Russia’s campaign in Ukraine has opened new debates about Europe’s historical and prospective positions on the US-Russia axis. In 20th century European history, Charles de Gaulle is one of the most prominent figures to be considered in this context.
We interviewed Ali Rıza Taşdelen, a journalist and Vatan Party (Türkiye) executive who closely follows French politics, about de Gaulle’s life, thoughts and policies.
Taşdelen received his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Lyon 2 Lumiere University in France and his master’s degree in the same field from Paris 7 Denis Diderot University.
Taşdelen is the author of a book titled “French Social Democracy from the Paris Commune to the Yellow Vests”. Taşdelen writes columns for Aydınlık newspaper and continues to participate in television programs.
The symbol of the resistance against nazi occupation
Who is de Gaulle and what does he mean to France?
Charles de Gaulle is the symbol of the resistance to the Nazi occupation of France in the Second World War. He is the national hero of the French nation. Besides being a good soldier, he is a world-class statesman who defended France’s independence against the USA and NATO.
De Gaulle and the Social Democrats
France’s political confrontation with the Nazi occupation and its aftermath, as well as during the Cold War, can give us an idea of who de Gaulle is and what he means to France: On the one side, the Social Democrats, led by their General Secretary Paul Faur, surrendered to fascism during the Second World War and adopted a collaborationist policy, accepted to come under the shelter of the US after the war, brought France into NATO and paved the way for NATO’s Gladio organization in the country, in short, pursued an Atlanticist line. On the other side, General Charles de Gaulle, who resisted together with the Communists the invasion of Hitler fascism and became the symbol of the resistance, opposed NATO, expelled NATO institutions from France, became the target of the US and NATO Gladio, and defended a more popular and welfare state against the economic system imposed by the US and the reign of the dollar.
Could you elaborate on de Gaulle’s opposition to the US?
De Gaulle is known for his resistance against the Nazi occupation and for taking France out of NATO. France’s withdrawal from NATO on March 7, 1966 is only a consequence. The process started in the 1940s when the Nazis occupied France. The US hostility towards De Gaulle began not with the anti-American line he pursued in the 1960s, but with De Gaulle’s national resistance movement against the Nazi occupation.
Throughout the war, the US supported the Vichy government, headed by the Nazi collaborator Marshal Pétain. While the Vichy government surrendered to Hitler with the armistice agreement, Charles de Gaulle was preparing to fight against the occupation in London. On June 18, 1940, de Gaulle called for resistance for a “Free France” against the invaders and then on September 24, 1941, he announced that the “French Committee of National Liberation” was formed to unite all resistance groups. On 24 December 1941, Jean Moulin returned to France on De Gaulle’s orders to organize and unite resistance groups. In Lyon, he founded the “United Resistance Movement”, which included communists. Maurice Thorez, Secretary General of the French Communist Party in Moscow, was in contact with De Gaulle. On September 26, Stalin announced that the Soviet Union had recognized De Gaulle’s “Free France”.
De Gaulle arrived in Algiers from London and took over the Provisional Government on June 3, 1944. On June 6, Anglo-Saxon Allied Forces ( the US, UK and Canada) under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, landed in Normandy, France. As the Allied forces advance towards Paris, on August 10, railroad workers, led by the FKP, went on strike. Subsequently, General Confederation of Labour called for a general strike and took a stand against the US. On August 25, 1944, Paris was liberated and De Gaulle returned to Paris.
CIA’s aim in the Normandy landings
De Gaulle declared that the aim of CIA in the Normandy landings of the Anglo-Saxon Allied Forces led by the US was to eliminate him and form a government close to the US. On June 6, 1964, de Gaulle refused to attend the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Normandy landings in France, and told Prime Minister Pompidou, who advocated attending the ceremony the following: “The landings on June 6 were an Anglo-Saxon affair from which France was excluded. They were determined to settle in France, which they saw as enemy territory! Just as they had done in Italy and were going to do in Germany! They had prepared the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories, which would rule France as their armies marched forward. They had printed counterfeit money. They would have behaved as if they were in a conquered country. And now you want me to commemorate their landings.”
De Gaulle considered the US as “an occupying state interfering in all economic, military and political processes in the world”.
NATO as a camouflage for the US takeover of Europe
What was de Gaulle’s view of NATO?
De Gaulle believed that NATO was a tool for the US to take Europe in hand. He opposed US hegemonism. In one of his conversations, he told Ahmet the following about NATO: “NATO is an academy of empty words. It is an organization that weakens our defense capabilities, instills the idea that defense is inconceivable without it, thus numbing our sense of national independence. NATO is in fact a deception, a camouflage for the US takeover Europe”.
The process of withdrawal from NATO’s military wing
Before withdrawing from NATO’s military wing, he announced the withdrawal of the French representative to the Atlantic Council and France’s Mediterranean fleet from NATO’s Mediterranean Command on March 7, 1959. In June of the same year, he banned US nuclear storage on French territory. In 1963, French naval power in the Atlantic and the Manche was withdrawn from NATO command, and in 1964, French officers from NATO’s naval command.
On March 7, 1966, de Gaulle sent a letter to US President Johnson, in which he stated France’s withdrawal from NATO’s military wing. In the letter he stressed that the world had changed since NATO was founded in 1949, and since then France has improved its defense capabilities, no longer requiring any Allied military presence on French territory, and also that France had taken sovereignty into its own hands and no longer putting French military forces under NATO’s order.
Killing de Gaulle
Some say that the US attempted a coup d’état against de Gaulle and to assassinate him. Is this true?
Yes, that is true. The US, along with Britain, tried everything to eliminate de Gaulle during the war. The US and Britain continued to do so after the war, from the time De Gaulle became head of government until his departure in 1969. The CIA monitored De Gaulle’s every move and attempted to assassinate him.
Coup attempt against de Gaulle
Besides, de Gaulle’s anti-US and anti-NATO policies and his efforts to resolve the problem in Algeria by negotiating with the insurgents caused a great uneasiness in the US. With the support of NATO’s secret organization in France (stay-behind organization), an unsuccessful coup attempt was organized against De Gaulle by the “Secret Army Organization” (Organisation de l’armée secrete – OAS), which consists of officers who were against De Gaulle and supported the French occupation of Algeria. General Challe, a French General who had previously commanded NATO’s Allied Forces in Central Europe, led the coup.
A great Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals
Did de Gaulle’s struggle with the United States have an international aspect? Did he seek alliances against the US?
In 1964, de Gaulle officially recognized the People’s Republic of China and welcomed China’s development of the atomic bomb. In the same year he traveled to South America. In 1966, on a trip to Asia, he criticized the US policy in Vietnam in a speech in Phnom-Penh, the capital of Cambodia. He then moved on to Moscow to discuss with Brezhnev a Pan-European defence system based on a Soviet-French basis. He had in mind a great Europe “from the Atlantic to the Urals”.
The third path between capitalism and collectivism
We would also like to talk about his views on economic affairs in addition to his political views. You mentioned that De Gaulle was in favor of a welfare state. Could you elaborate on this?
De Gaulle was on the path between capitalism and collectivism. Alain Peyrefitte, de Gaulle’s spokesman, wrote in his book “C’etait de Gaulle” that de Gaulle said of the economic system: “The world is divided between two rival systems in fierce struggle: capitalism and collectivism. Capitalism is unacceptable in its social consequences. It crushes the most modest. It turns man into man’s wolf (author’s note: surprising to hear a Marxist slogan). Collectivism is also unacceptable: it deprives humans of the will to fight transforming them into sheep. A third path must be invented between the wolves and the sheep.” When Peyrefitte asked de Gaulle, “Which one?” he replied: “Participation and planning. Participation, since one must involve employees in the functioning of the company, giving them back the dignity that capitalism has taken away from them; and planning, because it makes it possible to correct the failures of the market, which would blind us if we completely loose control over it.” “The state should intervene in the public interest, when necessary. Workers should participate in the development of their companies”.
For De Gaulle, nothing is above the nation and the state. He especially opposes the market economy imposed by the US: “The market is not above the nation and the state. It is the nation and the state that must dominate the market. If the market rules, the Americans would rule over it; it is all a disguise for American hegemony. If we have put our faith in the free market, we would have been colonized by the Americans. If the state does not take the necessary initiatives, nothing will work.”
Against the Dollar as reserve currency
De Gaulle took every opportunity to express his discontent with the dollar as a reserve currency: ”US imperialism leaves no field unoccupied. It takes every form, but the dollar is the most insidious”. “We pay the US to purchase us. So each time we have dollars, we will convert them into gold. Everyone should do the same… Political pressures will no longer be used to manipulate money.”
De Gaulle was convinced that the international monetary system of the day would not work, and one day the domination of the dollar would come to an end.
In France there is the expression “de Gaullism”. Is it fair to say that de Gaulle is still politically alive?
Social democrats have adopted an anti-Gaullist line from the Nazi occupation to the present day. Today, the de Gaullean tradition persists to a lesser extent in the nationalist parties of the left and right. The Gaullist legacy is partly alive in Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and Jean Luc Melenchon La France Insoumise. In addition, a few relatively small parties also support de Gaulle.
The last representative of the de Gaulle tradition
Former president Jacques Chirac was the last representative of the de Gaulle tradition. Chirac opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In Chirac’s time, France was in favour of the alliance between Germany and Russia against the US-UK alliance. At that time, a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis was formed. The leaders of this alliance were Chirac, Schröder and Putin.
After the election to the presidency in 2007 of Nicolas Sarkozy, who had risen rapidly as the representative of the pro-Atlantic wing within Chirac’s party, the party broke with the tradition of Charles de Gaulle and aligned itself with the US. Today, there is an important faction within the Republican Party that maintains the de Gaulle tradition.
Today, these de Gaullist groups and parties still oppose the US and NATO and are in favor of friendly relations with Russia and Bashar al-Assad.