ON THE WORLD TODAY
GENERAL DE GAULLE expects to be back in power by Christmas. His reappearance on the political scene and his already celebrated Bayeux speech of June 16 do not mean that he will hit the trail of an immediate comeback, but he considers these acts part of an educational process designed to make him the first President of the Fourth French Republic under the kind of constitution he prescribes.
This being his real desire, it may turn out that he emerged from retirement too soon. His activity has been marked by some of the political ineptitude that was typical of his career in office. His reappearance was accompanied by the first internal disorders since the liberation of France, and aroused the open, organized opposition of the Left.
How this bad start will affect de Gaulle’s chances of ultimate victory it is still too early to say. A constant factor in post-war French politics has been the Gaullist triumphs — in the October 21 election, which created a Constituent Assembly with limited powers, in the May 5 referendum, which rejected the Socialist-Communist constitution proposed by the first Assembly, and in the June 2 election, which made the Popular Republican Movement the largest party in the new Assembly.
Many well-informed observers and political experts agree with de Gaulle that he will be back before the end of the year. But it will not be without a struggle, and he cannot hope to return as the chief of a unified nation.
Regrettable as it may be, the effervescence caused by de Gaulle’s action, coupled with the presence of the Council of Foreign Ministers, is giving Paris a memorable summer. Gone is the inferior feeling of being a neglected capital of a second-rate power, left out of the councils of the great. Instead Paris is playing host to the peacemakers of the world. Gone is the lethargic atmosphere of an apathetic people, hopeless and helpless to direct their own destinies. Instead, Paris is stirring with vigorous currents of political activity.
The year 1946 may not compare with the heroic days of the Commune and the Bastille, or with the momentous negotiations of Versailles, but the coincidence of the meeting of the Foreign Ministers and the French governmental crisis has provided a sequence of stimulating current events that will take their place in history. While ministers haggled in semiprivacy at the Luxembourg Palace over minor matters, the French internal situation provided various spectacular fireworks.
De Gaulle’s comeback began with a false start on May 12, when he ignored invitations to the celebration of the first anniversary of V-E Day by the government of political parties that he scorns, and went to La Vendée to speak at the tomb of the World War I Premier, Clemenceau. Nonpolitical though the speech turned out to be, it revived the country’s consciousness of the man who resigned the presidency in January.
The June upset
The real impulse for de Gaulle’s comeback developed from the June 2 election of the current Assembly. How surprising the election results were, even to persons most intimately concerned, can be deduced from the following true story.
Six men were seated around a dinner table in London just before the election. They were the French Foreign Minister Georges Bidault, former Premier Léon Blum, French Ambassador to Britain René Massigli, Prime Minister Clement Attlee, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, and British Ambassador to France Alfred Duff-Cooper. Bidault, as the leader of the Mouvement Républicain Populaire, was asked for his election prediction.
Writing on the back of the menu, Bidault predicted a distribution of Assembly seats among the three major parties: MRP, 75; Socialist, 150; Communist, 125. The actual results were: MRP, 166; Communist, 150; Socialist, 125.
Bidault was not alone in his surprise. Leaders of his own and of other parties made the same mistake, not realizing that the election would bring a confirmation of the conservative will expressed by the May 5 referendum. Much to its own amazement, the MRP, the Christian democratic party born of wartime resistance, found itself the number one party of France.
The reasonable explanation of this development, expressed privately by one of France’s influential editors, was this: France is really a country of conservatives who refuse to admit it. People of this country want to vote Right but they are ashamed to let down their liberal traditions, so they turned to the MRP, a conservative party which claims a place on the Left.
The election results brought to power Georges Bidault, the leader of the National Council of Resistance during the war, Foreign Minister after the liberation, and professor and publicist turned politician. He was elected President of the Provisional Government on June 19 by the National Assembly, with the Communists alone abstaining from approval. Five days later he constituted a government along conventional, three-party, coalition lines.
But Bidault was not the man of the future, any more than was Socialist President Félix Gouin, who preceded him. Bidault himself, during his personal stumping of his Loire valley electoral district, emphasized his connections with the de Gaulle regime and his subsequent support of Gaullist policies. The man of the future was evidently de Gaulle, unless it was to be someone from the extreme Left.
“We" de Gaulle
Encouraged by the election results, de Gaulle then began to launch a comeback. On the second anniversary of his return to France, he went to Bayeux, the Norman town where he had made his triumphal entry after the invasion. And this time he talked politics.
He attributed the revival of France primarily to the “elite” composed of his followers. He explained that he was using the monarchical word “we” and that he withdrew from politics to save the symbol of Gaullism from the taint of parties. He prescribed a constitution providing for separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the government; a two-chamber legislature; and a chief of state with authority to act as referee among the parties. His constitutional formula flatly contradicted the Socialist-Communist thesis of a one-chamber legislature and a president without power even to choose his own prime minister.
The contents of his speech at Bayeux exposed de Gaulle to argument and even to ridicule. Of the “elite” who surrounded him on that occasion, three — René Pleven, Jacques Soustelle, and René Capitant — had been defeated in the election of the new Assembly. His use of the word “we” in reference to himself opened him to sarcastic accusations of dictatorial ambitions.
For his followers, however, de Gaulle’s Bayeux speech constituted a landmark in history. With their leader’s penchant for historical comparison, they compared his resignation from the presidency in January to his departure from falling France in 1940, and his speech at Bayeux to his broadcast from London launching the Free French movement. They tried to publish five million copies of the speech but ran into the paper shortage. Finally, André Malraux, an author who served briefly as Minister of Information, and Philippe Barrès of the Paris-Presse succeeded in circulating two million copies for sale at one franc each.
De Gaulle carries the torch
Two days after his Bayeux appearance, which eliminated any doubt of his desire to return to power, de Gaulle went to Fort Mont-Valérien on the outskirts of Paris to observe the sixth anniversary of the first Free French broadcast from London.
In a truly moving ceremony de Gaulle lighted, with a torch brought from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe, the new eternal flame before the tomb of fifteen French patriots who died under the German occupation. Selected companions of the Order of Liberation surrounded him in damp-eyed admiration.
The government which he still shunned held its own observance of the anniversary, including torchlight parades through Paris that night, led by bluecaped policemen. It was then that de Gaulle lost the first if indecisive round of his fight for power.
A group of disorderly youths shouting, “ De Gaulle to power!” raided the headquarters of the Communist Party, smashed the windows of the Party bookshop, and burned a stack of pamphlets. A cry of indignation immediately arose from the Left, and two days later, at the behest of the Council of Trade Unions in the Paris region, more than 100,000 workers carrying lunch boxes, pushing bicycles, and brandishing loaves of bread marched in protest through the center of Paris.
The labor demonstration was more orderly in manner, more impressive in numbers, than the Gaullist exhibition. It was a well-handled manifestation of a well-disciplined minority. These were the people who would oppose de Gaulle. But the banners they carried and the cries they raised were principally for the 25 per cent increase in wages newly demanded by the General Federation of Labor, rather than for political goals. And it was precisely there that de Gaulle saw hope for an eventual victory.
De Gaulle felt that the party system in France, whereby each minister must refer to his executive committee or political bureau before making a fundamental decision, was an outmoded bureaucracy incapable of dealing with economic facts. The demand for increased wages was the sort of fact which would require an impartial arbiter to bring about a decision.
Soon after the writing of the new constitution this autumn, de Gaulle expects to be called in as President, or as an arbiter of economic problems at the appeal of the political parties. He has shown no intention of attempting a coup d’état or of trying to govern against the working class, which, rightly or wrongly, has entrusted itself to the Communist Party. He still hopes that he will be chosen by them, as well as by the rest of France, as the father of his country.
While French politics were lively, the Council of Foreign Ministers was heavy with tedious details. There was only one real issue — whether the Western powers and the Soviet Union could coöperate in peace. But, reluctant to attack that problem directly, and hesitant to determine the conditions on which they would coöperate, the ministers of the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France argued interminably over minor issues.
In the beautiful Victor Hugo Salon of the Luxembourg Palace overlooking the inviting gardens and the fountains of Marie de Médicis, the ministers talked about tiny territories, ships, and money problems so technical that they had no interest in them and no qualifications for dealing with them. They worked themselves into ridiculous situations.
There was the case of the missing document. When it came time to decide whether the border regions of Tenda and Briga should go to France or remain Italian, Molotov raised the point that sufficient consideration had not been given to what he called the Italian memorandum of May 6. The other delegates were unable to find such a document in their files.
The memorandum turned out to be a routine handout sent by the Italian Embassy to a Paris mailing list, but had never been submitted formally to the Council. It was out of date and full of inaccuracies. It was printed in French, and untranslated into the other official languages of the Conference. But at Molotov’s insistence it served as a pretext for a delay in the decision on this question.
There was the case of the unsponsored motion. Great Britain and France had proposed that citizens of the United Nations should be compensated for wartime injuries suffered in Italy. The Soviet Union suggested an amendment under which compensation would also apply to Italian-occupied territory. Rather than get into such an extensive bookkeeping operation, the British withdrew their motion. The French did not insist.
As a result, the Council was left without a motion, but with the Soviet amendment to the motion. Molotov then introduced the British motion as his own and coupled it with his amendment. But the question was dropped into the Council’s big basket of unfinished business and finally was dismissed.
Talking beside the point
Personalities continued to clash at the Paris Conference. Molotov remained stubborn, defiant, jealous of his country’s position. Bevin held forth in his blunt, sometimes truculent, manner. Bidault intervened in his soft, conciliatory way. Byrnes kept pressing his sometimes garrulous but always explicit demands for decisions.
There were occasional sharp encounters between Molotov and Bevin, reminiscent of the wartime Stalin-Churchill clashes. On one occasion when Bevin was hotly challenged by Molotov, he plaintively expressed the hope that he could make suggestions without being subjected to attack.
But more than a conflict of personalities was involved. The issues just below the surface were tremendous. Reluctant at first to deal with the major questions, the conferees sparred over trifles. At one point the deliberations even descended to the absurdity of half-hour discussions about the subjects to be discussed.
When the conferees eventually got down to business, they accomplished more than they had at any previous conference. Compromises on territorial settlements and Italian reparations, although they did not completely satisfy anyone, paved the way for the full-dress peace conference.