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The reconstruction of France after the Second World War must be understood in relation to two regime changes and two colonial wars, without forgetting the wave of nationalizations which transformed the economic and political culture of the country.

Professor at New York University, Herrick Chapman, specialist in French history, published in 2018 a long analysis of post-war France entitled Frances Long Reconstruction. In search of the modern Republic. The French translation, relatively quick and very careful, was published in fall 2021 by Presses de Science Po.

On a subject largely addressed by historiography on both sides of the Atlantic, the work presents itself as a defense of several original theses without being completely new, which the author sets out in a synthetic way in the foreword to the French edition then developed throughout the following seven chapters. These in turn address the questions of the re-foundation of the Republic, the workforce (including immigrants, whose contradictions and difficulties Chapman highlights), taxation and its reform, family policy, businesses. and the nationalization of some of them, the weight of colonial wars in political affairs and the contrasting personalities of reformers like Pierre Mends France and Michel Debr.

Victory of technocracy

The first thesis concerns the chronology and justification of the expression long reconstruction. For Chapman, reconstruction – in the political sense of the transition from a regime founded to XIXe century a republic modern in the following century — can only be understood by including the two regime changes — IVe and Ve Republics — and the two colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria.

For him, the period from 1944 to 1962 forms a whole during which a tension between democracy and technocracy (p. 20) which ended with the victory of the second. A laborious victory, the analysis of which makes it possible to follow both the ruptures and the continuities with previous periods and to call into question the usual chronology.

When I came to see reconstruction as a moment of protest at the same time as cooperation, of civic activity at the same time as governmental interventionism, of precariousness for some and a rise in the standard of living for others, the Thirty Glorious Years became more apparent. seems more like a myth than a useful category of analysis (p. 10).

In this, the author joins recent reflections on the shadows of the Thirty Glorious Years, presented in particular by Cline Pessis, Sezin Topu and Christophe Bonneuil in Another story of the Thirty Glorious Years (The Discovery, 2013). A long reconstruction therefore, during which French democracy was redefined.

The second thesis is based on a reflection on democracy which, according to the author, must be understood as a balance between the role of the state – the high embodied by elites and experts — and that of civil society (a term which is not used, in favor of that of down). For him it is not only a question of opposing a history of France from the top that down belowanother popular issue, but to understand what is at stake between the two.

The tax question

Thus the Poujadist movement is analyzed as a struggle against state authoritieswhose creative and innovative aspects should not be underestimated.

As conservative as the small businessmen were in their desire to preserve their familiar economic environment, they demonstrated a real talent for political innovation in combating the state, expanding the repertoire of democratic protest that emerged from the reconstruction era. (pg. 128)

The demonstrations across the territory in 1947 and 1953, both against Parisian dirigisme and against tax inspectors and market regulation, are in the author's eyes one of the important aspects of this struggle, while has gone almost unnoticed by studies devoted to IVe Republic (p. 134).

In contrast to the Poujadist movement, family policy, another source of conflict within political parties and public opinion, particularly because of the place of women in the labor market, has been driven at least as much by the state as by civil society. .

Here, the contrast with the history of tax reform is sharp. In the tax domain, top-down initiatives, concentrated expertise, weak interest group mediation, and popular protest combined to produce a disruptive reform trajectory. On the other hand, the area of ​​family policy found itself in almost the opposite situation. Ideas for reform came from both the bottom and the top. (pg. 251)

Once this is established, Chapman recalls the continuity of family policies since the 1930s through Vichy (family allowances, single salary, maternal and child protection, Social Security).

Corporate cultures, political cultures

The post-war nationalizations are a new opportunity to bring about a difference of point of view and focus in the history of reconstruction. Most textbooks associate the post-war years with innovations in business, nationalization and planning (p. 255). However, by studying the three successive waves of nationalizations, in time (1944, 1945-1946, 1948) and in their modalities, the author notes that the nationalized companies asserted themselves throughout the long reconstruction as major sites of contestation over the role of the state and the attempt to reconcile top-down recovery campaign and democratic renewal (p. 257).

Thus, the nationalized industry remained a strategic bastion of CGT And the greatest success of the workers was the status that Marcel Paul created for the agents ofEDF and of GDF (p. 272). The analysis of nationalizations allows the author to make distinctions between the different sectors. As it happens, EDF stands out from other public companies by union and worker participation, the difference from the banking sector, the coal mines representing a middle path (p. 297).

In terms of the functioning of the state and its relations with citizens, the colonial wars, in Algeria more than Indochina, restricted democratic participation and strengthened its authority. From this point of view, two men symbolize in the eyes of the author the positions in the debate on the modernization of the country, through the use of a centralized administrative authority which would leave room for democratic participation: Pierre Mends France, left, and Michel Debr, right .

If the author concludes the victory of the technocrats and experts in the Gaullian Republic, he nevertheless thinks that the demonstrations and strikes of May 1968 were a moment of reappropriation by citizens of revolutionary traditions (1789, 1848, the Commune) to confront the practical realities of governance from above in the modern Gaullist state. Students, workers and civil servants have maintained the tradition of street demonstrations at the heart of the democratic repertoire. The state gave them abandoned a notable part of the democratic game.

Less than revelations on the history of France between 1945 and 1962, readers will find in this work a decentralized way of approaching elements already widely discussed, a different look at the functioning of democracy, the place of the state and that of citizens in a country which fascinates as much as it raises questions.