6 January 2021, 6 February 1934

Submitted by AWL on 12 January, 2021 - 10:37 Author: Martin Thomas
France, February 1934

Many historians, in hindsight, regard the 6 February 1934 attempt by mostly far-right army-veteran groups to storm France’s Chamber of Deputies, over a corruption scandal, as a blip.

They can make a case. The 6 February riot was smaller than 4 January’s in Washington. The police were solid against it, indeed shot down the protesters, killing 16 and injuring 600-odd.

The riot never got near breaching the parliament building. The biggest contingent, the Croix du Feu, went home when trouble started.

Politically, the protest was a mix of small groups. The French far right in 1934 was weaker than the US far right is now, with Trumpists hegemonic in the Republican Party and the 100,000-strong militia movement drawn into Trump Republicanism. Trotsky wrote at the time: “fascism is not a mass movement in France”.

The riot did make the prime minister resign; but that was the sixth change of prime minister since the victory of a Radical/ Socialist Party [SP] alliance in the June 1932 election, and the shift was from one member of the Radical Party to another.

In truth, if 6 February turned out a blip, that was because the French left saw it as a warning, as more than a blip. 6 February ended the Stalinist Third Period. It pushed the SP to the left, and the CP into a united front with SP; it impelled anti-fascist activism; it set things moving towards the June 1936 general strike. It opened the way for the Trotskyists to win support in the SP youth.

The CP would drag the SP back into alliance with the Radicals (the Popular Front); the SP and the CP would betray the general strike; and then France would move right again. But the surge of response to 6 February had created better possibilities.

Responses in France were shaped by the recent Nazi triumph in Germany (January 1933) and the Great Depression.

The US today is different, but economic disruption from the pandemic is and will continue large. Erdogan in Turkey, Modi in India, are not the Nazis, but they do show a new era of at least proto-fascist politics.

6 January in Washington didn’t stop the ratification of the 4 November election. That does not prove it a setback for the far right, any more than 6 February 1934’s failure to put the Croix du Feu into power proved that a blip.

Fascist (or proto-fascist) movements don’t seize power by popular uprisings. Usually they do it by convincing enough of the state machine and the ruling class that the country can’t be governed against the far right, so best bring the far right to office and hope to restrain it by coalitions.

I don’t know whether the Romney-line Republicans will now rally. But crying contradictions in the Trump line haven’t broken up the Trumpist movement to date, and it’s unlikely they will now. The takeaway for the Trumpist far-right from 6 January is that they can impede governance. They can credibly paralyse a Biden administration which would have been conformist even without the far-right threat. And then in four years...

Hope lies with the possibility that 6 January will galvanise the US left and labour movement as 6 February 1934 galvanised the French left.

French capitalism had more trouble with even partial emergence from the Great Depression than the USA (E-U), UK (R-U) or Germany (ALL), all of which were seeing some recovery by 1934. "PIB" means GDP


Submitted by martin on Wed, 13/01/2021 - 17:00

Above, I've amended the casualty figures for the far right on 6 February 1934 ("14 or 15 killed, 1500 injured") in the printed version, got from checking online sources, to "16 killed, 600-odd injured", now that I've been able to get copies of Robert Soucy's French Fascism: The Second Wave and Serge Berstein's Le 6 fevrier 1934, which give that information.

The police shot and killed six on the Communist Party and Socialist Party counter-demonstration which followed on 9 February.

Soucy estimated 40,000 for the 6 February 1934 crowd, though Berstein and most other sources say 30,000.

Barrie Hardy in Solidarity gives 40,000 for 6 January 2021. Scanning the serious bourgeois media in the USA, I've been unable to get any estimate beyond "thousands". Photos look to me like more than 40,000 (and much more than the 15,000 I've seen quoted in some places).

Of course the USA has a bigger population than France in 1934, but in comparing turnouts we must also consider that 6 January 2021 demonstrators mostly had to travel long distances in the middle of a pandemic (Trump has only marginal support in Washington DC, and not very much in the whole eastern seaboard), whereas the far right in France in February 1934 was strong in Paris (Soucy gives figures).

One thing omitted from the article for lack of space is that the Communist Party's army-veteran front, ARAC, supported the 6 February demonstration. Improved war pensions were a major motive for many demonstrators.

Soucy reckons that Coty's Solidarité Française was bigger in February 1934 than the Croix du Feu, but since SF collapsed within weeks of February 1934 (Coty's money dried up) and many of its members (so Soucy says) joined the Croix du Feu, the reference to the Croix du Feu as the biggest far-right group can stand.

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