Reconstruction and Finance
�Immediately after WWI the Rightist National Bloc won in the elections. Paul Deschanel defeated former Premier Clemenceau for the presidency. Deschanel later quit after he was found naked and babbling in a public fountain. Millerand took over as President and Aristide Briand became Premier.
Tremendous amounts of money were required for reconstruction
in France. The government promised to pay for all damages
incurred during the war. German reparations were expected to
supply that money. Reparations were crucial to reconstruction as
France had no money to spare. For this reason, Briand was driven
from power in 1922 after he allowed Germany additional time
before making reparations payments. Briand's reputation as a
compromiser and conciliator was not what France wanted at this
time. Former President Raymond Poincare took over as Premier and
months later ordered French troops into the Rhineland for force
A financial crisis now developed. Uncertainty over how the
impasse would be settled, or worse, never settled, sent the
Bourse (French stock exchange) into a tailspin. To solve the
crisis, Poincare was made premier and given almost dictatorial
powers in finance to solve the crisis. It was so severe that
party lines blurred as the French rallied to having some, any,
direction to save the economy Using his new power, Poincare
levied new taxes on sales, and the bureaucracy was cut.
Quickly, the budget was balanced and 1926 ended with a 1.5
billion franc surplus. By late 1926, the franc was not only
restored, but was 30% higher than before the post war crises.
Poincare was viewed as a national hero--sometimes even by his
With France in such great shape, Poincare ran for reelection in 1928. Many observers expected him to lose owing to the jealousy of popular leaders in France. However, France brought back Poincare for another term with a big win. Good leadership under the Third Republic tended to be episodic and short, and when Poincare unexpectedly quit in July 1929 for health reasons France fell back into more confusion.
Problems in Alsace-Lorraine
Alsace-Lorraine was a problem after WWI in ways the French did not expect. Alsace-Lorraine became a political battleground for old and new issues. First, they lost their local governing powers they had enjoyed under the German federal system and fell under control from Paris. The Alsatians were quickly forced to learn French again as well as to only use French in official documents. Making things worse, the Alsatians had to undergo another Kulturkampf as they had to adapt to the Church-State rules France had adopted in the early 1900s. With the Leftist victory in 1924, nuns and priests were driven from the region as Alsace-Lorraine had to relive the Emile Combes years. However, the French Right was ready for this struggle, the Left did not want to refight an old struggle and the Alsatians put up massive resistance. The Left relented and Alsace-Lorraine was allowed to keep their traditionally close church-state relations. Anti-clerics promised to refight the issue one day as priests hoped for a better future for the Church in the rest of France. Alsatians were embittered by their experiences after their "return" to France and the region became a staunchly anti-Republican region as many suddenly decided the old Second Reich wasn't so bad. Later, when the National Socialists took over in Germany, the Alsatians proved very receptive to Hitler's appeals.
French Security Problems
� How to Replace Russia? One of the biggest problems
facing France is the post-war world was how to replace Russia as
the security linchpin for France. Since the early 1890s, France
and Russia had been allies. Now, with the Reds in charge of
Russia, there was little chance of friendship. Frenchmen hated
the Communists for selling out to Germany and dumping millions
of Germans into French laps in 1917-18. Plus, the Communists
represented all the evils of Radicalism in French history (Reign
of Terror, June Days, Paris Commune) and magnified them. Not
only that, but Communists hailed those three examples of
Radicalism versus Liberalism. Liberals were in charge of France
and hating Radicals was a spectator sport (too bad there wasn't
some way to ship off Lenin and the Communists to Devil's Island
to eat bugs with all the other troublemakers). Obviously, there
was little chance of a friendship developing here.
Depression and unrest
� The Depression hit France in 1932 and the Radical
Socialists under Herriot took over in a coalition government. In
May, 1932 Albert Lebrun takes over as President after Doumer is
assassinated. The Franc was overvalued and this hurt the French
economy. To solve budgetary problems, the Left wanted to print
money and no longer increase taxes or cut government. The Right
opposed this as it would cause tremendous inflation. A nasty
impasse developed. It got so bad that five Radical Socialist
Premiers were dumped from June, 1932 to January, 1934
The Popular Front
� Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, Stalin ordered
Communists to direct all of their attacks on Social Democrats.
Continuing Lenin�s practice of attacking fellow Leftists, the
Communists continually refused to make common cause with their
fellow Reds. This all changed after Adolf Hitler became
Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Stalin decided that
Hitler and Mussolini�s right-wing socialism held the promise of
stopping Communism from spreading. As a result, Stalin ordered
the Communists to stop all attacks on Social Democrats and
Liberals and to direct their attacks in an �anti-Fascist� front.
Since Liberals, socialists and Communists all claimed to
represent democracy and the �people,� this new coalition was
called the Popular Front. This was always an uneasy alliance,
especially between socialists and Communists. Stalin took care
of the problem of being criticized, however, the creating the
battle cry of, �No Enemies to the Left!� This meant that
criticism could only be toward those more conservative. This
meant of course, that the Communists, being the most Left party
of them all was above criticism. Criticizing anyone to one�s
Left was a sign of being a �closet fascist.� As such, Liberals
could attack Hitler, but not Stalin.
Weakness in the Face of Nazi Germany
� Many reasons for weakness toward Germany. First France is
still nervous over the very negative reaction from Britain and
the US over the Rhineland occupation. Second, France is jittery
about facing Germany alone and does not yet trust the League to
protect them. Third, the French right increasingly becomes
sympathetic to fascist ideas as a way of getting rid of the
Third Republic, and don�t want to take on Hitler just yet.
Fourth, the instability of the French Cabinet with seemingly
constantly changing ministers prevented France from following a
consistent policy. Finally, pacifism had taken root in France to
a great extent and it precluded firm action against Germany.
Anschluss shocks France into stability
Though Daladier was now in charge of a more-stable French
government, he was handicapped by the French military itself.
The great shock of WWI had created a defensive mentality in the
French General Staff. The great generals had all cut their teeth
on defensive war, while the pacifist feelings among the French
public meant that keeping casualties low was to be emphasized.
As a result, France had no operational plans to mount an
offensive against Germany. In the event of a future crisis, the
French army would merely remain in France. Making this easier
was the massive line of fortifications called the Maginot Line.
The greatest fortifications in history of the world, the Line
used all the lessons of WWI about defensive warfare. When the
next war came, the German army would break their heads against
the Line and France would keep her casualties low.
At the same time, the French military was backward looking. The generals were very reluctant to spend money on tanks, aircraft and anti-tank weapons. The great WWI generals had not needed such weapons. In some years, the French military simply did not spend all the allotted money on tanks and aircraft, but invested heavily in the cavalry. Finally, the French Colonel Charles de Gaulle was a world-class thinker on mobile warfare and especially the use of tanks. For this, he was viewed as a threat by the old generals. In addition, he was viewed as too conservative in his politics by the Republican generals and his career was hindered greatly. On the other hand, de Gaulle�s books had great influence among German military thinkers.