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The Locust Years, the Story of the Fourth French Republic.


Frank Giles. Secker & Warburg. 20.00[pounds].

These two books tell us in vivid, first-hand accounts what politics were like in France between the last war and the death of de Gaulle. The authors, newsmen of repute, were eye-witnesses. These two stories of turmoil and adventurous politics are very useful today when France is once again in a crisis of confidence. Prominent actors on the scene are still with us, President Mitterrand in the first place. De Gaulle put an end to the Fourth Republic by letting plotters, generals and politicians, restore him to power in 1958, as Giles shows.

He was returned to power by the plotters because they thought he would maintain French rule in Algeria. Their task was easy because the French had lost confidence not only in the political parties who operated a Constitution that gave Parliament supreme power, but also in the system itself. The Fifth Republic de Gaulle created gave all real power to the President in its new Constitution. De Gaulle himself, as Lacouture shows, proclaimed that the people, by electing the President had given him supreme power by-passing both Parliament and the Government itself. The referendum and TV appearances were de Gaulle's tools to continue his task of restoring France as a great power. He astonished down-to-earth politicians by winning several referenda preferring to appeal to the people when politicians were proving difficult or non-committal. When he failed in the last referendum to get a majority he resigned, thus ending the Fifth Republic he created. Formally the Constitution remains to this day. But both stories show that Pompidou, his trusted advisor, and most competent adversary fashioned, in fact, a Sixth Republic when he succeeded de Gaulle. This happened because the people lost confidence in de Gaulle and his system demonstrated in the riots and strikes of 1968.

De Gaulle emerges as a leader who was always conscious of the defeat and shame of 1940 and was therefore determined to restore France to a status as if 1940 had never happened. Hence his love-hate relations with Britain, his envious mistrust of the US and his confidence in being able to deal with Germany and the Soviets. Hence his romantic decision to visit Ireland, the land of one of his ancestors, after his fall.

De Gaulle, as Lacouture shows, was not a right wing politician. He wanted employees to have |direct material advantages from the results and enterprise obtained', the workforce to be kept informed by management and its |practical proposals to be taken into account'. He wanted a minimum wage.

Lacouture's inside account of de Gaulle's flight to Germany and of his hasty return at the height of the 1968 crisis that brought his downfall |three hundred days' later makes fascinating reading. It is an almost Shakespearian drama. |The people don't want me,' he said. One cannot help feeling that the same may be happening to his old adversary Mitterrand's Seventh Republic.
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Author:Muray, Leo
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:De Gaulle, the Ruler, 1945-70.
Next Article:Hitler's War.

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