Review: Jankowski, “Communism and Collaboration”


Paul Jankowski, “Communism and Collaboration: Simon Sabiani and Politics in Marseilles, 1919-1944” (1989) – French fascism is a funny thing, and arguably the most fecund field of study in terms of sheer gratuitous variety of movements, parties, and tendencies it contained (probably part of the reason they never really got that far before the German occupation). Jankowski examines the career of one of its odder specimens, Marseillaise politician Simon Sabiani, one of the leaders of the Parti Populaire Francaise. Sabiani started out a Communist, though it seems more out of general anti-system feeling in 1919 than out of belief in Marx or anything. More than anything, Sabiani was a machine politician, a dispenser of favors and collector of graft, a well-known type in urban politics and certainly well within Marseilles practice (and Boston- he reminds me a little bit of James Curley, but flightier). He built a base of fellow Corsicans, downwardly mobile petty bourgeois, and criminals. He despised the Popular Front as an electoral threat, and that blossomed into a general turn towards the right, as it did for his eventual notional boss in the PPF, Jacques Doriot. During the war, Sabiani oversaw the wholesale turning over of the PPF in Marseilles to the service of the Germans, though some of them stumbled into borderline-resistance activity (smuggling out Jews, etc), basically due to their long ingrained habit of graft. Jankowski depicts Sabiani as something of a throwback, with a few good instincts (betting on petty bourgeois resentment produces returns, then and now), but incapable of really understanding the forces unleashed by movements like communism and fascism, or by the war. He escaped justice and lived out his life under Peron and Franco’s protection, indulging in barstool fascist oratory to the end of his days.

The book has a certain dissertation-y feel to it, and as such assumes the reader knows more about Marseilles and interwar French politics going in than they might. But Jankowski also packs in a lot of fascinating granular description of how the shabby milieux of poverty, crime, and resentment incorporated itself into the fascist regime at the ground level. You get a better idea of how collaboration functioned — the give and take between prewar structures, the demands of the occupier, the ambitions of collaborators — than you often get. Though one is left wondering what the elite in Marseilles was up to all this time… even if the main interlocutor between the occupiers and the people was Sabiani, the populist, you have to figure it wasn’t all sailors and day-laborers carrying Nazi water. Anyway… good fuel for the Wire-style drama on occupation and resistance that my friend Drew and I fantasize about but will never actually make. ****’

Review: Jankowski, “Communism and Collaboration”

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