851.00/1–2948: Telegram

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

us urgent

515. In view of the degree of Socialist responsibility for the present French political crisis, I made occasion to convey informally to Léon Blum1 my serious apprehension over political developments of the past week.

At the outset I made it clear that I was not arguing the merits or demerits of the government’s financial policy which was beside the point. My major preoccupation was the fact that the Socialist Party, [Page 614] by its recent action, appeared to me to be in the process of destroying the present government, and by so doing was discrediting the democratic forces of the center and playing directly into the hands of the Communists and De Gaulle. I observed that the Socialists have consistently maintained that their major objective is the survival of a centrist coalition—which Blum himself named the “third force”—and that they are also the leading exponents of “the war on two fronts against the twin perils of Communism and Gaullism”. With this in mind, the present Socialist position is completely incomprehensible to me unless it means that the Socialists have changed and are now interested primarily in Socialist doctrines and partisan politics and only secondarily in the survival of the “third force”. Whether or not this is true, I said I could only reiterate the personal conviction that the Socialists, by the tactics they have pursued for the past several days, have diminished the “third force’s” possibilities of survival and have aided both the Gaullists and the Communists.

Blum expressed pained surprise that anyone should think that Socialist policy vis-à-vis the “third force” has changed. He said that above all, the Socialists desire its survival. He added, however, that the Socialists could not alone be expected to bear all the sacrifices in their desire to prevent extremists of the left or right from taking over France.

He then went on to criticize the way Schuman had handled the devaluation and financial projects. In particular he was very critical of the lack of liaison between the governmental parties and said that in this instance the government’s proposals had been worked out by Schuman and René Mayer and the Socialists had no say in their formulation. Indeed, he said, they were only informed of their scope when the government had already committed itself very far. The Socialists had protested very strongly against the free gold and security market but nonetheless Schuman and Mayer had insisted that the plan as drafted must be adopted. The Socialists could not agree to this and told Schuman that if he would not revise the plan the Socialists could not support it; therefore he should not pose the question of confidence in the debate because they would be obliged at least to abstain. Blum said that in his opinion, this Socialist attitude had left an out for the Schuman government for if the question of confidence were not posed and the government failed to get a majority, all Schuman would have to do would be to replace Rene Mayer with Paul Reynaud and the crisis would be resolved.

I replied to Blum that I could not disagree more with this view. I said that a vote against the government, even if the question of confidence were not posed, would be a clear indication to the country [Page 615] at large that, the present government literally represented nothing. The government’s efforts to obtain economic stabilization, which alone could bring social and political stability depended to a great extent on restoring public confidence. An adverse vote would have precisely the the opposite effect and would so diminish the government’s authority that it would be difficult to see how it could long survive.

At this point Blum said that speaking very frankly the question of the free market for gold and securities was not really the basic question which had antagonized the Socialists and led them to oppose the government. The basic question he said was the fact that the Schuman policy had placed the government in direct opposition to the British Labor Government. This he said was unthinkable to the Socialists, violated their cardinal international concepts, and would, the Socialists feared, adversely affect the entire future of France and western Europe. He said, that regardless, if it had meant changes in the French Government’s devaluation proposals, the French Government had a primary international duty not to embark on any course of action which would work against true international cooperation with the democratic countries and particularly Britain “with whom the closest cooperation is imperative if France and Europe are to survive”. Blum said that he fully shared the belief expressed by his “British Labor friends” that the French Government’s devaluation policy would make Franco-British and western European cooperation infinitely more difficult.

I said to Blum that while I well understand the British reasons for disagreeing with the French devaluation policy, I did not believe, once the French decision was irrevocably taken, that it was in the interest of the British Labor Party or that the latter wished to have the Socialists create a political crisis which would only weaken the democratic parties in France and increase the possibility of a show-down between De Gaulle and the Communists—a show-down which would obviously entail the disappearance of the political center, including of course the French Socialist Party. I said to Blum that if the Socialist tactics of the past several days resulted primarily from a desire in some way to assuage the British Labor Party I felt they were being completely unrealistic. I said that the policy of the French Socialist Party once the French Government’s decision on devaluation was made should have been to make the best of the situation and not the worst as I had the impression they had done.

Blum said he agreed that there was no use crying over spilt milk and said he hoped and believed that the crisis will be resolved today without Socialists refusing to support the government.

From Blum’s comments and from talks with other Socialists and [Page 616] French political leaders, I have the impression that the British Labor Party bears some responsibility for the development of the present French political crisis. There seems little doubt that the British, in their efforts to prevent the French Government from going through with its devaluation plan, brought pressure to bear on the French Socialists, particularly Blum. I assume that once the French decision was taken the British Government, despite its apprehensions over the effects thereof, desired to make the best of the situation and did not wish the French Socialists to participate in a political crisis.2 If this is correct the British seriously miscalculated the effects of their pressure on Blum. Blum feels spiritually almost one with the British Labor Party and the pressure the latter subjected him to appears to have aroused all, sorts of fears in his mind that France is isolating itself and moving away from Britain. These apprehensions have, I believe, tended to cloud from Blum the basic realities in the present situation.

Sent Department as 515; repeated to London as 61.

  1. Leader of the French Socialist party, and former President of the Council of Ministers.
  2. In telegram 545, January 30, 7 p. m., Caffery added the following: “The British Ambassador tells me that although they are unhappy about some phases of the franc devaluation they are prepared to accept it as a ‘fait accompli’ and make the best of the situation, primarily because they do not desire to do anything to shake the Schuman Government. They would be extremely unhappy if this government were to fall and the Chamber were to dissolve itself at this juncture.”