The Reconstruction and Rebirth of France


By GENERAL CHARLES de GAULLE, Leader of the Provisional French Government

Delivered before the Consultative Assembly, Paris, March 2, 1945

SIX months have elapsed since Paris was liberated from the enemy, four months since the regions of northeast and central France were largely purged of the invader, three since Metz was recaptured, and 28 days since our flag has again been waving over almost the whole of Alsace. While pondering the great events which fill the short lapse of time since the dawn of our liberation, we could explain with some astonishment as did Shakespeare in the early hours of the morning: "Is the day so young?" Nevertheless, it is true that the fog is barely breaking and that we are only beginning to discover both the true state in which we have been left by the ghastly tide, and the extent of the effort for reconstruction and rebirth which will be imposed on the French nation for many long years.

We are not attempting to elaborate what has been accomplished within the country during the past few weeks, so filled with struggles as well as hopes. It would be just as useless to expatiate on the extraordinarily difficult conditions under which we have had to act.

In the political field, the system which had been built on an acceptance of defeat, crumbled suddenly, but it was impossible to re-establish the vital parts and leaders of the government which had preceded the Vichy regime, or to resort immediately to a legal manifestation through the universal suffrage of national sovereignty.

In the administrative field, men of good will, self-sacrifice and competence are at work, but there still exists methods and procedures whose past awkwardness has been increased by the errors of the false Vichy reforms. Moreover, the workings of the various administrative branches were often impaired by the drastic cuts in personnel undertaken by the enemy and his accomplices; by the consequences of a much-needed purge; by a prolonged rupture of communications; and, lastly, by unauthorized interference which opposed the authority of responsible government officials.

From the economic standpoint, heavy blows directed against our vital centers and our communications; the destruction of three-quarters of our means of transportation; the military use of two-thirds of our remaining rolling stock; the almost total absence of imports; the exhaustion of our supply stocks, are preventing or are at least curtailing the activities of many concerns, and are prolonging the total unemployment of four hundred thousand workers and the partial unemployment of one million, two hundred thousand others. Because of this situation, the provisioning of heavily populated, areas has taken on the appearance of a perpetual feat of strength and is delaying the resumption of agricultural production. In addition to all this, our granaries contain only two-thirds of the wheat which is needed to feed us and our livestock has decreased in number and weight. For the great majority of French people, the suffering caused by this situation is added to the suffering they experienced during the four years of our national misfortune, and to the agony in which they are plunged by the thought of our two and one-half million men who are held prisoners by the enemy.

Only unthinking persons could have been surprised by so many obstacles rising up before the nation and the administration. It was only too easy to foresee the waves of difficulties which would dash against France as she was gradually liberated. As for us, we are convinced that our national duty consists of enlightening the nation as to the trials which must be faced. Far from lulling the people with illusions, we have never led them to believe that the enemy's

flight from our territory would suddenly result in the end of warfare, and that overnight we would be capable of circulating throughout France an abundant and steady flow of raw materials, which is the essential condition for an active economy for regular supply and distribution.

We have never pretended to possess a transcendent secret by virtue of which the country could work, live, and feed, itself properly, when it has only one-third of the coal which would be necessary for its industries, not to speak of heating; when its iron ore lodes—most of which are now in the advanced zone—are only occasionally accessible to non-military trains; when there are almost no supplies of cotton, wool, rubber, copper, sulphur, and gasoline; when the country can use only a ridiculously small number of its locomotives and railway cars, and has only one-third of the trucks that were available before the war, and these are completely worn out.

We have never declared that our American and British Allies—who now hold almost all the raw and manufactured products and shipping, but whose production, distributing system, and currents of circulation were directed toward anything but giving speedy help to France—would in a few weeks' time adapt their strategic plans to the obstinacy of German resistance, realize that victory was impossible without us, and consequently modify their war machinery and send us the heavy tonnage needed for our provisioning.

But during these difficult days, we have trusted France. We have supported our action and authority by her very reason and ardor, and as for the stirring trust which the whole nation has placed in us, we have made it the center ana temporary cement of national unity, according to the people's instinct. At the time of my arrival in Paris, on August 25, 1944, a communication from one of Marshal Petain's representatives was handed to me. By virtue of a written order dated August 11, this representative had been granted full powers to examine with me (I quote): "A solution which would prevent civil war". I showed him to the door. Gentlemen, where is the civil war?

In this first phase of its task, the Government's action naturally has centered on essential elements, particularly on giving the war effort a strict priority. For the most part, we have rebuilt our bridges, railways, and power-lines, repaired sea-ports no longer occupied by the enemy, and put our coal mines back to work. For our own use, we have very little coal, electricity, raw materials, or means of transportation available, but even during the most difficult winter days, we have allotted as much as possible to our war plants and military clothing industries. Because of the admirable courage with which the population endured unheated houses, the lack of shoes and clothing, and the cruel restrictions of gas and electricity, each one can proudly say to himself that he has directly contributed to the effort for victory.

While we were fighting, we have courageously reorganized and broadened our land, sea and air forces, which now include one million two hundred thousand men, counting our forces in the Empire. Moreover, when the '43 class has been drafted, we shall call up the '40, '41, and '42 classes. It is true that all our forces are not yet in line because they lack arms and equipment, and the Government does not intend to throw young troops against Tiger and Panther tanks and self-propelled German guns without sufficient weapons to face them.

The enemy knows the value to our effort. On one hand, the Allies have consented to supply us with the necessary material, and the first shipments are on the way; on the other hand, we are manufacturing guns, machine guns, mortars, army trucks, fighter planes, light bombers, and transport planes. We are repairing our own ships. We cannot yet manufacture our own artillery and armored vehicles because this would entail protracted delays. However, I wish to announce that next September, our factories will be gin to turn out new French tanks and that between now and then, we shall have manufactured a large number of automatic-rifles. In spite of all obstacles, we shall tirelessly pursue this determined effort for recruiting, training, officering and arming, until we have restored to France the great armies she wishes to have. At the same time, we have maintained, and I even believe strengthened, the internal and eternal credit of the State and the nation's just confidence in its currency, and I may clearly say that we shall continue to do so.

When the time comes, the Finance Minister will inform you of the new measures he intends to take. With our American Allies, we undertook long negotiations for the conclusion of mutual aid agreements which were signed on February 28, and by virtue of which in a period of time that we hope will be short—we shall receive raw materials and food amounting to two and one-half million dollars, thereby making it possible for our key industries to resume work in earnest.

Lastly, we have reorganized local and departmental administrations and established temporary municipal council and staffs in our "communes". As we had promised, we have restored to the nation the exercise of all the freedoms of which she was so long deprived. Individual freedom of opinion of the press, labor union freedom for holding meetings and forming associations have again been put into practice within the limitations imposed by the state of war. We have now restored to men and given women voters the possibilities of soon choosing their municipal and general councils. In a way do we pretend that all that has been done bears the mark of perfection.

Among the criticisms, in which daily annoyances are expressed—not always without ulterior motives—many are exaggerated and, consequently, as Talleyrand once said: "are of no importance". However, many other criticisms are entirely or partly justified, and I add that I myself could make several.

It is true that the administration was not organized with out delays and difficulties; it is true that courts of justice could not always function rapidly; that certain disorderly actions were committed here and there; that the disbursement of coal and raw materials leaves much to be desired; that rolling stock has not always been wisely used, that empty trucks were in circulation; that food supplies were sent to wrong destinations; and that corrections must be made and simplified methods established in various regional and local services. The Government, which has the duty of correcting ing errors, punishing faults, and solving shortage problems is the first to admit this. But I assert that it is each person's duty to discipline himself in word and action. I assert the taking unfair advantage of dissatisfaction, whether it be obvious or disguised, is evil, for if we are to fight and achieve rebirth, we certainly cannot do this in an atmosphere of doubt, reproachfulness and bitterness, but, rather, in an environment of optimism, confidence and self-sacrifice, which is necessary to the nation, and which it is maintaing with all the strength of its spirit.

Indeed, the events which almost literally put an end to France, brought to light the absolute necessity national rebirth. It is obvious that a return to the situation in which we were seized by disaster, would be a self-condemnation to death on the next occasion. But above all, in the active and harsh world which we can see outlined beyond victory, it is apparent that what we are, and what we are.

worth—for our own good and for that of others—would have but little and temporary weight, if once again in our history, we did not undertake an ascent toward power.

Concerning this matter, it would be trite to say that a great economic and social rebirth constitutes the first condition. We judge France as she is with the well-known resources of the Metropole and the Empire, we judge her with the natural capacities of her people, we judge her in a world that is marching toward progress and we declare that these are the three bases on which she can and must build a new prosperity. Above all, she will need a greater and more rational production resulting from a frank association of all men, who in their various offices will co-operate in all undertakings; lastly, France will need State action, which will be careful not to crush the initiative of competition and just profit, and, at the same time, hold the principal levers of command. The State alone must be qualified to act so that the multiple component parts will form a whole, which will be the advantage of national collectivity, and will be integrated into the whole of world economic development.

Greater and more rational production ? It is only too true that in prewar days we did not use our vast resources to the greatest advantage. In the east, west and central part, our country has the richest iron lodes in all Europe, excepting Russia. Our torrents and rivers contain an exceptional treasure of electric energy. Our country has little coal but could have ensured its necessary supply and should be able to do so tomorrow, for the Saar mines were recognized as French property at the time of the Versailles treaty until Laval surrendered them; moreover, 25 years ago, the Ruhr coal mines could supply France with her just dues and will again be able to do so in the hear future. A country such as this —I affirm—has all that is necessary to build up a powerful steel industry which will produce locomotives, railway cars, rails, ships, planes, machines, machinery for armament factories, steel girders, and buildings, from which springs the activity of mechanical and chemical industries.

Our agricultural production, on a soil which is generally both rich and varied, is capable of doubling its production with proper implements, a good selection of crops and livestock, redistribution of land, improvement of the soil, the distribution of water and electricity, and by improved housing installations and farm buildings. Our North Africa can again multiply its great agricultural progress by the use of irrigation, tractors, fertilizer, and the offer of vast perspectives of industrialization. Our West and Equatorial African colonies, our Indo-China, Madagascar, and Guiana, have already been developed by extensive projects, but there remains much to be done which requires the enthusiastic effort of France. It may seem strange that the Government of a country which is partly paralyzed and waging a hard and bitter fight to ensure a new beginning for its remaining industries and to maintain agricultural production even at its present low level, should make such vast plans for development and prosperity. It may appear premature that in time of war, we have carried out in Tunisia a vast program for land distribution and the cultivation of fallow lands.

But when France is at stake, no matter what may be her temporary situation, it is wise and reasonable to make vast plans and to aim high. We have the means to end our former situation. We have strong arms, sensible heads, stout hearts, and, within our reach, vast treasures to be mined. This will demand strenuous work for a long time, and a great deal of initiative, but at the end of our effort lies power—a power which will crush no one, but, on the contrary, will benefit mankind. This power! Ah! may it become a great national ambition. How could this effort for French collectivity be conceived, if all those who are to participate in it were not called upon to contribute with all their inventiveness, ingenuity, initiative, and sense of responsibility?

We know to what extent technical and social progress developed the qualities of the French working class, we know the important part which its patriotism, wisdom, and courage played in the nation's resistance against the enemy, the part they are playing in restoring order, and the part they will play tomorrow in the nation's rebirth. We affirm that it is just and beneficial that all those who have been lavish of their efforts should be spiritually and physically associated in the management of a concern which will represent a great social progress. We have entered this field by creating labor management committees. I would be surprised if all its lines and conditions were totally satisfactory to everyone, but their extreme importance, concerning social conditions at the base of economy, cannot be denied. We entered this field when we created professional offices, composed of the representatives of all kinds of professions which will come under the supervision of a state representative as organizing committees gradually disappear.

Lastly, the Government is preparing the organization of a new National Economic Council, where qualified representatives of all who take part in national activity, can contribute to this economic task. We believe that this policy of dignified and frank association in all levels of production, may be—socially speaking—the foundation and essential condition for the reconstruction of France. However, if we intend to act in such a way that, in a nation like ours, individual value and initiative will remain at the basis of national activity, and will even profit by further development; if we promise to relieve progressively, and at a given time, the restrictions which the war has forced the State to impose; in short, if we cannot envisage future French economy without a free sector which will be as broad as possible, we declare that the State must hold the levers of command. Yes, we do affirm that it is the State's prerogative to ensure by itself the development of the great sources of energy: coal, electricity, petroleum, as well as the principal means of transportation (railways, shipping, aviation and communications) on which all else depends. It is the State's role to bring the vital steel industry up to its necessary level. It is the State which must control credit in such a way that it will be able to direct national economy toward the vast investments which are needed for such developments, and to prevent groups of private interests from opposing the general interest. As I am speaking to you, coal, petroleum, electricity, iron, trains, ships and credit may go only where the State wishes, and under conditions which the State itself has established. It is the State which directly manages coal mines and communications.

For four years, the Government has explained its policy. But the time and choice of temporary means (assignments or nationalization) are matters of opportunity, and a way for bringing them about must be prepared. Indeed, nothing would be more unfortunate for the reforms themselves, and more ruinous for the nation, than an attempt to proclaim changes by means of texts, without being able to enforce them subsequently. It is incumbent on national representation to make permanent or to change according to what it judges best—the temporary arrangements which we have made, and the ones we shall have to make before they can be coordinated. This structural change which is beginning will have profound consequences. The directing role, which general progress and the necessities of reconstruction have imposed on the State, lead to various consequences in the political and administrative field. Without awaiting the sovereign nation's decision on this matter, we are alreadyfacing the urgent necessity of creating or developing the means for enabling the State to exercise its duty of managing national economy. Not only does the State need competent and efficient men in central government branches, but it must also have for the management of nationalized industries and the control of certain others—staffs, who by their initiative, technical skill, and desire for success, are capable of giving these activities a business-like character.

The Government, which has included public office in its plan of reforms, is selecting and training staffs of government officials and inspectors. I must say, gentlemen, that in this field, as in many others where the selection of the best must be constantly broadened, this task is one of our greatest difficulties. For, alas, France is lacking men, and this tragic void shows in number as well as in quality. But who doesn't know this? Ah! at this point we are broaching one of the principal causes of our misfortunes and one of the principal obstacles which oppose our recovery. If it were a certitude that the French people would no longer multiply, then no matter how we organized our national work, social relationships, our political regime and even security, France would be nothing but a great flickering light. But in this field as in many others, nothing is lost if we are willing to act. In order to call to life the twelve million fine babies who are needed in France, we must reduce our absurd infantile and childhood mortality and disease rates; in the course of the next few years, we must introduce into the French community, with method and discretion, good immigrant elements (this vast plan has been outlined and will include many advantages for some and sacrifices for others), so that at all costs we shall obtain a vital and sacred result.

In the course of this year, the Government will consult the Assembly on the first measures to be taken, and they will be promulgated in time for the long-awaited day when servicemen, prisoners, and deportees will return, and when a great many French homes will be rebuilt. We must add that a change in moral standards alone, can effectively contribute toward having large families, and that such a change may not be conceived without deep educational reforms. The Government, which has already taken measures for the development of youth movements, is working on this reform, with the help and advice of men who, intellectually and spiritually are competent and qualified. If it is true that education was one of the principal prides of the Third Republic, education must also be the pride of the New Republic.

The will for national rebirth is not the spiritual construction of a few ardent men or of a few determined groups, It truly proceeds from the vital instinct of the whole nation, Yes, it is France with all her sons and daughters, France who has gained experience by her long history, and been awakened by the most cruel events she has ever experienced, but who will henceforth be wiser concerning outside realities, and who is now turning toward great hopes. This task, which will demand so much effort during so many long years, but whose success will be greater than any the world has seen, must be accomplished day by day with the help of the whole nation. I well know that a constant and powerful appeal and a great spiritual movement will be needed to spread and maintain the desired spirit among the masses of men and women, so different in their characters, activities and interests, of whom France will be eternally composed.

But this appeal and the movement have been found. It is the members of the French Resistance who rallied the nation to drag her out of the depths, who must now assemble the nation to lead her toward the heights. A single party or a league? Ah, no. Certainly not. No more tomorrow than yesterday. But all good Frenchmen of all opinions and tendencies who, wherever they may be, are setting a good example, must yield before the superior interest of the nation in each of the political, social or professional factions among which interests and passions are distributed.

Gentlemen, by setting forth the plan which it followed in the course of the Liberation, which it still intends to follow, and is proposing to the Nation as the effort for a long future, the Government is more aware than ever of the immensity of the task that is facing it. But if ever we were afraid of this task, we could strengthen ourselves by listening to the deep voice of our people, as one listens to the resonant voice of the sea. For between the insipid shade of decline and the harsh light of rebirth, we know what choice France makes".