Peace, it seems, is coming in Algeria. But with it, one may fear, a frightful showdown between the French civilian and military extremists and the French government—which, in turn, may make the actual implementation of peace more difficult. And it isn’t even a clear showdown, with clean lines cut between the loyal forces and the rebellious ones. Everything is often so confused that one wonders who is acting for whom and why . . .

For people in Britain who have followed the vicissitudes of France only through the daily press, the French situation must be bewildering. The facts, of course, are clear; but the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows’ must seem mysterious, and I realise many anglo-saxon minds must ascribe them to gallic love of complication. Exactly what aims has General de Gaulle been pursuing in Algeria and is it possible for him to make peace there? Are his power, regime and even his person threatened by the military and civilian fascist organisation called ‘O.A.S.’ (The Organisation of the Secret Army)? If so, why does he keep around him ministers, civil servants and military men whose loyalty seems so doubtful? When fascists organise meetings, where the name of De Gaulle is vilified and those of the rebel military leaders in Algeria are extolled, these meetings are authorised and protected by the police; when large masses of people demonstrate peacefully in the streets, against the fascists and therefore on the side of the government, the government’s police attacks them savagely, wounding many, killing some. Why?

The government keeps in Algeria hundreds of thousands of young Frenchmen doing their military service in the army; all are loyal to the government, even if many are Republicans and have doubts about the effectiveness of De Gaulle’s policy; however, under the protection of this armed force, the fascist rebels have practically seized control of the administration of big Algerian towns and practise the direst kind of terror against their opponents, whether Moslem or European. Why does the government tolerate such an absurdity? The backbone of the strength of the fascist organisation, both in Algeria and in France, is composed of high military officers, generals, colonels and majors; among them there are open rebels, living in hiding in France, or leading a semi-official life in Algeria. But many others have not come out into the open and although their feelings and general political attitudes are well-known to the government, they still retain their jobs and their authority in the army.

No real effort is being made to purge them. But even worse, colonels, generals, majors, etc., known as republicans, or only even as loyalists have been, if not purged, at least removed from positions of influence. Why? This general lack of authority, this philandering with one’s enemies, make the government’s actions in Algeria look utterly absurd: Lewis Carroll’s maddest dreams seem sane in comparison. The government pretends to go on exercising its authority in Algeria, the money on which Algeria lives, and the official pay received by civil servants and military personnel comes from France, all official business, from the smallest act of administration to the most far-reaching decisions is still being done in the name of France—yet the central organs of administration have had to flee from the town of Algiers and establish themselves in a kind of stronghold in the countryside, ‘Rocher Noir’. And the fight against the fascist rebels is carried out in Algeria by secret agents operating in disguise, as they would in an enemy country . . .

Yes, all this looks as if it had been invented by a madman and no wonder foreigners shake their heads in despair. Even in France, not everybody can see through this maze of absurdities and contradictions. Some are tempted to attribute the whole design to actual pathological madness of the Chief of State; others credit him with some dark and secret design by which he intends to deliver France to complete fascism. Everything, however, is more complicated. Yet the whole complexity can be unraveled, provided one follows a few simple threads which run through the whole fabric. I will try to pick out these threads in this article.

I think, first of all, one should stress again the aspects of De Gaulle’s own nature, without which his attitudes cannot be explained. These aspects can be summarised by two dates: 1940 and 1945. Fundamentally a reactionary and a disciple of the royalist ideologue Maurras, he chose to board the British ship in 1940 out of affronted French nationalism and not out of any love for democracy or hatred of nazism. He was dismayed to realise that few nationalists of his own brand followed him. Most were on the side of their class, with Vichy or even with the Germans, while most of the ‘Free French’, and of the French underground, were leftists, liberals, socialists, communists, jews, freemasons, etc. He never reconciled himself to this fact, never liked his new allies, never really adopted their views. At the same time he suffered bitterly from the mass of insults which were showered on him by supporters of the Vichy regime, many of whom were his personal friends. This provoked, indeed, his anger and resentment against some of the Vichy military and civilian clique— but it drove him also to bridge as quickly as possible the unendurable chasm which has been created between him and them as a group, as a class. This was made possible in 1943 when the least pro-German and most opportunistic of the Vichy supporters, after having been regrouped in Algiers by General Giraud, were left without guidance by the disappearance of this totally inadequate leader.

These people, among them the present Minister of Foreign Affairs, Couve de Murville, a high civil servant of the Vichy government (a signatory of the French 1940 capitulation, rewarded for this by the Vichy ‘Francisque’, a ludicrous decoration supposedly copying an old frankish weapon), had no alternative but to turn to De Gaulle. He adopted them in the name of National Unity, thus re-establishing his former links with the right, which have never been broken since. De Gaulle will never again willingly let himself be put into the situation in which he found himself by accident and necessity in 1940, leader of a left he fears and despises, and enemy of a right to which he knows he belongs. This psychological barrier is strengthened by a political one: the memory of 1945–46. At that time, De Gaulle was at the height of his personal prestige. He was truly adored and revered by everybody in France save a minority of diehard ‘collaborators’ and even a smaller minority of clearsighted political observers who realised how ominous the situation was. He was in a position to do anything he liked, provided he showed some of the minor qualities of a political leader; human understanding, tactical skill, a little gentleness and above all, self-confidence.