Robert J. Soucy
Among the most highly contested issues that have separated historians of French fascism are whether French fascist writers and movements in the 1920s and 1930s were more Left than Right, more radical than conservative, more revolutionary than reactionary, more socialist than capitalist, more populist than elitist, and more plebeian than bourgeois. Related to these questions is whether important sections of the traditional Right were complicit with fascism during the interwar period or immune to its appeal. Did many French conservatives share fascism's basic values and goals during the Depression era, as William Irvine has argued; or is it true, as Paul Sérant has claimed for France, that "to pretend to establish a kinship between fascism and traditional [conservative] doctrines would be in vain"?1 Finally, did fascism have a numerically significant following in France in the 1930s, or was it limited to a few dozen writers and intellectuals who, however fascinating they might be to students of French literary and intellectual history, had only a minuscule influence on the French populaton in general and were therefore politically insignificant.
Historians of French fascism have split into two generally opposed schools regarding these issues. One school, which includes such French scholars as René Rémond, Serge Berstein, Philippe Burrin, and Jean-Paul Brunet, as well as the American Eugen Weber and the Israeli Zeev Sternhell, have underscored the left-wing elements in French fascism, characterizing it as a highly anticonservative, antiestablishmentarian, antibourgeois phenomenon. For this school, large right-wing paramilitary movements like the Jeunesses Patriotes and the Croix de Feu -- and even the highly anti-Semitic Action Française -- were too socially and economically conservative to be fascist.
In 1954 and again in 1968 René Rémond characterized French fascism as a socially revolutionary movement that was fundamentally at odds with traditional French conservatism. "Fascism dreams only of overthrow," wrote Rémond. "The Right wants to be reassured and as