The Second Secretary of Embassy in France (MacArthur) to the Associate Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs (Wallner)
top secret

Dear Woodie: In view of both international and internal French developments of the past two months, it seems to us that the time has [Page 767] come when a review of the French political situation in the light of future possibilities may prove useful.

You will recall that in my letter of last March 261 we were encouraged by indications that the anti-Communist leadership of the Left and Center was at last beginning to show signs of life and cohesion. We nonetheless felt that the democratic leadership in France still had a long way to go to win the battle against Communism, and among other things we believed that a leader with very considerable prestige and authority was needed if a strong and effective coalition of the democratic forces of the Left, Center and moderate Eight was to be formed. Our view that there were encouraging signs in the psychology and outlook of the anti-Communist political leaders was in part justified on May 7 by the exclusion of the Communists from the Government for the first time since the Liberation, by the right wing Socialist leadership supported by the political forces of the Center and moderate Eight. Such a development had been considered politically impossible only two or three months earlier.

With the expulsion of the Communists a new phase began. As the Ambassador reported (in his telegram No. 1927, May 12, 1947) the difficulties faced by the Ramadier Government were serious. Nonetheless, given existing political conditions, the composition of the Ramadier Government after May 7 was the best that could be hoped for under the circumstances and, in theory at least, seemed then to offer the best chance of an eventually viable democratic solution.

What has happened since May 7, and where does the Ramadier Government now stand? There is no doubt that Ramadier made a courageous and very real effort to succeed, but in retrospect the task which faced him was, I am afraid, beyond his capacity. There are, of course, a number of good reasons for Ramadier’s lack of success and the resultant progressive disillusionment of the French public in his Government.

In the first place, the Communists—as had been anticipated—threw the weight of their powerful organization against the Government with a view to overthrowing it and thus proving to the other political parties and to the French people that whether or not they liked the Communists, France could not be governed without them. They unleashed and encouraged a series of so-called “spontaneous” strikes, exploiting the very real hardships and dissatisfaction of the entire working class. While many of the strikes, particularly the railway strike in June, were not an unqualified success from the Communist viewpoint, particularly since they did not succeed in re-entering the Government, nonetheless they forced Ramadier, in his effort to keep his ship of state from capsizing, to jettison ballast in the form of so-called [Page 768] production bonuses, which were in reality nothing more than increased wages. This coupled with the reduction in industrial production caused by the labor stoppages, automatically led to price increases which worked further hardships on low-salaried groups, thus increasing their dissatisfaction.
Another important factor in Ramadier’s failure could be described as an “Act of God”. I refer to the heavy freezes of last winter coupled with an unprecedented drought this summer which greatly reduced the agricultural yield and has resulted, particularly in the past four weeks, in a very serious spiral in French food prices. This is, of course, most keenly felt by small-salaried workers who are at present in a position where it is difficult—in fact almost impossible—for them to obtain sufficient food for themselves and their families for the wages they earn. This situation will unquestionably result in increased pressure (which the Communists will exploit) for increased salaries, which in turn would lead to further inflation.
Failure of the Government to achieve budgetary and monetary stability and the ever-expanding note circulation, together with the belated knowledge that France is bankrupt insofar as dollars and gold which are needed to finance vital food and coal imports, have badly shaken the confidence of the entire country in both French currency and in the Ramadier Government.
Aside from the foregoing economic and financial considerations there have been important political factors which have worked against Ramadier. The split in his own Socialist Party, as emphasized by the Lyon Congress, as much as any other political development has served to make his task almost impossible. In addition, the differences which divide the various political parties in the present Government—particularly “dirigism versus liberalism”—have tended to make it almost impossible for the adoption of a sound and effective program which all parties will loyally and honestly support before the French public. Such compromise agreements on programs and policies as have been arrived at were often neither fish, flesh nor fowl, and were not based on a meeting of minds but on a common desire to keep the Communists from returning to the Government. To keep the Communists out of the Government is laudable, but once the compromise agreement was reached the political leaders of the different governmental parties at once began publicly and privately to blame another party or the other parties in the coalition for the unpopular features of the program. Such action, of course, served further to discredit the Government in the eyes of the public which progressively began to feel that in reality the present coalition is unable to cope with the task of Government and is devoting its time to political maneuvering rather than to governing France.
Finally, the French people themselves are not without blame. There is fatigue, lassitude and apathy which too often lead many of them to prefer to drift along rather than to make any real effort to help themselves by increasing production thus contributing to getting France back on its feet. They criticize the Government for failing to govern but at the same time there is reluctance to support any necessary measures which require some sacrifice but are indispensable for French recovery. In addition, it must be admitted that there has been some corruption and some moral disintegration.

As the prestige of the Ramadier Government has declined, a growing conviction has been developing that the anti-Communist elements, which are the majority in France, will be unable to submerge personal and party differences and ambitions unless they are led by someone with sufficient prestige, authority and popular support to impose on them the discipline and sense of national duty which thus far they have apparently failed to manifest and which is imperative if France is to survive Moscow’s drive to take over the country. It is a sad but incontestable fact that France lacks leaders of such stature. At the present time, whether one likes it or not, the only person who stands head and shoulders above the crowd and who could conceivably fill the role is de Gaulle.

De Gaulle, whose prestige as we have reported has continued to increase in the past two months as a result not only of the activity of the French Communists but also because of increased disillusionment with the present Government’s ability to cope with the situation, and the growing cleavage between the United States and the Soviet Union, is counting on his popularity snow-balling. He believes the point will finally come when a majority of the French population will flock to his banner. When this time comes, he apparently thinks that he will also be backed by a majority of the Parliament and that his public support throughout the nation will be so strong that the Communists may not resort to insurrectionary action since they would recognize that they would certainly be doomed to failure. While he does anticipate the possibility of a Communist-inspired general strike and localized disorders, he appears to feel that should such a strike be called it will also fail because of lack of public support, even though Gaullists now admit that the General has thus far made little real effort and hence little progress in obtaining any real working class or syndicalist support. Some of them claim, however, that they are giving this aspect of the problem increasing attention.

With the foregoing background in mind, the $64 question is posed—what is going to happen next? Insofar as the Ramadier Government, as now constituted, is concerned there is almost unanimous agreement among the political leaders of the different parties that it [Page 770] has expended its credit and is, as the French put it “used up”. Such observers admit that the reluctance of all governmental parties to instigate ‘a crisis, whose outcome is uncertain, works in Ramadier’s favor. Nonetheless they believe that shortly after the Parliament reconvenes Ramadier will fall, probably not by an adverse vote of confidence but by the withdrawal of one or more of the component elements of the present coalition. The Socialists themselves might withdraw but their action will to a considerable extent depend on the outcome of the extraordinary session of the Socialist National Congress which has been called for November 22 and 23. The RGR, particularly the Radicals, may withdraw because as you know they are fed up with the “dirigiste” policies of the Socialist left-wing as enunciated by their exponents in the present Cabinet, such as André Philip and to a lesser extent Tanguy-Prigent.

If the Ramadier Government collapses it is difficult to forecast with any degree of accuracy what Government will succeed it. Some observers believe that there will be a further attempt at a “republican solution” in the form of a coalition Government excluding the Communists and having more or less the same composition as the present Government (possibly excluding some or all of the Socialists) but headed by an MRP such as Bidault or Teitgen, or possibly by a Radical. Other observers believe that there may be a new attempt for a non-Communist coalition Government headed possibly by Blum. (At present this is not considered probable.) Still others are thinking in terms of a homogeneous minority Government—MRP or Radical—which would have the limited support of the anti-Communist Parliamentary majority (a formula not unlike the di Gasperi Government in Italy). Should any such Government be formed its life would in all probability be of relatively short duration. It would simply be another interim stopgap.

Our reason for fearing that any “center of the road” coalition is almost certainly doomed and cannot last long is the increasing evidence that until some means is devised of preventing the Communists from sabotaging French economic recovery through their control of the CGT, etc., no Government can succeed in re-establishing economic equilibrium which is a prerequisite of political health and stability. Yet by its very composition no coalition Government that groups the Left, Socialists, Center and moderate Eight will dare to adopt the measures which alone can put an end to Communist sabotage and treason. Such measures could amount to imprisonment for sabotage—direct or indirect—and necessarily would seriously infringe on many basic liberties in which we and all other democracies believe. It is painful for me, whose social and political views are considerably to the [Page 771] left of center, to have reluctantly to confess that until France has a more authoritarian regime, with greater power and prestige, it is difficult to see how the Communists are to be prevented from successfully preventing French recovery. In other words, until such time as the Communists can be dealt with by a strong Government, France will almost fatally remain weak and divided.

As things now stand, should such an interim Government be formed and then fall, it would almost inevitably lead to a test of power between de Gaulle and the Communists. Exactly when such a test would come would seem to depend largely on the speed with which the increasing division of France into pro and anti Communist camps proceeds. If this polarization is very rapid as a result of a number of developments, including possible trends evinced in the coming municipal elections (which will not in themselves be decisive), Moscow’s recent decision to supplement the Comintern by an “Information Bureau”, and an acceleration in the activity of the French Communist Party, the struggle between de Gaulle and the Communists could come to a head in the relatively near future. If on the other hand the polarization occurs more slowly, such a test might take place sometime during the next year. Our feeling is that it is not many months off.

Regardless of whether or not future events develop along the above lines, the time has come when we must face the possibility of the French people and ourselves having to choose only between de Gaulle and the Communists. If the French people are given this sole choice the majority will most certainly back de Gaulle, even though many may have doubts and reservations. Under such circumstances, I assume that in our own interest we would make a similar choice. Should de Gaulle come back to power it would certainly be in our interest for him to succeed, for should he fail every possibility of an anti-Communist solution would have been exhausted and the Communists would hold all the cards.

I hope that from the foregoing you will not gather the erroneous impression that we are encouraging de Gaulle or the Gaullists, for this is most certainly not the case. We believe, however, that there is a possibility, and indeed a likelihood, of his return, and it does not seem too soon to give some thought to such an eventuality and to exactly where we stand and what line we would take with him.

De Gaulle has never been and will never be an easy man with whom to deal. On the debit side of his ledger we might list that temperamentally, psychologically, as well as in the realm of practical dealings with people, he is far from the ideal leader. He has had relatively little political experience and lacks a financial and economic background. He is convinced that he alone knows what is best for France, [Page 772] and he has in the past surrounded himself with a small group of advisers, many of whom are not up to their job, and some of whom are extremely ambitious. One reason for his failure after the Liberation was that he lacked able advisers, with real experience and judgment. When he was offered sound advice by men of experience not in his immediate entourage he often not only failed to heed them but gave them a cold brush-off which tended to alienate them from him.

On the credit side it can be stated that he is a patriotic Frenchman who firmly believes that his sole desire is to see France restored. He has more personal prestige than any other leader. He has burned all bridges with Moscow and the French Communist Party, and is their sworn enemy. As such, his orientation is now and at long last definitely toward the United States, for he believes that we are the only country which has the material resources and the will to prevent Soviet world domination. Despite this fact, should he come back to power he would not always be an easy person for us to deal with.

If the situation here evolves into a struggle between de Gaulle and the Communists we do not entirely exclude the possibility that prior to the final culmination of such a test of strength we may be approached directly or indirectly by de Gaulle to ascertain where we stand and what we may be prepared to do in the event he has a real showdown with the Communists. This is all, of course, very hypothetical, but we feel that in these parlous times we should give consideration to the line we may take if we should be faced with such an eventuality. If de Gaulle comes back to power and is to succeed, he will obviously have to make use of more capable men than the limited entourage with which he has in the past been surrounded. For example, perhaps such persons as René Mayer, Mendès-France and other individuals with more common sense and economic and financial background than are presently in the “old entourage”. Furthermore, such persons are perhaps more democratically inclined than some of his former équipe, and possibly could aid in giving to a de Gaulle Government a less authoritarian slant than it might otherwise have.

In conclusion, I apologize for the length of this epistle. I have perhaps let myself wander far afield and may have taken up a lot of your time in summarizing a situation with which you are as well acquainted as are we. Once I got started on this, however, I found it difficult to be as succinct as I would have liked. If you, Sam2 and Jack3 have any thoughts about all this do let us know.

Yours ever,

[Page 773]

P.S. From what de Gaulle’s entourage has let drop it is evident that there are among other things two questions in his mind concerning U.S. policy, etc.:

If he comes to power will he (de Gaulle) receive almost immediate “massive” economic and financial aid from us?

In the event of a U.S.-Soviet war is our military planning aimed at defending France against Soviet invasion?

Incredible questions but interesting as indicative of the mentality!

  1. Not printed.
  2. Samuel Reber, Deputy Director of the Office of European Affairs.
  3. John D. Hickerson, Director of the Office of European Affairs.