Paris after the liberati.., p.43
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.43Antony Beevor
From the beginning of 1949, daily life in France started to become easier. In January, only a few weeks after the end of the strikes, a state loan – the first since the Liberation – was fully taken up. Bread rationing came to an end, mainly thanks to Marshall aid, since the drought of 1948 had drastically reduced the harvest. Dairy products were no longer rationed from 15 April 1949, the first anniversary of the European Recovery Programme. Prices became less volatile, wage demands eased and inflation slowed. Even American caution began to relax, as an ambassadorial dispatch to Washington shows. ‘While I do not desire to over-emphasize or exaggerate, in my opinion it is safe to say that at last France shows signs of pulling herself together and appears to be on the way to recovery.’
The year proved so calm, in comparison with what had gone before, that foreign journalists based in Paris complained that they no longer had anything to write about. The new mood of inactivity was attributed to the Prime Minister, Dr Henri Queuille. Queuille may have been unexciting, but he was cleverer than he appeared and provided the stability that was so desperately needed. His most important appointment was that of Maurice Petsche as Finance Minister, who, without political fanfare, started to free the economy and also the franc by narrowing the rate of exchange between the black market and the official rate.
Imports from the United States had been huge during 1948 as Marshall Plan produce flooded into the country, ‘but by the end of 1949,’ Averell Harriman later reported to Washington, ‘exports had more than doubled’ and the trade gap had narrowed. Coal production was rising. Steel production was close to Monnet’s ambitious target of matching the record set in 1929. Car production rose from 5,000 cars in 1947 to over 20,000 by the end of 1949. The rapid increase in traffic, and in the noise of klaxons, produced the most striking change, especially in the centre of Paris, where fewer and fewer bicycles were to be seen.
The Communists no longer dared to attack the Marshall Plan head on, because it only drew attention to the way they had tried to sabotage the country’s recovery. Banners at the May Day demonstration concentrated on the peace campaign. Observers from the American Embassy noted with measured satisfaction that the number of marchers was markedly lower than the year before: ‘Quietest May Day since Liberation reveals not so much satisfaction of workers with their living conditions as their growing apathy and increasing lack of faith in slogans, formulae and organizations.’ On the other side of Paris in the Bois de Boulogne, a crowd of 100,000 Gaullists gathered in an RPF counter-demonstration and then dispersed quietly. The day seemed to underline the fact that political passions were spent, at least for the time being. And as if to confirm the impression that immediate dangers were over, the Soviet forces in Germany lifted the blockade on Berlin later in the month.
The harvest proved much better than in 1948, with an excellent wheat crop. In September, Queuille and his government, furthering their policy of greater currency freedom, allowed the franc to devalue by 20 per cent against the dollar. The British, in a far graver position, were forced to devalue the pound by 30 per cent.
Even the fall of Queuille’s government in October – a Socialist manoeuvre to protect themselves from working-class criticism – had little effect on the stock market. There was no threat of a coal strike and fuel reserves had nearly doubled over the previous year. The biggest cloud was the conflict in Indo-China. Another 16,000 conscripts had been sent out, increasing the army there to 115,000 men.
From the third week of November, Communist energies were directed away from domestic affairs. They were focused on what the party believed to be an event for international rejoicing – Joseph Stalin’s seventieth birthday on 21 December. Orders went out from the Central Committee that everyone must contribute towards the event. The run-up to the great day was treated like a presidential campaign, with 30,000 posters depicting the heroic leader and half a million pamphlets printed.
An exhibition of presents, reminiscent of a royal wedding, was held at the metalworkers’ union building on the rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud. Twenty-three panels illustrating the life of Stalin decorated the hall, where some 4,000 contributions were displayed. They included embroidery and handiwork of all sorts, even a doll’s bonnet by a little girl who had died in Auschwitz, the music score of a specially composed ‘Chant à Staline’, scores of poems, including one by Éluard, and works of art almost entirely in the socialist-realist style. One prominent Communist painter was horrified to see that a work which he had proudly presented to Maurice Thorez for his house at Choisy-le-Roi had been included in the pile. This bizarre cargo of bric-à-brac was to be loaded into a railway wagon and dispatched to Moscow. Stalin is unlikely to have bothered to cast an eye over it, or the book of congratulations signed by 40,000 visitors.
On 19 December, the Bruces gave a dinner party for Ernest Hemingway, the ambassador’s companion-in-arms during the Liberation of Paris just over five years before. With Hemingway they invited Duff Cooper, Marie-Louise Bousquet, Pauline de Rothschild and Christian Dior. The high point of the dinner was woodcock accompanied by Romanée Conti. Heming way boasted of having shot over 8,000 duck with a syndicate of friends near Venice. But this was not a good time for him. He was working on Across the River and into the Trees and suffering from a crisis of impotence which the massacre of ducks had failed to relieve. Like the American colonel in his novel, Hemingway could not come to terms with the fact that the war was over.
The last year of the decade was approaching its end, but Fourth Republic politics continued along the same slippery path. Georges Bidault, who had patched together another ministry at the end of October after the fall of Henri Queuille’s government, wondered what he would find in his Christmas stocking: ‘Some fruit, I expect, an orange, a banana – or its skin.’
On the left bank there was rejoicing as friends, including Jean-Louis Barrault and Jean Galtier-Boissière, gathered spontaneously to congratulate Jean-Louis Vaudoyer, the belle-lettrist and director of the Comédie-Française during the war, on his election to the ‘Immortals’. Laid out on the sofa were the habits verts – the green tail-coated Paris sera toujours Paris uniforms of the Académie Française – which Vaudoyer’s grandfather and great-grandfather had also been privileged to wear.
For Galtier-Boissière the most memorable night was Christmas Eve, when he gathered all his friends around himin his apartment overlooking the Place de la Sorbonne. This huge, generous man, with his moustache and ‘gros yeux affectueux’, and his face red from many vintages of Bouzy rouge, had a great gift for friendship along with his compulsive irreverence. His long-suffering and devoted wife, Charlotte, was continually having to tell him off for some misdemeanour or other. At one book-signing session in the provinces, when very drunk, he had written erotic dedications for the women who came forward with copies. Their outraged husbands had promptly torn out the offending pages.
Galtier-Boissière’s love for the fast-disappearing Paris of brothel, bal musette and old-fashioned restaurant was matched only by his loathing of modern political cant. Stalinists like Aragon once again became a favourite target in his monthly satirical magazine Le Crapouillot, which he had relaunched in June 1948 with another all-night party of drinking and his favourite songs, like ‘Coeur apache’ and ‘L’Hirondelle du Faubourg’. Aragon had already returned the insults frombefore the war. In his novel Aurélien, published just after the Liberation, he had depicted the immensely tall and brave Galtier-Boissière as the miserable little Fuchs, editor of a magazine called Le Cagna – a trench-bunker in poilu slang, as opposed to a trench-mortar.
That night, Galtier-Boissière and his friends laughed, drank, talked and sang their way through to the last Christmas of the decade. One guest was a brilliant mimic and as the night wore on he went through his ‘numéros’ towards his pièce de résistance: ‘an astonishing ventriloquist act, using as his partner one hand decorated with make-up; the climax was the entry of the famous lioness Saida into the main cage and the lion-tamer putting her through her tr
The close of 1949 marks an obvious end to the immediate post-war period, but the great issues of that time did not of course finish with the decade. The three main ones covered in this book – the Occupation and the épuration as part of the guerre franco-française; the intelligentsia’s admiration for revolutionary ruthlessness; and France’s complex relationship with the United States – either continued to affect Parisian life or resurfaced later.
If the Communist Party was the first to suffer from the economic recovery in 1949, Gaullism soon became the first casualty of political calm. ‘The General’s stock,’ wrote Frank Giles, ‘like the price of gold, tended to rise in times of trouble and fall when the going became smoother.’ Memories of the fatal street-battle in Grenoble, combined with de Gaulle’s apocalyptic declarations, now made people uneasy. Despite the renewed instability of government, with few administrations lasting more than six months, his Rassemblement dwindled rapidly in the early 1950s. The majestic ‘J’attends’ which de Gaulle had uttered after his resignation in 1946 was to last for twelve years until the crisis over the colonial war in Algeria provided his opportunity.
The greatest beneficiary of political stability in 1949 was economic planning. Jean Monnet did not waste a moment once the Marshall Plan began to achieve its objective of reviving commercial activity. From his desk at the Commissariat du Plan, his vision had always stretched beyond France’s recovery to a united Europe, a project which he had conceived while the war continued. The Continent needed strength and unity if it was not to be dominated by the superpowers.
Using as a precedent the joint committees created by the Marshall Plan, Monnet launched a diplomatic offensive in the spring of 1949 to persuade British politicians and civil servants to expand economic cooperation. They, however, were taken aback by French determination: the whole idea made them either uneasy or sceptical. They had already resented Averell Harriman’s attempts to push Britain into a closer embrace with European governments. Their lingering attachment to Empire and a world role within the Atlantic alliance meant that Britain’s heart was not in Europe.
Convinced by the end of 1949 that Britain could not be a useful partner, Monnet turned his attention to Germany. His main strategic project, a European Coal and Steel Community, was known as the Schuman Plan, after Robert Schuman, who had been the most influential Minister of Foreign Affairs on the Continent. Schuman’s objective now was to bind France and Germany together ‘in an embrace so close that neither could draw back far enough to hit the other’. Konrad Adenauer, then emerging as leader of the nascent Federal Republic, realized immediately the opportunity this plan offered for the rehabilitation of Germany and became an enthusiastic supporter. Monnet, with Schuman, did not want to allow the British the chance to prevaricate or water down the proposals. He issued an ultimatum to each eligible country, although the prime target was the British government. Those who wished to accept the Schuman Plan in its entirety had to reply by eight o’clock on the morning of 2 June 1950, or stay outside. Bevin was scathing. He refused to believe such a plan could work; the Cabinet and most senior civil servants agreed. The post-war development of Europe was decided. Any British pretension to leadership on the Continent was finished.
France had been able to breathe a sigh of relief in 1949 with the Communist threat at home greatly diminished and the end of the Berlin blockade, but a new phase of the Cold War opened in 1950. Mao Tse-tung, the victor of the Chinese civil war, signed a Sino-Soviet pact in Moscow, and six months later the Korean War began. The fear of atomic war and Soviet tanks on the Place de la Concorde resurged dramatically.
The French Communist Party vigorously continued its peace propaganda and Picasso’s dove became the most over-used image of the age. Yet even at this crucial moment, personal rivalries cloaked in ideological nuance seethed in its upper ranks. Doctrinal purity in art soon provided a casus belli for the hardliners.
Picasso’s decision in 1944 to join a party which still officially condemned non-representational art as decadent had complicated matters for the Communists. At first, the purists of socialist realism had restricted their criticism to coded attacks. But the change in the party line dictated by Moscow in 1947 affected almost everything. ‘The fresh air of Soviet art,’ declared Pravda that summer, ‘is polluted by the stale stench of capitalism’s artistic bankruptcy.’ Picasso and Matisse were held responsible. The main thrust, however, was aimed at the influence of the United States. Abstract art was said to be tainted with American culture. It was ‘American imperialism’ which controlled ‘abstract art like all the rottenness in the world’. This gave Louis Aragon, Picasso’s great supporter, the opportunity to deflect the attacks. With a chauvinist twist, he described American modern art as ‘the production line imitation of an avant-garde which was born in Paris’. *
French Communism, following the Congress of Intellectuals at Wrocław in 1948, returned towards a stronger support for socialist realism. Certain distinctions were made clear: Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger were not Communist painters, but painters who were Communists. At the Salon d’Automne of 1949, the socialist-realist painters were all grouped together in the first room; André Fougeron was hailed by Communist critics as the Jacques Louis David of the modern proletariat. For Stalin’s seventieth birthday that December, the party chose as their main gift Fougeron’s Hommage à André Houllier, a portrait of the Houllier family grieving at the spot where their son had been shot by a policeman as he pasted up a Communist poster. Picasso, on the other hand, offered as his present a rapid sketch of a face-like hand holding up a glass with the legend ‘Staline à ta santé’. The compromise solution between the two camps was to declare Fougeron to be the official painter of the party and Picasso the official painter of the peace movement.
The following year, Auguste Lecoeur, whose power base lay in the coalfields of the north, commissioned a series of paintings by Fougeron on miners’ lives, known as ‘Au Pays des mines’. In January 1951, without checking dates with anybody else, he announced in L’Humanité the opening date of this exhibition. It clashed with the new Picasso exhibition. This was probably a genuine mistake, but, intended or not, it brought the battle between the socialist-realist school and the supporters of Picasso out into the open. The vastly greater success of the Picasso exhibition constituted a humiliation for Lecoeur. He had to wait just over two years for his revenge.
When Stalin’s death was announced on Friday, 7 March 1953, Aragon called in Pierre Daix and rattled off a shopping list of features to honour Stalin in a special issue of Les Lettres françaises – ‘an article by Joliot, one by me, an article by Courtade, another by Sadoul, one by you. We must have something by Picasso.’
Since Picasso had always refused to do a portrait of Stalin from a photograph, Daix sent a telegram to himat Vallauris saying, ‘Do whatever you want’, and signed it ‘Aragon’. Picasso’s drawing of Stalin, which depicted him as a curiously open-eyed young man, arrived at the very moment Les Lettres françaises went to press. Daix took the picture in to Aragon. He admired it and said that the party would appreciate the gesture. While it was being set into the front page, office boys and typists crowded round the picture. Everyone thought it ‘worthy of Stalin’. Daix was overjoyed to be the one who had commissioned Picasso’s first portrait of the Soviet leader and rushed it down to the printers. But a few hours later, when the edition had been run off, the mood in the building had completely changed to one of fear. Journalists from L’Humanité, passing by, spotted the drawing and cried out that it was unthinkable that any Communist publication should consider printing such a representation of ‘le Grand Staline’.
Pierre Daix promptly rang Aragon at his apartment; Elsa Triolet answered. She told him angrily that he was mad to have even thought of asking Picasso for such a drawing.
‘But really, Elsa,’ Daix broke in, ‘Stalin isn’t God the F
‘Yes, he is, Pierre. Nobody’s going to reflect much about what this drawing of Picasso signifies. He hasn’t even deformed Stalin’s face. He’s even respected it. But he has dared to touch it. He has actually dared, Pierre, do you understand?’
Aragon rose to the occasion and took full responsibility upon himself. It was almost as if somebody had to face a court martial for treason. But for the staff of Les Lettres françaises, the worst was still to come. Daix found secretaries in tears from the insults screamed down the telephone at them by loyal Communists protesting at the sacrilege. Some even said that it portrayed Stalin as cruel and Asiatic, which was what his enemies wanted.
Those who wished to revenge themselves on Aragon did not waste time. Chief among them was Auguste Lecoeur. He wanted Les Lettres françaises publicly condemned. Aragon prepared a suitably grovelling apology.
Communists who found themselves excluded from the party during the frenzy over the Titoist heresy were like lost souls. They had automatically been deprived of the vast majority of their friends, not having made or kept many outside the party. And they had lost all sense of purpose in their lives, along with the sense of comradeship which an embattled community provided. A true Communist used to say that he intended to die with his party membership card in his pocket – ‘mourir la carte dans la poche’.
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