Gaston Paul Charles Defferre

(b. 1910)

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(b. Marsillargues, 14 Sept. 1910; d. Marseilles, 7 May 1986)

French; mayor of Marseilles 1944–5, Minister of the Interior 1981–4 The son of a rakish lawyer, from the Protestant Cevennes, Defferre was educated at the lycée in Nîmes, read law in the University of Aix-en-Provence, and practised at the Marseilles Bar from 1931 to 1951. Defferre was a minor Socialist activist before the war but during the Vichy years rose rapidly through the ranks to join the clandestine SFIO Executive Bureau. Defferre's importance was both as a local politician (as cleaner-up of the notoriously ungovernable city of Marseilles) and as a reformer in brief spells of national office. At the end of the war he took over Le Petit Provençal and built up a fiefdom with interests everywhere in the city. As the boss of the powerful Bouches-du-Rhône SFIO federation, Defferre conducted a long war against the Socialist Party leader Guy Mollet, opposing, for example, the leadership's line on Algeria and taking a resolutely anti-Communist and centrist stance. His plans in 1964 for a centre-left, anti-Communist federation of the left in 1965 came to nothing. Despite this anti-Communism, Defferre was instrumental in bringing Mitterrand (with his strategy of alliance of the left) to the leadership of the new Parti Socialiste at the 1971 Épinay congress. He supported Mitterrand thereafter with a curious division of loyalties in 1979 between Mitterrand and Mauroy (the federation's vote was divided). Defferre was also presidential candidate in the shambolic Socialist campaign of 1969, when he polled a mere 5.07 per cent of the vote. As Minister for Overseas France he was responsible for the 1956 outline law foreshadowing decolonization. As Minister of the Interior in the Socialist government of 1981 he was responsible for the controversial decentralization laws which substantially reduced central oversight of local government and devolved powers to localities and regions. Defferre was a brutal power broker, who had some success at national level and was typical of big city machine politics. He was a dapper dresser and a duellist as well as something of a ‘card’.

Subjects: Politics.

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