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- Author: Chris Millington x
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The most up-to-date and comprehensive English-language study of its kind, From victory to Vichy explores the political mobilisation of the two largest French veterans’ associations during the interwar years, the Union fédérale (UF) and the Union nationale des combattants (UNC). Drawing on extensive research into the associations’ organisation, policies and tactics, this study argues that French veterans were more of a threat to democracy than previous scholarship has allowed. As France descended into crisis, the UF and the UNC sought to extend their influence into the non-veteran milieu through public demonstrations, propaganda campaigns and the foundation of auxiliary groups. Despite shifting policies and independent initiatives, by the end of the 1930s the UF and the UNC had come together in a campaign for authoritarian political reform, leaving them perfectly placed to become the ‘eyes and ears’ of Marshal Pétain’s Vichy regime.
This chapter concerns the French veterans' movement during 1918-1933. During and after the First World War, numerous associations were founded to represent ex-servicemen in France. Of these groups, two came to dominate the veterans' movement: the centre-left Union fédérale (UF) and the conservative Union nationale des combattants (UNC). In the decade following the war, the UF and UNC frequently disagreed on political issues. The UF was close to the left and sought rapprochement with Germany. The UNC, on the other hand, supported conservative governments, collaborated with the extreme right and rejected any notion of relations with the Weimar Republic. However, though divided on matters of politics, the two groups could unite in the defence of veterans' rights. This chapter explores the complicated history of the UF and the UNC during these years, exposing themes that are examined later in the book.
This chapter examines the veterans' involvement of the riot of 6 February 1934. On that night, nationalists and war veterans protested in central Paris against the incumbent left-wing government. Police killed a dozen demonstrators and injured hundreds as they defended the approaches to the French parliament. Historians recognise the riot as a turning point in the interwar years, after which French politics polarised between the growing extreme right-wing 'leagues' and the left-wing Popular Front alliance. studies the UNC's participation in the nationalist riot of 6 February 1934 in Paris. This chapter challenges the claims of historians (such as Serge Berstein) that the UNC's march was neither political nor violent. Some UNC veterans fought with police. They took part in the charges of rioters towards the parliament buildings. Yet if some sections of the UNC's leadership and membership supported the march, others condemned it. Nevertheless, the UNC was prepared to support violence when the situation called for it.
This chapter examines the veterans' campaign for state reform during February to July 1934. In April 1934, the veterans' associations delivered an ultimatum to the right-wing government: reform the state or the veterans would take the 'rudder of government'. This campaign underscored the changing priorities of the associations. The UNC ultimately expressed confidence in the conservative government of Gaston Doumergue, which it found more to its taste. However, the centre-left UF, which had always opposed reform, opposed the government and now moved closer an authoritarian state reform programme. This chapter shows that it was not only sections of the UNC that could oscillate between moderation and authoritarianism depending on political circumstance, but also more moderate sections of the veterans' movement such as the UF.
This chapter concerns the period from 1934 to the election of the Popular Front in June 1936. The issue of French fascism is a key debate in the historiography of twentieth-century France. Scholars disagree on the strength of fascism in interwar France; some argue that fascists groups were weak and insignificant, while other claim that fascism was popular and powerful in French politics. This chapter challenges previous scholars' assertions that ordinary veterans rejected the extreme right. UNC leaders sought an informal alliance with the anti-Republican leagues, especially the fascist Croix de Feu, while some provincial members joined these groups and frequented their meetings. The chapter thus demonstrates that though some French veterans rejected political extremism, the assertion that the veterans (and the French) were 'immune' to fascism is untenable.
This chapter examines how the UF and the UNC sought to mobilise the post-war generation in the projects for the renovation of France. The appeal to youth was a prominent feature of French political life at the time and numerous political and civic associations founded youth auxiliaries. 'Youth' and the 'young' were said to be lively, energetic, dynamic and industrious - exactly the qualities needed to rejuvenate a society beset by political and economic crisis. The veterans' attempted to harness the younger generation through youth groups that offered a range of activities. But they also sought to identify the vigour of youth with veteran interests, in contrast to the 'decrepitude' of conventional politics and the 'agedness' of the Third Republic.
This chapter examines the period of the Popular Front from June 1936 to November 1938. It concerns the veterans' reaction to the Popular Front at a critical turning point in interwar French politics. The UNC was resolutely hostile to the left-wing government and mobilised its vast resources and the 'culture of war' against the Blum government. The UF, traditionally close to the left, was initially enthusiastic yet its leadership and many of its supporters grew increasingly alarmed by domestic social conflict, and by France's declining international stature. The situation changed so dramatically that by 1938, the UF shared, with the UNC, a renewed desire to reform the Republic along authoritarian lines.