The Image of the Popular Front: The Masses and the Media in Interwar France

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Hence, Pateman concludes, the only way women could be seen as individuals and as citizens was to become more like men. During the period from the First World War through the end of the Second World War, French men and women were searching for solutions to political, economic, cultural and social crises, and consequently articulated their ideas and discourse within a gendered construct. Laura L. Frader and Sonya O. Rose Ithaca, , p. Toward a Cultural Identity in the Twentieth Century, ed. However, as Susan B. Whitney, Laura Levine Frader, and Geoff Read have shown36 , left-wing political parties also saw a crisis in gender relationships during the interwar period, particularly in the s with the threat of fascism and the impact of the economic depression on employment, standards of living, and population growth.

The communists also stepped up their pronatalist and pro-family discourse during this period. The discourse and imagery used by communists that I will examine reveal their gendered responses to the political, economic, social, and cultural crises of the interwar period. The impact these crises had on the family and on gender relations was an important political tool that was used by groups on both the Right and the Left. The PCF, in turn, responded with a discourse that was pro-family and maternalist in order to balance its more militant and revolutionary language and ideology.

Rather, they were using women and gender concerns as a means of drawing attention to larger political, social, economic, and cultural issues. Susan B.

Table of contents

Emphasis in original. In his work on the German Communist Party KPD , Eric Weitz has persuasively shown that the character of mass parties and movements is shaped not only by their ideologies and the social background of the members, but also by the political spaces within which they operate e. See Perry R.


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John Alexander Williams New York, What roles did they play and how, if at all, were they incorporated into party culture? Most histories of the French Communist Party rarely consider women as an issue to be examined in depth or seek to problematize gender relationships within the party. Roger Bourderon et al. The study will consist of four chapters along with introductory and concluding chapters.

Chapter 1 will examine the founding of the PCF in through the period of bolshevization of As a new party, the PCF needed to create group cohesion and solidarity, as well as visibly situate itself within the history of working-class struggle. What rituals, myths, and symbols did the PCF appropriate from French socialist traditions and what did it incorporate from Bolshevik and Soviet attempts to construct a new revolutionary culture and society? Chapter 3 will then consider the years , which included the height of the Great Depression, the rise of fascist and other extremist right-wing groups, the establishment and subsequent disintegration of the Popular Front, and a growing fear of a coming war.

Communists and Catholics in Interwar France

The massive increase in unemployment and the continuing concern over the population rate caused many groups, including the PCF, to emphasize motherhood and the need for women to be in the home. Chapter 4 will examine the period of the Second World War and the activities of the communists in the Resistance Communist-led Resistance groups used rituals, symbols, commemorations, demonstrations, and other activities to create an organizational culture that fluctuated between challenging and reinforcing prevailing gender roles, which not only was a continuation from interwar discourse and policies but also would carry over into the post-war period.

The communists' continued observance of important French anniversaries, particularly Bastille Day, during the Occupation not only provided a counterpoint to Vichy's commemorations but also to those of Charles de Gaulle's in London.

The Image of the Popular Front

However, their symbolic displays of disobedience, demonstration, and remembrance were far from gender-neutral. Finally, the concluding chapter will examine the Liberation and immediate post-war period , as the communists, who spearheaded many of the organized Resistance activities in France under the German occupation and Vichy government, entered into a tug of war with Charles de Gaulle and his supporters.

The book will conclude in , when the PCF was expelled from the government and its electoral power weakened as the Cold War emerged. Archival Research The French Communist Party has opened its archives of the period I am studying and is actively seeking scholars who are interested in researching women and the party. Finally, examining the provenance and appropriation of the stories groups tell themselves and how they create boundaries of belonging through ritual is an exciting area of research and one that has wider-reaching implications for understanding other political and social movements in France and in Europe, including the crucial intersection of gender and politics.

Paris, Aragon, Louis. Reprint New York, London, Aubrac, Lucie. Konrad Bieber. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, De Gaulle, Charles. Griffin and R. Durkheim, Emile. New York: Free Press, David Ball. New York: Oxford University Press, Paris: Actes Sud, Guingouin, Georges. Nizan, Paul. Pelletier, Madeleine. Terrenoire, Elisabeth. Paris: Bloud et Gay, Paris: Viviane Hamy, Thorez, Maurice. Douglas Garman. Tillon, Charles.

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John Riddel. Valet, Henriette. Secondary Sources Agulhon, Maurice. Janet Lloyd. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Sean Wilentz. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, Amalvi, Christian. Pierre Nora.

Léon Moussinac and L’Humanité as a Cinematic Force

Arthur Goldhammer. New York: Columbia University Press, Amsellem, Patrick. Andrew, Dudley and Steven Ungar. Baker, Keith Michael. Bard, Christine and Jean-Louis Robert. Helmut Gruber and Pamela Graves. NY: Berghahn Books, Baron, Ava. Ava Baron. NY: Cornell University Press, Bellanger, Claude. Paris: Colin, Ben-Amos, Avner. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Berenson, Edward.

Princeton: Princeton University Press, Berezin, Mabel. Bertin, Celia. Bock, Gisela and Pat Thane, eds. London: Routledge, Bock, Gisela. Boswell, Laird. Brower, Daniel. Buckley, Mary. London: I. Tauris, Tauris, forthcoming. Canning, Kathleen. Chenut, Helen Harden. This superb study should be "must" reading for all students of modern French history - as well as for anyone seriously interested in the nature of popular culture in general not the least of its side benefits being the way it increases one's awareness of both similar and different patterns in one's own country.

Based on a wide variety of sources - from crude wartime propaganda to sociologically-sophisticated movie reviews, from the lyrics of songs played in plebian dance halls to those sung at expensive stage productions of the Casino de Paris, from the hit movies of Maurice Chevalier and Jean Gabin to the much less successful political films of the Popular Front and the Vichy regime - Rearick's book is a marvellous 'tour de force'.

Rearick disagrees with the view taken by the Marxist Frankfurt School of Sociology that popular culture in a capitalist society is not really "popular", but largely the result of what the "culture industry" want the masses to believe and that such culture renders the masses politically quiescent. For Rearick, the masses were not merely uncritical, passive objects which were acted upon by those with money and power, but were thinking subjects who rejected some, if not all, of the brainwashing directed at them.

The choices they made gave meaning to their lives. Rearick acknowledges, however, that media did play a major role in shaping, albeit in varying degrees at various times, the imaginations which governed these choices. In Rearick's analysis, cultural cause and effect is presented as neither totally from the top down nor totally from the bottom up but rather as a dialectical interaction.

Just as deconstructionists privilege readers over authors, Rearick underscores the differing responses of listeners and spectators to the same cultural products.

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In what a Vichyite took away from a movie or song might be quite different from what a supporter of the Resistance took away from the same movie or song. Rearick's study also raises the question of the nature of French identity. He writes: "At the heart of this history is a national argument about the character of the French people and their responses to life's difficulties.

What are the truly French ways of doing battle, dealing with disappointment, and meeting adversity? He believes that in defining Frenchness it is not enough to dwell on such symbols as Joan of Arc and Marianne. For millions of French men and women during the interwar period, just as important, if not far more important, were the images projected by show business stars like Maurice Chevalier and Mistinguette, whose publicity machines "made them out to be representatives of Paris, of France, and of the French people" p.

Significant too, was the way media representations of 'le petit peuple' changed in the s in response to the growing political and economic strength of the workers and the lower middle classes. As critical swing voters and major consumers of mass entertainment, members of these classes gained a new cultural leverage.

A movie industry that previously had often presented the "little guy" as marginal, uncivilized and dangerous, as virtually indistinguishable from a criminal, now made him the leading figure and a warm-hearted as well.


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This trend was not always welcomed by right-wing movie critics, as rival groups, contending for power in the political system, battled over different "myths" depicting the common folk. In the iconography of "the people", certain images became primary symbols to be emulated: the endangered but jovial infantryman the 'poilu' , the devoted and patriotic woman, the bantering working-class Parisian the 'faubourien' , the militant striker, the plebian trickster who, down on his luck, kept a smile on his face and a song in his heart. As Rearick extensively and delightfully documents, such types became part of France's social imagination.

However simplified, distorted, and sanitize, this myth-making may have been, it helped organize the experience and form the identities of millions of cultural consumers. It helped shape more than one French person's sense of self. Between and , the media retailed countless stories of what was considered to be two distinctively French ways of coping with difficulties: facing up to adversity with a smile or a song and resigning oneself to an injustice with a 'je m'en fous'!


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Neither of these coping methods threatened the economic or political power of France's upper classes. Nor did they fuel the army mutinies of , which occurred despite them. During the First World War, government propaganda, as well as government- censored movies and songs, extolled those qualities which served the war effort.

Faced with a nation which, contrary to legend, greeted the declaration of war with little or no enthusiasm, French cultural producers highlighted not the public's anxiety and sadness about going to war but the 'poilu's' alleged patriotism and gaiety in the face of death. The 'poilu' was portrayed as a resourceful 'debrouillard' who coped with the most trying circumstances with a laugh, a hale fellow who enjoyed his 'pinard' his ration of wine , played cards during breaks in the action, and remained "French" in his irrepressible cheerfulness.

Wartime songs promoted these cliches with such lyrics as "Always happy, never beaten, that's what we call a 'poilu'. The image of the light- hearted 'poilu', repeated endlessly in the press and on the stage, was also meant to reassure the home population. This 'bourrage de crane' "stuffing the head with rubbish" was less successful with the troops themselves.

When the 'poilus' produced their own songs and skits expressing their discontents, this part of French identity went unreported in the home-front press. The 'poilu' counterculture was antagonistic toward the state-sponsored official culture echoed in Parisian music-halls. As one soldier wrote to a former professor in "To die [for the fatherland] is the most beautiful fate - that's not true. The most beautiful fate is to live a long time and to be happy.

Why lie? Soldiers' letters to the editors ridiculed the journalists' images of the playful, laughing 'poilu'. Soldier-produced songs with grumbling lyrics describing maimed bodies - one was entitled "Maudite sois la guerre" - were banned by the censors. Some of these songs portrayed the workers as heroes and the rich as villains and were denied public performance, as were lyrics about husbands being cuckolded while they were off fighting at the front.

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In , the year of the great bloodbath at Verdun, civilians who read the heavily-censored press were given little idea of the real magnitude of the casualties. It is not surprising that 'poilus' often felt they were misrepresented and misunderstood by the patriots of the rear. One of the most popular songs of the war was "Quand Madelon", about soldiers flirting with a lovely young waitress in a country tavern.

What was distinctive was the song's lack of bawdiness Madelon does not give her body to any of these men at a time when many soldier-created songs were full of explicit sexual references and when brothels just behind the front lines were staffed by prostitutes "doing" fifty to sixty men a day. Madelon also represented an alternative to the "new women" in Paris who were moving into jobs previously reserved for men and who worried soldiers at the front with their more independent ways. Unlike these women, the super-traditionalist Madelon knew her place.

The song also reassured civilians with its image of the 'poilu' as a clean-minded 'bonhomme' and a read-to-die patriot rather than a client of prostitutes and a war-sick mutineer. In the decade following the war, two groups were viewed by most producers of mass entertainment as potential disturbers of the peace: militant workers and new women. Both threatened a return to pre-war normalcy. It was not uncommon for returning troops in to shout such threats as "We'll show the bosses! Our comrades won't have died in vain. In factory towns, employers provided movies for workers on Sundays, movies free of objectionable political content.

Most commercial films steered away from political or collective causes, dwelling instead on private life and individual relationships. Public fascination with sports figures also diverted attention from politics. The boxing champion, Georges Charpentier, a former 'poilu', became a national hero. By contrast, the contribution of female workers to the war effort was largely ignored, since they were too closely associated with the new woman. At the same time photographers, whether working for agencies or for individual newspapers, became a significant part of the journalistic profession with an increasingly recognised status.

Not, however, that they necessarily benefited from technological advances; as Dell demonstrates, contrary to the received wisdom of the revolutionary role played by the 35mm Leica in press photography, French photographers were still forced to use the heavy and old-fashioned plate cameras because the plates could be converted directly into prints without the intermediary of an enlarger.

This goes a long way to explaining the preference for static shots in French press photography during the inter-war years, although it clearly could not exclude the use of lighter cameras for war reporting, for example, and in the illustrated news magazines. The bulk of the book is devoted to following the development of this 'Republican Imaginary' through three key moments in the history of the Popular Front: the Quatorze juillet celebrations of , with the solemn swearing of the oath of allegiance at the Place de la Nation; the accession to power in May to June under the shadow of the strikes and factory occupations; and the subsequent disintegration of the Rassemblement in the wake of the Spanish Civil War.

This is a fascinating and well-researched account of the Popular Front through its own media although it is, perhaps necessarily, more concerned with news management by the Popular Front itself rather than with an overall analysis of visual news depiction. There are few comparisons or contrasts with the depiction of the events of - in the right-wing or centrist press and, as Dell admits, no discussion of the powerful regional dailies. Yet it would be interesting to know how common a pictorial device this was across the spectrum of the French press in the inter-war years.

It would also be useful to compare the images studied here with those in the rest of the media, notably cinema but especially newsreel, which was often the primary source of visual news for the bulk of the French urban population, as it was in other Western countries. It is true, as Dell claims, that the four major newsreel companies were generally hostile to the Popular Front.

However, this hostility was not always reflected in their coverage of events, such as the 'carnival' atmosphere surrounding the 14 July celebrations and the factory occupations of In this respect it could be argued that the book does not entirely sustain its subtitle of 'The Masses and the Media in Interwar France'. However, in visual terms and in addition to its social legacy, the Popular Front is indissolubly associated with the release of the urban working classes to the countryside and the coasts.

As Dell correctly points out in the third substantive section of his book, the deep complexities of the Popular Front and its image were encapsulated in its responses to the Spanish Civil War in the summer of For Dell, it was the failure of the Popular Front to come to the aid of its Spanish counterpart which effectively 'destroyed' the image and consecrated the revision of the 'exchange between leaders and led'. Yet, here again the Popular Front and its supporters were divided along non-party political lines. David Wingeate Pike notes that coverage of the Spanish Civil War was largely restricted to the Parisian 'political' dailies and to the regional press of the south-west.

Elsewhere, in Nantes for example the site of one of the very first strikes and factory occupations , the war was not a topic of burning interest.