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Vichy France: Its history and coinage

Started by <k>, April 01, 2017, 05:49:29 PM

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<k>

In this topic I will continue my general series on the era of fascism and World War 2. I will look at the issues France faced after the First World War, before assessing how far fascism did or did not penetrate French politics in the 1930s. I will also look at the standard French coinage on the eve of war, so that we can see to what extent it changed under Vichy.
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<k>

France was one of the victors of the First World War, as a result of which it regained Alsace-Lorraine from Germany. It therefore did not suffer the nationalist post-war discontent that occurred in Germany and Italy, and which was one of the factors behind the rise of fascism.  France did suffer some labour unrest after the war, another factor behind fascism elsewhere, but democratic politics was able to deal with it and it soon fizzled out.

In the 1920s there were various war veteran associations as in other countries, who enjoyed marching. Some interwar French groups did admire Mussolini and imitated him to an extent, but not all French far-right groups were specifically fascist, nor did they ever have the strength and the numbers to seize power. France did have a short-lived party in the 1920s, the Faisceau (Fasces), that modelled itself on Mussolini's fascism, but it had little influence. France had its own traditions of far-right leagues and movements, however. Astonishingly, there were still many Frenchmen who opposed the Republic and longed to restore one or other branch of the Bourbon monarchy. France had its own tradition of cultural anti-semitism, which may well have stemmed from extreme forms of Catholicism. This side of France was revealed during the controversial trial of the French Jewish artillery officer, Alfred Dreyfus, who was wrongly accused of treason and spying.

A specifically French element of the far right was Action Française (AF), founded in 1898. It was right-wing authoritarian, elitist, pro-monarchy and pro-Catholicism. The movement disapproved of "the masses", but it is sometimes regarded as proto-fascist because of its belief in "direct action": violence. Its members used to beat up political opponents in the street, a tactic later enthusiastically adopted by fascists. To the dismay of its members, in 1926 the Vatican condemned the movement, which it considered extreme and not at all respectable, and proscribed membership in it. However, AF was primarily a reactionary movement, which looked back to an old order, while true fascists were revolutionary totalitarians who dreamed of a "new order".  It was their ruthless revolutionary zeal and desire to overturn the existing order that made fascists so much more dangerous than the authoritarian right. Furthermore, the vast majority of far-right French movements between the wars had little interest in imitating the ideology of Nazism, though some of them did imitate its paramilitary style. Hitler's bizarre "Aryan-Nordic" racial theories had little appeal for a largely Latin nation. Moreover, France and Germany had fought one another in the Franco-Prussian war and in the First World War, so by this stage many French thought of Germany as a traditional enemy.

Some Frenchmen of the far right considered themselves to be Bonapartists, but some Marxists regarded fascism itself as a modern form of Bonapartism: "a political movement that advocates a dictatorship or authoritarian centralized state, with a strongman charismatic leader based on anti-elitist rhetoric, army support, and conservatism."
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<k>

In the 1930s, the Great Depression hit France later than most other countries, and it lasted longer: unemployment did not peak until 1936, and this encouraged a temporary surge in the appeal of some of the far-right movements. In 1934, the Stavisky affair highlighted corruption in the centre-left coalition government. This enraged right-wingers and led to the 6 February 1934 crisis.

From Wikipedia:

The 6 February 1934 crisis was an anti-parliamentarist street demonstration in Paris organized by multiple far-right leagues that culminated in a riot on the Place de la Concorde, near the seat of the French National Assembly. The police shot and killed 15 demonstrators. It was one of the major political crises during the Third Republic (1871–1940). Frenchmen on the left feared it was an attempt to organize a fascist coup d'état. According to historian Joel Colton, "The consensus among scholars is that there was no concerted or unified design to seize power and that the leagues lacked the coherence, unity, or leadership to accomplish such an end."
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<k>

The Francist Movement was one of the French political leagues that modelled itself on the Italian Fascist Party. It was involved in the riots of February 1934.
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<k>

This crisis, and the rise of fascism in Europe, eventually led to the government of the Popular Front in 1936, a coalition of the centre and the left that was also supported in principle by the Communist Party. After the Popular Front banned the far-right leagues, the sense of crisis dissipated and the threat of fascism, if it was ever anything more than a threat in France, was greatly diminished. After being banned, the Croix de Feu (Cross of Fire), the most successful far-right group with a membership of 450,000, moved away from fascism and successfully transformed itself into a popular moderate right-wing party, called the French Social Party.
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<k>

The last full parliamentary elections before the war were held in May 1936. No fascistic party of any sort won seats, and in fact there were no French fascist parties with significant support at that time. However, in June 1936 Jacques Doriot founded the French Popular Party (Parti Populaire Français). After having received the Croix de Guerre during World War I, Doriot joined the French Communist Party in 1920. He was elected to parliament in 1924 and became Mayor of Saint Denis in 1931.

From Wikipedia:

Around this time, Doriot came to advocate a Popular Front alliance between the Communists and other French socialist parties. Although this would soon become official Communist Party policy, at the time it was seen as heretical and Doriot was expelled from the Communist party in 1934. Still a member of the Chamber of Deputies, Doriot struck back at the Communists who had renounced him: now bitter towards the Comintern, his views turned to embrace the French nation, evolving into a 'national' socialism—as opposed to the socialism of the Third International.

Doriot was considered to be a charismatic political performer, who appealed particularly to the working classes. However, his support in the partial legislative elections of 1936 and 1938 is estimated to have been only around 2.7% and 1.6% respectively. We will hear more about Doriot later. He was one of many renegade European communists or socialists of the time, who wanted to add nationalism to their socialism and thus moved closer to fascism or Nazism, or even joined a collaborationist party.
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<k>

The Cagoule ("the Cowl") was more worrying. It was an extreme right-wing secret society of terrorists, who aimed to overthrow the government and the Republic. Its members often committed assassinations and were financed by Mussolini, amongst others. One of its leading activists was Joseph Darnand. We shall hear more about him later.
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<k>

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany in 1933. In March 1936, Germany remilitarised the Rhineland, which was forbidden under Europe's post-World War One treaties. France did nothing to stop Hitler - perhaps for sensible reasons. However, Hitler was emboldened by the lack of reaction from the other European powers. He went on to annex Austria in March 1938 and the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia in October 1938. By then, Prime Minister Chamberlain of Britain was inclined to appease Hitler in order to preserve the peace of Europe. Édouard Daladier, the French Prime Minister of the day, was less inclined to do so. He had a much clearer vision of Hitler's true nature, but he was unable to persuade his cabinet to agree with him. If Britain, France and Czechoslovakia had stood up to Germany, Hitler would have had to penetrate Czechoslovakia's mountainous border. The Munich agreement of 1938 allowed Hitler to take the Sudetenland without  going to war. He also later gained Czechoslovakia's considerable armaments industry, in 1939, which made Germany stronger again. Had the Czechs used their armaments and their border against Hitler in 1938, with French and British military support, it is likely that Hitler would have been defeated, thus preventing the second world war.

After Hitler invaded the remainder of Czechoslovakia in 1939 and dismembered it, the attitudes of France and Britain hardened. Previously Hitler had annexed his fellow "ethnic" Germans. Now that had all changed.
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<k>

Let's pause now, to look at France's coinage on the eve of war.

The obverse of the 5 centimes features a liberty cap, a symbol of the French revolution, which ultimately established France as a republic - with some brief interludes along the way. RF stands for French Republic, of course. Interesting to see the oak leaves, which you might not usually associate with France. The reverse features a spray of olive leaves, which you may find more typical as a symbol of France. The slogan, which translates as "Liberty, equality, fraternity", derives from the French revolution, of course. At this time, there were surprisingly still many Frenchmen, though by no means the majority, who despised the revolution and its symbols and ideals.
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<k>

The obverse of the 10 and 25 centimes carried the same design as that of the 5 centimes, and their reverse designs were similar.
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<k>

#10
The 50 centimes featured the head of Marianne on the obverse. According to numista.com, she is "wearing a Phrygian cap decorated with a composite wreath made of olive tree leaves, oak and wheat." The reverse shows the denomination between two cornucopia (horns of plenty). These are typical symbols of a Mediterranean and/or Latin European country of the time.



Note that our forum administrator, Figleaf, disagrees with the verdict of numista:

Quote from: Figleaf on April 01, 2017, 08:37:18 PM
I disagree with Numista that the portrait on the Morlon coins is Marianne. She is female and wears a Phrygian cap, but on the cap is a wreath with agricultural products, attributes of Ceres. Compare the Oudiné series, sporting a female head with the same wreath, but without the Phrygian cap.
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<k>

The 1 and 2 francs coins looked very similar to the 50 centimes. The images are not shown to scale.
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<k>

This nickel francs, dated 1936 in the image, was still being issued in 1939, though that date is scarcer. Its obverse and reverse designs show typically French symbols.
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<k>

#13
A different portrait of Marianne appeared on the 10 franc and was also used on the 20 francs, through to 1939. These are all typically French symbols. The symbols of Vichy France would look very different from these.



Our forum administrator once more disagrees that the portrait is of Marianne:

Quote from: Figleaf on April 01, 2017, 08:45:24 PM
For similar reasons (the olive wreath on the Phrygian cap), the portrait on the Turin coins is not Marianne, but either Eirene, goddess of peace, or Athena Nike, goddess of victory. On classical coins, Nike usually has the wreath in her hand, offering it to Zeus or someone else and she is usually shown as quite small compared to Zeus, so I would favour Eirene, which ties in nicely with the cornucopia on the other side (peace and plenty).

The images shown are not to scale.
Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

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<k>

When Hitler and Stalin invaded and partitioned Poland in September 1939, France and Britain declared war on Germany. At first, for a few months, not much happened, apart from some skirmishes at sea. This short period is known in Britain as the phoney war

Then the Nazis invaded France on 10 May 1940, reaching Paris on 14 June.

From Wikipedia, Battle of France:

The Battle of France, also known as the Fall of France, was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries in 1940 during the Second World War. In six weeks from 10 May 1940, German forces defeated Allied forces by mobile operations and conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, bringing land operations on the Western Front to an end until 6 June 1944. Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940 and attempted an invasion of France.

The French were shocked into defeat by the Germans' Blitzkrieg tactics. Their ally, Britain, possessor of a world empire, was forced to make a humiliating retreat via Dunkirk.
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