Courtesy Reuters

The Blum Experiment and the Fall of France

THE world's first reaction to the military, political and moral collapse of France was stupefaction. This has been followed by all sorts of polemics and accusations. The time has not yet come when the historian, the economist and the sociologist can present documentary evidence revealing the precise intrinsic weaknesses that corroded the Third Republic and caused it to collapse. Meanwhile, partisans will continue their attempts to lay the entire responsibility on certain isolated factors. A favorite myth is that the French social legislation of 1936, and especially the introduction of the 40-hour week, played a determining rôle in crippling the productivity of French industry and in compromising the French war effort. From this the general moral is drawn that the maintenance or broadening of social gains is incompatible with intensified rearmament.

Undoubtedly the French economic structure was so anemic that when it entered the rearmament race it soon lost its breath. The low pitch of industrial production certainly had an important share in bringing about the surprising breakdown of France under the first shock of the Blitzkrieg. But are the causes of this condition to be traced to the impossibility of reconciling labor reforms with the necessities of production? Is the "Lesson of France" to be found in the Blum experiment? Must democracies fail in their fight against the dictators unless, even before the outbreak of hostilities, they put the same restraints on labor, and subject it to the same strain, as do their totalitarian adversaries?

Let us examine the record. In 1936, even before the elections which resulted first in industrial strife and then in M. Blum's bold social legislation, the French economy was suffering from progressive emaciation. Whereas other industrial countries had touched the bottom of the depression in 1932 and from that date had begun an almost uninterrupted rise, the upswings in French industrial production had been abortive. Laval's attempt to break through the crisis by severe deflationary measures had failed completely, with the result that in 1935 the index of

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