Robert Brasillach & Notre avant-guerre: The Joie of Fascisme

Robert Brasillach & Notre avant-guerre: The Joie of Fascisme


Editor’s Note: March 31st marks the 115th birthday of Robert Brasillach, the French journalist, novelist,  film historian, and man of the Right who was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad for “intellectual crimes” he was alleged to have committed as a German collaborator during the Second World War.  The following translation is offered as a commemoration, and links to other resources regarding Brasillach’s life and work are at the end.


In our last episode of Notre avant-guerre, Brasillach was telling us how in the mid-1930s he was curious about the popular “Communist” mayor of Saint-Denis, Jacques Doriot. Doriot will soon evolve into a populist quasi-fascist, founder of the Parti Populaire Français, and leading collaborateur with the Germans during the Second World War.

Doriot split with the Left in 1936, at the time of the Popular Front, when Stalin pretended to cancel the Comintern in an effort to gather all Socialists and Communists under one big tent. But the practical result was that Do-It-Yourself Marxism like Doriot’s simply was simply not “on” anymore. If you were a Lefty who insisted on beating his own path, the Stalinists and their socialist catspaws in the Popular Front would call you a deviationist, a Trotskyist maybe. Perhaps even (as happened with George Orwell and some other writers) a “Fascist Trotskyite”! Alternatively you could accept the fact that your revolutionary populism really was a sort of “fascism,” and not take offense at that.

In explaining the attraction of French fascism, Brasillach’s repeatedly use of word joie, which means something other than a rush of happiness as “joy” means in English. Rather it is a soaring, magical transformation of the human spirit. “Exalted feeling, emotion pleasant and profound,” is how the idiomatic French dictionary Le Robert Methodique defines joie. For Brasillach it means elan vital, a creative force. It was used that way in popular song of the time.  Before entertainer Charles Trenet (aka “The Singing Madman”) produced his durable standards “Boum” (1938) and “La Mer” (1946) he had a big hit called “Y’a d’la joie” (1936). The title doesn’t really translate well into English, but the joie in the song is more than gleefulness, it’s more like the spiritual uplift Brasillach talks about.


From Notre avant-guerre:

We could see that this old Marxist, Jacques Doriot—longtime streetfighter, workingman, agitator—was coming to terms with the national reality, little by little. In 1936 he got himself elected again [to the Chamber of Deputies] as a non-Communist revolutionary. It was after this that he founded the Parti Populaire Français, with a platform of supporting legitimate workers’ strikes while denouncing strikes for political agenda. This endeared him to many workers. It also enraged the Marxists. Doriot brought to his new party the methods he’d learned from the Communists, with an organization made up of party cells. On some pretext or another, he was deposed as mayor of Saint-Denis. Bravely he gave up his position as a municipal councilor. He resigned, stood for re-election, and then after a very hard campaign, was defeated. So then, out of honesty, he relinquished his seat as a deputy.

We had some of his PPF comrades working at Je Suis Partout. And we had a great deal of sympathy with his movement. Unhappily the PPF fell victim to internal quarrels, and it was starved of donations from those big business interests who thought it wiser to subsidize the Radical Party. But still, the PPF shone with a vigorous, solid, populist spirit during those early years.

PPF meetings were magnificent. I still remember the one that took place the day after the Anschluss [in Austria; March 1938] when all the [French government] ministers had resigned. We had a hall full of delegates from France and the Empire, tough two-fisted lads, and they sent up the cry of «Doriot will win!» Which was just another way of saying «France will triumph!»

I also remember one night when we invited Jacques Doriot to a Je Suis Partout dinner. After dinner, with Alain Lambreaux [1] and Jean Fontenoy [2] we went to drink in the eaves of St-Denis to celebrate a PPF legionnaire who was returning the next day to Sidi-Bel-Abbès [Algeria, Oran province]. I looked at Jacques Doriot, that calm and solid giant: patient, energetic, in the midst of the braying of good, slightly tipsy boys who sang sentimental songs, and applauded our comrade Robert Andriveau [3] who, perched on a barrel, intoned an aria from Tosca. It was all very pleasant.

And so it was that out of these various influences and experiences, we formed something that our adversaries called fascism, a term we came to accept. This was the jargon of the time, in this immediate pre-war period. And it’s not hard to enumerate those aspects of our movement that characterized it as “fascism.” We knew that elsewhere, in other lands, there were many young men who resembled us despite the national differences. Some of them had suffered from war as children, others from revolutions in their countries, all from the economic crisis. They knew about their nation, they knew its past, and they wanted to believe in its future. In front of them the imperial imperative was constantly shimmering, scintillating. They wanted a pure nation, a pure race.

They loved the idea of bonding together in huge gatherings of people, where the rhythmic movements of armies and crowds were like the pulsations of a vast heart. They did not believe in the pretenses of liberalism, about the equality of mankind, or the will of the people. But they did believe that a nation is one, like an athletic team. A team that embraces the independent scholar and the industrialist; the poet, the scientist and the laborer. They did not believe in power itself, or that might made right. But they knew that a great joie could be born of such power.

The wrongheadedness of the anti-fascist crowd came out in their complete misunderstanding of fascist joie. It’s a joy that can be criticized, perhaps a joy that could even be called excessive and infernal—but joy nevertheless. The young fascist, leaning on his race and his nation, proud of his vigorous body, of his clear esprit despising the goods of this world; the young fascist in his camp, in the midst of the comrades of peace who might also be comrades of war; the young fascist who sings, who walks, who works. He dreams, but he is first of all a joyful being. Before judging this joy, it is first necessary to know that it exists, and that sarcasm will not engulf it. I do not know whether, as Mussolini said, «the twentieth century will be the century of fascism,» but I am sure that nothing will prevent the fascist joy from having expanded minds with emotion and reason.

Fascism was not, however, for us a political doctrine, nor was it an economic doctrine, it was not some imitation of a foreign creed. Our confrontations with foreign fascisms only convinced us more strongly of national uniqueness, and therefore our own. But fascism is a spirit. It is a spirit of non-conformism at first, anti-bourgeois, and disrespect for norms also had its share in it. It is a spirit opposed to prejudice, to that of class prejudice and any other. This is the very spirit of friendship, which we would have liked to have taken to the level of national friendship.

Chapter VII: September Storms

Years from now, people may not readily understand how it was that those who missed the war in their childhood, who grew up in a Europe full of illusions (and even if they did not believe in them, such fantasies nevertheless informed the whole atmosphere of their adolescence); yet who suddenly, for several years, expected war in spring or autumn.

I am not just talking about those big crises where, when you opened the newspaper one morning, you’d see the tensions escalating. No, I’m thinking of that subtle combination of influences, the sense of destiny that was doing everything to persuade us, day to day, hour to hour, that war was inevitable. War was inevitable, it would come. You might say it would come from from democratic stupidity, or blame something else, but however, it was going to come. And if you’re a man of thirty, you find yourself from time to time losing a little bit of—well, not courage so much, but rather confidence. Confidence, and moral health. You struggle with your nerves continually, so you cannot help getting beaten down by it all. For perhaps, deep down, you no longer cling to a comforting hope of some miracle. You know that the rationale doctrines are all spent. You do your job, your job of a man, a politician, waiting for something better, wondering if you will not soon give it up for the profession of war. And no matter how much you put an optimistic face to your fate, you experience a quiet form of hopelessness.

And as I conclude this account of our last pre-war year, it’s this hopeless feeling of inevitability that sticks in my mind. It had taken years to develop, but the first clear call we had was on July 25, 1934. There we were, unfolding our newspaper on the platform of a bus, and we learned of the assassination of Chancellor Dollfuss. And summer was coming—how similar to another tragic anniversary! War was just as possible now as it had been after Sarajevo, twenty years before. And then there was the build-up of the German army, and most especially the remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936. That was when the French, without doubt, accepted the inevitably of war.

And there came Vienna, in March 1938 [the Anschluss]. All this was German business, of course, not ours. And whatever the danger, we never took seriously the idea of a war against Italy, against Spain. That was just too stupid, although fate can be stupid. Then, at long last, we had the most serious crisis, that of September 1938, the so-called White War.

For months it had been felt that a war born of this heterogeneous Czechoslovakia bordering on a powerful Reich had been approaching for months (and soothsayers, such as Jacques Bainville [4], had been predicting it since Versailles). After the Anschluss of Austria — did not an illustrious Czech statesman say, “Would you rather have the Anschluss than the Habsburgs?” — Czechoslovakia had tried in all haste to settle its internal problems, to come to an understanding with Germany. But it had three and a half million Germans, and propaganda was gaining ground every day. It would have been necessary to make Czechoslovakia a Switzerland, including respect for nationalities and cantons. Alas! it takes seven hundred years to make a Switzerland: Czechoslovakia was twenty years old. The Nuremberg Congress that year would take place in the pride of European expectation.

It had been going on for a month. After there was promised a certain degree of autonomy to the Germans of the Sudeten mountain region (which came to be known as the Sudetenland), we were told “that point of view was outdated” as they were now demanding something else. Germany wanted outright annexation. Yet, on the evening of September 12, at the close of the Nuremberg Congress, when Chancellor Hitler was shining the red flags at an angle among the torches and searchlights, he announced that he was renouncing any claim to his western frontiers, we began to shudder again.

After this, each day brought its color, its brightness, its fear. People were already approaching each other in the street, and explaining the Czechoslovak problem in their own way:

— After all, if three million Germans want to be German, that’s their affair. Not ours.


The following additional resources concerning Brasillach’s life and work are available at Counter-Currents:

Writings by Brasillach

From Notre avant-guerre:


About Brasillach




[1] Alain Lambreaux, 1899-1968. Theater critic and contributor to Je Suis Partout.

[2] Jean Fontenoy, 1899-1945. Journalist, liaison to Pierre Laval, finally propagandist for Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism.

[3] Robert Andriveau 1897-1958, writer for Je Suis Partout.

[4] Jacques Pierre Bainville, 1879-1936. Geopolitical theorist and figure in Action Française. Critic of the Versailles Treaty in Les Consequences Politiques de la Paix.