PARTIES IN FRANCE
By D. R. GILLIE
FRANCE was declared a nation one and indivisible when she entered upon the last century and a half of her history, a period whose principle of unity is its own diversity, chequered by sixteen constitutions and half as many revolutions or coups d'etat. Unity became difficult to embody from the moment it was proclaimed, and opposed to itself as soon as it was consciously sought. During the last week-end the principal expression of French unity has seemed
• to be universal for a young couple of foreign birth who represent a political institution that most Frenchmen reject—namely monarchy. No political party, not even the Communists, dared to criticise " Elizabeth and Philip " ; indeed the Communists' official organ, L'Humanite, sharply criticised the Government for coming between the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh and the French people. Mean- while, the internal political battle was carried on with the usual mutual criticism, all in the name of unity.
All Gaul is divided into three parts. But each of those three parts considers itself the nucleus of the whole, and even within that third which at present rules France there are divisions sufficiently deep, as the past week has shown, to make the fate of a French Prime Minister particularly unenviable. It was one of the most lively hopes of those who led the resistance movement in France that the foundation of greater mutual comprehension and tolerance was being laid at the same time as the country's independence was being recanquered. Each resistance group was necessarily based on some particular link of ideas, affection and confidence, more often than not on a group of Frenchmen who were bound together by common political ideas before the war. But by the middle of 1943 practically all resistance groups had been knitted together in clandestinity by the painstaking and perilous work of such men as Jean Moulin, first president of the National Council of Resistance, and Pierre Brossolette, both of whom died in the hands of the Gestapo. The idea of the Republic and the leadership of General de Gaulle were not incompatible then, either with each other or with the outlook of any political party, not even with that of the Communists. Today the Communists, representing about a quarter of the nation, are outside the pale of co-operation for all other parties, and the rest of the nation is roughly divided between those who think that the General is the natural saviour and those who consider him the more or less conscious enemy of republicanism, while a small group survives which still hopes that his leadership and the ideals of the republican parties can be co-ordinated.
Yet all speak in the name of France, Unity and the Republic. A month ago, when the Prime Minister, the General and M. Thorcz all spoke on the same day, they all proclaimed these three ideals. And in spite of the profound divisions which have reappeared in the political life of a France which economically is again visibly on the road to recovery it is impossible for the observer not to feel that in some obscure way France is nearer to effective unity than she was before the war. What is difficult to see is how this tendency is to be realised. Although the language used by the Communists is much more like that of non-Communists than half a generation ago, their doctrine and leadership are identified by three-quarters
of the nation with allegiance to a foreign Power. This is a graver obstacle to common action than " the party's " internationalism in the days when Communists did not sing the Marseillaise. There is today no party in France which does not recognise the necessity for France of entering a larger union, with the implication that to some extent full sovereignty must be abandoned. But the. Com- munists, while using the slogans of nationalism more than any other party, are felt to represent not a larger unity than the national one but submission to another nation. The Communists, conscious of this, reply with a well-conducted campaign accusing the Republican parties of the " Third Force " and the Gaullist French People's Rally of being alike the agents of submission to American imperialism. This campaign should not be underestimated, but it is unlikely at present that the fear of American domination will become comparable with the dislike of Russian interference in French affairs. No country with free institutions can constitute such a threat as one without them. The search for a wider solidarity as a basis of government must, therefore, be directed towards the other two sections of the French nation.
General de Gaulle's politic-al action has been directed against the existing political parties for a year past on the ground that they do not succeed, either singly or in coalition, in disengaging the real national interest from those of their own groups. The appeal of his anti-Communist campaign has certainly been very strong, but the essence of his own thought, and perhaps of his appeal to the masses, lies in his attacks on other parties on the working of the present constitution. It is vain to deny that by their incoherence these give him a measure of justification.
Although the main associate of the Socialist Party in the coalition, the M.R.P., is a party which has not only given the most evident proofs of republicanism, but has also voted a programme of indus- trial and financial nationalisation which has gone beyond that of the Labour Government in England, the Socialists have not con- sented to think out ,again their attitude to religion in schools even to the extent of not taking advantage of the accident that the nation- alisation of coal-mines made the Republic the owner of the schools formerly the property of some of the colliery companies. The com- promise worked out by the Government itself, which would have made it possible for two dozen of these to maintain their private status and continue religious teaching, was rejected during the Princess's visit to Paris, and the old anticlerical majority momentarily re-established,- cutting the Government's supporters in half, at a moment when there was certainly no clerical danger on the horizon.
Such behaviour can only strengthen the Gaullist case, but the General's tactics have been such as to raise equally grave objections. By creating the French People's Rally, which claims to be, not a party, but the organisation of all Frenchmen who put their country's interests above those of party, and by giving only the rarest recogni- tion to the labours of those who, at the head of the Government, have in fact stopped the drift towards inflation and anarchy, the General has made it so difficult for the parties to reach a compromise with him as to be almost impossible. In a country in which it is unlikely that any one party or political group (including the French People's Rally) will secure an absolute majority, he has introduced one more claim to have the sole recipe of political righteousness, one more incompatibility. He has done this at a time when the Government, in spite of being based on parties with the defects just described, has to a remarkable degree succeeded in putting first things first. M. Schuman's Government is certainly not pre- dOminantly proletarian in its basis, but after granting wage-increases to the industrial worker last December it has, by a series of courageously savage measures, so reduced the spending-power of those who are not wage-earners (business-men, shopkeepers, peasants and the dwindling class with independent incomes) as to prevent, for the time being at least, further inflation. It cannot look for gratitude from the mass of industrial workers who vote Com- munist. It must wait to receive any political benefit from its action until those it has hit so hard (to a great extent its own natural supporters) begin to benefit sufficiently from stability and growing prosperity to recognise the soundness of its policy.
It is at this policy and at those responsible for it that the General is striking by his campaign in favour of a fourth general election in less man four years. This demand is the natural result of the creation of the French People's Rally a year ago. Without the Rally it might well have been the General himself who headed a wider coalition than was actually achieved last November, and who would be at the head of the Government today. It is impossible to foretell the future course of events in a country where such narrow margins, and pos- sibly such paltry issues as the colliery schools question, may be decisive. But although the present coalition is an uneasy alliance, and its members are tempted to adopt incompatible tactics in their efforts to recover ground from the oppositions to the Left and Right of them, it has in its favour that it is working to a less exclusive formula than either of its rivals. It seeks therefore for national unity in the manner that is least self-defeating and which, if only it can endure, offers the greatest hope.