France: A Nation in Agony

France: A Nation in Agony

The French Left has finally returned to political action. On October 27, 1960, summoned by the National Union of French Students and joined by the independent unions—Force Ouvriere, the French Confederation of Christian Workers and the autonomous teachers unions 20,000 to 25,000 Parisians demonstrated for Algerian peace and the defense of civil liberties.

In size it was not an imposing affair. However, a completely novel event occurred in the Salle de la Mutualite at the edge of the Latin Quarter: for the first time the Gaullist government was forced to allow a leftist demonstration against its policies. The Communists tried to take over; then, realizing that they could not do so, boycotted the demonstration. The police began by banning the meeting and then, when the organizers threatened to hold it anyway, finally authorized a meeting in a hall seating scarcely 3,000 people.

First to ban, then to permit: that is typical of the Gaullist government which gives ground whenever it encounters a force determined to resist it. But this was the first time since the existence of the Fifth Republic that the regime drew back before the Left.

The hall was packed. Outside, an immense crowd milled about peaceably. At least three-fourths of those present were of the younger generation of French intellectuals. The speeches had little in common with traditional French rhetoric: no ready-made formulas, no lyric flights, no pathos. A dryness, a purposefulness, an exactness which were a revelation to one who has long been active in French politics.