In one of our recent posts we described the case of Alfred Dreyfus, and discussed how much the prevalent anti-Semitism at the end of the 19th century influenced it. When the case was apparently over, observers noticed the appearance of a new movement, almost a Jacobin club, calling itself Action Française. It was an extreme right-wing and nationalist movement, dedicated to promote anti-Jewish feelings in France. Anyone who had spoken out against Dreyfus – advocates, journalists, politicians etc. – was encouraged to join. Many adherents were of middle or upper class origin, but by far the largest percentage came from what is known as the petite bourgeoisie, translatable (though it is better not) as the lower-middle classes.
The movement made no attempt to entice the French working class into its ranks; its leader was journalist Charles Maurras, who used his journal L’action Française as a platform from which to launch radical opinions. The paper was popular and became daily instead of weekly in 1908. But Maurras was to be disappointed, for the movement had no influence in parliament, only , rather weakly, in the street and bars where intellectuals talked (endlessly) about how they would run things better.
Danger lay in the fact that Action Française proposed a violent overthrow of the 3rd Republic, replacing it with a monarchy. Most French thinkers disliked the idea of kings and queens and dynasties as much as they disliked Britain, so the movement had few supporters, but it anticipated and maybe inspired many wholly Fascist notions. Pope Pius I began the ditching process by publicly condemning the organisation, but somehow it managed to stagger on, tortoise-like until it was banned in 1936, though oddly enough the newspaper shouting its views carried on regardless. By 1939 L’action Française was opposing France’s entry into the 2nd World War, and when France surrendered to Hitler after a matter of weeks, it worked openly with Vichy and the Germans, as was expected for its violently anti-Semitic stance. With the liberation of France towards the end of the War both the newspaper and the movement it represented vanished from view.
(Perhaps not – see the credit given for the photograph illustrating this post)