Gaston Defferre

Gaston Defferre (September 14, 1910 - May 7, 1986, Marseille) was a French socialist politician.

Lawyer and member of the SFIO Socialist Party (French Section of the Workers' International), 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".

He was Merchant Marine Minister (1950-1952) then Overseas Minister (1956-1957). He prepared the end of French colonialism in Sub-saharan Africa.

In his region, he faced a strong 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 Chritian Democratic MRP (Popular Republican Movement). 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, he gave way to Francois Mitterrand, whose preferred strategy for the Socialists was the formation of a left-wing coalition including the PCF.

However, he was the Socialist candidate in 1969 for the French Presidency, with the support of ex-Prime-Minister Pierre Mendès-France, who would have been Prime Minister 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.

Having been the main opponent of Guy Mollet in the party, and leader of the Socialist group in the National Assembly, he helped François Mitterrand to take the leadership during the Epinay Congress (1971), in spite of Mitterrand's strategy of an alliance with the Communists. He later 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, is president of the literary circle the Académie Goncourt.


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  • Defferre, Gaston — (1910 1986)    political figure    Born in Marsillargues, Gaston Defferre was, since 1933, a militant Socialist (SFIO) and, during World War II, a member of the Resistance. He was mayor of Marseille (1944 45 and from 1953 until his death), served …   France. A reference guide from Renaissance to the Present

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