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 (6 page)

 
Page 19
The sudden resignation of Charles de Gaulle from the presidency of the provisional government on January 20, 1946, only worsened France's political logjam. After two months of fruitless wrangling with the Socialists over the military budget and with the Communists over the shape of the new Republic's constitution, de Gaulle gambled: he mistakenly believed his withdrawal from power would so frighten the nation that he would be begged to return ("within a week," he told Francisque Gay) on his own terms. He announced his resignation to the cabinet at his office in the Ministry of Defense. With de Gaulle out of the picture, the Communist Party, the largest in the Assembly, with the cooperation of the Socialists could legitimately hope to put into action its plan for a unicameral Assembly and a watered-down presidency. The future of the constitution now seemed to be in the hands of the left.
17
No single party, however, possessed the leverage to exploit de Gaulle's absence and pursue a partisan solution to the constitutional debate, leaving the party leaders facing the challenge of craning a tripartite governing coalition. The discussion among the stunned cabinet members immediately after de Gaulle's dramatic exit revealed this. Jules Moch, the combative Socialist minister of public works and transport, pushed his party's line that a tripartite entente was in the national interest, and that his party could not countenance any other arrangement. The MRP members were not so sure of the good faith of the Communists in a three-way government. They had taken a beating at the hands of PCF propaganda, and the MRP representatives Teitgen and Gay suggested that they might follow de Gaulle's lead in withdrawing from the government. But two powerful voices, one from the center and the other from the left, spoke up for continued cooperation. René Pleven, now minister of finance and closer to de Gaulle than any other cabinet member, reminded the cabinet that the nation was in a desperate financial situation, that he was in the midst of negotiating a large loan from the United States, and that unity in this time of crisis was essential to the success of this endeavor. Moreover, he pointed out that public faith in the government was waning. "The middle classes," he said, "are restless," and financial stability would not be achieved until confidence was installed in business circles. This was a warning against any Communist or Socialist-Communist assumption of power. Given the Socialists' reluctance to support an all-left government, PCF leader Maurice Thorez was forced to agree. ''For reasons of international, economic, and financial policy," he acknowledged, "a tripartite government is imperative."
18
With the left committed to a three-way coalition, the future of the
 
Page 20
government depended on the party once thought to be most loyal to de Gaulle, the MRP. The MRP leaders gathered on the afternoon of January 20 to discuss their position. Contrary to Teitgen's and Gay's hesitations, Georges Bidault was resolute: the party must break with de Gaulle. "We must face things head-on: if we have a bipartite [PCF-Socialist] government, the United States will find good reasons to hold up imports and to refuse credits. We can't get on alone. If a huge effort is not made immediately, we'll be out of bread in six weeks." Bidault was bitter about de Gaulle's resignation, not least because it embarrassed France during the international negotiations going on in London, to which Bidault was France's representative. It also forced an awkward decision on the MRP. Bidault knew that to side with the left instead of de Gaulle might incur "a certain unpopularity among the middle classes that form the greatest part
of
our political base." Economic recovery demanded this sacrifice, Bidault believed: "what we need now, more than political programs, are imports and American aid.'' Against all their instincts, the MRP leadership chose tripartism and power sharing with the left over loyalty to de Gaulle. De Gaulle's gamble had failed, and the general would remain out of power, though not out of politics, for the next twelve years.
19
A new departure for French politics? Hardly. A tripartite coalition made up of feuding and ambitious parties, loosely grouped under the presidency of the Socialist Félix Gouin, augured ill for France. During 1946, the parties continued to argue over the shape of the constitution. The left, as expected, sponsored a proposal for a unicameral Assembly that was opposed by the MRP as a harbinger of a Marxist "people's democracy." The combined votes of the left, however, succeeded in placing the proposal before the nation in a referendum in May. Following a bitter campaign in which members of the coalition government fought one another in public, the proposal was narrowly defeated  the first defeat for the Communists since the liberation. But without a constitution, the Assembly had to dissolve, again hold elections, and form a second Constituent Assembly to produce a second constitutional proposal. In the June elections, the MRP emerged with a narrow plurality, but no single group could command a majority. Tripartism continued.
The Assembly made adjustments to the draft of the constitution that reflected the MRP's enhanced position. Drafters of the document added a Council of the Republic that, like the Third Republic's Senate, would provide limited checks on the Assembly but have little real power. They slightly strengthened the presidency and proposed an Economic Council as an advisory body to the parliament that would bring representa-
 
Page 21
tives of labor, capital, and agriculture into direct contact with policymakers. This compromise, to which all three parties now subscribed, was immediately attacked by de Gaulle. De Gaulle's rejection of the draft left the MRP in the awkward position of campaigning in favor of a constitution that de Gaulle explicitly rejected and that the Communists supported. The rupture between the MRP and de Gaulle was now complete. From this point on, de Gaulle began to plan for the creation of an explicitly Gaullist party. In the meantime, the public affirmed the constitutional compromise in a national referendum in October 1946, in which 36 percent of the electorate voted in favor, 31 percent voted against, and the other third abstained. "The most widespread reaction to the Fourth Republic's founding text," historian Jean-Pierre Rioux has noted, "was thus one of apathy or hostility." The trappings of the "stalemate society" had fallen into place.
20
The two years following the liberation are often characterized, Maurice Larkin has noted, as a period of "disintegration, when the hopes and ideals of the resistance parties evaporated, and parliamentary government rapidly returned to the
immobilisme
of the inter-war years."
21
Certainly, many contemporaries saw things this way. De Gaulle felt that the parties had denied him the chance to provide France with a strong constitution, and so in his memoirs, he presented those parties, rather as he did Vichy, as a small minority, out of touch with the nation, seeking only the perpetuation of their own power. "The lessons of the past, the realities of the present, the threats of the future, changed absolutely nothing of their viewpoint and their demands," he wrote. Meanwhile, centrist
résistants
like Bidault criticized de Gaulle for doing too little to work within the party system and to take advantage of it, while the left felt that de Gaulle had sold out the resistance and blocked substantial political reform.
22
It is not clear, however, that such failures in the political arena hampered the formation of a national strategy for recovery. Indeed, one rather cynical contemporary analyst suggested that the political orientation of the government mattered little in Fourth Republic France, for politicians were but accessory to the process of administering the nation. Writing in 1955, the Swiss journalist Herbert Luethy claimed that "in seventy years of republicanism France has not once had a parliamentary working majority or a government coalition which could agree even on the foundations of a coherent policy, and it has never had a government which lived long enough to be able to work out and introduce such a policy. France is not ruled but administered, and it is her apparent politi-
 
Page 22
cal instability which guarantees the stability and permanence of her administration. Thanks to this division of labor, politics remains with impunity the playground of ideology, abstraction, extremism, verbal tumult and pure demagogy, because all these things hardly touch on the life of the French state. . . . The Republic reigns, but it does not rule."
23
This sardonic remark contains more than a little truth. For as we shall see in the subsequent pages, the failings of the political settlement of 1946 did not inhibit the establishment and realization of a program of French national and international recovery. Despite constant changes of leadership and the tumult of parliamentary activity throughout the life of the Fourth Republic, the evolution of a governing consensus among the Socialists, the MRP, and the resurgent Radicals made possible the formation of centrist coalitions that would defend the Republic against two increasingly hostile adversaries: de Gaulle's Rassemblement du Peuple Français (RPF), founded in April 1947, and the Communist Party, excluded from government after May 1947. Though the parties of the "Third Force," as this alliance came to be known, inspired little love or admiration in the electorate, they succeeded in holding France together long enough for a genuine and long-lasting recovery to take root. In a sense, they provided a cover for more substantive, and in the end more productive, debates about the future of the nation to take place.
In Search of a National Economic Strategy
In the language of the resistance, the provisional government, and the newly active political parties, economic reconstruction occupied a prominent place. Yet few knew precisely how to begin. Despite signs of a new public commitment to government intervention in the economy  visible in the various nationalizations of 1946 and the founding of a broad social welfare program  the development of an integrated, overall plan for domestic and international recovery only slowly emerged from the GPRF.
Planning, historically, had a very poor pedigree in France. Even during the global economic crisis of the 1930s, when new experiments in state-managed capitalism began to take hold in the United States and Germany, monetary orthodoxies in France remained largely unchallenged. The interwar financial crisis was met by a chorus of official opinion that claimed that, because the problem was considered to be one of global overproduction, the best way to ride out the storm was to allow for a "corrective," a contraction of economic activity that would use up
 
Page 23
inventories and lower wages and costs, and eliminate marginal producers. Above all, the country clung tenaciously to the view that the government must avoid devaluation at all costs. Not only was devaluation considered akin to national economic suicide, but it was seen as a swindle of the
classes moyennes:
peasants and small businesspeople. Historians now agree that these policies were disastrous. The combination of deflation and an overvalued franc resulted in a shrinking money supply, declining consumption, a falloff in investment, rising unemployment, and economic stagnation. By the time devaluation was finally forced on France in 1936, the costs of rearmament and the generally incoherent economic policies of the Popular Front kept France isolated from the general global recovery evident by the middle of the decade.
24
There were, however, dissenters from the orthodoxy, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum. As Julian Jackson has shown, the economic crisis stimulated some Socialists  among them figures prominent in the postwar decades such as André Philip, Jules Moch, and Robert Marjolin  to call for greater state intervention in the economy, not just in the area of monetary policy but also in economic and industrial planning. These early exponents of planning sought a mixed economy, essentially capitalism with a socialist face. They called for nationalizations of key sectors of the economy that would provide the state with the ability to guide the private sector along a government-conceived economic agenda. The state could then pursue expansionary economic policies, promote growth, and increase the general welfare  an image of state management that contrasted sharply with the deflationary approach of orthodox monetary policy. Socialist
planisme
of the 1930s, however, remained vague: a call to solidarity against economic stagnation, social disorder, and political instability. It failed to break the hold of orthodoxy on French policy. Some voices within the prewar Radical Party also broke with the conventional wisdom of deflation and the strong franc. Figures such as Paul Reynaud, Georges Boris, Bertrand de Jouvenel, and Pierre Mendés France developed very positive assessments of the American New Deal. In their push for devaluation, they marked a significant trend within the Radical Party, traditionally a bastion of orthodoxy, in favor of expansionary policies. Thus, by the start of the war, a small but significant body of opinion rejected the
malthusianisme
of French economic policy; it was from these dissenters that many of the ideas for postwar reform would stem.
25
The war itself provided great stimulus to the advocates of state planning and managed capitalism, both in the Vichy regime and within the

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