Mobilizing Youth

Communists and Catholics in Interwar France

Mobilizing Youth

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 13 illustrations Published: September 2009

Author: Susan Whitney

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > European History, Sociology

In Mobilizing Youth, Susan B. Whitney examines how youth moved to the forefront of French politics in the two decades following the First World War. In those years Communists and Catholics forged the most important youth movements in France. Focusing on the competing efforts of the two groups to mobilize the young and harness generational aspirations, Whitney traces the formative years of the Young Communists and the Young Christian Workers, including their female branches. She analyzes the ideologies of the movements, their major campaigns, their styles of political and religious engagement, and their approaches to male and female activism. As Whitney demonstrates, the recasting of gender roles lay at the heart of Catholic efforts and became crucial to Communist strategies in the mid-1930s.

Moving back and forth between the constantly shifting tactics devised to mobilize young people and the circumstances of their lives, Whitney gives special consideration to the context in which the youth movements operated and in which young people made choices. She traces the impact of the First World War on the young and on the formulation of generation-based political and religious identities, the role of work and leisure in young people’s lives and political mobilization, the impact of the Depression, the importance of Soviet ideas and intervention in French Communist youth politics, and the state’s attention to youth after the victory of France’s Popular Front government in 1936. Mobilizing Youth concludes by inserting the era’s youth activists and movements into the complicated events of the Second World War.


Mobilizing Youth offers a compelling and long-overdue analysis of the two most numerically significant youth movements in interwar France.” — Robert Lewis H-France, H-Net Reviews

Mobilizing Youth will provide readers with an absorbing insight into the nature of young working-class lives, organizational capabilities and activities during a period of intense ideological contestation over youth mobilization.” — Michelle Perkins, History

“[F]irst-class historical writing. This is a substantial and suggestive contribution to a critical period in French history about which much has already been written. . . . In identifying gender relations within the movements as an important gap in the current scholarship, Whitney threatens to transform the expanding literature on youth in twentieth-century France.” — Daniel Lee, French Studies

“[T]his is a refreshing social history that astutely considers the impact of age and gender on class and politics, and in the process offers an illuminating new perspective on the history of youth in interwar France.” — Richard Ivan Jobs, American Historical Review

“Thoroughly original. . . . . Will lead scholars to consider the importance of youth as a political force in new ways." — Laura Levine Frader, Journal of Modern History

“In this engaging book, Susan B. Whitney adopts an imaginative approach to the social history of French youth movements. . . . For the participants in both movements, their mobilisation by both JC and JOC had long-lasting effects, which Whitney introduces to her story through the use of memoirs and interviews. Indeed, the description of the participants is one of the major strengths of this study. . . . In this sense, the book represents an important contribution to the existing literature on youth movements, in which young intellectuals, individual youth movements, or European groups have received more attention than mobilisation or political responses amongst young workers in interwar France.” — Alison Carrol, Modern and Contemporary France

“This is a book which will interest specialists in a number of fields, including historians of gender and of youth. Above all, Mobilizing Youth ably narrates the emergence of youth as a particular social category, a form of rhetorical solidarity binding together people of diverse backgrounds and over a fairly wide age range. Whitney reminds us of the political agenda underlying this period’s innovations for youth, many of which remain with us today.” — Joseph Dunlop, French History

“Whitney has made an authoritative contribution in this area and is already known as one of Canada’s leading authorities on modern European history. Her scholarship is unassuming, informed, wide-ranging, and solid. Her ideas and conclusions are fair-minded and substantiated. She tells the story of these young people in an empathic, lively, and interesting way. . . . This book, built upon extensive work in primary and secondary sources, constitutes a solid and significant contribution to knowledge in an important field of historical inquiry.” — John W. Hellman, Catholic Historical Review

“Whitney has made extensive use of a variety of public and private resources, particularly in the archives of Communist and Catholic groups. This is a commendable task given the difficulty of tracking down and accessing these archives and their disparate materials. At the same time, Whitney has made informed use of selected documents to paint a textured portrait of the movements that form the centrepiece of her study. As a testament to the work involved here, and the author’s commitment to it, this document is decades in the making.” — Jeff Shantz, Canadian Journal of History

“Whitney's analysis of masculinity and femininity in the JC/UJFF and JOC/JOCF is truly groundbreaking. . . . Mobilizing Youth weaves a compelling political, social, and gendered narrative to bolster its claim that youth did take on an important role in interwar French society. It would be a relevant assignment for upper-level undergraduate courses in French history. Whitney’s book makes an important contribution to the literature on youth history in the twentieth century. . . .” — Arthur Plaza, French Politics, Culture & Society

"In this important study, Susan B. Whitney looks at the history of French politics during the interwar years from an unusual angle, the youth movements sponsored by the Communist Party and the Catholic Church. . . . [T]his is a fine study that adds a good deal to our knowledge of French youth, and of politics and society in interwar France. It is well written, cogently argued, and uses a wide variety of source material." — Tyler Stovall, Labour/Le Travail

Mobilizing Youth offers an ambitious and imaginative look at two vital movements in interwar France, with a comparison that adds greatly to our understanding not just of French social and political history, but of the emergence of youth as an organized (and manipulated) force.” — Peter N. Stearns, Provost, George Mason University

“In this fascinating book, the social history of French youth in the interwar years has finally found its historian. Susan B. Whitney’s extensive and careful research in the archives of communist and Catholic youth movements introduces us to the critical issues at stake: competition for the allegiance of the young between communists and Catholics, the key role played by adults in shaping youth activism, the influence of the changing political scene in the 1920's and 30's, and the long-term effects membership had on those who joined up. Whitney is particularly astute in her analysis of the place of gender; she shows us how traditional notions of sexual difference were at once reinforced and changed in the experience of young Catholics and communists who participated in these movements.” — Joan W. Scott, Institute for Advanced Study

“Susan Whitney has a fascinating story to tell, and she tells it very well. She weaves individual voices and stories throughout her narrative, giving a human face to the highly contested landscape of youth organization in interwar France. Her thickly described sociocultural history plunges the reader into the world of young workers (Catholics and Communists, male and female), and her superb analysis reminds us of the often brutal impact that the First World War had on the children who lived through it and grew up to become young workers in its immediate aftermath.” — Laura Lee Downs, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Susan B. Whitney is Associate Professor of History and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. The Politics of Age and Generation in French Communism, 1920–1931 16

2. Building a Communist Youth Organization 51

3. Age, Generation, and Catholic Anticommunism: The Emergence of the J.O.C 80

4. Rereading the J.O.C. through the Lens of Gender: Young Women and the J.O.C.F. 107

5. Youth and the Emergence of Communist Antifascist Politics 137

6. Embracing the Status Quo: Communists, Young People, and Popular Front Politics 171

7. Refusing la main tendue: Catholics, the J.O.C., and the Challenge of Communist Popular Front Societies 209

Conclusion 243

Notes 251

Bibliography of Primary Resources 303

Index 307
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4613-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4595-4
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