1920-1945 in France After the First World War, France was in a deplorable state, its richness is deeply undermined and the whole French social and political society collapsed. The era between 1920 and 1945 amounts the rehabilitation’s period and the Second World War. Thus, only twenty-seven years separate the armistice of the second disastrous conflict but this small time had been enough for the French to see three different politics groups, the occupation, and the liberation.
To simplify this complex period, this essay will be divided into five distinct parts: France transformed by the war, the political life within the country, the economic crises of the twenty’s, the Popular Front and finally the collapse of France. The First World War let France completely desolate, and before going any further in the study of this era, it is fundamentally important to be aware of the French situation after the armistice: tenth of the national heritage had been destroyed, the French capital has passed from 45 billion francs in 1914 to a debtor situation of 32 billion in four year and 1. million people had been killed. But the society hadn’t only been shaken in a human and material way. Effectively, the traditional bases
The women status was in that way changed, there were freer, and their professional skills started to be acknowledge as the long men mobilization had forced them to ensure new responsibilities. From the factory to the farm, the women became the “patronne”, the “boss”. In another point of view, the growing inflation, provoked by the war and badly handled until 1926, put into question the certainty of the bourgeoisie class, confronted to the changing value of the franc.
Effectively the increasing prices allowed some skilful speculators to make a fortune extremely rapidly and who, by that, despise the traditional bourgeois virtue of works and savings. The economic modernization of the twenties saw the expansion of new social groups. The ascension of new industrials leaders coincided with the recruitment by the big societies of a more competent personal, which would reinforce the difference between the workers of a same company. This industrial expansion augmented the number of workers, which reached seven millions by 1931.
At the same time, the scientific organization of work deeply modified the signification of the factories worker’s job. These people attended to the disappearance of their jobs, learned from a long apprenticeship and result of social consideration. From now on they were at distance from conception tasks, handed over by the power foreman and worked in assembly lines. The French worker movement was going through a difficult time after the failure of the great strike of 1920. But the Cartel collapsed in 1925, incapable to face the financial paralysis.
Only Poincare back to power by 1926 was in position to act by forming a “moderate” government, gathering the radicals and right-wing’s parties. It’s in 1931 that French had to face the economic crisis. The whole industries and agriculture’s domains were completely paralysed and in that way it directly caused social problematic consequences. The average income of the French decreased, for example, by 30% between 1930 and 1935. The most affected people were those of the middle urban and rural classes. For the farmer, the income declined, reaching 59%. And for the wage-earner, the salary reduction was about 25%.
The crisis exacerbates the differences between social groups. The victims accuse the public servants, who have job’s security, when the peasants, calling for the stop of foreign wheat imports and the increase of the grain’s price, hit the port’s traders, who are afraid by the possible commerce interruption, and the city-dwellers, that protest against the rise of bread’s price. In fact, everyone is blaming the incompetence of the leaders, which are incapable of solving the problem. The global, economic, social and politic crisis that affected the society, led many intellectual to reconsider the occidental civilization.
Effectively, it is seen as the sign of a radical change and provoked anguish. Georges Duhamel was for example described his fears in his books Scene de la vie future, New-York’s skyscrapers or Chicago’s abattoir seemed to him to foreshadow the civilization of tomorrow, where men would disappeared, swallowed up by the masse, drove up useless because of the mechanization. Confronted to a world, in which traditional values dies out, young intellectuals encouraged the actions, which allowed men to assert their dignity by surpassing themselves and to forget the bitterness of their present life.
Thus, Andre Malraux explained that epic and heroism were a way for men to escape to their mortal condition. Nevertheless, a lot of intellectuals convinced themselves that the crisis gave them a privileged role, a “mission” to manage the disoriented spirit. In one word, they believed they had to indicate people the safe way to get away from the crisis. For most of them there were two single possibilities: the extreme solutions of fascism or revolutionaries involvement. Often, it is the war experience and the decadence’s feeling of the occidental civilization that led many right wing’s intellectuals to fascism.
The review “_Je suis partout”, _literally “I am everywhere”, where many fascists joined, stands out by the violence of its attacks, its open anti-Semitism and its public explosions of hatred and excess. However it is more frequently the revolutionary way that was chosen by intellectuals. In 1935, Andre Gide organised in Paris a congress gathering revolutionaries’ writers. Communism attracted a large part of the after-war’s writers. Gide was coming closer of communism, in which he sees a fraternity’s religion, fighting for the conquest of an earthly paradise, where men would be able to accomplish themselves.
But, by 1936, after a trip to Russia, he reported the Stalinist regime as a totalitarianism that oppresses people. By 1936, the_ Front Populaire_, or “Popular Front” an association of antifascists’ organisations, won the election of 1936 and conducted to power the socialist Leon Blum, who tempted to curb the crisis and to put an end to the great series of strikes of the same year by increasing the purchasing power of masses and by adopting structural approaches. Especially, he managed to create a new spirit of opening and social generosity.
When Leon Blum arrived to power, France suffered from a wave of strikes that touched about two millions salaried employee. Spontaneously triggered after the victory of the Front Populaire, the reasons are diverse: prepare the nationalization of war’s industries, make succeed the demand of salary or of working’ condition, etc. These strikes, accompanied by an occupation of the working sites, panicked bosses, who saw by it expropriation’s attempt and the start of social revolution. Answering their demands, Leon Blum signed the 7 June, the “Matignon Accords”.
It gave workers a salary augmentation between 7 and 15%, acknowledged the union’s right within the enterprise and the practical of collective’s conventions. Despite, this accord, strikes stopped slowly. In a way to assure peace, the government of the Front Populaire, tried to associate conciliation with firmness. If he received in Paris, in September 1936, the economy minister of the Reich, Leon Blum put in place a vast program of military equipment, deigned to catch up the French lateness in that area.
Moreover, he took pains to strengthen the French alliances, and especially the Franco-British one. But the Spanish war, which broke up in July 1936, tried out the Popular Front’ determination. Leon Blum wanted to help the Spanish Republic but he clashed with the opposition of most of the radicals’ ministers and of a part of the socialists, who were afraid that this intervention would lead to a conflict with Fascists’ states. The British refusal to help the French in Spain forced Blum, to accept the treaty of “non-intervention” of European powers.
This abandonment of the Spanish Republic provoked the anger of the communist party that launched in the country a campaign “Cannons, planes for Spain! ” Shortly after, economics’ difficulties appeared. In fact the augmentation of salaries and the rearmament’s cost provoked a price rise, more important than the strikes of 1936, and the effects of the law of forty hours resulted into a diminution of production. Soon, the economic failure was obvious. The first October 1936, the government is forced to devalue the Francs.
In an attempt to reassure the affairs circle, Blum proclaimed the “break”, that is to say the temporary abandon of the social reforms’ program. That break provoked the bitterness of the workers, syndicates and Left wings’ party. This atmosphere of civil war knew a dramatic episode in March 1937 when the police fired in a leftwing manifestation, which was trying to prevent the holding of a fascist meeting, and made 5 deaths and 200 injured. After the Clichy’ firing that set a part of the Leftwing against the government, the euphoria of June 1936 was ending up.
In fact, the Front Populaire was dying until 1938. The Daladier’ government provoked its definitive rupture by relying on the moderates, signing the accords of Munich with Hitler and Mussolini, and by reconsidering the social benefits of 1936. The war was going to break over a country that hadn’t been able to surmount its crisis. From September 1939 to May 1940, it was the period of the “_Drole__ de Guerre”, _the “Phony War”, the war without fights. Effectively France had declared war, but wasn’t doing it. When Germany crushed Poland, French people dug behind the fortifications of the “Maginot Line”.
The tactic consisted into preserving the men by avoiding deadly attacks and to practice the defensive, by waiting for the British war’s efforts and the United-Sates help. But this choice of wait-and-see attitude had harsh effects. It first led to the demoralisation of front’s soldiers. To facilitate the wait, rose bushes were planted on the Maginot line, music hall artist tour organised, football balloon and war wine were even distributed. The second main effect was the stimulation of a pacifist trend that considered that the hostilities hadn’t yet started, and that therefore the war would be still avoidable.
This climate of incomprehension was profitable to a lack of moral unity and sacred union like the one of 1914 and that explained the politics struggles’ pursue. Socialists and Right wing men formed a coalition to strike down Daladier’ government accused of passivity in the conflict. His successor was the moderate Paul Reynaud decided to conduct the war without weakness. After an overwhelming defeat a new problem gained recognition for the French: the German occupation. In addition to extend their territory wherever they wanted to, German really plundered France between 1940 and 1944.
On the pretext of making France paid the costs of the occupation troops, Germany deducted an exorbitant war indemnity: 400 million per day in 1940, reduced to 300 million in 1941, it increased to 500 in 1942 to reach 700 million the 6th June 1944, when the Allies landed in Normandy. In total if we add to those deductions the gold requisitions, the unsold purchase in France, it would be more 700 billion francs that France had to pay to Germany, situation that provoked an incredible inflation.
Even more directly sensible to the daily living standards of the French were the deduction upon the production. Between 12 and 17% of the agricultural French production have been send to Germany. In a similar way Germans took coal and electricity, ores and industrial products. Industries of building, automobile, lime and cement worked at 75% for Germany, painting and rubber to 60% and textile to 55%. It resulted for the French into a terrible shortage of vital products, which brought the institution of a strict rationing.
Finally Germany used an important part of the French manpower. War prisoners, deported to the “_Service du travail obligatoire”, _the “Obligatory working service” from 1942, voluntaries workers, requisitioned workers, constituted a phenomenal man-power’s potential that would varied between 1 600 000 people at the end of 1941 to 2 600 000 in the summer of 1944. Of course the most unbearable aspect of the German occupation in France remained the exercised repression against those considered by the Nazis and collaborators as adversaries.
Jewish, communists, resistance fighter paid at this repression a high cost tribute. Totally, between 200 000 and 250 000 arrests and deportations to Germany were effected and many of these transported convicts never came back. At this arrests, particularly numerous from 1942, can be add from the summer of 1941, the hostages’ executions that would make 30 000 victims. Finally, as the resistance developed, Germans answered by collectives reprisals against the civil population.
It was from 1943 that this repression took its most savage form: prisoners’ execution chosen at random in the prisons of Limoges and Perigueux after some attack against the bosses of the Gestapo in March 1944, massacre of 86 people in Ascq in the North in April 1944 after the derailment of a military train and, above all, a thousand of victims at Oradour-Sur-Glane where everymen were executed by firing squad and women and children burned alive in the church after the actions of member of the Resistance against the division Das Reich. In conclusion, what to say?
I believe we, and I am here talking about the French people in general, often forget that there weren’t only the glorious resistance that saved the honour of the French country and the general de Gaulle in London fighting for the safety of his own country. The resistance have been the cause of horrible murders and many people choose to collaborate. The fault of the war isn’t only coming from Germany, Anti-Semitism feeling were common in France as the Stavisky affairs showed. At the start of the war, France is a destroyed country that hasn’t been able to remit from the First World War and the Second one let it even more decimate.