The French Radical Republic (1899 – 1940)

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The French Radical Republic (1899 – 1940)

Aristide Briand ( en.

Aristide Briand ( en.

The essential difference between a (strictly) democratic republic and a monarchy is that the first is a government elected by people who have the correct age and the right to do so, accepting that the politicians chosen then elect among themselves a President who will preside over the people and them. Almost all, though not quite all monarchies embrace a hereditary Head of State – a descendent within a royal family which may or may not be a dynasty. Both presidents and monarchs hope to be popular with the population they rule. If they prove unpopular with the politicians they will be removed by them under one pretext or other – often by violent means. This seems to be a rule of History.

The radical Republic that governed France between the end of the 19th century until 1940 was both stable and conservative, though plagued by sometimes bewildering changes of administration. No party could rule without the support of the Radicals, suitably armed with doctrines composed by the appropriately named Léon Bourjeois in his book La Solidarité published in 1896. This volume, not much discussed today, tried to find a middle way between socialism and capitalism, in an attempt to replace the outmoded idea of laissez-faire, roughly translated as ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’ – the classic conservative view.

The Radicals rejected both class struggle and sleeping dogs and imposed the intervention of the state to give social justice to the weak and impoverished. This idea was found ideal by the people, as indeed it should be, but the Radicals spoiled matters by introducing a fierce spirit of anti-clericalism, dissolving many religious orders, stopping their teaching, and preparing the way for total separation of Church and State. This was unpopular with the people who, as Karl Marx found, favoured religion as their own private opium.

This was the period when the recently invented trade unions federated themselves (the CGT) and backed revolutionary syndicalism. The result was an outbreak of strikes which Radical governments under Clemenceau and Aristide Briand suppressed by violent means. Briand fell in 1911, after which there were seven cabinets in a period of three years; the beginning of world war in 1914 meant the temporary suspension of party politics, and the presence of many more socialist ministers in government.

In 1919, however, France gave an overwhelming victory to the right and the first Conservative administration since 1875. M. Poincaré demanded strict obedience to the Treaty of Versailles and ordered the occupation of the Ruhr when Germany inevitably defaulted on the payment of reparations. It was 1923.

In 1924 a left-wing coalition called the Cartel des Gauches swept into power and became more friendly towards Germany, where many Germans did not believe they had been defeated at all. Then the world-wide Great Depression arrived, affecting France more deeply than other European states and by 1934 the Action Française aided by several Fascist leagues tried to undermine the Third Republic. This glued together anti-Fascist forces and there was a Popular Front in 1936, in which year civil war erupted in Spain. The socialists became the largest party in France, and M. Léon Blum became the first French socialist prime minister. France fell rather rapidly before Hitler’s war machine, and the deputies who met at Vichy (q.v.) voted by 569 to 80 to end parliamentary democracy and the Third Republic in July of 1940. It should be noted by readers that these same deputies were those elected to the Popular Front in 1936.

By | 2015-03-17T17:19:20+00:00 March 17th, 2015|French History, World History|0 Comments

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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