✍ Socialism in Provence, 1871-1914. A Study in the Origins of the Modern French Left [1979]

por Teoría de la historia

82893This book is an enquiry into the origins of a political tradition. It seeks to investigate why the peasantry of Provence turned increasingly to the socialist movement in the period from 1880 to the First World War. This question is of interest not merely for a clearer understanding of an important characteristic of modern France -the marked divergence in political traditions and affiliations between different regions, and the fidelity of French political allegiances- but also as the basis for a redefinition of the history of socialism. The latter is commonly treated as either a development inherent in the emergence of an industrial proletariat or as mere ideological camouflage for the continuation of older patterns of protest and conflict by other means. By setting out to establish who socialists were, and exactly when and why they became politically committed, this study aims to contribute to a clearer view of the modem French left, as neither a ‘victime du marxisme’ nor the latest in a succession of crypto-Jacobins. Furthermore, by emphasising the extent to which socialist support came from the peasantry, I hope to rescue the latter from the twin identity usually ascribed to them: inherently conservative on the one hand, or ideologically nondescript on the other, following political movements with little concern for or interest in their content. Lastly, by limiting itself to a single period, and by stressing the importance of the events of that period, the book emphasises the centrality of a properly historical account of modern political divisions. The book is arranged to respond to these concerns. Part One is a detailed study of one French department, the Var, in the first half of the Third Republic. As will become clear, I have chosen the Var both because it provides an excellent instance of the subject under investigation -an enduring political tradition- and because it has been the subject of much writing, especially for the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As a result, there is a wealth of historical and social background which may serve as a context for the study of the years after 1870. Whereas Part One is essentially descriptive, Part Two is conceived in terms of an argument. Having set out in the first part the political developments of the years 1870-1914 in the Var, emphasising the steady growth of socialist support in the region during this period, I have presented in Part Two various frameworks for an understanding of the strength of socialist affiliation in the rural Var during these years. Although Chapters 5 to 8 are separate in their theme and the evidence they deploy, cumulatively they result in a more general account of the growth of socialism in the Var, an account which is explicitly laid out in Chapter 9. Thus Parts One and Two are devoted to a study of the Var, moving from a description of the region through an account of economic and political developments at a particular moment and ending in an explanation of these developments and their relation to the period, the place and the ideas in question. Part Three shifts the focus of the argument from Provence to France as a whole. Chapter 10 discusses the problems of relating regional to national history and considers the implications for the history of French society of some of the arguments presented in Part Two. Chapter 11 discusses the nature of the support which socialism found among the peasants and presents more fully some of the implications of the history of the Var for the study of rural communities in general, in France and further afield. Finally, in Chapter 12, I have pulled together the various threads which can be traced through earlier chapters in an attempt to offer some thoughts upon the history of socialism in France. It will be seen that the book thus falls into two very distinct sections, that which deals with the Var and that which offers more tentative and personal reflections upon certain key areas of modem French history. The two are not unconnected, however. The book was always conceived in the form of a response to a particular question -why did the Marxist left in France implant itself so successfully and enduringly in the rural areas of the country?- and the order of the chapters is a reflection of my approach to answering this. Hence the choice of a limited region for close investigation, but hence too the decision to open the argument out, in Part Three, into its wider dimensions. It was never my intention merely to contribute a little more to the historiography of nineteenth-century Provence, but neither is it any longer possible to ask the kind of questions which interest the historian without recourse to this sort of detailed study. Thus Parts One and Two, taken together, form both a whole in themselves and, far more significantly, a justificatory underpinning for the otherwise rather adventurous reflections presented in Part Three. Ideally, then, this book should be treated as a unity, in that it argues a thesis whose roots spread throughout the various chapters. The price paid9780814743546 for this approach is of course that any individual chapter, particularly the earlier ones, may seem occasionally opaque, depending as it does upon some later chapter for clarification of certain points. The alternative was to argue much of the thesis at each contentious juncture, which would have made for an even longer, as well as a very repetitive book. As it is, I have avoided the temptation to lead the reader by the hand through each stage in the argument, preferring to let my theme emerge as much through the arrangement of the material as from a reiteration of the case. Without in the least wishing to imply that I have dispensed with the apparatus of sociological or cliometric methodology only to lapse into literary structuralism, I would hope that by the time he or she reaches the conclusion, the reader will have been led by the form into an appreciation of the content. In the intellectual atmosphere of the late 1970s this would be the appropriate way in which to read the history of the French left. Finally, to avoid or at least reduce confusion, I should add that I have referred to ‘socialism’ or ‘socialists’ when discussing either the idea, the complex of beliefs usually associated with the term, or those men and women who held them; where the reference is to ‘Socialists’, this denotes more specifically the political party which was formed in 1905, and its members and supporters. Because of the confusing multiplicity of parties and groups calling themselves ‘socialist’ in the previous generation, I have tried to avoid ambiguity by keeping references to these in the lower case.

[Tony JUDT (1979). Socialism in Provence, 1871-1914. A Study in the Origins of the Modern French Left. New York: New York University Press, 2011, Preface, pp. IX-XI]