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Triumph of Treason

This book is avail­able online from QuestiaSchool.com.
by Pierre Cot
1944, Ziff-Davis, 432 pages

Pierre Cot’s book is a remark­able first-hand account of the sub­ver­sion of France by pow­er­ful domes­tic inter­ests, who saw polit­i­cal con­trol by their ide­o­log­i­cal allies (and car­tel busi­ness part­ners) in Ger­many as prefer­able to pow­er-shar­ing with their own demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly-mind­ed cit­i­zens. (Cot had been the French Min­is­ter of Avi­a­tion in the imme­di­ate pre-war peri­od, and wit­nessed the delib­er­ate, suc­cess­ful attempts at weak­en­ing France’s abil­i­ty to resist the Nazis mil­i­tar­i­ly. The trai­tors who sub­vert­ed French democ­ra­cy then blamed the French col­lapse on their patri­ot­ic polit­i­cal oppo­nents.)

A scathing and out­spo­ken cri­tique, Cot’s words pre­fig­ure recent events in the U.S. as well.

“Enough evi­dence has been pub­lished already to prove that France was stabbed in the back by those who saw in Hitler the new St. George who would slay the Com­mu­nist drag­on. When Pierre Lazareff, for­mer edi­tor-in-chief of Paris Soir (the French news­pa­per with the widest cir­cu­la­tion), reports roy­al­ists as say­ing: ‘We need the defeat to wipe out the Repub­lic;’ when Elie Bois, for­mer edi­tor of the Petit Parisien (the most influ­en­tial polit­i­cal news­pa­per), reports great indus­tri­al­ists admit­ting to him, dur­ing the win­ter of 1939–1940, that a plot had been orga­nized to replace the demo­c­ra­t­ic regime by a ‘gov­ern­ment of author­i­ty’ and that this plot pre­sup­posed a Nazi vic­to­ry; when Ana­tole de Monzie writes, in a book passed by the cen­sor of the Vichy gov­ern­ment, that Mar­shal Pétain said in Feb­ru­ary, 1940: ‘They will appeal to me in the third week in May’; when Genevieve Tabouis tells of the work accom­plished in the Parisian salons by the Fifth Column’s ‘brigade mondaine’; when Hen­ri de Ker­il­lis, for­mer offi­cer and nation­al­ist deputy, expos­es the inroads of the Fifth Col­umn in the con­ser­v­a­tive and mil­i­tary cir­cles which he knew; when Hen­ry Tor­res reveals to us what was going on in the offices of the offi­cial pro­pa­gan­da . . . we have every rea­son to accept their affir­ma­tions, which tal­ly so per­fect­ly with the events. . . .”

Tri­umph of Trea­son, page 63


3 comments for “Triumph of Treason

  1. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/apr/25/vichy-lives-in-a-way/?pagination=false
    Vichy Lives!—In a Way
    April 25, 2013
    Robert O. Pax­ton
    E‑mail Print Share

    L’Héritage de Vichy: Ces 100 mesures tou­jours en vigueur [The Her­itage of Vichy: One Hun­dred Mea­sures That Are Still in Force]
    by Cécile Desprairies, with a pref­ace by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie
    Paris: Armand Col­in, 237 pp., €27.50 (paper)

    L’Héritage de Vichy is an uncon­ven­tion­al work—more a cat­a­log of curiosi­ties than a reg­u­lar book. It advances a strong claim: that con­tem­po­rary France still bears today many traces of the Vichy regime that gov­erned under Ger­man occu­pa­tion from 1940 to 1944. Cécile Desprairies pro­ceeds item by item—vaccination, for exam­ple, or television—showing for each one, aid­ed by con­tem­po­rary pho­tos and texts, what its sit­u­a­tion was in 1939, how Vichy dealt with it, and what part of Vichy’s actions remained in effect after 1944. She offers, how­ev­er, only the sketchi­est gen­er­al analy­sis of what con­tin­ued, what didn’t, and why.

    Desprairies’s main mes­sage is sur­prise. Isn’t it odd, she seems to say, how many traces remain of the Vichy exper­i­ment. One had believed it dis­cred­it­ed by col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nazi occu­piers, swept away by the Lib­er­a­tion of 1945, and buried by the post­war trans­for­ma­tion of French soci­ety dur­ing the Trente Glo­rieuses years of eco­nom­ic expan­sion. The brief pref­ace by the cel­e­brat­ed his­to­ri­an Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, “Moi et Vichy,” strikes a sim­i­lar note. He main­ly lists sur­vivals he found unex­pect­ed. Although Le Roy Ladurie alludes to his father Jacques, who served as the Vichy min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture in 1942 before join­ing the Resis­tance, he avoids rais­ing any sen­si­tive issues of gen­er­al inter­pre­ta­tion.

    Sur­prise is not real­ly war­rant­ed, how­ev­er. The his­to­ri­og­ra­phy of Vichy France since the 1970s has con­sist­ed large­ly of refut­ing the ear­ly post­war view that Mar­shal Pétain’s regime was an alien import imposed for the moment by Nazi force. Recent his­to­ri­ans have rein­stat­ed Vichy firm­ly with­in the con­ti­nu­ities of French his­to­ry. Vichy France react­ed to what had gone before, espe­cial­ly to the Pop­u­lar Front of 1936, and tried to pre­pare for a post­war world that it believed was just around the cor­ner. His­to­ri­ans have abun­dant­ly ana­lyzed the breaks and con­ti­nu­ities in France across World War II—what was rad­i­cal­ly changed in 1940 and again in 1945, and what went on very much as before. The breaks were excep­tion­al­ly sharp at both turn­ing points, but there were authen­tic con­ti­nu­ities of per­son­nel and of insti­tu­tions, espe­cial­ly in tech­ni­cal mat­ters. The con­tri­bu­tion of Desprairies lies not in the idea that Vichy had a her­itage but in the rich­ness of her often fas­ci­nat­ing details.1

    Vichy’s lega­cies fall main­ly into two cat­e­gories: tech­no­crat­ic mod­ern­iza­tion and social wel­fare. The first cat­e­go­ry is the largest. The late Third Repub­lic had woe­ful­ly neglect­ed French infra­struc­ture, along with a host of unre­solved polit­i­cal, social, and eco­nom­ic prob­lems. The con­trac­tion of the French econ­o­my in the 1930s is some­times attrib­uted to the Third Republic’s weak exec­u­tive, dead­locked par­lia­ment, and ide­o­log­i­cal divi­sions. The essen­tial rea­son (one too often ignored by his­to­ri­ans as well as by the pub­lic) was the eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy of defla­tion­ary bud­get-cut­ting with which French lead­ers con­front­ed the Great Depres­sion until 1936. Even then, when the Pop­u­lar Front gov­ern­ment of Léon Blum pro­posed to take a dif­fer­ent eco­nom­ic tack, it was pre­vent­ed by divi­sions with­in its ten­u­ous major­i­ty from embark­ing seri­ous­ly upon need­ed pub­lic expen­di­tures. The final decade of the Third Repub­lic was there­fore a peri­od of exten­sive dis­in­vest­ment.

    The Vichy regime prof­it­ed great­ly from its claim to reverse this trend, to break the dead­lock of the 1930s, and to get some­thing done. In the after­math of the calami­tous defeat of 1940, many French peo­ple accept­ed an unfet­tered exec­u­tive authority—where engi­neers and tech­ni­cal experts replaced despised par­lia­men­tar­i­ans in devis­ing solutions—as the best way to address France’s prob­lems. Vichy’s sup­posed fresh start beguiled many mem­bers of the French elite at first, before grow­ing Nazi dom­i­na­tion under­mined its legit­i­ma­cy.

    In its open­ing days, there­fore, Vichy was deeply engaged in mod­ern­iz­ing French infra­struc­ture and pub­lic admin­is­tra­tion. Desprairies points to the périphérique, the ghast­ly super­high­way that encir­cles Paris, the back­drop, when it was new, to Jean-Luc Godard’s dystopic New Wave film Alphav­ille (1965), and today an obsta­cle course dread­ed by air­port-bound trav­el­ers. The Third Repub­lic had begun to plan it, but, typ­i­cal­ly, had accom­plished lit­tle. The Vichy gov­ern­ment final­ized the périphérique’s route, acquired the land, and under­took some con­struc­tion before the mate­ri­als were redi­rect­ed to the build­ing of the Atlantic Wall in 1943.

    Desprairies could have offered many more exam­ples of tech­ni­cal mod­ern­iza­tion under­tak­en in Vichy’s first opti­mistic months. When the trans­la­tion of my Vichy France was being pre­pared in 1972, the French pub­lish­ers pru­dent­ly com­mis­sioned a team of young his­to­ri­ans to fact-check what struck some advance read­ers as a sus­pi­cious and icon­o­clas­tic man­u­script. The young his­to­ri­ans wrote me in some agi­ta­tion: How could I pos­si­bly claim that the great sus­pen­sion bridge across the Seine at Tan­car­ville, near Rouen, had been begun by Vichy and had ini­tial­ly been called the Mar­shal Pétain Bridge? How could I say that Vichy had laid down the keel of the transat­lantic ocean lin­er known lat­er as the Flan­dre (we stu­dents bound for Paris around 1960 liked to call it “the Floun­der”) and that it was orig­i­nal­ly to have been chris­tened “Le Maréchal Pétain”?

    It was a sim­ple mat­ter to con­firm these facts by send­ing pho­to­copies of a few press clip­pings to the young his­to­ri­ans. The list of Vichy’s tech­ni­cal projects could go on: the pio­neer­ing tide-oper­at­ed elec­tric pow­er plant (l’usine maré­motrice) on the Rance Riv­er estu­ary, in Brit­tany; the first link of the Trans-Sahara Rail­road (the “Méditer­ran­née-Niger”) begun in Alge­ria in 1941, intend­ed to reach Bamako (Mali) and Dakar. Vichy’s Min­istry of Indus­tri­al Pro­duc­tion pre­pared detailed plans for the mod­ern­iza­tion of the French econ­o­my, and Richard Kuisel showed years ago that the team around Jean Mon­net that recon­struct­ed France after 1945 relied heav­i­ly on them at first.2

    Vichy also embarked on the first seri­ous admin­is­tra­tive ratio­nal­iza­tion of France since Napoleon. It over­laid the 1790s grid of nine­ty depart­ments, made too small by easy trav­el in auto­mo­biles and bus­es, with a new grid of sev­en­teen regions, each head­ed by a region­al pre­fect charged with eco­nom­ic and secu­ri­ty mat­ters. It replaced the patch­work of French munic­i­pal police agen­cies with a nation­al police force. The regions, great­ly strength­ened, and the nation­al police remain in place today. Vichy insti­tut­ed the iden­ti­ty cards still in use. It coor­di­nat­ed the Paris bus and sub­way sys­tems into the sin­gle mass tran­sit sys­tem we know today, and extend­ed some of the sub­way lines fur­ther into the sub­urbs (some­thing Amer­i­cans might envy).

    A sec­ond broad cat­e­go­ry of sur­vivals from Vichy con­sists of pro­grams of social and med­ical assis­tance. The Vichy regime was a wel­fare state.3 L’Héritage de Vichy serves as a use­ful reminder that the wel­fare state was not orig­i­nal­ly a social­ist or Com­mu­nist project. It was intro­duced into Euro­pean polit­i­cal life from the right, first by Bis­mar­ck, with sick­ness and acci­dent insur­ance in impe­r­i­al Ger­many in 1883–1884, and emu­lat­ed by Count Eduard von Taaffe in the Aus­tri­an Empire in 1887. Bis­mar­ck had just out­lawed the Ger­man Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, and his inten­tion was to elim­i­nate its rea­son for being as well as to con­sol­i­date a pater­nal­ist and sta­tist social order. Con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean Marx­ists opposed piece­meal wel­fare mea­sures as like­ly to dilute work­er mil­i­tan­cy with­out chang­ing any­thing fun­da­men­tal about the dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth and pow­er. It was only after World War II, when they aban­doned Marx­ism (in 1959 in West Ger­many, for exam­ple), that con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean social­ist par­ties and unions ful­ly accept­ed the wel­fare state as their ulti­mate goal.

    In Britain, the foun­da­tion­al acts of the wel­fare state, the Old-Age Pen­sions Act of 1908 and the Nation­al Insur­ance Act of 1911, came not from above, as in Ger­many, but from broad pop­u­lar dis­gust with the inad­e­qua­cies and arbi­trari­ness of the 1834 Poor Law. These acts were the work of the Lib­er­al Par­ty, and par­tic­u­lar­ly of Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer David Lloyd George, who made a con­scious effort to fore­stall more cost­ly Labour Par­ty pro­pos­als for tax-sup­port­ed relief pro­grams rather than ones financed by work­ers’ and employ­ers’ payments.4 Work­ers gen­er­al­ly object­ed to social sup­port pro­grams to which they were expect­ed to con­tribute (as many Amer­i­cans con­clude when they have to deal with Social Secu­ri­ty for house­hold work­ers).

    All the mod­ern twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Euro­pean dic­ta­tor­ships of the right, both fas­cist and author­i­tar­i­an, were wel­fare states. The cur­rent Amer­i­can con­ser­v­a­tive agen­da of a weak state asso­ci­at­ed with lais­sez-faire eco­nom­ic and social arrange­ments would have been anath­e­ma to them, as an extreme per­ver­sion of a despised indi­vid­u­al­is­tic lib­er­al­ism (in that term’s orig­i­nal sense). They all pro­vid­ed med­ical care, pen­sions, afford­able hous­ing, and mass trans­port as a mat­ter of course, in order to main­tain pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, nation­al uni­ty, and social peace.

    Some of them, more inno­v­a­tive­ly, even pro­vid­ed recre­ation for their cit­i­zens, through, for exam­ple, the Nazi Party’s Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) pro­gram and the Ital­ian Fas­cist Dopola­voro. But they pro­vid­ed these ben­e­fits in a pater­nal­is­tic way, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly elim­i­nat­ing any kind of inde­pen­dent work­er pow­er strong enough to pro­duce what work­ers real­ly wanted—higher wages and short­er hours.

    They also abol­ished inde­pen­dent trade unions and the right to strike (here they would have found com­mon ground with the con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can right). But they did not take the risk of leav­ing the poor in soli­tary mis­ery. They replaced unions with “cor­po­ratist” com­mit­tees com­posed of both work­ers and man­agers empow­ered to deal with work­place issues (though with­out any say in man­age­ment). Then they felt free to length­en hours and squeeze wages.5

    Vichy France did the same. Mar­shal Pétain denounced the evils of unfet­tered free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism in a speech at the indus­tri­al city of Saint-Éti­enne on the regime’s new Labor Day, May 1, 1941. His gov­ern­ment insti­tut­ed old-age pen­sions, which had been dis­cussed end­less­ly under the Third Repub­lic (“I keep promis­es, even those of oth­ers,” he said). Pétain’s gov­ern­ment estab­lished the first French min­i­mum-wage leg­is­la­tion. It great­ly expand­ed access to med­ical care by insti­tut­ing oblig­a­tory med­ical vis­its in schools and by attach­ing med­ical inspec­tors and labor inspec­tors to fac­to­ries. It put into effect the first oblig­a­tory vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram in France. It tried to reduce alco­hol con­sump­tion, and a poster pro­hibit­ing the sale of alco­hol to chil­dren vis­i­ble in French bars today is a lega­cy of these efforts.

    Desprairies can eas­i­ly demon­strate that the Fourth Repub­lic retained these pro­grams and great­ly expand­ed them. But they had worked in pecu­liar ways under Vichy. The min­i­mum wage, for exam­ple, came into being as an aspect of wage con­trol, a mat­ter in which the Ger­man occu­pa­tion author­i­ties inter­vened direct­ly. Vichy’s efforts to revive arti­sanal pro­duc­tion and orga­nize and ratio­nal­ize the pro­fes­sions were accom­pa­nied by the exclu­sion of Jews. Admin­is­tra­tive ratio­nal­iza­tion was meant to strength­en the regime’s capac­i­ty to repress the Resis­tance. The work­ers on the Trans-Sahara Rail­road includ­ed Span­ish and Jew­ish refugees impressed from refugee camps.

    The prob­lem is not that Desprairies’s case stud­ies are erro­neous; she has done a good bit of home­work about the details. But they lack con­text. Her for­mat of list­ing reforms and show­ing their her­itage might sug­gest to an unwary read­er that Vichy’s mod­ern­iza­tion and social wel­fare mea­sures passed inert­ly like fur­ni­ture from one regime to anoth­er. The read­er needs three large per­spec­tives to make these sur­vivals more than a cat­a­log of curiosi­ties.

    The first per­spec­tive is Ger­man pres­sure, and in fact Desprairies is ful­ly alert to it. The Ger­man occu­py­ing author­i­ties were inter­est­ed in get­ting a max­i­mum of yield out of the French econ­o­my. So they inter­vened in work­ing con­di­tions. They were also inter­est­ed in bring­ing the glo­ries of Ger­man cul­ture to the benight­ed French. I was sur­prised myself to learn that Mozart had been lit­tle played in France before 1940, and that his promi­nence since 1945 in the French oper­at­ic and sym­phon­ic reper­toire is one of the lega­cies of the occu­pa­tion.

    A sec­ond per­spec­tive, French pol­i­tics, is less vis­i­ble in Desprairies’s approach. Most of what was done by Vichy was poi­soned from the begin­ning by the French right’s zeal to exact revenge for the “Judeo-Mason­ic” Pop­u­lar Front of 1936. Many of the projects under­tak­en by Vichy were giv­en a pecu­liar mean­ing by the regime’s author­i­tar­i­an struc­ture and reac­tionary pri­or­i­ties, and by Vichy’s own decision—independent at first of Nazi pressure—to reduce the role of Jews in French eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al life. So we are not deal­ing here with sim­ple con­ti­nu­ities in which a pro­gram pass­es unal­tered from Vichy to the Fourth Repub­lic.

    Desprairies deals well with the dif­fer­ent mean­ings of sport before and after 1940. Sport was encour­aged both by the Pop­u­lar Front and by Vichy but for dif­fer­ent pur­pos­es: for hygiene and pub­lic wel­fare in 1936, and after 1940 for nation­al revival. Her dis­cus­sion of the cre­ation of a nation­al police force is illus­trat­ed by an appro­pri­ate pho­to of French gen­darmes kick­ing in the door of a sup­posed Resis­tance hide­out. Desprairies might have illu­mi­nat­ed even more often the dark under­side of Vichy’s reforms.

    The third essen­tial per­spec­tive is time. Vichy’s ear­ly mod­ern­iz­ing aspi­ra­tions were a false dawn. They became dis­tort­ed when after June 1941 the Nazi grip inten­si­fied into full-scale eco­nom­ic spo­li­a­tion to sup­port Hitler’s gigan­tic war in the East. Then came the exten­sion to France of the Final Solu­tion of the “Jew­ish prob­lem” that impli­cat­ed Vichy in crimes against human­i­ty, and the rise of the Resis­tance that Vichy dealt with by trans­form­ing itself into a police state.

    Vichy pur­chased its sur­vival as a qua­si-sov­er­eign state by assist­ing Hitler’s war in the East and by prepar­ing to par­tic­i­pate in his New Europe that would be, among oth­er things, Juden­rein. Most of the Vichy pro­grams that were con­tin­ued after the war dat­ed from the first eigh­teen months fol­low­ing France’s defeat, the peri­od of the “new start.” These (if we don’t men­tion Vichy’s own mea­sures against Jews and the left) could some­times look like ratio­nal solu­tions to French prob­lems. But by the end of 1942 the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of the war meant that Vichy’s “new start” was bare­ly a mem­o­ry.

    Anoth­er dis­ad­van­tage of Desprairies’s approach is that some major lega­cies of the occu­pa­tion years are not eas­i­ly reducible to items on a list. The French econ­o­my emerged from the war more cen­tral­ized, more orga­nized, and with larg­er firms—due in part to Ger­man orders, in part to Vichy’s dri­ve to ratio­nal­ize, and in part to the demands of post­war recon­struc­tion. The posi­tion of the Catholic Church with­in French soci­ety changed pro­found­ly dur­ing World War II, but the church nev­er appears in this book. Vichy’s aid to Catholic schools was con­tin­ued by the Fourth Repub­lic, in which a new Catholic par­ty with advanced social ideas—the Mou­ve­ment répub­li­cain populaire—shared pow­er, and where the Third Republic’s old anti­cler­i­cal­ism seemed out­mod­ed after some Catholics and Com­mu­nists had made com­mon cause in the Resis­tance. Gen­er­al de Gaulle him­self exem­pli­fies the strength of social Catholi­cism in post­war France. Despite his utter refusal ever to accept the Vichy regime’s legal­i­ty, he judged at the end of his life that some of its social doc­trines such as cor­po­ratist coop­er­a­tion between labor and man­age­ment and sup­port for large fam­i­lies were “not with­out appeal.”6

    Vichy’s “work­er priests” (sent ini­tial­ly to min­is­ter to French fac­to­ry work­ers con­script­ed to Ger­man fac­to­ries) were adopt­ed by the Catholic left after the war until the Vat­i­can closed the exper­i­ment down in the 1950s. Desprairies also omits the remark­able turn upward dur­ing the war of the French birthrate, which still sets France apart from much of the rest of Europe, although she men­tions the pol­i­cy of state aid to large fam­i­lies, begun by the Third Repub­lic, accen­tu­at­ed by Vichy, and con­tin­ued to this day. Such com­plex mat­ters, where Vichy’s actions com­bined with mul­ti­ple lines of cau­sa­tion to shape the her­itage of the war and occu­pa­tion peri­od, are large­ly invis­i­ble in this book.

    Desprairies does not seem to have set out overt­ly to white­wash the Vichy regime. When Vichy’s exclu­sion­ary mea­sures come into view, she stout­ly con­demns them, as in her essay on the new orga­ni­za­tion of the med­ical pro­fes­sion (l’Order des médecins, which still exists), in which she shows that it helped the gov­ern­ment elim­i­nate for­eign Jews and lim­it the num­ber of French Jews in the med­ical pro­fes­sion. But they don’t come into view as often as they might because the con­ti­nu­ities of wel­fare and oth­er mea­sures fol­low­ing the war most­ly con­cern mat­ters of ordi­nary exis­tence. Focus­ing on the con­ti­nu­ities has the effect, intend­ed or not, of mak­ing Vichy look more benign.

    Stu­dents of Nazism made this dis­cov­ery when they exper­i­ment­ed in the 1980s with All­t­ags­geschichte, the his­to­ry of every­day life. In this per­spec­tive, the Nazi anti-Jew­ish pogrom fad­ed into the back­ground, while a dif­fer­ent set of victims—housewives con­front­ed by rationing and scarci­ties, fam­i­lies who lost their homes to Allied bombing—came to cen­ter stage. Sim­i­lar­ly, Desprairies’s per­spec­tive of her­itage omits ugly mat­ters like Vichy’s purge of social­ists and Freema­sons alto­geth­er; and the exclu­sion and per­se­cu­tion of Jews, while not ignored, tends to remain off­stage. Unless we sup­ple­ment this work with a more round­ed treat­ment we risk get­ting a false­ly benev­o­lent impres­sion of the Vichy regime.

    Posted by Vanfield | April 22, 2013, 9:51 pm
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    Posted by JaMes d HawKins | December 26, 2020, 7:37 am
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