This is the last article you can read this month
You can read more article this month
You can read more articles this month
Sorry your limit is up for this month
Today Sardines Are Not for Sale
by Paula Schwartz
(Oxford University Press, £19.99)
1942 was perhaps the darkest year of the second world war in Europe.
Nazi Germany, having already conquered most of the continent, embarked on what looked like an inevitable march across Russia through Stalingrad and Leningrad (today's Saint Petersburg) to the oilfields of Baku that would perpetually fuel the German war machine.
The Nazis saw the rest of Europe as both breadbasket and supplier of consumables since, in Germany, production was geared mainly to arms. In Paris, women attempting to get food for their families queued hours outside shops and then, once inside, increasingly found the shelves bare.
But on May 31 — Mother's Day — there was a ray of hope on the Rue de Buci in the sixth arrondissement, one of the more well-off districts in the French capital. Women shoppers from working-class areas in the city stormed the chainstore Eco and threw sardines, banned for sale that day, out into the streets.
In Today Sardines Are Not for Sale, her “history from below,” Paula Schwartz describes the action as a “turning point in the waging of urban guerilla warfare” and resistance in occupied France.
It was a time when, because of food shortages in Paris, the Nazi regime — supported by the French police and sections of the French middle class — was losing support.
The protest is not commemorated today but it is anchored in a French history of female demonstrations that traces its origins to women marching to Versailles to petition the king for bread in the French revolution and women’s active role in establishing the Paris Commune.
The protest was deliberately targeted at “les grands magasins d’alimentation” — the large food conglomerates — that were guilty of hoarding and holding back supplies.
Even German officer Ernst Junger was struck with the marked class distinction in access to food, with Nazi military and the French elite — who he described as “gargoyles” — feasting on sole and duck at the Parisian landmark restaurant appropriately named Tour d’Argent (Tower of Money) and the “grey ocean of roofs where the hungry people live.”
The demonstration, organised by the French Communist Party, was led by a party stalwart, the teacher Madeleine Marzin who, when captured, proudly acknowledged her part in the demo and was condemned to death for it.
Her death sentence was commuted by Marshall Petain, head of the collaborationist government, who feared that to execute a woman would turn public opinion further against the Vichy regime.
She escaped one month later in a daring quasi-cinematic episode, as her fellow women prisoners caused a commotion by singing La Marseillaise as they were being marched to a prison train, allowing her to slip out of a window and be rescued by French railway workers.
She immediately returned to action in the resistance and after the war was elected to the national assembly, where she championed public education and low-cost working-class housing.
The Communist Party itself was the only political group to mobilise women as well as the first political party after the war to nominate women to stand for office, Schwartz notes.
It typified the party’s focus on championing women’s issues, detailed in this fascinating and original account.
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by joining the 501 club.
Just £5 a month gives you the opportunity to win one of 17 prizes, from £25 to the £501 jackpot.
By becoming a 501 Club member you are helping the Morning Star cover its printing, distribution and staff costs — help keep our paper thriving by joining!
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by become a member of the People’s Printing Press Society.
The Morning Star is a readers’ co-operative, which means you can become an owner of the paper too by buying shares in the society.
Shares are £1 each — though unlike capitalist firms, each shareholder has an equal say. Money from shares contributes directly to keep our paper thriving.
Some union branches have taken out shares of over £500 and individuals over £100.
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by donating to the Fighting Fund.
The Morning Star is unique, as a lone socialist voice in a sea of corporate media. We offer a platform for those who would otherwise never be listened to, coverage of stories that would otherwise be buried.
The rich don’t like us, and they don’t advertise with us, so we rely on you, our readers and friends. With a regular donation to our monthly Fighting Fund, we can continue to thumb our noses at the fat cats and tell truth to power.
Donate today and make a regular contribution.