Léon Blum

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Léon Blum
Léon Blum Meurisse b 1927.jpg
Léon Blum, 1927
President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic
128th Prime Minister of France
In office
16 December 1946 – 22 January 1947
Preceded by Georges Bidault
Succeeded by Vincent Auriol (as President)
Paul Ramadier (as Prime Minister)
Prime Minister of France
In office
4 June 1936 – 22 June 1937
President Albert Lebrun
Deputy Édouard Daladier
Preceded by Albert Sarraut
Succeeded by Camille Chautemps
In office
13 March 1938 – 10 April 1938
President Albert Lebrun
Deputy Édouard Daladier
Preceded by Camille Chautemps
Succeeded by Édouard Daladier
Vice-Premier of France
In office
29 June 1937 – 18 January 1938
President Albert Lebrun
Prime Minister Camille Chautemps
Preceded by Édouard Daladier
Succeeded by Édouard Daladier
In office
28 July 1948 – 5 September 1948
President Vincent Auriol
Prime Minister André Marie
Preceded by Vacant
Succeeded by André Marie
Personal details
Born André Léon Blum
9 April 1872
Paris, France
Died 30 March 1950 (aged 77)
Jouy-en-Josas, France
Nationality French
Political party French Section of the Workers' International
Religion Judaism

André Léon Blum ([ˈɑ̃.dʁe ˌle.ɔ̃ ˈblym]; 9 April 1872 – 30 March 1950) was a French politician, usually identified with the moderate left, and three times Prime Minister of France. He led the country prior to World War II and the Nazi occupation of France, and was a staunch opponent of a Vichy France, instead wanting to continue fighting. Being a Jew, he was transferred to two concentration camps, both of which he survived. After the war he remained active in French politics until his death in 1950.

Early Life[edit]

Blum was born in 1872 in Paris to a prosperous, assimilated Jewish family. His father Abraham, a merchant, was born in Alsace. Blum attended the École Normale Supérieure and The University of Paris and became both a lawyer and literary critic.

First political experiences[edit]

While in his youth an avid reader[1] of the works of the nationalist writer Maurice Barrès, Blum had little interest in politics until the Dreyfus Affair of 1894, which had a traumatic effect on him as it did on many French Jews. Campaigning as a Dreyfusard brought him into contact with the socialist leader Jean Jaurès, whom he greatly admired. He began contributing to the socialist daily, L'Humanité, and joined the Socialist Party, then called the SFIO. Soon he was the party's main theoretician.

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

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

The Popular Front[edit]

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

Assassination attempt[edit]

On 13 February 1936, shortly before becoming Prime Minister, Blum was dragged from a car and almost beaten to death by the Camelots du Roi, a group of anti-Semites and royalists. The right-wing Action Française league was dissolved by the government following this incident, not long before the elections that brought Blum to power.[2]

First Government 1936-37[edit]

Blum became the first socialist and the first Jew to serve as Prime Minister of France. As such he was an object of particular hatred to the Catholic and anti-Semitic right, and was denounced in the National Assembly by Xavier Vallat, a right-wing Deputy and sympathizer of the Action Française (later Commissioner for Jewish Affairs in the Vichy wartime government), who said "Your coming to power is undoubtedly a historic event. For the first time this old Gallo-Roman country will be governed by a Jew. I dare say out loud what the country is thinking, deep inside : it is preferable for this country to be led by a man whose origins belong to his soil... than by a cunning talmudist."[3]

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

Spanish Civil War[edit]

The Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936 and deeply divided France, which decided to remain neutral. Similarly, Blum was forced to adopt a policy of neutrality rather than assist his ideological fellows, the Spanish Left-leaning Republicans, for fear of splitting his alliance with the centrist Radicals, or even precipitating a religious civil war in France. His refusal to send arms to Spain strained his alliance with Communists, who followed Soviet policy, and urged all-out support for the Spanish Republic. The impossible dilemma caused by this issue led Blum to resign in June 1937.[4] 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."[5] 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 put up in refugee camps.[6]

The second Government, 1938[edit]

Blum was briefly Prime Minister again in March and April 1938, long enough to ship France's heavy artillery and much needed military equipment to the Spanish Republicans.[7] Blum was unable to establish a stable ministry in France. On 10 April 1938, Blum's socialist government fell and he was removed from office.

Despite its short life, the Popular Front government passed important legislations, including the 40-hour week,[8] paid 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 to disrupt the production of armaments at the wrong time, only three years away from the beginning of WW-2 in September 1939. Leon 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. [9] In foreign policy, his government was divided between the traditional anti-militarism of the French left and the urgency of the rising threat of Nazi Germany. Despite the division, the government managed to engage the greatest war effort since the First World War.

Second World War[edit]

Leon Blum memorial in kibbutz Kfar Blum, Israel

When the Germans occupied France in June 1940, Blum made no effort to leave the country, despite the extreme danger he was in as a Jew and a socialist leader; instead of fleeing the country, he escaped to southern France, but the French ordered his arrest. Blum was imprisoned in Fort du Portalet in the Pyrenees.[10]

Blum was among the "The Vichy 80", a minority of parliamentarians that refused to grant full powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain. He was arrested by the authorities in September and held until 1942, when he was put on trial in the Riom Trial on charges of treason, for having "weakened France's defenses" by ordering her arsenal shipped to Spain, leaving France's infantry unsupported by heavy artillery on the eastern front against Nazi Germany. He used the courtroom to make a brilliant indictment [11] of the French military and pro-German politicians like Pierre Laval. The trial was such an embarrassment to the Vichy regime that the Germans ordered it called off. He was transferred to German custody and imprisoned in Germany until 1945.

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

Post-war period[edit]

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 the alliance between the center-left and the center-right parties in order to support the Fourth Republic against the Gaullists and the Communists. Although Blum's last government was very much an interim administration (lasting less than five weeks) it nevertheless succeeded in implementing a number of measures which helped to reduce the cost of living.[12]

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)[edit]


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

Second ministry (13 March – 10 April 1938)[edit]

Third ministry (16 December 1946 – 22 January 1947)[edit]


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


  1. ^ Joel Colton, Leon Blum: Humanist in Politics, 1987, 20.
  2. ^ The Times | UK News, World News and Opinion
  3. ^ Léon BLUM 1872 - 1950, Lazare Landau, Extrait de l'Almanach du KKL-Strasbourg 5753-1993 (avec l'aimable autorisation des Editeurs), at Le judaisme alsacien
  4. ^ George C. Windell, "Leon Blum and the Crisis over Spain, 1936," Historian (1962) 24#4 pp 423-449
  5. ^ Gabriel Jackson, The Spanish Republic in the Civil War, 1931-1939 (1965) p 254
  6. ^ Louis Stein, Beyond Death and Exile: The Spanish Republicans in France, 1939-1955 (1980)
  7. ^ Jean Lacouture, Leon Blum (New York, Holmes & Meier, 1982) p. 349.
  8. ^ Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier français, éditions de l'Atelier, article « Lebas (Jean-Baptiste) ».
  9. ^ p.162 Leon Blum: Humanist in Politics, by Joel Colton. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966.
  10. ^ Fort du Portalet Office de tourisme Vallée d'Aspe (www.tourisme-aspe.com)
  11. ^ An excerpt from Pierre Birnbaum’s new biography of the French titan
  12. ^ A History of the Twentieth Century: Volume Two: 1933-1951 by Martin Gilbert

Further reading[edit]

  • Auboin, Roger. "The Blum Experiment," International Affairs (1937) 16#4 pp. 499–517 in JSTOR
  • Colton, Joel. Leon Blum: Humanist in Politics (1987), major scholarly biography excerpt and text search

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Albert Sarraut
Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by
Camille Chautemps
Preceded by
Camille Chautemps
Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by
Édouard Daladier
Preceded by
Georges Bidault
President of the Provisional Government of France
Succeeded by
Vincent Auriol
(President of France)
Paul Ramadier
(Prime Minister of France)