Obituary: Jean Pierre-Bloch

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The Independent Culture
JEAN PIERRE-BLOCH was a survivor from the politics of the Second World War and the liberation of France and was the last living member of the High Court jury which sentenced the Vichy head of state Marshal Petain to death for treason in 1945. In March last year he testified against the Vichy-ite Maurice Papon whose claim to Resistance credentials he dismissed as bogus.

Pierre-Bloch was an important influence in the French Socialist Party (SFIO) over the Liberation years and was the youngest of the Popular Front deputies elected in 1936, for the department of Aisne.

He was born Jean-Pierre Bloch in Paris in 1905. He had a brief acquaintance with the commercial world before entering the Socialist Party newspaper Le Populaire in 1930 as a journalist. He worked his way up the party ladder, becoming an SFIO departmental councillor in 1934 (and remained until 1967) and an adjunct to the Mayor of Laon in the Aisne in 1933, where he built up a solid position.

His role in the 1936 Communist/Socialist/Radical Popular Front as backbencher was not great but he emerged as an opponent of the Munich agreement and as a critical spirit. He joined up for war service in 1939 and was taken prisoner in June 1940 but escaped and helped start the Resistance.

His role in the Resistance was important: he was one of the first to rally to Charles de Gaulle and for a long time expected the Gaullist movement to embrace and subsume the political parties which had so divided France. While in prison Pierre-Bloch (he rearranged the hyphen in his name) noted of the Socialist Party that "it offered me nothing".

At the same time, however, he was one of the essential go-betweens between the Resistance and the imprisoned socialist leader Leon Blum. He believed, and persuaded Blum (and others), that de Gaulle had no intention of setting up a military dictatorship. His views on the subordinate role of the party brought him into conflict with other Resistance leaders who were party loyalists and wanted to rebuild the SFIO.

Pierre-Bloch was rearrested in Spain, again escaped and then made his way to London in 1942. There he joined the Free French and de Gaulle's own staff. He worked in the political and secret services and was a member of de Gaulle's consultative assembly in 1943. As the government's interior delegate he was involved in controversial decisions and political organisation. At the Liberation Pierre-Bloch's contacts were used by de Gaulle to re- establish administrative authority in France and he had the role of nominating the new Prefects.

After the Liberation, he tended to the left of the party and was returned to the constituent assembly from the Aisne. He supported the bid of the Communist leader Maurice Thorez to become prime minister in 1946. As a regional power in the Aisne he established himself on the side of the rising challenger Guy Mollet and against the supporters of Blum who wanted to modernise the SFIO, arguing (as many did) that the party's alliance with the Christian Democrats and the Communists was a mistake. He thought that an alliance with the Communist Party alone was the way to consolidate the power of the working class.

He failed to get elected to the first Assembly of the Fourth Republic but he took a similar view of the Socialist premier Paul Ramadier when he evicted Communist ministers from the government in May 1947. However, the parliamentary party did not take Pierre-Bloch's view, dropped the Communists and remained in power. He changed his position in subsequent party leadership meetings to support Ramadier. Like other leftists around Mollet he was not so much wavering as drowning. The Cold War started in late 1947 and like others Pierre-Bloch rallied to the defence of the Republic.

Pierre-Bloch tried to be re- elected but was not successful again. In the mid-1950s he supported the radical and reforming movement led by Pierre Mendes France. Then in the 1960s he supported Mitterrand's alliance of the left and stood unsuccessfully for it in 1967. He had, however, supported de Gaulle's return to power in 1958.

His other activities included a tenure of the Societe Nationale des Entreprises de Presse, an organisation set up to deal with the collaborationist press (until he resigned in 1953) and the running of his own publicity and advertising company between 1955 and 1987. Under his guidance Licra (La Ligue Internationale contre le Racisme) had a very wide remit. He published several books, including his own memoirs.

Jean-Pierre Bloch (Jean Pierre-Bloch), politician: born Paris 14 April 1905; married (three children); died Paris 17 March 1999.