France History – The First Constituent Assembly and the Gouin Cabinet

On 21 October 1945 the French electoral body ratified the project of General De Gaulle and elected the deputies to the constituent assembly: this came into operation on 6 November and on 23 unanimously granted confidence to the new provisional government directed by De Gaulle.

According to PROGRAMINGPLEASE, the results of the election day of 21 October were deeply contradictory. On the one hand, the referendum, disavowing the communist thesis, gave a clear indication in favor of the position of De Gaulle for a limitation of the powers of the constituent (96.4% of yes for the first and 66.3% for the second question of the referendum); on the other, the political elections gave the PCF the largest number of seats. Held with the proportional to the strongest average and with utilization of the remainders on the departmental level, their result was identical to that of all electoral experiences of this kind: the establishment of some large parliamentary blocs in equilibrium with each other (PCF: 151 seats and 8 allies; MRP: 150; SFIO: 139 with the 31 related seats of the UDSR and the 11 of the peasant party) and the massacre of all parties that are not strongly organized (radicals: 29 seats, various right-wing groups split between them: 53, Muslims: 7). Hence a considerable difficulty in forming the new government: the result of the referendum made it impossible for the Communists to return to a popular front formation: therefore there remained only the possibility of a tripartite government among the three large blocs, to which the presence of General De Gaulle and the participation of other ministers would have given a color of national unanimity. This was what happened on November 23, after the serious tension between De Gaulle and the Communists over the division of ministerial portfolios was overcome. Cohesion, however, was never the strong point of this formation: if the three basic blocks were in agreement – at least programmatically – on the level of internal and economic policy, however “the program of the delegation of the left” of November 7 and the “program of action of the MRP” of 8 had different nuances in constitutional politics since the first insisted on democratic achievements and the second on governmental stability, and in foreign policy, where the left rested on “collective security” and the MRP, while accepting this, diverted the known needs towards the Rhineland and the Ruhr. This last thesis was well in harmony with the position of De Gaulle, already on his own well determined not only to arbitrate but to effectively govern, and meant that, while the MRP – that is to say the new party born on the old popular democratic trunk of French Catholics – assumed the role of “party of loyalty” to the resistant of June 18, the SFIO – abandoning its attitude at the time of the referendum – strengthened its links with the Communist Party. The split was aggravated more with the financial policy conducted by the liberalist R. Pleven, and this at a time when the monetary situation underwent a marked deterioration: the latter fact provided a solid platform for the Marxist left to claim on January 2, 1946, in seat of the budget, a drastic reduction of military credits, implicitly disavowing the prestige policy that De Gaulle had obstinately supported. A compromise managed to delay the crisis; but the majority acquired in the constitutional commission by the social-communist members and the decision to proceed with an inquiry into the French occupation in Austria made any further collaboration impossible. On January 20, 1946, suddenly and with a completely extra-parliamentary method, De Gaulle announced his resignation.

The crisis, full of dangers and consequences, was closed on the 26th with the establishment of a Gouin government, frankly tripartite and with the SFIO as its own political axis (the constituent gave the confidence with 503 votes against 44 of the right).

Not all points of dissent within the tripartite have disappeared (significant is the fact that, while the popular republican Bidault in international fora poses the German problem in terms not far from those of De Gaulle, in Strasbourg, on March 24, the socialist Gouin denies that the internationalization of the Ruhr must be based on a territorial detachment); nevertheless this of Gouin was, despite the constitutional failure, one of the most efficient provisional governments that France has had after the liberation. Born on a public health program with respect to the serious economic and financial conditions of the nation, it is dominated by the financial dictatorship of A. Philip, which centralizes the two ministries of finance and the national economy and implements a rigid program of deflation developed by P. Mendès-France (compression of expenses, tax tightening, gradual abolition of state subsidies): this was, as the right-wing opposition ironized, a return to the old systems of a Caillaux, but with this profoundly different one: that it is expressed within a broader dirigiste system which also finds expression in the Monnet statistical plan for the modernization and reconstruction of French industrial life. The government’s attention is also turned to the imperial plan: the capitulation of Japan in the Far East has raised the very thorny question of Indochina (for which seeIndochina and Viet – nam in this App.).

But the unity of the government, maintained, indeed strengthened, with the vote of April 6, on a strictly proportionalist text of electoral law, was broken on the constitutional project that gave the fullness of power to a national assembly elected by universal suffrage for 5 years.. the bicameral system was discarded; if not discarded, the old conception of the separation of powers was at least radically compromised: the president of the republic was reduced to a purely honorary role; the executive power would have been the direct emanation of the parliamentary majority, which also acts on the judicial power through the High Council of the Judiciary. Faced with this predominance of the legislative power, the constitutional project carried out, with a very large decentralization on the level of local administration and over that of the French Union, the triumph of the association thesis. But it was only the Social-Communists who defended it before the constituent; the MRP, while remaining in the government, became a severe critic and on April 19 added his votes to those of the opponents of the tripartite. Ratified by the constituent with 309 votes against 249, the project was rejected by the nation with the referendum of May 5, 1946 (53% no and 47% yes).

France History - The First Constituent Assembly and the Gouin Cabinet

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