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Léon Blum

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Léon Blum
Blum in 1936
Prime Minister of France
In office
16 December 1946 – 22 January 1947
PresidentVincent Auriol
Preceded byGeorges Bidault
Succeeded byPaul Ramadier
In office
13 March 1938 – 10 April 1938
PresidentAlbert Lebrun
DeputyÉdouard Daladier
Preceded byCamille Chautemps
Succeeded byÉdouard Daladier
In office
4 June 1936 – 22 June 1937
PresidentAlbert Lebrun
DeputyÉdouard Daladier
Preceded byAlbert Sarraut
Succeeded byCamille Chautemps
Deputy Prime Minister of France
In office
28 July 1948 – 5 September 1948
Prime MinisterAndré Marie
Preceded byVacant
Succeeded byAndré Marie
In office
29 June 1937 – 18 January 1938
Prime MinisterCamille Chautemps
Preceded byÉdouard Daladier
Succeeded byÉdouard Daladier
Personal details
André Léon Blum

(1872-04-09)9 April 1872
Paris, France
Died30 March 1950(1950-03-30) (aged 77)
Jouy-en-Josas, France
Political partyFrench Section of the Workers' International
  • Lise Bloch (1896–1931)
  • Thérèse Pereyra (1932–1938)
  • Jeanne Levylier (1943–1950)
ChildrenRobert Blum
  • Abraham Auguste Blum
  • Adèle Marie Alice Picart
EducationUniversity of Paris

André Léon Blum (French: [ɑ̃dʁe leɔ̃ blum];[1] 9 April 1872 – 30 March 1950) was a French socialist politician and three-time Prime Minister of France. As a Jew, he was heavily influenced by the Dreyfus affair of the late 19th century. He was a disciple of socialist leader Jean Jaurès; after Jaurès' assassination in 1914, he became his successor.

Despite Blum's relatively short tenures, his time in office was very influential: as Prime Minister in the left-wing Popular Front government in 1936–1937, he provided a series of major economic and social reforms. Blum declared neutrality in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) to avoid the civil conflict spilling over into France itself. Once out of office in 1938, he denounced the appeasement of Germany.

When Germany defeated France in 1940, he became a staunch opponent of Vichy France. Tried (but never judged) by the Vichy government on charges of treason, he was imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp. After the war, he resumed a transitional leadership role in French politics, helping to bring about the French Fourth Republic, until his death in 1950.

Early life


Blum was born in 1872 in Paris to a moderately prosperous, middle class, assimilated Jewish family in the mercantile business.[2] His father Abraham, a merchant, was born in Alsace.[citation needed]

Blum entered the École Normale Supérieure in 1890 and excelled there, but he dropped out after a year later, entering instead the Faculty of Law.[3] He attended the University of Paris and became both a lawyer and literary critic. Between 1905 and 1907 he wrote Du Mariage a highly controversial (for the period) and much talked about critical essay about the problems with traditional marriage as envisioned in the late 19th century, with its religious and economic background and strong stress on women remaining virgins until their marriage day.[citation needed]

Blum stated that both men and women should enjoy a period of "polygamic" free sex life in order to experience a more mature and stable relationship during later married life: “For both men and women, the life of adventure must precede the life of marriage, the life of instinct must precede the life of reason” [4]

Unsurprisingly he was targeted by the then-powerful Catholic Church in France, in the wake of the turmoil caused by the separation between church and state implemented by Emile Combes in 1905. Far right and royalist politicians and agitators, and most preeminently Charles Maurras, were incensed, and pelted mostly anti-semitic insults and public outrage at Blum, famously dubbing him "le pornographe du Conseil d'état" as Blum was by then a counsellor of this institution. Although Blum's views are nowadays accepted and mostly mainstream in many developed countries,[5] the book remained an object of scandal long after WWI and the shift to the emancipation of women.

First political experiences


While in his youth an avid reader of the works of the nationalist writer Maurice Barrès, Blum had shown little interest in politics until the Dreyfus Affair of 1894, which had a traumatic effect on him as it did on many French Jews.[6] Blum first became personally involved in the Affair when he aided the defense case of Émile Zola in 1898 as a jurist, before which he had not demonstrated interest in public affairs.[3] 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 French Section of the Workers' International (French: Section française de l'Internationale ouvrière, SFIO). Soon he was the party's main theoretician.[6] It is possible that Blum's interest in politics began somewhat earlier, as Fernand Gregh mentioned in his personal memoirs that Blum had expressed interest in politics as early as 1892.[3]

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 French Section of the Communist International (SFIC).

Blum led the SFIO through the 1920s and 1930s, and was also editor of the party's newspaper, Le Populaire.


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. France had not successfully recovered from the worldwide economic depression, wages had fallen and the working class demanded reforms. The Popular Front won a sweeping victory in June 1936. The Popular Front won a solid majority with 386 seats out of 608. For the first time, the Socialists won more seats than the Radicals; they formed an effective coalition. As Socialist leader Blum became Prime Minister of France and the first socialist to hold that office, he formed a cabinet that included 20 Socialists, 13 Radicals and two Socialist Republicans. The Communists won 15 percent of the vote, and 12 percent of the seats. They supported the government, although they refused to take any cabinet positions. For the first time, the cabinet included three women in minor roles, even though women were not able to vote.[7][8][9]

Labour policies


The election of the left-wing government brought a wave of strikes, involving two million workers, and the seizure of many factories. The strikes were spontaneous and unorganised, but nevertheless the business community panicked and met secretly with Blum, who negotiated a series of reforms, and then gave labour unions the credit for the Matignon Accords.[10] The new laws:

  • gave workers the right to strike
  • initiated collective bargaining
  • legislated the mandating of 12 days of paid annual leave
  • legislated a 40-hour working week (outside of overtime)
  • raised wages (15% for the lowest-paid workers, and 7% for the relatively well-paid)
  • stipulated that employers would recognise shop stewards
  • ensured that there would be no retaliation against strikers

The government legislated its promised reforms as rapidly as possible. On 11 June, the Chamber of Deputies voted for the forty-hour workweek, the restoration of civil servants' salaries, and two weeks' paid holidays, by a majority of 528 to 7. The Senate voted in favour of these laws within a week.[11]

Blum persuaded the workers to accept pay raises and go back to work. Wages increased sharply; in two years the national average was up 48 percent. However inflation also rose 46%. The imposition of the 40-hour week proved highly inefficient, as industry had a difficult time adjusting to it.[12] The economic confusion hindered the rearmament effort, and the rapid growth of German armaments alarmed Blum. He launched a major program to speed up arms production. The cost forced the abandonment of the social reform programmes that the Popular Front had counted heavily on.[13]

Additional reforms


By mid-August 1936, the parliament had voted for:

  • the creation of a national Office du blé (Grain Board or Wheat Office, through which the government helped to market agricultural produce at fair prices for farmers) to stabilise prices and curb speculation
  • the nationalisation of the arms industries
  • loans to small and medium-sized industries
  • the raising of the compulsory school-attendance age to 14 years
  • a major public works programme

It also raised the pay, pensions, and allowances of public-sector workers and ex-servicemen. The 1920 Sales Tax, opposed by the Left as a tax on consumers, was abolished and replaced by a production tax, which was considered to be a tax on the producer instead of the consumer.

Blum dissolved the far-right fascist leagues. In turn the Popular Front was actively fought by right-wing and far-right movements, which often used antisemitic slurs against Blum and other Jewish ministers. The Cagoule far-right group even staged bombings to disrupt the government.

Foreign policy


The most important factor in French foreign policy was the Remilitarization of the Rhineland on 7 March 1936 in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, which had been declared to be a permanent demilitarized zone.[14] With the Rhineland remilitarized, for the first time since 1918 German military forces could menace France directly, and equally importantly the Germans started to build the Siegfried line along the Franco-German border.[14] The assumption behind the French alliance system in Eastern Europe was that the French Army would use the demilitarized status of the Rhineland to launch an offensive into western Germany if the Reich should invade any of France's allies in Eastern Europe, namely Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia.[14] With the building of the Siegfried Line, it was possible for Germany to invade any of France's Eastern European allies with the majority of the Wehrmacht being sent east with the remainder of the Wehrmacht staying on the defensive in the Rhineland to halt any French offensive into Germany, a situation that boded ill for the survival of the French alliance system in Eastern Europe.[14] A further complication for the French was the greater population of Germany as France could only field a third of the young men that the Reich could field along with the greater size of the German economy.[15] To even the odds against the Reich, it was the unanimous opinion of all French foreign policy and military experts that France needed allies. The nation that France wanted the most as an ally was Great Britain, which had the world's largest navy and provided that Britain made the "continental commitment" of sending another large expeditionary force to France like the BEF of the First World War would allow the French to face any challenge from Germany on more even terms.[16] The need for the "continental commitment" allowed Britain to have a sort of veto power over French foreign policy in the interwar period as the French wanted the "continental commitment" very badly, and thus could not afford to alienate the British too much.[17] The other major ally the French wanted was the Soviet Union. However, the lack of a common German-Soviet frontier, the unwillingness of Romania and especially Poland to grant the Red Army transit rights, and the strong British dislike of the alliance that the French signed with the Soviet Union in 1935 all presented problems from the French viewpoint.[18] Blum's foreign policy was one of attempting to improve relations with Germany to avoid a war while seeking to strengthen France's alliances and to conclude an alliance with Britain.

Following a botched coup d'état on 17 July 1936, a civil war broke out in Spain. Blum initially allowed weapons to be shipped to the Frente Popular government, but the arms shipments to the Spanish Republic caused much opposition from Britain.[19] Charles Corbin, the French ambassador in London, strongly advised Blum to cease the arms shipments to the Spanish Republicans.[19] Corbin warned that the government of Stanley Baldwin was strongly against French arms for the Spanish republic, and that France could not afford a rift with Britain over Spain given the threat posed by Germany.[19] Alexis St. Léger, the secretary-general of the Quai d'Orsay, met Blum to tell him that France needed Britain more than Britain needed France, and the French could not afford to antagonize the British for the sake of the Spanish Republic.[20] The need for British support played a major role in causing Blum to cease the arms shipments to Spain and instead have France join the ineffectual Non-Intervention Committee.[20] In July 1936, the League of Nations ended the sanctions imposed on Italy for invading Ethiopia, and therefore, France ended its sanctions on Italy.[21] The French tried hard to revive the Stresa Front after the sanctions on Italy were ended and as the American historian Barry Sullivan noted "...the French displayed an almost humiliating determination to retain Italy as an ally".[22] Benito Mussolini rejected all of the French overtures and instead aligned Italy with Germany.[22] Sullivan noted: "...Germany, which consistently treated Italy worse than did the other two countries, was rewarded with Mussolini's friendship; France, which generally offered Italy the highest level of co-operation and true partnership, was rewarded with rebuffs and abuse.".[22] The prospect of an Italian-German alliance threatened to divert French resources from a potential conflict with Germany, and drove the French into seeking closer ties with Britain as a counterbalance.[23]

Shortly after his election, Blum together with his entire cabinet visited the German embassy to meet the new German ambassador, Count Johannes von Welczeck, to tell him that France wanted good relations with Germany and that his government intended to return to the "Locarno era" of the 1920s (i.e. friendship with Germany).[24] German propaganda constantly stressed that one of the many alleged "injustices" of the Treaty of Versailles was the loss of Germany's African colonies and demanded that all of the former African colonies "go home to the Reich". Blum believed that the colonial question was the principal problem in Franco-German relations and that there was a "moderate" faction within the German government led by the Reichsbank president Dr. Hjalmar Schacht who were both willing and able to restrain Adolf Hitler.[25] During the 1936 election, Blum had run on an anti-militarist platform that called for "bread, peace and freedom" while he had promised to end the arms race by converting from an "armed peace" into a "disarmed peace".[26] When Schacht approached Blum with an offer to end the arms race in exchange for the return of former German African colonies, Blum took him up on his offer.[26] In August 1936, Schacht visited Paris where he met Blum to discuss a possible deal under which France would return the former German African colonies administered by France as mandates for the League of Nations and the end of the trade wars in Europe in exchange for Germany cutting back dramatically its level of military spending.[25] Blum told Schacht that he was willing to return French Togoland (modern Togo) and French Cameroon (modern Cameroon) to Germany as the price of peace, and pursued this line of negotiation with Schacht well into 1937.[27] However, Blum also told Schacht that France would not be bullied as he stated: "We believe our position is stronger than a few months ago. France does not tremble in the face of war, but does not want war".[28]

Schacht gave Blum the impression that he held more power in Berlin than was actually the case, and that the key to preventing another world war lay in the restoration of the German colonial empire in Africa.[25] At the time, Schacht was losing a power struggle over the control of German economic policy to the other Nazi leaders and he was keen for a foreign policy success such as the restoration of Germany's former African colonies that might restore his prestige with Hitler.[25] Blum had good relations with both Welczeck and Schacht whom he viewed as "rational, civilized Europeans" whom it was possible for him to negotiate with.[29] Notably, Hitler refused to see Blum under any conditions and Welczeck was Blum's main conduit with the Reich government.[29] In September 1936, Hitler at the Nuremberg Party Rally launched the Four Year Plan to have the German economy ready for a "total war" by September 1940, which greatly alarmed Blum.[30] In response to the Four Year Plan, Blum launched what the American historian Joseph Maiolo called "the biggest arms program ever attempted by a French government in peacetime".[26] Intelligence from the Deuxième Bureau and André François-Poncet, the French ambassador in Berlin, showed that the factories of the major German armaments firms such as Krupp AG, Rheinmetall AG and Borsig AG were running at full capacity as the German state seemed to have a limitless appetite for arms.[28] All the intelligence from François-Poncet and the Deuxième Bureau indicated that Germany was preparing for a major war in the near-future.[28] The fact that Germany had an economy three times larger than France ensured that the Reich had a massive lead in the arms race. However, the French took consolation in the fact that Germany had to import a number of crucial raw materials such as high-grade iron and oil that the Reich lacked, thereby making Germany very vulnerable to a naval blockade.[28] However, there was the caveat that many of the raw materials that Germany lacked could be found in eastern Europe and if Germany were to obtain such raw materials in eastern Europe via alliances or conquests, the German economy would be immune to a blockade. As such from the French viewpoint it was crucial to keep Eastern Europe out of the German sphere of influence. The War Minister, Édouard Daladier asked the commander of the military, General Maurice Gamelin to submit a four-year plan for military modernization.[31] When Gamelin handed in a plan that was budgeted at 9 billion francs for the French Army, Daladier rejected it as too low and added an extra 5 billion francs.[31] During an "emotional" interview with Blum, Daladier persuaded him to accept the 14 billion franc plan as he warned that Germany was winning the arms race at present.[32] On 7 September 1936, the Blum cabinet approved Daladier's 14 billion franc plan for rearmament.[32]

At the time the franc was overvalued, as it was still based on the gold standard. Blum, however, had promised during the election to uphold the gold standard, in order to reassure voters worried about inflation.[33] In the expectation of the franc being devalued, throughout the prior year, investors had been moving a massive amount of capital and gold out of France.[33] The overvalued franc made French exports expensive while making foreign imports cheaper in comparison with French goods. The sums allocated to the arms race with some 21 billion francs for the French military committed in total accelerated this capital flight as bond investors saw the Popular Front's fiscal policies as irresponsible.[34] Maiolo wrote: "Everyone knew the Popular Front could not cut the deficit and fund work creation projects, nationalize the arms industry and buy arms without borrowing. By hoarding their capital abroad, private speculators in effect vetoed the policies of the Popular Front".[34] By mid-September 1936 France's gold reserves had fallen close to 50 billion francs, which was the minimum amount considered necessary to fund rearmament.[35] To stabilize the economy and pay for rearmament, Blum engaged in secret talks for Anglo-American financial support.[36] On 26 September 1936, the franc was devalued while on the same day an economic agreement on currency stabilization with the United States and the United Kingdom was announced.[36] In a show of support for Blum, neither the Americans nor the British increased their tariffs on French goods nor were the dollar and pound devalued in response, which allowed the French to increase their exports now made cheaper by a devalued franc.[36] The devaluation of the franc did not prompt the return of gold and capital to France as Blum had hoped, and Blum was forced to turn towards Britain to ask for a loan to stabilize the franc, which gave the British leverage over his government.[36] Blum's experience in government left him convinced that it was the traders on the bond markets that really dominated the world, not national governments as he constantly faced himself having to adjust his policies to appease the bond markets.[36]

As the talks with Schacht faltered, Blum turned towards the alliance with the Soviet Union and France's other eastern European allies. The Blum government attempted to build an institutional bond to link France on a collective basis with the Little Entente alliance of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania.[37] After the remilitarization of the Rhineland, both King Carol II of Romania and Milan Stojadinović of Yugoslavia rejected the French offer and preferred to move closer to Germany out of the belief that France would do nothing to assist their nations in the event of a German invasion.[37] Even President Edvard Beneš of Czechoslovakia-generally regarded as the Eastern European leader most committed to upholding his country's alliance with France-attempted to improve his relations with Germany after the Rhineland remiltarization.[37] Franco-Polish relations had been badly strained ever since the German-Polish non-aggression pact of 1934, but in the aftermath of the Rhineland remiltarization, the Polish Foreign Minister Colonel Józef Beck expressed the wish for French financial and military aid to modernize the Polish military.[37] Beck's friendship with Hermann Göring led to doubts on Blum's part about his precise loyalty to France, but the fact that Germany was still laying claim to the Polish corridor, Upper Silesia and the Free City of Danzig suggested that the German-Polish rapprochement might be only ephemeral.[37] Blum told Daladier and Gamelin: "We cannot live this way. We are bound by an alliance with a state and a people, yet we have so little confidence in them that we hesitate to deliver them arms, designs, plans-for the fear that they will betray us and deliver them to the enemy. We must know whether the Poles are our allies or not".[37] Blum sent Gamelin to Warsaw to ask Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły, another member of the triumvirate that was the leadership of the Sanacja military dictatorship, to dismiss Beck as foreign minister.[38] Rydz-Śmigły insisted that his country was still committed to upholding the Franco-Polish alliance, but refused to sack Beck.[38] In September 1936, Rydz-Śmigły visited Paris for two weeks, and Blum met him several times to request that he sack Beck.[38] Beck was not dismissed, but Blum signed an agreement for France to provide the money to allow Poland to create an arms industry.[38]

In October 1936, William Christian Bullitt Jr. arrived as the new American ambassador in Paris. Besides being the first American ambassador to France in the last 16 years who actually spoke French, Bullitt was one of the best friends of President Franklin D. Roosevelt with whom he spoke on the telephone once a day.[39] Blum had a very close friendship with Bullitt, a man he greatly liked and admired.[40] Though Blum never met Roosevelt, he admired him and he openly admitted that his social reforms were based on the New Deal as Blum declared in a speech: "Seeing him [Roosevelt] act, the French democracy has a feeling that an example was traced for it, and it is this example we are following".[41] Bullitt came to be an influential man in France and was known as the "unofficial minister without portfolio" in the French cabinet.[42] Knowing that Bullitt was one of the best friends of Roosevelt, Blum tried hard to use him to get the United States more involved in Europe.[43]

Of France's eastern European allies, the one that Blum considered the most important was the Soviet Union.[44] Blum's past battles with the French Communists made him wary of Soviet Russia, but he noted that the Soviet Union was easily the most powerful of France's eastern European allies.[44] Blum favored what he called his "grand design" under which first Anglo-French relations would be strengthened, to be followed by a strengthening of Franco-Soviet relations, and finally France would play the matchmaker and achieve an Anglo-Soviet rapprochement.[44] Blum's ultimate aim was to recreate "a combination reproducing the Triple Entente before 1914".[44] Blum was later to claim that his "grand design" would have prevented World War Two as he stated in 1947: "The close rapprochement of the Anglo-Saxon and French democracies with Soviet Russia, that is to say, an international Popular Front, would have been the salvation of the peace".[44] The Franco-Soviet alliance had been signed in May 1935, but no staff talks had been opened to draft operational plans.[44] By the fall of 1936, the Soviets were openly impatient and pressing for Franco-Soviet staff talks as it was noted that a military alliance without staff talks for a military convention was in effect worthless.[44] Blum appointed Robert Coulondre as the French ambassador in Moscow with orders to strengthen the Franco-Soviet alliance.[45] When Coulondre presented his credentials as an ambassador for France to Soviet Chairman Mikhail Kalinin, he was told quite bluntly that if the French were really serious about the alliance, staff talks should have been started sometime ago.[46] On 6 November 1936, Blum ordered Daladier and Gamelin to open Franco-Soviet staff talks with the aim of concluding a military convention to give effect to the Franco-Soviet alliance.[47] On 9 November 1936, Blum told the Soviet ambassador, Vladimir Potemkin, that it was "a step forward" for France and the Soviet Union to begin staff talks.[47]

In December 1936, the French Foreign Minister Yvon Delbos contracted Welczeck with an offer for joint Franco-German mediation to end the Spanish Civil War.[30] Provided that the Spanish Civil War could be ended, Delbos was willing to begin talks on the return of the former German colonies plus agreements to end the arms race and the trade wars in Europe.[30] In exchange, Delbos wanted an end to the Four Year Plan.[30] On 18 December 1936, Blum met Welczeck to tell him that the entire cabinet had approved of the offer, saying this was the best chance to save the peace in Europe.[48] Welczeck was personally in favor of accepting Blum's offer, but the German Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath was opposed and persuaded Hitler to reject the offer.[49] Part of the reason for the French urgency in seeking to improve relations with the Reich was the decision on the part of Belgium to renounce the alliance with France it had signed in 1920 and declare itself neutral again.[50] The Maginot Line covered the Franco-German border, but did not cover the Franco-Belgian border as Belgium was a French ally when construction of the line started in 1930.[51] With Belgium neutral, a way was open for Germany to invade France again as Blum noted that France would respect Belgian neutrality, but Germany would not.[51] The precedent of 1914 when Germany violated Belgian neutrality as the best way to invade France did not suggest that Germany would respect Belgian neutrality again. Blum ordered the Maginot line to be extended along the Franco-Belgian border, but only little work had been accomplished by 1939 and France was still very much exposed to a German invasion via Belgium.[51] Blum met in secret with the Belgian prime minister Paul van Zeeland to ask him to allow secret Franco-Belgian staff talks to coordinate operations should Germany invade Belgium again but van Zeeland refused.[51] By early 1937, Blum had grown disenchanted with Schacht whom he was starting to suspect had less power in Germany than what he claimed.[52] On 30 January 1937, Hitler gave a speech to the Reichstag where he stated that he wanted the return of Germany's former African colonies without preconditions such as cuts to military spending.[52] On 13 February 1937, Blum told the Chamber of Deputies that his government had imposed a "pause" on social reforms and a 20 billion franc plan for public works was suspended until further notice to pay for rearmament.[52]

Despite the rejection of the offer for a colonial settlement, Blum's continuing talks with Dr. Schacht into 1937 led to concerns within the cabinet of new British prime minister Neville Chamberlain that if France returned Togoland and Cameroon to Germany, Britain would come under pressure to return Tanganyika (modern Tanzania) to Germany.[53] The Chamberlain cabinet expressed concern over the fact that Blum had made an offer to return Togoland and Cameroon to Germany, which was felt to have weaken Britain's case for hanging onto Tanganyika.[53] The American historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote both the governments of Blum and Chamberlain were serious about returning the former German African colonies in some form by 1937 as he noted there was a consensus that "...the price-as perceived from London and Paris if not from Douala and Lomé-would be worth paying".[54] However, Hitler wanted the return of the former African colonies without the conditions that Blum and Chamberlain wanted such as a drastic reduction in military spending and the end of the Four Year Plan.

The Franco-Soviet staff talks stained Anglo-French relations with the British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden telling Blum during a visit to Paris in May 1937 that his government was opposed to Franco-Soviet staff talks as dangerous to the peace of Europe, a request that Blum rejected.[55] The Franco-Soviet staff talks came to a sudden end in June 1937 due to the Yezhovshchina ("Yezhov times"). On 12 June 1937, Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky along with two other Marshals of the Soviet Union were shot on charges of treason and espionage for Germany and Japan.[55] Gamelin promptly suspended the staff talks under the grounds that since the Soviet government itself had accused Tukhachevsky of being a spy for Germany and Japan then logically all the information that he shared with Tukhachevsky must had reached Berlin and Tokyo. Gamelin started that staff talks would only be resumed only once the executions of senior Red Army officers on charges of espionage for Germany and Japan ended, saying at present it was far risky for the French general staff to be engaged in staff talks with the Red Army general staff given the frequency that Red Army officers kept being executed for espionage. The decision to suspend the staff talks became a major issue in Franco-Soviet relations, and Jakob Suritz, the new Soviet ambassador in Paris who replaced Potemkin, pressed Blum very strongly to have the staff talks resumed as soon as possible.[55] Likewise, Suritz was furious over the decision to halt the arms shipments to the Spanish Republic and accused Blum of being too concerned about maintaining good Anglo-French relations.[56]

Spanish Civil War


The Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936 and deeply divided France. Blum adopted a policy of neutrality rather than assisting his ideological fellows, the Spanish Left-leaning Republicans. He acted from fear of splitting his domestic alliance with the centrist Radicals, or even precipitating an ideological civil war inside France. His refusal to send arms to Spain strained his alliance with the Communists, who followed Soviet policy and demanded all-out support for the Spanish Republic. The impossible dilemma caused by this issue led Blum to resign in June 1937.[57] All the constituents of the French left supported the Republican government in Madrid, while the right supported the Nationalist insurgents. Blum's cabinet was deeply divided and he decided on a policy of non-intervention, and collaborated with Britain and 25 other countries to formalize an agreement against sending any munitions or volunteer soldiers to Spain. The Air Minister defied the cabinet and secretly sold warplanes to Madrid. Jackson concludes that the French government "was virtually paralyzed by the menace of civil war at home, the German danger abroad, and the weakness of her own defenses."[58] The Republicans by 1938 were losing badly (they gave up in 1939), sending upwards of 500,000 political refugees across the border into France, where they were held in camps.[59]

Attacks on Blum


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 antisemites and royalists. The group's parent organisation, the right-wing Action Française league, was dissolved by the government following this incident, not long before the elections that brought Blum to power.[60] 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 from antisemitic elements.[61]

In its short life, the Popular Front government passed important legislation, including the 40-hour week, 12 paid annual holidays for the workers, collective bargaining on wage claims, and the full nationalisation of the armament and military aviation industries. This latter sweeping action had the unanticipated effect of disrupting the production of armaments at the wrong time, only three years away from the beginning of war in September 1939. 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.[62]

Second government in 1938 and collapse


Blum was briefly Prime Minister again in March and April 1938, long enough to ship heavy artillery and other much needed military equipment to the Spanish Republicans.[63] He was unable to establish a stable ministry; on 10 April 1938, his socialist government fell and he was removed from office. In foreign policy, his government was torn between the traditional anti-militarism of the French Left and the urgency of the rising threat of Nazi Germany.

Many historians judge the Popular Front a failure in terms of economics, foreign policy, and long-term stability. "Disappointment and failure," says Jackson, "was the legacy of the Popular Front."[64][65] There is general agreement that at first it created enormous excitement and expectation on the left, but in the end it failed to live up to its promise.[66]


The new government led by Édouard Daladier cooperated with Britain. Despite being on the opposite sides of the ideological divide, starting on 14 April 1938 the Conservative MP Winston Churchill started a correspondence with Blum, sending him a series of letters written in his idiosyncratic French, encouraging him to support rearmament and oppose appeasement.[67] During the Sudetenland crisis of 1938, Daladier accepted the offer of the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to serve as a "honest broker" in an attempt to find a compromise. Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler at a summit at Berchtesgaden where he agreed that the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia would be transferred to Germany.[68] At a subsequent Anglo-German summit at Bad Godesberg, Hitler rejected Chamberlain's plan over a secondary issue as he demanded that the Sudetenland be transferred to Germany before 1 October 1938 while the Anglo-French plan called for a transfer to occur after 1 October.[69] For a time in September 1938, it appeared that Europe was on brink of a war again.[69] The fact that that issue at stake was only a secondary issue, namely the timetable for transferring the Sudetenland, after the primary issue had been settled struck many as bizarre.

When Blum learned on 28 September that an emergency summit would be held in Munich the next day to resolve the crisis, he wrote that felt "an immense response of joy and hope".[69] On 29 September, Blum wrote in an editorial in Le Popularie newspaper: " The Munich meeting is an armful of tinder thrown on a sacred flame at the very moment the flame was flickering and threatening to go out".[69] The Munich Agreement that ended the crisis was a compromise as it was affirmed that the Sudetenland would be transferred to Germany but only after 1 October, albeit on a schedule that favored the German demand to have the Sudetenland "go home to the Reich" as soon as possible. When the Munich Agreement was signed on 30 September 1938, Blum wrote that he felt "soulagement honteux" ("shameful relief") as he wrote that he was happy that France would not be going to war with Germany, but he felt ashamed of an agreement that favored Germany at the expense of Czechoslovakia.[69] On 1 October 1938, Blue wrote in Le Popularie: "There is not a woman and a man to refuse MM. Neville Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier their rightful tribute of gratitude. War is avoided. The scourge recedes. Life can become natural again. One can resume one's work and sleep again. One can enjoy the beauty of an autumn sun. How would it be possible for me not to understand this sense of deliverance when I feel it myself?"[69]

The Munich Agreement badly split the Socialists into a pacifistic antiwar group that supported the agreement vs. an antifascist group that was opposed, and Blum struggled to find a compromise that would avoid splitting the Socialists.[70] The debate was also made more difficult as Blum faced accusations that because he was a Jew that he wanted a war with Germany for the sake of German Jews instead of French national interests, which explained Blum's reluctance to be appear to be too anti-German and pro-war.[71] During the vote on the Munich Agreement in the Chambre des députés on 4 October 1938, Blum voted for the Munich Agreement.[70] During the debate on the Munich Agreement, Blum declared: "This deeply felt and impassioned will for peace cannot lead a people to accept everything; on the contrary, it strengthens the resolve to struggle, to sacrifice itself, in necessary for independence and freedom, it does not abolish the distinction what is just and unjust".[70] Blum's contorted position of voting for the Munich Agreement, but being opposed to further appeasement was largely an attempt to hold together the Socialists.[71] In the months that followed, Blum became more critical of the "men of Munich". The principle object of his criticism was not Daladier-whom he knew to be a reluctant appeaser-but rather the Foreign Minister, Georges Bonnet.[72] Bonnet was known to be the advocate of some sort of Franco-German understanding under which France would recognize Eastern Europe as being in the German sphere of influence and abandon all of France's allies in Eastern Europe. Blum focused his criticism on Bonnet as the main advocate of appeasement in the cabinet.[73]

In an attempt to improve productivity in the French armament industry, especially its aviation industry, the Finance Minister Paul Reynaud supported by Daladier, brought in a series of sweeping laws that undid much of the Popular Front's economic policies, most notably ending the 48 hour work week.[74] Blum joined forces with the Communists in opposing the Daladier government's economic policies, and supported the general strike called by the Communists on 30 November 1938.[75] Daladier called out the French Army to operate essential services and had the French police use tear gas to evict striking workers at the Renault works.[75] The use of the military to operate essential services while sending out the police to arrest the strike leaders broke the general strike.[75] In a speech, Blum accused Daladier of using repressive methods to crush the French working class and revert France back to the pre-1936 economic system.[75] Complicating matters was the beginning of an acute crisis in Italo-French relations. On 30 November 1938-the same day as the general strike-a carefully staged "spontaneous" demonstration organized by the Italian Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano took place in the Italian Chamber of Deputies where on cue all of the deputies rose up to shout "Tunis, Corsica, Nice, Savoy!"[76] Benito Mussolini had intended to use what he called "Sudeten methods" on France as the Italian media started a violent anti-French campaign demanding that France cede Corsica, Nice, Savoy and Tunisia to Italy.[76] Daladier responded with a series of resolute speeches on French radio where he rejected all of the Italian demands, which won him much popularity in France.[76] From the viewpoint of Blum, being opposed to Daladier at a time when he won himself many accolades as the defender of France's territorial integrity against Italy was politically difficult. At the next session of the Chambre des députés on 9 December 1938, the Popular Front formally came to an end as Daladier chose to base his majority of the parties of the right and center.[77] Despite the end of the Popular Front, Blum did not press for a vote of no-confidence or new elections.[77] Blum believed that Daladier would win an election if one was called, and the Socialists did not vote for a Communist motion of no-confidence in the Daladier government.

At a Socialist Party congress in Montrouge in December 1938, Blum called upon his party to abandon pacifism and support French rearmament.[78] Blum argued that the idea championed by his mentor Jaures of general strikes in all European nations to stop a war was no longer possible as the trade unions and the Social Democratic Party in Germany had been long since banned, and there was no possibility of a general strike in the Reich to stop a war.[79] In a speech delivered on 27 December 1938, Blum accused the governments of Germany, Italy and Japan of being committed to policies of ultra-aggressive imperialism and argued that the way to stop another world war was rearmament and an alliance of all the states threatened by the Axis powers.[79] Blum stated that he did not want a war, but he favored rearmament to avoid the "atrocious choice between submission and war".[79] On 28 December, the congress ended with 4, 332 Socialist delegates voting for Blum's call for rearmament vs. 2, 837 votes for Paul Faure's pacifist motion opposing rearmament and another 1, 014 delegates who chose to abstain themselves from the vote.[79] Through Blum had triumphed at the Montrouge congress, the results of the vote showed a significant element of the Socialist Party opposed to or at least lukewarm about rearmament.[79] On 10 February 1939, Blum met with the Soviet ambassador in Paris, Jakob Suritz, where he told him of his belief that Daladier and Bonnet were leading France "to a new Sedan".[80] Suritz described Blum as morose and disconsolate as he noted that Blum seemed convinced that France was heading towards a catastrophe without being willing to do anything to stop it.[80]

The Danzig crisis


During the Danzig crisis of 1939, Blum supported the measures taken by Britain and France to "contain" Germany and deter the Reich from invading Poland.[81] The Danzig crisis forced Blum into the ambivalent position of supporting the foreign policy of the Daladier government while opposing its economic and social policies.[77] Blum spoke in favor of greater military spending as he noted in an editorial in Le Popularie on 1 April 1939: "This is the state which the dictators have led Europe. For us Socialists, for us pacifists, the appeal to force is today the appeal for peace".[81] When U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a public letter to Hitler on 14 April 1939, asking him to promise to not threaten his neighbors, Blum expressed hope that this might be a solution for the crisis.[81] However, in a brutal speech to the Reichstag on 28 April 1939, Hitler publicly mocked Roosevelt's appeal. Blum's support for Roosevelt's letter was the only time in the crisis that he expressed support for a measure of reconciliation with Germany.[81]

During the crisis, Blum was greatly alarmed at the attitude of the British Labour Party, which were stoutly opposed to peacetime conscription,[81] The Labour Party were planning make the prospect of peacetime conscription into an election issue (a general election was expected in Britain in 1939 or 1940), which the Chamberlain government gave as the major reason for opposing peacetime conscription. Blum wrote to several Labour leaders as one Socialist to another, urging that Labour support peacetime conscription as necessary to resist Germany.[81] Blum argued that France needed the "continental commitment" from Britain (i.e. send a large expeditionary force to France), which in turn required peacetime conscription as the current system of an all-volunteer army would never suffice for the "continental commitment". Blum stated in a public letter to the Labour Party in Le Popularie on 27 April 1939 that he did not like the Chamberlain government, but on the issue of peacetime conscription: "I do not hesitate to state to my Labour comrades my deepest conviction that at very moment at which I write, conscription in England is one of the capital acts upon which the peace of the world depends".[81] Blum visited London to lobby the Labour leaders to support peacetime conscription, and met Chamberlain during the same visit.[81] In a speech in the House of Commons on 11 May 1939, Chamberlain stated: "I had the opportunity yesterday of exchanging a few words with M. Blum, the French Socialist leader and former Prime Minister, and he said to me that in his view, and in the view of all the Socialist friends he had talked to, that there was only one danger of war in Europe, and that was a real one: It was that the impression should get about that Great Britain and France were not in earnest, and that they could not be relied upon to carry out their promises. If that there were so, no greater, no more deadly mistake could be made-and if it would be a frightful thing if Europe were to be plunged into war on the account of a misunderstanding. In many minds, the danger spot today is Danzig...if an attempt were made to change the situation by force in such a way as to threaten Polish independence, they would inevitably start a general conflagration in which this country would be involved."[82] Upon his return to Paris, Blum gave a speech in the Chambre des députés that called upon France to stand by its alliance with Poland and in an implicit criticism of Bonnet called upon France "to fulfill without equivocation and without fail its pledges of mutual assurance and guarantee".[83]

Blum supported the plans for a "peace front" to unite Britain, France and the Soviet Union with the aim of deterring Germany from invading Poland.[83] Knowing that the major issue that was blocking the "peace front" talks were the demand by the Soviet Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov for the Red Army to have transit rights into Poland in the event of a German invasion, which the Polish Foreign Minister Colonel Józef Beck was utterly opposed to granting, Blum expressed much anger in his editorials as he wrote in an editorial on 25 June 1939 there was "not a day, not a hour to lose" as he urged Beck to concede on the transit rights issue.[84] On 22 August 1939, Blum expressed hope in an editorial in Le Popularie that the "clouds of pessimism" would soon disappear as he asserted that the "peace front" would soon be in existence, which would in turn would deter the Reich from invading Poland.[83] The next day, the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop arrived in Moscow to sign the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact. On 24 August 1939, Blum wrote in an editorial that the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact was "a truly extraordinary event, almost incredible, one is dumbfounded by the blow".[84] In his editorial, Blum strongly condemned Joseph Stalin for the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact as he wrote: "One would hardly be able to demonstrate greater audacity, scorn for world opinion and defiance of public morality".[84] Blum wrote that his reaction to the famous photograph of Ribbentrop and Molotov signing the pact in the Kremlin while being watched by a smiling Stalin that: "I would try in vain to conceal my stupefaction".[84] Blum used the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact to try to have French Communists to break with the Comintern as he urged the Communists to "become free men again" by ceasing to follow the orders of Moscow.[85] Though Blum did not seriously expect the French Communists to break with Moscow, he did have hopes of winning the Communist voters over to the Socialists, whom he presented as the patriotic party committed to both socialism and France's interests.[85]

Second World War


On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. On 2 September 1939, Blum voted in the Chambre des députés for war credits to the government and urged the government to stand by its alliance with Poland.[84] Daladier declared war on Germany when it invaded Poland on 3 September 1939. In an editorial in Le Popularie on 3 September 1939, Blum wrote: "Never was the violence more flagrant on one hand, and never was the will for peace more certain and more tenacious on the other".[84] Eight months of Phoney War thereafter, saw little or no movement in Western Europe. Blum argued that the existing cabinet was too awkward and urged France to copy the British example of an elite "war cabinet" that consisted of the key ministers.[86] In the fall of 1939, Blum met with the Finance Minister Paul Reynaud and his protégé, Colonel Charles de Gaulle, to criticize Daladier's conduct of the war.[86] Despite his support for the war, Blum criticized Daladier for banning the French Communist Party after the party declared its opposition to the war.[87] During the Winter War, Blum praised Finland for its "sublime resistance" to the Soviet Union.[88] Blum called the Soviet aggression against Finland a "crime" and accused Stalin of being an imperialist disguised as a Communist as stated that Stalin was the heir of Peter the Great, not Vladimir Lenin.[88] In February 1940, the American Undersecretary of State, Sumner Welles, visited Paris as part of a peace mission on behalf of President Roosevelt.[89] Blum met with Welles to tell him that he was wasting his time as no peace on reasonable terms was possible with Hitler.[89] The defeat of Finland led to the fall of Daladier who had promised French aid to the Finns. Blum declared his support for the new Reynaud government, which promised to prosecute the war more vigorously.[90]

On 10 May 1940, the Wehrmacht launched the Manstein variant of Fall Gelb ("Case Yellow") and invaded France via Belgium to by-pass the Maginot line. Blum noted bitterly that Germany no more respected Belgian neutrality in 1940 than what the Reich had done in 1914, and Belgium's neutral status allowed the Wehrmacht a head-start in the invasion. The same day saw the fall of the Chamberlain government with Winston Churchill forming a new coalition government in London.[91] Blum in an editorial in Le Populaire hailed the new Churchill government as a positive step.[91] Blum had been invited before Fall Gelb to attend a Labour Party congress, and was especially keen to go as several of the Labour leaders were now cabinet ministers.[91] Before leaving France, Reynaud met with Blum to tell him that the Wehrmacht was pressing very hard on the front on the Meuse river as Reynauld told him: "It is on the Meuse that we must at this moment with all our strength together defend our common safety".[86] On 13–14 May 1940, Blum was in Bournemouth to attend the Labour Party congress.[92] At the Bournemouth congress, Blum was cheered as a great socialist.[93] As Blum spoke no English, he gave a short speech in French where he declared: "The war we are waging against Germany is not a capitalist war. I do not know what would become of capitalism if Hitler were to win the war, but I do know what would become of socialism if Germany were victorious. Wherever the motorized Attila has passed, every movement and institution created by the workers has been destroyed".[93] On 15 May, the Labour leader Clement Attlee did his best to tell Blum in his broken French that the Wehrmacht had won the Second Battle of Sedan and smashed its way though the French lines along the Meuse river, which came as a considerable shock once Blum finally understood what Attlee was trying to say.[93]

Blum returned to Paris at once, and met Reynaud who told him that he was bringing in Marshal Phillippe Petain into his cabinet to reassure French public opinion.[94] Blum did not see the appointment of Petain-whom he called "the most noblest, the most human of our military chiefs"-as a problem.[95] Petain, the victor of the Battle of Verdun in 1916 was a beloved and deeply respected figure in France where he was seen as the greatest living French war hero and Reynaud saw Petain in his cabinet as way to reassure the public. Blum later wrote that he had been in "illusion" about Petain who immediately became the loudest voice of defeatism in the cabinet.[95] Likewise, he did not oppose the appointment of Marshal Maxime Weygand as the new commander-in-chief to replace Maurice Gamelin, which he came to regret.[95] Blum stated that he felt that Reynaud was correct to sack Gamelin-a soldier known for his loyalty to the republic-as he felt that Gemalin had lost control of the situation and that he hoped Weygand would restore France's fortunes.[95] He was later to say that had he been aware that Weygand's loyalty to the republic was questionable, he would have been opposed to his appointment. Blum stated that in May 1940 that he lived "between the cruelest anguish and the most ardent hopes".[95] Blum harbored hopes that just as in 1914 when Germany was initially victorious, but defeated in the Battle of the Marne that the French and the British would rally to stop the Wehrmacht before it was too late.[95] Instead of heading for Paris as expected, the Wehrmacht headed towards the sea as part of a giant encirclement as Gamelin had sent the best divisions of the French Army along with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) into Belgium to resist what he believed to be the main German blow. On 21 May 1940, the Wehrmacht reached the sea, cutting off the BEF, the elite of the French armies and what was left of the Belgian army.[95] Blum used Le Populaire to argue that the Allies should break out of the encirclement to link up with the rest of the French armies, but the attempts to do so were unsuccessful.[96] The BEF evacuated from Dunkirk, taking many French soldiers along. After the Dunkirk evacuation which ended with the fall of Dunkirk on 4 June, the Wehrmacht turned south towards Paris. When the government left Paris for Bordeaux on 10 June, Blum was not informed and found himself unable to speak to a person in authority.[97] Blum met with the American ambassador, William Christian Bullitt Jr., and approved of his decision to remain in Paris.[97] In retrospect, Blum stated that it was a mistake for the very popular Bullitt-who had much influence with the French cabinet-to remain in Paris as Bullitt could have used his influence to booster Reynaud against Petain.[97] Blum left Paris and made his way past vast columns of refugees to Bordeaux.[97] On 14 June, the Wehrmacht took Paris.

In Bordeaux, Reynaud favored having the government relocate to Algiers (Algeria was considered an integral part of France) to continue the war while Petain demanded an armistice. The Interior Minister, Georges Mandel, asked Blum to use his influence to persuade several wavering Socialist ministers to back the Algeria option.[98] On 16 June, Reynaud was ousted as the majority of the cabinet rejected the Algeria option and Petain formed the new government with a mandate to ask for an armistice.[99] Blum allowed two Socialists to join Petain's cabinet.[100] Petain's first act as Premier was to ask for an armistice; Blum did not attach much importance to Petain's request as he believed that Hitler would ask for armistice terms so harsh that Petain would reject them and the government would relocate to Algiers.[100] The notion that Petain might actually accept Hitler's armistice terms did not occur to Blum at the time. Blum was so convinced that the government was going to Algiers that on 19 June 1940 he booked a passage on the ship SS Massilia that was to take the members of Assemblée nationale to Algiers.[101] Blum missed the Massilia owing to confusion about where the Massilia was leaving as he had been told that the port of departure was Perpignan, which was changed at the last moment to Bordeaux.[101] Just after the Massilia set sail for Algiers, Blum learned that the government was not going to Algiers after all and that Petain had decided to sign an armistice.[101] Blum was told by the police to leave Bordeaux for his own safety as right-wing extremists were parading though the streets and denouncing those they deemed responsible for declaration of war on Germany, causing him to go to Toulouse, where he stayed with Vincent Auriol.[102] The Petain government signed an armistice that gave Germany full control over much of France, with a rump Vichy government in control of the remainder as well as of the French colonial empire and the French Navy. Blum was in Toulouse when he read the news of the armistice in the Dépĕche de Toulose on 22 June, which he remembered as one of the blackest days of his life as he recalled: "I read, literally, without believing my eyes".[102] Blum thought that the armistice was especially "abominable" because it required the French police to round up and return to the Reich all anti-Nazi German and Austrian exiles living in France, which he noted violated the traditional French custom of asylum.[103] One of Blum's friends, Rudolf Hilferding, a prominent Jewish Social Democratic leader who had fled to France in 1933 was under the terms of the armistice arrested by the French police and returned to German custody, where he was beaten to death.[104]

Blum spent the next ten days with Auriol and his family, where he refused their counsel to leave France.[103] The Vice Premier in Petain's cabinet, Pierre Laval called for the Assemblée nationale to meet in the new temporary capital of Vichy (Bordeaux had been assigned to the German occupation zone) to vote to give Petain dictatorial powers.[105] The task of lobbying the politicians was considered to be too vulgar by Petain who assigned that mission to Laval. Blum arrived in Vichy on the afternoon of 4 July 1940.[106] At the Petit Casino, which served as the meeting place for the "informational sessions" held by Laval, Blum later that day engaged in a vigorous debate with Laval who argued that the "mad, criminal war" proved that the constitutional changes he was championing were necessary.[106] In response, Blum stated that it was "France that wanted the war" in September 1939 as he noted the majority of the cabinet had decided to honor the alliance with Poland.[106] During the same "informational session", Laval told Blum that Le Populaire was banned as a threat to public order.[107] Blum noted that he had known Laval since 1915, but on that day in 1940 he had seen him as never before as Laval was "bloated with incredible pride...handing out orders without appeal...visibly trying himself out in the role of a despot".[108] On 8 July 1940, Blum called for a meeting of all the Socialist deputies and senators to discuss how to resist Laval's constitutional changes.[108] Blum noted that to change the constitution required both houses of the Assemblée nationale to meet together, which led him to decide that the Socialist deputies and senators should vote against a joint session of the Assemblée nationale.[109] Much to Blum's surprise, a number of Socialist deputies and senators rejected his plan and agreed for a joint session of the Assemblée nationale as they argued that the Socialists should instead ask for a referendum on any constitutional changes.[110]

During the joint session of the Assemblée nationale held on 9–10 July in the Grand Casino to debate the request for constitutional revision, Blum found himself deserted by much of his caucus as many Socialist deputies and senators were bribed by Laval to vote for the constitutional changes.[111] Blum was horrified by the extent of the corruption of much of the Socialist caucus who proved all too willing to vote to end French democracy if the bribe was large enough. Other Socialist deputies and senators were terrified by submission by the thugs from Jacques Doriot's Parti populaire français who were marching outside of the Grand Casino and threatening to lynch any deputies or senators who voted against Petain.[111] Marshal Maxime Weygand appeared at the session to talk menacing about the need for order in France and warned that he would call out the military if the Assemblée nationale did not vote as Marshal Petain wanted.[111] Laval in his speech used the British attack on the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir on 3 July 1940 to argue that to vote against Petain was unpatriotic and that Britain was the real enemy of France.[111] Auriol called the Socialists who voted for the constitutional changes "this exhibition of miserable humanity" while saying that Blum was: "too sensitive not to suffer from it. He protects himself against it. He smiles".[111]

In his keynote speech on 9 July, Laval claimed that the Front populaire had weakened France to such an extent that it caused the defeat of 1940 while Blum had sabotaged Laval's policy of friendship with Italy, which he claimed caused the war.[112] Afterwards, all eyes were turned to Blum who chose to not give a rebuttal speech.[112] By this point, Blum was too broken by what he had seen that day, especially the corruption of his caucus, to speak in his defense as he later noted that he saw the republic and all that it stood for crumble.[112] Blum found himself very much alone during the joint session as the leading politicians who would have normally spoken in favor of democracy were all absent. Paul Reynaud had been seriously injured in an automobile accident that killed his mistress; Édouard Daladier, Georges Mandel, Yvon Delbos, Jean Zay and César Campinchi had all left France on the Massilia and had not been permitted to return; and the courage of Édouard Herriot failed him as he limited himself to defending the patriotism of those left abroad the Massilia.[113] When the final vote was held on 10 July, Blum voted against the request for constitutional revision.[114] Blum was among "The Vichy 80", a minority of parliamentarians that refused to grant full powers to Marshal Pétain. The final result of the vote were 569 deputies and senators for constitutional revision, 80 against and 17 abstained themselves.[114] Of the 56 Socialist deputies and senators who had promised Blum on 8 July to vote against constitutional revision, only 35 (28 Deputies and 7 Senators) actually kept their promise on 10 July.[114] The same Parliament that had sponsored the Popular Front program since 1936 remained in power; it voted overwhelmingly to make Marshal Philippe Pétain a dictator and reverse all of the gains of the French Third Republic.


Leon Blum memorial in kibbutz Kfar Blum, Israel

Afterwards, Blum returned to a farm outside of Toulouse, where he wrote and listened to the BBC's French language broadcasts for news on the war.[115] On 15 September 1940, he was arrested by the French police on charges of high treason.[116] Despite being unarmed, Blum's arrest was treated as a major police operation with dozens of police automobiles parked around the farm while likewise dozens of armed policeman stormed the farmhouse.[116] The excessive police force to arrest Blum was intended to symbolize his status as a man who was "dangerous" to France. Blum was held for the first two months of his imprisonment in the tower of the Château de Chazeron, where his cellmates were Daladier, Reynaud, Mandel and Gamelin.[117] He later wrote that his imprisonment at the Château de Chazeron was at least tolerable as he spent his days writing his memoirs and admiring the Renaissance gardens from his window.[118] Blum began his memoirs with a stark admission of failure as he observed that his generation had failed to achieve any of their dreams and hopes that they had held as young men and women.[119] In his memoirs, Blum blamed the French bourgeoisie for the defeat of 1940 as he claimed that the bourgeoisie were selfish, petty people concerned with materialism and their self-interest, which had "rotted out" France.[120] On 8 October 1940, Blum was formally charged with treason.[121] In November 1940, Blum was sent to a run-down estate at Bourassol to be closer to the judicial proceedings at Riom.[122] Unlike the comfortable Château de Chazeron the Bourassol estate was unheated, had no electricity and no running water, which as intended made for a more uncomfortable imprisonment.[123]

On 9 April 1941, Blum received over a hundred birthday telegrams from distinguished Americans, the most notable of whom was the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, which greatly cheered him.[124] In May 1941, Blum wrote a letter to the court asking when his trial would begin as he stated it would have been three months since his last interrogation, and he still had no word when his trial would begin.[125] On 22 June 1941, Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, and Blum's confidence began to rise when Germany failed to achieve the expected swift victory.[124] Blum wrote in late 1941 of the Red Army: "Do you recall with what scorn they used to speak to us of that army? Only the Polish Army counted for something. As to a comparison with the French Army, no one would hazarded such an impious thought!"[124] In October 1941, Blum was then imprisoned in Fort du Portalet in the Pyrenees.[126][127] The German Ambassador to Vichy, Otto Abetz, wanted Blum to be charged with declaring war on Germany in 1939, a demand resisted by Pétain and his premier, Admiral Darlan, who could not bring themselves to admit to France's supposed "war guilt".[128] Instead, Pétain and Darlan resolved to charge Blum with failure to prepare France for war, much to the disappointment of Abetz.[128]

Blum was put on trial in February 1942 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, worried that Blum's expert performance would have major public consequences.[129][130] He was transferred to German custody and imprisoned in Germany until 1945.

In April 1943, the German Government had Blum imprisoned in Buchenwald. As the war worsened for the Germans, they moved him into the section reserved for high-ranking prisoners, hoping that he might be used as a possible hostage for surrender negotiations.[129] His future wife, Jeanne Adèle "Janot" Levylier, chose to come to the camp voluntarily to live with him inside the camp, and they were married there.[131][132][133] As the Allied armies approached Buchenwald, he was transferred to Dachau, near Munich. On 12 April 1945, he was saddened by the news of the death of President Roosevelt, a leader he always greatly admired and whom he had hopes of meeting one day.[134] Blum had learned from Bullitt about Roosevelt's secret, namely that he was paralyzed due to the polio he contracted on a trip to Canada in 1921, and he admired the way that Roosevelt had gone on to become president despite his paralysis. On a more practical level, Blum soon discovered that his SS guards were jubilant over the news of Roosevelt's death as everyone in Germany seemed to believe that the new American president, Harry S. Truman, would ally the United States with the Reich and declare war on the Soviet Union. The belief, however erroneous it was, that the new Truman administration was about to ally itself with Germany against the Soviet Union reduced the reasons for the Nazis to keep Blum alive as they believed that as a Jew he had certain connections with the Jewish groups that they believed ruled the Soviet Union.[134] In late April 1945, he was together with other notable inmates, sent 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 [fr] ("On a human scale").

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 September 1942.

Post-war period

Léon Blum, before 1945

After the war, Léon Blum returned to politics, and was again briefly Prime Minister in the transitional postwar coalition government. He advocated an 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.[135][page needed] Blum also served as Vice-Premier for one month in the summer of 1948 in the very short-lived government led by André Marie.

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.



First ministry (4 June 1936 – 22 June 1937)



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

Second ministry (13 March – 10 April 1938)


Third ministry (16 December 1946 – 22 January 1947)



  • 23 December 1946 – Augustin Laurent succeeds Moutet as Minister of Overseas France.

Books by Léon Blum

  • Nouvelles conversations de Goethe avec Eckermann, Éditions de la Revue blanche, 1901.[136]
  • Du mariage, Paul Ollendorff, 1907;[137] English translation, Marriage, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1937.[138]
  • Stendhal et le beylisme, Paul Ollendorff, 1914.[139]
  • Pour être socialiste, Libraire Populaire, 1920.[140]
  • Bolchévisme et socialisme, Librairie populaire, 1927.[141]
  • Souvenirs sur l'Affaire, Gallimard, 1935.[142]
  • La Réforme gouvernementale, Bernard Grasset, 1936.[143]
  • À l'échelle humaine, Gallimard, 1945;[144] English translation, For All Mankind, Victor Gollancz, 1946 (Left Book Club).[145]
  • L'Histoire jugera, Éditions de l'Arbre, 1943.[146]
  • Le Dernier mois, Diderot, 1946.[147]
  • Révolution socialiste ou révolution directoriale, J. Lefeuvre, 1947.[148]
  • Discours politiques, Imprimerie Nationale, 1997.[149]


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  2. ^ Responsibility (1998), p. 30: "Léon Blum was born in Paris in 1872, into a moderately successful lower-middle-class commercial family of semiassimilated Jews."
  3. ^ a b c Responsibility (1998), p. 31.
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  7. ^ Julian T. Jackson, Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy 1934–1938 (1988)
  8. ^ Jean Lacouture, Leon Blum (1982) pp. 235–304
  9. ^ Maurice Larkin, France since the popular front: government and people, 1936–1996 (1997) pp. 45–62
  10. ^ Adrian Rossiter, "Popular Front economic policy and the Matignon negotiations". Historical Journal 30#3 (1987): 663–684. in JSTOR
  11. ^ Jackson, Popular Front in France p 288
  12. ^ Larkin, France since the popular front: government and people, 1936–1996 (1997) pp. 55–57
  13. ^ Martin Thomas, "French Economic Affairs and Rearmament: The First Crucial Months, June–September 1936". Journal of Contemporary History 27#4 (1992) pp: 659–670 in JSTOR.
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  27. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 71.
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  32. ^ a b Maiolo 2010, p. 180.
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  34. ^ a b Maiolo 2010, p. 182.
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  42. ^ Kaufmann 1953, p. 65.
  43. ^ Keylor 1997, p. 231.
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  45. ^ Ford & Schorske 1953, p. 555.
  46. ^ Ford & Schorske 1953, p. 557–558.
  47. ^ a b Carley 1999, p. 24.
  48. ^ Crozier 1988, p. 194.
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  55. ^ a b c Carley 1999, p. 26.
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  57. ^ Windell, George C. (1962). "Leon Blum and the Crisis over Spain, 1936". Historian. 24 (4): 423–449. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6563.1962.tb01732.x.
  58. ^ Gabriel Jackson, The Spanish Republic in the Civil War, 1931–1939 (1965) p 254
  59. ^ Louis Stein, Beyond Death and Exile: The Spanish Republicans in France, 1939–1955 (1980)
  60. ^ The Times | UK News, World News and Opinion
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  62. ^ Joel Colton. Leon Blum: Humanist in Politics (1966) p 162.
  63. ^ Jean Lacouture, Leon Blum (New York, Holmes & Meier, 1982) p. 349.
  64. ^ Julian Jackson, Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy 1934–1938 (1988), pp 172, 215, 278–87, quotation on page 287.
  65. ^ Bernard and Dubief (1988). The Decline of the Third Republic, 1914–1938. Cambridge University Press. pp. 328–33. ISBN 9780521358545.
  66. ^ Wall, Irwin M. (1987). "Teaching the Popular Front". History Teacher. 20 (3): 361–378. doi:10.2307/493125. JSTOR 493125.
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  126. ^ Colton 1966, p. 398.
  127. ^ Fort du Portalet Office de tourisme Vallée d'Aspe (www.tourisme-aspe.com)
  128. ^ a b Colton 1966, p. 400.
  129. ^ a b Responsibility (1998), p. 34.
  130. ^ An excerpt from Pierre Birnbaum's biography of the French titan
  131. ^ Tenorio, Par Rich. "La femme juive qui est allée à Buchenwald pour épouser Léon Blum". fr.timesofisrael.com (in French). Retrieved 17 August 2023.
  132. ^ "Léon Blum et Jeanne Reichenbach". Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme (in French). 20 October 2015. Retrieved 17 August 2023.
  133. ^ à 07h00, Par Le 9 février 2014 (9 February 2014). "Pour l'amour de Léon Blum". leparisien.fr (in French). Retrieved 17 August 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  134. ^ a b Colton 1966, p. 442.
  135. ^ A History of the Twentieth Century: Volume Two: 1933–1951, by Martin Gilbert
  136. ^ Blum, Léon (1901). Nouvelles Conversations de Goethe Avec Eckermann. Éditions de la Revue blanche.
  137. ^ Blum, Leon (1907). Du mariage (in French). Paul Ollendorff.
  138. ^ Blum, Léon (1937). Marriage. J. B. Lippincott Company.
  139. ^ Blum, Léon (1914). Stendhal et le beylisme (in French). Paul Ollendorff.
  140. ^ Blum, Léon (1920). Pour être socialiste (in French). Librairie populaire.
  141. ^ Blum, Léon (1927). Bolchevisme et socialisme (in French). Librairie populaire.
  142. ^ Blum, Léon (1935). Souvenirs sur l'Affaire (in French). Gallimard.
  143. ^ Blum, Léon (1936). La Réforme gouvernementale (in French). Bernard Grasset.
  144. ^ Blum, Léon (1945). A L'échelle Humaine. Gallimard.
  145. ^ Blum, Leon (1945). For All Mankind. Victor Gollancz.
  146. ^ Guérard, Albert; Blum, Léon (1943). "L'Histoire Jugera". Éditions de l'Arbre.
  147. ^ Blum, Léon (1946). Le Dernier Mois (in French). Diderot.
  148. ^ Blum, Léon (1947). Révolution socialiste ou Révolution directoriale (in French). J. Lefeuvre.
  149. ^ Blum, Léon (1997). Discours politiques (in French). Imprimerie Nationale.

Further reading

  • ALQasear, Hussein Muhsin Hashim, and Azhar Kadhim Hasan. "The most important obstacles that led to the fall of the first Leon Blum government, 1937." Al-Qadisiyah Journal For Humanities Sciences 23.2 (2020): 264–285. online
  • Adamthwaite, Anthony (1977). France and the Coming of the Second World War, 1936-1939. London: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781000352788.
  • Auboin, Roger (1937). "The Blum Experiment". International Affairs. 16 (4): 499–517. doi:10.2307/2602825. JSTOR 2602825.
  • Barbieri, Pierpaolo (2015). Hitler's Shadow Empire Nazi Economics and the Spanish Civil War. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674426252.
  • Birnbaum, Pierre (2015). Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist. Yale UP. p. 74. ISBN 9780300213737., new scholarly biography; excerpt; also see online review
  • Codding, George A., and William Safran. Ideology and politics: the Socialist Party of France (Routledge, 2019).
  • Carley, Michael Jabara (1999). 1939: The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War II. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. ISBN 9781461699385.
  • Cameron, Elizabeth (1953). "Alexis Saint-Léger-Léger". In Gordon A. Craig & Felix Gilbert (ed.). The Diplomats 1919-1939. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 378–405.
  • Colton, Joel (1966). Leon Blum: Humanist in Politics. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-307-83089-0. LCCN 65-18768. OCLC 265833., older scholarly biography
  • Colton, Joel. "Léon Blum and the French Socialists as a government party." Journal of Politics 15#4 (1953): 517–543. in JSTOR
  • Colton, Joel. "Politics and Economics in the 1930s: The Balance Sheets of the 'Blum New Deal'." in From the Ancien Regime to the Popular Front, edited by Charles K. Warner (1969), pp. 181–208.
  • Crozier, Andrew J. (1988). Appeasement And Germany's Last Bid For Colonies. London: Macmillan. ISBN 9781349192557.
  • Dalby, Louise Elliott. Leon Blum: Evolution of a Socialist (1963) online
  • Ford, Franklin; Schorske, Carl (1953). "The Voice in the Wilderness Robert Coulondre". In Gordon A. Craig; Felix Gilbert (eds.). The Diplomats 1919-1939. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 555–578.
  • Halperin, S. William. "Léon Blum and contemporary French socialism." Journal of Modern History (1946): 241–250. in JSTOR
  • Jackson, Julian. The popular Front in France: defending democracy, 1934–38 (Cambridge UP, 1990.)
  • Jordan, Nicole. "Léon Blum and Czechoslovakia, 1936–1938." French History 5#1 (1991): 48–73. doi: 10.1093/fh/5.1.48
  • Kaufmann, William (1953). "Two American Ambassadors: Bullitt and Kennedy". In Gordan A. Craig & Felix Gilbert (ed.). The Diplomats, 1919–1939. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 649–681.
  • Keylor, William (1997). "France and the Illusion of American Support 1919-1940". In Joel Blatt (ed.). The French Defeat of 1940 Reassessments. Providence, Rhode Island: Berghahn Books. pp. 204–244.
  • Judt, Tony (1998). The burden of responsibility : Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French twentieth century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226414195.
  • Lacouture, Jean. Leon Blum (English edition 1982) online
  • Maiolo, Joseph (2010). Cry Havoc How the Arms Race Drove the World to War, 1931-1941. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 9780465022670.
  • Marcus, John T. French Socialism in the Crisis Years, 1933–1936: Fascism and the French Left (1958) online
  • Mitzman, Arthur. "The French Working Class and the Blum Government (1936–37)." International Review of Social History 9#3 (1964) pp: 363–390.
  • Sullivan, Barry (1999). "More than meets the eye: the Ethiopian War and the Origins of the Second World War"". In Gordon Martel (ed.). The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered A.J.P. Taylor and the Historians. London: Routledge. pp. 178–203.
  • Wall, Irwin M. "The Resignation of the First Popular Front Government of Leon Blum, June 1937." French Historical Studies (1970): 538–554. in JSTOR
  • Watt, Donald Cameron (1989). How war came: the immediate origins of the Second World War, 1938-1939. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-84216-8. OCLC 19269229.
  • Young, Robert (2005). An Uncertain Idea of France. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 0-8204-7481-9.
  • Weinberg, Gerhard (1980). The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Volume 2 Starting World War Two 1937-1939. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Political offices
Preceded by Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of the Provisional Government of France
Succeeded byas President of France
Succeeded byas Prime Minister of France