Peoples' movements and protests




A bloody example





by Jan Wiklund



Despite its drama, Robert Gildea: Fighters in the shadows depicts something that happens in all popular movements. But of course it has more dramatic consequences when it concerns a resistance movement in an occupied country. In this case, France 1940-45.

According to French state propaganda after the war, the resistance began with de Gaulle speaking on the radio. But in reality, it began when small groups across the country, faced with harassment by the occupying forces, decided to resist in one way or another.

For some, it was to save people who the authorities, the occupying authorities or their domestic accomplices, wanted. Or to save themselves if they belonged to that category; Jews and anti-Nazi refugees were clearly over-represented in the movement. For some, it was a matter of symbolically demonstrating that their consciousness could not be stifled. For still others, especially when the tide of war turned, it was a matter of resisting militarily. All these types of actions are described by Gildea, with penetrating personal examples.

What is so typical is how the resistance splits.

Right from the start, cooperation proves impossible, even when different mobilisation nuclei actually make contact with each other. Quite a few see the resistance as a personal career to be rewarded with public office in post-war France. And then it is important not to allow competitors to obscure oneself.

This is exacerbated by the fact that participants have such radically different perspectives on what they want from their movement. Is it about turning back the clock to 1939, or about creating a better France after the war? This latter conflict gradually takes on an overriding importance, with those who have had some sort of status in the pre-war period and therefore belong to the former group doing everything they can to sabotage the activities of the rest, even if it means massacres.

Yet, of course, it proved impossible to turn back the clock - even though virtually the entire Provisional Government in 1944 was staffed by people who wanted to do so. The reformist groups were too strong. So France got its advanced social legislation and its strong political control of business after all.

The symbolic victories are sometimes not the most important, the balance of power on the ground sometimes matters more.

Not least importantly, the tradition of resistance survived. Today, France is the industrial country in where inequality has increased the least. When the government tries, resistance immediately erupts.



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