The cost of the war was even greater for France than for the other participants because it was fought largely on French soil. Over a quarter of the eight million men called up were either killed or injured; industrial production fell to sixty percent of the prewar level. This along with memories of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 was the reason that the French were more aggressive than either the British or the Americans in seeking war reparations from the Germans.
In the postwar struggle for recovery the interests of the urban working class were again passed over, save for Clemenceau's eight-hour-day legislation in 1919. An attempted general strike in 1920 came to nothing, and the workers' strength was again undermined by the irreversible split in the Socialist Party at the 1920 Congress of Tours. The pro-Lenin majority formed the French Communist Party, while the minority faction, under the leadership of Léon Blum, retained the old SFIO (Section Française de l'Internationale Ouvrière) title. The bitterness caused by this split has bedevilled the French Left ever since. Both parties resolutely stayed away from government.
As the Depression deepened in the 1930s and Nazi power across the Rhine became more menacing, fascist thuggery and antiparliamentary activity increased in France, culminating in a pitched battle outside the Chamber of Deputies in February 1934. The effect of this fascist activism was to unite the Left, including the Communists led by the Stalinist Maurice Thorez, in the Front Populaire. When they won the 1936 elections with a handsome majority in the Chamber, there followed a wave of strikes and factory sit-ins a spontaneous expression of working-class determination to get their just desserts after a century and a half of frustration.
Frightened by the apparently revolutionary situation, the major employers signed the Matignon Agreement with Blum, which provided for wage increases, nationalization of the armaments industry and partial nationalization of the Bank of France, a forty-hour week, paid annual leave and collective bargaining on wages. These reforms were pushed through parliament, but when Blum tried to introduce exchange controls to check the flight of capital, the Senate threw the proposal out and he resigned. The Left remained out of power, with the exception of coalition governments, until 1981. Most of the Front Populaire's reforms were promptly undone.
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