The Self-FulfillingProphecy

On Saturday, 7 June 1947, the American Secretary of State, General Marshall, made a speech at Harvard on receiving an honorary degree. Never has a short reply of thanks at a university had such significance. Marshall, without fully warning his officials, had decided that this was the moment to make the most important foreign policy statement of the post-war era.

The terrible winter of 1946 had revealed Europe’s inability to raise itself out of penury. Economic collapse was imminent, with political disaster almost certainly close behind. Marshall declared that the United States must make a huge effort to combat ‘hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos’. But the initiative ‘must come from Europe’, because ‘it would be neither fitting nor efficacious for this Government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed to place Europe on its feet economically’.

The message behind General Marshall’s speech at Harvard had a wide parenthood, including Eisenhower, Jean Monnet and Dean Acheson; but the formulation, which brilliantly avoided all the mines in such a dangerous field, was entirely his. Most important of all, he carefully made a point of extending the project to all of Europe, including countries occupied by the Red Army.

Marshall’s brief address electrified the governments of Europe, once they grasped its significance. It offered their only hope. Russia, laid waste by the German invasion, was in no state to help. France had no currency reserves left and a balance of payments deficit of 10 billion francs. Since September 1944 it had received close to $2 billion in credits for coal, food and raw materials, but this had done no more than enable the country to survive. The Marshall Plan offered the chance to rebuild. ‘Examples of such solidarity are very rare in history,’ wrote Hervé Alphand. But behind the scenes the State Department insisted that ‘the United States must run this show’.

Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Secretary, was reputedly the first to leap at the opportunity. After a weekend of discussion and deliberation, he sent a ‘Most Immediate and Top Secret’ telegram to Duff Cooper in the middle of the night, instructing him to discuss the matter with Bidault in the morning. A week later Bevin himself flew over to Paris, with a large contingent of advisers fromvarious ministries. The city was still gripped by an endless succession of strikes. After dinner at the British Embassy with Ramadier, Bidault, Massigli, Chauvel, Alphand, Marjolin and Monnet, the discussions continued. ‘There was almost entire agreement on the line that we should take,’ Duff Cooper wrote the next morning. ‘The important thing is the approach to the Russians. They must be invited to participate and at the same time they must be given no opportunity to cause delay. This will not be easy.’

On 27 June, a conference between Bidault, Bevin and Molotov to discuss the Marshall Plan opened at the Quai d’Orsay. The air was oppressive from the heatwave which had reduced Paris to torpor, and the atmosphere was further weighed down by Molotov’s suspicions. He was certain that some sort of trap had been laid for him by Bidault and Bevin at their private meeting ten days before. Soviet confidence had not been helped by an ill-judged statement for the press which had been released by the Quai d’Orsay before the Russians were told what was happening.

Bevin, despite the heat, was in excellent spirits. Molotov, as expected, used blocking tactics from the start. Bidault described his intention as ‘flagrante et obstinée’. (Molotov did not say ‘Niet’ but ‘No K’, thinking that this was the antonymfor OK.)

A great stormon the night of Saturday, 28 June, broke the heat, but the atmosphere was even heavier on Monday morning. Ignoring the aims of the proposal, Molotov read a prepared statement based on a telegramwhich had obviously just arrived from the Kremlin, demanding that the United States government should say in advance how much it was prepared to give and whether Congress would agree.

That evening Jefferson Caffery came round to the British Embassy to compare reactions. Bevin, on Duff Cooper’s urging, ‘impressed upon him the importance of helping France at this juncture’. But Caffery’s reply was unequivocal: if the Communists got back into the government, France wouldn’t get a dollar from America. It was, as Duff Cooper put it, ‘an interesting evening’.

Bevin’s mind was also made up. Bidault’s attempts to bridge the chasmbetween themand the Soviet Union were a waste of time. They would brook no further obstruction from Molotov. By the next morning, he had decided to ‘go straight ahead with the French and to issue invitations to all the nations of Europe to join in’. That afternoon Duff Cooper flew to London to brief the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. Attlee agreed with everything that Bevin was doing and asked for advice on the next step. Cooper replied that the circumstances did not require a meeting of the Cabinet, but a firm statement of support would no doubt be appreciated by the Foreign Secretary.

The conference ended abruptly on 3 July. Alphand wrote in his diary the next day, ‘seeing Molotov descend the steps of the Quai d’Orsay, I said to myself that we were entering a new era which could last for a long time and even take a dangerous turn’.

No time was wasted. Twenty-two countries in Europe were invited to a conference just over a week later to formulate a European plan for presentation to the United States government. If any government from behind the Iron Curtain expressed interest, that interest soon declined after pressure from Moscow. Nobody was surprised. The important point was to maintain a momentum of cooperation. ‘All is going well so far,’ noted the British ambassador on 7 July, ‘and the Ramadier government survives.’

On 11 July, foreign ministers began to assemble for the conference, which took place in the dining roomof the Quai d’Orsay. The table was so long that it was impossible to hear what was said at the far end, but despite the acoustic problems Molotov’s absence meant that everything was ‘unanimously agreed’. Meetings often lasted less than two hours, instead of whole days. This did not necessarily mean that everyone behaved in an exemplary fashion. According to Isaiah Berlin, who had joined the British delegation on the orders of Lord Franks, the European attitude towards the American offer was that of ‘lofty and demanding beggars approaching an apprehensive millionaire’. There was also a tendency to revert to national stereotype. At one point the Italian delegate exclaimed dramatically, ‘If we do not get this, there will be blood on the streets of Rome!’ The Swedish delegate, Dag Hammarskjöld, replied, ‘Maybe you… er… exaggerate a little?’

The Marshall Plan conference concluded on 15 July to everyone’s satisfaction, but two causes for friction had surfaced. The British government’s attempt to maintain the limit on Jewish emigration to Palestine – this was the time of the Exodus affair – had brought it into conflict with the French, who had allowed the refugees to embark in southern France, despite an agreement to the contrary.

Bidault and his officials in the Quai d’Orsay were far more disturbed to hear that the Americans were planning to come to some private agreement with the British over Germany. Bevin tried to explain the state of affairs, but with little success. On returning to the embassy, he and Duff Cooper asked Caffery and Averell Harriman, who happened to be in Paris, to come round. The Americans were told that Bevin had been forced to admit that talks about Germany had been taking place, even though General Lucius Clay had ‘strongly objected to any communication being made to the French on the subject’.

The next morning, 17 July, Bevin went to say goodbye to his French counterpart. ‘Bidault seemed sad and tired,’ wrote the British ambassador, ‘but he didn’t know the worst.’ Only late that morning did Duff Cooper himself hear that ‘an Anglo-American agreement has been concluded for the raising of the German level of industry, the handing over of management to the Germans and other things’. This, he knew, would be ‘a terrible blow to the French’.

When the news was broken that afternoon to Chauvel, Alphand and Maurice Couve de Murville at the Quai d’Orsay, ‘it was very badly received’. De Gaulle’s fears expressed on that winter afternoon at Marly to Hervé Alphand had materialized within eighteen months. Germany, not France, was to be revived as the motor for European recovery. The next step was not hard to guess: Germany would become the centrepiece of America’s counter-Soviet strategy. The Clay–Robertson agreement, as it was called after the names of the American and British military governors in Germany, provoked the headline in L’Humanité: ‘French Mothers Must Start Trembling Again’.

The summer brought a fresh influx of visitors. One of them was Señora Eva Duarte de Perón, who had come on an official visit – the perfect opportunity to take Dior’s New Look back to Argentina. As a matter of courtesy, the French government awarded her a minor decoration: what used to be called a ‘dinner medal’. Hervé Alphand made the presentation at the Quai d’Orsay; but when Evita Perón took off her thin summer coat, she revealed a dress cut so low that Alphand simply could not decide where to pin it. Finally he opted for a point between bosomand waist.

The most striking play of 1947 was, without doubt, Jean Genet’s Les Bonnes. His idea of writing a play about two maids who plotted to murder their mistress dated back to the autumn of 1943. Genet denied that it was based on the notorious case of the Papin sisters before the war and, although there were superficial parallels with reality, the plot was entirely his own.

Bérard and Kochno first talked to Louis Jouvet, the great actor who was also the director of the Théâtre de l’Athénée, about Genet’s play when they were all down in the Midi. Jouvet refused to consider the idea until after he returned to Paris; on his return, however, he found himself assailed by other fervent believers in the play, including Cocteau and Marie-Blanche de Polignac. Cocteau handed over the manuscript ‘as though it were a treasure’.

During its run from the spring, it provoked a fury among audiences and reviewers. Genet even punched the critic of Le Figaro for what he wrote. Sartre and other friends supported him loyally, so loyally indeed that they managed to swing the jury of the Prix de la Pléiade to give Genet the prize that year, even though he was not strictly eligible.

The famille Sartre was less well disposed towards André Breton, who, since his return to France, had with Marcel Duchamp started to organize a second international exhibition of Surrealism in Paris at the new Galerie Maeght. He planned to build a staircase with each step modelled as the cover of a book whose title was linked to the Tarot pack. There would be a ‘salle de superstitions’ and another roombeyond with a dozen octagonal cells, each dedicated to a sign of the zodiac and containing a voodoo altar. The last room would be a kitchen serving ‘a surrealist meal, above all distinguished by a new taste’.

Breton and his Surrealist friends completed the preparatory work for the exhibition during the first week of July. When Madame Maeght, the owner of the gallery, saw what they had done, she screamed: ‘We’re ruined!’ But the exhibition attracted huge crowds and, instead, the Galerie Maeght was made. Soon the Maeghts were exhibiting Braque, Miró and Chagall; and, most important of all, they obtained a monopoly on Giacometti’s work by paying for all his casting. *

The exhibition included works by Max Ernst, Miró and Tanguy, but Breton was forced to conclude that the Surrealist movement as a whole showed little sign of life, except perhaps in Romania and Czechoslovakia. He took comfort, however, from the controversy which the exhibition had provoked over three months. ‘It’s wonderful,’ he said, ‘to be so reviled at our age.’

Since the Communist ministers left Ramadier’s government in May, a dangerous air of unreality had affected the party leadership. Thorez and his colleagues continued to speak and act as though their removal from government was simply a temporary setback. They had been partially seduced by the trappings and self-importance of ministerial rank, but an equally important influence was a gut instinct that tripartisme must be resumed: only by working from within could the party come to power. But the real problem lay elsewhere. The lack of firm direction from Moscow had allowed them to lapse into a false sense of security. Even Thorez and Duclos, with all their experience of the Kremlin’s capricious logic, had half-forgotten what Stalin’s absolute priority – the Soviet Union before everything – could do to subordinate foreign parties. They were soon to be brutally awakened.

In September 1947 nine European Communist parties received invitations from Warsaw to send delegations to a secret meeting. The real organizer of this conference was Andrei Zhdanov, who had ruthlessly directed the defence of Leningrad against the Germans. On 22 September, the delegations arrived at a huge hunting lodge at Sklarska Poreba in south-west Poland. Only two of them, the French and the Italians, came from outside the Soviet bloc. They included neither Thorez, nor the Italian Communist leader, Palmiro Togliatti. Jacques Duclos, who was accompanied by Étienne Fajon, arrived in affable, even self-satisfied form. As a veteran of international Communist conferences, he seems to have been confident that he would acquit himself satisfactorily.

Zhdanov put this secret meeting in its international context, from the dissolution of the Comintern in May 1943. He made no mention of the Comintern’s successor organization, the International Section of the Soviet Central Committee Secretariat. Clearly it was more convenient, in view of the abrupt change of party line about to be revealed, to pretend that there had been virtually no further contact between Moscow and its satellite parties. Zhdanov nevertheless argued that ‘such a separation between parties is bad and harmful and, basically, is not natural’. In other words the laisser-aller of the immediate post-war period had come to an end.

It is astonishing that Jacques Duclos, a veteran of the Comintern, did not perceive the full implications of Zhdanov’s speech. When called upon to speak, his account of the French Communist Party’s activities since the Liberation was complacent in the extreme. Zhdanov left the ritual humiliation of the French Communist Party to the Yugoslav delegation of Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas. Duclos was horrified at the depth of the trap into which he had fallen. His only chance was to grovel without hesitation.

The point of the conference was already clear. Zhdanov, on Stalin’s orders, was setting up a neo-Comintern, to be called the Cominform, to mobilize foreign Communist parties to defend the Soviet Union against a reconstituted Germany and the economic backing to an American hegemony in Europe – the ‘Plan Truman–Marshall’. ‘France has sacrificed half of its autonomy,’ claimed Zhdanov, ‘because the credits offered it by the United States in March 1947 were conditional upon the elimination of the Communists from the government.’ * France and England were therefore ‘the victims of American blackmail’.

Zhdanov quoted their leader. ‘Comrade Stalin has said: “In short, the policy of the Soviet Union to the German problem boils down to the demilitarization and the democratization of Germany. These are the most important conditions for installing a lasting and solid peace.” This policy of the Soviet Union towards Germany meets the frenetic resistance of the imperialist circles in the United States and England. America has broken with Roosevelt’s old course and is switching to a new policy – to a policy of preparing new military adventures.’

Duclos returned to Paris shaken and angry. Soon after his arrival, a meeting of the French politburo was called to discuss the débâcle. Duclos summed up the conclusions: ‘Zhdanov said that whether Communists were in government or in opposition was a problem of no interest, and we had been far too preoccupied with it. The only objective is to destroy the capitalist economy and systematically to unify the living forces of the nation. In future the Kremlin will be completely indifferent to whether or not Communists are in or out of government, but all parties must fight against economic aid from the United States. He also insisted on the need to destabilize the government.’

Thorez must have had to suppress a grim smile when remembering Stalin’s personal instruction in late 1944 not to rock de Gaulle’s boat, and the subsequent approval of their policy from Ponomarev. But he, like Duclos, was too old a hand to complain. There was no time to be wasted. The whole of the French party had to be turned round. Even if they won in the next elections, they could not even contemplate entering government, because it would ‘look too much like a compromise’.

The Cominform was to be based in Belgrade ‘to avoid problems’, such as the ‘calumny’ that the Kremlin controlled foreign Communist parties and the ‘lie’ that the new organization was simply the old Comintern under fresh colours. This plan did not last long – Tito was pronounced a heretic the following year – but the basic arrangements, especially the newly tightened control over foreign Communist parties, were unaffected. ‘Information on attack groups, training schools for cadres and arms depots will be collated there [in Belgrade],’ stated the Kremlin report. ‘Paris and Rome can put forward their proposals but they must follow the decisions taken by the Cominform in Belgrade. Duclos underlined the importance of this, because Moscow will completely control the activity of the French Communist Party.’

To comply with the order to prepare for clandestine activity, if not civil war, Auguste Lecoeur received orders from Thorez to make all necessary arrangements. Lock-up garages were acquired, as well as vehicles which could not be traced to any member of the party. Secret printing presses and radio transmitters were obtained or reconditioned. Groups with expert engravers were told to start preparing sets of identity papers, passports and ration books. Weapons hidden since the autumn of 1944 were dug up and oiled.

Most people remained untouched, ignorant of such dangers, but some hint tainted the atmosphere. Koestler and Mamaine Paget returned to Paris at the end of September, just when the Cominform was meeting in Poland. On the evening of 1 October 1947, they met André Malraux and his wife, Madeleine, in the bar of the Plaza-Athénée, which, according to Mamaine, was ‘full of glamorous demi-mondaines in extravagant clothes’. Malraux, after much indecision, decided to take them to the Auberge d’Armailhès. There they ate caviar and blinis and soufflé sibérien, and drank vodka. Malraux became rather drunk. He told them ‘that in using his reputation as a man of the Left to help the reactionaries he was taking a big gamble, in which he believed he would succeed; but if he didn’t (i.e. if de Gaulle, once in power, did not act as Malraux thought he should) he would feel he had betrayed the working class and there would be nothing left for him but to se faire sauter la cervelle. When K. said “What about the General’s entourage?” Malraux replied “L’entourage du Général, c’est moi.” We thought this rather silly, but were later told that Malraux is in fact the only man who dares to give de Gaulle advice, who sees his speeches before he makes them, etc.’

Exactly a week later, Albert Camus and his wife, Francine, gave a picnic dinner for Koestler and Mamaine. Everyone brought food and drink. Koestler, with his compulsive generosity, which could seem ostentatious, brought a cold roast chicken, a lobster and champagne for the others, and shrimps and clams for himself and Mamaine. They were accompanied by Mamaine’s twin sister, Celia, and the American journalist Harold Kaplan. The other guests were Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Koestler, who had seen little of Sartre since the attack on his book in Les Temps modernes the previous autumn, could not resist another skirmish. When Harold Kaplan left, Sartre attacked the American as ‘anti-semitic and anti-negro and anti-liberty’. Koestler was so furious ‘that he let fly at Sartre and said who are you to talk about liberty, when for years you’ve run a magazine which was communisant, and thus condoned the deportation of millions of people from the Baltic states?’ According to Mamaine Paget, ‘Sartre was a bit taken aback by this, and as the atmosphere had anyway become intolerable we left.’

Koestler wrote a letter of apology to Sartre the next morning. He ‘received in return a long letter in his small, neat hand, which was both endearing and characteristic’. Yet as events soon showed, Sartre’s friendships, partly as a result of Simone de Beauvoir’s influence, could not transcend politics.

Koestler’s dislike for Simone de Beauvoir became intense: ‘At times she reminded me of the tricoteuses.’ On his return to Wales, he decided to write an article on Parisian intellectuals ‘in which Le Petit Vieux Ivan Pavelitch, leader of the Existenchiks, and Simona Castorovna and other friends play their parts’.

Yet Sartre himself still stood out against the Communists. In the July issue of Les Temps modernes he had written: ‘Stalinist policy is incompatible with an honest approach to the literary profession.’ The Communist attacks on him even encouraged Ramadier’s government to offer the editorial board of Les Temps modernes a weekly programme on the radio. But a scathing satire on the Gaullists after the RPF enjoyed a sensational victory in October at the municipal elections caused a bitter row. Some suggested that Sartre should be imprisoned, but de Gaulle, who had a French respect for ideas, replied, ‘On n’embastille pas Voltaire.’ The most angry of all the General’s entourage was André Malraux: he was determined to take revenge.


De Gaulle did not hide his disdain for Ramadier’s coalition of Socialists and Christian Democrats, which became known as the Third Force because it stood between Gaullism on the right and Communism on the left. He rather hoped for a general strike, which he was certain would cause the collapse needed to persuade the country to call him back to power. His ‘égocentrisme vertigineux’, as Claude Mauriac described it, seemed to be reinforced by the success his Rassemblement was enjoying. His speech at an RPF rally at Vincennes on 5 October, an attack on Soviet dictatorship, was reported back to Washington as ‘a spectacular success’ – an opinion widely shared.

Other RPF meetings were less decorous, especially when held in working-class areas. Gaston Palewski had ‘a wonderful new tease for the Communists,’ Nancy Mitford wrote to her sister Diana Mosley. ‘He makes the chief agitator come on to the platform and then says now I only want to ask one question – si les blindés russes envahissaient la France [if Russian tanks were to invade France] would you fight to defend le territoire? So the poor type doesn’t know what to reply and it always ends up in a free fight!’ On 17 October, when a Socialist yelled at Thorez that he was a deserter, the burly ex-miner punched him hard in the face and then left his bodyguards to continue the thrashing.

The greatest triumph for the RPF came with the results of the municipal elections on Sunday, 19 October. Rassemblement candidates won 38 per cent of the vote against the Communist Party’s 30 per cent. The Socialists achieved only 19 per cent. Such a result, compounded by an even greater swing to Gaullist candidates in the second round, lifted conservative hearts.

A few days later, at lunch at the Escargot, Duff Cooper and Louise de Vilmorin heard the latest news of the Rassemblement from Malraux, who told them that the Gaullists were ‘very pleased with the story that when the results of last Sunday’s elections were coming out on the radio [the General] switched it off and played patience’.

Whatever the Gaullist successes, the real struggle was developing between the Communist Party and the CGT on one side and the government on the other. The Communist objective was to destroy the French economy before the Marshall Plan could be made to work.

Britain, which still had the commitments of a world power, reached the point of bankruptcy in October; and Europe as a whole faced ruin that winter after the drought and disastrous harvest. The question for many, ever since Vyshinsky had accused the Americans and the British of preparing to fight, was not whether the Marshall Plan would have a chance to work, but whether the third world war would break out first. Madame de Gaulle timidly broke into a lunch-time discussion to suggest that there might be an enemy parachute drop round Colombey-les-deux-Églises in the first few hours of hostilities.

Almost all gatherings in Paris that autumn had a nervous edge. ‘People talk only of the imminence of war!’ wrote Roger Martin du Gard to André Gide, who had just been awarded the Nobel Prize. ‘People don’t doubt that it will happen, they only discuss how soon it will start. It is hard to react against this atmosphere of inevitable catastrophe!’ Offcials and ambassadors at parties found themselves buttonholed by frightened women and men who asked how many days it would take the Russians to reach the Channel ports or the Pyrenees.

Cold War fever had affected both sides of the Atlantic. It was depressing, wrote Duff Cooper to the British Foreign Secretary, but not surprising, that even Bidault should be catching it, ‘when supposedly responsible people, such as the American Senator Bridges, shout down the dinner table at the American Embassy – “Say, Monsieur Bidault, we want to know what you’re going to do when we drop our first atomic egg on Moscow.”’

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