Asses the relative role of ideology and circumstances in the emergence and development of a resistance movement in France between 1940-1944

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Assess the relative role of ideology and circumstance in the emergence and development of a resistance movement in France between 1940 and 1944

The French resistance to the Nazi occupation was not immediate although hostility was already shown by many French people to the Nazi occupation and very few hostility was transformed into action. The French responses to the Nazi occupation and also Vichy regime varied enormously according to James F. McMillan.  In the occupied south, resistance was driven by left-wing political stance, while some looking at the 1940 fall of France as a reason to construct a new and better political order as opposed to the old one and others perceived resistance as a natural outcome of the French pre-war attitude.1 It is said that Charles de Gaulle came up with the French term “resistance” and since then became a catch-phrase to describe a nation’s struggle against Nazism in post-1945 Western European culture. The practical description of resistance of the French resistance to the Nazi as such, Bob Moore describes as, ‘the image of an armed struggle against the enemy; of sabotage actions, assassinations, escape lines and secret agents risking their lives in pursuit of an ultimate Allied victory’.2 This description by Moore completely makes sense as France alongside her allies was in concerted efforts battling Germany since 1939 before the fall of France. French resistance therefore can be said not only a national resistance but also a European one.

Anti-German sentiment as general European feelings since post World War I can be said the basis of French resistance movement to the Nazi occupation in general between 1940 until the liberation of France from the Nazi in 1944 and this sentiment grew bigger when Hitler’s Greater German Empire agenda was made known in Europe. According to Mark Mazower, the seeds of Greater German Empire or Nazi World Order were already sown by Hitler as depicted in his Mein Kampf  where ‘the proposed site of the future Greater German Empire had been clear’.3 Apart from expanding his fascist Nazi ideology argues Mazower, Hitler’s Greater German Empire agenda would also mean to dominate economic and human resources especially in Eastern Europe4 and later extended to the western block. This economic agenda can be said superseded his political agenda. Economic problems plaguing Europe in post 1918, especially Germany that was punished with war reparation had become the main motivation for Germany to recover her economy in the name of Nazi World Order. History of western imperialism shows economic domination ultimately leads to political domination. This agenda was carried out by Hitler’s Nazi with brutal force and resulted in labour unrest and ultimately led to industrial resistance.

Roderick Kedward maintains that, French resistance was also shaped by conflict within resistance movement and changes in the movement itself, as demonstrated in the case of Maquis guerrilla movement réftractaires and political conflict within movement as demonstrated by the general suspicion towards French Communist Resistance.5 The general suspicion towards the French Communist Party (PCF) can be said stemmed from the goal of the party to establish ‘a new type of Bolshevised party, free of the dead weight of republican values and socialist reformism, and committed instead to defending the Soviet Union and to building a specifically working-class revolutionary movement in France’.6 The suspicion heightened with the non-aggression pact signed by the Nazi and Soviet. However, the communist resistance had their own arguments and insisted their resistance to the occupation be recognized and not suspected. French resistance was also motivated by the growing fear and difficulty living under the Nazi occupation and this scenario argues Ian Ousby, caused inconvenience, hardship and a sense of humiliation and added by the ordeal experienced by the Jews ‘being rounded up and herded on to the east-bound trains, and of the Vichy government’s compliance with these measures’.7

An important resistance movement was led by French intellectuals who carried human idealism and their efforts became centralized in French resistance movement. This intellectual resistance movement can be argued as architect or to a large extent the brains of the French resistance. According to James D. Wilkinson, ‘the resources needed to resist the aggressor in Nazi-dominated Europe were no longer simply the soldier’s courage and élan, but the prisoners patience, reflection, and resourcefulness.’8 This ideal was also philosophized by Jean Paul Sartre, who called upon his fellow French intellectuals and reminded them of the political duty through their literary activity to struggle for the liberation of France from the Nazi.9 An equally important resistance movement was composed of that of French women. French women resistance made up what Margaret Collins calls as “a family affair” that was motivated by the daily ordeal, along with pains over events of the war and the fate of their parents, husbands, brothers, sisters, friends and colleagues who were killed or deported.10 The French women were united by this mutual suffering and determination to galvanize their solidarity and strength by working together.

It can be said that French resistance movement to the occupation was largely divisive but not sparse, its participants were many and various and each had its own distinct followers, pattern and political and non-political motivations. This essay highlights the most prominent French resistance movements.

Nazi World Order as a pervasive ideological threat

The main ideological threat posed by Hitler’s Nazi to Europe was his extreme racial policies that were pushed under the Nazi World Order slogan to subjugate the whole Europe. As mentioned earlier, Hitler had already planned his Greater German agenda in his Mein Kampf  and this created insecurity and distrusts among other European nations. This imperialistic agenda of Hitler can be said sprung from the general and collective confidence given by the general German nation who resented the bitter defeat and war reparation suffered by Germany in 1918 hence, was inherently driven by extreme national sentiment. Hitler’s Nazi’s rise to power as known was due to his ability to capitalize this general public resentment and his ability to mobilize the Germans thus legitimized the establishment of the Third Reich’s fascism. Hence, can be argued the general anti-German sentiment that later was transformed into anti-Nazi sentiment among European nations. Germany amazingly despite the great loss was able to recover her industries and its war machinery and to rise as a sole power in Europe, new economic resources were necessary and this could only be achieved through conquest. Nazi visionaries envisioned of a ‘new European Order’ but their Führer had only ‘German Order’ on his mind.

This Nazi World Order was taken as a serious threat by other European powers that already envisaged a more authoritarian future for Europe resulting from an abandonment of the British, French and the United States liberal and democratic order that was created after 1918.11 However they would never allow a sole power to rise as a brutal power that sought to enslave and deny all other European national aspirations without a mechanism to check and balance it. Thus it is coherent when it is argued earlier that the general European resistance to the Nazi Germany was among others to ensure an ultimate victory for the Allied powers. Hence, it can be argued that the resistance in France was not only a national resistance, but also a European resistance in general and France could not succeed alone without the support of the allied armies. In France this immediate military struggle was tasked to the French army that remained in France and those left France for Britain in exile i.e., those against their Military General Marshal Petain that collaborated with the Nazi. French military resistance was later led by Charles de Gaulle a military general with the support of Britain. These exiled military dissidents and their cohorts at home formed Free Frenchmen movement that were recognized by Churchil as part of the allied cause and strategy and worked to attract more high ranking military officials in the rank of French imperial territories to join them to continue the resistance struggle.12

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Richard Vinen is of the opinion that de Gaulle actually fought a political war in the name of Free French vis-à-vis her British and American allies each tried to exert their political influence in Europe by ostensibly aiding de Gaulle’s military resistance to the Nazi.13 Arthur Marwick argues along the same line that France was both at war, and not at war: by having allied powers dragged along to defeat Germany where, France again suffer massive bombardment by the British and America in 1944 that was aimed at removing the occupiers.14 Military co-operation between Free French and Allied military commands ...

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