Constitutional Reform in France

April 10, 1934

Report Outline
Current Tension in French Political Situation
Causes of the Political Discontent in France
Proposed Constitutional and Electoral Reforms
Fascism, Royalism, and Communism in France

Current Tension in French Political Situation

Brief strikes occurred in France last week as employees in post-offices, telegraph stations, and some other government departments and services signified their resentment over the recent pay-cut decrees by fold-ing their arms and refusing to work for periods lasting from 30 to 90 minutes. Meanwhile, the General Confederation of Labor, which was expected to make an early decision on the question of calling a general strike of all French union workers in protest at the government's action, hesitated before a growing public sentiment in support of Premier Doumergue's attempt to avert a threatened deficit in the budget for the current year. If leaders of the politically powerful civil service syndicates decide to refrain from ordering a major strike, it is expected they will exert every effort to prevent ratification of the cabinet's economy decrees by parliament.

A spontaneous outburst of street fighting between Socialists and a nationalist faction in Paris on April 8 was indicative of the political tension that has held France in its grip since the bloody riots of last February. Frequent reports that political organizations of both the Right and the Left were secretly arming their members have caused fear of new and more serious civil disturbances and led the government to order a close watch on the frontiers against smuggling of firearms from foreign countries and to institute rigid supervision of domestic sales of arms and amunition. Premier Doumergue, taking note of the threat of civil war in a radio address to the nation on March 24, warned that such a disaster would risk “bringing a yet more horrible thing—foreign invasion.” He declared, however, that if his countrymen would “march shoulder to shoulder with faith in final success …the world, which is watching you these hours, will see once again that France will save herself.”

Stavisky Affair And Demands For Government Reform

The $40,000,000 failure of the Bayonne municipal pawnshop and the revelation that Alexandre Stavisky appeared to have enjoyed judicial and political immunity from punishment for his fraudulent deals stirred the whole French nation and brought to a head demands for a thorough overhauling of governmental institutions. Harassed by increasing economic distress, impatient at the apparent inability of the cabinet to take any decisive steps to better existing conditions, and disgusted with a parliament that seemed to be concerned only with politics, the public was in no mood to accept with equanimity the disclosures relating to this affair. The disorders that took place in Paris and other cities were at bottom an expression of the general discontent that had long been brewing.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Regional Political Affairs: Europe