The Fourth Republic Abdicates:
Anatomy of the Crisis
“INCAPABLE of living decently,” wrote Hubert Beuve-Mery in Le Monde at the end of May, “the Fourth Republic does not know how to die with dignity.” “It didn’t even die,” commented a Gaullist leader; “it crept away and hid in a ditch.” The humorous weekly Canard Enchaine ran this advertisement on June 4: “TO LET-Vast premises, ideal showroom, etc., can seat 680, view over Place de la Concorde, available immediately. Write C. de Gaulle.” That just about summed up the whole affair. A few deputies received telephone calls threatening them with reprisals if they voted against de Gaulle, and an effort was made to undermine the morale of parliamentarians and journalists with rumors of troop movements; but the issue was never in doubt.
Yet only a few weeks earlier the French people had passed a substantial vote of confidence in the Republic. Local elections in every part of the country showed a general consolidation of support for the traditional republican parties. “REMARKABLE STABILITY OF THE ELECTORATE,” proclaimed the Paris press. The Gaullist Republicains Sociaux, and the right-wing extremists who were shortly to enjoy so startling a triumph, received only a fraction of the poll. Indeed, in most cantons Gaullism was not considered a live issue and the right was divided. One right-wing paper, recording that only a hard core of hangers-on still spoke of de Gaulle as a potential savior, noted that some of the General’s keenest supporters were now fellow-travelers. There can be little doubt that had de Gaulle been content to sit in his village and await the nation’s call he would still be waiting. Few democrats are as yet reconciled to the fact that he was propelled to power by a coalition of demagogues and mutinous army officers. The mass of the French people are neither enthusiastically for nor decidedly against him, while among his present supporters are many who opposed him in 1940-44. Between May 13 and May 16, under cover of darkness, teams of Poujadists and other right-wing extremists sped by car throughout the southwest of France to daub road junctions and public buildings with the Cross of Lorraine and the “V” sign: the same men would have denounced to the Gestapo or Vichy’s militia any Gaullist they found chalking up these symbols during the German occupation. Ex-Vichyites now argue openly that de Gaulle’s alliance with the army vindicates Ptain’s rejection of the Third Republic, and conservatives generally support him for the sort of reasons which have always made the French right yearn for “strong” government.
About the Author