Resistance: The Political Autobiography of Georges Bidault
This is a dreadful and sad book. It was written in exile by a man whose career deserves a place among France’s many “defeated leaders”—to use the title of Professor Binion’s excellent book. Bidault, a professor of history at the lycée and a Christian Democratic journalist before World War II, with an excellent record of opposition to Fascism and appeasement, became one of the leaders of the French Resistance. He was elected to succeed Jean Moulin, the first President of the National Council of the Resistance, after Moulin’s tragic death, and remained the political head of the Resistance for a long and harrowing year—from the summer of 1943 to the Liberation. He cooperated with and was accepted by the Communists in France as well as by De Gaulle in Algiers. The General after his triumphant return to Paris made Bidault his Foreign Minister. Bidault founded the MRP, France’s first nationwide Christian Democratic party, was twice Premier, in 1946 and 1949, and held the post of Foreign Minister or of Vice-Premier almost without interruption until Dien-Bien-Phu.
Opposed to any concession to the nationalisms that were destroying the French Empire, especially to Algerian nationalism, Bidault called on De Gaulle to return to power when, in May 1958, the French settlers and soldiers in Algeria rebelled against the Fourth Republic. He soon discovered, however, that De Gaulle’s new colonial policy was the opposite of what he had hoped for: he was one of the countless dupes of De Gaulle’s cunning and deliberate ambiguity. Bidault now became one of the leaders of the opposition to De Gaulle: he supported the generals and colonels who tried to apply to the Fifth Republic the treatment that had worked against the Fourth, and he even founded a shadowy second National Council of the Resistance, which gave its blessing to the famous and sinister OAS—the French terrorist organization that went on a rampage in Algeria and in metropolitan France in 1961-62. During the collapse of the generals in the spring of 1962, he left France, and in July of that year lost his parliamentary immunity. After trying in vain to find asylum in Europe, he went to Brazil, where he wrote this book. He has recently resettled in Belgium, waiting for vindication and the right to return to France. He is now sixty-eight. He may not have too long to wait for his return; but as for vindication….
No pamphlet by a malicious enemy could be more devastating than the self-portrait Bidault has here given us. One does not hope for serenity from an exile, and one fully expects bitterness. But what has the reader done to deserve the deluge of resentment that Bidault has poured over these bloated pages? Can it all be explained by a passionate devotion to a cause which may have been the wrong one, but which he deemed sufficiently noble to justify acts that denied his past? This is part of the story, but …