The People's Republic of France (commonly referred to as Southern France, Red France or Communist France) is a socialist nation in western Europe. It has its roots in the liberation of France, when communist elements of the French resistance managed to seize control of the town of Vichy, capital of the French State, and later seceded from the French Third Republic in the 1947 Election Crisis. It is a founding member of the Alliance of Independent Leftist Republics. The nation's territory stretches from the Mediterranean in the south to the Loire in the north, and borders the Atlantic Ocean; however, it controls the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean, and the urban exclave of the Second Parisian Commune. Due to being composed primarily of the historical region of Occitania, the nation has increasingly adopted an Occitan identity, and has effectively solved the question of 'Occitan independence' that was an issue at the beginning of the 20th century. Regardless, it still claims the rest of France, despite the fact that as of 2012 65% of Southern French citizens identify Occitan as their first language.
The People's Republic of France started off humbly as the scattered communist elements of the Free French. From the beginning of occupation and throughout the long and arduous guerrilla war the communist resistance had grown in strength, numbers and popularity, climbing rapidly from its modest prewar support to quite substantial popularity. Despite this strong power base, though, there was no intention from Josef Stalin to mold this into a west European communist state, which would provide a vital forward position. Stalin was more keen on solidifying an east European power base. However, circumstances were to drastically change that.
On August 11th, Philippe Petain, Chief of State of occupied France, was killed when a truck bomb was driven into the government building in Vichy. In the resulting blast Petain, along with Pierre Laval and Fernand de Brinnon (the next in the line of succession) and 27 others were killed. Without Petain, a popular leader despite his regime's fascist qualities, order began to break down in France. The invading forces in the north sapped up much of the German manpower, preventing them from keeping order in the streets. Just two days later riots were spreading across much of France. In the town of Vichy, street fighting between communist rebels and government forces broke out early on the 14th and continued in a long and hard battle.
The chaotic situation brought Nazi wrath in the form of mass executions. In Limoges, over 2,000 men and women were massacred. The same day - the 16th - the Vichy communists celebrated clearing the city of government troops but found themselves under siege by both French State and German forces. News of both the massacre and the victory soon found their way across Europe to the office of Stalin. Combined with the insistent pleas of Andre Marty, Stalin gave tacit approval for the remaining French communists to rise up and seize control where they could - though, historians note, not directly stating as such, to avoid conflict with his western Allies.
This approval, along with the successful (if tenuous) capture of Vichy energised communists across France. A general strike in Paris turned violent, with communists the leading element of resistance forces within the city. Fearing communist takeover in Paris, with all the political implications that would have, de Gaulle requested that Eisenhower allow the 2nd Armoured Division under General Leclerc to attack Paris; Eisenhower agreed on August 21st and the next day, after rushed preparations, the unit departed. However, this poor preparation meant that the unit suffered heavy casualties from the German defenders, even with low morale on the other side. Nonetheless it was a turning point in the battle and the arrival of the US 4th Infantry Division on the 24th sealed the fate of the city. The German resistance was crushed and General Dietrich von Choltitz surrendered the city on the 25th. Throughout the fighting, communist forces had gravitated towards the southern side of the city; this movement sowed the seeds of what would become, in a few years, the Second Parisian Commune.
The relatively quick victory in Paris, however, was not shared in Vichy, where communist forces were still holding out; a task made more difficult as German units retreating from the forces of Operation Dragoon joined the siege. On the 28th alone 648 of the city's defenders and civilians were killed repelling a German incursion - but the cost of this battle crippled the German resolve and the pressure began to weaken. Just over a week later, II Corps of France fought back German forces surrounding Vichy and opened supply lines.
With the communists now in certain control, having proved themselves through a number of intense battles across France, international recognition began to roll in. The first of these was, appropriately, from Stalin. After their long and hard struggles the communists had won the admiration of the Soviet Premier and, on the 10th, he declared support for the communists and their control of Vichy France. A response from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had delivered a speech on the 9th of September praising resistance members across France, came on the 11th. He stated that while he believed communist control to be 'a step too far' he was not opposed to future democratic representation. Roosevelt was unaware that this simple political gesture would become reality.
The French Communists were keen to exploit their position. Despite casualties taken in the many violent clashes of summer they immediately set about creating the French Worker's Division and put it under the command of Maurice Kriegel-Valrimont, who had accepted the surrender of Dietrich von Cholitz in Paris. This was the first time French Communists established a formal military force and there were some coordination difficulties in the movement and arming of troops, as well as the fact that they were unprepared for field combat; this meant the division only properly came into being on November 7th, with a strength of some 12,000 men. However, many were veterans of street fighting for Vichy, Paris, and various other French cities, and therefore proved to be crack troops when it came to liberating cities. The Worker's Division proved its worth in the rapid conquest of Strasbourg on November 23rd.Meanwhile the Communists were just as keen to formalise their political position. In Vichy, the Communists established a council of representatives from communist-controlled areas in France, including Bordeaux and Paris. The inaugural meeting was held on October 22nd and was made up primarily of communists, but socialists and labour members were also present. It was chiefly concerned with establishing a centralised distribution over resources but was also responsible for the French Worker's Division and the policing of controlled areas, despite government protestations. This aggravated de Gaulle who worked to hurry the creation of a legitimate French government with only token communist representation; he was recognised as head of the provisional government by several nations the next day, with the controversial exception of Stalin.
But by the end of 1944 communist control over southern France was reasonably firm, setting the stage for the future division of France. But it was already rocking the world, as politicians predicted and, in Greece, EAM Partisans took control of Athens in the middle of a bloody December.
1945-1947: The world revolves around France
Communist control became slowly solidified as many leftists in France began to move south, where the Council of Representatives was already putting leftist principles into law. Centralised distribution soon turned into direct control by the Council of Representatives, via worker's councils and communes, over the local means of production. The schism was exaggerated as conservatives who feared the rapidly growing leftist sentiments moved north. This would create a political divide that would become the basis of the 1947 Election Crisis.
Though the idea of separation was still uncertain amongst the French (many communists still wishing to take control of the entire country), for some it was already being seen as an expedient option. In Yalta, Stalin agreed to Churchill's demand for free Polish elections - provided Churchill recognised the Council of Representative's control over southern France. Churchill found this a hard pill to swallow but decided to agree, playing precisely into Stalin's hands: the Soviet premier had no intent to honour his promise but knew Churchill would.
This promise would later be made redundant at the later Potsdam Conference where Churchill was ousted. Stalin had been expecting that he would need to strongly support communist France, since in the event of Churchill being reelected he would have continued to push for Polish elections and could have withdrawn support for communist France. Stalin was already seeing his French asset as the ideal position to expand Soviet influence and keep the Americans out of Europe; losing British support of France would leave it vulnerable. However, the new Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, was keen to cooperate with the more moderate elements of the French communists, despite the protestations of his Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin. As a result Stalin had no fear of foreign pressure, meaning he did not need to reinforce communist France. This lack of early Soviet intervention gave the communists in France the leeway to maneuver away from Stalin's bloc and, eventually, form the Alliance of Independent Leftist Republics.
But this outside control was soon to be put in second place by advances on the national political front. With the war won and France being rebuilt many were keen for the return to the democratic process. Elections in October saw the French Communist Party (PCF) win 183 deputies in France, primarily in the South, with labour and socialist parties winning the rest of the region. In June 1946 legislative elections saw leftist parties take nearly half the vote. Later that year, in November, the elections were repeated. Communist numbers held steady but were losing support in the north, due to the internal migration. Many deputies won in the 1945 elections were now minority-communists; seizing the opportunity, George Bidault of the Popular Republican Movement attempted to force leading communists, such as Maurice Thorez (leader of the PCF) out of the government's upper echelons.The result was to begin riots and protests across the country as the communists spoke out against control from a rightist government. On the 26th of November 1946 the growing sentiment of separatism gained voice, as Pierre Villon announced to a crowd of 3000 "the French workers cannot stand the oppression of a distant government. We have the right to liberty and we must use that liberty to strike out on our own". The move was quickly echoed by Daniel Mayer and many other communists. On December 3rd a crowd of 40,000 gathered in Marseilles calling for separatism. Maurice Thorez had supported a revolution in France for a long time and decided that, in the current situation, he should choose the second best option: secession. On December 15th he secretly announced that communist deputies in the north no longer belonged to the National Assembly, and had them flown out overnight. On the 16th Thorez declared the secession of all territories of the former Vichy France, including Bordeaux and the Second Parisian Republic. The Council of Representatives was retitled the 'Provisional Council of the People's Republic' and moved to Lyon. The French Worker's Division was sent to border checkpoints to prevent movement from northern France. The following day the Eastern European countries recognised the People's Republic of France as an independent nation.
Distancing from MoscowInitially, relations between Southern France and the Soviet Union were warm and amicable, and Southern France was happy to join Cominform. However, Thorez's government recognised that it was in a tough position. It was surrounded on all sides by capitalist countries, at least two of which were hostile. Franco's Spain, to the south, was definitely hostile; Northern France was angered by the separatism but too weak to do anything about it. Nonetheless Thorez recognised he had to make the effort to create a legitimate and strong nation that would hold its own militarily and diplomatically in Europe. To this end he opened up diplomatic channels to the United States and United Kingdom. The USA, under the anticommunist Truman administration, was not entirely keen on Southern France but nonetheless it was invited for discussions for the Marshall Plan. Attlee's government in the UK was receptive to the Southern French, particularly their less radical members, but reconstruction took priority. Nonetheless warm relations between the two nations began at that point.
However, the main proving point of Southern France's future was the 1948 Berlin Crisis. In that year the Northern French, British, and American zones of occupation in Germany were united into 'Trizonia'. Leading on from this, the Western Allied occupiers prepared the preparation of a new German constitution and, crucially, a new German currency. The introduction of this led Stalin to close off his occupation zone to the West, isolating the Western occupiers in West Berlin (which included a small Southern French district). Briefly, the Southern French district in Berlin was closed off too, though their zone of occupation remained open. Stalin pressured Thorez into keeping it this way, as a necessary 'stepping stone' for communist aircraft to move between France and Soviet-occupied Europe. Pressure came from the ranks of the party, too, with moderates saying they should throw their lot in with the Western Allies, and the Stalinists arguing the opposite. Thorez found himself walking a middle path but, following the events in Yugoslavia and the clear unsustainability of the Berlin Airlift, he eventually decided to give up the 'unnecessary' zone of occupation in Germany over to the Americans, as a gesture of goodwill. This enraged Stalin but by this point relations had already grown distant. Southern France was looking independently towards its future, a future it would have to carefully navigate, and searching for its own partners to guarantee security. Of this there was little question: Europe's other independent communist nations (Greece, Yugoslavia and Albania) all knew that they had to tread carefully between the east and west and the best way to ensure security was through mutual assistance.
The geography of Southern France is predominantly mountainous, containing the Massif Central in the centre and the foothills of the Alps in the east. However, it is more flat in the west and northwest. These regions are the breadbasket of Southern France, although the nation remains dependent on foreign imports from other nations to supply adequate grain and other foodstuffs. However, the nation is a net exporter of animal products, due to its rugged terrain.