Pierre Mendès France

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Pierre Mendès France
Pierre Mendes France 1968.jpg
Pierre Mendès France in 1968
93rd Prime Minister of France
In office
18 June 1954 23 February 1955
Preceded by Joseph Laniel
Succeeded by Edgar Faure
Personal details
Born11 January 1907
Died18 October 1982(1982-10-18) (aged 75)
Political party Radical
Alma mater University of Paris

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 the Communist party. 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]

France Republic with majority of territory in Europe and numerous oversea territories around the world

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.02 million. France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

French Fourth Republic government of France between 1946 and 1958

The French Fourth Republic was the republican government of France between 1946 and 1958, governed by the fourth republican constitution. It was in many ways a revival of the Third Republic that was in place from 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War to 1940 during World War II, and suffered many of the same problems. France adopted the constitution of the Fourth Republic on 13 October 1946.

Radical Party (France) liberal and centrist political party in France

The Radical-Socialist and Radical Republican Party was a liberal and formerly social-liberal political party in France. It was also often referred to simply as the Radical Party, or to prevent confusion with other French Radical parties as the Parti radical valoisien, abbreviated to Rad, PR, or PRV.


Early life

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]

University of Paris former university in Paris, France from 1896 to 1968

The University of Paris, metonymically known as the Sorbonne, was a university in Paris, France, active 1150–1793, and 1806–1970.

A bar association is a professional association of lawyers. Some bar associations are responsible for the regulation of the legal profession in their jurisdiction; others are professional organizations dedicated to serving their members; in many cases, they are both. In many Commonwealth jurisdictions, the bar association comprises lawyers who are qualified as barristers or advocates in particular, versus solicitors. Membership in bar associations may be mandatory or optional for practicing attorneys, depending on jurisdiction.

Salvator Cicurel was an Egyptian Olympic fencer, and later the president of Cairo's Sephardi Jewish community from 1946 until 1957.

Third Republic and World War II

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.

French Parliament Legislative branch of France

The French Parliament is the bicameral legislature of the French Republic, consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly. Each assembly conducts legislative sessions at a separate location in Paris: the Palais du Luxembourg for the Senate and the Palais Bourbon for the National Assembly.

Eure Department of France

Eure is a department in the north of France named after the river Eure.

The Popular Front was an alliance of left-wing movements, including the communist French Section of the Communist International, the socialist French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) and the progressive Radical-Socialist Republican Party, during the interwar period. Three months after the victory of the Spanish Popular Front, the Popular Front won the May 1936 legislative elections, leading to the formation of a government first headed by SFIO leader Léon Blum and exclusively composed of republican and SFIO ministers.

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.

Free French Air Forces

The Free French Air Forces were the air arm of the Free French Forces during the Second World War from 1940. They officially ceased to hold this title from 1943, with the merger of Free French Forces with General Giraud's anti-German forces, but were still commonly known by the title until the liberation of France in 1944, when they became the regular French Air Army. They were commanded by Martial Henri Valin from 1941 to 1944, who subsequently became commander of the Air Army.

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire Unincorporated community in New Hampshire, United States

Bretton Woods is an area within the town of Carroll, New Hampshire, United States, whose principal points of interest are three leisure and recreation facilities. Being virtually surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest, the vista from Bretton Woods toward Mount Washington and the Presidential Range includes no significant artificial structures other than the Mount Washington Cog Railway and the Mount Washington Hotel.

Liberation of Paris military action that took place during World War II

The Liberation of Paris was a military battle that took place during World War II from 19 August 1944 until the German garrison surrendered the French capital on 25 August 1944. Paris had been ruled by Nazi Germany since the signing of the Second Compiègne Armistice on 22 June 1940, after which the Wehrmacht occupied northern and western France.

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.

René Pleven French politician

René Pleven was a notable French politician of the Fourth Republic. A member of the Free French, he helped found the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance (UDSR), a political party that was meant to be a successor to the wartime Resistance movement. He served as prime minister two times in the early 1950s, where his most notable contribution was the introduction of the Pleven Plan, which called for a European Defence Community between France, Italy, West Germany, and the Benelux countries.

In economics, a free market is a system in which the prices for goods and services are determined by the open market and by consumers. In a free market, the laws and forces of supply and demand are free from any intervention by a government or other authority and from all forms of economic privilege, monopolies and artificial scarcities. Proponents of the concept of free market contrast it with a regulated market in which a government intervenes in supply and demand through various methods such as tariffs used to restrict trade and to protect the local economy. In an idealized free-market economy, prices for goods and services are set freely by the forces of supply and demand and are allowed to reach their point of equilibrium without intervention by government policy.

International Bank for Reconstruction and Development international financial institutions, sells loans to middle-income developing countries, part of the World Bank Group

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) is an international financial institution that offers loans to middle-income developing countries. The IBRD is the first of five member institutions that compose the World Bank Group, and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. in the United States. It was established in 1944 with the mission of financing the reconstruction of European nations devastated by World War II. The IBRD and its concessional lending arm, the International Development Association, are collectively known as the World Bank as they share the same leadership and staff. Following the reconstruction of Europe, the Bank's mandate expanded to advancing worldwide economic development and eradicating poverty. The IBRD provides commercial-grade or concessional financing to sovereign states to fund projects that seek to improve transportation and infrastructure, education, domestic policy, environmental consciousness, energy investments, healthcare, access to food and potable water, and access to improved sanitation.

Fourth Republic

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.

First Indochina War 1946-1954 war between France and Hồ Chí Minhs forces

The First Indochina War began in French Indochina on December 19, 1946, and lasted until July 20, 1954. Fighting between French forces and their Việt Minh opponents in the south dated from September 1945. The conflict pitted a range of forces, including the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps, led by France and supported by Bảo Đại's Vietnamese National Army against the Việt Minh, led by Hồ Chí Minh and the People's Army of Vietnam led by Võ Nguyên Giáp. Most of the fighting took place in Tonkin in northern Vietnam, although the conflict engulfed the entire country and also extended into the neighboring French Indochina protectorates of Laos and Cambodia.

Vietnam Country in Southeast Asia

Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula. With an estimated 94.6 million inhabitants as of 2016, it is the 15th most populous country in the world. Vietnam shares its land borders with China to the north, and Laos and Cambodia to the west. It shares its maritime borders with Thailand through the Gulf of Thailand, and the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia through the South China Sea. Its capital city is Hanoi, while its most populous city is Ho Chi Minh City.

Battle of Dien Bien Phu Decisive Viet Minh victory over the French near the end of the First Indochina War

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was a climactic confrontation of the First Indochina War that took place between 13 March and 7 May 1954. It was fought between the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps and Viet Minh communist revolutionaries.

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 Republic

Mendes France, against the Algerian War during a PSU meeting in January 1962. 20.01.1962. Mendes France et Raymond Badiou. (1962) - 53Fi3369.jpg
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 career

Governmental function
Electoral mandates

National Assembly of France

General Council

Municipal council

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


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


  1. Mendès France is a Sephardic Portuguese name

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  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.
  3. Obituary: Bob Denard, BBC, 14 October 2007
  4. De Gaulle Wins In France. St. Petersburg Times. 19 November 1962

Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
Maurice Couve de Murville
Free French Commissioner for Finance
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Pierre Cathala
Minister of National Economy
Succeeded by
René Pleven
Preceded by
Joseph Laniel
Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by
Edgar Faure
Preceded by
Georges Bidault
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Edgar Faure
Preceded by
Minister of State
Succeeded by