Blum, Léon

views updated May 23 2018


BLUM, LÉON (1872–1950), statesman; the first Jew and the first socialist to become premier of France. Son of a wealthy Alsatian merchant, Blum graduated with the highest honors in law at the Sorbonne. At the age of 22, he was recognized as a poet and writer. His publications included En lisant: reflexions critiques (1906), Au Théâtre, 4 vols. (1905–11), and a book about Stendhal (1914). His Du Mariage (1907; Marriage, 1937) created a sensation because of its advocacy of trial marriage and was quoted against him years later when he was premier. Blum was also a brilliant literary and drama critic. Blum was appointed to the Conseil d'État, a body whose functions included the settlement of conflicts between administrative and judicial authorities. He rose to the high rank of "Master of Requests," one of the principal offices in the Conseil d'État.

Always conscious of his Jewish origin, Blum was brought into active politics as a result of the *Dreyfus Affair. His close association with Jean Jaurès, whom he greatly admired, led to his joining the Socialist Party in 1899. Blum was first elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1919. When the party split in December 1920, and the Communist section won a majority, securing the party machine, funds, and press, Blum helped to reconstruct the Socialist Party so successfully that he is considered one of the founders of the modern French Socialist Party.

Blum led the opposition to the government of Millerand and Poincaré and supported Herriot's Cartel de gauche in 1924. In the 1928 elections, the Socialist Party won 104 seats but Blum himself was defeated. A year later, however, he was elected for Narbonne, and was reelected for this department in 1932 and 1936. The 1934 Paris riots resulting from the disclosures of the Stavisky financial scandal were an early portent of the danger of fascism, and Blum began to work for the left-wing alliance that became the Front Populaire. In 1936 the Front won a large majority and Blum, its chief architect, became premier (on June 4). His government introduced the 40-hour week, nationalized the Bank of France and the war industries, and carried out a far-reaching program of social reforms. The most difficult problem was that of national defense in the face of the growing power of the Rome-Berlin axis. However, in the face of the challenge of the Spanish Civil War, Blum, confronted with the negative attitude of the British Conservative government to the Republican Forces, decided on a policy of "nonintervention" which was described by his critics as appeasement of the Axis powers. At the same time his social reforms aroused the bitterness of industrialists who openly refused to cooperate with the government. The right wing, which showed pro-German tendencies, conducted a violent campaign of personal vilification against Blum tinged with antisemitic undertones. In 1937, on June 21, Blum resigned, after parliament had refused to grant him emergency powers to deal with the country's financial problems. He served as vice premier in modified Popular Front governments and as premier again, for less than a month, in 1938, during the Nazi invasion of Austria. After the French collapse in 1940, he was indicted by the Vichy government on charges of war guilt and was brought to trial. His brilliant defense confounded the Germans as well as the "men of Vichy" and the former ordered the suspension of the trial. Blum was returned to prison and was freed from a German concentration camp by U.S. forces in May 1945. He was given an enthusiastic welcome both in France and in international labor circles.

After the liberation of France, he emerged as an elder statesman and negotiated the vast U.S. credit to France. In 1946 he formed an all-Socialist "caretaker" government, whose vigorous policy left a deep impression even though it only survived for a month. Blum then retired from public life, except for a brief period as vice premier in a 1948 government. He is considered one of the great figures in the French Labor movement and an architect of the Socialist International between the two world wars.

Sympathetic to Zionist aspirations, Léon Blum, together with Emile Vandervelde, Arthur Henderson, and Eduard Bernstein, was one of the founders of the "Socialist Pro-Palestine Committee" in 1928. He readily accepted Weizmann's invitation to join the enlarged Jewish Agency and addressed its first meeting in Zurich in 1929. Blum took a leading part in influencing the French government's pro-Jewish vote on the un decision on Palestine in 1947. He was also instrumental in preventing British diplomatic pressure from stopping the flow of Jewish *"illegal" immigration from Central Europe through France to Palestine.

His son robert léon (1902–1975) was an engineer and industrialist. Born in Paris, he studied engineering at the École Supérieure Polytechnique. In 1926 he joined Hispano-Suiza, manufacturers of automobiles and aircraft engines. In 1968 he retired as president of the company. Robert Léon also served as president of Bugatti, another automobile manufacturing firm. He was president of the Union Syndicale des Industries Aeronautiques et Spatiales in 1967–68, president of the French Association of Aeronautics and Space Engineers from 1963 to 1972, and chairman of the French Aeronautics and Astronautics Federation in 1972–73.


J. Colton, Leon Blum: Humanist in Politics (1966); L.E. Dalby, Leon Blum: Evolution of a Socialist (1963); J. Joll, Three Intellectuals in Politics (1960); Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Léon Blum (1962); Leon Blum before his judges (1943); J. Moch, Rencontres avec… Léon Blum (1970). add. bibliography: J. Colton, Leon Blum, Humanist in Politics (1966); W. Logue, Léon Blum: The Formative Years, 1872–1914 (1973); J. Lacouture, Léon Blum (Eng.,1982); I. Greilsammer, Blum (Fr., 1996).

[Moshe Rosetti]

Léon Blum

views updated May 14 2018

Léon Blum

The French statesman Léon Blum (1872-1950) was the first Socialist, as well as the first Jewish, premier of France. In 1936 the government he headed enacted the most extensive program of social reforms in French history.

Léon Blum was born in Paris on April 9, 1872, into a wealthy family of Alsatian textile merchants. Although trained as a lawyer, he first gained public attention as a drama critic. Influenced by the Dreyfus Affair and by the socialist theories of Jean Jaurès, Blum joined the Socialist party in 1902. After the assassination of Jaurès in 1914, Blum was regarded as his spiritual and political heir.

After serving as executive secretary to the Socialist leader Marcel Sembat during World War I, Blum was elected to parliament in 1919. When the Communists broke away from the Socialist party in 1920, Blum became the leader of the weakened party and worked tirelessly to restore its fortunes. He also led the opposition to the conservative governments of Alexandre Millerand and Raymond Poincaré, and in 1928 his efforts were impressively rewarded when the Socialists won 104 seats in the parliamentary elections.

Alarmed by the threat of fascism after the Paris riots of February 1934, Blum worked for an antifascist alliance of Radicals, Socialists, and Communists—the Popular Front. This coalition won in the May 1936 elections, and Blum, as leader of the largest party in the Chamber, became premier in June. During the following 10 weeks his government accomplished a social revolution by enacting into law the 40-hour week and paid vacations for workers, nationalizing the major armaments industries, and bringing the Bank of France under public control.

But Blum's government was soon paralyzed by rightist dissidents, who feared social reform, and leftist critics, who denounced his nonintervention policy during the Spanish Civil War. Blum resigned in June 1937, when the Senate refused to grant him full powers to deal with the deepening fiscal crisis. After serving as vice premier in the succeeding government of Camille Chautemps, Blum headed a second, short-lived Popular Front Cabinet in March 1938.

In 1940 Blum refused to vote full powers to Marshal Pétain as head of the Vichy government, and he was indicted on charges of war guilt. When he was tried in 1942, his defense was so eloquently persuasive that the trial was indefinitely suspended. Subsequently deported to Germany with other prominent French Jews, he was freed by Allied troops in 1945. While in Nazi captivity Blum wrote Àl'échelle humaine (For All Mankind), which summarizes the philosophical bases of his lifelong effort to reconcile the fundamental tenets of Marxism with the moral and intellectual exigencies of humanism.

After the war Blum was in poor health and declined to run for reelection to parliament. However, he presided for a month, beginning on Dec. 16, 1946, over an all-Socialist caretaker Cabinet that installed the Fourth Republic. Although officially in retirement after January 1947, Blum served as André Marie's vice premier in August 1948. He also retained leadership of the Socialist party and contributed a daily column to the party organ, Le Populaire, until his sudden death on March 30, 1950.

Further Reading

The definitive biography is Joel Colton, Léon Blum: Humanist in Politics (1966). Less sympathetic but useful is the essay in James Joll, Three Intellectuals in Politics (1960). For Blum's place in the history of the Third Republic see D. W. Brogan, The Development of Modern France, 1870-1939 (1940; rev. ed., 2 vols., 1966).

Additional Sources

Bronner, Stephen Eric, Léon Blum, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

Colton, Joel G., Léon Blum: humanist in politics, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press 1974.

Lacouture, Jean., Léon Blum, New York, N.Y.: Holmes & Meier, 1982. □

Blum, Léon

views updated May 17 2018

Blum, Léon (1872–1950) French statesman, prime minister (1936–37). He served in the chamber of deputies (1919–40) as a leader of the Socialist Party. Blum formed the Popular Front, which became a coalition government. His administration rapidly embarked on a programme of nationalization. Opposed by Conservatives, Blum was forced to resign and became deputy prime minister. He opposed the Munich Agreement (1938). Interned by the Vichy Government (1940–45), he briefly led a provisional government (1946–47).