French Communist Party

   The French Communist Party (Parti communiste français—PCF) was established in 1920 by MarxistLeninist members of the French Socialist Party who supported the Bolsheviks in the 1917 Russian Revolution and opposed World War I. The PCF became a member of the Comintern, and accordingly in the 1920s went through a period of concerted Stalinism, accentuated by the 1930 appointment of the Muscovite Maurice Thorez as general secretary. External political opponents and those within the party advocating Trotskyism were sidelined, and the PCF was organized as a mirror of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. However, owing to the growing threat posed by the National Socialists in Germany, the PCF was instructed by the Comintern to seek political alliances with other Marxist and socialist groups in France. The result was a Popular Front alliance that sailed to victory in the 1936 general election, but imploded soon after. The PCF, at the behest of a Moscow that had freshly ratified the Nazi–Soviet Pact, initially opposed World War II and collaborated with the Germans upon the invasion of France. The 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, though, triggered a reversal of this policy, and the PCF became central to the resistance movement, to the extent that by 1944 it found itself a member of Charles de Gaulle’s government, and a year later with a 25 percent share of the French vote. The PCF was removed from office in 1947, prompting a threedecade period in which it consistently polled in excess of 20 percent of the popular vote but was prohibited from entering government. In between, it supported the general strike of 1968 but opposed what it labeled the “Trotskyite and Maoist” actions of those taking part in the Paris demonstrations of May in the same year, using its close relationship with the Confédération Générale du Travail to broker an end to the disorder. From the 1970s, the PCF sought alliances with other left-wing groups to facilitate an end to its period outside of office. It duly became a member of François Mitterrand’s socialist administrations of 1981 and 1984, with party leaders holding ministerial positions for the first time since 1947. Mitterrand’s socialists, however, were able to assume primacy over the PCF as the recognized party of the left, and by the 1986 elections the party was already on its way to electoral oblivion. The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union brought about a repudiation of the party’s Stalinist past, though concurrently a reaffirmation of its commitment to communism. The PCF was given hope anew by its inclusion in Lionel Jospin’s socialist administration of 1997, but at the 2002 National Assembly elections it gained less than 5 percent of the vote.
   Marxism in the PCF has appeared in a number of different guises, though a Stalinist core, more pronounced in the first half of the party’s life than in the second, has remained constant. This was challenged in the 1970s, as moderate general secretary Georges Marchais drove the party to advocate Eurocommunism. By the late 1990s the PCF openly advocated “socialism in French colors,” a program that supplemented its Marxism with a fervent nationalism. Today, the party is rife with disputes from adherents of each of these ideologies, though it remains committed to “rescuing” France from capitalism through Marxism–Leninism.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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