VI. The World Wars and the Interwar Period, 1914–1945 > C. Europe, 1919–1945 > 7. France
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1913, Aug)
7. France
The Third Republic: Presidents: Raymond Poincaré (1913–20), Paul Deschanel (1920), Alexandre Millerand (1920–24), Gaston Doumergue (1924–31), Paul Doumer (1931–32), Albert Lebrun (1932–40).  1
Leading Premiers: Georges Clemenceau (1917–20), Raymond Poincaré (1922–24), Aristide Briand (1925–26), Raymond Poincaré (1926–29), Léon Blum (1936–37), Edouard Daladier (1938–40).  2
The French State (Vichy): Head of State: Marshal Philippe Pétain (1940–44).  3
Leading Premiers: François Darlan (1941–42), Pierre Laval (1942–44).  4
1914, Sept. 3
Fearing that Paris might fall to the advancing German armies, the French government moved to Bordeaux. This temporary withdrawal made it more difficult for the civilian ministers to control the army commanders, and the French general staff displayed a spirit of independence that sometimes verged on insubordination.  5
Although French political parties relaxed their feuds in a union sacrée, discontent and division brought down successive cabinets.  6
In the spring of 1917 the inability of both sides to win a decision on the battlefield and the victory of the revolution in Russia led to widespread defeatism and pacifism. These sentiments became more widespread after the disastrous Nivelle offensive.  7
1917, Nov. 16
Formation of the great ministry of Georges Clemenceau, in which the prime minister was also minister of war, while Stephen Pichon was given the foreign office. Clemenceau's policy was one of victory sans phrase. He set out at once to hunt down the preachers of disaffection (Malvy, Humbert, Bolo Pasha, Caillaux) and to organize the country for victory.  8
Under the leadership of Clemenceau (second ministry, Nov. 1917–Jan. 1920), France survived the final year of the war. Clemenceau took a leading part in shaping the peace that followed.  9
WAR LOSSES. The acquisition of Alsace-Lorraine and of mandates in Africa and Syria did not compensate victorious France for its losses in the war, which had been fought largely on French soil. The 1,385,000 French soldiers known to be dead; 700,000 seriously wounded; 2,344,000 other wounded; and 446,000 prisoners or missing meant a loss of manpower proportionately greater than that suffered by any other belligerent. Of Frenchmen who in 1914 were aged 20–32, more than half were killed. This heightened French concerns over depopulation. In 1920 a statute strictly prohibited artificial contraception and abortion and even punished advocacy of these practices. A growing number of pronatalist advocates also opposed the employment of married women. Even as the percentage of French women employed fell slowly from 1921 to 1936, however, the proportion of women in the French labor force remained among the highest in the Western world. Meanwhile, in the 1920s large firms began active campaigns to recruit foreign labor as France replaced the United States as a leading recipient of immigration.  10
Property damage in the war zone in the north and east of France included 300,000 houses destroyed, and as many more damaged; 6,000 public buildings and 20,000 workshops and factories destroyed or badly damaged; 1,360,000 head of livestock killed or confiscated; thousands of acres of farm land and forest ravaged by shell fire. These figures explain the intensity of the postwar demand for security and reparation.  11
Public finance became another problem in postwar France. The wartime governments had preferred to borrow to finance the war. While an income tax had been instituted in 1916, revenue remained low. When peace returned, financial crisis followed: the depreciation of the franc reached 50 percent one year after the victory. The crisis in public finance thus gave the postwar era the appearance of financial crisis, despite the general health of the overall economy.  12
On the whole, as one historian notes, “the war's effect on France's social and economic structure was to shake it up without producing really revolutionary or fundamental changes … on the one hand, an increased stability approaching stagnation; on the other hand, a growth in stresses and tensions within this rigidified social and economic structure.”  13
The end of the war brought various social concerns to the fore as railway and other transport workers went on strike (Jan.) and the acquittal of Raoul Villain, the man who assassinated Jean Jaurès (Aug. 1914), sparked massive demonstrations (March). The government responded with the long-awaited law making the eight-hour workday obligatory (April 23), but worker dissatisfaction continued to manifest itself in strikes through May and June.  14
The Chamber and Senate passed two remunerative bills, one on the damages caused by the war and the other on veterans' pensions, thinking that German reparations would cover the costs.  15
July 4
The government announced its intention to complete demobilization by Oct. 30. Over 3 million men were returned to their homes.  16
July 12
A new electoral law introduced the scrutin de liste and a measure of proportional representation. The effect of this was to make it more difficult than ever for any one party to secure a majority.  17
Nov. 16
Elections. The coalition that had governed under Clemenceau split into a Right Bloc National (Clemenceau, Millerand, Poincaré, Briand) and a Cartel des Gauches, led by Herriot. The Royalists, Socialists, and Communists were not included in either group. The elections gave a majority to the Bloc National, which was also victorious in the senatorial elections of Jan. 1920.  18
These elections registered a great victory of the Right (loosely composed of royalist reactionaries, more compromising conservatives, and radical nationalists), but on the whole they remained unable to work efficiently in the realm of mass politics. Their electoral resurgences were due often to continued splits on the Left, those times when the Radicals chose to work with conservatives rather than accept Socialist economic and social programs.  19
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.