Léon Blum (1872 - 1950)

Léon Blum


Journalists & intellectuals

A Dreyfusard jurist who anonymously reported on the Zola trial, and a member of the Council of State, Léon Blum was born in Paris on 9 April 1872.

Blum was the son of a textile merchant, and entered the Ecole Normale Supérieure at 18. He was sent down in 1891, and started law studies that ended in his entry into the Council of State at the end of 1895. His taste for cultural life inspired him to become a literary critic with an eye for young talent. In various publications, and especially La Revue blanche, for which he wrote a literary feuilleton, he helped to popularize such authors as Gide, Proust, Jane Austen and Rudyard Kipling.

Lucien Herr drew him into the Dreyfusard struggle. Esterhazy's acquittal left him appalled and in despair, but Zola's I Accuse! had the effect on him of a powerful tonic, restoring his confidence and courage: "we can still fight, we can still win." In February 1898, he assisted Fernand Labori with the Zola trial; he was "entrusted with studying certain litigious points of criminal law, and with advance preparation of replies to several difficulties (raised by the court or the Prosecution)." In addition to numerous conclusions that were filed as the days went by, he reported on the trial under the modest pen name of "A Jurist." After fifteen sessions, he concluded "more light and more truth [has come out] that one would have dared to hope." He was pleased that it was proved that evidence had been seen by the judges without having been shown to the accused or his defender, "a fact that is enough to radically invalidate the proceedings." He admitted that "the famous compelling proof" had not come out, but that everything that Zola had written had been proved: "The substance of his article is already historical truth."

In the summer of 1935, the year of Alfred Dreyfus's death, one year before the victory of the Popular Front, and a decade and half before his own death, Léon Blum wrote his Memories of the Affair for the publication Marianne. He showed how, for the intellectuals, of which he was obviously one, it was as though life itself was suspended, and how deep feelings and interpersonal relationships were thrown into confusion. He concluded that, despite everything, "only the surface had been churned up by the turbulence; the heavy depths remained motionless."