In no other country in the Western world, the decade 1949-1959 was as rich in historical events as in France. Having emerged from the war at the head of a great colonial empire, the transalpine nation found itself having to face at the same time the difficulties of a settlement made difficult by the ideas of a civil struggle, and the pressure of the liberation movement of the colonial peoples of Asia and the rest of the world. ‘Africa.
According to homosociety, the story of this decade is essentially the story of the desperate and ultimately vain resistance opposed by the traditional political classes around the fragile construction of the Fourth Republic, and the rise of a new regime under the pressure of a riot that soon turned into a revolution.
This decade can be divided into three phases, each having distinct elements. The first, which goes up to 1954, is typical of internal and international settlement, similarly to what happens in the rest of Western Europe; the second, which runs until the end of 1957, is characterized by attempts, sometimes imaginative (Mendès-France government), sometimes unscrupulous (Suez expedition) to solve the underlying problems. Finally, the third goes from the crisis of the regime and the riot in Algiers, to the coming to power of gen. De Gaulle and the Fifth Republic.
Between these phases there is an undoubted republican continuity, a continuity often expressed in the very people of the protagonists. Yet in no country of the “free world” can such a radical transformation be observed as that which occurred in France in the decade examined here.
Difficult phase of settling (1947 – 54). – From 1947 to 1954, France went through a fairly uniform internal and international adjustment phase. Two events conditioned the developments of the situation, the exclusion from the government (May 4, 1947) and therefore the isolation of the Communist Party and the rapid fortune and the equally rapid decline of the movement founded by De Gaulle, the RPF (Rassemblement du peuple français).
Two events destined to have immediate consequences, including the shift to the right of the government axis and the entry of France into the Atlantic Pact. The political struggle, unhooked by the forced post-liberation solidarity, resumed forms and methods more in keeping with the French tradition: as was immediately seen by the limited duration of the governments and by the outbreak of some scandal. From the end of 1947 to June 1954, thirteen governments followed one another, of which only one, the first of three constituted by the radical H. Queuille, the dominant figure of this phase, lasted more than a year, that is from 10 September 1948 to 27 October 1949.
The function of “hinge” in these coalition governments passed from the Socialists and the Republican-People to the small radical group. The parliamentary game regained an almost irresistible dominance, and the formation and disintegration of governments, in which almost always the same men exchanged places, was often motivated by truly refined distinctions. The precariousness of the governments became the precariousness of the regime.
The search for a certain balance between state revenues and expenditures represented the main obstacle to the life of governments. The lively communist reaction carried out through the trade unions and professional bodies, without succeeding in the political aims that the leaders were proposing, however, served to increase the confusion.
Between the end of 1948 and the first months of 1949, the problem of salary prices became acute. The Queuille government abolished bread rationing, began the liberation of the commercial sector and decided to freeze prices and wages. Thus a tendency against excessive directism emerged (it was decided to also review the functioning of nationalized industries), and in favor of a very gradual liberation of the internal economic process. This trend was facilitated by the fact that the Monnet Plan was beginning to bear fruit: adopted in 1947 with the aim of increasing industrial production by 25% by 1952, at the end of 1949 it had already invested a full billion in the conversion of the machinery.
But the imperial (especially Indochina) and international conjuncture advanced its needs: military credits (385 billion, of which 106 for the French Union, i.e. 5.5% of national income) and urgent investments made it increasingly difficult to balance the balance. Queuille, who tried to compensate a policy of liberalization with one of economies, soon found himself facing a moderate right-wing opposition, made up of peasant deputies, independents and the RPF.
In the autumn of 1949, the situation appeared serious: the devaluation of the pound favored that of the franc (by 22.4% against the dollar). It was the third devaluation made in France in just eleven months: and as such, destined to affect costs. The already precarious price-wage equilibrium was broken, and under trade union, socialist and MRP pressure, Queuille decided to resign. The crisis was long (5-28 October); in the end a precarious tripartism was re-established under the presidency of G. Bidault, but with Queuille vice-president of the council, Robert Schuman for Foreign Affairs, the socialist J. Moch for the Interior and the independent M. Petsche for Finance.
The resignation of P. Pflimlin (MPR) as Minister of Agriculture on the always difficult problem of prices of agricultural products and, shortly after, those of the socialist ministers on wage issues, showed that the government had not been able to overcome the difficulties. Bidault was forced to ask the question of trust over and over again: a heroic system thanks to which he managed to get the budget approved and to resist until the summer of 1950.
Council of Europe and the Atlantic Pact. – 1949 was a very important year for France above all in the sector of its foreign policy: in fact it consolidated its evolution towards the western field. Foreign Minister Schuman participated in London (January 27-28) in the founding of the Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg. Shortly before (January 24), France had recognized de facto the new state of Israel, thus binding to this with solid friendship. But the conclusion of the Atlantic Pact was the event that was to put an end to the remaining ambitions of a policy of “grandeur” oscillating between East and West. In truth, the most alert French had already realized that in the face of the eventuality of an aggression from the East, Europe remained frighteningly uncovered. Without the contribution of the USA and Canada, the Brussels Pact (March 17, 1948) would have been of little use. It should be noted that the text of the Atlantic Pact, published before its signature, satisfied the strong French desire to guarantee the Algerian territories as well. Immediately after the conclusion of the Atlantic Alliance (April 4) the members of the Brussels pact asked the USA to urgent dispatch of military aid. At the same time, the Washington agreements (April 8) between France, Great Britain and the USA, allowed Germany, which already saw a future associate, to take a big step on the road to autonomy and reconstruction. Just as the Russian threats and Thorez’s pacifist campaign had not prevented France from signing the Atlantic Pact, so the incidents raised by Communist deputies did not prevent the National Assembly from ratifying it with 395 votes to 189.