Downfall of the French Fourth Republic


The Fourth Republic of France emerged after the collapse of the Third Republic, following the defeat of Germany in World War II. This republic was established after the approval of the Fourth Republican Constitution that favored strong executive and human rights violations (Bleich 121). Despite its short term of existence between 1946 and 1958, it was successful in rebuilding the economy and making amends with Germany in addition to being the initiators of the future European Union. Despite its successes, the republic remained unstable as the greater portion of power belonged to the parliament, which meant that the government was for the majority or the coalition of parties (Bleich 121). This would explain why during 12 years of the existence of the Fourth Republic, it had as many as 24 governments. Despite numerous achievements, this Republic did not last too long since the Algerian crisis and the instability of the governments greatly had contributed to its downfall.

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The Algerian Crisis

France wanted to retain control of Algeria at all costs even after it had ceded control of Vietnam after suffering a humiliating defeat from Viet Minh that was under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh (Bleich 122). In French leaders views, Algeria as an integral part of their country; therefore, they were unwilling to lose it. On the other hand, Algerians were of a different view due to the differences in culture and race; as the residents of the French colony, they had no equal rights as compared to Europeans. Therefore, the only way to force the French out of Algeria was through rebellion. The loss of Vietnam was an embarrassment that symbolized the declining French rule on the overseas territories. Moreover, it was characterized by the massive loss of lives, defeat, and withdrawal, which discouraged French soldiers and turned them against their government (Gagnon 2). Consequently, the sitting government lost its credibility, and the Algerian crisis presented it with an opportunity to restore its declining fortune. Thus, the government had no other choice than to authorize a military campaign to end the revolt (Gagnon 1-2). The tactics employed by the French army were inhumane, and they included mass detention, curfews, and torture to gather intelligence and neutralize the insurgency (Francois 66-67). In fact, the abuse of the rights of Algerians evoked sympathy from the French populace and caused divisions in the government.

Secondly, France was in a period when the majority of its citizens could stand against their government whenever they felt that the affairs of their country were not in order. Thus, people used popular protests to force the change or overthrow governments whenever such values as fairness, unity, and liberty, fought for in the French revolution of 1789-1799, were in danger (Bleich 119-120). Thus, France was at risk of being torn apart by the Algerian crisis since it was divided between those in favor of and against the French rule in Algeria in the era of increasing decolonization. Those in support of the rule encouraged the government to continue with the military campaign to end the insurgency, which led to human rights abuse and the loss of many lives. On the other hand, there were concerns that the government did not provide the military with the necessary support to win the war. (Gagnon 4). Thus, many feared that the government might abandon soldiers and French settlers in Algeria and withdraw due to the growing insurgency. This fear even led to an attempted coup in Algiers to replace the civilian government (Gagnon 4). The reason for the decline in popularity of the Algerian expedition was that it did not represent French values, as enshrined in the Fourth Republics Constitution, and the citizens sympathized with Algerians for their sufferings. The consensus was that Algeria was ripe for independence just like its neighbors Morocco and Tunisia. The last coalition government for the Fourth Republic was unable to resolve the crisis since they could not agree on any policy to end it. However, when facing a likely coup, calls from within suggested the return of Charles De Gaulle to head a transitional government (Jayatissa 751). This event marked the beginning of the end of the Fourth Republic, and the Algerian crisis was a contributing factor.

Furthermore, the crisis caused divisions among the French citizens to such an extent that a civil war was likely. There emerged regional groups in support of and against the French rule, with prominent ones being Paris and Languedoc citizens (Whitfield 413). Thus, the Languedoc group was against the independence of Algeria as latter supported the formers wine industry and provided a market for its manufactured goods. However, the Languedoc group was indifferent towards Algerians sufferings, and they supported the integration of Algerians into the French population, with the region becoming an extension of France. They resented Parisians, who dominated in power, advocated capitalism and the liberalization of all sectors to modernize the economy (Whitfield 415). This meant that their industries would no longer receive protection and incentives as before; therefore, they opposed every effort from the group to set the French agenda. On the other hand, the Paris group opposed the French military policy in Algeria as they felt it was costly to the economy and violence even spilled to France through demonstrations and clashes between opposing groups. Moreover, another revolt was about to begin among the families of soldiers deployed in Algeria since they viewed the campaign as an effort to preserve imperialism rather than serve their country (Whitfield 421). The existence of Algerian students in France made matters worse as they had an opportunity to educate the French masses on the brutality of the French army in Algeria (Whitfield 422). These students exploited the freedom of speech, allowed in France, to organize rallies and demonstrations against the French rule in their mother country. This promoted violence as their opposition organized counter-demonstrations to harass Algerians and their sympathizers.

The Instability of the Government

The Fourth Republics' governments existed in the times when power was in the hands of the parliament rather than a single leader, and this was quite different from the previous regimes. This meant that the parliament had to agree on important national issues or at least secure the approval of the majority, which rendered the prime ministers powerless. As a result, political alignments and realignments in pursuit of numbers to sustain or vote out governments were quite common, but this led to wasting much time instead of building the nation (Bleich 121). This explained why during around 12, years France had more than 20 governments. A closer look at the causes of such frequent changeovers would suggest that such factors as party-hopping, strict party attachments in some affiliations, and proxy voting were evident (Rosenthal and Voeten 3). Thus, party-hopping allowed party members to change their political affiliations at their convenience. They could trade parties and even contribute to the downfall of their government, hoping that they would be in the next one. Consequently, this made it harder for the governments to last due to opposition from within.

At the same time, the discipline in some political parties played a role in governments instabilities as members could not decide on their own what to vote for, but they followed party position. This enabled some parties to vote as a bloc, thus making it easier to destroy governments at their pleasure. A good case in point was Christian Democrats and the communists who always voted as a bloc, unlike their Socialist counterparts who could vote independently (Rosenthal and Voeten 3). This meant that if the Democrats and the communists were the majority in the parliament, they could easily determine the longevity of any government. In fact, when compared to Germany and the United Kingdom, France had the biggest number of governments with the shortest stays in power. The average duration for a French cabinet was only 20% of what the UK cabinet members had spent in office (Huber and Gallardo12). Thus, French governments vacated offices once they lost the simple majority. This made it much more difficult for the governments to implement their policies.

Lastly, a frequent change of governments provided no room for ministers to make or implement their policies, as their worries were mainly focused on which side was likely to form the next government so that they could be a part of it. They lacked motivation and zeal to pursue the state matters to their logical conclusion. Furthermore, they lacked authority over their juniors as the latter were aware that their bosses would not last in their offices for long (Huber and Gallardo 4). Frustrations came from the parliament and from the civil servants as well, which rendered their work impossible. This denied France an opportunity to have experienced cabinets to solve the prevailing problems in society. Furthermore, the stability and continuity, needed for the implementation of policies, were not possible.

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The Fourth Republic of France could not last long regardless of the achievements at the domestic and continental level. The failure to solve the Algerian crisis meant that this issue was under the public and parliament scrutiny. The loss of lives, resources, and the divisions of French citizens over the matter did not help, which implied that a collapse was inevitable. Moreover, the parliamentary system of governance made the survival of the Fourth Republic impossible as it reduced the parliament to a playing field for political parties to wage wars rather than serve people. Thus, parties voted governments in and out at their pleasure, hence denying them the stability and experience, needed to run the state. Therefore, these two factors played a significant role in the quick collapse of the Fourth Republic.

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