Paris after the liberati.., p.27
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.27Antony Beevor
Philby came to Paris at least twice. He came first in the winter of 1944–5 to visit Muggeridge, and stayed with him at the Avenue de Marigny. He paid another visit in May 1946. ‘Philby, the Communist specialist of MI6, came to see me,’ recorded Duff Cooper. ‘He hadn’t much to say that I didn’t know already.’ Yet Philby muddied the waters once more. Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who had revived part of her ‘Ark’ intelligence network from the Resistance for use against the Communists, had kept in touch with John Bruce-Lockhart, the SIS representative in Paris. She had shown him transcripts of the most recent French Communist Party politburo meetings, and explained that she needed a substantial sum of money each month if this source was to continue. The SIS representative was convinced that the transcripts were genuine, and the senior director in London, Kenneth Cohen, who had supervised Marie-Madeleine’s operations in the war, also believed in them. But the final decision lay with the head of the section dealing with International Communism – Kim Philby. He declared that the transcripts were forgeries, mainly on the grounds of what he claimed was unconvincing Marxist-Leninist phraseology. Since he was the expert, SIS chiefs in London were not prepared to override his opinion. Fortunately, Marie-Madeleine had concealed her source well and Philby was never in a position to betray it.*
The Americans fared little better in the spring of 1946. The flood of rumours made it impossible to identify real threats. A report even circulated that the Russians were ready to invade France by parachute: D-Day would take place on 26 March. At the same moment, General Revers warned the British military attaché that ‘the Communists would create incidents on the Spanish frontier’ to force a war with Franco and get the Russians to intervene. Revers, a fanatical anti-Communist, may also have been the source of a later rumour about international brigades training near the Pyrenees to fight in the Greek civil war. In fact, the danger in the area came from the opposite direction: extreme right-wing elements within the French army had been hoping to get the Spanish army to strike across the border at Communist maquis groups.
The American ambassador passed back such stories to Washington in a weary tone. ‘The circulation of alarmist reports,’ he wrote, ‘is facilitated because the average Frenchman after the years of German occupation is prone to believe and to repeat as gospel almost any rumor no matter how fantastic it may seem. Indeed, since the Liberation stories have circulated with varying degrees of intensity that “a Communist coup is planned for next month”; often specific dates are mentioned.’ American military intelligence staff in Paris, with the honourable exception of Charlie Gray, were far less sceptical.
There can be little doubt that American intelligence in Europe was hopelessly ill-informed. A briefing on ‘Clement [sic] Fried the principal agent of Stalin in France’ warned that Fried was still very elusive. ‘Prior to the war he seldom slept in the same domicile for more than a few nights and was not known to more than eight or ten members of the French Communist Party.’ Fried – whose name was Eügen, not Clement – had indeed been the French Communist Party’s Comintern controller and Maurice Thorez’s mentor, but there was a very good reason for his elusiveness in 1946: the Gestapo had shot him dead in Belgium three years before.
It is greatly to Jefferson Caffery’s credit that he resolutely continued to discount the growing rumours of an impending Communist coup in the lead-up to the referendum of 5 May. ‘While it is difficult to state with certainty the origin and purpose of such reports, they are being circulated in American military and other circles particularly by anti-Communist French elements.’ All too often the very people circulating these reports ‘subsequently approach us informally with a view to obtaining financial or other assistance for the coming elections’.
He further argued that ‘an armed Communist uprising would not seem probable in the immediate future since the Communists would stand to lose much more than they might gain by such a gamble’. On the other hand, the Communists would certainly profit from an ‘abortive attempt’ by the ‘lunatic fringe of the Right’. This would enable them to pose as ‘the defenders of democracy against an attempt at dictatorship’.
Unfortunately, the War Department refused to heed the ambassador’s warnings that all these rumours leading up to the referendum on 5 May should be ignored. It had received a report that the Communists planned to stage a coup d’état after fomenting trouble on Monday, 6 May, the day after the referendum.
In the early hours of Friday, 3 May, the War Department sent a top-secret ‘eyes only’ signal to General MacNarney, Commanding General of US Forces European Theater, based in Frankfurt. This gave him formal authority ‘to effect movement into France in case of serious disturbance there provided that such a move in your opinion is essential to provide for security repeat security of US Forces or to secure supplies essential to them’. A reconnaissance by selected officers was permitted before the referendumof 5 May.
A signals officer in Washington, recognizing the telegram’s potentially explosive nature, contacted the code room of the State Department, suggesting that the message should be cleared on their side. An urgent meeting was called by the European department’s senior experts, John Hickerson and James Bonbright, who took the representatives from the War Department to see Dean Acheson, the Assistant Secretary of State. They reminded him that, whatever the right-wing rumour-mongers in France might be saying, a Communist coup was most unlikely.
Acheson and his colleagues expressed a very strong view that ‘General MacNarney should not be given discretionary authority to move troops into France’. They pointed out that ‘US troops moving into France to widely scattered places, in the event of civil trouble might well be misunderstood, give rise to incidents involving them, and, at the worst, might even cause the Communists to appeal to the Soviet Union and send for help on the grounds that the United States had intervened’. Not even Acheson and his subordinates in the State Department appeared to be aware of articles 3 and 4 in the Franco-Soviet pact signed by Bidault and Molotov in December 1944. That obliged either France or the Soviet Union, in the event of a threat, to take ‘all necessary measures to eliminate any fresh menace coming from Germany’. The nationality of the menace had not been specified.
The State Department team drafted an alternative set of instructions which they took to a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at 1.30 p.m. The Joint Chiefs were only prepared to make minor modifications to the original instruction to General MacNarney. Neither side would compromise further, so that afternoon Admiral Leahy, the former ambassador to Marshal Pétain, took both drafts to the President for his decision. Truman, to Acheson’s appalled disbelief, backed the War Department.
Acheson drafted a telegramto Caffery in Paris. He warned himof the situation and told him that their attempts to stop the War Department instruction had failed – but then he cancelled the signal before it was sent. This is surprising since, to the State Department’s dismay, MacNarney’s authority to move troops into France remained in force, even after Monday, 6 May, passed off without any disturbances. If Caffery ever heard of the War Department instruction, from either Acheson or anyone else, he certainly did not tell any of his colleagues.
The only satisfaction the State Department could extract from this deeply disturbing episode was in a later communication debunking the cries of wolf in Germany which had led to such an extraordinary state of affairs. On 5 June, a top-secret signal was sent to Robert Murphy, the President’s representative in Germany: ‘As you may already know the information planted… is entirely phony. The source belongs to an extreme Right Resistance group in France desiring to stir up trouble and obtain American arms and funds.’
Politics and Letters
In the lead-up to the referendum on 5 May 1946, all was fair in war and politics. Right-wing rumour-mongers claimed, without producing evidence, that the Kremlin was financing the French Communist Party. The Parti Républicain de la Liberté spread the word that the Communist leader, Maurice Thorez, was hav
The draft of the Constitution of the Fourth Republic proposed that most power should rest in the hands of the Assembly, while the Senate should be abolished. The Assembly would also have the power to appoint both the prime minister and the president, whose powers would be purely ceremonial. Cardinal Suhard called upon the faithful to ‘vote and vote well’ against a left-wing and anti-clerical Constitution. Suhard’s message was repeated from pulpits in cathedrals and churches across France. The Archbishop of Bordeaux stated outright that Catholics must refuse to ratify the Constitution. This produced fears in the centre that intervention from the Church would play into Communist hands.
The most ingenious piece of black propaganda was mounted by the Communists just over two weeks before the elections. They arranged for one of their prominent union leaders to be arrested on the basis of charges originally laid against him by the Vichy government. The Ministry of the Interior had nothing to do with the arrest. According to a ‘competent source’, it was carried out by officers from the Communist-infiltrated Prefecture of Police.
The outcry in the party’s press was predictable, claiming that Vichy reactionaries were still in control and that the Pétain regime was working frombeyond the grave. The whole operation was a great success, to the frustration of Édouard Depreux, the Socialist Minister of the Interior, whom the Communists loathed. Henaff, the union leader, was released amid triumphant demonstrations, while Depreux was left subtly tainted with Vichyism. But it would not be long before Depreux began to organize an effective revenge.
The Communists demanded a ‘Oui’ in favour of the draft Constitution, but they allowed, and then even encouraged, the May referendum to be turned into a ‘plebiscite for or against Communism’. Some rich ‘paniquards’ planned to leave France if they won. The American ambassador was scathing about the fatalistic assumption that ‘the Cossacks would soon be arriving on the Place de la Concorde’.
De Gaulle was one of the very few to predict that the Communists would lose, whatever the opinion polls said. He told his secretary Claude Mauriac, the son of François, that the Communists had made a major mistake. Out of sheer over-confidence, they had allowed the tables to be turned at last. Until then, the left had managed to manipulate and define issues in terms of fascism and anti-fascism. Now, for the first time, the issue was Communism and anti-Communism. ‘And that’s a development of capital importance for the future,’ said the General. He had the hugely satisfied air of a man who had put together a clever plan. ‘I managed to tie a good-sized saucepan to their leg with the referendum,’ he said. It was one of the very few electoral measures he had been able to achieve in the face of the Constituent Assembly.
In the week before the referendum, the walls of Paris were scrawled with ‘Oui’ or ‘Non’ in chalk, often crossed out by the other side. In the 16th arrondissement well-dressed little girls with buckets and brushes were seen scrubbing out the Ouis. In a less elegant part of the city, a green metal vespasienne urinal bore the more anarchic slogan:
Voter OUI, voter NON
Vous serez toujours les CONS!
No May Day in Paris was complete without the scent of lily-of-the-valley. Traders came into Paris that morning with great baskets of the flowers on their arms tied into little bunches, and everyone wore sprigs of it in their buttonholes. After the May Day parade from the Place de la République to the Place de la Nation, there was a Communist Party rally at six o’clock in the Place de la Concorde. As Thorez addressed the great crowd in the evening sunlight, he was watched from above. Baron Élie de Rothschild and other friends had brought field-glasses for this purpose to a drinks party on the roof garden of Donald Bloomingdale’s penthouse at the Crillon Hotel only a few yards away.
‘I have little doubt that there will be a majority of Ouis,’ wrote Duff Cooper in his diary on Sunday, 5 May, the day of the election. ‘All my friends of the right say it will be the end of France, which of course is nonsense.’
The following morning, 6 May, the date on which American troops were ready to move into France, the narrow victory of the Nons was confirmed. After the Communists’ great efforts, it was seen as a significant setback for them. ‘De Gaulle was right,’ Claude Mauriac wrote in his diary.
The American delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, then under way, did not hide its jubilation during a dinner at the Quai d’Orsay. Jacques Dumaine, although also relieved by the outcome, felt they were seeing things only in black and white. ‘They imagine that France is divided into two camps of which one will overcome the other’, and thus they deliberately ignored ‘the heterogeneous free-for-all which is the essence of French politics’. But politics in France, as in most countries of the world, were doomed to be polarized by the Cold War.
Simone de Beauvoir had lunch that day with Merleau-Ponty at the Petit Saint-Benoît to discuss the referendum. But in the evening, the famille Sartre forgot politics and rallied round Jean Genet, who had just been through an author’s worst nightmare: Gallimard had apparently lost his only manuscript of Funeral Rites. This resulted in a series of furious rows between Genet and Gaston Gallimard’s son Claude.
The other news which people had to digest that day was of a scandal in intelligence circles. The previous evening, just before voting finished, Agence France-Presse announced that Colonel Passy had been arrested. The motives for making the announcement at such a moment are unclear. Félix Gouin’s government, alarmed by the upset in the elections, may have leaked the news either as a belated attempt to alter the outcome or as a warning shot to de Gaulle, whose prestige would be enhanced by the results. The Passy scandal was a murky affair from which the government emerged with little credit.
On 4 May, Passy was summoned to the offices of the organization which he had originally built up in London, now called the SDECE.* ‘We have discovered some irregularities,’ the new chief told him. ‘Where are the secret funds?’ Although no formal charges were made, Passy was accused of embezzling intelligence service funds and was held incommunicado. His wife, not knowing what had happened to him, became frantic. One of the reasons for the sudden announcement of his arrest on the night of 5 May was the difficulty of keeping it a secret for much longer.
American intelligence, which may have been misled by representatives of the government, reported that the financial irregularities had been known about for some time. The real reason for Passy’s arrest, it said, was that he had been trying to sabotage Léon Blum’s efforts to seek an urgently needed loan from the United States. The Socialists and their coalition partners were both outraged and alarmed.
There was never any question of Passy embezzling funds for personal use. The main charge of irregularities in London was ridiculous. The BCRA had been so afraid of Vichyist infiltration that very few written records were kept. What Passy had almost certainly been trying to do was to build up a fighting fund. He shared with General de Gaulle a conviction that a third world war, this time against Communism, was inevitable; and, as the General had said to Passy only a few months before, ‘I hope we won’t set off as ill-prepared as we were the last time.’ Passy wanted to ensure that the Gaullist resistance would never again have to go cap in hand to the British or the Americans.
Passy was locked up without any form of trial or access to lawyers. Conditions were very bad, and he feared that his gaolers were drugging him. He went on hunger strike, lost twenty-three kilos, and his blood pressure fell alarmingly. When his wife finally managed to have him removed to the Val-de-Grâce hospital, the doctor told him, ‘You’ve been poisoned.’ When he asked what the poison was, the doctor replied laconically, ‘We’ll know after the autopsy.’
During his imprisonment, Passy passed a message to the Americans claim
At the end of August, on an order from the Council of Ministers, Colonel Passy was stripped of his rank, the Legion of Honour and the Order of the Liberation, and suffered the confiscation of personal property to the value of the sum exported. (Most of his honours, including the Legion of Honour, were later restored.) Passy, with justification, protested angrily that the Council of Ministers was not a court of justice: if he was to be tried, it should be in front of a properly constituted tribunal. Even Teitgen, the Minister of Justice, was privately uneasy about the way the affair had been handled.
The Passy scandal may have been the talk of Paris, but it seems to have made little impact in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Simone de Beauvoir’s life was busier than ever, as the record of her afternoon on Friday, 10 May, shows. After lunch at the Brasserie Lipp, she went to the offices of Les Temps modernes, which Gaston Gallimard had lent them. Vittorini of the Italian Communist Party paid a visit. He was very put out to hear that Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were to be the guests of ‘un éditeur réactionnaire’ on their forthcoming visit to his country.
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