From Chad to Libya to Paris: Colonial Violence and the Rise of Fascism in France

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 10:30 AM
Roosevelt Room 1 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Caroline Jane Campbell, University of North Dakota
This paper explores the concept of “webs of empire” through the eyes of French colonial military officers who rotated throughout the French empire as they built it up to the second largest in the world. From the 1880s-1920s, this web was defined by colonial violence, as officers organized the conquest of French Sudan, Indochina, Madagascar, Morocco, and others; once they left the army in the 1920s and1930s, their final location was metropolitan France, where they played critical roles in political groups on the radical right. In the era of fascism, these officers applied colonial methods of warfare – the delineation of racial categories through ethnographic methods, strategies to suppress resistance by groups that officers deemed enemies, and instilling group solidarity among the like-minded – to political situations in French cities.

The paper will use cultural and military sources to examine the relationship between colonialism and fascism, a topic of scholarly inquiry recently established by historians of Germany and of emerging interest to historians in a variety of fields. It seeks to show that officers were critical vectors in transmitting methods of colonial warfare throughout the French imperial nation-state, including its capital, Paris. The paper focuses on one officer in particular, Jean Ferrandi. Unknown to scholars, Ferrandi influenced French politics in the 1930s. He was a novelist, helped organize campaigns in central Africa, Chad, and Libya in the early 1900s, edited several prominent journals in the interwar period, founded a radical colonial veterans group in 1931, and was elected as a member of the Paris city government in 1932. Ferrandi was emblematic of the political convictions of many officers in the French colonial army, as they were hostile to democratic principles and helped drive a decline in popular support for the French Republic in the critical period before World War II.

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