Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

commits himself in any way. He sits silent until his hour shall again strike. Always is he something of an enigma. Always does he allow the Left to suppose he is their man, and the Right to believe that he is not against them. In the clash and confusion of rival ambitions, it is Briand, the man who makes no useless efforts, the man who knows how to keep a still tongue although he possesses a winning tongue, who is chosen. The speeches that he makes when he is assailed, and the position has become difficult, are the most persuasive speeches that may be heard; but when I read them at length the next day, I generally find that they are full of repetitions and even of contradictions. That is because he addresses himself, now to this side, then to that side. To know the true Briand, it is not sufficient to hear or to read his speeches. One has to remember whom he is addressing, and what is his immediate purpose. One has to be able to distinguish between what is meant for one party, what for another party; what is meant for France and what is meant for Germany; what is meant for England and what is meant for other countries.

I trust that this portrait does not suggest a mere opportunist, in the worst sense of the term. M. Briand certainly is an opportunist, in that he makes use of the varying views of his auditors, in that he stresses now one point and then another point. It was M. Briand who spoke of the occupation of the Ruhr, and it was M. Briand who condemned such a policy as inept. The occasion has always to be considered. But he is an opportunist only as a sailor is an opportunist. When the wind blows from the west, he must spread his sails accordingly; but when the wind veers to the north, he must trim his sails anew. But the sailor knows where he is going and keeps his course, M. Briand has a policy, and he

sticks to his policy in spite of apparent and momentary contradictions. He has to reconcile many opinions, and he has to bring the Ship of State safely toward the land that he sees ahead.

There are, of course, different kinds of opportunists, and to use the word without discrimination as a term of opprobrium is altogether wrong. In my opinion, for example, Mr. Lloyd George, who is undoubtedly the greatest opportunist of our century, has, in spite of all kinds of concessions, all kinds of seeming stultifications of his judgment, kept along exactly the same path in international affairs that he indicated to me and to others in March, 1919. When he has seen rocks in the way, he has gone round them. It is so with M. Briand, whose points of resemblance with him could be multiplied. Perhaps it is only the fool who steers straight ahead. One of the chief grievances of a certain section of French politicians is that M. Briand, in calling up Class 19 for the occupation of the Ruhr, did so to discredit that policy and to make its repetition impossible. As to this I will express no opinion; but it will readily be conceived that a politician may appear to do the opposite of that which he intends to do. M. Briand is not a native of Brittany for nothing. It is from Brittany that France recruits most of her sailors. M. Briand is an expert sailor.

The truth is that M. Briand is essentially a man of liberal views. I do not purpose either to defend or to attack him: I wish merely wish to state the facts as I see them; and it is in this spirit that I record my impression, which is corroborated by conversations of a more or less private character that have come to me from friends-conversations in which he has expressed himself with surprising moderation. He is far from being the implacable taskmaster of Germany that he has been

represented to be on account of certain episodes. No one knows better than does M. Briand the true need of France

the need of a policy that will reconcile old enemies and establish some measure of economic coöperation in Europe. No one realizes more the need for a reduction of armaments, which is possible only if better relations exist in Europe.

France at this moment has an army that is big enough to conquer the Continent. France is not, strictly speaking, obliged to take heed of the opinion of anyone. She can adopt any coercive methods she pleases, and there is no country that can effectively say her nay. But that would be a fatal course. Not only would it be folly to fly in the face of the world's opinion, but France would certainly not obtain any satisfaction in the shape of additional reparations. The army, whether it is put at 800,000 men or at 700,000, is a tremendous burden for a country in economic difficulties, and all sensible men must desire its reduction. It is a burden on the finances of the country, but it is also a burden on the individual Frenchman, who has to spend what should be the most vital preparatory years of his life in idleness and the demoralizing milieu of the barracks. There are those who urge, with justice, that, in the economic struggle, Germany will enjoy a great advantage over France by reason of the fact that she is compelled to keep her army at a negligible number, while France has to support a huge body of non-producers. How could any sane person wish to maintain the army at anything like its present level?

But, on the other hand, so long as national safety is secured, no matter what sacrifice must be made, no matter what handicap must be borne, M. Briand, I believe, is all in favor of making such amicable arrangements with Germany as will enable France to forget this

terrible preoccupation of her security. Doubtless he, like all other French statesmen, would prefer that America and England, as promised at the Peace Conference, should come into a tripartite military pact. But he is not, as I understand, an advocate of what amounts to perpetual occupation, or of detachment of the Rhineland from the Reich, as are M. Poincaré, M. Tardieu, and M. Maurice Barrès. The most significant thing that was done under his ministry was the signing of the Loucheur-Rathenau accord, which envisages the collaboration of France and Germany, which (provided Germany remains a non-militaristic republic) presages some sort of friendship between the two countries that, in spite of their hereditary hatreds, intensified since the Armistice, have to live side by side. They can be blood-foes with the certainty of another war, or they can compose their age-long differences. There is no middle course.

IV

This brings me to M. Louis Loucheur easily, in my opinion, the most remarkable figure in French political life. I said just now that there were no new men. I must modify that statement. M. Loucheur is a new man. He has new methods. He is not a politician, although he is in politics. He is the business man. In France the politicians have become what might, not disrespectfully, be called an 'old gang.' M. Loucheur was not even a deputy when he became minister. He brings a fresh mind to the public problems. He has no prejudices, no traditions, no long training along political lines. He is accustomed to see things as they are. He does not idealize them; he is not a sentimentalist, dealing in abstractions, hypnotized by catch-phrases, as are politicians generally. For me he represents

an immense force. He towers over all the rest.

It would be foolish to prophecy, and therefore I shall not assert dogmatically that M. Loucheur will, for the next ten

if not twenty – years, be the real power behind French politics. All I will venture to say is that, at the present moment, he is the man who matters most, and that he should be looked upon, not in his ministerial capacity, but as a man. That is to say, that he will probably continue to occupy a nominally subordinate post. It is extremely unlikely, in my judgment, that he will form a cabinet and put himself at the head of French politics. He is far more likely to remain in the background. But it would be folly to regard him as a supernumerary. He has brains; he has ability; he has energy; he is used to dealing in realities, and he thinks in terms of realities. I do not know whether it has been remarked how unreal politics tend to become, and in what an imaginary world politicians walk. Into this unreal world came M. Loucheur; but he was not corrupted by his environment. He had the advantage of not serving an apprenticeship to politics. He passed through none of the intermediary stages. During the war he controlled numerous companies, and is reputed to be extremely rich, to have made a vast fortune.

It was M. Clemenceau who appealed to him to lend a hand. It was felt that the practical man was the kind of man who was needed to help in the winning of the war and the elaboration of the peace. Only rarely does a non-politician, who has not been elected by the people, find himself called to take up a ministerial office; but in the case of M. Loucheur the experiment was amply justified. I am not blind to the possible disadvantages of thus bringing rich business men into the government. The door is obviously opened to certain

abuses. Nor do I consider that the good business man will necessarily make a good minister. Probably the chances are that he will not. But exceptional times call for exceptional men, and M. Loucheur is unquestionably an exceptional man. Afterward, of course, his situation was regularized by his election. He has remained minister through several administrations, and in one capacity or another his services will continue to be enlisted.

It was M. Loucheur who initiated the policy of direct negotiations with Germany, and who oriented France toward the idea of reparations in kind. Had it been possible to impose upon Germany, three years ago, the essential task of repairing the ruined regions of France, there is little doubt that by this time France would have been largely restored; and the speedy restoration would have been worth far more than the nebulous milliards. The two countries would already have settled down on terms of decent neighborliness. Unhappily, everybody was mesmerized by the glittering promise of immense sums hitherto unheard of

sums that could be expressed only in astronomical figures. The consequences might have been foreseen but they were not, except by the economists. The consequences are the collapse of Germany and the collapse of the treaty. Everybody now realizes that, unless something is done in time, Germany is doomed to bankruptcy. Now, Germany is necessary to Europe, just as Carthage was necessary to ancient Rome. The foolish destruction of Carthage by the Romans deprived them of a base for the Eastern Mediterranean sea-routes. It is easy to look back and make these criticisms. What is of more importance is to look forward, and to appreciate the fact that, if Germany did not exist, it would be necessary to invent her. Nothing more stupid than that policy which would

erase Germany from the map of Europe years, and is already breaking down, could, I think, be conceived.

Presently, in view of the impending bankruptcy of Germany, it will be necessary to decide between her destruction and her salvation. Should this nation be broken up into fragments; should there be dislocation, economic anarchy, political chaos? Or should there be an abandonment of the system of coercion, of financial squeezing, and such a collaboration be substituted as would enable all countries to draw specific advantages from the continued existence of a Germany that may work with hope? This is the terrific question that must soon be answered in one sense or another. The decision will be determined by the stress that French opinion lays upon certain things. Socalled security would seem to suggest the break-up of Germany, politically and economically. This security, however, would be fallacious. In a military sense, France would undoubtedly be secure; but there are also economic considerations. One bankruptcy will entrain another, and no man can foresee the end of the happenings in Europe.

On the other hand, it is dreadfully hard to reconcile one's self to foregoing claims that have been made and promises that have been held out. The choice is, or would appear to be, between two evils. But perhaps the second would turn out to be not an evil at all. I must content myself with posing the problem in an objective manner.

Now, the Loucheur-Rathenau accord is of tremendous import. It is pretended that it supplements, and does not supplant, the London Agreement for the payment by Germany of 132,000,000,000 gold marks, made in virtue of the treaty. In reality, however long the pretense is kept up, it must be taken as an entirely new system. The London Agreement asks for impossible sums spread over an impossible period of

since Germany simply cannot go on meeting her obligations. The Loucheur Agreement stipulates that Germany shall pay in goods, in matériel, a limited amount for the next five years, not to the Allies in general, but to France in particular. This means that common bargaining is abandoned. It means that France, preparing for the crash, is endeavoring to secure for herself, as she has in equity an undoubted right to do, a certain portion of her credits on Germany, and is anxious at least to have the North repaired. It is possible that, when Germany ceases to pay everyone else, she will continue to pay France in kind. She can hardly do both, and it seems to me that France is contracting out of the London Agreement. France is coming to a voluntary arrangement with Germany. As France for the next five years may be paid more than is due to her under the London Agreement, she might be satisfied, and might not resort, in exasperation, to methods of coercion and of sanctions. France, be it noted, is the only country which could or would resort to serious coercion and sanctions.

This policy of M. Loucheur, then, is intensely realist, and denotes a complete change in the manner of regarding the Franco-German problem. It foreshadows a very much wider system of coöperation. It may be the turningpoint in European affairs. Its bearing upon the possibility of land-disarmament is obvious.

V

It would be foolish to be too optimistic. Not all French statesmen think on these lines. There is M. Raymond Poincaré, the ex-President of the Republic, who will, in all probability, be called at an early date to the premiership, controlling the destinies of France. I think I am betraying no secret when I say that the ultimate policy of M. Poincaré

is to move toward the same system of collaboration with Germany. But he reserves that policy for the future. For the present, to judge him by his writing, - and he is the most prolific journalist in France, contributing regularly to the Revue des Deux Mondes, the Temps, and the Matin, he believes in turning the screw on Germany as tightly as it may be turned. He was thrust aside by M. Clemenceau in the peacemaking. Although President, he was reduced to silence. He had no effective way of protesting, but he has put on record, in a memorandum addressed to M. Clemenceau, his strong opinion that the limitation of the period of occupation of Germany to fifteen years was disastrous for France. He would have the occupation extended to such time as it will take Germany to fulfill all the monetary obligations of the treaty which, being interpreted, means forever.

M. Tardieu, the chief assistant of M. Clemenceau, argues that this right is actually conferred by the treaty itself; but M. Tardieu's arguments will not

bear examination.

M. Poincaré, in addition, has always shown himself to be one of those ardent, patriotic Frenchmen who believe that the contemporaneous existence of a strong Germany and a prosperous, secure France is impossible. After he retired from the Presidency, he was made Chairman of the Reparations Commission. He resigned because the Reparations Commission showed a tendency to reduce the German debt to more manageable proportions. At each successive abandonment of some French right, he has fulminated against the Premier in office. One can only suppose that, when he becomes Premier himself, he will carry out his policy of no concessions. No concessions, now that the original demands are shown to be, however justified, inexecutable, spells the final ruin of Germany, and, as most

people think, the greater embarrassment of France. It is perhaps wrong to suppose that a statesman in office will behave as a statesman out of office writes. He is bound to modify his conceptions in accordance with changing circumstances and proved facts. Nevertheless, one must take M. Poincaré to be what he paints himself to be.

I should certainly describe him as the most formidable of the politicians proper in France. He has a tremendous force. He has been peculiarly consistent in his attitude toward Germany, from the days when he was raised, as a bon Lorrain, to the Presidency in the year before the war. His prestige is enormous. There are living at this moment no fewer than four former Presidents of the Republic. As the term of office is seven years, this is a somewhat remarkable fact. But whoever hears of Emile Loubet, or of Armand Fallières? They have gone to trim their vines or to live quietly in complete obscurity. After their occupation of the Élysée, there was no place for them in public life. M. Deschanel, it is true, is a member of the Senate, but he is only nominally in politics. M. Poincaré is made in another mould. Still comparatively young, with an alert mind, full of ambition unsatiated, believing that he is the strong man that his country needs, he declines to be buried alive, and is taking a notable revenge for his impotence during the latter years at the Elysée. He is the indefatigable critic.

VI

I regret that my space will not permit me to treat of other French politicians so fully, but these men are, after all, the really representative men of French politics. M. René Viviani is a highly successful lawyer, gifted with the most amazing flow of language that it has ever been my lot to listen to. The

« ZurückWeiter »