Paris after the liberati.., p.26
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.26Antony Beevor
Two days after Christmas, the franc was drastically devalued. The official rate, maintained since the Liberation at 50 to the United States dollar and 200 to the pound sterling, plummeted to 120 to the dollar and 480 to the pound. Jacques Dumaine noted with regret that in comparison with other currencies, France was now eighty-four times poorer than in 1914.
New Year’s Day 1946 was a beautiful day of winter sun in Paris, but the cold, brittle light did not flatter the chief actors at General de Gaulle’s reception for the diplomatic corps. Many people were suffering from influenza. De Gaulle ‘was looking ill,’ observed one onlooker, ‘and Palewski was looking even worse’.
The two men had good reasons for looking exhausted – Palewski mainly from his attempts to calm de Gaulle. The night before, the Socialists began demanding a 20 per cent cut in the defence budget, just when the government was sending reinforcements to Indo-China as British troops withdrew.
De Gaulle was disgusted that the political parties had recommenced ‘their games of yesteryear’. To confirm his worst suspicions, the Constitutional Commission in the Palais Bourbon was determined to make sure that the President of the Fourth Republic would be entirely dependent upon the National Assembly. De Gaulle ‘felt bound up like Gulliver by the Lilliputians’.
Two days later, on 3 January, the General was forced to relax: the marriage of his daughter Elisabeth to Commandant Alain de Boissieu, formerly of Leclerc’s 2e DB, took place that day. After the wedding the bride’s parents left for a holiday at the villa of Yvonne de Gaulle’s brother at Cap d’Antibes. There, de Gaulle read and walked in the pine groves which surrounded the villa. He could not stray far, for reporters had tracked them down and tried to photograph every appearance.
De Gaulle apparently said to his host and brother-in-law, Jacques Vendroux, that the reason for coming down was to make sure that if he did resign, the country would not think that the decision had been taken on the spur of the moment.
‘On January 20th,’ wrote Duff Cooper, ‘the eve of the anniversary of Louis XVI’s execution, General de Gaulle cut off his own head and passed into the shadow-land of politics.’ The ambassador was in a doubly bad mood because he had discounted all the rumours of an imminent resignation, when asked directly by the Foreign Office whether they were true. He had refused to believe that de Gaulle could contemplate resignation just when France was negotiating a vital loan from the United States.
De Gaulle’s announcement was, however, entirely in character. He summoned his ministers to the rue Saint-Dominique and, without waiting for Bidault, who was a few moments late, he announced: ‘Gentlemen, I have decided to resign. Bonjour. Au revoir.’ Bidault appeared in the door and de Gaulle simply said to him, ‘Good-bye, Bidault, the others will tell you why I have asked you to come here.’
De Gaulle’s entourage reacted in a mixture of shock, bewilderment, sorrow and anger. Several voiced a determination to fight on. André Malraux, who went to lunch at the British Embassy two days after the resignation, ‘was as usual very interesting and somewhat alarming,’ wrote Duff Cooper. ‘He is convinced that France is moving towards a dictatorship and I don’t think he regrets it. The question will be whether it is to be a dictatorship of the Communists or of de Gaulle, and it will be settled by force. He says that the resignation of de Gaulle is not the end but the beginning of Gaullism, which will now become a great movement throughout France.’
At first, the Americans were alarmed by de Gaulle’s abrupt departure; Caffery feared ‘a political crisis of the first magnitude’, with the Communists increasing their grip through a Socialist–Communist coalition. But then they realized that the Communists might not want to be associated with economic failure, when they did not have complete power. The population of France as a whole took the upheaval far more calmly than expected. Caffery reported that de Gaulle’s disappearance ‘caused hardly a ripple’. In Paris there was a rather world-weary shrug, while in the provinces the notion that ‘the great man fell victim to base political intrigues’ confirmed provincial suspicions about the iniquity of the capital. According to the reports of prefects to the Ministry of the Interior, people were far less perturbed than during the political crisis of November. The Communists, sensing the mood, ‘demonstrated their satisfaction with discretion’. Marcel Cachin claimed that they had got rid of de Gaulle without frightening the masses.
De Gaulle’s belongings were removed rapidly from the rue Saint-Dominique. All his personal archives were piled in a corner of a room which had been lent to him. The only dustsheet which could be found was a huge Nazi flag, scarlet with a swastika in the middle, which had flown from the Hotel Continental and had been presented to the General after the Liberation.
A week later, an ADC of de Gaulle’s delivered a letter from the General to the British ambassador. The handwriting was shaky. Diana Cooper asked how the General was. ‘Far from well,’ came the answer. ‘He never sleeps.’
General de Gaulle retired to the hunting lodge at Marly. It was all that remained of Louis XIV’s private domain; but de Gaulle, with a dramatic view of his own circumstances, compared it to Longwood, Napoleon’s house on St Helena.
Some six weeks after the resignation, Hervé Alphand went out there to visit the self-exiled ruler. Snow covered the park and the surrounding woods. To Alphand’s surprise, there were no armed guards. He pushed open a wooden gate and only after he had rung the bell for ten minutes did Captain Guy arrive to let him in.
De Gaulle, who was working in an eighteenth-century study, rose to greet his visitor. Alphand found him far more relaxed than during the previous months. If he had any regrets, he certainly did not reveal them.
Alphand warned de Gaulle that the United States wanted to rebuild a new Germany out of the western zones as a bulwark against Russia. The Americans, especially Robert Murphy and General Lucius Clay, who headed their military government from Frankfurt, were putting heavy pressure on the French. ‘You cannot imagine how hard they are pushing: they’re blackmailing us with the threat of cutting off all provisions to our zone if we don’t agree to follow them, and proclaiming all over the place that we don’t understand the situation at all, that we are confusing 1946 and 1919, that tomorrow the enemy will not be the Germany that we want to keep down, but Soviet Russia against whom we must unite all forces, including those of a reborn Germany.’
This news triggered an explosion of all de Gaulle’s resentment against the United States: ‘The Americans have been wrong about us for years.’ Only when the Russians marched into Paris would they see, ‘what a grave mistake they have made in wanting to restore Germany and not France’. But like all exiled rulers, de Gaulle could do no more than rage in private.
Malcolm Muggeridge, returning to Paris as a journalist after his wartime service with the Secret Intelligence Service, arranged to interview de Gaulle. He found there was little competition. Gaullist fortunes were at such a low point that all the foreign correspondents in Paris had written the General off as being of no further interest.
Muggeridge went to de Gaulle’s office and found him seated behind a desk that was far too small for him. The air was thick with his cigarette smoke and he did not look well. ‘His stomach already protruded noticeably, his complexion was muddy and his breath bad; yet, as always, I found in him a nobility, a true disinterestedness, even a sort of sublime absurdity… Our conversation began with one of his tirades about the pourriture of French politics, and ended with my asking him what he proposed to do now, to which he replied with a majestic: “J’attends!”’
Gaston Palewski moved to 1 rue Bonaparte. There, he later became the neighbour not only of Nancy Mitford, who – living at number 20 – was delighted by the proximity, but also of Jean-Paul Sartre, with whom he almost came to blows eighteen months later when Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir did a radio programme attacking de Gaulle and his entourage.
With his charm and tact, Palewski had done all he could to persuade de Gaulle to be more flexible, but he had never
‘Passy,’ reported the British military attaché to the Directorate of Military Intelligence in London, ‘said that de Gaulle’s foreign policy was wrong from the start because it was a paradox. He was temperamentally anti-Anglo-Saxon, which led him to believe that the future of France lay in close accord with Russia as France’s only chance of survival as a great power, and yet on the other hand de Gaulle was violently anti-Communist and finally ended up by thinking that he could act as a bridge-builder between the Anglo-Saxons and the Soviets.’ This assessment could hardly have been more accurate.
INTO THE COLD WAR
The Shadow-Theatre: Plots and Counter-Plots
The institution which was most disturbed by de Gaulle’s resignation was the officer corps. There was nobody left to defend the armed forces from cuts in the military budget, and many officers feared that General de Lattre de Tassigny might take advantage of the situation. The Allies too had heard rumours that de Lattre viewed himself as de Gaulle’s replacement.
De Lattre was a controversial character. His vice-regal style when commanding 1st Army from Lindau on Lake Constance, where his headquarters received some touches worthy of Versailles, led to the names of ‘Le roi Jean’ and ‘Le général soleil’. His flamboyant manner, combined with a new affinity for left-wing writers – Aragon, Elsa Triolet, Claude Roy and Roger Vailland were all invited to visit himin Germany – prompted another nickname: ‘Général le Théâtre de Marigny’.
For all his intolerance and impatience, de Lattre was undoubtedly a great military leader. A brilliant mimic, he was excellent company, and his wife was universally admired and respected. He got things done quickly, sometimes with spectacular fits of anger. But the theatrical side of his character probably had something to do with his bisexual nature. A number of officers referred to him as ‘cette femme’. General du Vigier, when asked by the Canadian military attaché how he got on with de Lattre, replied: ‘Very well indeed. I know how to handle women.’ Yet Pastor Boegner said: ‘The severe judgements made of him do not stop him from being prodigiously interesting.’
The fears of conservative French officers and the Allies centred on de Lattre’s ambition and political promiscuity: he had moved from the extreme right before the war to being a suspected fellow-traveller after it. And his resentment at having been deprived of his command in Germany to be given the empty appointment of Inspector-General seemed to magnify the risk. At a dinner in Strasbourg in November 1945, he had complained angrily to the British ambassador that he was ‘unemployed’ and did not even have an office. ‘I said, half in fun,’ Duff Cooper wrote in his diary, ‘that I heard he got on very well with the Communists these days. He didn’t deny it, and said that with the Communists one at least knew where one was.’ A high official in the Ministry of the Interior told the American Embassy that de Lattre had officially joined the Radicals, whom the Communists were trying to take over. There was a rumour that Thorez had offered de Lattre the Ministry of War, but that General Revers had warned him off. In December 1945, the Canadian military attaché told his British colleague that ‘the Communist Party had paid de Lattre’s debts, amounting to some 2 million francs. He said de Lattre was wildly extravagant and had got into serious financial difficulties.’ The rumours gathered pace after de Gaulle’s departure. On 20 March, de Lattre called on the British ambassador to say that word was going round Paris that the embassy had in its possession a Communist Party membership card in his name. Duff Cooper assured him that no such rumour had emanated from the embassy and that he would contradict it.
Like many political affairs, this one was more heavily influenced by a clash of personalities than of ideologies. Generals Juin and Lattre had loathed each other since they were at the École de Guerre together, and de Lattre wanted Juin’s job as chief of the National Defence General Staff. The two rivals, on the other hand, did agree about fighting the proposed budget cuts to the army. De Lattre told Brigadier Daly how proud he was at having ‘kept all the solid furniture in the military house, despite having lost some carpets and good pictures’. During the same meeting, there was a telephone conversation with the commandant of Saint-Cyr military academy: ‘How many pupils do you have at your school now?’ De Lattre demanded. ‘1,800 you say. Reduce them at once to 1,200. Ultimately I intend to have only 600 of the very best students, and they will be reduced gradually fromnow on. Get rid of 600 at once and explain to the boys that it’s in their best interests that they should go now. You didn’t quite hear me, you say. Well, get rid of your telephone officer for having such a bad telephone.’
General de Lattre proved that he was not in the Communist Party’s pocket by vigorously opposing their demands for a popular militia led by a very small regular cadre. Yet the wild rumours about him confirmed SHAEF in its reluctance to trust the French with intelligence. The ‘thirteenth card’ – Ultra intelligence based on intercepts of German signals traffic – had been kept from them, even though they had been closely involved in the original attempts to crack the code with an Enigma machine.*
Following de Gaulle’s departure, the spring of 1946 was a time of deep unease. The new Prime Minister, Félix Gouin, found life uncomfortable with the General’s brooding presence at Colombey-les-deux-Églises. Gouin, a Socialist lawyer from Marseilles, had defended Léon Blum when Vichy put him on trial in 1942. After the Liberation, he had become President of the Assembly and his reputation for conciliation had meant that the Communist Party did not oppose his candidature as head of government. De Gaulle despised him as a complete nonentity and referred to him as ‘le petit père Gouin’.
Over the next six months, Gouin’s administration dismantled a number of the General’s creations and proceeded with the socialist programme generated by the Liberation. The nationalization of the coal-mining industry was voted through in an hour and a half, the nationalization of the largest banks took a whole day. This was the era of tripartisme, the uneasy power-sharing of Communists, Socialists and the Christian Democrat MRP; and the first political objective of the left was the approval of a draft Constitution for the future Fourth Republic.
The Socialists, partly influenced by their traditional and visceral anti-clericalismon the subject of education, aligned themselves with the Communists against the MRP. This was a dangerous development, especially when they were still trying to establish their independence from the Communists. As a result the referendum to be held on 5 May 1946 took on a far greater significance than the issue at stake, and its unexpected outcome strongly influenced the subsequent elections planned for 2 June. The country, and the Communists themselves, began to see this plebiscite as a vote of confidence in the French Communist Party.
The spring of 1946 saw an upsurge of activity on the right. As early as 4 February, General Billotte approached Duff Cooper, hoping that His Majesty’s Government would back a ‘new political movement, a kind of centre party mainly with a view to fighting socialism’. Billotte’s use of the phrase ‘centre party’ rather strained the usual understanding of the term.
Representatives of new right-wing parties also hurried round to the American Embassy. ‘I have the honour to report,’ wrote Caffery, with a hint of acerbic relish, ‘that the Embassy has been approached by various groups, all, according to the promoters involved, enamoured with the United States. However, in each case it has developed during the course of the conversation that what they specifically had in mind was a subvention in one shape or another from the State Department.’
In electoral terms, the new right-wing parties amounted to very little. The largest was the Parti Républicain de la Liberté, an ‘anti-Communist vehicle’ to bring together elements from the pre-war right and supporters of Marshal Pétain. It had a following in Paris, but was very weak outside
At this time when, in Caffery’s words, the situation was becoming ‘favourable to chaos and to men on horseback’, royalist hopes swelled. The Comte de Paris believed that he could unify the nation. Posters appeared on the walls in Paris: ‘Le Roi… Pourquoi pas?’ – a curiously diffident message in an age of political passion.
Colonel Passy was strongly against the idea of Americans or British helping right-wing groups. At a dinner with Brigadier Daly, he rightly identified the Socialist Party as the best political force to resist the Communists. But on other matters he was less prescient. The chief danger to France at the time consisted of right-wing coup attempts, which, however amateur and unlikely to succeed, risked playing straight into the hands of the Communists.
The main danger of trivial events getting out of hand stemmed from the fact that in France everyone in military and official circles seemed to be spy-obsessed. It was a legacy of the Occupation and the Resistance. ‘C’est la clandestinité qui mène l’affaire,’ a French intelligence chief acknowledged to a British colleague.
But the real problems being faced by British intelligence were in London. In 1944 Kim Philby, who later turned out to be one of the Soviet Union’s star spies, had been put in charge of the new anti-Soviet department in SIS. When Muggeridge sent back to London a report, passed to him by a ‘Colonel A’ (presumably Colonel Arnault) on the extent of Communist infiltration in the French government, an instruction came back from Philby to disregard any material from this clearly unreliable source. Philby then sent Muggeridge a questionnaire on the measures being taken by the French against Soviet infiltration. Ironically Passy’s organization, then under attack as an anti-Communist stronghold, thought it wiser not to cooperate. Even so, Passy considered most of the questions ridiculously simple – some of the answers, he said, could be found in the telephone directory. He and Soustelle suspected a British double-bluff.
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