Paris after the liberati.., p.38
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.38Antony Beevor
In France, the Communists faced a problem of strategy. They did not know whether to concentrate their attacks on the government or on de Gaulle. They followed the Kremlin’s instructions and depicted the government as a second Vichy with the Americans as the new occupying power, yet a gut instinct made them fear de Gaulle more. Jacques Duclos called for ‘the dissolution of de Gaulle’s illegal and fascist paramilitary organization aimed at the establishment of a dictatorship’.
Large groups of Communists turned up to disrupt meetings of the RPF. After Raymond Aron was shouted down by students, Malraux organized a much bigger meeting, but this time with a large contingent of the Rassemblement’s service d’ordre of volunteer security guards to demonstrate ‘that we had the strength to impose respect, and to hold our meetings when and wherever we wanted’.
De Gaulle behaved as though the Rassemblement was the only force which could prevent the Communists from seizing power. He still could not acknowledge the role that Schuman and Moch had played in holding the pass against them in November. The United States Embassy, however, continued to be impressed by the government’s firmness. Caffery reported that Schuman and Moch ‘have given very careful thought, in the event of a new Communist offensive, to outlawing the Communist Party and arresting all of its leaders who can be apprehended’.
Alarmist rumours continued to circulate in April, with stories of arms parachuted into the Lyons area: some thought for Communists, others thought for the right, others suspected Zionist agents. But the Americans were now confident that France would not collapse. Marshall Aid should start to have an effect within the next year.
The Gaullists offered prefects their ‘shock troops’ for any action against Communists. The prefects, however, knew that they would be in trouble from the Minister of the Interior if they accepted. The government even asked Jefferson Caffery not to have any meetings with de Gaulle. The ambassador sympathized and, after consultation with Washington, passed a message via General de Bénouville. General de Gaulle was warned that any attempt by him to unseat the Schuman government would be seen ‘as proof of placing personal ambition before the vital interest of his country’.
The message was received and digested. Ridgway Knight, Caffery’s political adviser, had a private meeting with Colonel Passy, who assured him that de Gaulle would take power illegally only in the event of a Soviet invasion, or of the failure of the government of the day to resist a Soviet ultimatum.
Passy also tried to assure Knight that the hotheads in the RPF were leaving the movement to join paramilitary groups on the far right. Knight, however, was much better informed than Passy realized. Although there was a basis of truth in the claim that some of these elements had started to drift away, Knight knew the White Russian chief of staff of the Gaullist service d’ordre in Paris, Colonel Tchenkeli, who had told him about all the extreme right-wing groups the Gaullists could call upon.
De Gaulle’s speeches became increasingly concerned with foreign policy, and in the spring of 1948 that meant Germany. His address on 7 March to a Rassemblement gathering at Compiègne had demanded once again that Germany should be split into separate states. The Reich must not be re-created. But within two weeks, events in Germany began to overtake him.
On 19 March, forty-eight hours after France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgiumand Luxembourg had signed the Treaty of Brussels, Marshal Sokolovski, the Soviet commander in Germany, walked out of the Allied Control Commission in Berlin. The gesture signalled the end of wartime cooperation.
Robert Schuman, meanwhile, was uneasy at the speed with which his Foreign Minister was coming round to American and British views on Germany. Bidault had been encouraged by Churchill the previous October to accept the inevitability of reconciliation.
Within the French government, Georges Bidault was indeed the driving force for change, even if a number of his colleagues saw him more as a wagon hitched to an Anglo-American express. The London Accords on Germany were ratified in the National Assembly by a majority of only fourteen votes after the debate on 16 June. The most implacable opposition came from the Communists on one side and from de Gaulle and his followers on the other. De Gaulle, in a radio broadcast on 10 June, claimed that the London Accords involved ‘the formation of a Reich at Frankfurt’ and that nothing could ‘prevent the growth of a totalitarian state in these circumstances’.
Many senior officials were certain that de Gaulle’s view would prevail in the end. The Schuman government was clearly about to fall, and the head of the European Department at the Quai d’Orsay predicted that, within a month or two, the General would be in power.
One part of the prediction was correct. Bidault’s signature in London led to the downfall of the Schuman government, an event which took place on 19 July. But even the ensuing political crisis did not bring de Gaulle to power. One administration after another staggered to its feet, then collapsed again. France was to be left without a stable government until 11 September. Robert Schuman was appalled at the bickering – the worst offenders were in the Socialist Party – when Europe was on the brink of war.
In Berlin, the introduction of a new currency – the Deutschmark – in the American and British sectors on 23 June had been answered immediately with a blockade of the city by the Red Army. Marshal Sokolovski announced that Allied military government had ceased to exist. General Lucius D. Clay, the autocratic and excitable American commander, known as ‘the Kaiser’ to the State Department, wanted to fight through the Soviet zone to Berlin to reopen the city’s land corridors. Fortunately Truman rejected his pleas and decided on an airlift instead. On 29 June, the US Air Force and the RAF began their air-bridge into Tempelhof airport, with a cargo plane landing on average every eight minutes.
Rumours of war intensified again. American diplomats and officers who had been in Berlin talked of ‘Custer’s last stand’ during visits to Paris. Bogomolov, the Russian ambassador, did not disguise the menace. ‘You’re following a very bad policy,’ he said to a journalist. ‘You’ll repent of it before long, before the end of the year.’
France was returning to a state of turmoil reminiscent of the previous autumn. On 25 June, the day after the blockade of Berlin started, fighting broke out in Clermont-Ferrand. The Communists, according to Moch, tried to drive government forces out of the town. No fewer than 140 policemen were wounded, a number of them with acid burns.
In August, French forces became involved in the air-bridge by constructing a new airport at Tegel in their zone of Berlin. The Communist Party launched a poster campaign and a wave of demonstrations with such slogans as ‘Down with the anti-Soviet War’, ‘The French people will never fight the Soviet Union’. Dockers in the Communist stronghold of Le Havre, following Lecoeur’s instructions, refused to unload military supplies for the US army. The renewal of political strife at home and events in Berlin provoked even greater fears and a flight of capital.
That summer, leaders of the Rassemblement were even more conscious of a threat to them than they had been the previous November. General de Bénouville had an unexpected and anonymous visitor one night. It turned out to be Colonel Marcel Degliame, a Communist leader whomhe had known in the Resistance. ‘Don’t ask why I’ve come to see you,’ said Degliame. ‘But are you able to defend yourself?’
The Communists at this time went beyond minor acts of sabotage to disrupt Rassemblement meetings. Groups of militants attacked whenever the opportunity presented itself. The Gaullist service d’ordre did not hesitate to respond. After Communist attacks round Nancy and Metz, members of the Rassemblement were proud to have sent ‘some forty Communists to hospital’.
One of Malraux’s aides told an American Embassy official that the RPF had decided ‘to schedule meetings for other regions of France where Communists might attempt serious obstructions’. Caffery reported to Washington that the Communists appeared to be trying to bait the Gaullists into a false move.
De Gaulle’s whistle-stop tour of south-eas
That afternoon, de Gaulle made his speech as planned. But afterwards, as he was leaving the town, the RPF marshals were attacked by Communists with such violence that they sought refuge in a gymnasium. The police are said to have stood back while the Communists attempted to set the gymnasium ablaze. A group of RPF stewards arrived to help the besieged group and opened fire, as did some of the Gaullists inside the building. Several people were wounded in the firing and one Communist was killed.
There was no apparent link between incidents such as those in Grenoble and the state of international tension over Germany. Yet in Moscow, Foy Kohler, one of the State Department’s most highly regarded Kremlinologists, had been watching events in France with growing suspicion.
Kohler knew that Stalin’s fear of Germany was entirely visceral. His declaration in 1943 at the Teheran conference that it would be necessary to execute between 50,000 and 100,000 senior German officers was not merely a turn of phrase to impress his audience. And the Soviet leadership’s paranoia, caused by the Americans’ haste to change the Statute of Occupation, was entirely in character. Stalin had been traumatized by the German invasion of Russia mainly because he had so disastrously underestimated the threat of invasion.
It is worth transcribing Kohler’s telegramin full.
To: Secretary of State No: 2325, October 14, 5 p.m.
As seen from Moscow, current Communist-directed disturbances in France seemlikely to be deliberately calculated to hasten the advent to power of de Gaulle, with primary objective of thus bringing about the destruction of the London decisions and disrupting the dangerous (to Kremlin) unity of Western Powers. Soviet leaders clearly demonstrated during the Moscow talks that restoration of western Germany is their main present concern and at same time learned there was no chance of preventing such restoration by negotiation, even at the price of concessions with respect to Berlin. In view his clearly-expressed views, de Gaulle would apparently be second-best only to a Communist government in France in bringing about these Soviet objectives and French Communists who suffer at his hands are clearly ‘expendable’.
In Moscow, two days before the events in Grenoble, Georges Soria of the French Communist Party had told Kamenov that ‘in the present situation, the tasks of the French Communist Party are very complicated and difficult. At one meeting Thorez warned that a tenacious struggle will take place and that this conflict could even be armed.’ The statement can, of course, be read in different ways. But the general content, and the complicated and difficult tasks unspecified by Thorez, are compatible with the Kohler analysis.
The French Communist Party may have been the ‘eldest son of the Stalinist church’, but Stalin was hardly the man to shrink from playing Abraham. He knew that if the Gaullists had come to power – a prospect which seemed more likely at the time than it does in hindsight – they would have suppressed the Communist Party. Their plans for the rounding up of Communists were an open secret. Colonel Rémy later confirmed to Ridgway Knight that ‘the arrest of 500 Communists would decapitate and paralyze the movement, and the RPF knew exactly where these 500 men were’. Colonel Passy told American diplomats that the General should start by shooting several hundred people, but ‘unhappily he hasn’t got the stomach for it’.
The Kohler hypothesis, if true, prompts a number of thoughts. Stalin had almost certainly misjudged de Gaulle. However much de Gaulle loathed the deal on Germany or despised politicians, he would have considered seizing power illegally only if the government had looked like caving in to the Communists or to a Soviet ultimatum. Civil unrest, even with attacks on the Rassemblement, was not enough.
The political crisis in Paris, which had lasted most of the summer, with one politician after another failing to form a government, only came to an end on 11 September. Dr Henri Queuille of the Radicals, a country doctor famous for his lack of panache, finally succeeded. Queuille immediately reinstated Moch as Minister of the Interior.
The Communist Party’s efforts that autumn were directed once again through the CGT, and once again genuine grievances were exploited for political ends. Moch and other members of the government desperately wanted to reduce food prices, but the economic situation did not yet permit it. On 17 October, the franc had to be devalued by 17 per cent.
From 8 October, railway strikes spread. Other industries followed. The Communist Party was, however, wary about throwing its weight behind the strike at Renault, having had its hands burned there the year before. Paris was less affected by strikes than the previous year; most of the city’s population continued to work as usual. For Samuel Beckett, it was probably his most fertile period. He started to write Waiting for Godot on 9 October 1948, as an escape from his unsuccessful novels. He finished it less than four months later, on 29 January 1949.
Once more, the main centres of unrest were the coal-mining districts in the north of France. On 20 October the region was placed under a state of siege. Hundreds were arrested, including the Communist deputy René Camphin. Miners occupied the shafts and winding gear, having barricaded the entrances to the pits. They claimed that they were maintaining the mines, but after the sabotage of machinery the previous year Moch refused to take their word for it. Troops and armoured vehicles were brought back from the army in Germany to break down the barricades.
The war of attrition, which spread to the heavy industry of Lorraine and elsewhere, continued into November. The new British ambassador reported to London, ‘France is the present front line in the Cold War.’ Moch was as resolute as the year before: only unconditional surrender would be accepted. ‘The government has decided to maintain order with the greatest energy and re-establish the authority of the state,’ the Minister of the Interior reminded one of his colleagues. The new Prime Minister, Henri Queuille, formally instructed Jules Moch to forbid all prefects and inspectors-general ‘any sort of negotiation with the unions’ without his authority.
Moch received enough reports to convince him that he was dealing with a foreign-controlled operation directed against the Republic. He was determined to track down the source of Communist Party funds used to prolong the strikes. In a message marked ‘Très Secret’ to the Secretary of State for Finance, he asked him to investigate all ‘import licences without payment’. He was convinced that the Soviet Union was exporting goods via roundabout routes, which French Communist commercial fronts then sold off, never having paid for them.
Predictions of civil war and the return of de Gaulle produced a strong sense of déjà vu. Raymond Aron, at a curiously mixed dinner party – it included Bevin’s deputy, Hector MacNeill (who had brought his protégé Guy Burgess with him to Paris), Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, and Esmond and Ann Rothermere – predicted ‘six months of strikes and misery, then the return of de Gaulle’. Gaullists, both by belief and by self-interest, tended to talk up the degree of disorder.
Although the General’s personal popularity was waning, the elections of 7 November proved a surprise success for the Rassemblement. General Leclerc’s widow, Madame de Hauteclocque, ‘accepted a place on an RPF ticket because she was assured that she would not be elected and was much astonished to find herself in office’. Yet the Rassemblement was doomed to decline, because the autumn of 1948 marked the last frenzy of civil war paranoia. Despite all de Gaulle’s
Meanwhile, the Communists no longer stood a chance of achieving power by constitutional means. After the Prague coup and the threats over Berlin, the majority of France’s population, whether they liked the idea or not, knew that their only place now was within the Western camp. Right into the 1960s, however, France remained the KGB’s ‘main target’ in ‘its policy of working for an internal split in NATO’. The man given the responsibility for forcing France to leave NATO was none other than Boris Ponomarev.
The Treason of the Intellectuals
Within the mainly left-wing circles of French intellectual life, a David and Goliath conflict between a handful of libertarians on one side and a pro-Stalinist majority on the other was starting to make itself felt. Only when the Cold War began to develop its own Manichaean logic did the French Communist Party find itself on the defensive.
Thorez’s remarks after the Prague coup, tantamount to an admission that Communists would support the Red Army in the event of war, put them back into an ideological ghetto comparable to their position in 1939 after the Nazi–Soviet pact. Most of the admiration for the Soviet Union which had existed in France in 1944 and 1945 had turned into distrust, even fear, by the end of the decade. The group in French society which most conspicuously failed to follow this change was the progressiste intelligentsia, their resolve strengthened by anti-American rhetoric. If the Communist Party could no longer present itself as the standard-bearer of French patriotism, it could still portray itself as the defender of French culture against a transatlantic invasion.
Shortly after Communist ministers had left government, Thorez called for the establishment of a Front littéraire. The party, with political power slipping from its grasp, wanted to secure the commanding heights of art and thought. This determination redoubled after it lost so many working-class members as a result of the disastrous strikes in 1947 and 1948. Laurent Casanova, the cultural commissar, called on writers to formulate new values. A commission of intellectuals met weekly under his direction. They included Annie Besse (later the historian Annie Kriegel) and Victor Leduc, the son of a Russian revolutionary. Leduc, an academic and a fanatic, became a member of the section idéologique – the Communist Party’s equivalent of the Holy Office.
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