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"No fatality weighs on the destiny of France": the strong words of Mendès France in 1953

On May 16, 1953, Jean-Jacques Servan Schreiber and Françoise Giroud launched L'Express, a weekly supplement to Les Echos.

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"No fatality weighs on the destiny of France": the strong words of Mendès France in 1953

On May 16, 1953, Jean-Jacques Servan Schreiber and Françoise Giroud launched L'Express, a weekly supplement to Les Echos. In its first issue, the newspaper honors Pierre Mendès France, whom the founders of L'Express hope to see brought to power. Their commitment behind the moral figure of the left is total. In the words of Françoise Giroud, L'Express was not "the newspaper of Mendès" but "a newspaper for Mendès".

In 1954, Pierre Mendès France became President of the Council, where he remained for 232 days. His time at Matignon is marked by the signing of peace in Indochina and the autonomy of Tunisia.

In October 1992, ten years after his death, L'Express paid tribute to this statesman "who always refused compromise". Françoise Giroud recalled: "He did not try to seduce public opinion, but to put it in the face of realities. When he made commitments, he kept them, and, above all, everyone felt sure that he would respect them. That's it. perhaps what we have left of him. The image of a man who keeps his word. Ultimately, he embodied virtue, in the Roman sense of the term, republican virtue. From time to time, there is something feel nostalgic..."

While France is experiencing strong social, economic and international tensions, we invite you to rediscover the interview given by Pierre Mendès France to L'Express in its first issue. He affirms his faith in a discourse of truth and rigor: "Some fear that a loyal and firm language on the present situation will lead to discouragement. It is because they do not have faith in the will and in the ability of the nation to recover. For them, France, physically and nervously exhausted, is unable to bear the truth. They are considered optimists. They are the worst pessimists, because their only prospect is a France which would drag itself interminably in the rut."

Emmanuel Macron, very attached to the figure of Pierre Mendès France, celebrates his memory on Tuesday by receiving his family and several personalities including Jean-Pierre Chevènement at the Elysée.

L'Express du May 16, 1953

Pierre Mendès France has been a deputy for Eure since 1932. He is now 46 years old. Since his resignation from the de Gaulle government in March 1945, he has been alerting the nation to the risks that the absence of long-term programs poses to it. Mr. Mendès France speaks very rarely. He makes an intervention at the rostrum of the National Assembly every year, two at most. However, his coherent, precise, always constructive analysis of French politics, of its errors and its illusions, won him a remarkable audience in Parliament and in the country. In recent weeks, events have once again vividly confirmed his theories. We therefore asked him to explain his views on the current situation and to indicate the first necessary remedies. This is the first time in more than two years that Mr. Mendès France has responded to a major interview.

L'Express: Mr. Minister, it seemed essential to us for the first issue of our newspaper to attempt an assessment of the outstanding questions. We would be happy to hear your opinion.

Pierre Mendès France: It seems to me, like you, that the current situation justifies taking stock of the essential problems, those that our country has had to solve in recent years and those that are still pending. They are almost the same, because nothing has been solved. But now the time for deadlines has come.

- Our recent failures have alerted public opinion to the serious errors of our policy in Indochina.

- Our national income has been stagnant for two years, and the President of the Council has even announced a regression. We are seeing the first symptoms of senseless unemployment in this country where so many needs are unmet.

- The events in North Africa show that we are in the process of creating the same conditions there that caused the Indochinese tragedy.

- The hesitations and lies with regard to our allies have imposed burdens on us that we can no longer bear, and this in the name of a common policy over which we are increasingly losing all influence.

How can such a heavy series of failures be explained?

Men are responsible for this, but also the political, institutional or moral structures in which they have agreed to work. The poor division of tasks between the executive and the legislature, the absence of responsibility (both political and administrative or military), the defective organization of governmental work, the weakening of the State in the face of economic and political forces , the absence of a start from a national and parliamentary opinion systematically kept away from the essential choices, blocked the cogs of the regime.

What are the remedies you are considering today?

There are no longer any specific remedies today, we must consider all the problems.

We did not realize at the Liberation that we were a "new poor" country. Returning prosperity and power to France therefore implied a choice in our efforts.

Claiming to do everything, we have only succeeded in deteriorating our currency without satisfying any of our objectives.

Pierre Mendès France on the cover of L'Express of May 7, 1955.


Your analysis is very pessimistic...

Some fear that fair and firm language about the present situation will lead to discouragement. It's because they don't have faith in the nation's will and ability to recover. For them, France, physically and nervously exhausted, is unable to bear the truth. They pass for optimists. They are the worst pessimists, because their only perspective is a France that would drag itself endlessly in the rut.

But France can recover with a vigorous jerk. It retains its chances from the international, economic and social points of view, provided that it is called upon to organize the tough and great collective effort which is essential and which can ensure success.

A pessimistic picture, you say? When things are going badly, don't hesitate to say that they are not going well. But we must seek and find constructive solutions. There are. Salvation is possible, despite past mistakes. And those who are convinced of this - as I am - are the true optimists.

What solutions do you recommend?

None of our problems can be solved without first realizing that they are interrelated, and that their solutions can only occur together.

1. One cannot approach the problem of economic recovery without solving that of unproductive charges such as rearmament and the war in Indochina.

2. On the other hand, without this economic recovery, we will not have a valid foreign policy.

3. Without a coherent foreign policy, we will not solve the problem of unproductive charges. Everything fits.

The "universal vocation of France" will be better ensured by a success in a program limited to the essentials than by a failure on all points of a program that is too vast.

Are you thinking of Asia?

It would obviously be preferable to maintain our influence in Asia. However, even if it were militarily possible, should we continue our expedition in Indochina if it costs us the greatest part of our possibilities of action in France, Europe and Africa?

In your opinion, should we negotiate in Indochina?

Our negotiating position was better two years ago than last year; better last year than now; it's probably less bad now than it will be next year.

A new opportunity to resolve the Indochina conflict presented itself two months ago. When China and the United States resumed negotiations in Korea, France was also to offer negotiations in Indochina. Our inaction at this exceptionally favorable moment allowed the political situation to worsen and these very recent military failures which, I agree, make negotiations more difficult and more painful today. But do we have to wait for a real disaster to end it?

What do you think of the level of French rearmament?

A great modern country cannot base its military effort on a decadent economy. However, for a long period, the burden of rearmament will have to be borne.

By pursuing a disproportionate military effort, as we have been doing for several years, we are jeopardizing our economic recovery for what are, moreover, derisory results in the area of ​​defence. This policy thus leads to a double failure. We must react against conformism and illusions, against an archaic conception of national defence. Yes, we must reduce the current amount of military appropriations and set up a National Defense organization adapted to our possibilities and our objectives.

After these two surgical operations - on Indochina and military credits - what is the positive program that you recommend?

The resources thus freed up must be quickly used to restore the economic potential of the nation. Only an active policy of equipment, modernization and housing will make it possible - after a certain time - to raise production, the standard of living and, in the end, to assume the burdens of a large modern power. If we do not quickly decide this transfer of a large part of our resources towards productive tasks, it would be futile to try to solve our political or diplomatic problems.

L'Express of October 22, 1982. Tribute issue to Pierre Mendès France.


Could you give some examples of this transfer?

An essential task is imposed on us: to renew and extend our real estate heritage. No problem will be solved until the French are suitably housed. It's a long-term task, but one that needs to be started now. It must also guarantee France against unemployment for many years.

There is yet another task which is very important: we must massively increase our economic effort in our overseas territories. This effort alone will enable us to find with these countries formulas of political association profitable for everyone. I am thinking above all of North Africa.

We must define a long-term program, show everyone the goal to be achieved and the means to achieve it, prepare for the recovery that so many French people hope for.

Do you believe that French public opinion is ready to accept the new political orientation of which you have just outlined?

One point seems certain: the country is not very satisfied with the current policy, because it is aware of its weakness and its uncertainties. The last elections show a strengthening of the opposition parties. The Communists maintained their positions, especially in the urban centres, and the Socialists consolidated theirs.

Also look at the vigorous reaction of public opinion in a few days on the Indochina affair. It was enough that certain aspects of our policy there were denounced for the country to call for measures. And we are only at the beginning of this evolution. Public opinion will quickly become aware that no fatality weighs on the destiny of France - contrary to what some suggest - that all our problems can be solved if we want it.

It is too easy to invoke international commitments to cover up impotence. This pretext will not be used for very long.

If France, as you recommend, changes the direction of its policy, isn't it to be feared that it will lose some of its influence with its allies?

Quite the contrary. We must constantly recall a fundamental truth that it is too convenient to forget or pass over in silence: it is only after a vigorous internal recovery, a new and effective use of our own resources that France will regain an international position.

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