On 9 March 2015 I presented a paper at the Institute of Historical Research in London. The paper is now available as a podcast at this link: http://www.history.ac.uk/podcasts/modern-french-history/political-violence-interwar-france
I’d like to thank the organisers of the Modern French History seminar for inviting me, and making the paper available online. The PowerPoint presentation may be accessed here: Political Violence in Interwar France.
Here is a summary of the talk, which appears on the website of the French History Network:
‘In comparison to Germany and Italy, France’s interwar years were much less violent, much more peaceful. Indeed, when looking at the number of murders in the 1920s and 1930s in all three countries, France lags far, far behind. According to Serge Berstein, France in the 1930s was democratic: social, economic and political problems were not solved on the street, but in the ballot box.
But does this mean that France was spared from the wave of political violence which was otherwise sweeping through Europe? Chris Millington’s latest research tells a different story of interwar France. He does not wish to exaggerate claims of interwar violence in France – he does, however, want to investigate the various forms of violence which existed at the time, and to situate them within a history of politics. Millington examines violence in interwar France in a number of different settings: on the street; during strikes; police violence; in meeting halls. His paper at the IHR focussed on this last theme: the meeting hall. Indeed, in the 1920s and 1930s, meeting halls were central to public and private political debates, giving opposing political groups the opportunity to gather and discuss pressing concerns and policies. The political meeting – this symbol of democracy – was not void of violence, however. A fantastic collection of photographs of small weapons (blade, knife, stick, knuckle-duster) shows how attendees came armed to these meetings. This was not necessarily to attack opposing groups – indeed, Millington talks a lot about how the theory of ‘defensive’ violence was prominent in political circles – but it does show how physical, violent tensions were bubbling below the democratic surface. Through a series of other examples and references, Millington showed a picture of political violence in interwar France: it was not systematic, organised violence like in other European nations at the time, but it did exist, unpredictable and spontaneous, erupting in various throughout France, not necessarily leading to death but often with the possibility of injury.
Many other fascinating themes and questions were raised: how does this story tie into discussion of masculinity and masculine ideals in interwar France? How does it ties to political violence both before 1918 and after 1938? The works of Eve Rosenhaft and Robert Nye were mentioned more than once. All in all, Millington’s intricate research points to the cracks in the theory of French democratic traditions in the Third Republic, and opens up new discussions about masculinity, violence and politics in the interwar period.’