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44 THE CAGOULE I n late 1937 the French minister of the interior, Marx Dormoy, announced that the police had uncovered a “genuine plot against republican institutions .” In addition to making a spate of arrests, the police also searched the many Parisian properties belonging to the conspirators. Over the course of one year the police found more than 7,000 grenades, about 30 machine guns, 230 German and Italian automatic weapons, 150 handguns , more than 150 hunting rifles, 300,000 cartridges, and more than 150 kilos of explosives in these homes and businesses.1 These discoveries sent shock waves throughout France and had journalists scrambling to figure out what kind of group could have amassed such a stockpile. But the stockpile did not come as a complete surprise. Strange crimes had been occurring throughout 1936 and 1937 and remained unsolved, as the police and the public had few ideas about who was responsible for them. No one had claimed responsibility, and the police had few leads to follow; thus the discovery of the many weapons depots might have struck the general public as simply another element in an ongoing criminal drama. Yet these discoveries were different. The police did know who they were looking for; they even knew the name of the secret organization that had collected the weapons: the Comité secrèt d’action révolutionnaire (CSAR). More colloquially, the group was called the Cagoule (“the hooded ones”), a moniker coined by Maurice Pujo of the monarchist journal Action française, to mock what he saw as a puerile political organization. Though Pujo mocked the group, the Cagoule had indeed been responsible for some of the most public and notorious crimes in the previous two 45 The Cagoule years. The group had been, and continues to be, described as a terrorist organization because it used many of the same techniques as latter-day terrorists.2 While there is no question that there are significant similarities between the group and other terrorist organizations, that label does not fully capture the extent of the Cagoule’s activities or the intentions behind the group’s crimes. The Cagoule engaged in acts of destabilization much as terrorists do, but its principles of provocation were somewhat unique.3 Rather than taking responsibility for their crimes, members of the group made it look as if someone else were responsible. The Cagoule was hoping to create a fearful population while simultaneously setting itself up as the only organization that could save France from chaos. The very first cagoulard crime, in the Parisian working-class suburb of Clichy on March 16, 1937, demonstrates these strategies of provocation perfectly. Because of the ban on the rightist extraparliamentary leagues, the former Croix de feu was forced to reestablish itself as a legitimate political party, the Parti social français (PSF).4 In a bold move, the PSF decided to hold one of its first meetings in Clichy, which prompted the local Popular Front committee to stage a counterdemonstration. Few meetings could inspire an animosity such as that between the leftist Popular Front forces and the militant rightists of the leagues, and this clash was no exception. As the situation quickly got out of hand, the police were called in to restore order and ended up firing on the crowd. By the end of the day, five people had been killed and some two hundred wounded, prompting many leftists to call Léon Blum, the head of the Popular Front government, the “murderer of Clichy workers.”5 The leftist government had been forced to call in the police to restrain its own supporters, and the government was thus blamed for the result. Although the communists (and other leftists) blamed the government for this fiasco, the reality was that members of the Cagoule had fanned the flames of this already tense situation. Frédéric Monier writes that “the responsibility of certain elements from the CSAR in these events is undeniable.”6 He points in particular to the cagoulard Jacques Corrèze, who, according to several witnesses, participated in the demonstration and played a central role in provoking the police to open fire on the demonstrators. Other people, however, have accused the CSAR of intervening on a much larger scale. Philippe Bourdrel writes that the 46 The Extreme Right in the French Resistance police later found in the houses of the Cagoule leaders armbands with “CGT,” the initials of the Confédération générale du travail, a confederation of...


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