The Fourth Republic
France, though free, was prostrate. The country had been systematically looted by the Germans. Many French citizens had been carried off to Germany into forced labor. Scarcities of food and vital materials helped to increase inflation. The Communists won a position as the strongest political party in France, closely followed by the Popular Republicans. The Socialists also had a large following.
The Provisional Assembly voted in September, 1945, to establish the Fourth Republic. The new constitution greatly reduced the power of the president. De Gaulle resigned in protest in January, 1946. In the following October the voters accepted the new constitution. By its provisions, France's colonial empire was reorganized into a federation called the French Union. In Indochina the demand for independence resulted in bitter warfare between the pro-Communist nationalists (Vietminh) and the French and pro-French forces.
Early in 1947 Vincent Auriol, a Socialist, was elected president for a seven-year term. Shortly afterward Communists were excluded from the cabinet. The Communists opposed France's acceptance of the European Recovery Program (Marshall Plan), and fomented a number of strikes. De Gaulle returned to politics and formed an oppostion party.
To counteract the strikes and to revive the economy, selected industries were brought under government control and an industrial modernization plan, drafted by Jean Monnet, was put into effect with American aid supplied through the European Recovery Program. In 1948 France joined Great Britain and the Benelux countries in a trade pact. Economic progress, however, was not matched by political stability; the Fourth Republic experienced frequent changes of premiers.
In 1949 France signed the North Atlantic Treaty, and two years later NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) established its military headquarters at Versailles. Under NATO France had to maintain a large army for European defense. This, together with the expense of the fighting in Indochina, was a great drain on the French economy.
The Schuman Plan, a proposal to pool the coal and steel industries of France and West Germany by removing tariffs and other trade barriers, was announced by the French in 1950. Other countries were invited to participate and in 1952 an economic alliance was formed that in 1957 was expanded to become the European Community (what is now the European Union).
The costly fighting in Indochina was not popular in France. In 1954 Premier Mendès-France brought it to a close by agreeing to the partition of Vietnam. South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos remained in the French Union, but all withdrew from it in the next two years.
In 1956 France granted independence to Morocco and Tunisia, but not to Algeria, which had a large French population. The Algerian nationalists, already militant, increased their violence, and France could not restore order. The crisis was matched by one in Paris---the inability of cabinets to stay in power long enough to govern effectively. Finally, the French army seized power in Algeria and demanded that de Gaulle come out of retirement and lead France.