Serge Chakhotin’s The Rape of the Masses

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Serge Chakhotin’s The Rape of the Masses (1939): the development of European propaganda c.1914-1960 and the Algerian War of Independence.*

In Paris on the eve of the Second World War the Russian émigré scientist Serge Chakhotin1 published Le viol des foules par la propagande politique, a book that was rapidly to gain status as a classic work on the theory of propaganda.2 Today Chakhotin’s work appears frequently on university reading lists for courses in media studies, communication theory and crowd psychology, as a standard reference for the study of Pavlovian theories of conditioned reflexes, brainwashing and totalitarian forms of mass indoctrination. From the early 1960s the book was better known for its impact on the counter-insurgency or psychological warfare doctrine adopted by the French army during the long and bloody war of decolonization in Algeria (1954 -1962).3 However, despite widespread agreement among historians that the book was highly significant, little was known about the life and background of its author, or about how his theory of propaganda influenced army practice in Algeria. In more recent years historians have explored quite discrete phases of Chakhotin’s earlier political career, from his role as a propagandist during the Russian Revolution and as a contributor to the famous Smenah Vekh compilation by Russian émigrés in 1921, to his important part in the anti-Nazi struggle of the German Socialist Party (SPD) in 1932-33 and as propaganda adviser to the French Popular Front during 1934-36.4 This has contributed to a highly fragmented treatment of Chakhotin’s life in which specialists have tended to focus on one national context, but remained uncertain as to the trans-European context of an exile who constantly migrated between scientific laboratories and research centres across the continent, while also playing an militant political role in the application of a science of propaganda to revolutionary and anti-fascist movements. Chakhotin, a gifted linguist and Esperanto activist, was a truly European figure and his intellectual itinerary provides a unique insight into the turbulent political context of the “age of the masses” and totalitarianism in which modern propaganda theory and practice developed.

This article falls into two parts: the aim of the first part is to restore, if rather briefly, a sense of the development of Chakhotin’s work as a major theorist and activist during the “first age” of modern propaganda between 1914 and 1952, an era dominated by behaviourist theories of mass society. With this background in place, the second part turns to the question of how and why the French army adopted Le Viol des foules as a standard text, despite the fact that Chakhotin as a pacifist and social democrat was profoundly opposed to colonial repression and militarism. The cataloguing and opening since 1992 of the extensive civilian and military archives of the Algerian War now enable a detailed investigation of the diffusion, application and impact of Le Viol in a way that earlier historians were prevented from achieving.5 The French military and colonial archives on Algeria provide the most detailed available evidence of how Chakhotin’s propaganda theory was adapted on a significant scale to the purposes of counter-insurgency.6

Chakhotin as propaganda theoretician and activist c.1914-1940

Historians have recognized the extent to which the First World War and the Russian Revolution, the era of “total” war that sought the global mobilization of both the military and civilian populations, marked a key watershed in the emergence of modern propaganda techniques that harnessed new media, from print and radio to film and agit prop, in order to gauge and alter public opinion.7 Peter Holquist has argued that after 1914 the European “national security state” ushured in a new kind of political order in which vast bureaucracies engaged in the surveillance and quantification of public mood and attitudes so as to better measure, assess and transform opinion.8 Serge Chakhotin had an unprecedented and direct experience of these transformations as head of propaganda under Kerensky and later with the anti-Soviet Don government, and during the turbulent 1930s as a specialist adviser on anti-Nazi propaganda in social democratic movements in Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Britain and France, and it was this experience that provided the basis for writing The Rape of the Masses during 1938. Chakhotin was a true polymath, conversant in twelve languages, who migrated constantly between research laboratories across Europe and it is not possible to investigate here all aspects of his rich intellectual career as a pioneer in scientific methods of organisation (Taylorism), in microscopy, cytology and cancer research, as well as the application of behavourism to social psychology.9 The main focus here is on the two aspects of his work that most influenced the French military during the 1950s, first his theory of conditioned reflexes and primary instincts, and second its application to the organisation and dynamics of mass demonstrations, the public rallies and elaborate mises en scène, that were Chakhotin’s terrain of choice for working on crowd psychology through slogans, symbols and images.10

Serge Chakhotin showed an interest in radical politics from an early age and, after his arrest and imprisonment for participation in an anti-Tsarist occupation of Moscow University in 1902, he was imprisoned and then exiled to Germany where he studied medicine and completed a doctorate in zoology at Heidelberg in 1907.11 By 1912 Chakhotin had invented a remarkable “micropuncture” miscroscope for the ultraviolet examination of cells and he was able to return to Russia where he worked in St. Petersburg under his mentor the famous behaviourist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936).12 In 1915 Chakhotin helped to organize the Committee for Military-Technical Assistance (Komitet Voenno-Technicheskoi Pomoschi) which mobilized Russia’s technical, industrial and scientific expertise for the war effort, and acted as general secretary to the section dedicated to propaganda, the Bureau for Organizing Morale.13 During 1916 Chakhotin extended his network by establishing local Committees for Military-Technical Assistance across Russia for the accelerated training of army technicians, “a vast propaganda campaign based on our ideas and a knowledge of the crucial techniques involved”.14

Chakhotin went on to become a key propagandist under the Provisional Kerensky Government of 1917, in particular through the Soviet of Intellectual Workers, but tensions emerged with the Bolsheviks over a strike of civil servant employees. Chakhotin was forced to escape imminent arrest in December 1917 by fleeing to the south where he continued his propaganda activities within a changing kaleidoscope of “White” government military alliances. As director of the Information and Agitation Organization or OSVAG (Osvedomitel’no-Agitatsionnoe Otdelenie) with the Volunteer Army of Denikin, Chakhotin claimed to be,“the first minister of propaganda in Europe”.15 While Chakhotin was impressed by Bolshevik propaganda methods, the anti-Soviet Don army was equally innovative, and the scientist elaborated new techniques for the collection of mass data on public opinion that was chartered onto daily “political weather maps” that provided a topography of the interrelationship between political and socio-economic factors on the ground.16 The primary function of such maps, in the words of OSVAG, was the charting of the political “mood” among the population, and in particular the “psychological condition of the peasant masses”.17 Under OSVAG, which employed nearly 8,500 people, “the most modern methods were employed in the struggle: from millions of leaflets, illustrated newspapers, posters, picture displays, and teams of agitators, that flooded the markets, trains and public spaces, through to cinema and mobile teams of propagandists”.18

At this stage the most innovative and essential feature of Chakhotin’s overall theory, the role of conditioned reflexes and four basic instincts, had not yet been fully developed. But the scientist was already interested in crowd psychology, as illustrated by his account of events in St.Petersburg on 5 March 1917 when he was able to seize control of a dangerous and volatile crowd by sending a column of one hundred unarmed soldiers in gas masks that electrified the masses and restored calm, “without spilling any blood by a simple psychological coup”.19 During the early 1920s Chakhotin began to feel his way towards his behavioural theory of propaganda, a development that was partly rooted in his intense interest in Taylorism, the application of scientific techniques to the efficient management of complex bureaucracies or organisations, and in the “psychotechniques” required to train humans to follow set tasks.20 In 1923 Chakhotin sketched out a basic theory of “objective psychology”, in which the psyche never reflected inner states (the soul, the “conscience”), but only external stimuli acting on basic instincts and forming conditioned reflexes, a psycho-technique that political propagandists had developed during the Great War and that acted on both the reason and senses of the masses through repetition.21

Between 1930 and 1933 Chakhotin held a three year research scholarship at the Kaiser-Wilhem Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg,22 and it was during this period that he developed his definitive theory of psychological action and was able to put it to the test in systematic political campaigns against the Nazis. Chakhotin’s stay in Heidelberg coincided with the terminal crisis of the Weimar parliamentary system as, against a background of economic depression and mass unemployment, the National Socialists (NSDAP) chalked up dramatic electoral advances and destabilized the Republican order and legality by the use of violence and aggressive propaganda.23 After Hitler became chancellor on 30 January 1933 the leadership of the Socialist Party (SPD), the largest and best organised in Germany, came under attack for its conservative, bureaucratic torpor and failure to understand, or to take necessary action to counter, the peculiar threat offered by fascism.24 Such a criticism had already emerged during the early 1930s when a group of Young Turks or so-called “revisionists”, represented by the deputy Carlo Mierendorff, warned against the Verkalkung (ossification) of the party bosses, and the tendency for SPD propaganda to be dull, factual and addressed to reason, rather than feelings and emotion which were proving to be such a powerful weapon in the hands of the Nazis.25 Mierendorff, deputy for Hesse, built up a dynamic campaigning organisation that included the Heidelberg area and by early 1932 Chakhotin offered his services to the anti-Nazi struggle.

On 16 December 1931 Otto Wels, the SPD chairman, finally gave in to pressure from the revisionists and the Reichsbanner, a republican defence league, to establish the Iron Front (Eiserne Front), a paramilitary-style movement that would take on the NSDAP and the Communists (KPD) in extra-parliamentary street actions. In March 1932 Chakhotin, a specialist in crowd psychology and the organisation of mass demonstrations, was appointed director of Reichbanner propaganda and he largely abandoned his scientific research to become a full-time adviser to the SPD.26 Although the SPD leaders on the national executive committee, especially Wels, continued to impede Chakhotin’s plans to the very end, the scientist was able to test his ideas in a “model” campaign for the diet elections in Hesse (16 June 1932), and later on a grander scale for the national parliamentary election of 31 July 1932. For Chakhotin Hesse, in particular, proved to be the crucial test-bed for his scientific theory of propaganda and in all his subsequent writings this was always held up as a model for action and a scientific test of the effectiveness of his methods.

Chakhotin’s approach to the organisation of mass demonstrations, involving huge red banners, marching bands, floats and a “war of symbols”, especially the Three Arrows, appeared to some observers to be a weak and ineffectual copy of Nazi methods. Chakhotin was quite prepared to admit learning lessons from the enemy,27 but the Russian laid claim to a vital strategic advantage over the Nazis that would guarantee a Socialist victory. The NSDAP, just like the American advertisers from whom they borrowed, were skilful at manipulating the masses using modern technology (film, radio, loudspeakers....), but these techniques had, he argued, been arrived at through pragmatic “intuition”, rather than the exact science of “objective psychology”. The atomisation of contemporary society meant that collectivities, “become more and more docile instruments in the hands of dictators and usurpers who in making use, on the one hand, of a more or less intuitive knowledge of psychological laws, and on the other, having to hand the formidable technical methods made available to them by the modern State, and not restrained by any moral scrupules, exercise an effective control over the mass of individuals that go to make up a people, and which we have designated here as a kind of psychic rape [viol psychique]”.28 However, since, as Chakhotin claimed, his theory of propaganda was based on an irrefutable scientific knowledge of the physical laws governing human psychology, “a science that can calculate, predict and act according to verifiable rules”,29 he could refine techniques that would ultimately outsmart and check-mate the fascists. It was Chakhotin’s strong belief in this science, to which he alone held the key, that endowed him until the outbreak of the Second World War with a sense of his personal mission and a desperate race against time to spread his message throughout the global anti-fascist movement.30

Chakhotin derived his core theory from the work of Pavlov on conditioned reflexes, as illustrated by the famous experiment that induced salivation in dogs by creating an association between food and ringing a bell.31 But he took his master’s work in a new direction by his claim to have discovered that all life forms struggled to survive through four universal instincts that were numbered in a declining order of biological potency, from No.1) the combative or defensive impulse, No.2) to seek food or nutrition, and No.3) the sexual drive, to No.4) the protective parental or maternal instinct.32 Scientific propaganda was to be designed by appealing to these fundamental drives, and the hierarchy from instinct No. 1 to instinct No.4 was crucial since a higher impulse would usually prove more powerful in forming a reflex than a lower one. This explained why fascist propaganda that was directed towards aggression and fear (instinct No. 1) would usually prove more powerful in controlling mass behaviour than social democratic propaganda that played on the more civilised and humane themes of peace and harmony (instinct No. 4).

Chakhotin argued, and confirmed during the electoral campaign in Hesse during May and June 1932, that modern propaganda techniques had a much more powerful impact in forming the conditioned reflexes of the less educated masses (about 90% of the population) by using symbols that appealed to the emotions and the universal instincts, than by rational or intellectual arguments that reached only 10%. Through a socio-political study of Heidelberg, Chakhotin estimated that in a total electorate of 60,000, there were only 5,000 citizens who actively participated in any form of party politics, a group that “is recruited mainly from the intellectual classes or the more conscious, cultivated and dynamic workers and peasants”. The other 55,000, by contrast, “is composed of the politically indifferent and hesitant, also the lazy, tired and exhausted, depressed by the problems of everyday life....beings who have a fragile nervous system, who allow themselves to be easily manipulated by imperative orders, who are readily seized by fear, and who often are quite happy to be dominated and directed”.33 Since the majority, the 55,000, held the key to any election, it was the NSDAP that was proving most successful in shaping its propaganda to the ignorant masses, with an increasing possibility of seizing power through the ballot box and a constitutional or “democratic” coup. In this vision Chakhotin placed himself among the growing body of intellectuals who from the 1920s onwards became profoundly concerned by the power of the modern state or big business to so mould public opinion by mass media and advertising as to destroy the liberal democratic order and to open the way to totalitarianism.34 Chakhotin shared in the widespread pessimism of European intellectuals, their fear of a “crisis of civilisation” and of an imminent catastrophe, that extended well beyond fascism and war to include deeper techical and cultural changes that made totalitarianism possible.35

The real test for Chakhotin, in alliance with Mierendorff, was to translate his theory into a programme of action and to demonstrate that it worked. The key to gaining influence over the masses, the ninety per cent, was through repetition of symbols that could act instantaneously on emotions and shape conditioned reflexes. Chakhotin claimed that modern urban life was marked by a rhythm of constant speed such that people had little time or wish to study a long sequence of printed characters, a rational statement, but preferred, “the telegraphic style, shorthand, various systems of signs”.36 The advantage of the symbol, which could consist of a sign (swastika, cross, hammer and sickle...), a word, or even a musical statement or colour, had the advantage of transmitting a powerful and emotive message in a condensed and instantaneous way, without any recourse to a conceptual or rational argument.37 The elaborate Chakhotin demonstration, like the Nazi rally, was designed to create a psychic assault or “shock” on the senses of the masses, who were thus “warmed up” and made psychologically receptive to subliminal messages. “The incessant and massive repetition of the same forms, slogans, etc., and especially by accompanying this with the luminous stimulation of garish colours and obsessive rythmic tones, creates a state of mental fatigue that favours subjugation to the will of those manipulating this obtrusive publicity”.38 Some of Chakhotin’s most ambitious demonstrations had a cinematic quality as he tried to manipulate the four instincts of bystanders through a sequence of four passing tableaux, floats and actors that played first on fear and depression, then emerging hope, and ended up with an ecstatic release of joy and triumphal elation.39

Chakhotin’s most famous innovation in the field of symbols was the Three Arrows, an image that could be used by militants armed with chalks or paint, to rapidly scour over the millions of swastikas that appeared on posters, walls and asphalt.40 The Three Arrows, along with the clenched fist salute “Freedom” (Freiheit!), was officially accepted by the SPD executive on 14 June 1932, and subsequently spread throughout European social democratic parties as the key motif of anti-fascist struggle.41 Since, for Chakhotin, propaganda was an exact science, anti-fascist and electoral campaigns needed to be organised centrally by experts who first studied the socio-economic and psychological characteristics of the target group or population. Slogans, for example, had to be elaborated with great care so as to appeal to the appropriate instincts, and were to be tested out in the same way as market researchers would carry out a trial run of a new brand.

Did Chakhotin’s scientific propaganda have the success that he claimed for it? The extra-parliamentary forms of street action promoted by the Iron Front undoubtedly aroused the energy and enthusiasm of socialist youth and of left-wing SPD militants who were keen to take on both the NSDAP and the Communists (KPD) in paramilitary battles for control of the streets. For example, the large-scale implementation of Chakhotin’s methods in the Gau of Hanover-South Brunswick during the July 1932 election put the Nazis on the defensive and they admitted that the Three Arrows symbol had been effective.42 In the towns of Hesse where the Iron Front had greater freedom to agitate during the lead in to the regional elections of 16 June, modest electoral gains by the SPD were viewed as a triumph since they bucked the national trend of a remorseless Nazi advance.43 For Chakhotin the most important feature of this campaign was a controlled experiment that showed outstanding electoral results in Offenbach, Darmstadt, Mayence and Worms where his propaganda techniques were applied compared to a disastrous performance in the “guinea pig” town of Giessen that was “abandoned to the old social-democratic methods”.44 The parliamentary elections of 31 July 1932 were disastrous for the SPD which lost 10 seats, while the NSDAP gained 123, but Chakhotin could claim, with some justification, that this was because the party leaders had sabotaged his work and, wedded to the old methods of “rational” propaganda, had remained supine in the face of the dynamic Nazi advance.45

Hitler’s coming to power as Chancellor on 30 January 1933, which was quickly followed by a ban on the Communist and Socialist Parties and the mass arrest, incarceration and murder of left-wing politicians, trade unionists and intellectuals, sent a shock-wave through the European social democratic movement. The dual crisis of fascism and mass unemployment precipitated a crucial debate and political mobilisation of the left at national and international levels to find an urgent solution to both economic recession and the Nazi advance, in particular through a united front strategy.46 The police and an SA /SS group searched Chakhotin’s laboratory and home on two occasions between 6th and 10th March 1933 and the directors of the Institute, concerned about his political activities, terminated his employment on 22 April.47 Chakhotin, clearly in danger despite the protection of his Soviet citizenship, fled to Denmark on 2 May 1933 from where he continued his anti-fascist activities by writing Trepil mod Hagekors (Three Arrows against the Swastika) and offering his services to the Danish Social Democrats (DsU).48 In a letter to Albert Einstein in December 1933 Chakhotin gave an apocalyptic picture of the global threat of fascism that, without the correct antidote, “must inevitably result in war and total destruction”. There was a danger, he noted, that the collapse of the SPD might discredit the new forms of propaganda, but “the psychological weapon is indeed the only one with which we can fight successfully in Western Europe”, and he had a duty to promote this “for the benefit of mankind”.49 Chakhotin sketched out his grandiose plan for the containment and eventual reversal of fascism by throwing a cordon sanitaire around Nazi Germany.50

Inspired and driven by a sense of the crucial importance of his personal mission, Chakhotin, over the next five years, attempted to spread his message by trying to ensure the translation and distribution of Three Arrows against the Swastika in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, England, France, Switzerland, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, and by making direct contact with Social Democratic leaders in England, Belgium and France.51 While Chakhotin made a big impact on Danish youth,52 as he did elsewhere in Europe, the leaders of the Danish Socialist Party remained loyal to the SPD Executive Committee that had found refuge in Prague and which stood in opposition to a growing movement among exiled socialists to remove the old guard, including Otto Wels, who were held responsible for the catastrophic German collapse.53 Faced with the opposition of the Danish leaders, and in particular of Richard Hansen who kept Otto Wels informed of his activities, Chakhotin decided in early 1934 to move to Paris where he found a far more sympathetic reception, particularly in the context of an emerging Popular Front.

The quasi-insurrectionary fascist street-fighting in Paris on 6 February 1934, during which fifteen demonstrators died, was followed within days by the crushing of the Austrial Social Democrats by the Dolfuss dictatorship. These events galvanized the French left that suddenly came to see itself as faced with an ultimate crisis in which fascism had now moved into the heart of French society itself. The period from 1934 to 1936, which opened with a pact of unity between the SFIO and the French Communist Party on 27 July 1934, represented a golden age of Socialist militancy and the flourishing of increasingly elaborate forms of avant-garde art, political symbolism and mass demonstrations.54 The key role in the reconstruction of French socialist action and propaganda was played by the left-wing leaders Jean Zyromski and Marceau Pivert who led the anti-fascist Bataille socialist tendency and the militant youth movement that was particularly strong in the Paris region, the Fédération de la Seine.55 Chakhotin, from his base in Copenhagen, made contact with Zyromski as secretary of the national SFIO commission on propaganda, and following a first exploratory trip to Paris, he prepared under the pseudonyme “Dr. Flamme”, a detailed plan for the radical overhaul of socialist propaganda according to the scientific theory tried and tested by him in Heidelberg.56 Socialists, he claimed, would never be able to counter fascist propaganda, “if we remain bound to our old out-moded methods, if we do not have recourse to the same methods as the fascists”. Chakhotin’s call for modernisation represented a profound shock to the political culture of the mainstream Socialist Party that was based on the nineteenth century Guesdist tradition of proletarian education and enlightenment and a rational discourse that was diffused through closely argued texts, newspapers, books, and pamphlets. The plan went on to argue that French Socialist policy was wrong to see economic self-interest, based on the instinct of nutrition, as “the most effective stimulus in political propaganda”. Mussolini and Hitler had demonstratred the irresistible power of aggression and struggle, “a kind of spiritual dictatorship that culminated in the ‘Gleichschaltung’ “, a forcible-coordination that imposed a particular way of thinking on the masses.

The “Flamme Plan” sketched in a programme of reform of Socialist propaganda. This would be achieved through a highly centralised apparatus constructed on Taylorist lines, “functioning according to the modern methods for the scientific organisation of rational labour, employing every modern technique, and economising on effort, time and money”. The central body would ensure the scientific design of effective symbols and slogans, such as the Three Arrows, that would have an instantaneous impact, and be able “in the twinkling of an eye or a split second to stimulate an association in the nervous system of any onlooker”. Propaganda would also be designed to match the socio-cultural and political characteristics of particular classes or regions, and the effectiveness of campaigns measured, through a “métérologie politique” [political weather charts], the mapping and analysis of public opinion, a technique that Chakhotin pioneered during the Russian Revolution.

The dramatic collapse and repression of the great German and Austrian Socialist parties led tens of thousands of émigrés to seek refuge in France where they were warmly received by the left as heroes of the anti-fascist struggle and as battle-hardened militants from whom important lessons could be learned.57 The political symbols and new forms of propaganda developed in Germany and Austria, such as the Three Arrows, the clenched fist salute, and uniformed youth leagues like the Red Falcons, were already known in France through newspaper photographs and cinema newsreels of the Iron Front and the Schutzbund, powerful images of the laboratory of anti-Nazi resistance.58 Chakhotin, as a pioneer of propaganda in Germany, shared in this halo of glory, and was readily adopted by the Socialist Party. The centre and right leadership of the SFIO, including Léon Blum, were sufficiently shocked by the dramatic collapse of the mighty SPD and by the fascist riots of 6 February 1934, to be galvanized into acceptance of new propaganda methods and a united front strategy.59 However, it was mainly Pivert and the far-left Socialist bastion in Paris that took the initiative in cultivating Chakhotin and at the annual Congress of the Federation of the Seine on 24 June 1934 the secretary of the Jeunesses Socialistes reported, “we have invited Dr. Flamme to give us a lecture on the new methods of rational and scientifically grounded propaganda”, and had already introduced an action plan that included the universal dissemination of the Three Arrows on flyers, posters, badges and banners, and the “battle of symbols applied to every wall”.60 The secretary hoped that the methods would spread nation-wide which, in some regions, proved to be the case as the militant Raymond Abellio witnessed in the Drôme in 1935.61

As in Russia, Germany and Denmark, Chakhotin did not stand on the sidelines as a theorist of propaganda but was directly involved in the detailed planning of several huge Popular Front demonstrations. On 15 May 1936 Chakhotin, on behalf of the Fédération de la Seine, organised a mass rally to impress the lukewarm SFIO leadership, what he termed, “a model meeting...based on the rules of the art of the ‘new’ propaganda”.62 A high point was an elaborate, illuminated panel, that showed Colonel de la Roque, leader of the fascist Croix de Feu, being chased by Three Arrows.63 But the high point of Chakhotin’s method was the victory celebration of the newly elected Popular Front government in the Vel d’Hiver arena on 7 June 1936. Columns of uniformed Jeune garde socialiste marched into the stadium carrying red flags with the Three Arrow emblem, and formed up on either side of a central corridor, lowering their banners as Blum advanced towards the podium to the sound of choirs and martial fanfares.64 The militaristic style of the rally, which bore an unmistakable similarity with fascist propaganda, appears to have been in contradiction with the self-proclaimed “pacifist” principles of Chakhotin and the left-Socialists led by Pivert. However, the Pivertists made a distinction between “integral pacifism” that would accept no form of violence, and “revolutionary pacifism” that legitimated defensive armed struggle against aggressive fascism and war-mongering capitalist interests.65 Chakhotin’s “Plan Flamme” of 1934 had promoted a campaign based on “aggression” and the fighting instinct and led by “propaganda assault troops”, and Pivert in late 1934 established armed auto-defense units, the Toujours prêt pour servir (TPPS) brigades.66

By the autumn of 1936 Chakhotin, as in Germany and Denmark, was again bitterly disillusioned by a French Socialist leadership sunk in lethargy that failed to provide full backing for his propaganda methods. The Blum government moved rapidly towards a more conservative position that was symbolised dramatically by non-interventionism and a refusal to support vigorous action against General Franco’s rebellion. The Pivertist left, with whom Chakhotin was associated, became isolated and, after the SFIO dissolved the Paris Federation in April 1938, formed the breakaway

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