French Communist Party

Template:Politics of France

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The logo of the PCF. Note the absence of traditional communist imagery such as the hammer and sickle.
The French Communist Party (French: Parti communiste franais or PCF) is France's largest communist party and a member of the European Left group. it was once the dominant party of the French left but today is a minor and declining party.


The PCF was founded in 1920 by those in the French Socialist Party (SFIO) who supported the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and opposed the First World War. Tensions within the Socialist Party had emerged in 1914 with the start of the First World War, which saw the majority of the SFIO take what left-wing socialists called a "social-chauvinist" line in support of the French war effort. At the SFIO congress in Tours in 1920, the left-wing faction split away and formed the PCF, taking the party paper L'Humanite with them. The PCF affiliated itself to the Communist International (Comintern).

The 1920s

Although at first the PCF rivalled the SFIO for leadership of the French socialist movement, within a few years its support declined, and for most of the 1920s it was a small and isolated party. In the late 1920s the policies of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, under which the PCF denounced the SFIO as "social fascists" and refused any co-operation, kept the left weak and divided. Like all Comintern parties, the PCF underwent a process of "Stalinisation" in which a pro-Stalin leadership under Maurice Thorez was installed in 1930 and all internal dissent banned. The rise of Adolf Hitler and the destruction of the German Communist Party led to a change of policy in the early 1930s.

The Popular Front

During the 1930s the PCF grew rapidly in size and influence, its growth fuelled by the popularity of the Comintern's Popular Front strategy, which allowed an alliance with the SFIO and the Radicals to fight against fascism. The Popular Front won the 1936 elections, and Leon Blum formed a Socialist-Radical government. The PCF supported this government but did not join it. The Popular Front government soon collapsed under the strain of domestic and foreign policy issues.

After the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the PCF was declared a proscribed organisation. The PCF pursued an anti-war course during the early part of the Second World War. Thorez deserted from the French Army and fled to the Soviet Union. When the Germans invaded France, the PCF took a "neutralist" position, and initially collaborated with the German occupiers.

Wartime influence

This position changed when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The party then took an active part in the Resistance movement, regaining credibility as an anti-fascist force. By 1944 the PCF had reached the height of its influence, controlling large areas of the country through the Resistance units under its command. Some in the PCF wanted to launch a revolution as the Germans withdrew from the country, but the leadership, acting on Stalin's instructions, opposed this and adopted a policy of co-operating with the Allied powers and advocating a new Popular Front government. Many well-known figures joined the party during the war, including Pablo Picasso, who joined the PCF in 1944.

With the liberation of France in 1944, the PCF, along with other resistance groups, entered the government of Charles de Gaulle, but were forced to quit the government of Paul Ramadier in 1947. Beginning in 1947, the onset of the Cold War led the PCF to pursue a more militant policy, alienating it from the SFIO and allowing the right-wing parties to stay in power. During the Fourth Republic, as the SFIO and the Radicals declined, the PCF consistently received more votes than any other party, although they were not allowed to enter the government.

The 1960s and 70s

Thorez died in 1964 and was succeeded as PCF leader by Jacques Duclos. In May 1968 widespread student riots and strikes broke out in France. The PCF supported the general strike but opposed the revolutionary student movement, which was dominated by Trotskyists and Maoists. The PCF also alienated many on the left by supporting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. Nevertheless, the PCF benefited from the left-wing mood of the period, and from the collapse of the socialists. At the 1969 presidential election, Duclos polled 21% of the vote, completely eclipsing the SFIO.

In 1972 Duclos was succeeded by Georges Marchais, who began a moderate liberalisation of the party's policies and internal life, although dissident members, particularly intellectuals, continued to be expelled. The PCF entered an alliance with Franois Mitterrand's new Socialist Party (PS), but broke it off again before the 1974 elections, allowing the right to retain power. The PCF remained loyal to Moscow, disapproving of the Eurocommunism of the Italian Communist Party. The alliance with the PS was renewed for the 1981 elections, at which Mitterand was elected President and the left won a large majority in the National Assembly.


Under Mitterand the PCF held ministerial office for the first time since 1947, but this had the effect of locking the PCF into Mitterand's reformist agenda, and the PCF's electoral support drained away to the PS. The PCF also suffered from the rise of the National Front, whose populist slogans appealed to many PCF voters. During the 1980s the PCF vote fell sharply and it lost its position as the dominant party of the left.

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to a crisis in the PCF, but it did not follow the example of most other European communist parties of dissolving itself or changing its name. Instead it repudiated its Stalinist past but remained committed to communism as an ultimate objective. In 1994 Marchais retired and was succeeded by Robert Hue, who received only 3.4% of the votes in the 2002 presidential elections. Marie-Georges Buffet is the current leader of the party. Under Lionel Jospin, the PCF again held ministerial offices from 1997 to 2002. At the 2002 National Assembly elections, the PCF polled 4.8% of the vote and won 21 seats (out of 567). The PCF retains some strength in the Paris suburbs, in the industrial areas around Lille, and in some areas of the south such as Marseille.


The PCF publishes the following:

  • Communistes (Communists)
  • Info Hebdo (Fortnightly Information)
  • Economie et Politique (Economics and Politics)

Traditionally, it was also the owner of the French daily L'Humanit (Humanity). Although the newspaper is now independent, it remains close to the PCF. The paper is sustained by the annual Fte de L'Humanit (Festival of Humanity), held in the working class suburbs of Paris.

See also

External links

fr:Parti communiste franais pl:Parti communiste français ru:Французская коммунистическая партия


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