Bibliographical research can be quickly compiled on some subjects:
sometimes it can be counted in lines, not paragraphs, and certainly
not in chapters. Twenty-nine lines in a 410-page book on the subject
of France's foreign policy in 1944-49 (1). Twenty-seven lines in
the first of three volumes of a history of the Fourth Republic
(2). Nothing elsewhere (3). According to the most verbose of these
Estimates vary between 10,000 and 90,000
deaths. The big mistake of the thousands of Malagasy victims in
1947 was being killed by French troops, rather than Soviet. What is
more, this took place under a government comprising both socialist and
The Malagasy uprising, which started with the massacre of around 100 French settlers, broke out during the night of 29 March 1947. The socialist Paul Ramadier was then the head of government and the communist Maurice Thorez deputy head of government (although not for much longer). In cabinet, he unequivocally defended the Malagasy members of parliament (who were stripped of their immunity, sentenced to death and finally reprieved). But when the tripartite government coalition (PC-SFIO-MRP) broke up five weeks later on 5 May 1947, it was because of state-owned Renault and its workers, not because of Madagascar.
In fact, nobody in France cared about Madagascar. The national press
only woke up in time to hurl abuse at the accused Malagasies during
The assassin Raseta, read one headline when
sentence was passed. As for massacres of peoples under colonial rule,
the feeling was they had happened before and would happen again. This
went for the deaths in Sétif, Algeria, on 8 May 1945 on the day of the
German surrender (6,000-8,000 reported by the French army; 20,000
according to Georges Bidault, the foreign minister of the day; 45,000
claimed by official Algerian figures) (4). The general indifference
also extended to the shelling of Haiphong which signalled the start of
the interminable Indochina war in November 1946.
the assassin Raseta? Albert Camus tried to explain in
Combat on 10 May 1947 why the French could get so furiously worked up
against people who had been oppressed by their own country.
French calmly take on board methods sometimes used by some of their
compatriots against the Algerians or the Malagasies, it is because
they live, quite unconsciously, in the certainty that they are in some
way superior to these peoples, and that the choice of the means used
to reflect this superiority is of little importance.
On this issue as on so many others, the ruling left behaved exactly like the rest of them. From the time of the leftist coalition (1924-26), it entrusted Marshal Pétain with the task of eliminating the troops of Abdel Krim. After the second world war, its victims were the Algerians, the Malagasies, the Vietnamese. That left the Iraqis. Not so long ago the left dealt with them too.
(1) Pierre Gerbet,
Le Relèvement, Imprimerie nationale, Paris,
(2) Georgette Elgey,
La République des illusions, Fayard,
Paris, 1965, pp.272 and 276-77.
(3) Alfred Grosser,
La IVe République et sa politique
extérieure, Armand Colin, Paris, 1961.
(4) Read Ali Habib,
Les Massacres de Sétif, Le Monde, 14-15 May