7 April 1947 - Speech made in Strasbourg
Speaking on the Place de Broglie, General de Gaulle announced the creation of the Rassemblement du Peuple Français, or Rally of the French People.
Two years have passed since the great victory of the Rhine won by the American and French armies, fighting side by side, drove the last remnants of the enemy forces from the confines of Alsace. Thus Strasbourg and all the towns and villages of this sacred province found themselves freed from the threat of German cannon. Two years during which, once the enemy was finally defeated, France, Europe and the world have discovered the harsh realities which we must grapple with in order to survive. Two years at the end of which, despite having preserved its integrity and independence, despite having succeeded in avoiding major internal convulsions, despite having courageously returned to its toil amongst the ruins, the French people sometimes feels prey to a kind of bitter doubt and wonders with a certain dread what its future will be.
A great nation such as ours must never give in to this doubt, this dread. However hard the road ahead may be, it would be unworthy of us and deadly dangerous for us to tread it with trembling steps. Slaves may whimper, the weak may take fright. We, though, are free men and women, capable of seeing things as they really are, neither seeking false comfort in illusions nor obsessed with spectres and phantoms. Since Strasbourg has done me the honour of inviting me here today on this anniversary of the final liberation of Alsace, it is in Strasbourg that I will make my wager on the recent past, the present and the future of this country.
The war so recently ended caused a massive upheaval in the conditions of life in France and in France's power. How many of us in 1940 could have believed in our collapse ? Our military collapse since, despite a number of brilliant episodes, our armed forces were broken ; collapse of our institutions, since the regime abdicated its powers : collapse of our Empire, since it was clear that, at this nadir of humiliation, the authority of overseas France could not long be upheld in the eyes of either local populations or the outside world ; and, finally, external collapse, once the world was free to suppose that we had abandoned our true selves in the caricature of fascism and in the capitulation that constituted the so-called Vichy system.
It was at this moment that Free France took upon itself full powers, which is to say full obligations. It was at this moment that it took on the responsibility of leading France to salvation, the task of preserving intact France's integrity, independence and rights, the task of bringing her armed forces on land, sea and air back into combat and leading them to ultimate victory, and the solemn undertaking to restore her sovereignty over herself, that is to say the Republic. Let us recognise in passing that although Free France encountered many obstacles in its shouldering of this task, it encountered few rivals, and that the political parties in particular showed an entirely praiseworthy discretion at this period. Above all, let us recognise that as the tide of events gave birth to new hope, the entire nation gave its allegiance and its confidence to Fighting France. So it was that we saw our country rise up out of oppression, and the results that have been achieved have matched the targets set and the promises made : victory won, liberty regained, the sovereignty of the people fully re-established.
Once our liberation was achieved, however, we began our emergence from misfortune under two perilously contradictory aspects. On the one hand, the gravity of our physical and moral wounds made it clear to all eyes that if we were gradually to heal these wounds and renew ourselves so as to ensure our prosperity, influence and independence in the new world order, the French people must put an end to all the quarrels of the past and must provide itself with a leadership, that is to say a state, capable of leading the country towards its destiny with impartiality, authority and continuity. Instead, however, our old divisions, embittered and aggravated by the nation's sufferings and by the tragedy that still looms over the world, were becoming more rigid and exclusive than ever before. The worrying and unprecedented nature of the ambitions, the tactics and proceedings of one of their number led them to organise along more or less analogous lines. Worse still, the supporters of each party have whipped up among themselves hatred or fear of the others. The only possible outcome of these various conditions was a situation in which no party was capable of governing alone, but all or several sought to share the task. Such a dispersal of public authority between rival groups could only end in paralysis.
As long as I was in a position to preside over the destiny of the state and lead its government with no concern other than for the necessities of the common good, I did so, as you know. Nor did I hesitate to gather around me men of all leanings, in the conviction that nothing was more important to the task of liberating the nation, ending the war against Germany and Japan, avoiding civil or industrial unrest, beginning the long task of relaunching our activity among the destruction and the ruins and, finally, presenting a unified France to the foreign powers, than establishing and maintaining for as long as possible a fundamental French unity, despite the resulting natural inconveniences in the actions of government.
Once victory was achieved, however, and the people consulted through elections, the parties re-emerged, impatient to be back in the driving seat, particularly as regards myself, and in agreement on only one issue, that the way was now open to them. Under such circumstances, and given my decision to rule out any recourse to a plebiscite which, in view of the state of public opinion and the international climate, I am convinced would have led eventually to disastrous upheavals, only two possible solutions remained open to the man who stands before you today. One was to enter into the party game, a solution which would, I believe, have devalued to no profit the kind of national capital which, by the force of events, that man had come to represent and would have rapidly led to compromise on essential matters. The other was to allow the parties to carry out their experiment, although not without having first secured to the people the power of deciding by referendum on the regime to be adopted. I chose the second solution. Then I myself publicly proposed the institutions which I believed to be essential to France and to the Union Française and, at appropriate moments, issued urgent warnings to my fellow citizens regarding the decision they were about to make.
We all know the result. The Constitution, under which all powers derive their origin from, and depend directly and exclusively for their functioning upon, the parties and their coalitions, was accepted by 9 million electors, rejected by 8 million and ignored by a further 8 million. And still it came into force ! Today we can see the outcome. Yet let us not incriminate men, some of whom I know, from my own experience of them, are eminently worthy and eminently capable of leading the diverse branches of public affairs, but whom the system itself constantly misleads or paralyses. In any event, it is clear that the nation does not have at its helm a state whose cohesion, efficiency and authority are capable of measuring up to the problems that she faces.
For these problems are of a scope, a complexity and an urgency that makes them wholly different from any that France has faced in the past, when she was firmly established in her wealth, in a context that was well-known and clearly-defined. Now, it is a question of everything, and everything at once. Urgent action is called for in the economy, in society, in the Empire, abroad, to mention only the most extensive and obvious issues, as we zigzag along a path bordering the abyss.
In the economy ? In absolute terms, we lost half of our national wealth as a result of the war. In relative terms, compared to other nations who modernised their industrial capacity before or during the war, our losses are still greater. The threat ? An ever-growing mediocrity that borders on poverty. The effort that must be made ? First of all, to establish ourselves on a sound footing by stabilising our currency, which involves in the first instance a considerable reduction in spending and hence in the activities of the state. Then to increase our production, both agricultural and industrial, which means that everyone must work to the utmost of their capacity, that we must bring in two million foreign workers, and procure, by all possible commercial and diplomatic means, at least half as much coal again as we are able to extract, that we provide our agriculture, our factories and our mines with modern equipment, and that a spirit of enterprise, initiative and emulation should be encouraged and rewarded in every domain, and that, as a matter of principle, freedom should be restored in each sector of activity as soon as it becomes possible to strike a balance between supply and demand.
In society ? Must we really continue in this state of ruinous and exasperating malaise in which men who work together on a single task consider their interests and their sentiments to be organically opposed ? Are we condemned to oscillate painfully between one system in which workers are no more than instruments of the company for which they work and another which would crush each and every one of us, body and soul, into an odious bureaucratic and totalitarian machine ? No ! The humane, practical, French solution to this overriding question lies neither in such abasement of one group nor such slavery for all. It lies in the dignified and productive association of those who would, within a single company, contribute either their labour or their technical skills or their capital, and who would share openly as honest stakeholders in both the benefits and the risks. This may not be the path recommended by those who are unwilling to acknowledge that enhancing the dignity of man is not just a moral obligation but a condition of productivity, nor by those who see the future in the shape of a termite colony. What does that matter ? It is the path of concord, and of justice bearing fruit in liberty.
In the Empire ? Because we have shown ourselves capable of opening up to modern progress lands which once stagnated in abuses, poverty and anarchy, because we cannot abandon the obligations we have taken upon ourselves without casting those lands back into confusion or delivering them up to the ambitions of others, and because by losing them we would lose our rank as a major power, before the eyes of the world we have both the right and the duty to breathe life into and develop the Union Française which we declared at the very worst moment in the worst of wars. To lead each of the human groups who once made up our Empire towards development on their own behalf, in their own context, for their own benefit, to enable them to benefit economically, socially, morally and intellectually from all that we are capable of, to associate them with mainland France under conditions appropriate either to their degree of development or to the treaties we have concluded, but to reserve to the experience, wisdom and authority of France the supreme responsibility for public order, for foreign affairs, for external defence and for economic activity affecting the whole community, this is the task to be accomplished. The effort is great, the duty onerous, but the challenge is worthy of France.
Abroad ? We find ourselves now in a world entirely different from the one in which our country had existed for centuries. We had become accustomed of old to a Europe in equilibrium, where five or six major powers, despite rivalling with one another and periodically making war on one another, nonetheless shared a similar civilisation, a common way of life and common rights of man, where lesser states were protected by parity between the greater, and where our old continent in fact dominated the world with its wealth, its power and its influence and where France could pursue, with greater or lesser success depending on circumstances but always at her own will, a traditional policy founded on unchanging givens. The picture has completely changed.
Our world as we see it today consists of two enormous masses, both destined for expansion but driven by fundamentally different dispositions and, at the same time, by opposing ideologies. While we may hope that they will not become enemies, America and Russia are automatically rivals. Especially since the shrinking of the earth brought about by advances in technology brings them into contact everywhere, which means puts them on guard everywhere, and the invention of terrible means of destruction introduces into their relations an acrimonious element of concern, if not outright fear. In such a situation, positioned as we are, maintaining our independence is, for us, the burning issue of capital importance.
It implies firstly that the fate of the German people must be determined in such a way that the ambitions, resources and orientation of our neighbour shall never again pose a threat to us. It implies also that we must apply ourselves to remaking Europe so that there exists, alongside today's two great power blocs, that element of equilibrium without which tomorrow's world might perhaps survive under a halting regime of one modus vivendi after another, but will never be able to breathe and flourish in peace. It implies, furthermore, that we must contribute, to the full measure of our influence and our capacity, to fostering international cooperation and its emerging institutions, so that any possible cause of conflict may be examined and judged in good time before the tribunal of the whole of humanity. Last of all, it implies that we should remain what we are, that is to say westerners, true to a conception of mankind, life, law and the relations between states that has made us what we are, on which our influence and importance have always depended, and which we must defend and uphold amidst the tumult of this world, if we are to serve and to survive.
Here, in truth, is where we are and this is what we have to accomplish. Were we not the French people, we might step back from the task and sit down by the roadside, abandoning ourselves to fate. But we are the French people ! When many counted us lost or, at the very least, at death's door, we showed ourselves capable of the heroic and organised effort of national resistance that enabled us to emerge among the victors from the greatest drama in our history. At this very moment our soldiers engaged in restoring peace in Indochina are showing a courage and devotion such as never soldiers showed before. We have not become stupid, or lazy, or corrupt ! Despite all that it has lost, our race is in no way doomed to extinction and even the young mothers of France brought into the world more babies last year than in any one of the last hundred years. While we have our great suffering and our heavy burden to bear, all the other nations have their own and some are finding themselves as sorely tried as ourselves.
Now, however, it is a matter of winning through, of courageously solving, by means of a determined and sustained effort, the problems on which our lives and our greatness depend. The cause has now been heard. We will not win through by dividing into rigid and opposing categories. We will not win through if the state, whose role is to guide the nation, is designed to operate solely on the basis of these divisions and the groups which express them. The Republic, which we have disinterred from the tomb to which national despair had consigned it, the Republic of which we dreamed while we fought for her, the Republic which must now be one with our national renewal, will be founded on efficiency, concord and freedom or it will be nothing more than impotence and disillusion, doomed either to dwindle, from one infiltration to another, into a form of dictatorship, or to lose France's very independence in anarchy.
It is time for the men and women of France who think and feel this way, and that is, I am sure, the vast mass of our people, to rally in proof of it. It is time to form and to organise the Rally of the French People which, within the framework of the law, will overcome differences of opinion to promote and bring to fruition the great effort of common salvation and far-reaching reform of the state. So, in harmony of action and intention, the French Republic will build the new France of tomorrow.