This article shows how one can read political history from evidence on corporate corruption. The study exploits newly discovered archival material from Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, a politically connected investment bank. We contribute to current research by replacing existing conjectures with precise qualitative and quantitative evidence. After reviewing previous works and providing a sketch of information repression and media control in France during the interwar period, we argue that the study of patterns of ‘informational criminality’ provides an original entry to the writing of political history and the history of information.
Cet article montre comment il est possible de lire une histoire politique dans des documents ayant trait à la corruption d'entreprise. L’étude exploite un matériau inédit provenant des archives de la Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, une banque d'investissement connectée au pouvoir de l'Etat français. Notre contribution consiste à remplacer les conjectures existantes et les théories du complot qui traitent de la manipulation des médias dans la France de l'entre-deux-guerres par des éléments quantitatifs et qualitatifs solides. Nous esquissons aussi un portrait de la répression de l'information et du contrôle des médias pendant cette période et montrons comment une étude des formes de la ‘criminalité informationnelle’ peut fournir un point de départ original pour écrire tant l'histoire politique que l'histoire de l'information.
1 Bayly, Christopher A., Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780-1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
2 Cockett, Richard, Twilight of truth, Chamberlain, Appeasement and the Manipulation of the Press (London: St. Martin's Press, 1989).
3 Bignon, Vincent and Flandreau, Marc, ‘The Price of Media Capture and the Debasement of the French Newspaper Industry During the Interwar’, The Journal of Economic History, 74, (2014), 799–830.
4 Bloch, Marc, L'étrange défaite; témoignage écrit en 1940 suivi de écrits clandestins, 1942–1944 (Paris: Albin Michel, 1957); Lazareff, Pierre, Deadline: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Last Decade in France (New York: Random House, 1942); de Kerillis, Henri, Français, voici la vérité! (New York: Editions de la Maison Française, 1942); Pertinax, Les fossoyeurs (New York: Editions de la Maison Française, 1943).
5 de la défaite, Le choix, Les élites françaises dans les années 30 (Paris: Colin, 2006).
6 Dard, Olivier, ‘Mythologies conspirationnistes et figures du discours antipatronal’, Vingtième Siècle. Revue d'histoire, 114 (2012), 136–51.
7 Jeanneney, L'argent caché, Milieux d'affaires et pouvoirs politiques dans la France du XXè siècle (Paris: Fayard, 1981); Jankowski, Paul, Shades of Indignation: Political Scandals in France, Past and Present (New York: Berghahn Books, 2008). See also Eveno, Patrick, L'argent de la presse française des années 1820 à nos jours (Paris: Éditions du CTHS, 2003).
8 An early account of interwar corruption by fascist dictatorships is Werth, Alexander, Twilight of France, 1933–1940 (London and New York: H. Fertig, 1942).
9 Bouvier, Jean, Les Rothschilds (Paris: A. Fayard, 1967); Bussière, Éric, Paribas: l'Europe et le monde, 1872–1992 (Antwerp: Fonds Mercator, 1992).
10 Jeanneney, Jean-Noël, ‘Finances, presse et politique: l'affaire de la Banque industrielle de Chine (1921–1923)’, Revue Historique, 253, (1975), 377–416; Jeanneney, Leçon d'histoire pour une gauche au pouvoir – La faillite du Cartel (1924–1926) (Paris: Seuil, 1977).
11 Bussière, Eric, Horace Finaly, banquier: 1871–1945 (Paris: Fayard, 1996). This book was published under auspices of the ‘Association pour l'histoire de BNP Paribas’.
12 Jade Lindgaard, ‘Un gros trou dans les archives de BNP-Paribas’, Mediapart, (26 Dec. 2008). As Dr. Manfred Pohl, European Association of Banking History President, disclosed during the 2010 EABH meeting in Brussels, Mr Pébereau had ignored various calls to postpone the destruction including one by then European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet.
13 We are grateful to Melanie Aspey for discussing this point with us. London Rothschild's ‘cash books’ are available until 1918, under VIII/13/1–244.
14 Bussière, Finaly, 41, 99 and 113.
15 Kupferman, Alfred, François Coty, journaliste et homme politique, unpublished dissertation (Paris: Sorbonne, 1965), in particular 132–. See also Joly, Laurent, ‘L‘Ami du Peuple contre les ‘Financiers qui mènent le monde’; La première campagne antisémite des années 1930’ Les Belles Lettres, Archives Juives, 39, (2006), 86–109. Other newspapers that experienced the effect of a boycott by Consortium members include L'Oeuvre and Le Quotidien; Lefébure, Havas, les arcanes du pouvoir (Paris: B. Grasset, 1992); Dubasque, François, Jean Hennessy (1874–1944). Argent et réseaux au service d'une nouvelle République, (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2008), in particular 282–.
16 Archives BPPB, Dossier Finaly (unnumbered, two boxes), 15 Sept., 1930. On the Coty lawsuit against Hachette and the 600,000 FFr award, see ABPPB PTC 57/4.
17 Les maîtres de la France, 3 Vols, (Paris: Éditions sociales internationales, 1936–1938).
18 Article from Nouvel Age (11 June 1937), Archives BPPB, Dossier Finaly. Modiano, René, La presse pourrie aux ordres du capital (Paris: Librairie populaire, 1935). See also by Modiano, Les maîtres secrets de la presse (Paris: Librairie populaire, 1936).
19 Jeanneney (Leçon d'histoire, 38 and 75); Bussière (Finaly, 228–40 and 294–98); Lefranc, Georges, Histoire du Front Populaire, 1934–1938 (Paris: Payot, 1965), 443; Lacouture, Léon Blum (Paris: Seuil, 1977), 264 and 398.
20 The collection of press clippings is found in Archives BPPB, Dossier Finaly. L'Oeuvre, 12 June 1937, La Vague, 15 June 1937, The Times, 8 June 1937.
21 Weiss, Louise, Mémoires d'une européenne (Paris: Payot, 1969). Quoted in Lefébure (Havas, 216–7) and Bussière (Finaly, 283–4).
22 A business history perspective on the BIC is provided in Frank H. H. King ‘Patriotic banking and the modernization of China: The Banque Industrielle de Chine 1900–1922’ 235–56 in Feldman, Gerald D. and Hertner, Peter, Finance and Modernization. A Transnational and Transcontinental Perspective for the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008).
23 Jeanneney ‘Banque industrielle de Chine’, 403, 405.
24 Bonnet, Georges, Vingt ans de vie politique, 1918–1938 (Paris: Fayard, 1969). Likewise, La Libre Parole was fond of titles that ‘exposed’ Finaly's conspiracy: See e.g. Georges Virebeau, ‘Quand Finaly est Roi’, August 1934; ‘La Banque de Paris, Maîtresse de l'Opinion’, ’L'Agence Havas, ses dirigeants’, ‘Finaly-Rénier’, September 1934.
25 Lefébure, Havas, 190 and 193.
26 A. Lefébure, Havas, 216–7.
27 Lefébure, Havas, 192 and fn. 4, 384. The view that Paribas controlled Havas is also found in Albert, La presse française, 495. Paribas's ‘shareholding of Hachette (as early as 1919), of Journal and of Havas appears to have been substantial’.
28 Bussière, Finaly, 265. Marcel Berger and Paul Allard argue that Commandant Nusillard ‘personified censorship, identified himself with it’. Les secrets de la censure pendant la guerre, (Paris: Edition des portiques, 1932), 164–5 and 219–20.
29 Nusillard dismissal followed the toppling of Finaly (Procès Verbaux des Assemblées Générales, ABPPB 069 AH 121, N° 8, 28).
30 Bussière, Finaly, 298.
31 Ibid. 281–.
32 Ibid. 278, 298–9.
33 The section draws on Lysis (Letailleur, Eugène), Contre L'oligarchie Financière en France (Paris: La Revue, 1908);Albert, Pierre, ‘La presse française de 1871 à 1940’ in Bellanger, Claude, Godechot, Jacques, Guiral, Pierre and Terrou, Fernand, eds., Histoire Générale de la Presse Française, Volume III (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1972), 447–622, in particular 495–; Arthur and Lila Weinberg, eds., The Muckrakers, (Chicago: University of Illinois, 2001); Regier, Cornelius C., Era of the Muckrakers (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1932); Cassedy, James H., ‘Muckraking and Medecine: Samuel Hopkins Adams’, American Quarterly, 16, 1, 1964, 85–99; Mouthon, F.-I., Du bluff au chantage, les grandes campagnes du Matin (Paris: Pauwels, 1908); Bignon, Vincent and Flandreau, Marc, ‘The economics of badmouthing’, Journal of Economic History, 71, (2011), 616–53.
34 Avramov, Roumen, ‘Advising, Conditionality, Culture: Money Doctors in Bulgaria’, in: Flandreau, Marc, ed., Money Doctors: The Experience of International Financial Advising 1850–2000 (London: Routledge, 2003), 190–216.
35 The French-style revolving door is described in Charle, Christophe ‘Le pantouflage en France (vers 1880–vers 1980)’, Annales. Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations, 42 (1987), 1115–37.
36 Raffalovitch, Arthur, L'abominable vénalité de la presse, (Paris: Librairie du Travail, 1931), 21.
37 See Bignon and Flandreau, ‘Economics of Badmouthing’, 644.
38 See Albert, ‘La presse française’, for a discussion of the episode.
39 Arch. Nat. Box F/7/12842 Dossier Société Générale des Annonces et Agence Havas
40 Rajsfus, Maurice, La censure militaire et policière, 1914–1918 (Paris: Cherche midi, 1999), 91–3.
41 Kuisel, Richard, Capitalism and the State in Modern France (Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 42–.
42 The main sources for this are Albert, ‘La presse française’, and Lefébure, Havas.
43 For a survey, see Albert, ‘La presse française’, 470–.
44 Havas, General Assembly of Shareholders, 23 June 1937; Hachette, APPB, PTC1/482/1.
45 Bussière, Finaly, 298; We suspect that when he reported 845,000 FFr for 1924, he was quoting from the total publicity budget for 1924 (which shows up in the printed official accounts for exactly 844, 645 FFr).
46 Technically, a fourth column was also used, namely ‘Voyages’. Since the ‘Others’ columns also contained expenditures on travels, and since the amounts under the ‘Voyages’ column are not substantial, we refer for simplicity to ‘Others’ bearing in mind that it refers to the sum of ‘Others’ and ‘Voyages’.
47 Quoted in Lefébure, Havas, 212; similarly Carol Kent, Camille Cavalier and Pont-à-Mousson: An industrialist of the Third republic, Unpublished Dissertation, Oxford, 1972 quoting a contemporary businessman: ‘In general, from what I hear in various companies who do these things, the word ‘publicity’ is used. Evidently, this is one solution. When tax inspectors come across this word ‘publicity’ they smile and move on (so I hear).’
48 There is evidence of substitutability between ‘publicity’ and ‘subscriptions’. For instance on 17 April 1919, we find under ‘subscriptions’ the following entry: ‘[Caisse] L'Intransigeant rapport’ with a 800 FFr payment on that day although this is a payment for an insert reproducing Paribas's annual report and should thus appear under ‘publicity.’ Registre des Frais Généraux/Détail, Volume 1917–1920, 149.
49 One example bearing witness to this is the discussion about raising the number of subscriptions to Le Temps from 40 to 50 (July 1939, BPPB, ET2491).
50 ‘‘Café de Paris – Finaly’ for 206 FFr in November 1919; Déjeuner Mr Finaly’ : 250 FFr, August 1920. Compare with Jeanneney ‘Banque Industrielle de Chine’, 406 or Bussière, Finaly, 293.
51 Colonel Dhé, President of the Bureau of Economic Organisation and a former ‘Directeur de l'Aéronautique Militaire’ during the War; Général Anthoine, Chief of the 4th and then the 1st Army in 1917; Colonel Bron, at one point chief of the ‘service des études économiques et financières’ of Paribas.
52 Jeanneney, ‘BIC’, p. 415. 20,000 FFr compares today with about £15,000 (historic standard of living) or £90,000 (economic status value of that income). Present values computed using http://eh.net/howmuchisthat/. There would be another payment in January 1924 for 25,000 FFr. According to the ledgers, the first payment had been cleared by Oudot, and the second by Finaly himself. We also note that the payment to de Monzie coincides chronologically with a sudden change of attitude by Doumer (Minister of Finance and a key opponent of the Berthelot brothers) reported by Jeanneney (‘BIC’, 399), who writes that, before October 1921, Doumer's attitude ‘becomes more pliable, without one being able to see precisely the motives for this evolution: lassitude, fear of renewed attacks in the press, or some other hidden influence?’
53 For instance, Jeanneney (‘BIC’, 388) does mention the production of ‘reports’ in the context of the BIC affair.
54 Jeanneney ‘BIC’, 391.
55 Bussière, Finaly, 294, Jeanneney, ‘Banque Industrielle de Chine’, 384–5. The names of Louis Germain-Martin, a university professor and later senior politician sent to report on the BIC and Joseph Nadal, the chief engineer of the mission to China, both appear in the cash books in November 1920 for 10,000: ‘Complément de paiement fait à M Germain-Martin et J Nadal - o/ Mr. Finaly’ (Top-up payment to M Germain-Martin et J Nadal / approved Mr Finaly). Other examples of missions: ‘Frais de mission de Mr Pernot en Asie Mineure’ 6,000 FFr in July 1923. Maurice Pernot, had been Chief of the Information Section at the Grand Headquarters during the war; he wrote several reports for Finaly and was sent several times for missions abroad for Finaly; ‘Frais déplacement à Bruxelles’ for 2,378 FFr in March 1926, etc.
56 Nicolas Delalande, ‘Quand l’État mendie : la contribution volontaire de 1926’ Genèses, 80 (2011), 27–48.
57 Jeanneney, ‘Sur la vénalité’ (Paris, 1975), 736.
58 Pinsolle, Dominique, Le Matin (1884–1944). Une presse d'argent et de chantage (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012), 183, describes Paribas as Havas's ‘main shareholder’.
59 APPB, PTC1/482/1. In December 1928–May 1929 there were price support operations for B-shares, 8/DFOM-221/300; Paribas initially bought the majority of the issue of B-shares in 1927 but this could hardly confer controlling power (10 B-shares were needed for one vote. One A-share gave 20 votes; Annuaire Desfossés, (Paris: Société anonyme cote Desfossés, 1933)); A memorandum dated 10 May 1944 (‘Actions Agence Havas’) shows the number of Havas shares that Paribas had kept since 1927. It states that the number of B shares that Paribas owned was brought to 6,000 in the early 1930s and was not increased thereafter. In June 1935 the two categories of shares (A and B) were unified. In February 1938 the total of shares was 210,000; Annuaire Desfossés, (Paris, 1937). ABPPB, 13/DFOM/221/56.
60 Memorandum dated 13 Oct. 1928, PTC1/482/1.
61 The structure was called ‘Syndicat des Actions A de l'Agence Havas’ and was formed in January 1927; It provided that the selling price would be a penalty price (average B-share price during previous quarter minus 100 FFr per share) and that the shares would have first to be offered to members of the Syndicat. PTC1/482/1, Hachette, Havas, NMPP, Divers 1887–1976.
62 ABPPB, PTC1/482/1. Memo dated 6 Dec.1935. It appears however that for a number of senior rights shares, Havas ‘correspond directement’ meaning that information did not go through Paribas. See also FIN0712.
63 Havas also banked with Société Générale, a leading commercial bank. Société Générale's network of branches took care of payments in the départements.
64 The large number of mentions of such personal credit lines is suggestive. For instance (Procès-verbaux du Conseil d'Administration; BPPB 69 AH 49 to 51): 16 Dec., 1924,; 17 Feb.1925; 12 May 1925; 15 Sept.1925; 26 Apr.1927; 15 Oct.1927. At its peak, the credit line was about 3 million FFr. The securities given by Rénier were shares in Havas and Le Journal. Guimier appears in the same entries with a credit line worth FFr 2.5 million. He gave shares in Le Journal as collateral.
65 PTC1/482/1; 13/DFOM/221/56.
66 On relations between Havas and the Foreign Office (Quai d'Orsay) after 1936 see Auvert, Julien, ‘De la censure du front aux colonnes parisiennes: l'Agence Havas, l'information et la guerre civile espagnole’, Le Temps des medias, 16, (2011), 52–62.
67 Information on Paribas and Hachette is scattered across boxes of uneven interest. See SG108, 13/DFOM-221/56; 1/DFOM-221/442 to 444 has details on underwriting of bonds and stocks. For Hachette accounts, auditors’ reports and the Coty Trial see PTC1/482/1, PTC57/3, PTC 57/2, PTC57/1, PTC57/4; See also BPPB ET2491, FIN1050, FIN2715, FIN1544, FIN0061.
68 ABPPB, FIN 0061. Pinsolle, Le Matin, 183 claims that after 1924, Matin began selling its ‘6,469’ shares.
69 4 million FFr in Oct. 1923, raised to 6 million in April 1924 and 10 million in June 1926; Procès Verbaux du Conseil d'Administration, ABPPB Vol. 23, 69 AH 48 to 69 AH 51. Credit lines were largely unsecured: The last credit line of 10 million FFr in 1926 was made against a deposit of 5,068 shares. At about 1,200 FFr per share in 1926 (Annuaire Desfossés, 1933: 1281) the collateral (6 millions) came short of the loan.
70 BPPB FIN0061. Alas, no detail is known on Paribas's shareholders. In the general assembly of shareholders of 1937, mention is made of André Hachette as one of the two biggest shareholders, and again in year 1938 (069 AH 121, Procès Verbaux des Assemblées Générales, n°8, 1937 à 1943, 6 Apr. 1937, 1 and 12 Apr.1938, 22).
72 Paribas initially controlled 52 per cent of the venture. However a dilution system limited the voting power of holders of big blocks of shares. To secure and keep control administrators of Paribas were individually associated with the two companies to form a ‘Groupe de Paris’ (1/Cabet/1 100-101 and 1/Cabet/1 103) or later after the merger with Steinhagen a ‘French group’ (1/Cabet /1 dossier 106, ‘Assemblée Générale Ordinaire du 29 mai 1929, actions présentes et représentées’; 1/Cabet /1 dossier 122, Steinhagen and Saenger, correspondance. See ‘Convention syndicale modifiée, paraphée par les parties le 27 mars 1933’). On the funding of Saenger's imports through Paribas and Hachette see Minutes of Board Meeting, 26 Aug.1924, 261 (ABPPB 69 AH 49). On initial plans for cellulose imports see 1/Cabet/1 98-99. For details on the three-tiered arrangement in 1924, see 1/Cabet/1 103. Eventually however, Saenger did not achieve sufficient competitiveness and its production was mostly contained to the domestic market.
73 Bloch, Etrange défaite, 101.
74 69 AH 57, Procès verbaux du CA, n°32, 1936 à 1938, Séance du 8 juin 1937, 101.
This article is the result of cooperation between an economic historian and an economist. In the past, they have co-authored a book on the modern history of sovereign debt and credit information (The Making of Global Finance, Paris: OECD, 2004). The authors thank BNP-Paribas Group's archivist Roger Nougaret and his staff for support. They thank Carolyn N. Biltoft, Vincent Bignon, Patricia Clavin and Gabriel Geisler Mesevage, as well as the editor Josie McLellan and two referees for their comments and suggestions, but remain solely responsible for errors and misinterpretation.
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