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François de La Rocque
1930s photograph of François de La Rocque
Born (1885-10-06)October 6, 1885
Lorient, Brittany, France
Died 28 April 1946 (1946-04-29) (aged 60)
Paris, France
Alma mater Saint Cyr Military Academy
Occupation Military man, political activist
Title Colonel
Parents Raymond de La Rocque
Anne Sollier

François de La Rocque (French: [fʁɑ̃swa dəlaʁɔk]; 6 October 1885 – 28 April 1946) was the leader of the French right-wing league the Croix de Feu from 1930 to 1936 before he formed the more moderate nationalist Parti Social Français (1936–1940), which has been described by several historians, such as René Rémond and Michel Winock, as a precursor of Gaullism.[1][2][3]

Early life[edit | edit source]

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

He entered Saint Cyr Military Academy in 1905, in a class known as "Promotion la Dernière du Vieux Bahut", and graduated in 1907. He was posted to Algeria and the edge of the Sahara, and in 1912 to Lunéville. The next year, he was called to Morocco by General Hubert Lyautey. Despite the outbreak of the First World War, La Roque remained there until 1916 as officer of native affairs, 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, La Roque 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 | edit source]

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. Journalist Alexander Werth argues:

At that time the Croix de Feu, the Royalists, the Solidarité and the Jeunesses Patriotes had no more than a few thousand active members between them, and that they would have been incapable of a real armed uprising. What they reckoned on was the support of the Paris public as a whole; and the most that they could reasonably have aimed at was the resignation of the Daladier Government. When this happened, on February 7, Colonel de la Rocque announced that 'the first objective had been attained.' [4]

The Parti Social Français and the Second World War[edit | edit source]

In June 1936 the Croix-de-Feu, along with all other French far-right leagues, was dissolved by the Popular Front government, and La Rocque then 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, with 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 and René Rémond consider that the success of the moderate, Christian social and democratic PSF prevented the French middle class from falling into fascism.[5] Milza wrote: "Populist and nationalist, the PSF is more anti-parliamentarian than anti-republican", and he reserved 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 form of fascism.[6] However, this characterisation of the PSF has been questioned: for example Robert Soucy has argued that the differences between the PSF and fascist movements in Italy and Germany were more superficial than their similarities, and that La Rocque was "a dyed-in-the-wool fascist".[2][3]

After the Battle of France of 1940, 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 also 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).[7] 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."[8] 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. He was deported first to Eisenberg Castle (cs), nowadays in the Czech Republic; then to Itter Castle, Austria, where 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 was 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 | edit source]

The Parti Social Français (PSF) of François de La Rocque has been described as the first right-wing mass party in France (1936–1940).[2][9] He advocated:

  • a presidential regime to end the instability of the parliamentary regime.
  • an economic system founded upon "organised professions" (corporatism).
  • social legislation inspired by Social Christianity.

Several historians 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.[2][10]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. René Rémond, Les Droites en France (first ed. Aubier-Montaigne, 1968)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Winock, Michel (April–June 2006). "Revisiting French fascism: La Rocque and the Croix-de-Feu". pp. 3–27. Digital object identifier:10.3917/ving.090.0003. https://www.cairn-int.info/article-E_VING_090_0003--revisiting-french-fascism-la-rocque.htm. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Jenkins, Brian (2005). "Introduction: Contextualising the Immunity Thesis". In Jenkins, Brian. France in the Era of Fascism. New York City: Berghahn Books. pp. 1–21. ISBN 978-1-57181-537-8. https://www.berghahnbooks.com/downloads/intros/JenkinsFrance_intro.pdf. 
  4. Alexander Werth and D. W. Brogan, The Twilight of France, 1933-1940 (1942) p 16 online
  5. John Bingham, "Defining French fascism, finding fascists in France" in Canadian Journal of History 29.3 (1994): 525-544.
  6. Pierre Milza, La France des années 30, Armand Colin, 1988, p.132
  7. Biography of François de La ROCQUE (in French)
  8. Knickerbocker, H.R. (1941). Is Tomorrow Hitler's? 200 Questions On the Battle of Mankind. Reynal & Hitchcock. pp. 251. https://books.google.com/books?id=RwGwpIBHhgcC&lpg=PR2&pg=PA251#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  9. Godet, Antoine (3 March 2014). "" Le PSF, un parti de masse à droite "" (in French). https://www.histoire-politique.fr/documents/comptesRendus/pdf/HP_CR2_AntoineGodetsurColloquePSF_def.pdf. 
  10. Thomas, Jean=Paul (2012). "Le Parti social français (PSF), obstacle à la radicalisation des droites. Contribution historique à une réflexion sur les droites, la radicalité et les cultures politiques françaises". In Vervaecke, Philippe (in French). À droite de la droite: Droites radicales en France et en Grande-Bretagne au xxe siècle. Villeneuve-d'Ascq: Presses universitaires du Septentrion. pp. 243–273. Digital object identifier:10.4000/books.septentrion.16175. ISBN 9782757418536. https://books.openedition.org/septentrion/16175?lang=en. 

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • 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 | edit source]

  • 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 | edit source]

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