French Socialist Party

   Though there had been socialist parties in France since the 1880s, the first mass Marxist organization was launched in 1905 under the leadership of Jean Jaurés as the Socialist Party–French Section of the Workers International (Section française de L’Internationale Ouvrière—SFIO). The SFIO was destabilized in 1920 when members defected to form the French Communist Party (FCP), a group whose pro-revolution stance sat uncomfortably with the democratic Marxism of the socialists. By 1936, the two had joined together in the Popular Front coalition and formed a government under socialist leader Léon Blum. The Popular Front served for just two years before collapsing, and by 1940 the SFIO had been banned by the occupying German National Socialists. For the rest of World War II, the party played a key role alongside the communists in the resistance.
   In the decade after the war, the SFIO regularly polled 25 percent of the vote to the FCP’s 26 percent, though by the 1960s the party was locked into an irreversible decline. It was in this context that General Secretary Guy Mollet appealed for the formation of a new socialist party. The Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste—PS), a collection of various left-wing forces, was inaugurated in December 1968. Under François Mitterand’s stewardship as first secretary, which began in 1971, the party championed a progressive program bereft of any mention of Marxism. With the help of coalition partners including the FCP, in 1981 the PS with Lionel Robert Jospin at its head won both presidential and national elections, and proceeded to implement an economic recovery plan underpinned by left-wing ideals. Banks and insurance companies were nationalized, a wealth tax introduced, and social benefits and wages were increased. However, this failed to overturn France’s fiscal decline, and in 1984 the PS abandoned its commitment to socialist principles and remolded itself into a social democratic, free market–friendly party. Though defeated in the 1986 elections, the party formed governments from 1988 until 1993, and from 1997 until 2002. The PS has all but renounced its commitment to socialism and their Marxist traditions are, it seems, consigned to history.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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