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Reviewed by:
  • French Fascism: The Second Wave, 1933–1939
  • Richard J. Golsan
French Fascism: The Second Wave, 1933–1939. Robert Soucy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. Pp. 352. $35.00.

What is fascism, and what are its social, cultural, and intellectual sources? These questions have of course bedeviled scholars for more than fifty years. They have stirred considerable controversy in discussions of “generic” fascism as well as within the narrower confines of debates concerning specific national contexts. Consensus appears to be more and more difficult to achieve and, as a result, definitions and “typologies” of fascism have become lengthier and more complex (witness Umberto Eco’s fifteen-point definition in a recent number of the [End Page 117] New York Review of Books). More than one scholar has despaired of ever establishing a succinct, working definition of the phenomenon.

Despite these difficulties, studies of fascism and its political, social, and cultural manifestations continue to appear at a prodigious rate. French fascism, especially, has stimulated extraordinary interest and proven to be a particularly contentious topic. Treated for years by French historians and political theorists as a marginal phenomenon, as an “import” and, in its “irrationalism,” something inherently alien to the French Cartesian tradition, French fascism owes its recent notoriety to a number of different factors. These include the disturbing popularity of the neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen, the continuing controversy surrounding the Vichy years, and provocative efforts by historians, most notably Zeev Sternhell, to locate the origins of fascist ideology tout court in the revision of turn-of-the-century French left wing ideologies.

Robert Soucy’s French Fascism: The Second Wave 1933–1939 deals directly only with the last of these phenomena, although indirectly it has much to say concerning the first two as well. The book constitutes the second part of two-part study (the first volume, French Fascism: The First Wave 1924–1933 appeared in 1986) which, through a comprehensive analysis of fascist movements, parties, and intellectuals, amounts to a thoroughgoing rejection of the central thesis of Sternhell’s work. For Soucy, fascism was not the outgrowth of a revision of Sorelian revolutionary syndicalism, but was rooted instead in such conservative right-wing anti-Dreyfusard movements as the Ligue des Patriotes, the Ligue antisemite de France, and the Ligue de l’Action Française. French Fascism: the First Wave studies these movements and then moves on to examine what Soucy considers the major fascist movements of the 1920s, George Valois’s Faisceau and Pierre de Taittinger’s Jeunesses Patriotes. Both groups, Soucy argues, sprang up in response to the electoral victory of the leftist Cartel des Gauches in 1924, and both groups, despite “revolutionary” rhetoric, were profoundly reactionary in their politics and ideology. Both received financial support, in fact, from big business.

In French Fascism: The Second Wave, Soucy moves on to offer detailed analysis of the major movements of the 1930s, and specifically the Solidarité Française and the better known Croix de Feu and Parti Populaire Français. Under the leadership of Jacques Doriot, the PPF went on to become one of the major collaborationist movements during the Occupation. To varying degrees, these movements shared a reactionary political and economic philosophy, stressing respect for authority, a belief in hierarchy, a rejection of class struggle, and a corporatist approach to economic policy. All three movements received major financial backing from big business and corporate interests, and while not willing to declare themselves openly fascist, vociferously attacked the “decadence” of parliamentary politics and left-wing ideologies. All three movements, and especially the PPF, owed their financial support and a good deal of their membership to fear of “Bolshevism” in France. It is no coincidence, according to Soucy, that the PPF got its start in the wake of the leftist Popular Front victory in 1936 and peaked during the latter’s heyday between 1936 and 1938. After 1938, with the left in decline, the PPF lost both members and financial backing, and only regained some of its support with German help during the Occupation.

What of French fascism’s leftist roots and “revolutionary” philosophy? Many fascist leaders of the interwar years, including Georges Valois of the Faisceau...