Although not altered beyond recognition, the SFIO which re-emerged after the liberation of France differed in many ways from its pre-war counterpart. Having been badly divided over questions of foreign policy between September 1938 and May 1939, it had remained on the margins of the French political scene during the first nine months of the Second World War and had virtually ceased to exist as a political force by the summer of 1940. Then, having re-established itself as an underground organization during the years of the German occupation and the Vichy regime, it had re-entered politics in 1944 as a more centralized party, determined to impose strict standards of discipline on its membership. The changes which had taken place over this period form the background to that phase of internal conflict which cast its shadow over the party between June 1945 and August 1946 and led to the appointment of Guy Mollet as General Secretary, and it is to them that we must now turn our attention.
The conflict between Blumistes and Fauristes, September 1938–May 1939
The Czech crisis of September 1938, which developed with frightening rapidity, forced political observers in the western democracies to face the fact that their efforts to restrain Germany might well involve them in a European war.
This book deals with an unusually turbulent chapter in the history of the French Socialist Party, the period from the beginning of 1938 until the summer and autumn of 1946. During the late 1930s, the party was still tolerating the activities of two dissident groups within its ranks, the Gauche Révolutionnaire and the Bataille Socialiste, both of which wished to see the organization take a new direction. The intense competition between them as each tried to gather support for its own views on strategy produced a series of major crises within the party during the first six months of 1938 and threatened to undermine the leadership group, which had some difficulty in maintaining its position at the party's Royan Congress in June that year. No sooner had order been restored than the party found itself divided again, this time over foreign policy and the question of whether it should favour conciliation as a means of avoiding war or should come out in support of a firm policy towards Germany and Italy. The outbreak of the Second World War put an end to normal political activity in France but throughout the period of German occupation and the Vichy regime, a new generation of Socialists played a prominent part in the Resistance movement and looked forward to the re-emergence of the party, freed from disagreements and structural weaknesses, when hostilities ended.
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