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Prime Minister, 1956-1957
Guy Mollet was born in Flers, Normandy, on December 31, 1905, educated in Le Havre, and spent time teaching English at an elementary school in Arras. He joined the French Army in 1939, and was briefly taken prisoner by the Germans during the early stages of World War II. He then joined the French Resistance in the Arras area, and was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo three times.
An active member of the French Socialist Party (SFIO) since his days as a teacher, Mollet became SFIO Secretary for Pas-de-Calais in 1928. He became Secretary-General of the SFIO in 1946, and served in that position until 1969. Mollet's government career began in October 1945, when he was elected to represent Pas-de-Calais in the National Assembly. He subsequently served as Deputy Prime Minister in the government of Leon Blum, 1946; Minister for European Relations in the government of René Pleven, 1950-1951; and Deputy Prime Minister in the government of Henri Queuille, 1951.
During the 1956 legislative campaign, Mollet created a center-left coalition called the Republican Front with the Radical Party of Pierre Mendès-France, the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance led by François Mitterand, and the Social Gaullists headed by Jacques Chaban-Delmas. Running on a platform promising to re-establish peace in Algeria, the coalition won the election and Mollet became Prime Minister.
Suez Canal In June, 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced his nation's intention to nationalize the Suez Canal in order to use toll revenues to finance the building of the Aswan Dam. Concern over Nasser's announcement led Mollet, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to hold secret meetings in which they decided that it was necessary to retake the canal by force. On October 29, Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula. Two days later British and French planes began bombing Egyptian airfields, and by November 5 British and French troops occupied the Suez Canal area and Israel held the Sinai. Intense international pressure forced all three nations to back down, however, and a United Nations peacekeeping force was called in to replace the invading armies. The incident led to the downfall of Eden in Britain, but Mollet's government managed to survive.
Algeria One of France's greatest problems in 1956 was Algeria. For years Algeria was considered a part of the French Union, rather than a colony. The Algerians sent representatives to the French parliament just as the people in France did, and they even had their own internal self-government. Nevertheless, the country had for several years been faced with an increasingly violent nationalist movement. Mollet had gained office on a promise of establishing peace in Algeria, but he soon found that task much more difficult than he had imagined.
In February, Mollet was pelted with rotten tomatoes at a demonstration in Algiers. In March, he sent two divisions of French troops into Algeria. In June, a series of land reforms aimed at allowing more Arabs to own their own farms were implemented. Neither the French troops nor the land reforms stemmed the rebel tide, however. Once willing to negotiate with the rebels, Mollet changed his mind and declared that the rebels would first have to be defeated before negotiations could begin. In June, 1957, Secretary of State for Foreign Affair Alain Savary resigned over Mollet's Algeria policy, and Mollet's government collapsed almost immediately after.
Mollet supported Charles de Gaulle's return to government and became one of four Secretaries of State in his first cabinet. He resigned in 1959, and spent the next fourteen years attempting to organize a unified Socialist opposition, without success. He retired from public life in 1971, and died in Paris on October 3, 1975.
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