Budget difficulties and military aid. – For this reason the parliamentary approval of the budget became an almost insurmountable obstacle. A rich country, only partially damaged by extraordinary expenses in Indochina and North Africa, but a country that did not know how to decide between dirigisme and liberalism, neither adopting a costume of austerity nor making a productive effort. It is generally believed that without American aid of various kinds (for about one trillion francs a year) the regime would have collapsed into bankruptcy. According to statistics published by the US Ministry of Defense, in the decade 1949-59, France was the main beneficiary of US military aid with 4,502,053,000 dollars: which represents one third of the total aid given to European countries.
According to internetsailors, the Pleven government (January 7, 1952), and the following one of Edgar Faure (February 29, 1952) fell on the rock of the budget. Antoine Pinay, independent, typical representative of the province as Queuille and of a foot-of-the-house policy, formed the government with a program of monetary stability, economies and productivist stimulus. No new taxes, but the launch of a loan that achieved moderate success: there was undeniably some improvement, thanks to a policy of greater liberalism. The latter provoked against Pinay who resigned (December 23) the hostility of the SFIO and the defection of the MRP.
After various attempts, the Assembly resorted to a gray eminence of the Fourth Republic, the radical René Mayer (vice-president Queuille). But the new government was transitional and immediately fell on financial projects (May 21, 1953).
The crisis was very long, and marked a decisive shift to the right. Independent Joseph Laniel succeeded in forming a coalition with dissident Gaullists and RGR, having three vice presidents of the Council, H. Queuille, P. Reynaud, J. Teitgen (June 28). In Finance, Edgard Faure continued the Pinay policy. Despite very serious strikes in the city and in the countryside, the Laniel government lasted a little less than a year.
On December 17, the scrutiny for the election of the second president of the Fourth Republic began in an atmosphere of confusion. Eight candidates showed up in the first round, including Laniel himself, Bidault, Y. Delbos (rad.), Naegelen (soc.), Etc. Nobody got the required majority: only in the 13th round did the votes finally concentrate on a little-known senator, René Coty, independent republican (23 December). For reasons of age and health, Èdouard Herriot resigned from the presidency of the Chamber. The socialist A. Le Troquer was elected to replace him. The radical socialist Gaston Monnerville, a native of Guiana, was re-elected to the presidency of the Conseil de la République (Senate).
Crisis of the RTF – De Gaulle’s withdrawal. – The Pinay government, in addition to having indicated a new way for the economic recovery of the country, exercised an effective attraction on the liberal and moderate part of the composite Gaullist formation. Twenty-seven deputies resigned from the RPF in July 1952, followed by a dozen senators, in protest at the party’s excessive internal discipline and programmatic mysticism. They formed themselves into an ARS group (Action républicaine et sociale) and became part of the majority. The gap between the possibilistic wing of Gaullism (led by J. Soustelle) which found it more convenient to participate in the “system” and the “mystics” stuck at “all or nothing” (led by R. Capitant) became ever deeper, with consequent loss of credit in public opinion. The administrative elections of 1953 marked a real defeat for the RPF: 10 elected in Paris instead of 52 in 1947, 4 against 25 in Marseille, 7 against 23 in Lyon, etc. Defeat to the advantage of the moderates, the MRP and the RGR, who progressed significantly. Saddened, De Gaulle decided (6 May 1953) to abandon the RPF deputies “to the games, poisons, and delights of the system”; he granted them the freedom to vote, and postponed the seizure of power until there would be “a serious shock to the country” in the face of danger. The Gaullist parliamentary group was then formed into Union républicaine d’action Sociale: but other deputies preferred to join the traditional parties. De Gaulle’s new retreat condemned the Gaullist movement because it took away the “mystique of the leader”,
Dien Bien – Phu and the first blow to the regime. – The Laniel government held out more out of its ability to avoid the country’s big problems than out of its willingness to solve them. In a situation of economic and social malaise, and of terrorist resumption in North Africa, the fall of Dien Bien-Phu (May 7, 1954) into the hands of the Vietnamese communist forces, after two months of siege (see Indochina, in this App.) Constituted the first of the “serious shocks” that will end up killing the Fourth Republic. On the French side, four thousand soldiers remained on the battlefield, eight thousand men and one thousand wounded captured by the Vietnamese along with an impressive booty of war material.
In France the emotion was enormous: not only the strategy of gen. H. Navarre, commander-in-chief in Indochina, but Laniel’s entire policy was put under fire. Even more serious, the “system” itself, that is, the regime of the Fourth Republic, came into question. Some reproached that they had ignored the conclusions reached by the gen. Leclerc in his mission of 1945-46, conclusions favorable to an agreement with Ho Chi-Minh. The others criticized the hesitations of the various governments between negotiations and the conduct of the war, which can be found in the same episode of Dien Bien-Phu. Finally, with almost general sentiment, the regime was blamed for failing to win the French cause the total intervention of the USA: all the more opportune since Western positions were defended in Indochina.
Although in various ways – nor can we ignore the large influence of Communist propaganda and the reactions it arouses especially in military circles – the general feeling was that France needed new ideas and new men.