In the twenty years between the end of the First World War and the start of the Second, the French empire reached its greatest physical extent. At the end of the First World War, the priority of the French political community was to consolidate and expand the French empire for, inter alia, industrial mobilisation and global competition for strategic resources. The book revisits debates over 'associationism' and 'assimilationism' in French colonial administration in Morocco and Indochina, and discusses the Jonnart Law in Algeria and the role of tribal elites in the West African colonies. On the economy front, the empire was tied to France's monetary system, and most colonies were reliant on the French market. The book highlights three generic socio-economic issues that affected all strata of colonial society: taxation and labour supply, and urban development with regard to North Africa. Women in the inter-war empire were systematically marginalised, and gender was as important as colour and creed in determining the educational opportunities open to children in the empire. With imperialist geographical societies and missionary groups promoting France's colonial connection, cinema films and the popular press brought popular imperialism into the mass media age. The book discusses the four rebellions that shook the French empire during the inter-war years: the Rif War of Morocco, the Syrian revolt, the Yen Bay mutiny in Indochina, and the Kongo Wara. It also traces the origins of decolonisation in the rise of colonial nationalism and anti-colonial movements.
Between 1940 and 1945 the French empire divided against itself. This book presents the events in the French empire in the 1940s, and traces the period of wartime French imperial division, setting it within the wider international politics of the Second World War. It discusses the collapse of France's metropolitan forces during the second week of June 1940, which became a calamity for the French empire. The final breakdown of the Anglo-French alliance during the latter half of 1940 was played out on the African continent, in heavily defended French imperial territory of vital strategic importance to Allied communications. The Vichy empire lost ground to that of the Charles de Gaulle's Free French, something which has often been attributed to the attraction of the Gaullist mystique and the spirit of resistance in the colonies. Indo-China was bound to be considered a special case by the Vichy regime and the Free French movement. Between late 1940 and 1945, the French administration in Indo-China was forced by circumstances to plough a distinctive furrow in order to survive intact. The book discusses the St Pierre and Miquelon affair, and the invasion of Madagascar, and deals with the issue of nationalism in North Africa, before and after the Operation Torch. The contradiction between the French commitment to constitutional reform and the few colonial subjects actually affected by it was echoed in the wartime treatment of France's colonial forces.
France’s inter-war empire: a framework for analysis
In the twenty years between the end of the First World War and the start of the Second, the French overseas empire reached its greatest physical extent. Geographically, the inter-war period marked the zenith of France's colonial power. The framework for analysis of French imperialism is based on a model of a French 'imperial community': the network of politicians, traders, educators and settlers that dominated the political discourse of empire after the First World War. The empire's contribution to French international power was a problem that engaged colonial administrators, politicians, and the police and military agencies responsible for the apparatus of imperial security. The armed services, where one might expect imperial pride to burn strongest, never concurred over their strategic responsibilities in the colonies. An integrated system of colonial defence planning was put in place only in 1938, following the disintegration of the French alliance system in Eastern Europe.
French expansion into African and Middle Eastern territory took place in conditions of profound societal dislocation. As for the acquisition of additional territory in the Africa and, more especially, the Middle East, the new phase of French imperial expansion was no less brutal than the earlier era of colonial conquest. In 1919-20 parliamentarians and press commentators were more animated by the prospect of imperial expansion than by the challenge of development in existing colonial territory. This marked a new departure. French attachment to Syria, Lebanon, the Cameroons and Togoland after 1920 stood in marked contrast to the limited governmental interest in Middle Eastern and African expansion during the First World War. Even the well established colonies of the overseas empire retained their 'new frontier' aspect after the First World War.
This chapter revisits debates over 'associationism' and 'assimilationism' in French colonial administration. Theories of governance had a major impact on the direction of colonial policy after 1918. With the important exceptions of the anciennes colonies, the general resurgence of associationist ideas elsewhere in the 1920s empire stimulated fundamental changes in governmental practice and the development of indigenous civil society. Equipped with a seemingly infallible justification for colonial oligarchy, associationists dominated policy making in much of the French empire from the end of the First World War to the start of the Second. The Algiers government insisted none the less that the Jonnart Law formed part of a longer-term scheme of political education constructed on associationist principles. In the colonies of Algeria, black Africa and Madagascar, European settlers dominated the Consultative Assembly system. As in Algeria, so in Lyautey's Morocco, associationist administrators regarded tribal djemaas as the bedrock of rural authority.
Increased trade dependence between France and the colonies in the decade after 1927 was driven by loss of export markets elsewhere rather than by significant net growth in colonial economies. In 1928 the colonial empire became France's most important trading partner. Once the depression hit the French economy in 1930-31 the empire served as a reservoir colonial, providing raw material resources and a captive market to metropolitan industries confronted with empty order books. The idea of a unified French imperial economy in the inter-war years is misleading. Colonial federations, individual colonies and even regions within these colonies were highly disparate in terms of climate, topography, ecology, economic development, the local labour market and the growth of a wage economy. The colonies' economic subordination to France, so apparent in the depression years, was facilitated by imposition of common monetary systems.
A brief survey of the impact of inter-war economic change and urban planning in colonial territories must be selective. This chapter takes a 'top down' approach, drawing on the records of colonial government. The danger is that colonial subjects appear as mere economic instruments rather than actors in their own right. In an effort to overcome this, the chapter highlights three generic socio-economic issues that affected all strata of colonial society: taxation, labour supply, and urban development. The last subject is analysed in regard to French North Africa, the one colonial arena where Europeans in tens of thousands interacted directly with colonial populations. The development of colonial urbanism and official and public responses to colonial immigration indicate that the colonial state constructed relations between urban communities, and between metropolitan and immigrant populations, in racial terms that privileged white dominance.
This chapter explores some of the ways in which the clash of metropolitan and colonial cultures affected an oft-times ignored colonial majority-women and children in the empire. It is difficult to generalise about women's experience of French colonialism, easier to discern similarities in colonial education. French efforts to increase the metropolitan birth rate were constructed on grounds of race as well as gender. No discussion of gender issues in the French empire can overlook the so-called 'metis problem' of miscegenation. If the metis problem exposed the contradictions of educational provision in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Maghreb, where miscegenation was far less common, officials none the less rehearsed arguments over schooling familiar elsewhere. European settlement in French North Africa disrupted traditional forms of land tenure, inheritance rights, and marital arrangements.
Imperialism at the provincial level was confined to those ports and cities with valued commercial connections to colonial territories. Popular imperialism ranges from analyses of colonial exhibitions, museums and the proliferation of colonial or colonial-inspired art and literature to the proliferation of colonial themes in popular cinema and French advertising. Carrie Tarr has noted the reluctance of French cinema to address its colonial heritage. Framed in the context of postcolonial French culture, her comments resonate with the inter-war period. Staging colonial exhibitions in inter-war France combined big business, government propaganda, popular racism and high farce. The 1922 exhibition was primarily designed to impress French industrialists, traders and the wider public with the empire's untapped potential. Even the 1931 Vincennes colonial exhibition was more colonial 'theme park' than empire education forum.
The Rif war, the Syrian rebellion, Yen Bay and the Kongo Wara
Four distinct rebellions shook the French empire between the wars. The Rif war in northern Morocco and the Syrian revolt originating in the autonomous state of the Jabal Druze were major uprisings that had some claim to be national rebellions. They were suppressed only by the deployment of overwhelming French military firepower. The Yen Bay mutiny in Indochina triggered wider unrest that convulsed northern Annam and four provinces of Tonkin during 1930-31. The Kongo Wara in the Haute Sangha region of Afrique Equatoriale Francaise (AEF) is the smallest and least well known of these inter-war anti-colonial revolts. Whereas few politicians, media commentators or colonial officials remarked on the Kongo Wara rebellion, the Rif war, the Syrian revolt and the Yen Bay mutiny reverberated through French politics more than any other colonial issues during the inter-war period.