FRANCE LOSES HER PLACE But Marxism is Weakening Fast
From Our Own Correspondent
The French people are ringing out the old year with a sigh of relief, for 1938 has been the most uneasy year since 1918.
1938 opened with a spirit of civil war in the air. Denunciations of the Front Populaire for the forty-hour week, and the depreciation. of the franc on the part of Capital, were countered by the clenched fist and the Internationale.
Ideologically, France was divided over the Spanish war, and French intervention in Spain was still at its height. French and Russian material was being tested against German and Italian in Spain, and French aircraft seemed to be showing itself inferior in both range and speed.
Early this year, France reached tier lowest point in the production of war material, while the industrial disputes were drawing attention away from the laborious giant beyond the Rhine.
Then came the Anschluss, in the midst of a cabinet crisis in France, and the saying was born that it took France longer to find a Government than Germany to conquer a country.
The Right wing blamed sanctions and the Spanish policy for the An.schluss, and still entertained hope that Germany could be hedged in and the Rome-Berlin axis could be broken.
What had really happened in France was that there was a fundamental contradiction between the foreign policy of the Front Populaire and its home policy.
Though the Socialists and Communists refused to face up to this, the country as a whole was aware of it. If an ideological and warlike attitude was to be taken against Germany and Italy, it was impossible to continue a forty-hour week policy with intermittent strikes in the armament industries, while Germany, with nearly double the manpower, had a fifty-six hour week.
The French people are accustomed to grumbling and " muddling through," and they dislike moving until the crisis is on them, and nearly always they say that France is going to the dogs; but there began to be a feeling of real despair.
Lost Leadership of Europe
In three years France had lost her hegemony on the Continent and for the majority of people (who have nothing of the Socialist and Communist faith in Russia) England was the only bright spot. Though at the same time the Nationalists of the Right were dismayed that France was incapable of being more than " Britain's arm on the Continent."
The visit of the King and Queen to Paris rivalled the pomps of the RomeBerlin axis and marked a spontaneous expression of friendship for Great Britain.
But war clouds were already gathering and France was allied to CzechoSlovakia. The Communists and Socialists were for a violent policy which the strict understanding of France's guarantee to Czecho-Slovakia was argued to justify; and so were a minor section of Catholics with unusually spiritual claims who are inclined to make hatred of Nazism the Eleventh Commandment.
Split on Czech Issue
But the majority of people were appalled by the threat of war, especially as the onus of the attack would seem to lie on France against the newly constructed Siegfried Iine. The extreme Right agitated against the war " in favour of Communism and Jewry," the Action Frangaise fought tooth and nail against marching, and M. P. E. Flandin threatened to denounce the war in the Chant bre.
Informed Right and Centre opinion maintained that France was in no position to make war. At the same time, had war come, the French people would have accepted it stoically, and once partial mobilisation had taken place, people settled down to face the apparently inevitable. At heart the French are amongst the least hysterical people in the world.
" Worried Bull " Daladier
At the same time there was a burst of joy at the Munich Agreement, not perhaps so optimistic as in England, but more lasting. For the first time for long a French Minister seemed to represent spontaneous popular feeling — M. Daladier.
The Prime Minister is, at least, something genuinely French; solid, sober, with a stance like a worried bull. He is fond of saying he is a son of the people and is an ex-combatant; but he is not eloquent, talks less than the average and is rough and rude of speech—things making for confidence in politicians. He is very loyal to Chamberlain, the " noble old man."
Since Munich the face of France has changed. The Socialists and Communists are once more in opposition and Daladier's support comes from the Centre and Right. But this change represents a deeper change in the feeling of the country. Marxism has lost ground and revolutionary feeling Is largely spent. There is a strong desire for commonsense in government in preference to ideology.
Perhaps the most fundamental change in France is due to the realisation which has become general in 1938 that France is no longer the strongest power on the continent, and can afford no more risks.
At the same time France is still a very wealthy and privileged power compared with the Rome-Berlin axis. She has a huge empire to defend and the Government's business is now to impress on the people that the preservation of these privileges cannot be carried on without serious sacrifices.
To what extent those sacrifices will be made voluntarily is still an open question; but there is now a sense of reality in France, and 1939 cannot bring the dreams or the disillusions of 1938.