Vincent Auriol

(b. 1884)

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(b. Revel, 27 Aug. 1884; d. Paris, 1 Jan. 1966)

French; President of the Fourth Republic 1947–54 Born in 1884 the son of a baker, Auriol grew up in the Southern French town of Revel. He used the educational opportunities provided by the Third Republic for bright working-class boys, studied law, and soon got involved in Socialist Party activism. Like many of his generation, he was inspired by the ideal of democratic socialism unifying Marxism and Republicanism preached by Jaurès and subsequently by Blum. Elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1914, Auriol rose quickly through the ranks of the parliamentary Socialist Party and became recognized as its leading economic expert. In the deteriorating political circumstances of the 1930s, the threat posed by the radical Right to the institutions of the Third Republic led to the formation of the Popular Front and the election in 1936 of a left-wing majority in the Chamber of Deputies. Auriol was appointed Minister of Finance in Blum's 1936 Popular Front government and had the difficult task of trying to reassure the business and finance communities that social reform was compatible with sound money. Having initially refused to devalue the franc, he was compelled to do so in October and to declare a pause in the government's social programme. The Popular Front experiment disintegrated in 1937–8 and Auriol left office.

In the traumatic events of 1940 which culminated in the defeat of France and the installation of Pétain's Vichy regime, Auriol was one of the few political leaders who refused to spit on the corpse of the Third Republic. He retired to his farm, was (briefly) able to shelter Léon Blum from the vengeful attentions of his newly powerful enemies and made no attempt to conceal his opposition to the regime and its leader. By 1942 he had gone into hiding to avoid detention; later he joined the Free French in Algiers. His credentials as a democratic Socialist and impeccable wartime record thus left him well placed to play a leading role in the complicated politics of liberated France. In 1946, as president of the Constituent Assembly, he did more than anyone to frame the constitutional texts of the Fourth Republic. It was this that led the National Assembly to elect him President of the Republic. His presidency was dominated by the need to defend the new constitutional order against the problems caused by a fragmented party system and the semi-subversive attacks of the Communist Party and de Gaulle's Rassemblement pour la France. In so doing he relied less on the formal powers of the presidency (which were few) or on appeals to public opinion, than on his insider's knowledge of France's political class and on his remaining constitutional rights over the appointment of governments. His posthumously published diaries reveal the extent of his role in shoring up the fragile ministries of the late 1940s. He also travelled widely in France and its empire.

Auriol's presidency came to an end in 1954 and he made no attempt to stand for re-election. He remained active, however, in Socialist politics and was one of those who negotiated with de Gaulle in 1958 over his return to power. He had initially welcomed de Gaulle's return. But his attachment to the political culture of democratic republicanism meant that he was unable to accept the increased presidentializing of the regime and in particular the 1962 amendment providing for the direct election of the President. Both challenged the principles of democratic republicanism which he had absorbed from Jaurès and Blum. He campaigned vigorously against the 1962 amendment.


Subjects: Politics.

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