Paris after the liberati.., p.32
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.32

           Antony Beevor

  Any illusion in the summer of 1946 that France had come through the worst was shattered a few months later, during a winter often described as the worst of the century. For many, the memory of the cold far outlasted memories of hunger. The disastrous shortages of heating fuel – some areas received only a third or a quarter of their allocation – left schools as well as offices unheated. Children had such bad chilblains that they could not write, and secretaries in the Quai d’Orsay could only type wearing mittens. Nancy Mitford was unable to work at home. She wrote to Gaston Palewski – the telephones were not functioning – begging three or four logs because her hands were so cold she could hardly hold a pen. ‘Every breath is like a sword,’ she wrote to one of her sisters.

  In the need to cut electricity consumption, all illuminated signs were forbidden, shop windows left unlit and streetlights turned off arbitrarily. In fact so little warning was given of power cuts that, in hospitals, surgeons in mid-operation frequently found themselves abandoned in darkness.

  Once again connections helped, even when unintended. Susan Mary Patten was deeply embarrassed when an American general, having noticed a chilblain on one of her fingers during a dinner at the Windsors’ overheated house, sent round the next morning a work party of German prisoners of war to unload a truck of coal for her.

  The vicious circle continued. Blizzards halted coal production and trains bringing fuel. Pipes froze, burst, poured forth and refroze in huge icicles. ‘I never saw anything like the burst pipes in this town,’ wrote Nancy Mitford to her sister Diana, ‘every house a waterfall.’

  Each morning dozens of small children, well wrapped up except for their knees blue above thick socks, set off to buy milk, clutching metal billycans. The threat of tuberculosis meant that the milk was boiled in a huge metal vat set up in the laiterie, and the shopkeeper poured the steaming milk ration into the can with a ladle which held exactly one litre.


  Rationing in times of great shortages will always create a black market and there are all too many examples of its counter-productive effects in France. One of the most shocking could be found in Brittany fishing ports, where trawler owners could make more money from selling their allocation of fuel on the black market than by sending their boats to sea.

  On the other hand, a failure to maintain rationing would have triggered dangerous unrest and brought down any government which attempted to follow such a course. The inequalities were far more terrible in France than they were in Britain, where the rationing system as a whole was more thoroughly and effectively applied. It could be argued, however, that the efficiency of the system contributed greatly to Britain’s slow economic recovery afterwards.

  The French economy, with its unofficial slide towards the free market which caused such misery, found itself in a much better position to take off in 1949 once foreign aid arrived in sufficient quantity to kick-start commercial activity. ‘It’s a triumph for private enterprise,’ wrote Diana Cooper, ‘although in the long run they may succumb from immorality.’


  Fighting Back against the Communists

  ‘It looks as though the Communists are having everything their own way everywhere,’ wrote the British ambassador in 1946. ‘They have the great advantage of knowing what they want.’ This belief was widespread, but not entirely true. French Communist leaders were still receiving remarkably few instructions from Moscow, and they had been lulled into a false sense of security by their comparative successes within the democratic system.

  Communist strength on paper appeared almost overwhelming. Benoît Frachon, during his secret conversations with Politburo member Mikhail Suslov in Moscow in June, claimed over 5.5 million members in the Communist-controlled trades union movement. Even if this figure was inflated, his assertion that ‘through the CGT, the French Communist Party influences the working class’ was largely true.

  The French Communists, however, did their best to hide their control of the CGT, as a senior member of the party acknowledged in a letter to the Kremlin. ‘After the CGT Congress we ended up with a committee of seven communists and six reformers. This was conditioned by our situation: we must not hand ammunition to our reactionary enemies allowing them to describe the CGT as Communist.’

  In his report to Suslov, Frachon did not paint a very optimistic picture. It is of course possible that this was a defensive measure after Ponomarev’s demand that the party intervene in the running of the French zone of Germany. Communist influence within the army was ‘very weak’, Frachon told him. The army was ‘full of Vichyists’, which explained ‘the reactionary policy of the French military administration in Germany and Austria’. He then added that whatever the influences within the army, ‘I do not believe that the reactionary forces are planning to use the army against us in a coup d’état.’

  De Gaulle’s increasingly palpable presence in the political wings began to alarm both the left and the centre. After the speech at Bayeux in June 1946, the General permitted René Capitant to found the Union Gaulliste. It was a way of testing the waters without risking his own dignity. This prototype virtually collapsed under its own sudden success, attracting half a million members and twenty-two members of the Constituent Assembly by September. The Communists renewed their accusations that ‘le général factieux’ wished to return as a dictator. The Christian Democrats of the MRP also began to worry that the Gaullists might poach their supporters.

  Bidault, the MRP’s first Prime Minister, hoped to make an alliance with de Gaulle; but the General was inflexible. He concentrated his ire upon the new draft of the Constitution. His displeasure was hardly surprising. The latest draft did give some additional powers to the President, and the Senate was replaced by a Council of the Republic; but all real power still lay in the hands of the Assembly. Politically, de Gaulle was making the same mistake as the Communists had in May: he was turning the referendum on the Constitution into a vote for or against himself. When polling booths closed on 13 October, there were 3 million more abstentions than in the May referendum, but the draft Constitution for the Fourth Republic was approved. The General was scathing. Only 35 per cent of those eligible to vote had supported the draft Constitution. This encouraged him to plan his own mass movement.

  On 20 December, de Gaulle denounced the Constitution again in a communiqué to Agence France-Presse. Nine days later the draft was voted through the Assembly. Refusing to give in, de Gaulle spoke a few hours later at Épinal, urging French voters to reject it. ‘Franchement non!’ he exclaimed. ‘Such a compromise does not appear to us to be a framework worthy of the Republic.’ Compromise, in de Gaulle’s canon, was still a mortal sin.


  Bidault’s government resigned after more legislative elections on 10 November in which the Communists once again won the greatest number of seats. Their share of the total vote had increased to 29 per cent. Maurice Thorez, as leader of ‘le premier parti de France’, demanded to be Prime Minister.

  The Socialist Party faced a most uncomfortable dilemma, made worse by Thorez’s studied moderation as he lobbied for support with dignity and charm. One of their leaders is said to have burst out in sobs: ‘I’d prefer to slash my wrists than vote for Thorez!’ But Gouin argued that they had no option, otherwise they would lose all credibility: the workers would not understand their supporting Bidault, a Christian Democrat, then refusing to support a Communist. Yet he was certain that, even with their support, Thorez would never receive the absolute majority necessary. Vincent Auriol, a wise and experienced Socialist of the old school, agreed with Gouin.

  They were proved right when the vote took place on 4 December. Thorez had made his bid and lost. Jacques Duclos, defending Thorez’s candidature in the National Assembly a few days later, made an uncharacteristic blunder when he lauded him as ‘a man who has stood the test of battle’. The non-Communist benches erupted with laughter at this description of France’s most famous deserter. The Communist deputies could only sit there, stony-faced and furi
ous. After Thorez, it was Bidault’s turn, but he received even fewer votes.

  A week later, Blum having resigned, President Auriol selected Paul Ramadier to form an administration – having first made a show of asking Félix Gouin, as an expression of confidence after the wine scandal. Ramadier, with his goatee beard and fussy professorial air, provided an easy target for caricaturists. He was known as a man of compromise, and for being painstakingly slow to reach a decision; but he was untainted by ambition, and scrupulously honest in a profession not renowned for its probity. He had accepted the post of Minister of Supply in de Gaulle’s government, knowing that it would make him unpopular. He was also a hard worker, often at his desk soon after four in the morning. When he began to telephone his ministers a little later, he was surprised to find themstill in bed.

  The American Embassy, however, was deeply disturbed when the new Prime Minister nominated the Communist François Billoux as Minister of National Defence. The fact that Ramadier managed to restrict Billoux’s position to a largely symbolic role by strengthening the three service ministries was overlooked by most of his critics on the right.

  Caffery had become much more alarmist in the course of the last nine months. In March, after a wave of strikes which included the newspaper unions and the Paris police, he warned the Secretary of State that while the Communists were not strong enough to ‘align France with the Soviets against the West’, the country could be denied to the Western powers. ‘Communist armed action combined with paralysing strikes, sabotage and other subversive activities would certainly prepare the way for Soviet intervention on a scale larger even than was the case in the Spanish Civil War.’ Not all Americans saw the strikes in such dramatic terms. ‘The French enjoyed having the police on strike,’ wrote Susan Mary Patten to a friend, ‘and had a lot of fun driving up one-way streets the wrong way. The cook says good riddance. The police were just a band of assassins anyway.’

  The Communists, from the other side of the fence, were equally suspicious of developments. The Franco-British pact which they opposed so resolutely came into effect on 4 March as the Treaty of Dunkirk, a place chosen by Bidault to symbolize the darkest moment of the war. For Socialists such as Blumand Depreux, it signified a counterbalance to the Franco-Soviet pact signed by de Gaulle. Afterwards Duff Cooper, who had worked long and hard for this expression of friendship between the two countries, felt able to write in his diary: ‘Nunc dimittis’. He had achieved his principal aimin his last job.

  Six days later the foreign ministers of the Big Four – General Marshall, Bidault, Bevin and Molotov – met in Moscow. Only Marshall and Bevin knew that post-war relations were about to take a decisive turn. For Bidault, the Moscow conference represented a Soviet betrayal. He felt he had behaved most correctly with Molotov, but the Soviet Foreign Minister, having encouraged his hopes that the Saar would be given to France, refused to support her claim in a volte-face which humiliated Bidault personally. He did not forget this. Molotov was equally unforgiving. He regarded the Treaty of Dunkirk as a move aimed directly against the Soviet Union.


  General George C. Marshall, one of the most honest and selfless of all American public servants, had become Secretary of State on 21 January 1947. He was not a ‘hawk’, but he was more resolute than James Byrnes and a thorough pragmatist. He expected ‘brutal candour’ from his staff, and assured them that he had no feelings ‘except those which I reserve for Mrs Marshall’.

  At the end of February, the State Department was warned by the British ambassador in Washington that the collapse of Britain’s economy meant that no further support could be provided to Greece, then in the midst of civil war, or to Turkey, still threatened by Soviet probing on its north-eastern frontier. President Truman summoned a conference with Congressional leaders in the White House on the morning of Wednesday, 26 February. As a mark of how far things had changed, the most passionate advocate of American intervention to thwart the Soviet threat came from Marshall’s deputy, Dean Acheson – the same man who had been appalled by the plan to move troops into France the previous May. ‘When we were convened to open the subject,’ Acheson wrote dramatically, ‘I knew we were met at Armageddon.’

  ‘Soviet pressure on the Straits [the Dardanelles],’ he told the Congressmen, ‘on Iran and on northern Greece had brought the Balkans to the point where a highly possible Soviet breakthrough might open three continents to Soviet penetration. Like apples in a barrel infected by one rotten one, the corruption of Greece would infect Iran and all to the east. It would also carry infection to Africa through Asia Minor and Egypt, and to Europe through Italy and France, already threatened by the strongest domestic Communist parties in Western Europe.’ After Acheson had finished speaking, ‘a long silence followed’. Then Senator Vandenberg said solemnly, ‘Mr President, if you will say that to the Congress and the country, I will support you and I believe that most of its members will do the same.’

  Predictions of conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union were developing into a self-fulfilling prophecy on both sides. Few in Washington doubted that ‘a major turning point in American history was taking place’. On 12 March, President Truman addressed the House of Representatives: ‘I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way…’ This statement soon became known as the Truman Doctrine.

  In France, a ‘new resistance’ to Communist infiltration had become apparent before Truman’s speech. Ministers were beginning to reverse the tide in several ministries as well as in the Paris police.

  The Socialist Minister of the Interior, Édouard Depreux, a great admirer of Léon Blum, exploited every opportunity to reduce Communist influence in the administration. He had removed the Communist Prefect of the Haute-Vienne from office in July 1946, having arranged financial compensation. His greatest preoccupation, however, remained the Paris police, which the Communists had infiltrated during and after the Liberation. Depreux blamed Charles Luizet, the Prefect of Police appointed by de Gaulle in August 1944, for not having done enough to counter the process. Yet Luizet could have done little to protect the force against the ferocity of the Communist-led purge committee, or their policy of replacing disgraced policemen with men of their own. Depreux’s chance came when a scandal blew up involving that notorious double-dealer Joanovici,* who had been bribing police officers by playing poker with themand losing most generously. Joanovici, who had testified against his former comrades in the Bonny–Lafont gang, had been as happy to make money with the Communists as with the Nazis. The minister promptly gave orders for the arrest of two leading Communists in the police who had links with him, a risky course, with the lack of evidence at the time. The Communist press exploded in anger, but Depreux kept his nerve.

  His other move was to replace Luizet by Roger Léonard, a strong anti-Communist reputed to be a ‘very effective administrator’. During the Occupation, Léonard had been a Vichy official, but was fortunate to have been sacked by his superiors early enough to escape the attentions of a purge committee at the time of the Liberation. Just to be sure, the American Embassy reported, he had even pretended to be a fellow-traveller ‘for reasons of temporary political opportunism’.

  Forcing back the inroads of Communist infiltration was just one side of Depreux’s strategy. What he and his colleagues feared most was an attempted coup from the right, which would allow the Communists to cast themselves as the saviours of Republican liberty. Depreux knew that, above all, he must not allow himself to be portrayed as purely anti-Communist. He therefore made conspicuous moves against right-wing plotters, including such cynical manoeuvres as the arrest of a group of priests and nuns who had been sheltering collaborators.

  Depreux and his colleagues had good reason to be worried about a plot from the right playing into the hands of the Communists. In May 194
7, the American Embassy was informed that two colonels from the US army in Germany had been offering to arm rightist groups. This shadowy affair was hushed up. Depreux, however, made another plot public, a conspiracy known as the ‘Plan Bleu’, because the document was on blue paper.

  The police had been amassing evidence for several months, but Depreux waited for the right moment before making anything public. The opportunity came in June 1947, shortly after the Communists left Ramadier’s government. Depreux’s timing of the announcement that a plot against the Republic had been thwarted was aimed at elements within his own party. The left wing of the Socialist Party wanted to attack the anti-Communist stance of their ministers.

  The details of the plot itself were too sketchy to be really convincing. It apparently involved General Guillaudot, the Inspector-General of the Gendarmerie Nationale, and several veteran anti-Communists including Loustaunau-Lacau, the only member of the Resistance to have testified on behalf of Marshal Pétain. General de Larminat was also suspended from his duties on grounds of suspected collusion. The uprising against the government was supposed to start in Brittany, where small groups would seize arms depots and American stores to equip rebel formations. ‘At the same time four tactical groups, one of them armoured, would advance on Paris.’

  Caffery feared that Depreux had overplayed his hand. His dramatic version of the plot had allowed the Communists to exploit the ‘plot to [a] maximum, smearing all present and potential anti-Communist elements – General de Larminat, General Koenig, General de Gaulle and even widening the attack to include the MRP, “party of the Cassocks and the reactionary West”’.

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Add comment

Add comment