The unification of the Resistance

On the 27th January 1943, Henri Frenay, the leader of "Combat", Emmanuel d'Astier
de la Vigerie, the leader of "Libération Sud" and Jean-Pierre Levy, the leader of
"Franc-Tireur", signed the official document signifying the birth of the "United
Résistance Movements" (MUR). Then there was the creation of the National
Council for the Résistance (CNR) which met on the 27th May 1943
in rue du Four in Paris.

 



The Anglo-American landings in Morocco and Algeria on the 8th November 1942 increased the unity of
the Résistance. Held at a distance from the allied operation, General de Gaulle needed the support of the
Résistance at home. The American government was criticised for having dealt with the collaborator Darlan.
On the 14th December General de Gaulle's representative Jean Moulin wondered whether the struggle for
liberation "would not lead to consolidating the very regimes against which the struggle was taking place".

 

 

From individual acts of resistance to the birth of the movements



As a reminder, here is a summary of the development of the Résistance. Born out of the refusal to accept the
defeat and occupation and from the struggle against Nazism and Fascism, and even from General de Gaulle's
appeal, it was initially a matter of acts by a few individuals. Then the Résistance moved beyond the realm of
purely individual reactions. Resistance fighters got together and the initial nuclei turned into movements, whose
action focussed on disseminating information through the creation of a clandestine newspaper to counteract
the propaganda of both the Vichy government and the occupying forces. In the northern zone, the presence
of the occupant made the activity of the early movements - such as "Organisation civile et militaire" (Civilian
and Military Organisation", "Ceux de la Résistance"("Those of the Résistance", "Ceux de la Libération"
("Those of the Liberation", "Front National pour l'indépendance de la France" ("National Front for
the Independence of France"), "Libération Nord" ("North Liberation"), "Défense de la France"
("Defence of France") and "La Voix du Nord" ("The Voice of the North")
- even more perilous. There were very few or no links between them.

 

 

Towards the coordination of the movements in the southern zone



In 1941 in the southern zone, the movements "Liberté" ("Freedom"), "Mouvement de Libération nationale"
("Movement for National Liberation") and "Libération-Sud" ("South Liberation") authorised Jean Moulin, a former
Prefect dismissed by Vichy on the 2nd November 1940 and famous for his act of courage against the occupant
on the 17th June 1940, to secure funds from London. On the 25th October 1941, he introduced himself to
General de Gaulle as a sort of "virtual hyphen" linking the two Résistance movements. Having come as a
messenger, he left as his personal representative to impose his authority on all those involved in the struggle.
On the 2nd January 1942 Jean Moulin, now known as Rex, parachuted in with funds and radio transmission
equipment for the movements. His mission was to rally the movements, unite them and create a unified
Secret Army by separating the military forces from the political organisations.

Until then, the Résistance on the home front and the Free French (France libre) had followed parallel paths
with specific strategies and political projects. In the summer of 1942, although the movements were won over
by de Gaulle who was committed to the principal of restoring the republican ideal, they still wanted to keep
their freedom of action. At the end of1941, a first fusion was achieved with the creation of "Combat", born
from the absorption of "Liberté" by the "Mouvement de libération nationale" whilst "Franc-Tireur" expanded.
Jean Moulin set up the Secret Army, which General Delestraint agreed to manage. Military coordination
was difficult because the resistance fighters considered the separation of political action from military action
unrealistic, since they involved the same militants. Rex had previously established services common to
the various movements, such as the Bureau of information and propaganda and the National Committee
of experts (the would-be General Study Committee) whose responsibility was to instigate discussion
on the reforms to be undertaken on Liberation.
The coordination of the movements in the south was successful, with the establishment of a Committee
chaired by Jean Moulin, which met on the 27th November 1942 with the head of the secret army,
General Delestraint, and Frenay, d'Astier de la Vigerie and Levy, respectively the leaders of
"Combat", "Libération Sud" and "Franc-Tireur".

This committee transmitted the general instructions from the French National Committee
in London to the movements.

  • General de Gaulle's appeal on the 18th June 1940

    General de Gaulle's appeal on the 18th June 1940. Photograph DMPA

  • Newspapers of the three resistance movements which united to form the United Résistance Movement

    Newspapers of the three resistance movements which united to form the United Résistance Movement. Source: SHD

  • ©Musée de la Résistance Nationale
  • Plaque apposée au 48 rue du Four, Paris (6ème). ©SGA/DMPA

    Plaque apposée au 48 rue du Four, Paris (6ème). ©SGA/DMPA

 

 

The movements join forces



At the beginning of 1943, things stepped up a gear because of the political situation in North Africa,
General Giraud having been appointed to succeed Darlan, following his elimination on the 24th December 1942.
While difficult talks began between Generals Giraud and de Gaulle, Moulin considered it vital to carry out the union
of the Résistance, in order to provide the leader of the Free French with crucial support. On the 27th January 1943,
Frenay, d'Astier and Levy signed the official document signalling the birth of the "United Résistance Movements",
establishing a single leadership. All the factions within the movements had to appoint a representative at every
level. It was an important event in the history of the French Résistance on the home front, since the movements
accepted to reunite their forces at a decisive moment in the struggle. The occupation of the southern zone by
the Germans on the 11th November 1942 and by the Italians, followed by the creation of the Militia, forced
the resistance fighters to take more precautions. Unity was sought by both resistance fighters and the movement
leaders. The committee in charge of the MUR was chaired by Jean Moulin, assisted by three commissioners :
Frenay for "Military Affairs", d'Astier de la Vigerie for "Political Affairs" and Levy for "Information and
Administration". The southern zone was divided into six regions managed by the representative of the
most significant group. Clandestine life was becoming increasingly difficult due to the repression that was
becoming more acute, requiring constant reorganisation. The establishment of the Secret Army, which
coincided with the rush of men looking to escape from the Compulsory Work Service established on
the 16th February 1943, sparked debates on its use and its character - Frenay wanted a "revolutionary
army" - and the resources to be allocated to it, which depended on the role that the allied commanders
and the French Committee intended it to play on D Day. Up until this time, instant acts - sabotages
and revenge operations - had been carried out by the movements' armed groups, known as
the "heavy" groups. The aim of Moulin and Delestraint's trip to London was to secure aid to
arm and supply the "maquis" underground movement.

 

 

The creation of the National Résistance Council



The other question was the creation of the National Résistance Council, a sort of secret parliament,
reintroducing political parties and unions. The co-founder of "Libération nord", Christian Pineau, amongst
others, campaigned in favour of this idea. It was with reluctance that the leaders of the Résistance accepted this,
because the movements created with the aim of liberating the country had, in some ways, replaced the political
parties discredited by the defeat. Frenay campaigned for a "new France" combining socialism and liberty.
Rex, armed with new instructions from General de Gaulle and the title of Commissioner on a mission for
the whole of France, was to set up the Résistance Council. Its creation was necessary to take into account
the role of the communists (the FTP and the National Front), the socialists (socialist action committees)
and union activists (the "Manifesto of the twelve" of the 15th November 1940) in the Résistance.
In the northern zone, Pierre Brossolette, sent by the central Information and Action Bureau (Bureau
central de renseignement et d'action or BCRA) to carry out what had already been achieved in the south,
disagreed with Jean Moulin on the creation of the National Résistance Council (Conseil national de la
Résistance or CNR). He was given the responsibility of creating a Committee for the coordination of
the movements in the northern zone that were grumbling about the introduction of political parties.
His task, accomplished in under ten weeks, was remarkable since the organisations would continue.
The communist party, more established than in the southern zone, represented a major force, which made
its integration difficult. Jean Moulin retained the eight major movements in the CNR, a sort of secret parliament,
with the small ones becoming affiliated to the large ones representing them. On the 27th May 1943 in Paris,
at 48 rue du Four (6th district), Jean Moulin brought together and presided over the 16 groups: 8 Résistance
movements (3 from the southern zone: "Combat", "Libération Sud" and "Franc-Tireur", 5 from the
northern zone: "l'Organisation civile et militaire (OCM)", "Libération Nord", "Ceux de la Résistance" (CDLR),
"Ceux de la Libération" (CDLL)and "Le Front national"); 6 factions (communists, socialists, radicals, popular
democrats, the Democratic Alliance and the Republican Federation), two trades unions: the CGT and the CFTC.
All the components of the Résistance were thus affiliated within this organisation which lent its support to General
de Gaulle to "prepare completely clearly and independently for the rebirth of the destroyed Homeland and
shattered republican freedoms". General Giraud, who was to be subordinated as military leader, was aware
of the importance of the Résistance and resolved to make the leader of the Free French come to Algiers
at the end of May. A united France was required in this struggle. Fusion was achieved, but not easily.
The arrest of Jean Moulin on the 21st June 1943 in Caluire, did not affect it. Fighting France prepared
herself for her ultimate objective: the liberation of the homeland.

 

Source: Christine Levisse-Touzé, Director of the Memorial to Leclerc and the Liberation of Paris and Jean Moulin Museum (City of Paris), associate director of research at Montpellier III. Additional source: Isabelle Rivé, Director of the Centre of the Résistance and the Deportation of the Town of Lyon. "Les Chemins de la Mémoire" Review no. 127 - April 2003