Ian Birchall Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Curtis McNally

Whence France?

(Spring 1965)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.20, Spring 1965, p.30.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Democracy in France since 1870
David Thompson
OUP, 30s.

Crisis and Compromise: Politics in the Fourth Republic
P.M. Williams
Longmans, 55s.

‘France is the land where, more than anywhere else, the historical class struggles were each time fought put to a decision, and where, consequently, the changing political forms with which they move and in which their results are summarised have been stamped in the sharpest outlines.’

Engels’ words remain valid, and the study of twentieth century France is a fascinating one for socialists. For this reason we must welcome the appearance of two books marked by academic distinction. Thompson’s work (a revised version of a book published in 1946) covers the social and political history of the whole period from the Commune to the Fifth Republic, and is necessarily sketchy. Thomson’s approach is often excessively abstract (typified by chapter headings such as The National Vision or Has Democracy Failed?) and many of his judgments are highly disputable: he sees the Commune as the end, not the beginning, of a revolutionary tradition, and he holds de Gaulle to be a ‘great leader’; but as a factual account, serving as a general introduction, it can be recommended.

Philip William’s Crisis and Compromise, an up-to-date version of his Politics in Post-War France, makes a far more detailed analysis of a much shorter period. He presents, after a brief historical survey of the period 1945-1958, a study of the various political parties and groupings in modern France, and of the political institutions of the Fourth Republic – an unmanageable system which the ‘Left’, after thirty years of inability to offer an alternative, found itself trying to defend in 1958.

A mass of statistics and appendices make this a standard work of reference. Did you know that Mendés-France supported German Rearmament, and that Mollet defended the Suez adventure with a quotation from Marx? That in 1956 one of Poujade’s most fruitful sources of support was from former Communist voters? What paper wrote of the Algerian Nationalists: ‘It is necessary to mete out the punishment they deserve to the Hitlerite killers who took part in the events of the 8th of May, and to the pseudo-nationalist leaders ...’? L’Humanité, in May 1945. But the most appealing of the book’s 1402 footnotes is one referring to the problems of the complex and obscure list system of voting: in 1951 many Communists voted Trotskyist ‘by mistake’!

Ian Birchall Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 14 April 2010