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Communist Veterans and Paramilitarism in 1920s France: The Association républicaine des anciens combattants

Millington, Chris (2015) Communist Veterans and Paramilitarism in 1920s France: The Association républicaine des anciens combattants. Journal of War & Culture Studies, 8 (4). pp. 300-314. ISSN 1752-6272

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Abstract

This article investigates the French communist veterans’ association the Association républicaine des anciens combattants (ARAC) during the 1920s. Historians have paid little attention to the ARAC, preferring instead to investigate both larger Republican associations and the extreme right-wing leagues of the period who appealed to veterans for support. The ARAC differed from other veterans’ associations: from its founding in 1917, it denounced the war as a needless sacrifice in which millions of men had been duped into fighting for international capitalism. It associated the material demands of the veterans with those of the broader working class and the ARAC persistently challenged the view that veterans deserved a special status in society. However, despite its internationalist and anti-war stance, in the mid-1920s, the group threw itself into paramilitary politics. In response to the founding of fascist-style leagues in 1924, the ARAC established the Groupes de défense antifascistes (GDA), uniformed shock squads intended for street confrontation with right-wing thugs. The article argues that the legacy of the war in France was therefore complex. The ARAC can neither be subsumed into notions of a ‘culture of victory’ in the postwar years nor can its paramilitarism be traced solely to the conflict. The GDA emerged in the postwar context of extremist politics, while bearing resemblance to pre-war manifestations of left-wing activism.

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