Gaston Defferre

Gaston Defferre (14 September 1910 – 7 May 1986) was a French Socialist politician. He served as mayor of Marseille for 33 years until his death in 1986. He was minister for overseas territories in Guy Mollet’s socialist government in 1956–1957. His main achievement was to establish the framework used to grant independence to France’s African territories. As the Socialist candidate for president in 1969, he received only 5 percent of the vote. He was much more successful in promoting François Mitterrand as leader of the Parti Socialiste in 1971. He held a series of ministerial portfolios after the Socialist victory in 1981, especially as minister of state for the interior and decentralization.

Gaston Defferre
Gaston Defferre 1964.jpg
Mayor of Marseille
In office
9 May 1953 – 7 May 1986
Preceded byMichel Carlini
Succeeded byJean-Victor Cordonnier [fr]
Minister of the Interior
In office
22 May 1981 – 19 July 1984
Prime MinisterPierre Mauroy
Laurent Fabius
Preceded byChristian Bonnet
Succeeded byPierre Joxe
Minister of Overseas France
In office
1 February 1956 – 13 June 1957
Prime MinisterGuy Mollet
Preceded byPierre-Henri Teitgen
Succeeded byGérard Jaquet
Personal details
Born(1910-09-14)14 September 1910
Marsillargues, France
Died7 May 1986(1986-05-07) (aged 75)
Marseille, France
Political partyFrench Section of the Workers' International
Socialist Party


Lawyer and member of the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) political party, he was a member of the Brutus Network, a Resistance Socialist group during World War II. A long-standing member of the National Assembly (1945–1958, 1962–1986) and member of the Senate (1959–1962), he also served for many years as mayor of Marseille (1944–1945, 1953–1986). He was a formidable political force in the South-East, where he owned the major centre-left newspaper Le Provençal (which he co-founded at the Liberation) and later acquired the right-wing daily Le Méridional.[1]

Defferre served as Merchant Marine Minister (1950–1952), then Overseas Minister (1956–1957), and laid the groundwork for the end of French colonialism in sub-Saharan Africa through Loi-cadre Defferre.

In his region, he faced a strong French Communist Party (PCF) with which he was frequently in conflict. As mayor, he relied on the support of the non-Gaullist center-right in the municipal assembly. In the same way, he advocated a national alliance between the SFIO and the Christian democratic Popular Republican Movement (MRP). Before the 1965 presidential election, L'Express published an identikit of the best center-left candidate under the name of "Mister X". It corresponded with Defferre's profile (L'Express co-founder Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber being a well known advocate of a Third Force alliance of socialists, Christian democrats and Radicals). But, failing to create an SFIO-MRP-Radical Party federation, Defferre had to give way to François Mitterrand, whose preferred strategy for the Socialists was the formation of a left-wing coalition including the PCF. His political career was strongly supported by members of the Corsican mafia, not least the Guérini clan.[2]

Defferre was a participant in the last duel in France that took place in 1967 when Defferre insulted René Ribière at the French parliament and was subsequently challenged to a duel fought with swords. Defferre yelled ‘Taisez-vous, abruti!‘ (‘Shut up, stupid!’) at Ribière following an argument in the French National Assembly. Ribière demanded an apology, Defferre refused, so Ribière demanded satisfaction by duel.[3] René Ribière lost the duel, having been wounded twice. He escaped relatively uninjured, however.[4]

In 1969 Defferre was the Socialist candidate once again for the French presidency. This time he had the support of ex-Premier Pierre Mendès-France, who would have been Premier again had Defferre been elected. But he was soundly defeated, suffering from the polarisation of French politics following the events of May 1968, scoring only 5% of the vote, the lowest ever score for a French Socialist candidate. The failure of Defferre prompted the birth of the new Socialist Party (PS) and buried the idea of an alliance with the centre-right.[5]

Having been the main opponent of Guy Mollet in the party, and leader of the Socialist group in the National Assembly, Defferre helped Mitterrand take the leadership during the Epinay Congress (1971), in spite of his reservations concerning Mitterrand's strategy of an alliance with the Communists. Later, when Mitterrand became President, Defferre served as Mitterrand's Interior Minister from 1981 to 1984. He was the architect of the 1982 decentralization reforms. Town and Country Planning Minister until 1986, he died in office as Mayor of Marseille. His widow, Edmonde Charles-Roux, was president of the literary circle the Académie Goncourt.[6]

Political mandatesEdit

Governmental functions

  • Secretary of State for Information : January–June 1946.
  • Undersecretary of State for Overseas France : 1946–1947.
  • Minister of Merchant Marine : 1950–1951 / March–August 1951.
  • Minister of Overseas France : 1956–1957.
  • Minister of State, Minister of Interior and Decentralization : 1981–1983.
  • Minister of Interior and Decentralization : 1983–1984.
  • Minister of State, Minister of Planning and Land Development : 1984–1986.

Electoral mandates

National Assembly of France

  • Member of the National Assembly of France for Bouches-du-Rhône : 1945–1958 / 1962–1981 (Became minister in 1981) / March–May 1986 (He died in 1986). Elected in 1945, reelected in June 1946, November 1946, 1951, 1956, 1962, 1967, 1968, 1973, 1978, 1981, 1986.

Senate of France

Municipal Council

  • Mayor of Marseille : 1944–1945 / 1953–1986 (He died in 1986). Reelected in 1953, 1959, 1965, 1971, 1977, 1983.
  • Municipal councillor of Marseille : 1944–1945 / 1953–1986 (He died in 1986). Reelected in 1953, 1959, 1965, 1971, 1977, 1983.


  1. ^ Gérard Unger, Gaston Defferre (2011).
  2. ^ ARTE+7 | Mafia et République (1/3) (in French), archived from the original on 17 March 2017, retrieved 16 March 2017
  3. ^ "The last sword duel in history, France, 1967". Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  4. ^ Gaumont Film Company Newsreel "La Revue Du Monde" (French Language), Photographer C.H. Peter (R.T.L.), "Exclusif: Le Duel", 1967, Youtube
  5. ^ Unger, Gaston Defferre (2011).
  6. ^ Unger, Gaston Defferre (2011).

Further readingEdit

  • Naylor, Edward Walter James. "A system that resembles both colonialism and the invasion of France: Gaston Defferre and the politics of immigration in 1973." in France and the Mediterranean: international relations, culture and politics (Peter Lang International Academic Publishers, 2012) pp. 249-273.
  • Shipway, Martin. "Gaston Defferre’s Loi-Cadre and its application, 1956/57: Last chance for a French African ‘empire-state’ or blueprint for decolonisation?." in Francophone Africa at fifty (Manchester University Press, 2015_.
  • Unger, Gérard. Gaston Defferre (2011), Biography in French.

External linksEdit