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Patriots and Patriotism in Vichy France

Author(s): H. R. Kedward
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fifth Series, Vol. 32 (1982), pp. 175-192
Published by: Royal Historical Society
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By H. R. Kedward, M.A., B.Phil., F.R.Hist.S.


THERE are certain moments in history when major events, individual experience, and ideology coincide to such a remarkable extent
that historians have to pause and look up from their patient plotting
of the vagaries of humanity. One such moment was the summer of
I940 in France.
The event was the defeat and occupation of France in a mere six
weeks; the individual experience was that of the 'Exode', the flight of
millions of people from the north and east of France in an attempt to
avoid the German armies; and the ideology was that of the Nationalist
Right, in particular the Action Francaise led by Charles Maurras,
which had made a doctrine out of anti-Dreyfusism and for over forty
years had paraded the weakness and decadence of the Third Republic
and parliamentary democracy. All three coincided to produce the
phenomenon of Ptainism, an example of Gramscian hegemony if ever
there was one, though infinitely shorter in duration than such notable

modern hegemonies as laissez-faireliberalism, American frontier mentality, or the post-war planned economy. Like these, Petainism combined the voluntary conviction of ordinary people, the arguments of
common sense and the full force of every apparatus of persuasion;
education, church, police, courts and the media. Like these too it
stood as the embodiment of patriotism.
The triumph in I940 of the Nationalist doctrine was all the more
acute because it had been widely dismissed as anachronistic and
irrelevant in the France of the I920s and 1930s. The victory of France
over Germany in 198 had made the prophets of republican weakness
look foolish and hysterical, and by the mid 1920s the failure of Action
Francaise to work out an economic or social analysis to do justice to
the class struggle, was losing it the respect of the younger intellectuals
of the Right, who began to experiment with fascism.' In the 1930S the
process went even further; the Nationalists looked in grave danger of
submitting entirely to the newer forces of fascism, and even Charles
Maurras began to play down the anti-Germanism which had been
1See Pierre-Marie Dioudonnat, Je suis partout (La Table Ronde, I973), and J.
Plumyene et R. Lasierra. LesFascismesfranfais1923-63 (Editions du Seuil, I963).




central to his analysis of what constituted the true France. For him
the defeat of I940 came just in time: he could rescue the declining
funds of monarchism and invest them in Petain, and there was just
enough life in the Nationalist tradition to ensure that it was Petain,
Darlan, Lamirand, Vallat and Borotra who gave the ideological lead
to Vichy and not the brasher acolytes of fascism in Paris. What had
appeared to be a faded nostalgia for the past became the active power
of the present, and its very resilience and survival brought it converts
who felt forced to admit that it must have been right all along. This
was an important part of the contrition felt by many French people in
The constitutional pivot of Nationalism was a strong leader, unfettered by parliamentary democracy. Jacques Bainville, the royalist
historian with a gift for popularizing his elitist history, had rescued the
art of dictatorship from the outer darkness to which the Revolution
had condemned it, and although he died before the Vichy period, his
books were sold in enormous quantities during the reign of Petain.2
Maurras, a positivist to the end, instantly accepted the fact of Petain
and trimmed his monarchism accordingly, and although Alexander
Werth has successfully lampooned the meeting of Maurras and Petain,
conjured up by Rene Benjamin, essentially Benjamin was right. There
was a kind of Nationalist idyll in the first few months of Vichy in
which such exchanges could take place without any sense of selfparody.3
Subsequently Petain was raised to a Christ-like position, well above
the stature of modern kings. Gifts of local soil, carefully cut into small
sods and labelled from their place of origin, were laid in caskets at his
feet; his portrait was raised behind the high altars in front of the saints
of the reredos, and he entered the towns of the south to be hailed as
greater than Joan of Arc. In his first broadcast he could not have
offered his person as a gift to France had he not been aware at some
level that myth and history had crossed their respective thresholds.4
The language and imagery of Petainism have been so cleverly
presented and satirised by Gerard Miller that it has become a problem
to present them in any other way. Prefaced by the acclaim of Roland
Barthes, his book selects the richest texts from the Petainist canon of
2 W. R.
of Royalisthistoryin Twentiethcentury
Keylor, JacquesBainvilleandtheRenaissance
France(Louisiana, I979), pp. 527-8.
3A. Werth, France1940-55 (London, 1957), p. 66. Cf. R. Benjamin, Le Marichalet son
peuple(Plon, 1941), which begins: 'Quelle faveur de vivre au temps d'un homme dont on
sait, dont on est suirque, depassantl'histoire,il entrerad'emblee dansla legende, tellement
l'aventurede sa vie emporte les coeurs, tellement elle appelle le poete,plusque l'historien.
Haute destin6e! C'est celle du Mar6chal.'
4 'Je fais a la France le don de ma personnepour attenuerson malheur.' (Lesparoles
ecritsduMarechalPetain.La Legion franqaise.n.d. Appel du 17juin 1940.)



belief and shows their disdain for the very people they manipulate,
their deep patriarchal and racial prejudices, their fraudulence, and
their ultimate responsibilityfor all that was worst and most idiotic in
Vichy France.5But such is the absurdistforce of Miller's presentation
that we may well ask why any French person took any of it seriously.
Satire exposes but rarely explains, and despite Miller's perceptive
analysis there is still considerable need to explain the phenomenon of
Petainism, though American historians led by Hoffmann and Paxton
have done much of the hard work already.6Above all there is a need
to see Petainism as something which came from below, as well as from
above, and to analyse its failures in these terms. But before suggesting
ways in which this can be done there is an important perspective to
establish to the nature of Vichy France.
Of all the major European countries in the 1930S, France was the
only one to answer the twin challenge of economic depression and
fascism with a programme of socialist measures and a powerful reassertion of left-wing confidence. So great was the humiliation of France
in I940 that historians have been slow to acknowledge the unique
achievement of France in 1936. At a time when orthodox pressures
were to economize, to protect the owners of capital and to limit the
advance of social welfare, the Popular Front extracted a massive pay
increase from the employers, introduced the forty-hour week, and
establishedan immediate fortnightof paid holidays ('congespayes') for
all urban workers. These reformsdragged French industrial relations
into the twentieth century. The pay award severely curtailed the
individual power of the industrial and business employer; the 'conges
payes' made a substantial breach in the exclusive privileges of the
middle classes, and the forty-hour week expressed a new morality of
work backed by collective bargaining.
For a society whose long-entrenched social conservatism was a byword in Europe, contrasting oddly with its political radicalism, this
victory of the forces of the Left and their programme of social change
was a veritable revolution, producing a potent resentment and fear in
those who had campaigned for two years against the Popular Front

and had lost. In electoral terms they constituted almost half the adult
male population, and within that percentage were most of the repre-

sentatives of the 'patronat', the financial leadership of the country and

the owners of real estate. Over the next three years, from 1936-9, they
fought to obstruct the changes and to devalue them in patriotic terms
as a betrayal of French interests. The combination of paternalism and
capital interests evident at Vichy and ennobled by the speeches of
5Gerard Miller, Lespousse-au-jouir
Petain(Editions du Seuil, 1975).
6S. Hoffmann, Declineor Renewal.Francesince the i93os (New York, 1974). R. 0.
Paxton, VichyFrance.OldGuardandNew Order,ig4o-44 (New York, 1972).



Petain, can be seen as a climax in the campaign to reversethe achievements of 1936. Petain was personally insistent that the leaders of the
Popular Front should be brought to trial for what he deemed was a
betrayal of the French nation, and in the process Leon Blum was
accused, inter alia, of a form of social treason. Within the Vichy
government itself, the world of high finance and capital enterprisewas
well represented, and Vichy's labour legislation, culminating in the
'Charte du Travail', was firmly weighted towards the employers
however it tried to disguise this fact in a make-believe language of
In this perspective,Petainism and Vichy should be portrayed not so
much as the triumph of an anti-republican tradition, epitomized by
Maurras and the Action Fran~aise, as the reaction of a threatened
class against the recent encroachments of trade unionism and socialism. 1940 is less the death of the Third Republic than the final death
of the Popular Front. Structurally, it is possible to argue that Vichy
perpetuated the socially conservative nature of France, briefly challenged and interrupted by the changes of I936. Such indeed is the
conclusion of Communist historiography in France; it is also the
implicitjudgement of CharlesMoraze in his classicstudy of the French
bourgeoisie, published in 1946, and of the shrewd Catholic resister,
Charlesd'Aragon, in his observationsabout the south-west of France.8
It is also a justifiable conclusion to draw from the reports of Vichy
prefects sent to the Minister of the Interior from 1940-44.

The two great evils chastised by the new prefectswere the apparent
opposites, communism and egoism. Communism meant demanding
the higher wages and other socio-economic rights guaranteed by the
Popular Front but whittled away either before or during the war.
Egoism meant the same. Within a month or so of each prefect taking
up his position the reports begin to include a section headed 'Menees
antinationales' and increasingly the 'classe ouvriere' was either implicitly or explicitly associated with these devious activities. It need not
be a class or individuals named as such; it was often alluded to as a
traditional frame of mind. In the Tarn, the Prefect saw the problem
in the winter of I940-4I as one of holding down a working-class
traditionwhich had sentJeanJaures and Albert Thomas to the Chamber of Deputies, and which had registered its greatest success in the
Popular Front. The centre of disaffection, he reported, was Castres,
the birthplace ofJaures where unemployment in the textile industry
7The 'Charte du Travail' was finally enacted in October 1941, after more than fifteen
months deliberation. It can be seen as marking the last act in Vichy's 'Revolution
Nationale'. See Principesde la Renovation
Nationale,published by Vichy in 1941, Section
III, Travail.
8 Charles
Moraze, La FranceBourgeoise(Colin, 1946). Charles d'Aragon, La Resistance
sansHeroisme(Editions du Seuil, 1977).



was particularly high.9 The Prefect in the Ain, an industriouspursuer

and would-be converter of Communists, reported excitedly in November I940 that the wildest supporters of the Popular Front were
finding the Vichy government's policy acceptable and even beneficial,
and in February 1941 he referred to two Petainist demonstrations at
Oyonnax which, he said, had done much to reassure government
supporters that even this working-class town could successfully be
brought into the bosom of the nation ('giron national').10 By contrast,
the sections of the reports headed 'bourgeoisie' or 'industrielset commergants' do not suggest that these eminently republican classes of
society were the carriers of that other grievous 'malady' of France,
diagnosed by the Action Francaise, namely the liberal-democraticcapitalist tradition. It would appear that the Petainist prefects were
considerably more affected by the socio-economic conflicts deriving
from, or aggravated by, the period of the Popular Front, than by the
older ideological conflicts opposing a monarchical type of organic
society to the liberal Republic.
The Prefect at Dijon in the C6te-d'Or was one exception to this, but
his indirect criticism of the government'sfailure to oppose the egoisms
of capitalism as fervently as those of the working class, carried a
judgement on his fellow Prefectsas well. In a long reportfor November
1940, he complained that the population was not seriously facing up
to its national duties in the new situation, but was persisting in prewar modes of thought. He gave as an example a deputation of tram
workers who came to ask whether or not the 'conges payes' would
continue. It is one of the countless instances in this high period of
Petainismwhen the 'conges payes' are given a symbolic status to signify
all that is egoistic and antipatriotic, but the Prefect goes on to say in
May I94I that the government itself can be accused of failing in the
ideological battle for a new France. Under the guise of corporatism,
he reported, the government could be seen as restoringall the initiative
and power to the big industrialists."
Without a good deal more evidence from these reports it would be
unwise to claim here that the Prefects spoke clearly for a class which
had been threatened by the Popular Front, but a more detailed survey
would, I believe, show that Petainism at this level is better defined in
the socio-economic terms of class than in the cultural and intellectual
terms of the old Nationalist tradition, or what Paxton has called the
'Old Guard'. It is not that Paxton limits his analysis to the Nationalist
perspective. On the contrary he pointed firmly to the complexity of
Vichy, with its echelons of technocratic defenders of capital oddly
9Archives Nationales, Paris [A.N.], FIC III I I93 (Tarn), ioJan, 194I.
'OA.N., FIC III I 35 (Ain), 15 Nov. 1940, 3 Feb. 1941.
A.N., FIC III I48 (Cote-d'Or), 20 Nov. 1940, 14 May i94I.



arrayed alongside proponents of the Ancien Regime. All one might add
is that in class terms their differences may be less striking.
The Petainism of 1940 thus appears to be composed of three
elements: the person of Petain with his charisma as father, leader and
martyr; the ideology of Nationalism; and the sectional interests of the
privileged classes presented as the interests of the nation. According to
the interpretation so convincingly advanced by Gerard Miller, the
demoralized people of France were manipulated by the patriotic
language of all three. True, they were. But manipulation as an explanation of public attitudes easily becomes an elitist position even
when the intention is quite the opposite. It tends to deny authentic
experience and language to ordinary people and to see those in power
as the only measurable source of language and ideology. There is, of
course, a great deal of truth in this, as the arguments of structuralists
and linguistic analysis have amply demonstrated, and no one can
easily deny that language structures imposed from above are manipulative. But even within these structures there is a relationship of
language to experience which can either cut across the process of
manipulation or exist alongside it, and through this relationship the
importance of events in human affairs is constantly reasserted.
This becomes an essential point to reaffirm when the experience of
a great mass of people is at issue, for their experience should receive
the same historical validation as the experience of those more able to
control the systems, ideologies and patterns of which so much is now
known. In I940 the most significant popular experience was the
'Exode' which involved almost all French people either as refugees or
as those affected by them. Gerard Miller sees the language and images
of the 'Exode' as an example of the manipulative power of Petainism,
even in the period before he became the head of the government.'2
But if the authenticity of the day-to-day experience of the 'Exode' is
asserted, the language and images become less a product of Petainism
than a formative element in its creation, a part of the historical
conjuncture which is so much a feature of 1940. And if this is the case,
then the very nature of Petainism has to be redefined in a way which
does justice to this element.
For a month from the middle of May 1940 the people of France lived
more on rumour than on factual information. Not surprisingly many
of the rumours reflected the deep public ambivalence towards authority which existed under the Third Republic, and still exists today, so
that on the one hand it was widely rumoured that the Prime Minister
Reynaud had run away with the Loterie Nationale, and that was all
one could expect from those in power, while on the other hand there

Miller, Les pousse-au-jouir, pp. 20-2.



was the constant rumour that the authorities would soon take charge
of the situation and issue instructions. Rapidly, however, a more
consistent resentment towards the mayors, prefects, civil servants and
government of the day became the norm, fuelled by the information,
both rumoured and factual, that in many of the towns overrun by the
Germans the authorities had left first, leaving the people to their own
individual or collective devices. One of the most analytic surveys of
the 'Exode', undertaken shortly afterwards by a team of academics at
Rennes, explains much of the panic by reference to the failures of the
administration, and since it was not published until after the war it
was not designed as propaganda for Vichy.'3 What it says in measured
terms is duplicated by almost all the private memoirs of the 'Exode',
whether published under the Vichy regime or since. The language
varies in its intensity from writer to writer, but there is a consistent
indictment of what people felt to be the height of irresponsibility by
those in positions of authority. In Versailles on 13 June the 'mairie' is
said to have issued the bland instruction, 'Ordre d'evacuation. La
mairie invite tout le monde a fuir'14 and that was the extent of the
organization provided. Four days before, one of the local schoolteachers had said to his class of fourteen-year-olds, 'I1 faut partir. Prenez
votre bicyclette et fuyez. Les Allemands arretent et deportent lesjeunes
gens. Laissez vos parents s'il le faut, mais vous, partez!'l5
In a bitter account by a metal worker, Georges Adrey, who declared
himself in I941 to be a socialist and pacifist, the authorities from the
government downwards were accused of gross betrayal and negligence. After pushing his wheelbarrow of belongings from Paris to
Orleans, he claimed that in no town through which he had passed had
he found any French official giving either news or guidance. He
described the chaos and bewilderment, the looting and the fear which
have since been documented in endless detail, and summarized his
anger with the terse statement that the government had simply abandoned the population to the Germans.16 Writing after the Liberation,
Jerome Tharaud described the 'Exode' as a phenomenon unknown
since the barbarian invasions of the fourth century, saying that he was
no more than a leaf swept along by a whirlwind. On the way to Tours
the sense of futility and despair was heightened by the experience of
being sent endlessly round in circles: the crowds were moved on by
'gendarmes ou des civils armes de batons, qui nous refoulaient sans cesse
de la populationversla Bretagneen 1940-41 (Les
'3Andre Meynier, Les Deplacements
NourrituresTerrestres,Rennes, 1950), p. 36.
14Michel Bertrand, 'L'Exode juin 1940', Bibliotheque
du Travailn?489, 196I.
16Georges Adrey, Journald'unreplii.I juin-26juin 194o (Reni Debresse, I941), pp. 4748.



dans un dedale de boue, dont nous n'arrivons pas a sortir.'l7 The sense

of helpless anonymity which Tharaud underlined in his account is

visually presented in the etchings by Abel Renault which accompany
the text. Using a realism free of sentimentality or flamboyance,
Renault stressed despair above all other emotions in the faces of his
crowds. In neither words nor pictures is there any attempt to make a
political point.18By contrast, the well-known publicistJean de la Hire,
who was soon to be eulogizing Hitler and the German presence in
France, gave a flagrantly ideological account of the 'Exode'; yet some
of his comments undoubtedly coincided in temperament with the
feelings of vast numbers of refugees. The one people, he claimed, who
ought to have been told to stay, not leave, were the municipal authorities, yet Mandel, he stated, had told them in a circular of Io June to
go and join the government and the politicians.19Despite the claim
by Vidalenc in his pioneer study of the 'Exode' that leaving was a first
act of Resistance,20this was not exactly how many people saw it. Their
own departure was usually explained in just such terms of defiance,
but the prior departure of the authorities was more often seen as a
form of betrayal, and a betrayal in the terms of the administration
itself which had called on all French people to fulfil their duties or be
seen as traitors to the nation.21
If these and many other first-handaccounts of the 'Exode' are read,
not just for the experiences they contain but also for the language in
which they are expressed, it is apparent that words associated with

the administration, the bureaucracy, the government of the day and

the politicians quickly become ones with strong anti-patriotic connotations used to communicate feelings of despair, betrayal, anger, resentment and victimization, whereas more idealistic words signifying
leadership, a caring authority, powers of decision and flexibility become the good, warm words of hope, recovery and patriotism. The
survey completed at Rennes concluded that the training given to
administratorshad produced an inflexible mentality:
'Trop de dirigeants n'ont qu'une culture partielle, etroitement

18Ibid.There are seventeen etchings, and the text is signed by both Jerome and Jean
19Jeande la Hire, Les horreurs
quenousavonsvues.Le crimedesevacuations
1940), p. 20. He later published Hitleret nous(1942) and MortauxAnglais.Vivela France
17 Abel Renault etJeromeTharaud, L'Exodemai-juin
I94o (Flammarion,I 944),


20JeanVidalenc, L'Exodedemai-juin g40o(P.U.F., 1957), p. I.

21 Cf. directive issued by the Prefect of the C6tes-du-Nord to the mayors of his department on 14 May I940 which began, 'L'Allemagne, apres huit mois d'hesitations, s'est
decid6e a attaquer la FRANCE. L'effortde l'ennemi est forcene. II doit vaincre ou perir.
Nous aussi. C'est pourquoi tout Francaisqui ne comprendraitpas son devoir s'excluerait
lui-meme de la grandefamillefrancaise.IIseraitimmediatement traitecomme il convient
de traiterles traitresa leur Pays.' Document communicated to author by G. Le Marec.



mathematique. Lesformuleset les techniquesne suffisentpas a former

des chefs, si derriereles formulesils ne savent pas trouver ce qui seul
importe, l'homme.'22
This is not to say that all local authoritiesfailed the test of the 'Exode'.
In the areas which received the refugeesthis was far from the case, but
even where the victims of the 'Exode' were well and efficientlyreceived
there was a tendency to identify this successwith individual leadership
and the triumph of personality and imagination over system and
regulations. At Annemasse a local draper, Jean Deffaugt, became
mayor simply because he took a vigorous lead in dealing with the
refugees. He had no previous political or administrative experience.23
In Cahors, one of the most overcrowded towns at the height of the
'Exode', the novelist Roland Dorgeles found the ex-Minister Anatole
de Monzie a name to conjure with. Previously deputy-mayor, de
Monzie was now 'maire des refugies. I1y excelle. II ordonne, imagine,
improvise.' His achievements became known throughout the region;
'Allons a Cahors, Monzie nous depannera.'24
Projected onto a national scale the qualities of leadership shown
locally by de Monzie and Deffaugt were those offered by Petain in his
first broadcast of 17 June 1940 and they were exactly the qualities
formulated by the refugees well before Petain's assumption of power.
To agree with everyone else on the roads that someone, somewhere,
should do something was not to become a believer in the merits of
dictatorship, but it was to encounter sympathetically the images of
personal authority and leadership, and to invest them with all the
sanctity of patriotism, still more the desperate patriotism of crisis.
Just as important was the language and imagery of an organic,
interdependent society produced by the experience of the 'Exode'.
Town-dwellers looked desperately to the countryside for food and
shelter, peasants found themselves in unfamiliar large towns still
clutching a couple of hens or leading their cow, Parisianswere at the
mercy of the provinces, the North went to the South or the West, and
people of all classes encountered each other on the roads. 'Nous avons
rencontre un tas de gens,' wrote Alice Wisler, 'nous avons adresse la
parolea desinconnus ...'25 'Un des beaux c6tesde cette guerre,'said the
metalworker,GeorgesAdrey, 'c'estprecisementla solidariteet la bonne
entente qui regnententreles refugies.Le malheurrapprocheles hommes
et renverse les barrieres sociales. On s'aide les uns les autres....'26 It is

p. 98.
Meynier, LesDeplacements,
24 Roland
(EditionsVialetay, 1956), p.
Dorgeles, Vacancesforc6es
25Alice Wisler, Je suis uneIvacuee.Juin ig40 (n.d., n.l.).
Georges Adrey, Journald'unreplie,p. 48.
23 Author's interview, May








a picture which contrasts strangely with his own subsequent account

of looting and theft, but both types of behaviour, altruism and selfishness, are observed by many as affirming the interdependence of the
experience. A Parisian colonel's wife, Christiane Fournier, with her
two children and dog, was refused shelter by a peasant woman
between Agen and Moissac, but was generously sheltered by a neighbouring peasant family a little further down the road. Her reaction to
both situations underlined her utter dependence on the peasantry for
the simplest of necessities, even though she had enough money to buy
sheets at an exorbitant price at Meyssiac and to have a tent specially
made for her when she reached Perigueux. She then camped for several
weeks on a hillside near the prehistoric cave of Chancelade, and for
the children it became more of a holiday, 'le camping force'.27
This phrase, 'le camping force', is frequently found in the memoirs of
the 'Exode', and it naturally suggests comparisons with the annual
summer exodus undertaken by the French, a privilege extended as a
right to the working people of the towns in I936. Indeed there are
many points of similarity, and for some the 'Exode' was little more
than a departure in May orJune to holiday houses or flats which they
had booked for July and August.28 Dorgeles called his account of the
'Exode', Vacancesforcees,and an industrialist, Rene Baudoin, entitled his
booklet, Camping,juin I940. He enjoyed the gentle ride through the
countryside, taking minor roads where there were no refugees on foot
and where 'la vie redevient belle', and his conclusion states that
personally he and his family suffered nothing. He learnt, he said, a
great deal from the experience and now knew what was needed to
rescue France; a reassertion of command by the elite sectors of society.29
Although this is obviously dictated by the predicament of France in
I940, it was also common for people before the war to draw moral,
political and ideological lessons from the summer holidays. For
example, a careful thesis of 1939 by Jean-Victor Parant, written in
Toulouse on the evidence of the 'conges payes', ends with his conviction
that workers on holiday will break out of their narrow socio-economic
confines. The experience, he says,
'contribuera a leur rendre lajoie de vivre que la lutte des classes leur
avait enlevee. II sera pour eux l'occasion de rencontres multiples
avec les autres classes de la societe.... Le touriste ouvrier comprendra
mieux le role bienfaisant de la division du travail dans la nation. II
saisira le caractere bienfaisant et necessaire de la patrie.... Par le

Christiane Fournier, L'Exodede troisparmiles autres(Editions de la N.R.I., Vinh-

Annam, 1942), pp. 82, 103, I23-4.

28 For the theme of 'l'Exode' as a holiday, see R. Cobb, Promenades
(Oxford, 1980),
ch. 6.
29 Ren6 Baudoin,
juin 940o(Rodstein, I940), p. 8.



tourisme populaire nous pourrons aller vers une meilleure organisation sociale.'30
The sentiments could easily be those of an ardent Petainist of 1940 and
may suggest that we should not make too much of the organic,
interdependent language produced by the 'Exode', not least because
it is often argued that any widening of personal and social horizons
leads to greater tolerance of other sections of society. But the opposite
is quite frequently the case, and it is when a comparison is made of the
antagonisms and animosities produced or strengthened by the 'conges
payes', and those expressed during the 'Exode', that a fundamental
difference can be found.
Despite Parant's enthusiastic corporatism of 1939, there is much
evidence that the 'conges payes' also intensified class antagonisms.
Workers, liberated for a fortnight by the Front Populaire, expressed a
certain class and political triumph in their enjoyment of the newlywon, and hard-won, right to an annual holiday at the employers'
expense. The C.G.T. created its own 'bureau de tourisme populaire'
for its members, and separate trade unions began to buy holiday
property for their workers, such as the chateau at Vouzeron bought by
the metalworkers. The youth hostels of France had been pioneered by
the left wing Catholic movement inspired by Marc Sangnier, but
despite the anti-capitalist credentials of Sangnier, supporters of the
Popular Front were encouraged to look for hostels and camp sites with
a working class clientele. Youth organisations belonging to the Socialist
party were organized by Georges Monnet and his wife, and in their
camps at Cap Breton the tents were divided into four villages called,
'L'Amitie', 'Espagne rouge', 'Frente popular', and 'Europe libre'.31
The arrival of these workers on beaches and in holiday towns previously monopolized by the bourgeoisie, provoked numerous protests
in the press which had opposed the Popular Front, and in Combat,a
magazine run by Thierry Maulnier andJean de Fabregue, the 'conges
payes' were described as 'le viol des loisirs par le Front Populaire'.32 In
Nice certain shops put up notices saying 'Interdit aux conges payes', and
the special reduced rail tickets ('billet Lagrange') offered to workers
could not be used on the days when the bulk of the bourgeoisie were
leaving or returning,33 a precaution which had a logistic rationale but
suggested a class separation of types ofholidaymakers. This suggestion
30J.-V. Parant, Le problemedu tourismepopulaire(Pichon et Durand-Auzias, 1939),
p. 207.
31 MauriceChavardes,
Et936. LaVictoiredu FrontPopulaire (Calmann-Levy, 1966),
p. 262.
32 Ibid.
33 Fran(oise Cribier,
(Paris,C.N.R.S., 1969),
p. 46.



was openly endorsed by Le Figaroof 5 August which sent a journalist

to accompany 'le train rouge' from Paris to Menton bearing workers
on their way to the Mediterranean, while for the SocialistsLePopulaire
of 31 July had issued a holiday rallying cry, 'Trop longtemps vous
avez regardepartir les autres. A votre tour maintenant d'echapper a la
There was little of this kind of class rivalry overtly expressed in the
'Exode'. There were antagonisms of all kinds, many of a class nature,
but the tendency was not to generalize from them or parade them
aggressively, but to treat them as unfortunate, unusual and unpatriotic. The kind of working class defiance, widely parodied in 1936
as workers in tents singing l'Internationale
while stirring the mayonnaise, was not in evidence in 1940, and the bourgeois hostility typified
by the exclusive Nice shops was not openly vaunted. The eminently
respectablerepublicandaily for Toulouse, La Depeche,filledits columns
with expressions of social duty, compassion and collective good will
towards the millions who were stranded in the South West. 'Nos freres,
les refugies'was the caption to a photograph of the 'Exode' on 19June,
and the towns of the area saw the challenge of the refugees as one
involving the commitment of the whole of society.34The class differences in the experience of the refugees, for example between those
with cars and those on foot, were noticed by several memoirists, but
rarely given a political or ideological connotation. More often the
internal social divisions were projected outwards, and the incidence of
antisemitism was pronounced at the height of the 'Exode'. As a car
pushed its way past it became acceptable to say, 'There go the rich
Jews' rather than 'There go the rich'.
To summarize the width of experience in the Exode is not easy, and
perhaps not advisable,35but it seems possible to argue that visions of
incisive leadership were accompanied by visions, equal in emotive
power, of an organic and interdependent community, in which people
would share and cooperate because they were all membersof the same
society. Such visions contributed to the making of Petainism, and it
would be difficult to maintain that they were merely a product of an
imposed ideological system and thereforeinauthentic.
It is much more a question of conjuncture. Within the Nationalist
Right, Maurice Barreshad developed a subjective definition of truth,
34La Depeche.
See 22June 1940, for Cahors and Montauban, and 23June for Toulouse
and Albi.
35The main difficulty has already been mentioned, i.e. that many memoirs of the
Exode were published under Vichy and may therefore be inadmissible evidence in the
case being argued here. This cannot be denied, but at the same time no one doing oral
researchinto the period, as well as reading memoirs and ephemera, can fail to be struck
by the similarity of the language used by those who accepted Vichy and by those who
opposed it, once they talk about the experience of the 'Exode'.



which allied itself to the positivist analysis of Charles Maurras. Where

Maurrassaid, 'This is true', Barressaid, 'I know this is true'. In Sceneset
Doctrinesdu Nationalismehe argued that Dreyfus was a traitor because
he, Barres,could sense at once the presence of a traitor when Dreyfus
stepped into the dock at Rennes. Truth is not something you can
learn, he wrote,'... c'est de trouver un certain point, un point unique,
celui-la, nul autre, d'oi toutes choses nous apparaissentavec des proportions vraies.'36If 1940 was a triumph for the so-called objective
analysisof Maurras,who immediately assumedthe role of a vindicated
prophet, it was also a posthumousjustification for Barres.Throughout
France, individual men and women reasoned from their own experience of chaos, rout and confusion that France had been betrayed,
desertedand misledby its rulers.Petain in his early speechesrecognized
both sources of knowledge. He rehearsed the arguments of Maurras
and Bainville reproduced regularly in the pages of ActionFranfaiseand
he nurtured the experience of the refugees,helping them to consolidate
and generalize from the truths which they had individually asserted.
From above he spoke in the language of an ideology which had
cultivated a particular imagery of patriotism since the 89os. It spoke
of 'la terre et les morts', of 'grands chefs' and strong authoritative
government, of families and family relationships, of the value of
rootednessand rural society, of the hearth and the village community,
of an organic, corporate society. From below, the French people who
filled the roads and railways in May and June 1940 to escape the
German advance, made their own way into this imagery. They looked
for the safety of the countryside, its food and its reassurance, they
became dependent on the collective and organic survivalismof society,
and they called for leadership and personal attention.
They made their way most literally into the language and images of
rural and provincial France. Crossing the Loire was the symbolic
moment when people began to believe they were safe, and those
fortunate enough to get that far found the tranquillity of life in
departmentslike the Dordogne and the Correzea dramatic contrast to
their experience further north. In many cases expectations of plentiful
food were cruelly disappointed, but whatever the outcome, those from
Parisand the North underwent a month or more of intimate education
in the values and attitudes of the provinces. Robert Charbonnier, a
driver in private employment in Provins, drove a camion full of family
and friends as far as the Correze and wrote a diary account of his
eventful journey from 13 June I940 until I July, ending with a
description of his stay in the small commune of Eyrein. He describes
the area as 'un drole de pays tres en retard comme culture', but he was
forced to get to know it well in order to find enough food for all his

Maurice Barres, Sceneset Doctrines du JNationalisme,i (Plon, I925),

p. 13.



dependants. He was not overjoyed by the experience, even though

certain individuals were remarkably generous and he could describe
the meals they finally put together as luxurious. But the people in
general he found 'pas tres serviables'and he could hardly wait to leave
this 'sal pays' and return to Provins. In many ways the diary, which
has never been published, is an unexceptional document, but that is
also its value. With its very basic concerns, expressed in simple language, it is an excellent record of the day-to-day survivalism of the
'Exode' and the utter dependence of the refugeeson unfamiliarpeople
in unknown parts of France.37Many of the worst prejudices about
peasant and provincial life were undoubtedly strengthened by this
encounter, but it was not in the refugees' interests to express them
openly, given the imbalance of power in the situation.
The fact that one half of France had been conquered and the other
half had not, was, of course, a product of circumstances and not a
value judgement on the two regions, but it was easy to make false
comparisons on this basis, particularly to the disadvantage of Paris
which had failed to repeat the resistance of I87I or the battle of the
Marne. Provincial pride in what became the southern, or unoccupied,
zone after the armistice, was enhanced by the history of the 'Exode'
and the distinction between those who fled and those who received
was often translated into evaluative terms. Anatole de Monzie said to
Dorgeles, 'Eh bien, la province a du bon quand les choses vont mal.'38
The refugees had good reason to resent the implication of such remarks, but good reason also to indulge them, at least for the length of
theirstay. Even beforePetain consecratedthe peasantryas the lifeblood
of the nation, and Vichy legislation encouraged 'un retour a la terre',
the inhabitants of an urban France whose modernity had failed to
protect their homes and their lives, had immediate cause to be receptive to what seemed the more resilient values of the countryside.39
37 I am
greatly indebted to ProfessorJohn Renwick for permission to use this handwritten document which is in his possession and which he kindly brought to my
attention. It was written between 8 and I I July and is headed 'Evacuations de la Guerre
I939- I940'. There is no indication of the author's political opinions, but his reaction
to the armistice can be said to be typical of the vast majority of France at the time
'... nous apprenons que la France est forcee de demander un armistice ce qui fait
(quoique nous soyons vaincus) pousser un soupir de soulagement a tout le monde car
c'est la fin de bien des tueries, de misere, et de souffrance.'
38 Dorgeles, Vacancesforcees,
p. 30.
9 Gerard Miller has an excellent passage to make the point that the 'Exode' took
people into the apparently unchanging world of rural France; but despite his brilliant
choice of words he turns his conclusion away from further insights into the authenticity
of this experience. 'Ils fuient des territoiresqui, de se montrer perm6ablesa l'invasion, ne
sont plus francaisbien avant d'etre occupes par les Allemands:qu'est-ce qu'une terrequi
ne protege plus les siens? Les Francais veulent se r6fugieren France, et c'est ce dont le
discours petainiste saura leur donner l'illusion.' (Miller, Les-pousse-au-jouir,
p. 21.)

If there were as many as forty million French people affected by
anything in I940,40 it was by the language and imagery which expressed the hopes of basic survival, words which were felt to be good,
simple, warm and protective: mere, famille, enfant, pere, nourriture,
gentillesse, ferme, village, terre, sante, dignite, courage, honneur,joie,
esprit, fraternite, relevement, renaissance, amour, paysans, la France
eternelle. In the summer of 1940, and arguably until the end of 1941,
Petainism monopolized these words through the conjuncture I have
tried to describe.
There was no historical determinism which made sure that this
conjuncture was permanent or even long lived. It was too much the
product of special circumstances which events had produced and
further events could alter. Neither Maurras in his dogmatism, nor
Petain in his narcissism,realized this.41Barresmight well have done so.
The mistake made by Petain and his disciples, was to assume that the
entry of the mass of the people into the imagery of Nationalism was
some sort of ideological conversion. It may have been for some, but
certainly not for forty millions.42A central dynamic of the years 194044 is the growing claim of Resistance individuals and movements on
the very language and imagery which the ideological Petainists believed was inalienably theirs. Resistance was initially as much a
struggle for words and consciousnessas a question of parachutes, arms
and clandestine operations. Still more, like the shaping of consciousness in 1940, it was far from being an imposition by intellectuals and
ideologues from above. Ordinary people, reacting to day-to-day situations, realigned the words which had so solidly buttressedPetain at the
height of his power, and transferredthem to Resistance.
By 1942 the poet Eluard could affirmthe gains made by Resistance
in this realignment of experience and consciousness. In homage to
Gabriel Peri he wrote:
'II y a des mots qui font vivre
Et ce sont des mots innocents
Le mot chaleur le mot confiance
Amourjustice et le mot liberte
Le mot enfant et le mot gentillesse
Et certains noms de fleurs et certains noms de fruits





40Cf. Amouroux's much discussed title for the second volume of his GrandeHistoiredes
which he called Quarante
MillionsdePetainistes(Laffont, I977).
41 The blindnessof Maurras to
anything which could upset his ideological 'victory' of
1940is evident in the doctrinaireelitism of LaSeuleFrancepublishedin 194I (Lardanchet,
occitane(Flammarion, 1974). In his section on
42Cf. Robert Lafont, La Revendication
the war he points out that leading Occitanists sent a list of regional claims to Petain
in 1940, accompanied by a note of fidelity to the Marshal, but he continues,
'Cette dimarche correspond a un choix ideologique anterieur pour quelque-uns des
signataires ...; pour d'autres ... elle est purement conjoncturale' (p. 253).



Le mot courage et le mot decouvrir

Et le mot frere et le mot camarade
Et certain noms de femmes et d'amis
Ajoutons-y Peri.'
It is Eluard's claim that all these words, which he calls life-giving
words, or words made flesh, are Resistance words. They could not be
associated with anything else.43In 1942 this was still a bold claim. It
could not have been made with any degree of realism in the summer
of 1940, even for the words 'camarade' or 'liberte'. In the history of
Resistance, I940 is very much a year of silence, with the notable
exceptions which have received full historical treatment. Many people
who felt uneasy with Petain admitted to a period when they found
words difficult to use or even to find, and it is no mere literary symbol
when Vercors writes his Silencede la Mer in i94I. Throughout the
novel the sympathetic German, a francophilecommon in the corridors
of Vichy, has all the words. It is Vercors' simple but powerful ploy to
tantalize and even alienate the Resistance reader with this fact in
order to make the disjunction of words and reality such a brutal one
at the end. The novel, like Eluard's poem, confirms Resistersin their
growing conviction that words and images were there which must be
won and used.44
If Petain and the Vichy government were blind to the changed
attitudes which Vercors, and thousands of ordinary people were beginning to express in I94I-2, it was not for want of evidence easily
available. The magazine La FranceLibrepublished in London might
at least have given the Nationalist ideologues a moment's reflection.
In the earliest issues there were already photographs of French farms,
villages and countryside, inserted often without verbal comment as
images of telling power strengthening the appeal not of Petainism but
of the Free French. An exile's vision of France was not unlike that of
the refugees,and the iconography of the Free French was remarkably
similar in the first two years to that of Petainism, less as a result of
ideology than of experience. In the issue of 15 January I942, the
magazine included a 'photoreportage' on France I940-4I called 'Ici

la France', the word 'ici' being of obvious significance. The first

photograph is of cows walking along a country lane towards a farm,
the second of a peasant ploughing behind his team of horses, the third
of sheaves of corn, the fourth of lost, refugee children, and the fifth to
the thirteenth of children, families, widows and the rural hearth.45
43 Paul Eluard. 'Gabriel Peri'
(I941-2) Peri, a leading Communist of the I930s, was
shot as a hostage late in 1941, in an act of German reprisal, abetted by the Service
Speciale of Vichy.
44Vercors, Le Silencedela Mer
(Editions de Minuit 1941-2, published clandestinely).
45La FranceLibre (Hamish Hamilton, London, 15 Jan. I942: supplement photographique).



Photographs of exactly the same content were the staple imagery of

Petainismin 1940-4 ,46 but the Petainistsshould have noticed that their
monopoly was not unchallenged.
Within France there was monthly confirmation that the conjuncture of 1940 was only temporary from within Vichy itself, but it was
not heeded. Mistaking the product of circumstance for a long-term
ideological consensus, Petain felt permanently safe and failed to scrutinize his own actions and those of his government in stringent political
terms. He should have paid attention to his prefects' reports. With all
allowance made for careerism, tactical 'double-jeu' and regional variations, the reports are an amazingly open record of the speed with
which Vichy alienated the vast majority of the population whom
Petain believed to be his. Given the tacit, if not overt, support with
which it started, the Vichy regime contrived to divide the country,
under the guise of uniting it, within much less than two years, and
these were not the years of maximum German pressure.In doing so it
not only revealed its class bias but also fatally undermined its rural
base. By early 1943 the idyll of a rural France, so strenuouslypromoted
by the regime, was dead. The ideologists of Vichy had failed to understand that peasants were not a species apart, but, like other sectors of
society, would only support a regime which continued to bring them
benefit and protection. With varying degrees of outrage and astonishment the urban-based prefects begin referringto the discontent of the
peasants as early as November I940,47 and during 1941-3 there are
increasing references to the 'ingrained egoism and cupidity of the
peasantry'.48Such is the collapse of Vichy's own rural pretensionsthat
the prefect of the Lozere inJanuary I943 attacks the inhabitants of his
rural department for being 'trop exclusivement attaches a leur sol'.49
This does not mean an instant shift of peasant enthusiasm to the
Resistance. What it does mean is that Vichy became a political disaster
more quickly and more thoroughly than is sometimes thought. The
prefect of the Lot would seem to have pointed to the extent of the
disaster in December 1942. The Vichy term, 'Revolution Nationale',
he reported is now greeted with laughter; the population has abandoned the internal politics of the government.50Well before this, the
hard-pressedprefect of the C6te-d'Or had urged Vichy to improve its
See, forexampl;e, LaFranceNouvelleTravaille194I (Edition du SecretariatGeneral de
l'Information, s.d.).
47A.N., FIC III II93 (Tarn), 5 Nov. I940; FIC III II35 (Ain), 15 Nov. I940. See
also, FIC III I163 (Lot), i March I941; FIC III 193 (Tarn), 30 Sept 1941; FIC III
1148 (C6te-d'Or), 4 Oct. I941.
48e.g. A.N., FIC III 1193 (Tarn), 3I Dec. 1941; FIC III II48 (C6te-d'Or), I Oct.

49A.N., FIC III I I65 (Lozere), 5 Jan. I943.

50A.N., FIC III I 63 (Lot), 5 Dec. 1942.



propaganda. He felt quite unable to explain government policy to the

people of his area. That was in August I941.51
The evidence was there, but Vichy refused to change course. On
the contrary it became increasingly dependent on collaboration with
Germany to justify its raisond'etre,a collaboration which had not been
reciprocal in the first place. There was no way Petainism could flourish
or even survive as a patriotic force while its politics were so blatantly
destructive of all internal cohesion and confidence. In November I942
Petain was urged to leave France, when the Germans occupied the
southern zone, and there has been much debate about whether or not
he should have left at that point and gone to North Africa. Jean
Borotra has said that Petain sacrificed himself yet again and refused to
abandon France.52 Had he really been concerned with sacrifice Petain
would have abandoned not France but Petainism.
By prolonging it beyond its historical conjuncture he did everything
of which the refugees accused the authorities in May and June I940.
He misled those who trusted him and betrayed those who expected
protection. Petain may well have claimed to be a patriot, as much in
I944 as in I940, but patriotism

no longer claimed


By I944 its

imagery and its language were firmly associated elsewhere. The ultimate absurdity of Petainism is not its language of care, concern and
protection, nor even its imagery of rural life and peasant values. As is
evident from contemporary movements of ecology and regionalism, of
community care and local politics, this language has no inevitable
place on political Right or Left. The absurdity was that Petain could
not see that his monopoly of this language had gone, or could not
appreciate why.
There is more to patriotism in Vichy France than the protective,
defensive kind on which I have concentrated here. There was, of
course, the outward-going Resistance patriotism full of risks and uncertainties, which is what is normally meant by the word during this
period. But there is nothing shameful about the defensive kind until it
is used to promote the kind of insularity and racial phobia which
Vichy deliberately encouraged, and Petain did nothing to oppose.
Those who demanded protection in 1940 and felt Petain provided it,
and who then turned against him when his inactivity, his class and
racial prejudices and his government's collaboration betrayed their
trust, may not all have become the kind of Resisters, rightly referred
to as 'les patriotes'. But at least they showed discrimination in their
shift of patriotic allegiance. It may not be heroic, but it may well be
argued that this is an improvement on 'my country right or wrong'.
51A.N., FIC IlI I I48 (C6te-d'Or), 25 Aug. I941.
52Author's interview, April I980.