TRANSNATIONAL ACTIVISM. New Directions in French History.

On 27 January 2017, Chris Millington (Swansea) led a one-day workshop at the Institute of Historical Research funded by the British Academy where doctoral and early career French historians met to discuss their research and approaches to teaching. Organised in conjunction with the French History Network and New Directions workshops, it showcased the work of six doctoral researchers exploring various of modern French history.

In the second panel, Ellen Crabtree (Durham) delivered a paper on her post-doctoral project, ‘Moving on from Madeleine Rebérioux‘. Jasmine Calver (Northumbria) then spoke on her doctoral work, ‘The Campaigns of the Comité mondial des femmes contre la guerre et le fascisme and the International Struggle against Fascism in the 1930s‘. Both papers explored transnational activism – not least female activism – in the twentieth century. It seemed particularly timely in view of the Women’s Marches which had taken place all over the world just a few days beforehand. The session was recorded so you can enjoy it here in full.

ELLEN CRABTREE on ‘Moving on from Madeleine Rebérioux’: In August 1967, a shipment of 1,500 science books and journals left France for Hanoi, North Vietnam. Money for the books had been raised by academics in France, Europe and North America. Over the course of the Vietnam war, these individuals sent a variety of resources in solidarity to support Vietnamese researchers affected by the US aerial bombardments.

‘Books for Vietnam’ was the most significant enterprise undertaken by the Collectif Intersyndical Universitaire d’action pour la paix au Vietnam, founded by French academics and syndicalists in October 1965. Along with organising mass protest events such as ‘Six heures pour le Vietnam’ (1966) and commissioning and organising the activist play V comme Vietnam (Armand Gatti, 1967) the book appeal became a rallying-point for academics in France and across the globe.

My research into the Collective and its ‘Books for Vietnam’ campaign recounts an important story of practical academic activism which has been largely overlooked by historians of the global anti-Vietnam war movement. The Collective broadens our understanding of how transnational academic networks were mobilised for alternative ends: from the moral to the political to the humanitarian.

Archives Nationales (Pierrefitte) 20000529/2 Des livres pour le Viet-nam (1969).
Archives Nationales (Pierrefitte) 20000529/2 Des livres pour le Viet-nam (1969).

JASMINE CALVER on’The Campaigns of the Comité mondial des femmes contre la guerre et le fascisme and the International Struggle against Fascism in the 1930s‘: The 1930s was marked by the rise and consolidation of fascist governments across Europe, and, in response, anti-fascism became a popular cause for peace activists to adopt. Such French peace activists came together in Paris in August 1934 to set up an international women’s anti-fascist organisation: the Comité Mondial des Femmes contre la Guerre et le Fascisme (CMF). It quickly became apparent however, that the CMF leadership was not as ‘sans parti’ as it claimed to be; it held extremely close links to the Soviet Union and the Communist International which often caused tensions with the socialist and co-operative women who were members. This relationship between the dominant French CMF section and the Soviet Union is examined in this paper, to demonstrate that there was a high level of collaboration between Soviet and French women in antifascist activism in the period before World War Two. It examines the exchange of ideas that occurred through the attendance of Soviet women at CMF conferences and through visits that French and Belgian CMF delegations took to the USSR. The paper demonstrates that this collaboration impacted on how anti-fascist activism was approached in France, and that it affected the scope of the group’s goals, moving further towards the defence of the Soviet Union and away from traditional peace activism as the 1930s progressed.

French and Belgian Committee in USSR
French and Belgian Committee in USSR


Ellen Crabtree is Assistant Senior Tutor at Hatfield College, Durham University and is an Honorary Fellow in the Department of History. She was recently awarded her PhD on Madeleine Rebérioux, a prominent French historian, and is now working on broader networks of academic activism in post-war France.

Jasmine Calver is a PhD candidate in her second year at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle. She also completed her undergraduate degree and her MRes degree at the University of Northumbria. Her research centres on the Comité mondial des femmes contre la guerre et le fascisme (CMF), an international anti-fascist women’s group dominated by French women, with strong ties to both the Parti communist français and the Communist International. Her thesis examines the work of the CMF, its leadership (including prominent French feminist pacifist Gabrielle Duchêne, and communist Bernadette Cattanéo), with emphasis on the Comité’s relationship with Soviet women and the Soviet government. It will demonstrate how various strands of women’s activism overlapped in the interwar period, in addition to how the international communist movement employed communist women and fellow-travellers in the west as a means of defence against the fascist threat.


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