Pierre Mendès France

Pierre Isaac Isidore Mendès France (French: [pjɛʁ mɑ̃dɛs fʁɑ̃s]; 11 January 1907 – 18 October 1982), known as PMF, was a French politician who served as President of the Council of Ministers (equivalent in the French Fourth Republic to Prime Minister) for eight months from 1954 to 1955. He represented the Radical Party, and his government had the support of a coalition of gaullists (RPF), moderate socialists (UDSR), christian democrats (MRP) and the liberal-conservative CNIP. His main priority was ending the war in Indochina, which had already cost 92,000 dead, 114,000 wounded and 28,000 captured on the French side. Public opinion polls showed that, in February 1954, only 7% of the French people wanted to continue the fight to regain Indochina out of the hands of the Communists, led by Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh movement.[1] At the Geneva Conference of 1954 he negotiated a deal that gave the Viet Minh control of Vietnam north of the seventeenth parallel, and allowed him to pull out all French forces. The United States then provided large-scale financial, military and economic support to South Vietnam.[2]

Pierre Mendès France
Mendès-France Harcourt 1948.jpg
Pierre Mendès France in 1948
Prime Minister of France
In office
18 June 1954 – 23 February 1955
PresidentRené Coty
Preceded byJoseph Laniel
Succeeded byEdgar Faure
Minister of State
In office
1 February 1956 – 23 May 1956
Preceded byGuy La Chambre
Jean-Michel Guérin de Beaumont
Succeeded byFélix Houphouët-Boigny
Foreign Minister of France
In office
18 June 1954 – 20 January 1955
Preceded byGeorges Bidault
Succeeded byEdgar Faure
Minister of the National Economy
In office
10 September 1944 – 6 April 1945
Preceded byPierre Cathala
Succeeded byRené Pleven
Personal details
Pierre Isaac Isidore Mendès France

(1907-01-11)11 January 1907
Paris, France
Died18 October 1982(1982-10-18) (aged 75)
Paris, France
Political partyRadical
Lili Cicurel
(m. 1933; died 1967)

Marie-Claire Servan-Shreiber de Fleurieu
(m. 1971)
Alma materUniversity of Paris

Early lifeEdit

Mendès France was descended from a Portuguese Jewish family that settled in France in the 16th century. He was educated at the University of Paris, graduating with a doctorate in law and becoming the youngest member of the Paris Bar association in 1928. In 1924 he joined the Radical Socialist Party, the traditional party of the French middle-class centre-left (not to be confused with the mainstream SFIO, often called the Socialist Party). He married Lili Cicurel, the niece of Salvator Cicurel.[3]

Third Republic and World War IIEdit

In 1932 Mendès France was elected to the French Parliament as a député for the Eure département; he was the Assembly's youngest member. His ability was recognized at once, and in the 1936 Popular Front government of Léon Blum he was appointed Secretary of State for Finance. When World War II broke out he joined the French Air Force. After the French surrender to Nazi Germany, he was arrested by the Vichy government authorities and sentenced to six years' imprisonment on a false charge of desertion, but on 21 June 1941 he escaped and succeeded in reaching Britain, where he joined the Free French forces of Charles de Gaulle.

After serving with the Free French Air Force, Mendès France was sent by de Gaulle as his Finance Commissioner in Algeria, and then headed the French delegation to the 1944 monetary conference at Bretton Woods. When de Gaulle returned to liberated Paris in September 1944, he appointed Mendès France as Minister for National Economy in the provisional government.

Mendès France soon fell out with the Finance Minister, René Pleven. Mendès France supported state regulation of wages and prices to control inflation, while Pleven favoured free market policies. When de Gaulle sided with Pleven, Mendès France resigned. Nonetheless, de Gaulle valued Mendès France's abilities, and appointed him as a director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and as French representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Fourth RepublicEdit

In 1947, after democratic French politics resumed under the Fourth Republic, Mendès France was re-elected to the National Assembly. He first tried to form a government in June 1953, but was unable to gain the numbers in the Assembly. From 1950 he had been a consistent opponent of French colonialism, and by 1954 France was becoming hopelessly embroiled in major colonial conflicts: the First Indochina War and the Algerian War of Independence. When French forces were defeated by the Vietnamese Communists at Dien Bien Phu in June 1954, the government of Joseph Laniel resigned, and Mendès France formed a government with Communist Party support.

Mendès France immediately negotiated an agreement with Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese Communist leader. There was, he said, no choice but total withdrawal from Indochina, and the Assembly supported him by 471 votes to 14. Nevertheless, nationalist opinion was shocked, and Roman Catholic opinion opposed abandoning the Vietnamese believers to Communism. A tirade of abuse, much of it anti-Semitic, was directed at Mendès France.[note 1] Jean-Marie Le Pen, then a Poujadist member of the Assembly, described his "patriotic, almost physical repulsion" for Mendès France.

Undeterred, Mendès France next came to an agreement with Habib Bourguiba, the nationalist leader in Tunisia, for the independence of that colony by 1956, and began discussions with the nationalist leaders in Morocco for a French withdrawal. He also favoured concessions to the nationalists in Algeria; but the presence of a million Pied-noirs there left the colonial power no easy way to extricate itself from that situation. The future mercenary Bob Denard was convicted in 1954 and sentenced to fourteen months in prison for an assassination attempt against Mendès France.[4]

Mendès France hoped that the Radical Party would become the party of modernization and renewal in French politics, replacing the SFIO. An advocate of greater European integration, he helped bring about the formation of the Western European Union, and proposed far-reaching economic reform. He also favoured defence co-operation with other European countries, but the National Assembly rejected the proposal for a European Defence Community, mainly because of misgivings about Germany's participation.

His cabinet fell in February 1955. In 1956 he served as Minister of State in the cabinet headed by the SFIO leader Guy Mollet, but resigned over the issue of Algeria, which was coming to dominate French politics. His split over Algeria with Edgar Faure, leader of the conservative wing of the Radical Party, led to Mendès France resigning as party leader in 1957.

Fifth RepublicEdit

Mendès France, against the Algerian War during a PSU meeting in January 1962.

Like most of the French left, Mendès France opposed de Gaulle's seizure of power in May 1958, when the mounting crisis in Algeria brought about a breakdown in the Fourth Republic system and the creation of a Fifth Republic. He led the Union of Democratic Forces, an anti-Gaullist group, but in the November 1958 elections he lost his seat in the Assembly. In 1959 he was expelled from the Radical Party, whose majority faction supported de Gaulle.

Mendès France then joined the Unified Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste Unifié or PSU), a small party of the intellectual left. He made an unsuccessful bid to regain his seat in the National Assembly representing Eure in the 1962 election.[5]

In 1967 he returned to the Assembly as a PSU member for the Isère, but again lost his seat in the 1968 landslide election victory of the Gaullist party UDR. Mendès France and the PSU expressed sympathy for the sentiments and actions of the student rioters during the "events" (les évènements) of May 1968, a position unusual for a politician of his age and status. One year later, Pompidou's socialist opponent in the presidential election of 1969, Gaston Defferre of the SFIO, designated him his preferred Prime Minister prior to the election. The two campaigned together in what was the first – and so far only – dual "ticket" in a French presidential election. Defferre gained only 5% of the vote and was eliminated in the election's first round. When François Mitterrand formed a new Socialist Party in 1971, Mendès France supported him, but did not attempt another political comeback. He lived long enough to see Mitterrand elected president.

Political careerEdit

Governmental function
  • President of the Council of Ministers : 1954–1955.
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs : 1954–1955.
  • Minister of State : January–May 1956 (Resignation).
Electoral mandates

National Assembly of France

General Council

  • President of the General Council of Eure : 1951–1958. Reelected in 1955.
  • General councillor of Eure : 1937–1958. Reelected in 1945, 1951.

Municipal council

  • Mayor of Louviers : 1935–1939 (Resignation) / 1953–1958 (Resignation). Reelected in 1953.
  • Municipal councillor of Louviers : 1935–1939 (Resignation) / 1953–1958 (Resignation). Reelected in 1953.

Mendès France's first Ministry, 19 June 1954 – 20 January 1955Edit


  • 14 August 1954 – Emmanuel Temple succeeds Koenig as Minister of National Defense and Armed Forces. Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury succeeds Chaban-Delmas as interim Minister of Public Works, Transport, and Tourism. Eugène Claudius-Petit succeeds Lemaire as interim Minister of Reconstruction and Housing.
  • 3 September 1954 – Jean Masson succeeds Temple as Minister of Veterans and War Victims. Jean-Michel Guérin de Beaumont succeeds Hugues as Minister of Justice. Henri Ulver succeeds Bourgès-Maunoury as Minister of Commerce and Industry. Jacques Chaban-Delmas succeeds Bourgès-Maunoury as Minister of Public Works, Transport, and Tourism and Claudius-Petit as Minister of Reconstruction and Housing. Louis Aujoulat succeeds Claudius-Petit as Minister of Labour and Social Security. André Monteil succeeds Aujoulat as Minister of Public Health and Population.
  • 12 November 1954 – Maurice Lemaire succeeds Chaban-Delmas as Minister of Reconstruction and Housing.

Mendès France's second Ministry, 20 January 1955 – 23 February 1955Edit


  1. ^ Mendès France is a Sephardic Portuguese name


  1. ^ Maurice Larkin, France since the Popular Front: Government and People 1936-1996 (1997) pp 240-1.
  2. ^ Thomas J. Christensen (2011). Worse Than a Monolith: Alliance Politics and Problems of Coercive Diplomacy in Asia. Princeton UP. pp. 123–25. ISBN 978-1400838813. Archived from the original on 27 May 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  3. ^ "1927: Owner of Egypt's Grandest Store Brutally Murdered in Cairo". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 14 June 2018. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  4. ^ Obituary: Bob Denard Archived 23 December 2017 at the Wayback Machine, BBC, 14 October 2007
  5. ^ De Gaulle Wins In France Archived 8 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine. St. Petersburg Times. 19 November 1962

Further readingEdit

  • Aussaresses, Paul. The Battle of the Casbah: Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in Algeria, 1955–1957. (New York: Enigma Books, 2010) ISBN 978-1-929631-30-8.
  • De Tarr, Francis. The French Radical Party: From Herriot to Mendès-France (Greenwood, 1980).
  • Lacouture, Jean. Pierre Mendes France (English ed. 1984), scholarly biography. online
  • Alexander Werth, The Strange History of Pierre Mendès France and the Great Conflict over French North Africa. Barrie. London 1957 online
  • Wilsford, David, ed. Political leaders of contemporary Western Europe: a biographical dictionary (Greenwood, 1995) pp. 313–18

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by Free French Commissioner for Finance
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of National Economy
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Minister of State
Succeeded by