Hidden financings. On the socialist uses of cooperation in the North of France at the turn of the 20th century

Special report. Partisan discretion
By Sylvain Celle, Thomas Chevallier, Vianney Schlegel

Using the case of the Union de Lille consumer cooperative as a starting point, and studying socialist cooperation in northern France more generally, this article examines the practices of discretion, dissimulation, and secrecy regarding the financing of partisan political activities at the turn of the 20th century. By revisiting the debates on the role that cooperatives should play in the political struggle and in the achievement of socialism, the study highlights the strategies of publicization and discretion mobilized by cooperative leaders with regard to the principle of systematically subsidizing political parties. Beyond these issues, the examination of the archives of the Union de Lille shows that certain decisions that jeopardized the cooperative economic model were hidden from the members, while the strategies of class alliance or alliance with Freemasonry were the subject of ambivalent representations, oscillating between ideological opposition and tacit or pragmatic acceptance in the name of the financing needs of the political struggle. Finally, all of the debates and practices analyzed can be related to the processes of structuring and professionalization of French political life: the constitution of a culture of secrecy around the issues of financing the political field reflects its autonomization, and the growing selectivity in access to its highest positions.

  • socialism
  • cooperative movement
  • labour movement
  • political finance
  • culture of secrecy
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