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Oppositions in France: An Interpretation*

  • Roy C. Macridis


IN A RECENT TALK GIVEN BEFORE THE STUDENTS OF THE SCHOOL OF Commerce in Paris Monsieur Michel Debré identified three forms of political oppositions : programmatic opposition typical of the ‘Anglo-Saxon countries’ opposition to the regime, prevalent in the Third and Fourth French Republics and revolutionary opposition, directed against the social and economic order. Unless the French Communist Party, he noted, accepts the republican regime based on peaceful alternations of the government and unless, he added for good measure, it ceases to be influenced by an outside power, it cannot become an ‘opposition’. The only opposition that is acceptable, he concluded – and nobody who knows Mr Debré's political career under the Fourth Republic can miss the irony – is the one that recognizes the legitimacy of the institutions and acts for the purpose of replacing the government.



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1 Reported in le Monde 2 December 1971.

2 Debré, Michel, La Nouvelle Constitution (pamphlet), 1958, reprinted in full in the Revue Française de Science Politique, Vol. IX, No. 1, 03 1959, pp. 729.

3 Grosser, Alfred, ‘France—Nothing but Opposition’, in Dahl, Robert (ed.), Political Oppositions in Western Democracies, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1965.

4 The Tables are taken from the Année Politique of 1954 and 1955.

5 The Table is taken from the Année Politique of 1954. I have spared the reader the intricate matter of intra‐party ‘oppositions’. With the exception of the Communist Party all other parties in the Fourth Republic split internally. The EDC vote provides a good illustration. More than half of the socialists opposed the EDC. After the end of the war in Indochina the Radicals mounted an increasingly effective opposition against Mendès‐France In 1957 they were divided into three groups. Many of the MRP members rebelled against the Indochina policy and the continuation of the war in Algeria while others supported it. The moderates and later the National Centre of Independents can be defined as a congerie of groupings moving in opposing directions.

6 Crozier, The Bureaucratic Phenomenon, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

7 See Hoffman, Stanley, ‘French Psycho‐drama; de Gaulle's Anti‐Communist Coup’, The New Republic, 31 08 1968 , pp. 1521.

8 For a brief survey and analysis of the elections of 1969 see my ‘Pompidou and the Communists’, in Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 47, No. 4, Autumn 1969.

9 See the articles by Thomas Ferenzi, Des Partis aux Groupes Parlementaires in le Mod, 18 and 19 November 1971. In the last Congress of the UDR held in Strasbourg on 19–21 November 1971, Pompidou insisted that the UDR was a ‘movement’ and Chaban Delmas declined the leadership of the party. Thus the contradiction between the national role of the president and the partisanship of a party leader ‐ is evaded. But then is the UDR the kind of a programmatic party that Debré invites the other parties to become? Where does the ‘majority’ end and the party begin within the Gaullist movement?

* Excerpt from McLennan, Barbara (ed.), Political Opposition and Dissent, to be published by The Dunellen Company, New York.

Oppositions in France: An Interpretation*

  • Roy C. Macridis


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