WILL DE GAULLE BLOW OUR CHANCE FOR PEACE
As the Summit meeting approaches, Canada and her sister NATO nations are nervously Watching the unpredictable French autocrat who began nuclear tests after other major powers had agreed to halt them
PARIS A FEW WEEKS AGO the frightening, hopeful, enigmatic man named Charles de Gaulle made another of the stubborn, one - man decisions for which he has been famous, feared and loved through the last twenty-five years of Western history. He exploded an atomic bomb in the Sahara Desert.
He did this at a time when most of the world had reached - or professed to have reached -an agreement to sheathe this most terrible of all weapons. Dc Gaulle's huge constituency of ad mirers and his equally huge constituency of ene mies all across the world were thereby plunged in to a renewal of an old and perhaps fateful debate. What does Dc Gaulle really stand for today? What can France's allics expect from him? Is France in deed still a free country?
World-wide speculation about his role at the summit conference next month has kept De Gaulle firmly at centre stage in the role he is determined to play to the hilt: the semi-mystic man of destiny leading his uneasy nation back to greatness. Many people I met in Paris bitterly criticized De Gaulle's assumption of extra powers following the January revolt in Algiers. A politician of the old regime, a great figure in the Fourth Republic and still an eminent man in opposition, told me, "There's no democracy in France today. Dc Gaulle controls everything-press, radio, the Chamber of Deputies. Parliament is muzzled. We have dic tatorship, pure and simple."
The newspapers seemed to bear him out. They announced the release - after three weeks' de tention without formal charge - of two Moslem lawyers who'd been defense counsel for Algerian rebels. While French authorities denied the lawyers were being persecuted merely for defending Al gerians, the denial sounded disturbingly vague. Such items are carried obscurely on inside pages. In Algiers and even in Paris, newspapers that give too big a play to stories reflecting against the gov ernment are summarily confiscated by the police. Since the January rebellion in Algiers, and un til 1 961, President de Gaulle's cabinet can legislate without reference to parliament on everything that affects the security of the state. The government is itself the judge of where security begins. Even before the Algerian emergency Dc Gaulle was a strong head of state, perhaps uniquely strong among free nations. Under the new constitution, written under his personal guidance, he combines the executive power of an American president with a British prime minister's right of appeal from a dissenting parliament to the people (a right which, as Canadians know, few parliaments care to chal lenge). In the two years since a rebellious army put him into office, De Gaulle has used this strength to devalue the franc, raise taxes, cut various sub sidies and privileges of special groups, and general ly to perform the politically impossible. The oppo sition feels completely frustrated and smothered. In the eyes of an anti-government politician, this is indeed dictatorship.
Foreigners are the more ready to believe the charge because of the posture, the public figure of Charles de Gaulle. They do not warm to a man who is able, quite seriously, to proclaim himself "the incarnation of France during twenty years." To some, this kind of talk sounds merely absurd. To others, remembering how Hitler used to talk at the Nuremberg rallies, it sounds faintly but omi nously familiar. But one sure sign of a modern dictatorship, as anyone can tell who has seen any Arab or Com munist country, is the face of Big Brother dis played on every hand. Nasser in Egypt, Kassem in Iraq, the Communist gods in the Communist bloc - their pictures are everywhere. Not a newsstand or public building, hardly even a billboard can be found that doesn't beam The Leader's magnified smile upon his people. In Paris I haven't seen a single picture of Presi dent de Gaulle, except for ordinary news shots of current events, but I did see an effigy of sorts. It was in a little shop that CONTINUED ON PAGE 60
Will De Gaulle blow up our chances for peace? continued from page 20
“Sensible Moslems know that independence from France would ruin Algeria”
sells wigs and masquerade costumes, whose show window was dominated by an instantly recognizable face—big nose, deep wrinkles and pendulous dewlaps, expression of a disenchanted bloodhound. It was De Gaulle all right, but Dc Gaulle as be is portrayed by Herblock, David Low, John Collins, the political cartoonists of two continents. It was far from flattery. This mask was on sale for a modest sum to any Frenchman who wanted to go to a masquerade as a caricature of the president of France.
I walked past the shop in company with a French editor, and it was he who drew my attention to the mask of De Gaulle.
“Look, there is our dictator,” he said with a grin. “As you see, the opposition can still express itself in France.”
But in that case, why doesn’t it do so more audibly? What is the explanation for the docile unanimity that seemed to have overtaken the country in the last few weeks?
"What you must realize,” explained my French colleague, "is that there was no opposition to De Gaulle’s handling of the January revolt in Algeria. It simply did not exist. Before that, De Gaulle's position was not so strong — many big groups among the people were discontented with him. But when the rebellion came everybody supported him — the press, the trade unions, the parliament, even the opposing political parties all but a handful. We were unanimous.”
It’s an ironic thought that the rebellious colons of Algiers, in trying to put De Gaulle out. instead made practically certain of keeping him in, but apparently that’s what happened. Public opinion surveys indicate that my colleague exaggerated very little when he said opposition had disappeared. Three quarters of all Frenchmen now say they approve of De Gaulle’s policy in Algeria (only half said so in mid-January) and of De Gaulle himself as president. The same percentage is in favor of prosecuting the Algerian rebels, and two thirds vote for severe treatment.
Never have the chances looked so good for settling the six-year-old war in Algeria, restoring peace between Frenchmen and Moslems in that ravished country, and ending the hemorrhage that has sapped French resources and morale to the verge of ruin. I talked to one French Algerian, third generation of his family to be born there, and found him bubbling with optimism.
“If only De Gaulle does not let this opportunity slip,” he said, “if only he uses his enormous prestige to get a cease-fire now. I’m sure we can make a real peace. You have no idea how fed up we are, on both sides, with this miserable war. If we can end it. then Frenchmen and Moslems can go back to being friends again — and they will.”
President de Gaulle had guaranteed the Algerian Moslems "self-determination.” a free vote to decide their own future, as soon as a cease - fire was accepted. Wouldn't they vote for complete independence? And would the French colons and the French army accept that choice?
“They won't vote for independence; they'll vote for some kind of association with France in the French community. I’m sure of it.”
What made him so sure?
“Our Moslems are not crazy. They know where their interests lie. Did you know wc have four hundred thousand Moslems in metropolitan France today, and that they send home forty billion francs a year to Algeria? Did you know we have something like three hundred thousand Moslem war veterans, and that their pensions run around fifteen billion francs a year? Independence from France would be economic ruin for Algeria, and all sensible Moslems know it.
“What they want is not independence but justice. I must admit they have not had justice up to now. In Algeria it has been a matter of no importance to put a Moslem in jail. What gives President dc Gaulle his immense prestige today is not anything he said, but the simple fact that he has put the French rebel leaders in jail. That never happened before.”
This is not the sort of talk 1 expected to hear from a French Algerian — they normally sound more like fascists. My friend admitted that he is in the minority of his compatriots, hut he is not alone.
As for extremists of the Right, the failure of their revolt in January has left
them leaderless (their leaders are in jail) disorganized and dispirited. Without the active support of the army they found themselves impotent and the army, despite some half-hearted sympathy with the rebellion, mainly stood by De Gaulle. The big question is whether it will continue to do so.
“We're not out of trouble yet,” one pessimistic Frenchman told me. "Of course the army could not support that absurd affair in January, led by a brothelkeeper and a lunatic. But the army is still unhappy. In my opinion the real danger to liberty in France is not the government of Dc Gaulle, however strong it may look. The real danger is that some of De Gaulle’s opponents, the reactionary groups, might get the army to join them in another coup. They succeeded in 1958. when they put De Gaulle in, hut he has not met their expectations. They might succeed again, and they will not repeat the mistake.”
Of the groups that De Gaulle has offended, probably the most important politically are the farmers. They are holding hostile demonstrations all over rural France. One of these, in Amiens, turned into a first-class riot, hut that was probably not the farmers’ fault — a handful of fanatics tried to convert it into a fight for “French Algeria.” Farm prices in France are state-controlled, in a number of complex ways, and until the De Gaulle government’s first budget they were bound by law to the cost-of-living index. When the index rose, farm prices rose too, automatically. Dc Gaulle's Finance Minister Antoine Pinay (since resigned) thought this automatic escalator was a cancer in the French economy, and he removed it by drastic surgery.
Since then, French farmers claim they can't make a living. Angriest of all are the “liberal” farmers, the young men who broke away from the conservative traditions of their fathers and tried new methods, including the use of farm machinery bought on credit. At today s prices, they say, they haven’t enough left over from the necessities of life to pay ofl these debts, and their tractors and binders are being repossessed by the finance companies.
It is a fact that the cost-price squeeze on the farmer, of which we hear so much in Canada, is probably worse in France than anywhere else. Retail prices in France are high, including food prices. But the prices the farmer gets directly for his produce are among the lowest in Europe. The difference is eaten up by an incredible procession of middlemen, operating a distribution system that is centuries old, and fantastically inefficient. Almost all the food grown in France goes into the ancient Paris market called Les Halles, and thence in due time is returned to the provinces to be eaten. Cases have been established where a cabbage grown in Brittany would eventually he sold—no longer fresh .but ten times more expensive—within five miles of the farm where it grew, having meanwhile spent many days traveling to and from Paris.
This is another thing Dc Gaulle has promised to clear up. Frenchmen are skeptical—many a government in the past has tried to clean up Les Halles, and none has succeeded. But if De Gaulle does succeed, it will not be without mortally offending a large class of small mer-
chants, wholesalers, petit bourgeois who are the human links in this long cumbersome chain of distribution. Every link is an established position, handed down from father to son like a family farm. If De Gaulle abolishes this antique system he may partially mollify the indignant farmers, but he will certainly make a lot of new enemies.
Meanwhile, farmers and petit bourgeois are both angered by another De Gaulle measure —the new tax law. It was originally called “Fiscal Reform Law,” and its aim was to reduce tax evasion. By the time it got through an alarmed Chamber of Deputies it had been greatly weakened, and its name changed to “Fiscal Amendments,” but it will still make tax evasion more difficult.
It is not true, as so many people pretend, that the French don’t pay taxes. French income tax is considerably higher than ours (Canadians working in Paris are careful to pay their taxes to Ottawa, as the law permits) and the great majority of Frenchmen have no choice but to pay it in full. But two classes on whom it has been very difficult to enforce the French law are the farmers and the small shopkeepers, both of whom regard any attempt to do so as a tyrannous outrage. It was a previous plan to stop tax evasion among shopkeepers that gave birth to the semi-fascist party led by Pierre Poujade.
This attitude is not quite as preposterous as it sounds. The great gainer in the French economy during the past ten years has been the wage and salary earner (aside from isolated individuals who have grown rich in various ways). The worker in French industry is probably about 25 percent better off now than he was in 1950. At the same time the worker gets the full benefit of the French social welfare program, which is considerable and costly, and which is paid for almost entirely by the employer and the government.
A secretary whose salary is $110 a month, for example, costs her employer another thirty-six dollars a month in so-
cial-security payments; she herself pays about two dollars. The self - employed people, such as farmers and merchants, get only a meager share of this social insurance for which, they feel, they are expected to pay as much as anyone. They have an envious resentment against the employed worker, and they think it serves him right that he should have to pay taxes. Their own case, in their view, is different.
Employers, too, tend to feel that workers are getting more than they deserve, and are also cooling toward the government. They are suspicious of De Gaulle’s intention to encourage labor-management councils, which they fear will give labor some voice in the decisions of industry. It may be that they too are wary of the new tax law, which is getting a lot of hostile publicity. For whatever reason, it is assumed in Paris that the resignation of Antoine Pinay as minister of finance is a sign that Big Business has lost confidence in De Gaulle’s government.
All these affronts against the Right should at least build up the government’s credit with the Left, but there is no evidence that this is happening. For one thing, the Left for too many years has taken De Gaulle for granted as a man of the Right — wrongly, as events have shown, but the bias is still there.
More recently and more decisively, another government measure has alienated the French Left. The new school bill, passed by a Chamber of Deputies which is considerably to the Right of public opinion, gives tax money to private (i.e., Roman Catholic) schools with no control over curriculum. This is an old and sore issue in France—as it is or has been in several provinces of Canada. The French Left has always been for complete separation of church and state, and for wholly secular public schools. The new school bill caused De Gaulle's minister of education, a socialist, to resign, and it has left a lot of unhealed wounds among the public.
Meanwhile the government has some
“De Gaulle has a tendency to use the Soviet Union as a means of getting his way with the West”
cause to be disappointed in public reaction to its foreign policy. De Gaulle’s obsession with the grandeur, glory and independence of France led him into complete isolation in the councils of NATO, where his withdrawal of the Mediterranean fleet from NATO control and his refusal of an integrated air defense program caused general dismay. But it was assumed at first that French opinion was with him.
Now, NATO officers are convinced that this is not so. They say the alliance is more popular with the French people than it is with the president of France, and they think this may be one reason for the softening in his own attitude lately. Compromise solutions of the navy and air defense problems seem to be in the making, and they will mean considerable relenting on the part of General de Gaulle.
They think they see some further relenting in the general’s attitude toward the Soviet Union. When the summit meeting w;ts being arranged, De Gaulle displayed a tendency to play one side against the other — to use the Soviet Union its a means of getting his own way with the West. Foreign observers say this policy has gone down badly, not only among other members of the alliance but in France itself.' It is one reason for widespread disaffection among the conservative businessmen whom Finance Minister Pinay represented.
NATO officials are more optimistic now than they were a few weeks ago about De Gaulle's behavior at the summit meeting in May, but their optimism is based partly on the belief that the
French policy of intransigence has not been really popular.
Even the French atomic bomb, so-called. has not roused much enthusiasm within France. It was front-page news for a day or two. and the subject of comment (often uncnthusiastic) for a while longer. According to NATO officials who have talked to them, the French scientists who made the atomic explosive are the least enthusiastic of all — they’re against it. They know better than anyone how far behind the times they are in nuclear weapons. T he one they set off in February was not, in fact, a portable bomb at all; senior allied officers think it will take several years more to make an actual bomb, and even then the French will be scarcely further ahead than the AngloAmerican project was in 1945, at the time of Hiroshima. To the physicists this looks like a colossal waste of time and money, which they’d prefer to spend doing something useful.
After De Gaulle — who?
This long catalogue of grievances appears to be inconsistent with the fact of De Gaulle's popularity, but the. public reverence for the name and figure of De Gaulle, the hero, the symbol of French honor and glory, makes it necessary for many Frenchmen to direct their resentment against someone other than the actual person of the president of France.
But the resentment is there, and De Gaulle is seventy years old, an increasingly tired man. Of a successor, not the remotest possibility is now in sight.
In another democracy this might not
matter. Presidents and prime ministers have emerged from obscurity, and sometimes have disappeared again without trace, and their countries have still bowled along in much the same old track. France is different.
The easiest thing to forget about France, even when you’re actually visiting the country, is that France is a nation at war. Half a million of her men are in arms all the time, and thousands have been killed in action. This war is not confined entirely to North Africa, either — some engagements are fought even in the streets of Paris.
The day before I arrived, two traffic policemen were called to stop a disturbance in a small café near the Temple metro station. They came, found all quiet, and were about to leave when two Algerian Moslems opened fire on them from the street. One policeman was killed instantly; later, another was killed before one assailant was captured. The captive was summarily “lynche” by the crowd — the morning newspaper didn’t explain just what it meant by this word, but the man died in hospital that night. His accomplice got away.
In the Paris press this appalling story was front-page news for one day. Then it was dropped, and I saw no further reference to it except a tiny back-page item on the funeral of the two policemen. Twentyfour Paris policemen have been killed in this manner since the Algerian war began; apparently Parisian readers have become hardened to it, and perhaps somewhat hardened to violence in general.
It was a threat of violence two years ago that brought the present French gov-
ernment into office, and the Fifth Republic into being. An astonishing book entitled State Secrets, by J. R. Tournoux. has lately been published in Paris. It gives, in great detail, including names, times, places and what purport to be quotations from secret documents and secret conversations, a full account of the army’s role in overthrowing Premier Pfiimlin and putting De Gaulle in his place. It was a decisive role.
Today, of course, the situation is very different. The president of France is no longer a mere figurehead. He is a true head of state and the army’s commanderin-chief, a job for which he is professionally qualified. Moreover, even if the army did wish to replace him, they have no well-known public figure to replace him with.
Nevertheless, the army is not happy. Its two hundred thousand regular officers and NCOs, and such special professional corps as the paratroopers, are fiercely determined never to accept another "betrayal” like the “defeat” in Indo-China. Whether they will accept any compromise in Algeria, even from De Gaulle, is a question not yet answered. Whether they would accept it from anyone else hardly needs to be asked.
For all these reasons, sober observers here believe that democracy in France is still in grave danger. France is still a free country, yes, but whether she can remain one through the next five years is by no means certain. It depends in part on the patience, friendship and comprehension that will be shown by the other fourteen nations, like Canada, of whom France is an indispensable ally. ★