Guy Mollet

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Guy Mollet
Guy Mollet Archief.PNG
Mollet in 1958.
Prime Minister of France
In office
1 February 1956 – 13 June 1957
PresidentRené Coty
Preceded byEdgar Faure
Succeeded byMaurice Bourgès-Maunoury
Personal details
Born31 December 1905
Flers, Orne, France
Died3 October 1975(1975-10-03) (aged 69)
Paris, France
Political partySFIO (1923–1969)
PS (1969–1975)

Guy Alcide Mollet (French pronunciation: ​[ɡi mɔlɛ]; 31 December 1905 – 3 October 1975) was a French politician. He led the socialist French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) from 1946 to 1969 and was the French Prime Minister from 1956 to 1957.

As Prime Minister, Mollet passed some significant domestic reforms and worked for European integration, proposing the Franco-British Union. He became unpopular in both the left and the right in the country for his international policy, especially during the Suez Crisis and the Algerian War.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Flers in Normandy, the son of a textile worker. He was educated in Le Havre and became an English teacher in Arras Grammar School.[1] Like most other teachers,[citation needed] he was an active member of the socialist SFIO, joining in 1923,[1] and in 1928 he became SFIO Secretary for the Pas-de-Calais département.

World War II[edit]

He joined the French Army in 1939 and was taken prisoner by the Germans. Released after seven months, he joined the French Resistance, where he was a captain,[1] in the Arras area and was three times arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo.[citation needed]

Early political career[edit]

In October 1945, Mollet was elected to the French National Assembly as a representative from Pas-de-Calais. In 1946, he became Secretary-General of the SFIO, standing against Daniel Mayer, the candidate supported by Léon Blum. He was also Mayor of Arras at this time.[1] Mollet represented the left-wing of the party, which feared the dissolution of the Socialist identity in a centrist alliance.[citation needed]

Although he retained Marxist terminology, he accepted the alliance with the centre and centre-right parties during the Fourth Republic, and his relations with the French Communist Party (PCF), which had become the largest left-wing party, were very poor:[citation needed] "the Communist Party is not on the left, but in the East".

Cabinet roles[edit]

He served as deputy prime minister in 1946,[citation needed] in Blum's government.[1]

From 1950 to 1951, he was Minister for European Relations in the government of the Radical René Pleven, and in 1951, he was deputy prime minister in the government of Henri Queuille.


Mollet supported a Western European Federation.[1] He represented France at the Council of Europe, and he was President of the Socialist Group on the council's Assembly.

Socialist international[edit]

From 1951 to 1969, he was vice-president of the Socialist International.


During the 1956 legislative campaign, Mollet created a centre-left coalition, the Republican Front, containing the Radical Party of Pierre Mendès-France, the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance of François Mitterrand and the Social Gaullists of Jacques Chaban-Delmas.

The coalition won the election with a promise to re-establish the peace in Algeria.[citation needed] As leader of the main party of the coalition, Mollet led and formed a cabinet in January 1956.

Foreign policy[edit]

In foreign policy, Mollet negotiated and signed the Treaty of Rome, creating the European Economic Community. Liberalising reforms were carried out in various parts of the French Empire but not in Algeria. Gaston Defferre's loi-cadre of 23 June 1956 generalised universal suffrage throughout the territories d'outre-mer and based their assemblies on a single voting roll.[2]

The government established the BEPTOM (Bureau d'études des postes et télécommunications d'outre-mer) to support communications in the newly independent former colonies.[3]

Suez Crisis[edit]

Despite those successes, Mollet, who wanted to concentrate on domestic issues, found himself confronted with several major foreign policy crises. Egypt's president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, continued to support the Algerian rebels and also nationalised the Suez Canal, which led to the Suez Crisis.[4]

The Anglophile Mollet and British Prime Minister Anthony Eden shared a mutual concern for maintaining their overseas possessions.[5] Eden also feared that Nasser intended to cut off oil supplies to Europe. In October 1956 Mollet, Eden and the prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, met and colluded, in the Protocol of Sèvres, in a joint attack of Egypt.

The Israelis invaded Egypt first, with British and French troops invading the northern Suez Canal area shortly afterward, under the pretext of restoring order in the area. However, the scheme met with unexpected opposition from the United States, both at the United Nations General Assembly and with economical measures.[4] France and Britain were forced into a humiliating backdown.

Eden resigned as a result, but Mollet survived the crisis despite fierce leftist criticism.[citation needed]

In Michael Karpin's 2001 documentary A Bomb in the Basement, Abel Thomas, the chief of political staff for France's defense minister in 1956, said that Francis Perrin, the head of the French Atomic Energy Commission, told Mollet that Israel should be provided with a nuclear bomb. According to the documentary, France provided Israel with a nuclear reactor and staff to set it up in Israel, together with enriched uranium and the means to produce plutonium, in exchange for support in the Suez War.[6][7]


In the post-war period, Mollet was aware of, and approved of, the fraudulent elections held in French Algeria while the Socialist Naegelen was governor-general of Algeria from 1948 to 1951.[8] Like the rest of the French Left, Mollet opposed French colonialism and had supported Mendès-France's efforts in office to withdraw from Tunisia and Morocco, which were granted independence in 1956 by the loi-cadre Deferre. Mollet's government was left with the issue of the three French departments of Algeria, where the presence of a million non-Muslim French residents made a simple withdrawal politically difficult.[5]

At first, Mollet's policy was to negotiate with the National Liberation Front (FLN). Once in office, however, he changed his mind and argued that the FLN insurgents must be defeated before negotiations could begin. Mollet's visit to Algiers, the capital of French Algeria, was a stormy one, with almost everyone against him. He was pelted with rotten tomatoes at a demonstration in Algiers on 6 February 1956, a few weeks after he became prime minister. The memorable event was referred to as la journée des tomates ("the day of tomatoes").[citation needed]

He poured French troops into Algeria, where they conducted a campaign of counterterrorism, including torture, particularly during the Battle of Algiers (January to October 1957). It was too much for most French people, and Mollet's government collapsed in June 1957 on the issue of the taxation to pay for the Algerian War. The Secretary of State to Foreign Affairs, Alain Savary, also a SFIO member, resigned because of his opposition to Mollet's hardline stance in Algeria.[citation needed]

Domestic policy[edit]

Mollet's cabinet carried out a programme of progressive social reform, which was almost unnoticed because of both the international context and the Algerian War. Substantial improvements were made in welfare provision for the sick and elderly, funding for regional aid and housing was increased[9] veterans' payments were extended[10] and a third week of paid holidays was introduced. Mollet's government passed other pieces of social legislation during its time in office, including an increase in wages and improved medical benefits.[11]

The level and mechanism of state pensions to both the elderly and chronically-ill was improved, and working-class housing was also given close attention. HLMs were a top priority in the government's target of 320,000 houses in 1956.[2] Educational opportunities were increased, and wage-price levels were adjusted in favour of workers and civil servants.[12]

In June 1956, a national solidarity fund for the elderly was set up, which provided supplementary allowances for elderly people to provide them with a more adequate income.[13][14] In addition, a law of December 1956 established an allowance for the mothers of household for non-salaried workers.[15] Sales tax on essential commodities was abolished[16] while regional differences in minimum wage standards across France were reduced.[17]

A decree of November 1956 abolished written homework for children until the sixth grade, thereby lightening the load on French schoolchildren; official instructions of January 1957 also specified that nursery schools should include such facilities as a medical room and a recreational room.[18] An act was passed in April 1957 to allow people who employed domestic help in their service to form an employers' association,[19] and a law was passed for the legal status of the Agence France-Presse news agency.[20] In addition, an act in July 1957 confirmed a 1955 decree that created a complementary procedure for mediation.[21]

To encourage scientific research, a decree in March 1957 made provision for research bonuses to be awarded to research workers of the National Centre for Scientific Research and to staff of universities and technical colleges engaged in research. Under a decree in June 1956, the Atomic Energy Authority founded the National Institute of Technical Nuclear Science at Saclay. Under an act in March 1957, a National Institute of Applied Science was opened in Lyon. Under a decree in November 1956, the National Institute of Nuclear Science and Techniques was authorised "to organise courses for third-cycle doctorates in metallurgy and in accelerator physics awarded by science faculties, as well as to award the necessary certificates for the obtention of these doctorates." A ministerial decision of November 1956, instituted a course in atomic engineering at the National Institute of Nuclear Science and Techniques" that was "designed to train engineers in the construction and working of nuclear reactors."

A decree in August 1956 started a national diploma in fine arts, and a ministerial decision in December 1956 started a national certificate of oenology. A decree in February 1957 founded in each faculty of arts or science, under the dean's authority, "a training institute for secondary school teachers, run by a professor" to train future teachers for secondary, teacher training, national vocational and technical schools.[22]

Although the Mollet government introduced a broad range of reforms during its time in office, financial constraints prevented the passage of other planned reforms, such as the refunding of a higher percentage of prescription charges, extended rights for comités d'enterprise and the compulsory arbitration of works disputes.[2]

End of government[edit]

Mollet's cabinet was the last government formed by the SFIO, which was in increasing decline, and it was also the last stable government of the Fourth Republic.

Supporter of de Gaulle[edit]

The Algiers coup in May 1958, led by veterans of the First Indochina War and the Suez Crisis, brought Charles de Gaulle to power from retirement and in effect seized power. Mollet supported de Gaulle on the grounds that France needed a new constitution to allow the formation of strong governments.

De Gaulle appointed him one of four Secretaries of State in his first cabinet. That caused the creation of the PSU, the Unified Socialist Party, formed by the PSA Autonomous Socialist Party and the UGS (Union de la gauche socialiste, a split of the SFIO).

Later life[edit]

Guy Mollet, with his wife and Golda Meir, watch Israel's Independence Day Parade in Tel Aviv, 13 May 1959
Guy Mollet at a Socialist International meeting in Haifa in 1960, with Erich Ollenhauer (left)

Mollet resigned from de Gaulle's cabinet in 1959 and did not hold office again. He remained Secretary-General of the SFIO, but Gaulle's new Fifth Republic made it a powerless opposition party. By the 1960s, it was in terminal decline.[citation needed]

During the 1965 presidential campaign, he presented himself again as the guardian of Socialist identity, opposing the candidacy of Gaston Defferre, who proposed the constitution of a "Great Federation" with the non-Gaullist centre-right. Mollet supported François Mitterrand's candidacy and participated in the centre-left coalition Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left, which would split three years later.[citation needed]

His leadership over the party was being more and more challenged. He could not prevent Defferre being the SFIO candidate at the 1969 presidential election.

The disastrous result (5%) induced the SFIO to merge with left-wing clubs to form the new French Socialist Party. Mollet abandoned the leadership to Alain Savary. However, the internal opposition to Savary accused Mollet of being the true party leader from the sidelines and allied with François Mitterrand, who joined the party during the Épinay Congress and took the leadership in 1971.[citation needed]

Mollet and his followers were ejected in the minority of the party. He mocked the Socialist speeches of Mitterrand: "He is not socialist, he has learned to speak socialist".[citation needed]

Mollet died in Paris in 1975 of a heart attack.


He is one of the most controversial of the French Socialist leaders. His name is tied up with the SFIO decline and his repressive policy in Algeria. In French political language, the word molletisme equates to duplicity, making left-wing speeches to win elections and then implementing a conservative policy. French Socialist politicians currently prefer the moral authority of Pierre Mendès-France, even though he was not a member of the party.[citation needed]

His biography, by Denis Lefebvre, was called Guy Mollet: Le mal aimé ("Guy Mollet: The Unloved One").


The cabinet lasted from 1 February 1956 to 13 June 1957 and contained the following members:

Portfolio Holder Party
President of the Council of Ministers Guy Mollet SFIO
Minister of Foreign Affairs Christian Pineau SFIO
Minister of the Interior Jean Gilbert-Jules PRS
Minister of Justice François Mitterrand UDSR
Minister of the Armed Forces Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury PRS
Minister of Finance Robert Lacoste SFIO
Minister of National Education René Billères PRS
Minister of Social Affairs Albert Gazier SFIO
Minister of Veterans Affairs François Tanguy-Prigent SFIO
Minister of Overseas France Gaston Defferre SFIO
Minister of Algerian Affairs Georges Catroux Military
Minister of State Pierre Mendès France PRS
Minister of State Félix Houphouët-Boigny RDA


  • 14 February 1956 – Paul Ramadier succeeds Lacoste as Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs. Morice leaves the cabinet and is not replaced as Minister of Industry.
  • 21 February 1956 – Jacques Chaban-Delmas enters the cabinet as Minister of State.
  • 23 May 1956 – Mendès-France leaves the cabinet.


  • Aussaresses, General Paul, The Battle of the Casbah: Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in Algeria, 1955–1957. (New York: Enigma Books, 2010) ISBN 978-1-929631-30-8.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Chambers Biographical Dictionary. Chambers. 28 September 2007. p. 1100.
  2. ^ a b c France Since The Popular Front: Government and people 1936–1996 by Maurice Larkin
  3. ^ Decree #94-1142 of 22 December 1994 on and on Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ a b Lahav, Pnina. "The Suez Crisis of 1956 and Its Aftermath: A Comparative Study of Constitutions, Use of Force, Diplomacy and International Relations". Boston University Law Review. Archived from the original on 6 July 2020. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  5. ^ a b Lahav, Pnina (20 November 2015). "The Suez Crisis of 1956 and its Aftermath: a Comparative Study of Constitutions, Use of Force, Diplomacy and International Relations". Boston University Law Review. 95. Archived from the original on 6 July 2020. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  6. ^ Inigo Gilmore (23 December 2001). "Israel reveals secrets of how it gained bomb". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  7. ^ "Documentary Says Israel Got Nuclear Weapons From France". Fox News. Associated Press. 2 November 2001.
  8. ^ "La SFIO, Guy Mollet et l'Algérie de 1945 à 1955 (1986)". Archived from the original on 13 January 2020. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  9. ^ A Concise History of France by Roger Price
  10. ^ Ideology and Politics: The Socialist Party of France by George A. Codding Jr. And William Safran
  11. ^ The Course of French History by Pierre Goubert
  12. ^ The Major Governments of Modern Europe. p. 274.
  13. ^ Evans, R.; Evans, P.; Laroque, P. (1983). The Social Institutions of France: Translations from the First French Edition. Gordon and Breach. p. 632. ISBN 9780677309705.
  14. ^ Europe, C. (1990). Documents. Council of Europe. pp. 2–34. ISBN 9789287118547.
  15. ^ Evans, R.; Evans, P.; Laroque, P. (1983). The Social Institutions of France: Translations from the First French Edition. Gordon and Breach. p. 116. ISBN 9780677309705.
  16. ^ The National and English Review. National Review Limited. 1957. ISSN 0952-6447.
  17. ^ New York Times – 2 February 1957 edition
  18. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 1 October 2021. Retrieved 14 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ Michel Despax; Rojot, J.; Laborde, J.P. (2011). Labour Law in France. Kluwer Law International. p. 198. ISBN 9789041134639.
  20. ^ Palmer, A.L.P.P.P.M.; Palmer, M.; Tunstall, J.; Tunstall, R.P.S.J. (2006). Media Moguls. Taylor & Francis. p. 73. ISBN 9781134937349. Archived from the original on 15 December 2021. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
  21. ^ Michel Despax; Rojot, J.; Laborde, J.P. (2011). Labour Law in France. Kluwer Law International. p. 344. ISBN 9789041134639.
  22. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 27 December 2015. Retrieved 2 August 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
Party political offices
Preceded by General Secretary of the French Section of the Workers' International
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Minister of State
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Minister for the Council of Europe
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Deputy Prime Minister of France
with René Pleven and Georges Bidault
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Deputy Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Minister of State
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Minister of General Civil Servant Status
Succeeded by