"It'll only be an episode," said Pierre Mendès-France the day de Gaulle became head of the French Government on June 1, 1958. But this -- still unfinished -- episode is particularly difficult to "place" in the long history of France. As the Canard Enchaîné said on the eve of the Khrushchev visit to France:
Mongénéral will have a bit of a job explaining to his visitor just what kind of régime this is. It isn't a democracy; it isn't really a republic; it isn't a monarchy either; nor is it, strictly speaking, a dictatorship. Perhaps it would be simplest if he just told him it was a Mon Archie - in two words.
De Gaulle has flippantly been likened to Louis XIV, and more seriously to Napoleon III and even to Pétain; but perhaps one may also say, without any disrespect, that de Gaulle has really proved to be a more successful -- M. Doumergue.
In February 1934 the anti-parliamentary riots resulted in the formation of a "national government" by the aged ex-President of the Republic, who had been specially brought back to Paris to symbolize "national reconciliation", and to put an end to the rioting that had broken out on the famous night of February 6. Egged on by one of his ministers, M. André Tardieu, old man Doumergue soon afterwards began to play about with the idea of setting up a "presidential republic". But in this he failed. The working-class reaction to the "Fascist riots" of February 6 had been very strong, and was, before long, to lead to the formation of the Popular Front; also, there was still some life left in the old Third Republic, and, within a few months, Parliament forced Doumergue out of office. Uttering threats and imprecations, the old man returned to his country retreat near Toulouse, and was scarcely ever heard of again. For all that, Doumergue claimed to have "prevented civil war" in France in February 1934.
While there are certain superficial similarities between the situation in 1934 and that in 1958, the differences are great, too. First of all, the rebellion against the Republic did not, as in 1934, start in Paris; it started outside France -- something that had never happened before in the whole of French history. Secondly, the Third Republic in 1934 still appeared to have full control of the Army and even of the Police, despite the highly suspect behaviour of certain police chiefs like M. Chiappe. Thirdly, not only were the working-class (and the Left in Paris generally) still ready to "defend the Republic", but provincial France also reacted very vigorously . . .