HI 1022 Europe in the 20th Century
Theme: Crisis of Modernity
France: The Lost Victory
‘The lost victory’: much of French interwar historiography is overshadowed by the knowledge of the rapid defeat by Germany in 1940. Thus the question: why and how did France not manage to profit from the victory in WWI?
There were of course difficulties due to massive war losses. And France did manage the interwar years without a civil war, with some stability in politics and the economy. However, those attempts to stabilise the system were arguably unsuccessful, and the one major attempt to modernise France under the first Blum government polarised French society even more than before. In the end, France was institutionally, socially and politically incapable to marshal the forces to withstand the German attack.
Three themes throughout interwar period
- economic stable development with continuous problems
- attempt to radically modernise political and social system, in particular under Léon Blum
Fordism, Taylorism/Scientific Management and Rationalisation
Some modern sectors, eg automobile industry, but also some very backward sectors, in particular agriculture, made worse by long-term demographic developments (low birth rate)
Instability (civil war like situation) from at least 1924 onwards, under both right and left governments, with huge divisions in French society
After unity on left (Socialists, Communists, and Left Republicans) Popular Front government under Léon Blum 1936
- domestic reforms: wage increases of up to 15 %, collective bargaining rights, 40 hour week, paid holidays, lifting of school leaving age. Inclusion of 3 women as undersecretaries, in spite of fact that women did not have the vote. 'Democratisation' of the Banque de France, though not nationalisation, but some action against the ‘wall of money’. Nationalisation of war industries.
- Foreign affairs: increase of...