Yuri Ivanovich Sum,
INTERVIEW WITH MADAME MARIANNE DEBOUZY
INTERVIEWER: Right this is the twelfth of April 1996, we're in Paris, Madame Debouzy, thank you very much for agreeing to talk to us this afternoon. Could we start off by asking you to set the scene by telling us where you were living and roughly what you were doing in 1947.
MARIANNE DEBOUZY: I was living in Paris after a rather long experience during the War, because my family is Jewish, we were refugees from Paris, in Lyons, and when the Germans invaded the free zone, my father thought that we should leave and move out and since he was a great Anglophile, and we had helped and hidden an intelligence service officer in October, who had been parachuted to work with the Resistance, he felt that we should try to get to England and in order to do this, he thought that we should go over to Spain. So after long preparations, we went to the South of France and walked through the Pyrenees, clandestinely crossing the border and went to Spain and afterwards to North Africa. My father went to England and joined the Free French forces and we went back to Paris in 1944. I was seventeen in 1947, I had finished school and was about to start university and that's where I was in Paris in 1947.
INT: What were the... roughly speaking, what were the political views of your family at that time?
MD: My family was left liberal and at the time, most young people in my milieu were radicals and many of them, including very close members of my family, joined the Communist Party. I never did, because I'm somewhat of a sceptic.
INT: I'd like to pick up on that popularity then of the Communist Party at the time. Why was it, do you think, that the Communist Parties had so much... the Communist Party had so much support?
MD: I think the Communist Party came out of the War with a great aura, because many people who were members of the Communist Party had worked in the Resistance, in the railroads, in the mines, in the steel industry and in many other places, many other people had been shot and murdered and when the War was over, I think that they had this glory from their action in the Resistance, beside, I think that people were grateful to the Russians for having taken part in the War the way they did and that added, I believe, to the aura that the Communists had, especially as I think that people felt that a great part of the bourgeoisie had betrayed their republican ideals.
INT: Was there a lot of working class support for Communism and the Communist Party at that time?
MD: There was a lot of working class support for the Communist Party, but the support went beyond the working class. After the War, about twenty five per cent of the voters voted Communist, and of course many of these people weren't working class people and weren't Communists, but they voted for the Communist Party, because it represented what was... what seemed to be most progressive in social terms to many people in the country at the time.
INT: Did you and others and your friends believe that Communism would build a better world?
MD: Yes, I think that many people felt that way, a better world than the world that had existed before the War and that was shaping after the War was over and I think that it was mostly idealism and maybe Utopianism that motivated people to join the Communist Party, which is now seen as a bureaucratic organisation, which of course committed all sorts of crime. I think that the people did not see it in that way in those days.
INT: I'll just come back to that question again, I'll ask it again if I may. It's just this point about beginning with a complete sentence, 'cos you actually said, 'Yes, I think that many people saw it that way', so I'm sorry to ask you...
INT: But did you and others at the time believe that the Communists... that Communism was going to create a better world?
MD: Many people believed that Communism was going to create a better world, better than the one that existed before the War and the one that was shaping at the time the War was over and it was mostly idealism and Utopianism that motivated people in joining the Communist Party.
INT: Did most of your friends, talking about people in their late teens, early twenties at that time, did most of your friends support the Communist Party?
MD: Many people in my circles that were maybe not representative of the whole of society, because my friends and cousins and sisters were students and people that came from bourgeois families that were radical or liberal in a certain way, thought that this was the only party that you could join if you wanted to change the world. Of course, some of the people that I mentioned were slightly older than I was. I was just beginning to be a student, but some of them were, you know, slightly older and quite active and militant in their political life. So they may not have been representative of the whole bourgeoisie, but I think they represented quite a fraction, important fraction of it.
INT: So amongst that fraction, would it be right to say that was the sort of fashionable thing politically to be on the left, to be supporting the Communist Party?
MD: It's not just a fashion, I think. It's not just fashion that made people become Communist, though of course it's most unfashionable today. But it's more idealism and, you know, real beliefs and hopes that you could make things different. In a sense it may have become a fashion, but I don't think that it was a fashion in the first place.
INT: Do you think at the time, 1947-1948, France could have gone Communist through the democratic process, through the electoral system?
MD: France couldn't have become Communist, because the Communists were only a minority, so in terms of numbers, I think it would have been difficult for the Communists to take over, though of course this was a fantasy that some people on the right and some Americans fought to become reality. I don't think that the politicians in power on the right would have let the Communist take over and I think that there were real obstacles to the taking over of power by Communists and these obstacles couldn't have been easily overcome and I don't believe that just after the War and what people had gone through, people were ready to cope with a civil war. And I don't think that this was a threat in any way.
INT: So, I mean, the... what's your feeling about the Americans? We've spoken to many Americans who expressed a real sense of panic and alarm that they felt at the time. The lines of the Iron Curtain... the line of the Iron Curtain wasn't fixed, it wasn't clear, a real fear that France and Italy and perhaps the whole of Western Europe could have gone Communist?
MD: I never believed that France could become Communist in those days, though of course the Communists represented a significant force in the political game and the relationship of force was different from what it is today. But this is a long way from the taking over of power at a national level. No, I feel that this fear was unjustified and was politically useful, because it served the interests of certain parts of the political... people who thought that this threat enabled them to take a number of measures and steps.
INT: Right, we'll come back to that particular point in a moment.
(INTERRUPTION - Instructions to Mme Debouzy)
INT: So, obviously at the end of the War there was a sense of relief of having survived the War, but how difficult was life for many people in France in those post-War years?
MD: Life was quite difficult, I think, for many people, though of course I was in quite comfortable circumstances and it's funny, because though I know that there was rationing and there were all sorts of problems, I don't have a really vivid memory of these problems. My feeling is that the War had been such an experience that in my memory, I have forgotten what happened afterwards in terms of living conditions, because food during the War was a kind of obsession, so that anything after the War was relatively easy and hasn't really stuck in my mind, as far as I am personally concerned. But of course, lots of had terrific problems, especially in those areas which had bedestroyed or bombed or really had suffered from the War. The one problem which I thought... I think everybody faced was the housing problem. The housing conditions were terrible and it's hard to remember now that there were still lots of people who didn't have running water, who didn't have bathroom, who lived in very cramped circumstances and finding a place to live was a real harrowing experience for people starting in life. So that's what sticks in my mind as the first great problem in the after-War period. Otherwise, things were not that difficult compared to what we had gone through during the War.