851.00/8–3047: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Caffery) to the Secretary of State

3535. It is manifestly impossible at this juncture to predict with any degree of accuracy how the French political situation will evolve in the coming months—will depend on whether or not there is an economic collapse—but in the absence of unforeseen developments it is generally believed that the present state of latent crisis will continue until after the municipal elections, following which a major crisis may well develop. In such event one fact is increasingly evident and should be kept firmly in mind: namely, that recently De Gaulle’s popularity throughout the country has steadily increased to the point where he now is playing one of the leading parts on the political stage.

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The reasons for this growing prestige are several. In the first place there is little doubt that the French Communists have, for the moment at least, lost ground both because of their obvious efforts to paralyze French economic recovery by strikes and slow-downs for purely political reasons but even more important because Molotov’s walkout from the Paris Conference made it plain to even the least intelligent Frenchman that Soviet Russia and its French Communist stooges do not want to see an independent and prosperous Europe reconstructed. De Gaulle capitalized on this sentiment in his July 27 speech1 when he bitterly castigated Soviet efforts to “impose a dictatorship on Europe” and admitted that he (De Gaulle) had made a serious error (which by inference he would not again commit) in taking the Communists into the French National Committee in 1943. This declaration was certainly welcomed by the majority of the French who had heretofore held De Gaulle in part responsible for the Communists present position of strength and influence “because of his original sin in inviting them to participate in his govt”. Typical of the evolution of a considerable sector of public opinion regarding the possibility of De Gaulle’s return to power is the fact that whereas four months ago people often said, “he had his chance, made a mess of it and there is no indication he will do any better”. Now the same individuals still criticize his past errors but add, “he has learned and will not make the same mistakes again”.

A more important reason, however, for his increased stature than the positive statements he has made is a growing conviction among the public and certain political leaders that whether or not one approves or believes in De Gaulle and his policies, to survive France must have a strong govt. De Gaulle, they believe, is the only figure with sufficient prestige and authority to rally behind him, control and dominate the anti-Communist forces which at present are a definite majority but which are “incoherent and impotent” in govts not only because of the differences which divide them but because of the internal dissensions, jealousies and ambitions within the individual parties themselves.

As a result of the foregoing sentiment many Frenchmen in all walks of life who have thus far hoped for what they call “democratic” solution (that is, a competent, well administered and sufficiently strong coalition govt grouping together the parties of the center and left but excluding the Communists and extreme rightists) are becoming progressively discouraged and disillusioned over such a possibility. They are disgusted with what they consider governmental fumbling, incompetence and irresponsibility. The reduction of the bread ration, [Page 732] the impending financial and economic collapse unless credits are obtained to shore up the French economic structure and the fact that three years after liberation France is in a more critical position than ever before, have all tended to discredit in the public mind democratic govt in France as practised since the liberation.

To Frenchmen who tend to believe that the present governmental system is unworkable there are only two possibilities—De Gaulle or Communism. At this juncture if faced with such a choice the majority would opt unquestionably for De Gaulle, many with mental reservations but with the feeling that an unknown adventure with De Gaulle is infinitely preferable to the Stalinist police state.

As I stated above, there are too many unpredictable factors to forecast accurately how the situation will develop in the coming months, and what De Gaulle’s chances are of returning to power. Nonetheless it is a very definite possibility and will depend primarily on the economic, financial and food situation in the coming months. If an economic and food collapse occurs De Gaulle’s changes [chances?] should be considerable despite all the Communists may do to oppose him.

In the absence of some unforeseeable event, I do not believe that De Gaulle himself has any intention of trying to return to power by other than legal means. Persons close to him tell me that from now to the municipal elections it is his intention to concentrate on enlarging and perfecting his RPF machine, naturally keeping himself in the public eye. Subsequently he will base his strategy on the conclusions he draws from the municipal elections and the way the economic situation evolves.

In reporting the foregoing I do not wish to convey the impression that De Gaulle’s return is either a certainty or that it is in any way the answer to France’s problems. It if [is?] however a possibility which we must bear in mind insofar as the future is concerned.

  1. Speech at Rennes.