Leon Blum (1872 – 1950)

Reference: Wikipedia
André Léon Blum (9 April 1872 – 30 March 1950)

Leon Blum (9 April 1872 – 30 March 1950)

André Léon Blum (French: [le.ɔ̃ blum]; 9 April 1872 – 30 March 1950) was a French politician, usually identified with the moderate left, and three times Prime Minister of France.

First political experiences

While in his youth an avid reader of the works of the nationalist writer Maurice Barrès, Blum had little interest in politics until the Dreyfus Affair of 1894, which had a traumatic effect on him as it did on many French Jews. Campaigning as a Dreyfusard brought him into contact with the socialist leader Jean Jaurès, whom he greatly admired. He began contributing to the socialist daily, L’Humanité, and joined the Socialist Party, then called the SFIO. Soon he was the party’s main theoretician.

In July 1914, just as the First World War broke out, Jaurès was assassinated, and Blum became more active in the Socialist party leadership. In August 1914 Blum became assistant to the Socialist Minister of Public Works Marcel Sembat. In 1919 he was chosen as chair of the party’s executive committee, and was also elected to the National Assembly as a representative of Paris. Believing that there was no such thing as a “good dictatorship”, he opposed participation in the Comintern. Therefore, in 1920, he worked to prevent a split between supporters and opponents of the Russian Revolution, but the radicals seceded, taking L’Humanité with them, and formed the SFIC.

Blum led the SFIO through the 1920s and 1930s, and was also editor of the party’s new paper, Le Populaire.

The Popular Front

Blum was elected as Deputy for Narbonne in 1929, and was re-elected in 1932 and 1936. In 1933, he expelled Marcel Déat, Pierre Renaudel, and other neosocialists from the SFIO. Political circumstances changed in 1934, when the rise of German dictator Adolf Hitler and fascist riots in Paris caused Stalin and the French Communists to change their policy. In 1935 all the parties of left and centre formed the Popular Front, which at the elections of June 1936 won a sweeping victory.

On 13 February 1936, shortly before becoming Prime Minister, Blum was dragged from a car and almost beaten to death by the Camelots du Roi, a group of anti-Semites and royalists. The right-wing Action Française league was dissolved by the government following this incident, not long before the elections that brought Blum to power.[1]

Blum became the first socialist and the first Jew to serve as Prime Minister of France. As such he was an object of particular hatred to the Catholic and anti-Semitic right, and was denounced in the National Assembly by Xavier Vallat, a right-wing Deputy and sympathizer of the Action Française (later Commissioner for Jewish Affairs in the Vichy wartime government), who said:

Your coming to power is undoubtedly a historic event. For the first time this old Gallo-Roman country will be governed by a Jew. I dare say out loud what the country is thinking, deep inside : it is preferable for this country to be led by a man whose origins belong to his soil… than by a cunning talmudist.[2]

The industrial workers responded to the election of the Popular Front government by occupying their factories, confident that “the revolution” was imminent. For Blum, as a Marxist, this was an agonising moment. He did not believe that socialism could be achieved by parliamentary means. But he could not encourage the workers to launch a violent revolution : he believed that the army would intervene and the poor workers would be massacred again as they had been at the Paris Commune in 1871. He persuaded the workers to accept pay raises and go back to work.

Similarly, when the Spanish Civil War broke out, Blum was forced to adopt a policy of neutrality rather than assist his ideological fellows, the Spanish Left-leaning Republicans, for fear of splitting his alliance with the centrist Radicals, or even precipitating a religious civil war in France. His refusal to send arms to Spain strained his alliance with Communists, who followed Soviet policy, and urged all-out support for the Spanish Republic. The impossible dilemma caused by this issue led Blum to resign in June 1937.[3]

He was briefly Prime Minister again in March and April 1938, long enough to ship France’s heavy artillery and much needed military equipment to the Spanish Republicans.[4] Blum was unable to establish a stable ministry in France. On 10 April 1938, Blum’s socialist government fell and he was removed from office.

Despite its short life, the Popular Front government passed much important legislation, including the 40-hour week,[5] paid holidays for the workers, collective bargaining on wage claims and the nationalisation of the arms industry. Blum also attempted to pass legislation extending the rights of the Arab population of Algeria, but this was blocked by “colons” colonist representatives in the Chamber and Senate. [6] In foreign policy, his government was divided between the traditional anti-militarism of the French left and the urgency of the rising threat of Nazi Germany. Despite the division, the government managed to engage the greatest war effort since the First World War.

Second World War

When the Germans occupied France in June 1940, Blum made no effort to leave the country, despite the extreme danger he was in as a Jew and a socialist leader; instead of fleeing the country, he escaped to southern France, but the French ordered his arrest. Blum was imprisoned in Fort du Portalet in the Pyrenees.[7]

Blum was among the “The Vichy 80”, a minority of parliamentarians that refused to grant full powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain. He was arrested by the authorities in September and held until 1942, when he was put on trial in the Riom Trial on charges of treason, for having “weakened France’s defenses” by ordering her arsenal shipped to Spain, leaving France’s infantry unsupported by heavy artillery on the eastern front against Nazi Germany. He used the courtroom to make a brilliant indictment of the French military and pro-German politicians like Pierre Laval. The trial was such an embarrassment to the Vichy regime that the Germans ordered it called off. He was transferred to German custody and imprisoned in Germany until 1945.

In April 1943, the occupying Government had Blum imprisoned in Buchenwald in the section reserved for high-ranking prisoners. His future wife, Janot Blum, chose to come to the camp voluntarily to live with him inside the camp. As the Allied armies approached Buchenwald, he was transferred to Dachau, near Munich, and in late April 1945, together with other notable inmates, to Tyrol. In the last weeks of the war the Nazi regime gave orders that he was to be executed[citation needed], but the local authorities decided not to obey them. Blum was rescued by Allied troops in May 1945. While in prison he wrote his best known work, the essay À l’échelle Humaine (“For all mankind”).

His brother René, the founder of the Ballet de l’Opéra à Monte Carlo, was arrested in Paris in 1942. He was deported to Auschwitz where, according to the Vrba-Wetzler report, he was tortured and killed in April 1943.

Post-war period

After the war, Léon Blum returned to politics, and was again briefly Prime Minister in the transitional postwar coalition government. He advocated the alliance between the center-left and the center-right parties in order to support the Fourth Republic against the Gaullists and the Communists. Although Blum’s last government was very much an interim administration (lasting less than five weeks) it nevertheless succeeded in implementing a number of measures which helped to reduce the cost of living.[8]

Blum also served as an ambassador on a government loan mission to the United States, and as head of the French mission to UNESCO. He continued to write for Le Populaire until his death at Jouy-en-Josas, near Paris, on 30 March 1950. The kibbutz of Kfar Blum in northern Israel is named after him.

Government

First ministry (4 June 1936 – 22 June 1937)

  • Léon Blum – President of the Council
  • Édouard Daladier – Vice President of the Council and Minister of National Defense and War
  • Yvon Delbos – Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Roger Salengro – Minister of the Interior
  • Vincent Auriol – Minister of Finance
  • Charles Spinasse – Minister of National Economy
  • Jean-Baptiste Lebas – Minister of Labour
  • Marc Rucart – Minister of Justice
  • Alphonse Gasnier-Duparc – Minister of Marine
  • Pierre Cot – Minister of Air
  • Jean Zay – Minister of National Education
  • Albert Rivière – Minister of Pensions
  • Georges Monnet – Minister of Agriculture
  • Marius Moutet – Minister of Colonies
  • Albert Bedouce – Minister of Public Works
  • Henri Sellier – Minister of Public Health
  • Robert Jardillier – Minister of Posts, Telegraphs, and Telephones
  • Paul Bastid – Minister of Commerce
  • Camille Chautemps – Minister of State
  • Paul Faure – Minister of State
  • Maurice Viollette – Minister of State
  • Léo Lagrange – Under-Secretary of State for the Organization of the leisure activities and sports -i.e. Minister for the Sports-

Changes:

  • 18 November 1936 – Marx Dormoy succeeds Roger Salengro as Minister of the Interior, following Salengro’s suicide.

Second ministry (13 March – 10 April 1938)

  • Léon Blum – President of the Council and Minister of Treasury
  • Édouard Daladier – Vice President of the Council and Minister of National Defense and War
  • Joseph Paul-Boncour – Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Marx Dormoy – Minister of the Interior
  • Charles Spinasse – Minister of Budget
  • Albert Sérol – Minister of Labour
  • Marc Rucart – Minister of Justice
  • César Campinchi – Minister of Military Marine
  • Guy La Chambre – Minister of Air
  • Jean Zay – Minister of National Education
  • Albert Rivière – Minister of Pensions
  • Georges Monnet – Minister of Agriculture
  • Marius Moutet – Minister of Colonies
  • Jules Moch – Minister of Public Works
  • Fernand Gentin – Minister of Public Health
  • Jean-Baptiste Lebas – Minister of Posts, Telegraphs, and Telephones
  • Ludovic-Oscar Frossard – Minister of Propaganda
  • Vincent Auriol – Minister of Coordination of Services of the Presidency of the Council
  • Pierre Cot – Minister of Commerce
  • Paul Faure – Minister of State
  • Théodore Steeg – Minister of State
  • Maurice Viollette – Minister of State
  • Albert Sarraut – Minister of State in charge of North African Affairs
  • Léo Lagrange – Under-Secretary of State for the Sports, the Leisure activities and the Physical Education,

Third ministry (16 December 1946 – 22 January 1947)

  • Léon Blum – President of the Provisional Government and Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • André Le Troquer – Minister of National Defense
  • Édouard Depreux – Minister of the Interior
  • André Philip – Minister of Familial Economy and Finance
  • Robert Lacoste – Minister of Industrial Production
  • Daniel Mayer – Minister of Labour and Social Security
  • Paul Ramadier – Minister of Justice
  • Yves Tanguy – Minister of Public Utilities
  • Marcel Edmond Naegelen – Minister of National Education
  • Max Lejeune – Minister of Veterans and War Victims
  • François Tanguy-Prigent – Minister of Agriculture
  • Marius Moutet – Minister of Overseas France
  • Jules Moch – Minister of Public Works, Transport, Reconstruction, and Town Planning
  • Pierre Segelle – Minister of Public Health and Population
  • Eugène Thomas – Minister of Posts
  • Félix Gouin – Minister of Planning
  • Guy Mollet – Minister of State
  • Augustin Laurent – Minister of State