Léon Blum

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Although I am not a legalist when it comes to the conquest of power, I am one when it comes to the exercise of power.

André Léon Blum (9 April 1872 – 30 March 1950) was a French politician, identified with the moderate left, and three times Prime Minister of France.


  • Although I am not a legalist when it comes to the conquest of power, I am one when it comes to the exercise of power. If parliamentary processes result in our being called upon to exercise power within the framework of existing institutions, we should do so legally and fairly without taking advantage of our presence in government to fraudulently transform the exercise of power into the conquest of power.
    • Speech to the Bellevilloise Congress of the Socialist Party (January 1926), quoted in Jean Lacouture, Léon Blum (1979), p. 206
  • What the Nationalists are once again trying to revive is the state of mind, or rather, the passions of 1912–13... Hitler to-day is miles away from power. He may be a little nearer it than, say, Franklin-Bouillon, but he is infinitely farther away from it than General Boulanger on the night of 27th January, 1889, or than Paul Déroulède on the day of Félix Faure's funeral.
    • Statement (1930), quoted in Denis William Brogan, The Development of Modern France (1870–1939) (1940), p. 685
  • Only now do I understand the harm done our nation's best interests by the rebuff administered to Poincaré's policy in 1924.
    • Quoted in Pertinax [André Géraud], The Gravediggers of France (1944), p. 374

Quotes about Blum[edit]

  • In all this rallying of the forces which stand for peaceful and tolerant solutions of world problems, M. Blum has rendered a high personal service. Indeed, it was not in the power of any other Frenchman at this particularly juncture in the life of France or of Europe to do so much for the common good.
    • Winston Churchill, 'France Faces A New Crisis' (19 February 1937), quoted in Winston Churchill, Step by Step, 1936–1939 (1939; 1947), pp. 95-96
  • What interested me in Blum as a Jew was precisely that: the hatred he aroused. We find it hard today even to imagine the degree of overt, unapologetic prejudice and dislike that someone like Blum could inspire in those years, primarily and simply on account of his Jewish origin. On the other hand Blum himself was often deaf to the scale and implications of public anti-Semitism and its invocation against him. There was, of course, a certain ambivalence in Blum’s own identity: unashamedly and totally French, he was no less overtly and proudly Jewish. In later years he combined great sympathy for the newborn Jewish state in the Middle East with near indifference to the Zionist message itself. These ostensibly incompatible identifications and enthusiasms were perhaps not so far from my own at various times, which may explain my long-standing interest in the man.
    • Tony Judt, in Tony Judt and Timothy Snyder, Thinking the twentieth century (2012), Ch. 5 : Paris, California: French Intellectual
  • On a personal level, it turns out that Blum was, in an unusual sort of way, charismatic. He was so obviously honest, so manifestly meant what he said, so clearly wasn’t trying to be anything other than he was, that he was actually quite appealing and accepted on his own terms. His style—which to us would seem rather romantic and a bit elegantly over-polished for political use, especially on the left—was actually regarded as evidence that the Left had a leader of class. And of course one deeply hated by communists, on the one hand, and the French right on the other.
    Blum was also the only person who understood what his party, the Socialist Party, had to do to remain a political force in France. If socialists abandoned Marxism and tried to become a sort of social democratic party on the northern European model, they would simply blend into the existing Radical party, with whose social base they had much in common. On the other hand, socialists could not compete with the communists as a revolutionary, anti-system party. And so Blum walked a narrow path between pretending to lead a revolutionary party committed to the overthrow of capitalism, while functioning in practice as the nearest thing France had to a social democratic party.
    • Tony Judt, in Tony Judt and Timothy Snyder, Thinking the twentieth century (2012), Ch. 5 : Paris, California: French Intellectual
  • [H]e was converted by Jaurès to Socialism, became his most faithful disciple and succeeded him as leader. Along with his intellectual distinction, his idealism and his personal probity, Blum took over some of Jaurès' worst illusions. If anything, Blum was even more of a pacifist, more bent on disarmament; he placed an equal trust in German Social Democracy—with less reason, for there was the experience of the war and post-war Germany to learn from. He exemplified and encouraged by his leadership and his undoubted intellectual distinction all the illusions endemic in social democracy. There was no danger, he said, from the Fascists: he was badly beaten up in the streets of Paris to prove the worthlessness of his illusions. Hitler was miles away from power, he said, in 1930: Hitler was in complete possession of power in 1933. Blum and the Socialists had opposed the raising of Army service from one to two years, an indispensable measure of defence: he and they lived to regret the gap in French defences in 1940. And yet Blum was a noble man, as Jaurès had been before him.

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