The Right Minority in France
THE Chambre des Députés has at last an indisputable majority. To-day that majority is definitely Left. It will not need to beg for support; numerically it is strong enough to act. But there is an ‘if’ which still raises a serious question. French policy can be unified only if the three parties which make up the Popular Front continue to agree and to act hand in hand. These three parties were able yesterday, in the course of the electoral period, to silence their discords. Will they disagree tomorrow when it becomes necessary to carry out their programme?
In the new Chambre there is a solid Nationalist minority which, even if it is doomed to defeat, will certainly not let itself be beaten without raising its voice. This minority consists of 99 Rightists, who will probably be joined on occasion by 137 Centrists. Although, in the Parlement, these members of the Right minority may be unable to obtain effective results, in the field of public opinion the situation is different. There the Nationalist forces do exert influence; groups like the Action Française, like the Croix de Feu, numerous, organized, disciplined, may one day be capable of provoking grave reactions against the Popular Front.
By a curious phenomenon, not one of these organizations is officially represented in the Chambre des Députés. No Royalist candidate presented himself at the election under this label, for he would have been assured of failure. As for the members of the Croix de Feu, its leader, Colonel de La Rocque, forbade them to be candidates under the organization’s banner. There is therefore no official Croix de Feu party in the Chambre, though it is certain that many Nationalist deputies embrace the theories of the Croix de Feu.
Here, then, are two opposition groups which are already playing a considerable part in French public opinion, and which, despite their ambiguous position in the Chambre, may at some time rally all the elements of the Right.
The Action Française bases its doctrines on the return of France to the monarchy. Since 1898 it has been fighting toward this end, and by clever propaganda, by noisy manifestations, it has managed to occupy more than a negligible place in the movement of political ideas.
It had its origin in the passions unleashed at the end of the last century by the Dreyfus Affair. Founded in the midst of a political crisis, it was inspired by an anxiety to assure the safety of France, and it considers that the most efficacious way of attaining this goal is the restoration of a king to the throne of France. In the course of the last thirty-eight years, the Action Française has asserted itself morally and intellectually in the battle of ideas. In reality, of course, it has not facilitated the return of the monarchy. This observation was made, with some melancholy, by the guiding spirit of the movement, Charles Maurras, on the occasion of the reissue of his book, Enquête sur la Monarchie: —
A quarter of a century has passed; this old book is being reissued; but its longevity does not delight me: it calls attention to the length of the crisis and its difficulty. The war has changed nothing; people are still wondering whether public safety is to be found in the institution of a traditional, hereditary, anti-parliamentarian monarchy.
In 1926, the Action Française went through a very serious crisis when it engaged in a conflict with the Vatican. Composed almost exclusively of convinced Catholics, it sustained a grave defeat when Pope Pius XI publicly condemned the leaders of the movement, Charles Maurras and Léon Daudet, and excommunicated them, as ’branded with atheism, anti-Christianity, anti-Catholicism and amorality.’ Nevertheless, the Action Franéaise recovered from this severe shock. Time and circumstances have mitigated the struggle; to-day relations between Rome and the monarchial movement are on the basis of an armistice.
Tangible results may not have crowned the campaigns of the Action Française, but its ideas have spread abroad and have found partisans. In the course of the last twenty-five years there has not been a single great question of foreign or domestic policy in which it has not made its voice heard, almost always obstreperously. After the war, it concentrated its efforts particularly on the struggle against Communism. Against this target the forces of the movement are particularly directed to-day, and its members, especially the Camelots du Roi, do not hesitate to disturb Communist meetings, insulting the police and then cooling off in prison.
To-day the Action Française has units not only in Paris but in the départements. As to the exact number of its adherents opinions are divided; probably they do not exceed 60,000 — which, out of the 42,000,000 inhabitants of France, is inconsiderable. But they make enough noise for a million! And they are encouraged by leaders of untiring vitality and energy.
There are two colorful leaders of the Action Française. First, Léon Daudet, son of the celebrated writer Alphonse Daudet, and himself a writer of aggressive talent. For a quarter of a century Léon Daudet has placed his pen and his oratory at the service of the Royalist cause. His articles are enlivened by an inexhaustible zest; in his speeches, gauloiserie, sometimes of the rawest sort, is combined with the most fantastic ideology. Daily he breaks lances with those who do not hold his opinions, whether they be cabinet ministers, academicians, powerful bankers, or famous writers. His activity includes piquant adventures, like his escape from a Parisian prison following a telephone call by a friend who pretended to be the Minister of the Interior. The French say of him, ‘He’s a type!’ They do not always take him seriously, but they admire his audacity and his courage; the Camelots du Roi adore him for being the always ebullient hero of a comedy which is often dramatic.
Charles Maurras, by his austere calm, his profound deliberation, is the exact opposite of Daudet. It is he who is the apostle, the philosopher, the thinker. Certainly he has as much faith as Daudet in the cause he is defending, but it is a reasoned faith, the result of meditation and study. He is a classicist who adores Greece, reads Homer, and cultivates his secret garden. Suffering from deafness, which confines him in partial solitude, he attends few meetings, but in his office, alone, in front of his worktable, he scrutinizes with his severe and vigilant mind all the acts and manœuvres of the Republican powers. His passion for his cause leads him occasionally to the most sanguinary utterances. Such was the case a few weeks ago when, in a newspaper tirade against Léon Blum, he went so far as to urge that that statesman be assassinated. In the upshot Maurras was brought to court and sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment.
These leaders, and with them the members of the Action Française, turn their eyes toward their All Highest, the Duc de Guise, great-grandson of Louis Philippe, who lives in exile in Belgium. But the Duc de Guise seems long ago to have realized how vain is the struggle carried on for the reëstablishment of a monarchy in France. Thus the more active hopes of the Action Frangaise incline to-day toward the ‘Dauphin,’ the Comte de Paris, son of the Duc de Guise, who, with the optimism of youth, seems to have more faith than his father in the Royalist cause in France.
The Croix de Feu group is much younger than the Action Française, but it has spread with such rapidity that it long since outstripped the Royalist movement in influence and popularity. The reason for this amazing development is first and foremost that the Croix de Feu intends to remain within the framework of the Republican régime to which France is profoundly attached.
Ten years ago the Association of the Croix de Feu was simply a group of veterans chosen for their distinguished feats in the war. For admittance a man had either to prove some act of heroism or to have suffered a grave wound. The first president was Maurice d’Hartoy, who was succeeded, some years later, by Colonel de La Rocque.
In 1933, under the direction of its new chief, the group decided to expand, and thus created the Association of Sons of the Croix de Feu, open to those of the younger generation who had not fought in the war. Soon this new organization expanded still further, and, this time under the name of Volontaires Nationaux, brought together all those, whatever their age, who were eager to place their energy and good will at the service of the cause. The recruiting of adherents immediately increased at the rate of around five hundred new members a month.
On February 6, 1934, the Stavisky Affair broke out like a thunderclap; certain politicians were suspected of being mixed up in the scandal. French opinion was aroused and troubled. A crowd assembled in front of the Palais Bourbon; the Daladier Cabinet, then in power, called for army and police intervention; shots were fired; the Place de la Concorde took on the appearance of a battlefield.
French blood spilled by Frenchmen aroused public emotion. The dramatic events of February 6 intensified the feeling within the political camps, whether Left or Right. The Croix de Feu immediately took the lead in the Nationalist ranks and its enlistments increased to four thousand new members a month. To-day it claims to have more than 700,000 adherents.
The reasons for this sudden confidence in the Croix de Feu are not far to seek. The movement had already drawn attention to itself, and its conduct, its severe discipline, had made a good impression on many Frenchmen. It had never been mixed up in noisy demonstrations; it did not have the appearance of a political organization; it merely sought to unite those who wished to bring about improvements in the existing régime. It seemed to express a new spirit, free from electoral haggling and shabby political combinations. Best of all, its ranks were open to everyone, regardless of class, religion, or occupation.
Another reason for success was to be found in the determination and personality of the leader, Colonel de La Rocque.
Casimir-François de La Rocque belongs to an old family of Cantal, a rugged and unsmiling province in the centre of France. There, at the end of the last century, lived his father, a former general of naval artillery; the six sons, two of whom fell in the war, were all raised in the military tradition.
After his boyhood in this almost feudal atmosphere, Casimir-François entered the École de Saint-Cyr, the French West Point. He emerged in 1907, a sublieutenant of cavalry, and promptly asked to be sent to Algiers. There he learned Arabic, which he soon spoke fluently. In Morocco he served under Marshal Lyautey, and his knowledge of the people and the language was such that when the war broke out in 1914, despite his natural wish to return to France, he was retained for command in Africa.
The story runs that in 1916 the young captain was ordered to inspect a tribe then in a ferment of revolt, and was warned that the Arabs had timed the uprising for that very evening. He called for his horse, put on his best uniform, and alone, unarmed, unescorted, went to the Caid, head of the tribe. The camp was turbulent. At first astonished, then uneasy, the chief received him.
‘I have come,’ said La Rocque, ‘to pay you a little visit. You have often asked me to come, and here I am! If it won’t put you out, I’d like to spend the night in your own tent.’
With the traditional politeness of the Arabs, the head of the tribe conducted him to his quarters and invited him to dinner. The men seemed troubled: what should they do? Night came and the dinner ended. La Rocque went to bed and pretended to sleep. He heard the stir of the excited camp, was aware of the animated and whispered conversations of the Moroccans. The clatter of arms went on till the middle of the night. Would they turn on him? The hours passed; dawn appeared. La Rocque arose, took leave of his host, and returned to his own camp. Overawed by his cool courage, the tribe did not revolt.
But La Rocque’s luck did not always hold. A short time afterwards he was wounded in an engagement and declared unfit for active service. He made a remarkable recovery, however, and remained among the combatant units till the end of the war.
At the time of the Armistice, La Rocque was a Commandant, at thirtytwo. He had received nine citations and was an officer of the Legion of Honor. In the peace days that followed he was first appointed to the general staff of Marshal Foch, served as a member of the Interallied Military Commission of the Treaty of Versailles, was sent to Poland as liaison officer between the French and Polish High Commands, and still later returned to Morocco.
In the meantime France had become the prey of political factions. He realized that another battlefield was now open to his energies; in 1928 he resigned his commission in order to devote his time and his efforts to civilian concerns. Some months later he was elected president of the Croix de Feu.
The aim of the Croix dc Feu is to infuse a new spirit into the direction of affairs in France. ‘The interests of France above all else, without consideration for party quarrels or political influences’ — that has been the rallying cry thus far. It is a vague formula. The Croix de Feu has often been reproached for its lack of a more definite programme. The defense of its spokesmen may be put in those words: ‘If we had a precise programme with certain concrete points, we should lose the liberty and suppleness of our movements at a time when no one knows what the future holds in reserve. Above all, we want to keep our independence; with a definite plan, it would be doomed.’
Although the campaign programme may be vague, there is no doubt that the Croix de Feu holds firmly to certain principles. In his recent book, Service Public, La Rocque said: —
The immense majority of patriotic Frenchmen, of whom the Croix de Feu furnishes an exact synthesis, has thought better of all the old political credos; it is not disposed toward a return to the governments of other days. The Croix de Feu must call itself loyalist toward every republican government which is a stranger to the ambiguous combinations of committees and inspired by a will to union and patriotism.
Such a position seems to indicate a rupture with the Royalists and the Bonapartists. Yet it is evident that the three groups have much in sympathy. If by some extraordinary development the Royalists of the Action Française were to abandon their hope of restoring a monarch, it is inevitable that they would become the most direct allies of the Croix de Feu.
As they are republican, so too the partisans of La Rocque are parliamentarians. They envision a true representation of the country. They are enemies of a Parlement whose concerns are too often purely electoral; they want a Chambre and a Sénat above suspicion. They consider outworn the political chicanery now employed. A day will come, they predict, when the people will understand that the men and the laws which rule France to-day no longer possess the power or prestige necessary for security. When that day dawns, there will be a call for new men and new ideas. For that eventuality the Croix de Feu is preparing.
There are characteristics of the Croix de Feu which give it a family resemblance to Fascism, though the Croix de Feu protests energetically against this label, so often applied by its adversaries. It steadfastly condemns dictatorship. If the word ‘Fascism’ is to be used in connection with the Croix de Feu it must be in the sense of a Fascism à la Française, a Fascism founded not on one man but on a group of men, united for the triumph of their ideas.
It is often charged that the Croix de Feu is supported by the leading banks and heavy industries. It cannot be disputed that a great number of French capitalists are in principle, if not in actuality, in accord with the philosophy of the Croix de Feu; they are both defenders of the same cause, which they believe to be menaced by Communism.
How far this support has materialized it is difficult to say. Very few outside of the leaders of the movement are informed about its financial resources. The Croix de Feu openly declares that it does not need much money, since its expenses are limited. Each member pays dues of ten francs a year; to-day an annual budget of six or seven million francs is quite sufficient for its needs. There is no necessity for expensive propaganda; the movement spreads by word of mouth, from the members to their friends. When a meeting takes place, the hall is always given voluntarily by a sympathizer; when a meeting takes place outside Paris, the members are transported in their colleagues’ automobiles. The weekly newspaper, Le Flambeau, which publishes the news of local groups and the statements of the leaders, costs relatively little to operate.
The meetings are organized in the greatest secrecy. La Rocque decides that it would be opportune for a meeting in such and such a village. Instructions are sent to the local leaders to keep in touch with their men. Early in the morning of the appointed day, orders are sent by motorcyclists to indicate the different points of concentration, although the actual assembly place is still in the dark. At these concentration points, representatives of the central organization appear: it is their duty to forward the local leaders and their men to the secret spot. The entire pilgrimage moves in automobiles. By such oblique methods are the meetings convened; the usual assembly numbers from 20,000 to 30,000 men. The gatherings are orderly and disciplined. Almost always it is La Rocque himself who speaks. As a rule, the Croix de Feu avoids parades and manifestations in the streets.
The Croix de Feu has already attained enough weight and discipline to be felt in French politics. How much can be expected of it in the future?
Admittedly its popularity has declined slightly during recent months. Sympathizers reproach Colonel de La Rocque for the uncertainties of his programme. On December 6, the Chambre des Députés voted to disarm all the ligues — those of the Right as well as of the Left. When the Croix de Feu instantly conformed to this decision, many of those favorable to the movement saw in the acquiescence a tactical error: the Croix de Feu, which on principle refuses to be mixed up in politics, had allowed itself to be dragged into a discussion which was nothing but political.
But to-day, following the victory of the Popular Front, it is likely that the Nationalists will come more and more to group themselves around the Croix de Feu. And if in the future, intoxicated by its success, carried away by its extreme elements, the Popular Front were to sanction measures endangering what the Croix de Feu considers the greatness and prosperity of France, it is quite possible that the organization might conclude that the time had come for open opposition.
It seems unlikely, however, that we shall witness any radical evolution of French policy for the present — certainly not a revolution. For even if the Socialists and Communists have their yearnings, these would always be modified by the Radical-Socialists, who will never forget that they have a portfolio in their pocket. Above all it must not be forgotten that the French middle mass, even if its sentiments are Left, remains reasonable and deliberative, wants peace within as well as without, and will always be an element of moderation against disturbers of the peace, whether from the Right or from the Left.