François de La Rocque

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François de La Rocque (6 October 1885 – 28 April 1946) was leader of the French right-wing league named the Croix de Feu from 1930–1936, before forming the more moderate nationalist Parti Social Français (1936–1940), that can be seen as a precursor of Gaullism.[1]

Early life[edit]

François de La Rocque was born on 6 October 1885 in Lorient, Brittany, the third son to a family from Haute-Auvergne. His parents were General Raymond de La Rocque, commander of the artillery on the Lorient Naval Base, and Anne Sollier.

He entered Saint Cyr Military Academy in 1905, the class of "Promotion la Dernière du Vieux Bahut", and graduated in 1907. He was posted to Algeria and the edge of Sahara, and the in 1912 to Lunéville. The next year he was called to Morocco by General Hubert Lyautey. Despite the outbreak of World War I, he remained there until 1916 as officer of indigenes affaires, when he was gravely wounded and repatriated to France. Meanwhile his older brother Raymond, a major in the army, had been killed in action during 1915. Despite this, he volunteered to fight on the Western Front and was sent to the trenches of the Somme to command a battalion.

After the war he was assigned to the Inter-allied staff of Marshal Ferdinand Foch, but in 1921 he went to Poland with the French Military Mission under General Maxime Weygand. In 1925 he was made chief of the 2nd Bureau during Marshal Philippe Pétain's campaign against Abd el-Krim. He resigned from the army in 1927 as a Lieutenant Colonel.

The Croix de Feu and the February 6, 1934, crisis[edit]

François de La Rocque came from the patriotic and social Catholic movement created by Lamennais at the end of the 19th century. He then joined the Croix de Feu in 1929, two years after it was formed, and took them over in 1930. He quickly transformed the veterans' league, creating a paramilitary organization (les dispos, short for disponibles — availables) and formed a youth organization, the Sons and Daughters of the Croix de Feu (les fils et filles de Croix de Feu). He also accepted anybody who accepted the league's ideology, in the Volontaires nationaux group (National Volunteers). Due to the crisis, La Rocque added to the nationalist ideology a social program of defense of the national economy against foreign competition, protection of the French workforce, lower taxes, fighting speculation, and criticisms of the state's influence on the economy. All in all, this was a vague program, and La Rocque stopped short of giving it a clearly anti-republican and fascist aspect as some National Volunteers demanded of him.

La Rocque concentrated on organizing military parades, and was very proud of having taken over the Interior Ministry by two Croix de Feu columns on the eve of the February 6, 1934 riots. The Croix de Feu took part in these far right demonstrations, with two groups, one on Bourgogne street, the other near the Petit Palais, were to converge on the Palais Bourbon, seat of the National Assembly. But colonel de La Rocque ordered the disbandement of the demonstration around 8:45 p.m., when the others far-right leagues started rioting on Place de la Concorde in front of the Palais Bourbon. Only lieutenant-colonel de Puymaigre, a member of the Croix de Feu and also a Parisian municipal counsellor, unsuccessfully tried to force the police barrage. After these riots, the French far right and parts of the right wing criticised him for not having attempted to overthrow the Republic.

The Parti Social Français and World War II[edit]

The Croix-de-Feu were dissolved as all others leagues in June 1936, by the Popular Front government, and de La Rocque formed the Parti Social Français or PSF (1936), which lasted until the German invasion of 1940. Until 1940, the PSF took a more and more moderate position, being the first French right-wing mass party (600 000 to 800 000 members between 1936 and 1940). Its programme was nationalist, but not openly fascist. On the contrary, French historians (Pierre Milza, René Rémond, etc.) consider that the success of the moderate, Christian social and democratic PSF prevented French middle class from falling into fascism[citation needed]. Pierre Milza wrote: "Populist and nationalist, the PSF is more anti-parliamentarist than anti-republican.", and reserves the term "fascism" for Jacques Doriot's Parti populaire français (PPF), insisting on the latter party's anti-communism as an important trait of this new right (fascism).[2]

After the 1940 Battle of France, La Rocque accepted "without restrictions" the terms of the June 1940 Armistice and reorganized the PSF which became the Progrès Social Français (French Social Progress). La Rocque accepted the "principle of Collaboration", upheld by Marshal Philippe Pétain, in December 1940. However, at the same time, he was attacked by sectors of the far right who claimed he had founded his newspaper with funds from a "Jewish consortium". His attitude remained ambiguous, as he wrote an article in Le Petit Journal of October 5, 1940, concerning "The Jewish Question in Metropolitan France and North Africa" (La question juive en métropole et en Afrique du Nord).[3] An American journalist wrote in 1941 that the Petit Journal with La Rocque as editor "assumed a more courageously anti-German attitude after the armistice than did most other papers published under the control of the Vichy government."[4] La Rocque approved the repeal of the Crémieux decrees which had given French citizenship to Jews in Algeria but did not follow the Vichy regime in its racist radicalization. He also condemned the ultra-collaborationist Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism.

La Rocque changed orientation in September 1942, declaring that "Collaboration was incompatible with Occupation" and entered into contact with the Réseau Alibi tied to the British Intelligence service. He then formed the Réseau Klan Resistance network with some members of the PSF. La Rocque rejected the laws on the STO that forced young Frenchmen to work in Germany, and also threatened to expel any member of the PSF who joined Joseph Darnand's Milice or the LVF.

He was arrested in Clermont-Ferrand on March 9, 1943, by the SIPO-SD German police along with 152 high ranking PSF members in Paris allegedly because he had been trying to convince Pétain to go to North Africa. Deported first to Eisenberg[disambiguation needed], Germany, then to Itter Castle, he found former president of the Council Édouard Daladier and generals Maurice Gamelin and Maxime Weygand. Sick, he was interned in March 1945 in a hospital in Innsbruck and was freed by US soldiers on May 8, 1945. He returned to France on May 9, 1945 and placed under administrative internment, allegedly to keep him away from political negotiations, especially from the Conseil national de la Résistance (CNR, the Resistance unified organization). After being released, he was put under house arrest[by whom?] and died on April 28, 1946.

Political heritage[edit]

The Parti Social Français (PSF) of François de La Rocque was the first major right-wing party in France (1936–1940). He advocated:

Historians now consider that he paved the way to two leading parties of the post-war "republican Right", the Christian democratic Popular Republican Movement (MRP) and the Gaullist Union of Democrats for the Republic.

References[edit]

  1. ^ René Rémond, Les Droites en France (first ed. Aubier-Montaigne, 1968)
  2. ^ Pierre Milza, La France des années 30, Armand Colin, 1988, p.132
  3. ^ Biography of François de La ROCQUE (French)
  4. ^ Knickerbocker, H.R. (1941). Is Tomorrow Hitler's? 200 Questions On the Battle of Mankind. Reynal & Hitchcock. p. 251. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • François de la Rocque, Pour la conférence du désarmement. La Sécurité française, Impr. De Chaix, 1932.
  • François de la Rocque, Service public, Grasset, 1934.
  • François de la Rocque, Le Mouvement Croix de feu au secours de l'agriculture française, Mouvement Croix de feu, 1935.
  • François de la Rocque, Pourquoi j'ai adhéré au Parti social français, Société d'éditions et d'abonnements, Paris, décembre 1936.
  • Mouvement social français de Croix-de-Feu, Pourquoi nous sommes devenus Croix de Feu (manifeste), Siège des groupes, Clermont, 1937.
  • François de la Rocque, Union, esprit, famille, discours prononcé par La Rocque au Vél'd'hiv, Paris, 28 janvier 1938, Impr. Commerciale, 1938.
  • François de la Rocque, Paix ou guerre (discours prononcé au Conseil national du P.S.F., suivi de l'ordre du jour voté au Conseil ; Paris, 22 avril 1939), S.E.D.A., Paris, 1939.
  • François de la Rocque, Discours, Parti social français. Ier Congrès national agricole. 17-18 février 1939., SEDA, 1939.
  • François de la Rocque, Disciplines d'action, Editions du Petit Journal, Clermont-Ferrand, 1941.
  • François de la Rocque, Au service de l'avenir, réflexions en montagne, Société d'édition et d'abonnement, 1949.
  • Amis de la Rocque (ALR), Pour mémoire : La Rocque, les Croix de feu et le Parti social français, Association des amis de La Rocque, Paris, 1985.
  • Amis de La Rocque (ALR), Bulletin de l'association.

Studies[edit]

  • Kevin Passmore, From liberalism to fascism : the right in a French province, 1928-1939, Cambridge university press, 1997.
  • Jacques Nobécourt, Le Colonel de la Rocque, ou les pièges du nationalisme chrétien', Fayard, Paris, 1996.
  • Michel Winock, Le siècle des intellectuels, Seuil, 1999.

External links[edit]