinguished from those created in the 1930s, such as Marcel Bucard's Francisme, which were more explicitly influenced by Fascism or Nazism — one of this reason being the common anti-militarism, pacifism and opposition to colonial expansion present in several veterans' associations of the 1920s. Leagues however quickly broke with this left wing anti-militarism and anti-colonialism. Both Cartels des Gauches (Left Wing Coalition, the first from 1924 to 1926 and the second from 1932 to the 6 February 1934 riots) saw the appearance of many leagues intent on overthrowing them through street demonstrations. Thus, Pierre Taittinger's Jeunesses Patriotes (JP) were founded during the first Cartel, headed by Édouard Herriot, in 1924, as well as Georges Valois's Faisceau (1925) and colonel de la Rocque's Croix-de-Feu, founded a year after Herriot's fall. On the other hand, François Coty's Solidarité française and Marcel Bucard's Francisme were both founded in 1933, during Édouard Daladier's left-wing government. Daladier was replaced after the 6 February 1934 riots by conservative Gaston Doumergue, who included in his cabinet many right wing personalities close to the far-right leagues, such as Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval.
Most of the debate on the existence of a "French fascism" in between the two wars period has focused on these paramilitary leagues, although most French historians agree in stating that as Fascism is by definition a "mass movement", these leagues don't qualify as such. This, of course, has been debated, since some of them, such as colonel de la Rocque's Croix-de-Feu were very popular and had a quite large membership. De la Rocque, however, who later went on to found the Parti Social Français (PSF, the first French mass party of the right-wing, which would be later imitated by Gaullism ), has often been said not to be fascist, an assertion which based itself in particular on his respect for constitutional legality during 6 February 1934 riots. Others observers argue that both Fascism and Nazism formally respected legality, and that this factor, in itself, doesn't sufficiently set de la Rocque's movement aside from other types of fascism.
Famous leagues and common denominators
Far-right leagues were characterized by their nationalist, militarist, anti-Semitic, anti-parliamentarist and anti-Communist opinions. Beside, in particular in the 1930s, they often took model on Benito Mussolini's Blackshirts and favored military parades, uniforms and display of their physical might.
The most famous far-right leagues included:
- Paul Déroulède's Ligue des patriotes (founded in 1882, revived in 1896 during the Dreyfus Affair and finally dissolved soon afterwards)
- Edouard Drumont's Antisemitic League of France (founded in 1889, disappeared before World War I)
- Camelots du Roi, founded in 1908. Youth organization of the royalist Action française, which was involved in 6 February 1934 riots.
- Jeunesses Patriotes, founded in 1924 by Pierre Taittinger. Claiming the legacy of Déroulède's Ligue des patriotes, it also took part in the February 1934 riots. Presenting itself as a movement in favor of more executive power and with official aims of "defending institutions from the left wing", the Jeunesses Patriotes adopted many ritual signs of fascism (Roman salute, etc.) but conserved, on the whole, a reactionary program distinct from fascism.
- Défense paysanne.
- Front paysan, founded by Henri Dorgères.
- Frontisme, founded by Gaston Bergery.
- Le Faisceau, founded in 1925 by Georges Valois. Heavily inspired by Mussolini's fascism, the Faisceau claimed to make the synthesis between socialism and nationalism, which is at the basis of the Nazi ideology. It was at its summum in 1926, with 25,000 "Blue Shirts" (on the model of the Blackshirts), before dissolving on internal dissensions.
- Croix-de-Feu. Veteran association, founded in 1927. Headed by Colonel de la Rocque, it made a calm rally on 6 February 1934 and didn't take part in the riots. It became more and more moderate, transforming into a democratic centre-right party, the Parti Social Français (1936–1940). During World War II, La Rocque used his party as an intelligence resistance network (Réseau Klan), linked with the British Intelligence service. It paved the way to gaullism and not to fascism.
- Solidarité française, founded in 1933 by wealthy perfumer François Coty, which imitated the Nazi party's organization.
- Francisme, founded by Marcel Bucard in September 1933. Partly funded by Mussolini, it dissolved in 1936 with the Popular Front's prohibition, only to reappear in 1941 under the Vichy regime. Its members were some of the most enthusiastic collaborators with the Nazis.
Dissolution of the leagues
This context of street agitation led Pierre Laval's government to outlaw paramilitary organizations on 6 December 1935, and then to pass the 10 January 1936 law on militias and combat groups. This law limited the right of association (resulting from the 1901 law on associations) if these groups organized armed demonstrations in the streets, if they presented a paramilitary or militia aspect or if they attempted to overthrow the Republic or threatened the integrity of the national territory. The 10 January 1936 law was however only partially implemented, and only the monarchist Action française was dissolved as a result of the law, on 13 February 1936.
The Popular Front thus included the dissolution of the leagues in its 12 January 1936 electoral program. This proposition was implemented after the May 1936 legislative election which brought Léon Blum to power. Marceau Pivert called for the dissolution of the leagues on 27 May 1936 in Le Populaire newspaper.
On 19 June 1936, the Minister of Interior Roger Salengro had President Albert Lebrun sign the decree outlawing the major leagues (Croix-de-Feu, Solidarité Française, Jeune Patrie and Francistes) were dissolved. Three days later, de La Rocque bypassed the dissolution of the Croix-de-Feu by creating the Parti Social Français (PSF). Salengro's initiative led the far-right newspaper Gringoire (500,000 issues per week) to initiate a campaign of calumny against him, which finally drove him to suicide on 18 November 1936.
- See for example "Laval meets Mussolini in Rome" on 4 January 1935
- See René Rémond's Les Droites en France, 1982, Aubier
- Zeev Sternhell, « Anatomie d'un mouvement fasciste en France. Le Faisceau de Georges Valois », Revue française de science politique, vol. 26, n°1, février 1976, p. 25-26. (French)
- Chronology on the website of the municipality of Athis-Mons (French)
- II. LA PROPOSITION DE LOI N° 79 (1998-1999) : PERMETTRE UNE DISSOLUTION RAPIDE DE MOUVEMENTS DANGEREUX EN CAS D'URGENCE, French Senate (French)
- Cercle Jacques Decour (Chronology) (French)
- Marceau Pivert, Tout est possible!, 27 May 1936, Le Populaire (French)
- Biographical notice of Roger Salengro, Radio France