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The Three-parties alliance (Tripartisme in French) was a coalition which governed in France from 1944 to 1947, composed of the French Communist Party (PCF), the French Section of the Workers' International (socialists, SFIO) and the Christian democratic Popular Republican Movement (MRP), which at the beginning regrouped Gaullists. The official charter of Tripartisme was signed on January 23, 1946, following the resignation of Charles de Gaulle who opposed the draft of the Constitution, which envisioned a parliamentary system whereas de Gaulle favoured a presidential system.

The traditional political class, which included all right-wing parties and the Radical-Socialist Party which symbolized all by itself the Third Republic (1871-1940), was completely discredited in 1944. Reasons of this lack of legitimacy include first of all Collaborationism of a number of these notables, but also the failure in the 1930s to put an end to the economic crisis. Thus, the Democratic Republican Alliance, the main center-right party after the First World War, had chosen Collaborationism, an option endorsed by its leader Pierre-Etienne Flandin and other members such as Joseph Barthélémy.

Furthermore, the political class was considered jointly responsible for the 1940 collapse of the Third Republic after the disastrous Battle of France, qualified by historian Marc Bloch as the "strange defeat" (l'étrange défaite). Thus, Gaullism and Communism appeared as the most popular forces.

However, Charles de Gaulle, who was in favor of a presidential regime, quit the government in 1946 and from then on remained in the opposition until his triumphal return during the May 1958 crisis. On their side, MRP, SFIO and PCF were credited of between 20 to 30% of the votes each and approximatively 150 deputies between September 1944 and May 1947. Afterward, the PCF and de Gaulle's Rally of the French People (RPF) became the main parties in France, both, however, in the opposition as they could not gather by themselves the absolute majority necessary to invest a government — and an alliance between them was of course impossible to conceive. The three-parties alliance was succeeded in government by the Third Force, which gathered the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance (UDSR), the SFIO and the MRP against Gaullists and Communists.


The Provisional Government and the discredit of the political class

After the liberation of France, the Vichy government was dissolved and the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) instituted. With the discredit of most of the political class, whom a large part had more or less collaborated with the enemy, Gaullism and Communism incarnated the most popular forces. Charles de Gaulle had directed the Resistance abroad, while the PCF was nicknamed the "party of the 75,000 executed" (parti des 75 000 fusillés) because it had spearheaded the Resistance in metropolitan France. On the other hand, the Radical-Socialist Party, which symbolized by itself the French Third Republic (1871-1940), was completely discredited for its role before and during the war, while conservative parties were vilified for their role during the Collaboration.

Furthermore, the March 1944 Charter of the Conseil National de la Résistance (CNR), the umbrella organization of the Resistance dominated by the Communist Francs-tireurs partisans (FTP), envisioned the establishment of a social democracy including planned economy. Classical liberalism had been discredited with the 1929 crisis and its incapacity to find a response to the Depression.

Thus, the GPRF led a policy of social reforms and laid the fundations of the French Welfare State. Besides, it decided some nationalizations in strategic or/and Collaborationists economic sectors (1946 founding of Électricité de France electricity company, 1945 nationalization of AGF insurance firm, nationalization of Crédit Lyonnais bank in 1945 and of the Société Générale in 1946, and also of Renault accused of Collaborationism, etc.) Trade unions independence was guaranteed by the 1946 Charter of Amiens. This social program constitute a large part of the so-called acquis sociaux of the second half of the twentieth century in France.

The GPRF was led from 1944 to 1946 by Charles de Gaulle, while negotiations were made about the new Constitution to be voted for. De Gaulle advocated a presidential government and criticized the restoring of what he stigmatized as the "parties system". He resigned in January 1946 and was replaced by Félix Gouin (SFIO). Finally, only the PCF and the SFIO supported the Constitution's draft, based on unicameralism, but it was rejected by referendum on May 5, 1946.


The 1946 elections

For the 1946 elections, the Rally of the Republican Lefts (Rassemblement des gauches républicaines), which gathered the Radical-Socialist Party, the UDSR and other conservative parties unsuccessfully attempted to oppose the MRP-SFIO-PCF alliance. The new Constituent Assembly included 166 MRP deputies, 153 PCF deputies and 128 SFIO deputies, giving to the Tripartite alliance the absolute majority. Georges Bidault (MRP) replaced Félix Gouin as head of government.

A new draft of the Constitution, this time creating a bicameralism regime, was written. Léon Blum (SFIO) headed the GPRF from 1946 to 1947. After a new legislative election in June 1946, the Christian-Democrat Georges Bidault took the lead of the cabinet. Despite de Gaulle's June 16, 1946 discourse of Bayeux denouncing the new institutions, the new draft was approved by the French people with 53% of "yes" (and 31% of abstention) on October 13, 1946, leading to the institution of the Fourth Republic the following year, where the executive power essentially resided in the hands of the President of the Council. The President of the Republic given an essentially symbolic role, although he remained chief of the Army and was called upon on last instance to set up conflicts.

The PCF arrived first in the November 1946 elections, with 28.8% of the votes, allowing Communist Maurice Thorez to unsuccessfully demand the presidency of the Council.

The Fourth Republic

The 1946 Constitution instituting the Fourth Republic (1947-1958) created a parliamentary Republic, distinct from the presidentialism which would characterize the Fifth Republic (1958-). Thus, governments had to be invested by the Parliament, and heavily relied on alliances between the more popular parties, that is the MRP, the SFIO and the PCF.

The PCF refused to vote war credits for Indochina on March 19, 1947. Minimum wages were introduced on March 31, while Paul Ramadier's SFIO government heavily repressed the Madagascar insurrection, leading to 90,000 to 100,000 dead. After the April 1947 creation of the Rally of the French People (RPF) by Charles de Gaulle, the MRP prohibited its members from joining it. The MRP stopped being the Gaullist party, becoming Christian-democrat.

Tripartisme blew up with the May 1947 crisis, during which Ramadier's government excluded the Communist ministers from government, marking the official beginning of the Cold War in France. The May 1947 crisis could be summarized as: "The Communists' refusal to continue support for the French colonial reconquest of Vietnam on one hand and a wage-freeze during a period of hyperinflation on the other were the immediate triggers to the dismissal of Maurice Thorez and his colleagues from the ruling coalition in May 1947." Hereupon, the Fourth Republic was plagued with parliamentary instability, as two of the most popular parties, de Gaulle's RPF and the PCF, sat in the benches of the opposition.

See also



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