V
The Great Turn

On 6th February 1934, right-wing-extremists launched a street-battle in Paris, overthrew the Daladier government of the centre parties, and came within an ace of establishing a dictatorship. Thereupon the communists, taught by Hitler's advent in Germany, the folly of keeping the proletariat divided, joined with the socialists and soon also with the Radical Party (the bourgeois left), in resisting the fascist campaign. They thereby saved the French Republic, for the time being, and did it so well that, within two years, a predominantly socialist government took over with their support, on the crest of an unequalled wave of mass enthusiasm.

Such, more or less, is the communist legend accepted as valid far beyond the ranks of the communist party. Closer analysis reveals a much more complex picture, where the defence of the French Republic against 'fascism' takes its place rather as a pretext than as the real aim of the new policy adopted by the communists in the spring of 1934.

It is important to realize, in the first place, that the fascist danger in France, whether or not Moscow believed in it, was in fact largely imaginary. In certain circles of the French right, noisy sympathies for Hitler had developed. The coup of February 6th was undoubtedly one of the many convulsions shaking Europe in the wake of Hitler's advent to power. But it is one thing to admit the inspiration that men like Colonel de la Rocque drew from Hitler, and quite another to accept their own evaluation of themselves as a genuinely fascist force. They were not: the sequel to the coup revealed this swiftly and glaringly.

Accepting the resignation of Daladier, President Lebrun at once called for an elder statesman, a former President of the Republic, the septuagenarian Gaston Doumergue; not a choice of the moment, but the man Lebrun had wanted for many months to

-115-

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