France 1956: The Decisive Moment

Martin Evans looks at the events of 1956 and the French war on terror, both at home and elsewhere, and how this was a turning point for French fortunes in the Algerian War of Independence.

Nineteen fifty six began with 27 million citizens going to the polls on January 2nd, the third general election since the establishment of the Fourth Republic in 1946: but few commentators could have predicted such a momentous twelve months in modern French history.

The campaign, played out in the coldest winter since the end of the second World War, was bitter and divisive. On the far left was the French Communist Party, still the most powerful party commanding the support of huge swathes of the working class. Since 1954 the party had been trying to break out of its Cold War isolationism and reform the alliances of the anti-Nazi resistance. But though activists took every opportunity to wrap themselves in the tricolore, in practical terms this only heightened suspicion. For all the other mainstream parties the Communists were still manipulated by the hand of Moscow. All talk of pacts was anathema.

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