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 [ɑ̃dʁe leɔ̃ blum] (BLOOM)[1] (9 April 1872 – 30 March 1950) was a French politician, identified with the moderate left, and three times 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 French Socialist leader Jean Jaurès and after 1914 became his successor. Blum rejected the class conflict model of Marxist socialism, instead defining socialism as the highest use of the power of the state, under the guidance of well-educated experts like himself, "to define, protect, and guarantee the condition of the working class."[2] As Prime Minister in a "Popular Front" government of the left 1936-37, he provided a series of major economic reforms. Blum declared neutrality in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) 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 by Vichy on trumped-up charges, he was imprisoned in 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 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

While in his youth an avid reader[3] 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

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, the first socialist to hold that office. His first cabinet consisted of 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.[4][5][6]

Labor policies

The election of the left-wing government brought a wave of strikes, with involving 2 million workers, and their seizure of many factories. The strikes were spontaneous and unorganized, but nevertheless the business community panicked and met secretly with Blum, Who negotiated a series of reforms, and then gave labor unions the credit for the Matignon Accords.[7] The new laws:

  • created the right to strike
  • created collective bargaining
  • enacted the law mandating 12 days of paid annual leave
  • enacted the law limiting the working week to 40 hours (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 it promised reforms as rapidly as possible. On 11 June, the Chamber of Deputies voted for the forty-hour workweek, the restoration of civil servant's salaries, and two week's paid holidays, by a majority of 528 to 7. The Senate voted in favour of these laws within a week.[8]

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.[9] 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 programs of the popular front had counted heavily on.[10]

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-leaving 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.

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.[11] 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."[12] 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.[13]

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 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.[14] 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 antisemitic elements.[15]

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 to disrupt 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.[16]

The second Government, 1938, and its collapse

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.[17] 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.

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. The government cooperated with Britain and declared war on Germany when it invaded Poland in September 1939. Eight months of Phoney War thereafter, saw little or no movement. Suddenly in the spring of 1940, the Germans invaded France and defeated the French and British armies in a matter of weeks. The British Expeditionary Force evacuated from Dunkirk, taking many French soldiers along. France gave up, signing 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. 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.

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."[18][19] 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.[20]

Second World War

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.[21]

Blum was among the "The Vichy 80", a minority of parliamentarians that refused to grant full powers to Marshal 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 [22] 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

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.[23] Blum also served as Vice-Premier for one month in the summer of 1948 in the very short-lived government led by Andre 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.


  1. Colton, Joel (10 July 2013) [1966]. Leon Blum: Humanist in Politics. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-307-83089-0. LCCN 65-18768. OCLC 265833. The Blum family has always pronounced its name in a way that indicates its Alsatian origin.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Pierre Birnbaum (2015). Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist. Yale UP. p. 74.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Joel Colton, Leon Blum: Humanist in Politics, 1987, 20.
  4. Julian T. Jackson, Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy 1934–1938 (1988)
  5. Jean Lacouture, Leon Blum (1982) pp 235-304
  6. Maurice Larkin, France since the popular front: government and people, 1936-1996 (1997) pp. 45-62
  7. Adrian Rossiter, "Popular Front economic policy and the Matignon negotiations." Historical Journal 30#3 (1987): 663-684. in JSTOR
  8. Jackson, Popular Front in France p 288
  9. Larkin, France since the popular front: government and people, 1936-1996 (1997) pp. 55-57
  10. 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.
  11. George C. Windell, "Leon Blum and the Crisis over Spain, 1936," Historian (1962) 24#4 pp 423-449
  12. Gabriel Jackson, The Spanish Republic in the Civil War, 1931-1939 (1965) p 254
  13. Louis Stein, Beyond Death and Exile: The Spanish Republicans in France, 1939-1955 (1980)
  14. The Times | UK News, World News and Opinion
  15. 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
  16. Joel Colton. Leon Blum: Humanist in Politics (1966) p 162.
  17. Jean Lacouture, Leon Blum (New York, Holmes & Meier, 1982) p. 349.
  18. Julian Jackson, Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy 1934–1938 (1988), pp 172, 215, 278-87, quotation on page 287.
  19. Bernard and Dubief (1988). The Decline of the Third Republic, 1914-1938. pp. 328–33.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Wall, Irwin M. (1987). "Teaching the Popular Front". History Teacher. 20 (3): 361–378. JSTOR 493125.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Fort du Portalet Office de tourisme Vallée d'Aspe (www.tourisme-aspe.com)
  22. An excerpt from Pierre Birnbaum’s new biography of the French titan
  23. A History of the Twentieth Century: Volume Two: 1933-1951 by Martin Gilbert

Further reading

  • Auboin, Roger. "The Blum Experiment," International Affairs (1937) 16#4 pp. 499–517 in JSTOR
  • Birnbaum, Pierre (2015). Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist. Yale UP. p. 74.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, new scholarly biography online review
  • Colton, Joel (10 July 2013) [1966]. Leon Blum: Humanist in Politics. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-307-83089-0. LCCN 65-18768. OCLC 265833.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, 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
  • Dalby, Louise Elliott. Leon Blum: Evolution of a Socialist (1963) online
  • 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
  • Judt, Tony. Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Aron & the French Twentieth Century (1998,) 185pp
  • Lacouture, Jean. Leon Blum (English edition 1982) online
  • 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.
  • Wall, Irwin M. "The Resignation of the First Popular Front Government of Leon Blum, June 1937." French Historical Studies (1970): 538-554. in JSTOR

External links

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)