Read France Restored: Cold War Diplomacy and the Quest for Leadership in Europe, 1944-1954 Online

Authors: William I. Hitchcock

Tags: #History, #Europe, #France, #Western, #Modern, #20th Century, #Political Science, #Security (National & International), #test

France Restored: Cold War Diplomacy and the Quest for Leadership in Europe, 1944-1954 (5 page)

BOOK: France Restored: Cold War Diplomacy and the Quest for Leadership in Europe, 1944-1954
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alternative. Consensus in France was never easy to forge in the best of times; it remained elusive in the turbulent months following the liberation. The second problem facing the country concerned the economic life of postwar France. Resistance groups sought to establish a new era of economic and social justice, with a revival and expansion of the socioeconomic experiments of the Popular Front, begun in 1936 but undermined by the vicissitudes of war preparations and economic crisis. The left called upon the nation to sweep away the long-vilified "trusts," cartels, and monopolies that allegedly dominated the French economy. Even during the war, discussions on the postwar economy pointed to the need for a broad wave of nationalizations to limit the consolidation of wealth by private interests. Further, the liberation offered an opportunity for advocates of state-managed capitalism to press for national planning mechanisms that would assure a socially just renovation and modernization of the nation  ideas that had circulated in the 1930s. The liberation, then, far from providing France with a clean slate on which to sketch a new society, merely lifted restrictions on the debate over France's future that had been raging during the interwar years and that Vichy had pushed underground. French leaders had to propose some resolution to these problems before seriously taking up the challenge of recovery.
The Failure of Tripartism
Nothing was so ubiquitous in the lofty language of provisional government officials and leading resistance figures during and after the liberation as the theme of national unity. From de Gaulle, this could be expected. To establish his own authority in this war-torn country, he needed to portray the struggle of France against Germany and Vichy as single, continuous, and united, fought silently by some, actively by others, but with good faith on the part of nearly all the French. The task at hand, he argued, was to win the war and rebuild the nation. His speeches of the period were peppered with resounding calls for the maintenance of the unity that the liberation of the country had demanded. In September 1944, he proclaimed that "to reconstruct ourselves, bit by bit, first through war, then in peace, to build a new France . . . we need a vast and courageous national effort." He urged his compatriots to set aside partisan squabbles for the good of the country: "To fight and to renew ourselves, we must not have an atmosphere of doubt, of reproach, of bitterness; it is a spirit of optimism, of confidence, of self-denial which
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the country needs."
In making such calls, he hoped to burnish his image as an apolitical leader whose sole concern was national restoration. This call for national unity also featured prominently in the rhetoric of the heterogeneous resistance organizations now blooming in the open air of liberation, though the precise goals of these groups remained unclear.
The CNR, as it emerged in the spring of 1943, grew from a number of compromises among political parties, resistance groups, and de Gaulle's France Libre in London. Though partisanship was subsumed during the war by the struggle against the Germans and Vichy, the formation of a common program for action within the resistance had been no easy task. The
Progamme d'Action de la Résistance,
published in Algiers on March 15, 1944, by the CNR, attempted to sum up the objectives of the movement both in fighting the war and in planning for its aftermath. Most of the document focused on wartime strategies of resistance, with only two paragraphs devoted to postwar reforms. Yet this brief outline was the only common program the resistance could point to once the war was over. The formulas were vague, as indeed they had to be to attract adherence from all quarters. The CNR program called for a new social democracy, to be achieved primarily by eradicating the concentrations of industrial and financial power  "trusts" was the catchall term  that had been the bugbear of the left for decades and that in fact had been encouraged under Vichy. National production would be made rational by state-sponsored industrial planning and by the institution of workers' committees. Above all, the largest and most important industries would be "returned to the nation," an indirect reference to nationalization. More important to the authors of the program than economic reforms was the necessity of maintaining national unity during the reconstruction period. The crucible of combat having "forged a purer and stronger France, capable of undertaking after the liberation the great work of reconstruction," the parties and movements of the resistance pledged in this document to remain united after the liberation, "without regard to political, philosophical, or religious opinion."
For a time, the resistance coalition managed to rally enough support for the CNR program to lend it the air of a genuinely national platform for reconstruction. In the first three months of 1945, as the provisional government reestablished the mechanisms of state authority, the CNR found itself more cohesive than during the war, largely because of a major shift in strategy by the French Communist Party (PCF). Maurice Thorez, its leader since 1931, spent the war in Moscow as a deserter from the French army, and then returned to France with de Gaulle's
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pardon and instructions from Stalin to maintain a conciliatory attitude toward the GPRF. Evidently, the Soviet leader hoped to coax France away from the embrace of the western powers. Thorez, in a speech in January 1945, linked the Communist Party with parliamentary government and the strengthening of the Republic, a strategy that reflected Communist confidence that it might soon reap electoral rewards for its identification as the leading party of resistance during the occupation. The result for the CNR was a boost in unity of purpose, in that the Socialists could identify more closely with Communist aspirations now that the defense of the Republic was their shared aim. The two parties issued a common manifesto in March 1945, calling for the adoption of the CNR program, including nationalizations, the purging of collaborators, and the seizure of their property.
The potential of this resistance unity was not realized, principally because de Gaulle refused to adopt the platform of the CNR as his own. Instead, he marginalized the CNR and its representatives by emphasizing that the authority of the state could only reside in the provisional government, its ministers, and its president, not in the self-appointed consultative coalitions of resistance parties. He claimed that the state had to establish the primacy of law above arbitrary rule  even if that meant limiting the role of the resistance in the provisional government. "We do not affirm that all the laws are perfect," he said in September 1944, "but they are the laws all the same, and as long as they have not been modified through national sovereignty, it is the strict duty of the executive power  . . to execute them." When in March 1945 he received a delegation of resistance leaders who complained about their small role in governing the nation, de Gaulle again confirmed his view that a special bond existed between him and the nation to which the resistance parties were only accessory: "the French resistance was larger than the movements [that participated in it] and . . . France is larger than the resistance. Now, it is in the name of all of France, not just a fraction, however worthy it might be, that I am pursuing my mission."
Thus, although de Gaulle claimed to lead a "national unity" government, Georges Bidault was the CNR's only representative in the cabinet formed in September 1944, and he was neither Socialist nor Communist, but a Christian Democrat. The Communists were given only two posts, the Air Ministry (Charles Tillon) and Public Health (François Billoux). Key posts were allotted not on the basis of party affiliation but of loyalty to de Gaulle and to the Republic. Pierre Mendès France, a Radical and an early affiliate of de Gaulle's in London and Algiers, had
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the Ministry of National Economy (and would be followed by René Pleven, a strong Gaullist); Robert Lacoste, a Socialist, and two top Christian Democrats, Pierre-Henri Teitgen and François de Menthon, were given Industrial Production, Information, and Justice, respectively; Henri Frenay, the founder of the resistance group Combat and a
of the first order, was assigned a portfolio to deal with returning prisoners and refugees; and some of de Gaulle's closest associates from London, such as Alexandre Parodi, André Diethelm, and René Capitant, were included in the cabinet as well. De Gaulle had openly refused to bring into his government more representatives from the metropolitan, often Communist-dominated resistance groups.
The fault for the breakdown of wartime unity cannot be laid entirely on de Gaulle's doorstep, however. The political parties and factions, too, played their part. Each jockeyed furiously for position as the political settlement began to take shape. The Communists, bolstered by the results of the local elections in April and May 1945, sought to augment their control of the French left by proposing fusion with the Socialist Party to create a strong parliamentary power base from which to challenge de Gaulle. Yet Socialist leaders Léon Blum and Paul Ramadier, veteran Third Republicans, saw theirs as the key "hinge" party, keeping lines of communication open to both the left and center. The Socialists, they believed, could legitimately aspire to a degree of influence as great as that of their PCF confrères, if not greater, as they had done in the Popular Front. They were progressive but not doctrinaire; they were anticlerical but not intolerant; they had good resistance credentials but did not carry the revolutionary stigma attached to many Communist militants. In short, they felt that they could bridge gaps in the electorate that other parties could not. In the summer of 1945, the Socialist leadership managed to persuade a disgruntled rank and file of the need to maintain independence from the PCF and to establish a tripartite parliamentary entente with both Communists and Christian Democrats.
In the center of the political spectrum, the Mouvement Républicain Populaire (MRP), France's youngest and least defined party, was growing surprisingly fast, with a diverse constituency drawn from most sectors of the country: civil servants, lawyers, teachers, petite bourgeoisie, Catholic workers, farmers, and large numbers of newly enfranchised women. These constituents were uncomfortable with the forgiving attitudes of prewar centrist deputies toward Vichy, and saw in this revival of Christian Democracy a way of defending the faith against the secular parties while remaining loyal to the resistance movement. The leader-
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ship of the MRP included prominent
such as Georges Bidault, the former president of the CNR; Maurice Schumann, formerly the spokesman of Free France; the jurists François de Menthon and Pierre-Henri Teitgen; and Catholic journalists like Francisque Gay of the newspaper
. The MRP worked diligently to counter a popular impression, fostered by the Communists, that it was a party of the right by presenting its platform as a direct descendent of the CNR and the resistance experience. Its campaign literature of 1944 and 1945 spoke of "breaking with the capitalist system, putting a stop to the omnipotence of King Money, overthrowing financial oligarchies and trusts, and retaking economic liberty."
On the other hand, the MRP leadership was certainly not collectivist in outlook and sought to distance itself from the Socialists by emphasizing its concern for the middle class  a stronghold of the still discredited Radical Party  and its loyalty to de Gaulle. While the MRP thus called for economic and social reform, speakers at the party's First National Congress wanted to see the government given the "necessary authority" to reestablish control of the nation, and they objected to "outdated ideological and partisan struggles."
This was consistent with the myth of resistance unity that the MRP sought to exploit. Theirs would be a nonideological "party of efficiency," concerned only with rational change; "revolution within the law'' was the phrase that became characteristic of the MRP's centrist ambitions.
With the first national elections to the Assembly of October 1945, it became apparent that despite common themes in the rhetoric of each of these three main parties regarding the CNR agenda and the need for resistance-based unity, the scramble for partisan advantage had shattered the wartime consensus. The Communists campaigned against de Gaulle and his failure to pursue a reformist agenda, while the Socialists tried to keep the Christian Democrats from breaking away completely from the left and joining with de Gaulle to form a distinctly Gaullist party. De Gaulle, however, consistently made this difficult. Bidault complained that the general had not done enough to support the MRP or defend it from the increasingly hostile attacks of the Communist press. Bidault probably believed that the MRP, with de Gaulle's blessing, could have mounted an effective campaign to outdo both parties of the left, but de Gaulle's unwillingness to endorse any party led Bidault to condemn the "unmerciful way this man cuts the branch on which we are sitting."
Each party obviously chafed under the strictures of the national unity government and hoped the elections would provide some clarity to the political situation. But in the elections, the public divided evenly among the three parties, giving no one party a mandate to lead the nation.
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