Daniel Stern (Marie d’Agoult)

1805-1876 • Germany

Romantic author • Historian

Daniel Stern, her pseudonym, was a republican whose salon was visited by Marx in 1844. She lived with Lizst and wrote the History of the 1848 Revolution.

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DANIEL STERN PLACES

Ernest Hemingway

1899-1961 • USA

Journalist • Author

Hemingway’s only vote was for the socialist Eugene V Debs. In 1921 he moved to Paris, leaving in 1927 after his first divorce. In the 1950s he was spied upon by the FBI for supposed Communist sympathies.

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Paul Lafargue

1842-1911 • Cuba

Socialist • Parti ouvrier • Laura Marx

Lafargue first visited London and met Karl Marx in 1865. He married Laura Marx in 1868 and with Jules Guesde was one of the founders of the French Workers’ Party. Lenin came to see him on his first trip to Paris in 1895. Jaurès, Lenin and Keir Hardie all spoke at his and Laura’s joint funeral in 1911 after they committed suicide together.

Locations
  • 47 rue du Cherche-Midi: Paul Lafargue and Laura Marx, his wife, move in to a flat here on 1 December 1868. In July 1869 Marx made a secret 6-day trip to Paris to see them (using the pseudonyme Alan williams). The couple committed suicide together here in 1911.
  • 51 avenue de Flandre: In 1869-1870 Lafargue worked on Henri Rochefort‘s republican newspaper La Marseillaise with Victor Noir (before his assassination by Napoleon III’s cousin) and Prosper-Oliver Lissagaray.

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Pablo Picasso

1881-1973 • Spain

ArtCommunism • Spanish Civil War

Picasso visited Paris often between 1900 and 1904 when he settled there. From 1935 he associated with many of the left surrealists and in 1937 painted Guernica. He joined the French Communist Party in October 1944, gave money to it, and remained a member until his death.

Picasso aged 56. The self-portrait was painted a year after Guernica.

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Anarchism

While anarchism may contain extreme individualism, in France it emerged as a bottom-up collective ideology alongside communist thought as a major mutualist strand within early French socialism.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that ensuring freedom was a key moral obligation on the organisation of society

Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) suggested anarchism emerged out of the ‘naturalist philosophy’ of the enlightenment.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) considered that in putting individual human rights at the legal heart of the social order, the French Revolution itself was the start of doing everything differently. Justice became possible in political, economic and social life within a peaceful transition to an anarchist world he described as ‘Anarchy is Order Without Power’.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon aged about 30

Proudhon, who many see as the ‘father’ of anarchism, regarded property as a means of exercising authority. He rejected it, god and government – whether elected or imposed by revolutionaries. He opposed both reformists and utopians.

For Proudhon, only the workers themselves could achieve freedom. And they could only do so through exercising direct control over their daily work.

Proudhon, Perry Anderson (The New Old World) reminds us, also believed in a European confederation of federations – a bottom-up association of mutually supportive workshops.

A postcard of the founding meeting of the First International Workingmen’s Association in London in 1864 attended by Marx and many French Proudhonists

In the 1850s and 1860s Proudhon’s writings reached a wide audience among the growing numbers of skilled French workers, who often found themselves in workshops alongside their working employer. The French delegates to the First International, founded in London in 1864, were largely Proudhonist, without their belonging to a specific anarchist organisation.

The suppression of the 1871 Paris Commune killed (literally) the Proudhonist collective bottom-up dynamic.

It took the return of the amnestied Communards in 1879 and 1880 for anarchism to re-emerge. But its form was then quite different.

Louise Michel led an unemployed demonstration in 1883 wearing a black veil. This became the anarchist colour

The now-marginalised Proudhonists increasingly wished to differentiate themselves from the socialists.  In 1882 Louise Michel (1830-1905) argued ‘

No more flags dyed red with the blood of our soldiers. I will carry the black flag to mourn our dead and all illusions.

In 1884 in a regular meeting place, the Salle de la Réunion, at 8, Rue de Lévis, the anarchist grouplet, the ‘Batignolles Panther‘ (la Panthère des Batignolles) held one/two meetings that ended in street battles with the police and monarchists. This was a period of rising monarchist agitation. Either on 23 November or 7 December 1884, or on both dates, the meetings included speakers such as Louise Michel, Jules Favre, Henri Rochefort and Léon Gambetta.

The Panther of the Batignolles anarchist group was set up in October 1882. A police spy reported that they had ‘quiet’ meetings with a lot of reading of scientific books on how to make explosives

Propaganda by the deed

Many anarchists reflected their frustration with the conservatism of the strongly liberal and anti-socialist Third Republic by turning to what became called ‘Propaganda by the Deed’.

Breaking with Proudhon’s moderation as well as with Mikhail Bakunin’s (1814-1876) anti-authoritarianism, the new generation of libertarians increasingly considered that a social revolution could only occur if sparked by insurrectional acts.

At the right moment, the ‘spirit of revolt’ inherent in the working masses would spontaneously lead to a revolution.

This ideology justified violence directed against individual capitalists and their supporters on the grounds that capitalism itself was founded on violence. ‘Individual seizures’ of bourgeois goods and possessions were justified as helping to destabilise the bourgeois order.

A lithograph of the moment of the explosion at the Restaurant Foyot, 36 Rue de Condé on April 4 1894

The ‘propaganda by the deed’ anarchists denounced attempts to create lasting organisations, as well as strikes (reforming the system) and any joint work with the socialists.

Their public presence grew, as their ideas attracted many intellectuals and artists who detested the authoritarianism and conformity of 1880s French society.

Felix Fénéon (1861-1944) and some of his artistic and literary friends like Maximilien Luce started attending anarchist meetings. Anarchism also attracted younger workers angry at continuing massive poverty and inequality.

Anarchist papers were selling 20,000 copies a week in Paris by the mid-1880s. The papers edited by Jean Grave (1854-1939), successively le Révolté, La révolte and Les Temps nouveaux (New Times) and supported by Kropotkin and Élisée Reclus, were the most influential.

Bombings

On May Day 1891 nine demonstrators for the 8-hour day were shot dead by police at Fourmies near the Belgian border.

On the same day at another demonstration at Clichy in Paris three anarchists were arrested and badly beaten up after the police decided to seize the red flag at the march’s head.  Gunfire was exchanged. One anarchist and some police slightly wounded.

Two of the anarchists were jailed by the judges for five and three years.

As an individual act of reprisal for this injustice, the 32-year-old François (Koenigstein) Ravachol then bombed the homes of two judges involved in the Clichy trial. He was caught and guillotined on 11 July 1892.

Émile Henry was captured close by the Café Terminus after his February 1894 bombing

On November 8 1892, five days after the end of the 10-week Carmaux miners’ strike in the south of France, Émile Henry, the 20-year-old son of a Spanish communard, planted a time-bomb at the Carmaux company’s Paris office. It was found and taken to a police station where it exploded killing five gendarmes.

On 9 December 1893 August Vaillant threw a bomb into the Chamber of Deputies from the public gallery in protest against political corruption. It wounded 20 deputies and Vaillant was guillotined on 3 February 1894.

Nine days after Vaillant’s execution, the 22-year-old Henry carried out a revenge bombing at the Café Terminus at the Paris Gare St Lazare. It killed one man and wounded another 19. Henry was caught at the scene and guillotined on 21 May 1894.

On 24 June 1894 an Italian 20-year-old anarchist knifed the French president in Lyon. Sadi Carnot died a day later and Caserio was tried and guillotined in August.

Felix Fénéon at the Mazas Prison opposite the Gare du Lyon in 1894 sketched by Maximillien Luce

Under new anti-anarchist laws passed in December 1893, 426 anarchists were rounded-up in April 1894 of whom 30, including Fénéon, the anarchist journalists Jean Grave and Émile Pouget (1860-1931), and a burglar, Philippe Léon Ortix, were also put on trial in August 1894 for ‘criminal conspiracy’.

The prosecution aimed to prove that the anarchist anti-capitalists were working closely with known criminals. After Fénéon’s brilliant appearance in the dock, and Bernard Lazare ‘s committed legal defence, only three were finally jailed.

Later in 1894 a few anarchists, including Bernard Lazare and Fénéon, were among the first to denounce the silence on the left in front of the national anti-Semitic lynch mob atmosphere after Captain Dreyfus was arrested for alleged treason on October 29.

Earlier that year Lazare had published Anti-Semitism, its History and Causes, and Lazare became the key figure in exposing the framing of Dreyfus with a pamphlet published in November 1896.

Direct action

Criticism of the ‘propaganda by the deed’ ideology, the repression targeting anarchist newspapers and individuals, as well as the clear failure of these terrorist acts to stimulate revolution, led many anarchist sympathisers to turn towards trade union and socialist alternatives.

As early as 1893 Michel, Kropotkin and others in the Avant-Garde group of anarchists began to argue against the individualist-isolationism of ‘propaganda by the deed’ and for a return for anarchism to the workers’ movement as a component of socialism.

Their object, inside the trade unions and socialist sects, was to attack the advocates of state socialism through parliament and to argue for extra-parliamentary action, particularly the general strike as a means of achieving emancipation. Entering unions that were only legalized in 1884 and working with the socialists there would end the isolation fueled by the failures of ‘propaganda by the deed’.

It would also dovetail with the understandings of the very small numbers of trade unionists. They rationalised their minority status in relationship to their fellow workers as proving their responsibility was to lead by example. If a minority took direct action on an important issue, then the majority might join in.

Direct action and the General Strike as opposed to political action were adoped by the founding conference of the CGT in 1895

‘Direct action’ was thus democratic – it offered workers the possibility of participating in their own liberation – and it did not involve a dependency upon either the state or the employers. Neither party politics nor collective bargaining could be relied on to improve workers’ conditions; workers could only rely on what was gained through direct action.

In September 1895, albeit paradoxically, the founding conference of the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) trade union centre at Limoges voted to ‘stay outside of all political schools’. The paradox is that this apolitical stance was adopted by the majority of delegates made up of Jean Allemane supporters, anarchists and Blanquists in order to scupper the influence of Jules Guesde‘s French Workers’ Party.

Revolutionary syndicalism

‘Revolutionary syndicalist’ trade unionism tended to place a greater emphasis upon the ‘general strike’ for longer-term goals of social transformation and internationalism, and to stress the importance of generalising actions against the employing class as a whole. It took a deep hold on the unskilled worker activists whose uncertain, irregular and very low paid work meant they were effectively excluded from the widespread state-supervised mutual savings societies (mutualités) with the requirement of regular payments before benefits could be accrued.

Revolutionary syndicalists were sometimes politically close to the still sizeable body of anarchists. They often came from smaller firms and trades where the prospects of reactionary paternalist employers ever agreeing to trade union recognition and collective bargaining were highly remote.

They defended direct action, confrontation with the employers, the General Strike and sabotage such as ‘go slows’. In the CGT’s 1906 agitation for the Eight Hour Day, it therefore called neither for legislation on working time nor for negotiations: its aim was to have enough workers take strike action to convince everyone to simply impose the eight hour day on the employers.

The anarchist Émile Pouget (1860-1931), author of Le Sabotage (1898), became Joint-General Secretary of the CGT from 1901 to 1908. In 1906 he helped draft the Amiens Charter that is still a cornerstone of much French trade unionism with the cobbler, Victor Griffuelhes (1874-1922).

It was largely thanks to Griffuelhes’ organizational talents as General Secretary that the CGT grew from around 100,000 members in 1901 to the near 500,000 claimed when he was forced by the 1908 reformist coup to resign.

World War 1

50 years after the start of World War 1 French anarchists were still dealing with the reality that many leading anarchists supported their countries in the war

Anarchism, like the whole revolutionary left, took a big hit in 1914. All belief that class interests would trump national interest crashed. Worse still for the anarchists than for the social democrats who wanted to win state power, and had already seen some former socialists move into ministerial positions, Kropotkin and Grave and a handful of other leading anarchists argued that workers should support the Entente alliance against the greater evil of German militarism.

The 1917 Russian Revolution was experienced by the revolutionary syndicalists as an emotional roller-coaster. Revolutionary inspiration turned quickly to the sad confirmation of their greatest fears and predictions about the consequences of a single party state.

Anarchist insistence that workers could and would seize a revolutionary opportunity to overthrow the state was shattered. The defeat of the 1919 German revolution and the arrival of the successful fascist counter-revolution in Italy added to their demoralisation.

The shrinking numbers of anarchists began to see anarchism as first needing to educate the masses and even to organise to ensure this happens.

In 1936 Spanish anarchism briefly appeared to demonstrate that anarcho-communism from below was possible

The ‘anarchist summer’ of 1936 in France and particularly in Spain, with agricultural collectives being formed bottom-up across whole regions, and with revolutionary syndicalists dominant in the trade union refuelled the anarchist belief that they could make history and not just be subjected to it.

Yet by November 1936 the choice between making the revolution and defending the Spanish Republic had to be made: the anarcho-syndicalist CNT trade union confederation decided to enter the Spanish Republican government and was backed by the Iberian Federation of Anarchists (FAI).

After World War Two

In the 1940s and 1950s some French libertarians tried to resuscitate anarchism from its identification with violence by renaming it ‘libertarian socialism’ or ‘libertarian humanism’. Most kept defending the earlier anti-state mantra, and failed to support growing anti-colonial struggles.

George Brassens was a leading anti-authoritarian rebel in the 1950s and 1960s

The most prominent sympathisers in this period, like the surrealist André Breton (1896-1966) and poet/singer George Brassens (1921-1981), remained individualist rather than collectivist. Brassens was one of the editorial collective behind the revival of Le Libertaire, which resumed production in December 1944 and came out on a weekly basis until 1956, when the fragmenting anarchist movement suspended its production.

A libertarian renaissance started in the early 1960s, inspired partly by the experiments in self-organisation in Tito’s Yugoslavia and in Ben Bella’s (1916-2012) Algeria.

May 1968

In May 1968 the Odéon Theatre was occupied by the students and next to the banner saying ‘Odeon is Open’ a Black anarchist flag flew alongside a Red one

May 1968 saw an explosion of radical libertarianism. Spontaneous and anti-authoritarian it denounced the bureaucratised trade unions and Communist Party.

For a time a black flag was raised over the Odéon Theatre. This was occupied by the students, and became a centre of debate about the future of the movement. My step-mother recalled how the teargas used by police in 1968 to end the occupation wafted up into the flat 50 metres from the theatre that I’m now lucky enough to be able to use to follow the footsteps of the French Parisian left.

May 1968 generated a new mass feminist movement in France. It relaunched the ecology environmental movement. It led to the formation of hundreds of experimental self-governing collectives and a large squatting movement.

Direct Action

Among those radicalised by 1968 were many French anarchists. A journal, Camarades, was launched in 1974. It was influenced both by increasingly the militaristic Italian ‘Autonomous Workers’ organization (of whom many members fled to France in 1979) and by Spanish anti-Franco activists in the Groupes d’action révolutionnaires internationalistes (GARI) who believed it necessary to continue an armed struggle against the state.

In 1976, Jean Bilski, an anarchist acting alone, murdered the chief executive of the giant Credit Lyonnais bank, and then killed himself.  In 1977 a group of Maoists belonging to the Armed Units for Mass Self-organisation (Noyaux armés pour l’autonomie populaire) carried out 7 bombings on their own and another series of attacks on nuclear targets with anarchists belonging to GARI.

The first ‘General meeting of Parisian self-organised groups’ (Assemblée générale parisienne des groupes autonomes –  AGPGA) is held in October 1977, after the July 31 brutal police attacks on the anti-nuclear demonstration in the ‘Battle of Malville’. Some of those there created a loose ‘internal armed political coordination network’ within the wider group.

A month later on the night of 19 November 1977, 23 coordinated attacks (bombings, Molotov cocktails) on the French electricity company (EDF) and the nuclear industry took place across France.

The leaders of Directe Action were tracked down to a farmhouse and arrested in 1987

While most French anarchists considered the time was not ripe for mounting similar attacks and robberies to those associated with the Red Brigades in Italy from 1975 to 1979, a tiny minority clearly did.

Some of them formed Action Directe, borrowing the name from the revolutionary syndicalists. This group’s first action was on May Day 1979. They machine-gunned the headquarter offices of the Patronat (the largest French employers’ organization, then called the Conseil national du patronat français).

The group followed this up with another 80 bombings, bank robberies, acts of sabotage, machine-gunning and assassinations over a nine-year period. In 1987 its four remaining leaders were jailed for life. The last one, Jean-Marc Rouillan, aged 66 was released in May 2018 after spending 28 years in prison, of which ten were in isolation, and then published his account of Ten years of Direct Action.

21st century

Most ‘new’ anarchists resumed involvement in the major struggles of the late 20th century – against racism, for equality, against unjust laws, and even for workers’ rights. In the 1970s and 1980s a ‘workers’ control’ movement appeared.

Many are involved in ‘alternative world’ movements, often working closely with radical environmentalists. Eco-anarchists, following Élisee Reclus, generally argue that mankind should stop attempting to dominate nature.

Some are involved in the small revolutionary syndicalist organisations. A small trade union exists called the CNT (Confédération Nationale du Travail) française. Still smaller groups are l’Union des Anarcho-Syndicalistes (UAS),  le Syndicat intercorporatif anarchosyndicaliste (SIA) et le Groupement d’Action et de Réflexion AnarchoSyndicaliste (GARAS).

These groups usually stress key libertarian themes such as direct democracy, task rotation, anti-authoritarianism, solidarity and federalism.

A march against the Macron trade union reforms on 19 April 2018 was hijacked by 250 young men under a black-red flag wanting to confront police eager to tear gas them

The black and red flag of French anarchism is now mainly carried by a few hundred young men at the margins of demonstrations. They are often primarily interested, it would seem, only in confronting the police or in being attacked by them.

Yet the conviction that a radically different way of organizing economic and social relations to contemporary capitalism is both possible and necessary remains alive and kicking. And French anarchism reminds us that this cannot be achieved without also ensuring individual freedom.

ALSO IN …

Art

Gustave Courbet sketched this self-portrait at Sainte-Pélagie prison after the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871. He was one of many artists who supported the Commune and is in a line of socialist, anarchist and communist artists who lived and/or worked in Paris and contributed their visions of a world transformed

References to include: Eugène Delacroix

In 1895 Toulouse-Lautrec painted one of a series he had begun in 1889 commissioned by the Moulin Rouge at the Place Blanche. In it he inserted (bottom right) tributes to the editor of La Revue Blanche, Félix Fénéon, and to his friend, Oscar Wilde (second bottom left), whom he had met and painted in London the day before Wilde was jailed for indecency.
Portrait of Felix Feneon by his former fellow political prisoner charged with anarchist sympathies Maximilien Luce. This was pained in 1901

Communism

Communism as an international struggle for freedom. This 1951 socialist realist painting by Boris Taslitkzy shows French dockers fighting to stop arms going to French Indochina

What is shared between those who define themselves or are defined by others as ‘communist’? And how may ‘Communism’ be distinguished both from French anarchism and French socialism, with which it shared much common history and ground?

Babeuf was guillotined on 27 May 1797 as leader of the Conspiracy of Equals against the Directorate

Manifesto of Equals

The 1795 Paris revolutionary ‘Manifesto of Equals’ inspired by François-Noel Babeuf and rescued from oblivion by Philippe Buonarroti (1761-1837) summarised what remained (and remains) common to nearly all those who described themselves as communist across the following two hundred and some years:

We need not only that equality of rights written into the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen; we want it in our midst, under the roofs of our houses… We lean towards something more sublime and more just: the common good or the community of property! No more individual property in land: the land belongs to no one. We demand, we want, the common enjoyment of the fruits of the land: the fruits belong to all.

We declare that we can no longer put up with the fact that the great majority work and sweat for the smallest of minorities. Long enough, and for too long, less than a million individuals have disposed of that which belongs to 20 million of their kind, their equals.

Let it at last end, this great scandal that our descendants will never believe existed! Disappear at last, revolting distinctions between rich and poor, great and small, masters and servants, rulers and ruled.’

After agreeing to this general statement of belief, communists had much more to disagree with each other upon.  

We have divided the considerable history of Communism in France into five periods:

Communism 1830-1917

For nearly 80 years before the redefining of communism with the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the 1920 formation of the…

Communism 1918-1938

The Communist (Third) International was formed in Russia in 1919. The Soviet Communist Party directly dictated French Communist Party policy from…

Communism 1939-1947

From the shock of the 1939 non-aggression pact between Moscow and Berlin to holding ministries in the French government from 1945…

Communism 1978-to date

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the end of the Soviet Union, changes to its traditional working class constituency…

Communism 1830-1917

From setting an example and insurrections to state communism

Early French intra-communist debates were primarily around ‘How to achieve communism?’ Some 19th century French communists answered: By example and education. Some: By a revolution to destroy state power. And others: By seizing state power and using it

1. Exemplary communism 

The example of communism could lead others to follow. Society could be transformed by establishing ideal communities within the existing order. Utopian communist ideas and projects flourished during the first half of the 19th century. Many built upon egalitarian Christian beliefs to give them wider legitimacy, often looking to messianic figures to offer leadership. 

Etienne Cabet (1788-1856) initiated the most influential of these experiments with his ‘Travel and Adventures of Lord William Carisdall in Icaria’, popularised in a French translation as Voyage en Icarie in 1840. It was Cabet whose pamphlet ‘Le crédo communiste’ first drew the word communist into the political vocabulary. 

Cabet founded the Icarian colony at Nauvoo in 1849 but died in 1856. The last Icarian group dissolved itself in 1898

By the mid-1840s Icarian communist groups existed in several French cities as well as in Paris. After trials for conspiracy in 1847, Cabet argued his supporters should emigrate to Texas to establish communist communities: 

The community suppresses egoism, individualism, privilege, domination, opulence, idleness and domesticity, transforming divided personal property into indivisible and social or common property. It modifies all commerce and industry. Therefore the establishment of the community is the greatest reform or revolution that humanity has ever attempted. 

2. Insurrectionary communism 

Other 19th century communists considered the revolutionary insurrection itself to be the principal way of preparing for a new society. It would overthrow private property and the state. Once the old power structures were removed the new world could be built by the working classes themselves. 

For insurrectionary communists the barricade was the way the state would be defeated. This 1871 photograph is of the barricade in the rue de Charonne

Barricades appeared in Paris for 3 days in 1830, 2 days in 1832, 1 night in 1834, a few hours in 1839, 2 days in February 1848, three days in June 1848, one day in December 1851 and for a week in May 1871. 

Eric Hazan’s History of the Barricade begins by pointing out: 

We could say that this is only a succession of defeats – some immediate, on the ground, others delayed – in which the forces of domination end up reversing the gains of an ephemeral victory. But thanks to Baudelaire, Blanqui, Hugo and Lissagaray, this is a history that is still living, a source of inspiration for those unresigned to the perpetuation of the existing order. 

After the bloody suppression of the 1871 Commune the next Parisian barricades were only erected in 1944 and 1968, but the inspirational idea of a great event-led transition remained embedded in left French thought. 

Direct action and the General Strike as opposed to political action were adoped by the founding conference of the CGT in 1895. This photograph is of the 1906 campaign for a general strike to bring about the 8-hour day

During the third quarter of the 19th century the barricade was gradually replaced by the General Strike as the hoped-for transformative event that would ensure the transition to a communist society.

The term ‘anarcho-communist’ covers those who held, like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) and Victor Griffuelhes (1874-1922), that after the great event and the overthrow of the national government, the state and authority of the employers, the existing workers’ organisations would be able to democratically run society. 

3. State communism 

The third way of achieving communism borrowed from Babeuf and Robespierre in seeing the role of the state as key to achieving a new world. 

Drawn to Babeuf’s ideas by Buonarroti, Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881) aimed to seize state power and use it to suppress the ruling elite. All the decisions on behalf of the Parisian workers and the French provinces should be taken by a handful of dedicated revolutionaries. 

A proclamation was read on the steps of the Paris Town Hall on May 12 1839 in the names of the ‘Provisional Government’ including Blanqui (who was named ‘Commander-in-Chief’ of the republican army) and Armand Barbès (1809-1870). 

Their self-constituted Provisional Government called for support from Parisian workers to:

‘Perish finally the exploitation, and may equality sit in triumph on the mingled ruins of royalty and aristocracy’. 

On May 15 1848 in the aftermath of a protest march against the new government’s lack of support for the Polish revolution, Barbès announced a new government from the steps of the Town Hall. 15 men and were tried in July 1849. Barbès and Alexandre Martin /Albert (1815-1895) were sentenced to deportation, Blanqui to ten years and the republican scientist François-Vincent Raspail (1794-1878) to six. Louis Blanc (1811-1882) was acquitted. 

The 15 arrested after the May 1848 protests against government inaction over the Polish revolt against the Russian colonisers included insurrectionary revolutionaries like Barbes and Blanqui alongside socialist republicans like Blanc and Raspail.

The Blanquists wished to seize state power without any democratic mandate from the workers who they believed would then follow the revolutionary leadership. 

Marx’s influence 

In the third quarter of the 19th century the political meaning of ‘communist’ and ‘communism’ in France shifted to specifically highlight the need for the whole working class (and not a handful of conspirators) to capture and use state power to rule on behalf of their class and so ensure a transition to a better world. 

This evolution was to a large extent due the work of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895). Their Communist Manifesto was published in German in February 1848. 

Its first French translation appeared in Paris just before the June 1848 workers’ uprising. Yet hardly anyone read the Manifesto or knew it existed in Paris in 1848. 

Although both Marx and Engels had already lived some time in Paris before 1848, the small influence they did have on the dominant Proudhonian anarcho-communism in France only began to appear from the late 1860s. Two of Marx’s daughters, Laura in 1868 and Jenny in 1873, married French socialists who had come to London to learn from Marx, Paul Lafargue (1842-1911) and Charles Longuet (1839-1903). 

Engels and Marx with Jenny, Eleanor and Laura photographed about 1865

The next French version of the Communist Manifesto only appeared after the defeat of the Commune in 1872 in a New York-based French-language paper, Le Socialiste. Volume 1 of Capital was translated under Marx’s direction and published in Paris in 48 sections between 1872 and 1875. 

Marx’s view of working-class rule involved rule of the whole class rather than of a few revolutionaries. Friedrich Engels specifically attacked the Blanquist understanding of ‘dictatorship’ in 1874: 

From the fact that Blanqui conceives of every revolution as the coup de main of a small revolutionary minority, what follows of itself is the necessity of dictatorship after its success – the dictatorship, please note, not of the entire revolutionary class, the proletariat, but of the small number of those who made the coup de main and who themselves are organized beforehand under the dictatorship of one person or a few. One can see that Blanqui is a revolutionary of the previous generation. 

Hal Draper’s Dictatorship of the Proletariat also quotes Marx in 1875 as arguing that:

‘Freedom consists in transforming the state from an organ set above society into one thoroughly subordinated to it’. 

From the mid-1870s, after the return of the thousands of those deported and jailed after the Commune, Marx’s ideas, challenging both Blanquism and Proudhon, began to get a wider French audience. 

Marxist-influenced parties 

Jules Guesde (1845-1922), the founder with Lafargue of the small Workers’ Party (Parti Ouvrier) sect in 1882, was introduced to Marxism in student discussions at the Café Soufflet on the corner of the rue des Écoles with the Boulevard St-Michel after returning from exile in 1876. 

In 1880 Guesde and Lafargue travelled to London, where Marx drafted the preamble to the Workers’ Party programme, and Guesde and Lafargue detailed its specific political and economic sections. 

The French Workers Party was very small but it was the first to claim to be Marxist

It was not long before Marx fell out with Guesde and Lafargue (as he did with many others). In response to their ‘revolutionary phrase-mongering’ he wrote: ‘What’s certain (if that is Marxism), is that I’m no Marxist’. 

In the 1890s after 20 years of economic depression and rising inequalities, Marx’s ideas spread rapidly and widely on the French socialist left. 

His scientific analysis of the instability of emerging capitalism and acute political observations on 1848 and the rise of Louis Napoléon as well as of the Paris Commune made him a key point of reference for 

many leading socialists such as Jean Allemane (1843-1935), Edouard Vaillant, Georges Sorel, Charles Andler and Jean Jaurès (1859-1914). 

The founding of the French Section of the Workers’ International in 1905 to create the SFIO brought together France’s more rhetorically revolutionary groups like Guesde’s Parti Socialist de France and the more reformist groups and independent socialists such as Jaurès. 

Within ten years, however, Jaurès had been assassinated by a pro-World War 1 French nationalist and Guesde was Minister without Portfolio in the National Unity (Union Sacré) Government. 

World War 1 

August 2 1914 outside the Gare de l’Est saw a popular mass mobilisation for the war against Germany

Nearly the entire French ‘Marxist’ left supported the war effort arguing that aggressive German military imperialism was the biggest threat to French workers. Three days after Jaurès’ murder, Vaillant argued he was ‘For the Country, for the Republic and for the Revolution’. 

Unlike several British and Russian socialists, on August 4 1914 every single French SFIO National Assembly deputy voted in favour of war credits. They included Marx’s grandson, Jean Longuet (1876-1938). And, unlike the situation in Germany, Russia and Britain, a government of National Unity (Union sacrée) was established the same day. Socialists and radicals were incorporated in the war effort from the very start. 

Virtually the whole CGT (Confederation générale du travail) leadership also supported the war. Opposition to World War 1 was at first limited largely to a handful of revolutionary-syndicalists. 

Pierre Monatte (1881-1960) of the CGT’s La Vie Ouvrière monthly, Alphonse Merrheim of the metalworkers’ federation and Alfred Rosmer (1877-1964) met Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) in a left bookshop on the Quai de Jemmapes near the CGT’s offices to plan their anti-war campaign. This was soon after Trotsky was deported to France from Austria in November 1914. 

Zimmerwald Conference 

Half of those attending the September 1915 Zimmerwald Conference called on the initiative of the Italian Socialist Party

In 1915 Merrheim attended the September 1915 Zimmerwald conference. With Lenin and 16 other delegates he signed the final compromise Manifesto drafted by Trotsky: 

Workers of Europe… Since the outbreak of the war you have put your energies, your courage, your steadfastness at the service of the ruling classes. Now the task is to enter the lists for your own cause, for the sacred aims of Socialism, for the salvation of the oppressed nations and the enslaved classes, by means of the irreconcilable working-class struggle. It is the task and the duty of the Socialists of the belligerent countries to begin this struggle with all their power… 

Never in the history of the world has there been a more urgent, a more noble, a more sublime task, the fulfilment of which must be our common work. No sacrifice is too great, no burden too heavy, to attain this end: the establishment of peace between the nations. 

Working men and women! Mothers and fathers! Widows and orphans! Wounded and crippled! To all who are suffering from the war or in consequence of the war, we cry out over the frontiers, over the smoking battlefields, over the devastated cities and hamlets: “Workers of all countries unite” 

This call fell largely on deaf ears in France where the pacifist opposition to World War 1 grew very slowly. The anti-war trade unionists linked up with Louise Saumoneau (1875-1950) and Hélène Brion (1882-1962) campaigning for working women’s rights. 

In January 1916 Merrheim and Saumoneau set up the Committee for restoring International Relations (le Comité pour la reprise des relations internationals – CRRI). 

Women sewing machinists striking in Paris in 1917 were supported by the growing numbers opposing the war and its slaughter

Russian Revolution 

Following the first 1917 Russian Revolution the Committee published a leaflet calling for support for a May Day strike and a Russian call to ‘The Proletarians of all countries’ to unite against the War. 

Conscious of growing support for the Russian soviets, in December 1917 the CGT congress passed a resolution nearly unanimously that welcomed both President Wilson’s April decision that the US would enter the War as an ally, and the Russian Revolution. 

The anti-war movement grew in 1917, but it was still a minority. In June 1918, when Gaston Monmousseau (1883-1960), a member of the CRRI, moved a motion at the CGT Railway workers’ conference denouncing the ‘union sacrée’ and calling for the ‘energetic pursuit of the class struggle’, he rallied just one third of the votes. 

French communism, by 1917, was a very broad spectrum. It included the followers of Marx, of Proudhon, of Blanqui, and of the handful of revolutionary syndicalists who had opposed World War 1, as well as socialist pacifists, feminists, anarchists and anti-authoritarian writers and artists. 

The only communist tendency that had disappeared since 1830 were the utopian communists. 


Over the next 70 years French communism would be transformed. It would be reshaped and reorganised into a generally monolithic force driven largely by the consequences of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Communism 1918-1938

From Socialism to Stalinism

In the English translation of Eric Hazan’s magnificent Invention of Paris there are apostrophes around ‘Communist’ when writing about the French Communist Party (Parti communiste français – PCF). 

The Party has meant ‘Communism’ for most of the 20th century. 

For the full 70 years from its Caesarean birth in 1920 to the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the political and organisational strategies of the PCF were effectively determined in the best interests of the Russian Communist Party regimes in Moscow. 

Debates among communists in the 1920s were largely around the political character of the Soviet Union. Was it essentially a Blanquist top-down regime built upon a narrow insurrectionary group, or was it a genuine bottom-up workers’ state closer to Marx and Engels’ vision of a democratic governing system that could manage the transition towards real communism? 

Today, 1917 is mainly known as the year of the two Russian Revolutions. In France, where Germany still occupied a quarter of the country, the year was marked by strikes by women workers and mutinies in the army. 

1918 

As the strikes and World War 1 death toll grew so did support for pacifist and anti-war ideas. Trade union membership jumped from 500,000 in 1918 to 1.5 million in 1919. 

Marx’s grandson, the SFIO parliamentary deputy Jean Longuet (1876-1938) successfully carried an internationalist resolution at the October 1918 SFIO congress. 

On Sunday April 6 1919 a 300,000 protest takes place against the acquittal of Jaurès’ assassin.

In April 1919 some 300,000 people were estimated by the organisers to have marched in protest against the not guilty verdict on Jean Jaurès’ assassin. Called by the SFIO and the CGT this was the first legal working-class demonstration in Paris since 1909. 

In contrast in Paris the May Day 1919 march was declared illegal and when the skirmishes finished, two demonstrators and one police officer were dead and thousands injured. 

France’s ‘blue’ anti-Bolshevik parliamentary election of November/December 1919 saw the 296 Socialist, Socialist Republican and Radical Socialist deputies elected in 1914 reduced to 180, despite the SFIO’s popular vote actually increasing to 1.7 million. 

The national political result was a nationalist Chamber of Deputies comprising 44% ex-servicemen who wore or had worn the soldier’s blue-grey uniform. It was called ‘the blue horizon’ parliament. Its principal aim was to make Germany pay for the war. 

Affiliation to the CI 

The Russian Revolution inspired and reinvigorated many. There was a widespread belief that it proved a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism in France was still a possibility. 

Socialist activists also felt betrayed by the Second International’s abject failure in stopping World War 1 in 1914. They leapt at the idea of joining the Communist International (CI) that Lenin and Zinoviev set up in Moscow in March 1919. 

Large numbers became convinced that the ‘patriotic’ support the SFIO and CGT gave the war by had been wrong. One wrote to the SFIO: ‘Do found a new party, a proletarian party. But get rid of the label Socialist, because it’s dirty, really dirty’. 

The delegates at the 1920 Congress of the SFIO, held in Tours from December 25-30, split three ways on affiliation to the Communist International. 

War veteran Albert Treint (1889-1971) representing the Seine Federation (with a quarter of all the delegates) spoke and voted in favour of affiliation to the CI. 

Longuet wanted to affiliate but rejected article 17 of the Third International, requiring affiliates to follow CI directives, and article 21 stating that the revolution had to follow an insurrection. 

The third camp, led by supporters of the Union sacré in World War 1 like Léon Blum (1872-1950), Jules Guesde and Albert Thomas (1878-1932), wished to remain affiliated to the Second International. 

The final vote was 3,209 to request affiliation to the Communist International with 1,022 votes against. Alongside the Seine Federation, the voting majority was made up of SFIO federations representing those rural areas with a weak Catholic Church presence, where large numbers of small farmers also worked as day labourers, and where anger at the peasant-worker sacrifices of World War 1 was greatest. 

Only 13 of the SFIO deputies in the National Assembly sided with the majority, and none of these were manual workers. Four of these deputies left within months. 

[Pic 4. The Party’s December 31 1920 manifesto finishes ‘Long Live French Revolutionary Socialism. Long Live the Communist International’] 

The French Section of the Communist International (SFIC) was led in 1921 by a national committee of 23 men and one woman, with six men and two women deputies. They were a heterogeneous group of revolutionary syndicalists, some anarchists and many socialists sympathetic to the Russian Revolution, with more or less sectarian Marxists. 

Parti communiste 

Initially the new Section française de l’Internationale communiste (SFIC), formally called the Parti communiste (PC) from 1921, claimed 109,000 members, but its first major membership decline set in within months. 

Over the next hundred years it has had a roller-coaster existence, experiencing three other periods of major decline as well three of huge growth. 

By 1933 the PC’s membership had fallen to 29,000. Only 11 of the original 24 national committee representatives were still members. 

By 1932, after rejecting any deals with the socialists under the new two-tier electoral system, the PC only had 10 deputies. The political line imposed by Moscow from 1927 to 1934 saw anyone who was not a Communist as an enemy. This ‘class against class’ policy meant denouncing socialists as ‘social-fascists’ rather than trying to bring about a broad socialist-communist movement to challenge fascism. 

The minority trade union confederation PC members had formed in 1922, the (Confédération générale du travail unifiée CGTU), declined from roughly 390,000 affiliated members to 258,000 in 1933. 

Leaving the Party 

The 1920s saw a steady drift of members out of the PC. Some left politics altogether. Others went back to the SFIO or into the embryonic left and Trotskyist oppositions, continuing to claim the title ‘communist’. 

Some quit the PC because its growing emphasis on internal centralised military-like discipline challenged their belief in a democratic party. 

Some broke with it because of its attacks on SFIO reformists as being against the working class; some because of a sense of exclusion deriving from its emphasis on building a party led largely by manual working class men; while others resented its blind acceptance of policies laid down by Moscow. Some questioned whether the Russian Revolution had really gone beyond a Blanquist insurrection to the democratic workers’ state they had hoped for. 

Members also left when in 1923 it decided that belonging to the masons or the League of the Rights of Man (founded to defend Dreyfus in 1898) was incompatible with PC membership. 

Louis-Oscar Frossard, the former SFIO general secretary, and the first SFIC/PC general secretary resigned from his post and from the PC in January 1923. He rejoined the SFIO in June 1924 

[Pic 5. The PC’s daily newspaper changes its masthead as it gets more funding from and gets closer to the Russian Communist Party leadership 

The changing mastheads of l’Humanité, the daily newspaper founded by Jaurès in 1904, suggest the changing perspectives of the new party. Until April 7 1921, it kept the words ‘Socialist Newspaper’ on the strapline. On Friday 8 April this changed to ‘Communist Newspaper’. 

On February 8 1923 this became instead ‘The Central Organ of the Communist Party (SFIC). 

Lenin’s death 

The death of Lenin on 21 January 1924 had a significant and rapid impact on the PC. 

Pierre Monatte (1881-1960) was the leading revolutionary syndicalist in the aftermath of World War 1. He joined the PCF in May 1923 when he started to work as labour editor on l’Humanité and became a member of its national steering committee. 

He was soon in a minority, challenging the decision to remove Boris Souvarine (1895-1984) as editor of the internal Communist Bulletin, which had published left criticisms of the leadership. 

Monatte, Souvarine and Alfred Rosmer (1877-1964) then came under constant attack by the influential Treint for their links to the Russian opposition and their support for Trotsky (1879-1940). In April 1924 Monatte resigned from l’Humanité. 

Souvarine, in Moscow to represent France at the 5th Congress of the Third International, was expelled from the PC by Zinoviev in July 1924. In November 1924 Monatte and Rosmer, who had brought back a translation of Lenin’s last testament criticising Stalin from Moscow, were also expelled. 

On October 4 1924, the year in which the PC adopts its ‘Bolshevisation’ strategy, with stronger central control and greater demands on the members, the l’Humanité masthead changed again. It now incorporated both the exhortation ‘Workers of the World Unite’ and the emblematic hammer and sickle adopted as the official Soviet Union flag in November 1923. 

On March 16 1926 the slogan was dropped and the hammer and sickle moved from the top left of the front page to top centre. The ‘Organe central du PCF’ and hammer and sickle then remained in place in the masthead until 1994. 

Stalin’s growing strength in Moscow and his forcing Zinoviev’s resignation in 1926 next undermined Treint’s ‘left’ position within the PC. In January 1928 Treint was expelled for factional activities following a report by Maurice Thorez (1900-1964). 

The communists who were expelled or resigned from the PCF attempted vainly to build sustainable organisations. Frossard’s Parti Socialist-Communiste disappeared within months. The ‘communiste-syndicaliste’ monthly journal, La Révolution prolétarienne, founded by Monatte and Rosmer in 1925 was forced to become a bi-monthly in 1927. 

Most supporters of Souvarine’s Cercle communiste Marx et Lénine (1926-1930) and his subsequent Cercle communiste et démocratique (1931-1934) rejoined the SFIO, as did Treint. 

Working class party 

The narrowing down of the PC to those who supported Stalin created a much more homogenous political party than those who’d been in the majority of the SFIO at Tours in 1920. No longer a broad umbrella group it became a party aligned ever more closely with Stalin’s victorious side in the internal faction fights within the Russian Communist Party. 

Probably the most significant change within the PC during its first decade was to push its Communist youth section (Jeunesses communistes) into a leadership role. Initially this was through the broad campaigns it led. 

[Pic 6. Under pressure from the Communist International the PC defended the Rif Republic and opposed French military intervention there in 1925] 

During the early the 1920s the PC campaigned to free the thousands of world War 1 mutineers of 1917 still kept in labour camps. 

In 1925, encouraged by the Third International, the PC then actively opposed France’s sending 50,000 troops under General Petain in 1925 to join the Spanish against the Rif Republic. This had been created in northern Morocco following Abdelkrim’s military defeat of the Spanish in 1921. 

Messali Hadj (1898-1974) joined the PC through his involvement in the 1925 actions against French troop involvements in Morocco and Syria. The radical philosopher Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) was also active in the anti-war campaign and joined the PC with other intellectuals in 1928 before launching la Revue marxiste in 1929. 

Its militant campaigning enabled the PC to attract and build a core of young working-class origin activists, like Thorez and Benoît Frachon (1893-1975). 

Many of the younger PC leaders were given training as professional revolutionaries in Moscow where, from 1927, Stalin’s regular and increasingly murderous purges of internal opposition was becoming the mood music. 

One of a new generation of PC recruits was Lucie Bernard/Aubrac (1912-2007). She joined the Jeunesses Communistes in 1933 while at the Sorbonne studying history. She then spent six months at the Lenin International School in 1935. 

Eugen Fried, the Communist International’s representative in Paris from 1931, embedded five core concepts into the PCF: Defence of the Party, Support for Peace and the Working Class, ‘scientific’ Marxism and belief in the Soviet leadership. 

By 1932 the PC counted some 500 full-time workers, approximately one for every 50 members. Much of the finance for this professionalisation came directly from Moscow. 

At the same time the PC’s ‘Bolshevisation’ helped normalise very high levels of personal commitment among its members. Being a PC member for the 50 years from 1925 meant being consistently politically active in every arena of local community life and at work in the trade unions. 

Over time the conscious ‘workerisation’ of its leadership at all levels enabled it to present itself as ‘the only workers’ party’ in France. 

Class against class 

While its membership continued to fall, the PC implemented Moscow’s sectarian ‘Class against Class’ united front position on a 23 to 13 majority vote at its Central Committee In January 1928. This attempted to split the leadership of the Socialist Party from its manual worker supporters. 

‘It is necessary to speed up bringing together the working masses under the proletarian leadership of its Communist Party to wage an unremitting struggle against all the factions of the bourgeoisie… we propose (to the Socialist Party) class against class as a common formula for action and to go beyond elections for a struggle everywhere against white and tricolour reaction’. 

The PC initially claimed success with this hard line in the April 1928 four-yearly national elections because its share of the vote increased from 10% (half that of the Socialists) in 1924 to 11% and just over one million voters (compared to the Socialists’ 1.7m and 18% share). 

But by the 1932 National Assembly elections and four more years of Class against Class, its vote had fallen back to 796,000 (a share of 8%) to the SFIO’s 2 million votes (21% share). 

A united anti-fascist movement of intellectuals took off in France after Hitler came to power in January 1933. On March 21 1933 André Gide chaired the first anti-Nazi meeting of the newly-created Revolutionary writers and artists’ Association (Association des écrivains et artistes révolutionnaires – AEAR). The novelist André Malraux (1901-1976), close to the PC at the time, was one of the speakers. 

In July 1933 Louis Aragon (1897-1982), PC member and early surrealist poet, became secretary of the AEAR, and editor of its journal, Commune. 

[Pic 7. The SFIO call to demonstrate against fascism on 12 February 1934 is supported by the CGT, and by the CGTU and the PC] 

February 1934 

The PC’s own real growth took off only in 1934. The extreme right riot of February 6 1934 that appeared to try to storm the National Assembly shocked France. The PC responded first, calling an evening 

demonstration on Thursday 9 February. The few thousand demonstrators were brutally attacked by the police, killing four, wounding hundreds and arresting a thousand. 

The SFIO then decided to support the protest demonstration and strike called by the reformist CGT. For the first time the PC and its revolutionary trade union confederation, the CGTU, then called on their supporters to join the socialists’ march on Monday 12 February 1934. 

After February 6 1934 a new Comité de vigilance des intellectuels antifascistes launched an anti-fascist call ‘to the workers’. The scientist and communist supporter, Paul Langevin (1872-1946), was one of its sponsors along with a Radical Party writer and the SFIO’s director of the Ethnographic Museum. By May it had been signed up to by 2,300 doctors, teachers, lawyers, writers, artists etc, and by September 1935 it claimed 8,500 members. It was the precursor of the alliance between the PC, the SFIO and the Radical Party. 

In Moscow George Dmitrioff, the new leader of the Third International, argued successfully to shift its emphasis towards anti-fascism and the defence of democracy. In July 1934 Stalin agreed that the PC’s Thorez could negotiate an action pact with the SFIO: this was the effective end of the sectarian ‘class against class’ policy that since 1927 had described the socialists as ‘social-fascists’. 

The PC reaped immediate results in the 1935 local elections. While the SFIO won several large cities, the PC won 26 out of 80 of the mayor posts in the Seine Department. This was the beginning of what became the ‘red belt’ around Paris from the 1950s to the 1990s. The PC also doubled the total number of commune councils where it had a majority to 297. 

[Pic 8. The PC threw itself behind the 1936 campaign to win a Popular Front government] 

Popular Front 

In January 1936 the PC’s slogan of ‘For Bread, Peace and Freedom’ was adopted by the Popular Front between the PC, the SFIO and the Radical Party. In the April-May 1936 elections in which the Socialists, Radicals and Communists did not challenge each other in the second round, the number of PC deputies rose from 10 to 72. 

Nearly two-thirds of these PC deputies were manual workers. Two-thirds came from just four departments with industrial areas with high densities of manual workers: Paris (16), the Seine (16), the Seine-et Oise (9) and the Nord (7). The total numbers of Communist voters doubled from 1932 (6.7%) to 1,487,336 (12.5%) in 1936. 

But while the new prime minister, Léon Blum, invited the PC to join the government, Moscow vetoed this, leaving the socialists in a much weaker position in government in relation to the left-centre Radicals. 

The PC’s anti-fascist popular front political turn attracted former anarchists like Félix Fénéon (1861-1944) who hoisted a red flag on his house to celebrate the 1936 success of the Popular Front. The 

circulation of L’Humanité rose to around 700,000. PC membership rose to somewhere between 200,000 and a quarter of million in 1937-1938. 

Spanish Civil War 

From August 1936 the PCF was the conduit for nearly all the Soviet support to the Spanish Republic that passed through France with the informal assistance of the Blum government. 

On October 16 1936 Stalin declared that freeing Spain from the fascists was not a Spanish duty alone. The International Brigades were set up the next week. 

Over the following two years some 15,000 French volunteers, overwhelmingly PC members, joined the Commune de Paris brigade, the Franco-Belge, the André Marty (after the Black Sea mutineer of 1919), or later, the Louise Michel or Marseillaise brigades. The largest number of volunteers to fight in Spain came from France, of whom about a third never returned. 

During this time the PC prepared for an expected period of working underground if there was a German invasion by setting up dozens of safe houses, where they hid money and arms. 

Paradoxically, the desire of nearly the whole left to wage a united fight against German and Italian fascism and their supporters in France meant that many on the left felt obliged to keep silent on the human rights violations undertaken by Stalin. 

One communist supporter who didn’t keep quite was Gide. He had taken a lead in anti-fascist actions since 1933. In 1936 he had protested against Blum’s ‘non-intervention’ policy in Spain. But when he published a book denouncing the Moscow trials he was accused of stabbing Spain in the back. 

The PC’s anti-fascist credentials were polished up again in 1938. On 20 September 1938 all the PC deputies in the National Assembly voted against the Munich Agreements that effectively surrendered Czechoslovakia to Hitler. Only three other deputies joined them in rejecting the appeasement retreat by Chamberlain-Daladier before Hitler. 

Communists outside the PC 

The few thousand activists who saw themselves as communists outside the PC in the 1930s were divided into two main tendencies. Most were in the left wing of the SFIO, the others were either independent or linked with one or other of the divided tiny handful of supporters of Leon Trotsky (1879-1940). 

Monatte continued to produce the independent anti-Stalinist Révolution prolétarienne from 1925 until 1939. 

[Pic 9. Rosmer sitting on Trotksy’s right at the Zimmerwald Conference in 1915. They remained friends up to Trotksy’s murder in 1940] 

In 1929 Trotsky asked Rosmer to bring together his handful of French supporters. In 1930 the Ligue Communiste is formed, including the surrealist group around Pierre Naville (1904-1993) and other former PC members like Treint. After the 6 February 1934 fascist riot created a common cause for socialists and communists to work together on, Trotsky advised his supporters to enter the SFIO to conduct revolutionary propaganda and win new members. 

After the Trotskyists are expelled from the SFIO in 1935, a minority around Pierre Frank (1905-1984) decide to remain as a deep entrist underground movement inside the SFIO, calling themselves the Parti communiste internationaliste (PCI). 

Trotsky argued instead that the threat of fascism was so serious the principal priority for communist revolutionaries in France (and around the world) was to create a revolutionary party. So in 1936 Naville and David Korner/Barta (1914-1976), then brought the remaining one or two hundreds of Trotsky’s supporters into the Parti ouvrier internationaliste – POI (International Workers’ Party). 

The POI itself split in early 1939. Trotsky now ordered it to work as entrists inside the 10,000-strong party formed to left of the SFIO that had been formed in 1938, the Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan – PSOP (Peasant and Workers Socialist Party). Some followed Trotsky’s orders, others refused. 

The future of communism in France was, in any case, going to be decided elsewhere.

Communism 1939-1947

From shame to (nearly) game

l’Humanité headline 26 August 1939 demanded a ‘Union of the French Nation against Hitlerian aggression’

The ten-year non-aggression Pact signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939, by the foreign ministers of Germany and the Soviet Union shocked Communist party members to the core. It came less than a year after the PCF had rejected appeasement over Czechoslovakia by France and Britain and five months after Hitler had occupied the whole country. 

The Daladier (socialist-radical) government then banned the Communist daily . In its last legal issue on August 26 it reiterated that France must:

keep its commitments in relation to the threats against Poland… we will consider any attack on her as an attack on all free people, on us. This is the unanimous belief of French people worthy of the name. It’s our belief.


l’Humanité, 26 August 1939

On September 2 1939, the day before France and the UK declared war on Germany, all 72 PC deputies in the National Assembly voted in favour of war credits. They were convinced this was an anti-fascist war. 

Called up, Maurice Thorez (1900-1964), the PCF’s General Secretary since 1930, left Paris to join his military unit as did the young full-time Communist organisers and other militants. 

For nearly four weeks there was no word from Moscow as to how the PC should respond to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Finally, Dmitrioff’s emissary from Moscow arrives in Paris with ‘the line’: the war was an ‘imperialist war’ by France and Britain, and communists should not fight against the Germans. 

Thorez was ordered to desert from the French army, which he does on October 4. He travelled first to Belgium and then moved to Moscow, where he lived until November 1944. A French military court promptly sentenced him to death for desertion. 

In November 1939 the PC opposes both London and Berlin calling for the ‘Vichy pirates to be thrown out’ and ‘France for the French’

‘Only the Communist party,’ the leaflet above claimed in November 1939, ‘fights against all the capitalist warmongers’. 

Repression against the PC 

Moscow’s new position led 25 deputies to resign from the PC along with many of its mayors and councillors. The PC itself was banned by the Daladier government on September 26 1939 and 44 of its deputies were arrested and jailed or deported to Algeria. Some escaped to live clandestinely in France. 

Some activists like Lucie Aubrac (1912-2007) immediately threw themselves into the resistance movement. 

All the communes controlled by the PC had their elected councils dissolved and 2,800 elected representatives had their mandates removed. In the reunified CGT all members who did not condemn the August 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov pact were expelled and 620 trade union branches were closed by the radical-socialist Minister of the Interior. 

By March 1940 there had been nearly 11,000 searches, 3,400 arrests, 459 communists interned without trial, and 100 found guilty by military tribunals of whom 14 were given death sentences. A law was proposed in April 1940 to allow the death penalty for those making communist propaganda. 

In 1940 the PC campaigned both against De Gaulle and his British manipulators, but also against Petain

An underground issue of L’Humanité demanded:

‘No English soldiers with De Gaulle! No German soldiers with Petain! Long live the Union of the French Nation. No British dominion. No German protectorat. Long live the Free Independent and Happy France that the Communists want and will bring about.’ 

Two-sided L’Humanité news sheets were still run off roughly once a week and distributed largely just to PC members and trusted supporters who would reproduce them when possible. The paper regularly included articles signed ‘Maurice Thorez somewhere in France’. PC membership dropped to perhaps just 5,000, of whom several hundred were full-time workers, still being paid from the secret ‘banks’ of money the PC had stored in ‘safe houses’ earlier. 

Phoney war 

During the ‘phoney war’ period from October 1939 to April 1940 a handful of communists in arms factories committed acts of sabotage. This was supposedly for trying to ‘stop, slow down, make unusable the instruments of war’ as one PCF leaflet urged workers to do against the ‘imperialist war’. Some members were shot by the French government for ‘sabotaging national defence’ during the phoney war as a leading communist acknowledged in June 1940. 

The PCF’s contribution to the pacifist anti-war effort was one of the arguments its Paris-based leadership used in abortive negotiations after the German occupation in June 1940. Moscow had ordered its local emissaries to talk to the Germans to secure the reappearance of local trade union newspapers and eventually the banned L’Humanité (as was happening in Denmark, Norway and Belgium). 

A month later Moscow changed its mind and called off the negotiations as ‘dangerous because they could compromise the militants involved as well as the Party’. 

June 21 1941 

In June 1941 the PC calls on France to fight Germany because Hitler broke the non-aggression pact by attacking the ‘home of socialism’

The German invasion of Russia on June 21 1941 led to the PC reversing its line again. A special issue of l’Humanité argues the attack on ‘socialism’ in Russia means the war is now a national and international war against fascism. 

Even earlier some individual members had joined the very small numbers in the resistance. In May-June 1941 PC members had played a key role in the coal miners’ strike in the North of France. In the biggest wartime strike, around 100,000 miners struck for improvements in working conditions and wages 

German motor cycles ride up the Champs Elysee after Paris is occupied on June 14 1940, four days after the French government had fled South

The German troops who had been parading down the Champs Elysée every morning since France was occupied on June 14 1940 became some of its targets. 

The PCF’s nearly two years’ experience in clandestine work made it central to the developing resistance movement within France. Its armed resistance began on 21 August 1941 when a 21-year-old member, Pierre Georges (1919-1944), later known as Colonel Fabien, shot and killed a German officer at the Barbès metro station. 

On October 22 and 24, after three more resistance killings of officers and several bombings, the Germans took mass reprisals for the first time: they shot 100 people, including Guy Moquet, the 17-year-old son of a PCF deputy. 

The taking of these hostages had been strictly ordered: in first place were former elected communist or anarchist representatives; in second place, people who helped the diffusion of communist propaganda. 

Communist resistance 

From late 1941 the PCF set about creating an arms-length, independent armed organisation, the FTPF.

The FTP Snipers and Supporters was formed by the Communist Party in 1942] Benefiting greatly from the two years’ experience PC activists already had in operating in clandestinity the FTP, as it became known, soon became one of the more effective resistance organisations. 

In the Paris region fewer than a hundred members of the CGT’s earlier organisation of migrant workers, the Main-d’oeuvre immigrée (MOI), are organised into the FTP-MOI from March 1942, with its orders coming via the PC from Moscow. 

The MOI was made up mainly of exiled Italian and Spanish communists, former members of the International Brigades, and Jewish resistance fighters. 

The Manouchian group of the FTP-MOI of migrant workers and Jews were finally executed in 1944

The MOI led a major armed resistance campaign with attacks taking place every two days from the end of 1942 until November 1943, when its last surviving section was arrested and executed early in 1944 after a show trial. 

Despite thousands of police searches and arrests, the PC’s clandestine organisation survived through to 1944. 

Paris in 1944 according to police files that show (in red) the resistance (mainly communist) homes searched and the location of open and hidden police stations. The actual addresses can be found at anrpaprika.hypotheses.org/4146

National Resistance Council 

In January 1943 a former PCF deputy who had escaped from jail took a fishing boat to cross the channel to represent the Communist Party with De Gaulle in London.

On 27 May 1943 Jean Moulin’s efforts to unify the eight main resistance groups across France with the anti-fascist trade unions and political parties led to a key meeting take place in a Parisian first floor flat at 48 rue du Four

The PC, the FTP and the now reunified CGT all participated in this founding of the National Resistance Council along with representatives of the SFIO, the Radicals, the Christian-democrats and the conservative catholic Republicans. 

The PC’s involvement was directed by Stalin who earlier that same month had dissolved the Komintern (the Communist (Third) International), to demonstrate goodwill to his British and American allies. No longer the French Section of the now non-existent Communist International, the party then removed the SFIC from its name, becoming just the Parti communiste français (PCF). 

The three main groupings of resistance fighters totalling about 100,000 were brought together under the banner of the FFI (Forces françaises de l’intérieur) on February 1 1944. The FTP, while fighting as the FFI, nonetheless kept its own structures. PCF resistance fighters played a major role in the liberation of Paris in August 1944. 

Communist ministers 1944 

In September 1944 two communists are named ministers by De Gaulle in his French Provisional Government. Charles Tillon, the commander of the FTP, was named Minister of the Airforce. The former PC deputy elected in 1936, François Billoux, was named Minister of Public Health. He had been released from jail in Algeria after the allies landed in North Africa in 1943 and served on the Provisional Consultative Assembly. 

At the same time, the communist trade unionist Benoît Frachon (1893-1975) launched a call for the ‘battle of production’, urging workers to produce more for the war effort. 

Frachon was one of the PCF’s leading triumvirate who lived clandestinely just south-east of Paris from 1941-1944. He had been one of the CGT’s six negotiators with the government and the employers who ended the 1936 factory occupations with the Matignon Agreements

In November 1944 De Gaulle finally granted a pardon to Thorez for his 1939 desertion and he returned to France, although the PCF did not acknowledge his absence from the country for some years for fear of tarnishing his image. 

The PCF’s reputation as the ‘party of 25,000 executed activists’ was sky high at Liberation. By December 1944 it claimed 370,000 paying members and within two years it claimed 800,000. 

French communists gain great prestige for their sacrifices in the resistance after 1941

In October 1945 the PCF attracted 26% of the vote for the First Constituent Assembly. This compared to 23% for the Socialists and 24% for a progressive Catholic party close to De Gaulle. 

In January 1946, after De Gaulle resigns as President of the Council of Ministers, Thorez then became a deputy president, and seven PCF members were made ministers: Tillon at Armaments, Marcel Paul at Industrial Production, August Lecoeur at Coal, and most importantly Ambroise Croizat (1901-1951) and Marius Patinaud at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. 

In the next government, from June to November 1946, there were nine PCF ministers as well as Thorez. 

In the first November 1946 National Assembly elections of the Fourth Republic, the Communists won 5.4 million votes, 28.6% of the second ballot vote, and 182 seats. 

The PCF had become France’s largest political party in an election in which turnout was a massive 77% of the 25 million men and women voters. 

A French road to socialism 

After the election Thorez publicly argued for the first time that ‘It was possible to move towards socialism in other ways than that followed by the Russian Communists’. The PCF demanded that Thorez be elected president of the council of ministers (prime minister). 

At the National Assembly on December 5 1946 Thorez received 259 votes for the top position as president. But he needed 314 seats to win, and would not have been elected even if 29 Socialist deputies had not abstained. 

Instead, first the former Popular Front head, Léon Blum (1872-1950) for a month, and then Paul Ramadier, another socialist, became president of the council of ministers in a three-party coalition. Between January and May 1947 alongside Robert Schuman and François Mitterrand, the PCF held five ministerial posts in the Ramadier government. 

The achievements of the PCF between 1944 and 1947 were considerable. Its mass support and presence in government, meant that French nationalisations went further than they had in Britain. 

The nationalised industries included the coal industry, certain firms that had been penalised for their wartime collaboration (like the Renault car firm), the merchant marine fleet and leading aviation companies. Paris’ public transport system, the RATP, was taken over to join the private rail network already nationalised in 1938 

Finance was also brought within the public sphere. The Banque de France and the four major deposit banks (including Crédit Lyonnais and Société Générale) and 34 insurance companies all became state-owned. 

Ambroise Croizat (1901-1951) was Communist Minister of Labour and Social Security from 22 November 1945 until May 4 1947. In 1945 the right to elect personnel (sectional) representatives was restored, and in workplaces with 50 or more workers Works Councils were set up. 

In the 18 months Croizat was in office the concept of ‘women’s wages’ was outlawed, marking a step towards equal pay for men and women. The 40-hour week was restored with a 20 hours ceiling on overtime that had to be paid at an enhanced rate. The two weeks’ paid holiday was restored, and extended to younger workers. May Day was declared a paid holiday. 

He also reorganised France’s social security to give contributors a say in the top administrative councils of the different funds. In future social security was to be jointly managed by the unions and the employers. Minimum pensions and a family benefit welfare system were also brought in. 

The end of national unity 

In May 1947 the Communist ministers were all sacked when the PCF finally gave its support to the Renault strikers and so opposed the national wage controls, primarily to avoid getting totally outflanked to its left. 

The Renault factory at the heart of this strike was located on the Île Seguin on the Seine, a part of Boulogne-Billancourt five miles from central Paris. In 1947 some 17,000 of its 30,000 workers were PCF members. 

Renault had been nationalised in January 1945 by De Gaulle’s provisional government because of Louis Renault’s active collaboration with the Germans, in particular because of the wartime management’s active denunciations of trade unionists and communists to the police. 

The Renault factory on the Île Seguin where the 1947 strike resulted in PCF ministers being sacked from the government

By April 1947 there were handfuls of other communists than PCF members inside Renault. There were some ten members of the rebadged Union communiste around the Barta Group of David Korner (1914-1976), a few members of the tiny PCI around Pierre Frank (1905-1984), as well as a dozen anarcho-syndicalists. 

Fortuitously most of these communists were working in key sections of the factory making gearboxes, gears and steering systems. As a result, if they went on strike the whole factory would have to stop production within days. 

When they started holding meetings around the demand for 10 francs an hour wage increase, first raised by the local CGT’s PCF leadership, but then dropped in ‘the national interest’, they got considerable support from other sections of the factory. On Friday 25 April the gearbox section stopped work and put up pickets calling the rest of the factory to strike. 

Despite being denounced by the local CGT as ‘a band of anarcho-Hitlerite-Trotskyists’, some 3,000 workers joined the strike at the Monday mass meeting, and then 10,000 on the Tuesday. 

The April 28 1947 mass meeting at Renault that led to the expulsion of Communist ministers from the government.

On Wednesday 30 April the five PCF ministers spoke publicly in support of the demands made by the strikers. On May 4 Ramadier asked them whether they supported the government’s programme to continue the colonial wars in Indochina and Madagascar and to reject the workers’ demands for higher wages. Thorez responded that ‘We support the demands of the working class’. 

Ramadier, already under pressure from the Americans to exclude all communists from government posts, then fired them. One of the Socialist ministers present at that May 4 Sunday late night meeting reported:

‘The Communist ministers got up, left. There were no more Communist ministers. That was it. It was extremely rapid and absolutely straightforward’. 

Despite having one third of deputies in the National Assembly and over 5 million voters, the PCF would then spend the next 34 years in opposition.

Communism 1948-1977

From the Fourth to the Fifth Republics (to be finished)

France remained firmly on the American side in the Cold War and became a major recipient of Marshall Aid after the Communists were expelled from the centre-left government in 1947.

The presence of a substantial PCF articulating a discourse of capital-labour conflict continued, however, to have significant consequences.

It made it more difficult for those sections of the employers who were looking for dialogue to find accommodating worker representatives, thereby reinforcing anti-trade union attitudes among the employers.

But it also reinforced workers’ sense of class identity and kept up pressure on the Socialists and progressive Republicans to promise significant reforms, while presenting a constant threat of strikes and street demonstrations if workers’ interests were overlooked.

The PCF’s focus on extra-parliamentary pressure was reinforced by its exclusion from government between 1947 and 1981, despite it being the largest left party for all except the last few years of this period.

The overshadowing of the PCF by the Socialists took a long time. In 1971 at the founding conference of the Socialist Party François Mitterrand, who had joined just a few days earlier and became its First Secretary, famously declared that

Anyone who does not accept the rupture … with the established order, … with capitalist society, cannot, I say, cannot be a member of the Socialist Party


(Quoted in Le Monde, May 10 2001).

Emphasising his social democratic face, Mitterrand went on to create a Common Programme with the PCF and the MRG (Mouvement des Radicaux de Gauche) that lasted until 1977. His unity strategy was successful. For the first time since 1936, in the National Assembly elections of 1973 the Socialist 21 percent of the vote nearly equalled that of the Communists; in 1976 the PS became the single biggest left-wing party. From then, despite the emergence of both a Green and a Far Left vote, the hegemony of the Socialist Party appeared assured. Mitterrand outmanoeuvred the long-standing PCF leader Georges Marchais by constantly appealing for socialist unity between 1977 and 1981, making Marchais appear sectarian and responsible for dividing the left. Then Mitterrand offered the PCF a place in government, a tactic Jospin used again in 1997. The result was that the PCF became identified with the Socialist government’s policies and found it more difficult to mobilise independently of it and against it. It pulled out of the government in 1984 after Mitterrand’s ‘u-turn’ towards monetarism, but it became increasingly dependent upon the PS’s electoral largesse. Subsequently, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes, the changes to its traditional manual working class constituency and growing political competition from both the racist FN and the Trotskyites, saw both the PCF’s vote and its membershipdecline.

At the end of 1999 although the PCF was still France’s largest membership party, it claimed only 203,600 members. By June 2001 Robert Hue’s own estimate was around 150,000 (Le Monde, June 19 2001). Its vote in cantonal (local government) elections fell from 13.3 percent in 1988 to 9.8 percent in both 1998 and 2001, and even more critically, in the 2001 municipal (town council) elections it lost 23 of the 74 Communist mayors who had been elected in 1995 in towns with more than 15,000 inhabitants. This compared to a PS loss of just seven from a total of 177 Socialist mayors (Le Monde March 17, 20 2001). The PCF has been reduced, through its own inadequacies as well as through Mitterrand and Jospin’s absorption strategies, to a small core within the wider Socialist front. In the legislative elections of 2002, as many left voters who had used the first round of the presidential elections to protest against the Jospin government’s failing, returned to casting a ‘useful vote’, the PCF vote also fell below five percent. This percentage is critical for any French political party, because it is the level that triggers state funding. The collapse is shown in Table 4.5, although as a result of its electoral pact with the PS and the Greens, the PCF was still able to secure 21 deputies to the 138 for the PS, seven for the PRG and three for the Greens in the 2002 National Assembly.

. One investigation found that many full-time union activists were actually on mutual fund payrolls and, in the case of the Concierge Pension Fund, the late General Secretary of the Communist Party as well as a former General Secretary of the CGT, were both found to be receiving pensions despite never having paid any money in (Le Monde, 8 January 2000).

the Communist Party ended up securing only one third of the votes in the first round of the 2002 presidential elections of the two main Trotskyist candidates combined.

Louis Aragon (1897-1982)

Pierre Naville (1904-1993)

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

David Barta/Korner (1904-1976)

Pierre Frank (1905-1984)

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

Waldeck Rochet (1905-1983)

Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991)

Georges Marchais (1920-1997)

Pierre Lambert/Boussel (1920-2008)

Robert Hardy/Barcia (1928-2009)

Georges Séguy (1927-2016)

Henri Krasucki (1924-2008)

Annie Kriegel (1926-1995)

Louis Althusser (1918-1990)

Maya Surduts (1937-2016)

Daniel Bensaid (1946-2010)

Communism 1978-to date

Contemporary communism (Unfinished)

Mitterrand outmanoeuvred the long-standing PCF leader Georges Marchais by constantly appealing for socialist unity between 1977 and 1981, making Marchais appear sectarian and responsible for dividing the left. Then Mitterrand offered the PCF a place in government, a tactic Jospin used again in 1997. The result was that the PCF became identified with the Socialist government’s policies and found it more difficult to mobilise independently of it and against it. It pulled out of the government in 1984 after Mitterrand’s ‘u-turn’ towards monetarism, but it became increasingly dependent upon the PS’s electoral largesse. Subsequently, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes, the changes to its traditional manual working class constituency and growing political competition from both the racist FN and the Trotskyites, saw both the PCF’s vote and its membershipdecline. 

At the end of 1999 although the PCF was still France’s largest membership party, it claimed only 203,600 members. By June 2001 Robert Hue’s own estimate was around 150,000 (Le Monde, June 19 2001). Its vote in cantonal (local government) elections fell from 13.3 percent in 1988 to 9.8 percent in both 1998 and 2001, and even more critically, in the 2001 municipal (town council) elections it lost 23 of the 74 Communist mayors who had been elected in 1995 in towns with more than 15,000 inhabitants. This compared to a PS loss of just seven from a total of 177 Socialist mayors (Le Monde March 17, 20 2001). The PCF has been reduced, through its own inadequacies as well as through Mitterrand and Jospin’s absorption strategies, to a small core within the wider Socialist front. In the legislative elections of 2002, as many left voters who had used the first round of the presidential elections to protest against the Jospin government’s failing, returned to casting a ‘useful vote’, the PCF vote also fell below five percent. This percentage is critical for any French political party, because it is the level that triggers state funding. The collapse is shown in Table 4.5, although as a result of its electoral pact with the PS and the Greens, the PCF was still able to secure 21 deputies to the 138 for the PS, seven for the PRG and three for the Greens in the 2002 National Assembly. 

. One investigation found that many full-time union activists were actually on mutual fund payrolls and, in the case of the Concierge Pension Fund, the late General Secretary of the Communist Party as well as a former General Secretary of the CGT, were both found to be receiving pensions despite never having paid any money in (Le Monde, 8 January 2000). 

the Communist Party ended up securing only one third of the votes in the first round of the 2002 presidential elections of the two main Trotskyist candidates combined.

Cooperatism / Mutualism

The French Revolution’s legacy of a strong small farmer base coupled with influential skilled artisans was fertile ground for Saint Simon and in particular for Proudhon‘s advocacy of cooperative working or mutualism.

Early socialists such as Buchez and Leroux also called for cooperation to replace capitalism. After the defeat of the Commune cooperatives appeared the only way of keeping up the fight for equality.

Cooperatives today still associate tens of thousands of small producers across France.

13 mechanics formed a cooperative in Belleville in 1877 where producers and consumers met and the cooperative organised educational and social activities. One of the many responses by Proudhon-influenced workers to the defeat of the Commune.

Ecology

The French story of environmental politics is a chequered one.

Individual pioneering initiatives took place in 1769, 1854 , 1858 and 1874.

From 1876 to 1894 the anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus wrote 19 volumes on Univesral Geography and 6 volumes of ‘Man and the Earth’.

In 1972, the year the first big green demonstration took place in France, a Ministry of protection of nature and the environment was set up.

A Green candidate first stood in a presidential election in 1974.

A leading environmentalist resigned from Macron’s government in 2018 concerned about the lack of muscle behind its green intentions.

Reclus was the major geographer of the late 19th century focusing on ecology
Jacques Élisée Reclus (1830-1905), a Communard, libertarian geographer and active anarchist

Feminism

Women ready to fight at a barricade in the Rochechouart district in May 1871

From 1791 French feminists argued for their natural rights. In the 1830s and 1840s many women campaigned for equality and the vote. Many saw the 1871 Commune as a route to equality and fought on the barricades. In 1909 a French women’s suffrage movement was established. France’s senate rejects giving women the vote in 1922 , 1935 and 1936. The vote was finally given by the 1945 Fourth Republic constitution. In 1975 women win the right to have an abortion. In 2017 French women’s average wage was still 24% less than men’s, and their pensions are 42% lower.

Marthe Bigot

1878-1962, Montargis (Loiret)

Teacher, feminist, and anti-war activist during World War I. Founder member of the Communist Party, which she left in 1926. A campaigner for female suffrage, she organised women’s candidacies at elections, taking up a pre-war tradition, and in March 1922 presented her own “symbolic candidacy” in the Paris municipal elections; unable to hold her own meetings she demanded speaking rights at those of other candidates, and despite being ineligible as a woman came third in the vote.

Literature

Twenty 19th century French writers, including George Sand, Victor Hugo, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine and Émile Zola

Those referenced will include 20th century leftist writers (novelists, poets, song-writers, philosophers such as: Aimé Césaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, Victor Serge, Ernest Hemingway, Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Guillaume Apollinaire, Georges Brassens, Marc Bloch, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser, Andre Gorz, Daniel Bensaid, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Benoite Groult, Andre Malraux as well as many 19th century republicans and socialists such as Victor Hugo, Daniel Stern, George Sand, Flora Tristan, Alphonse de Lamartine, Emile Zola, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarme

Poems from the left

Socialism

Accused of being drunkards in several areas of France the early SFIO campaigned against alcoholism as well as against capitalism

French socialism began to distinguish itself both from Proudhon’s anarchistic appeal to humanity’s moral responsibilities and from Blanqui’s insurrectionism in the 1890s. Founded by Blum, Jaures and Vaillant in 1905 in the aftermath of the Dreyfus affair, the SFIO united left reformist republicans and Marxist sectarians. The alliance broke up in 1920 when a majority at the Tours Conference voted to affiliate to the new Communist International.

Despite being a minority at that SFIO conference, the SFIO of left reformist socialism became the leading left political current through nearly all the interwar period. After the Communist Party ended Stalin’s ‘class against class’ propaganda against the Socialists and proposed a Popular Front alliance, Blum became prime minister in 1936.

Under the Fourth Republic its internal divisions over Algerian independence, with Mendes France and the challenge of the stronger Communist Party allowed De Gaulle to take power. In 1981 Mitterrand won a decisive majority on a left platform that he abandoned three years later. From then the Socialist Party became largely a party of elected national and local officials, without any real mass membership. In 2017, following five politically disastrous years under Hollande, the Socialist Party suffered a major defeat in both the presidential and National Assembly elections. A new left party, La France Insoumise (France untamed), did relatively well, with the Left Front’s presidential candidate getting 19.6% of the vote in the first round.

The vote for the La France Insoumise leader Mélenchon in the first round of the 2017 presidential elections shows stronger support in the less wealthy parts of Paris

Like the Socialists, though, Melonchon’s La France Insoumise has still virtually no local membership base. In the European elections of 2019, its share of the vote fell to 6%.

Work in progress

Poems from the left

Poems by some of the writers and revolutionaries who appear in Left in Paris

Louis Aragon, Written in February 1943, first published March 11 1943

The Rose and the Reseda

The one who believed in heaven
The one who didn’t
Both loved the beauty
Imprisoned by soldiers
Which climbed the ladder?
And which stood guard below?

The one who believed in heaven
The one who didn’t?
What matters the name of
This light on their steps?
that one was of the church
And the other baulked from it?

The one who believed in heaven
The one who didn’t?
Both were faithful
with their lips, heart, arms
And both said that she will
live, time will tell

The one who believed in heaven
The one who didn’t
When the wheat is under the hail
Fool who is fussy
Fool who think of his little quarrels
In the heart of the common combat?

The one who believed in heaven
The one who didn’t
From the height of the citadel
The sentinel shot
Twice and one staggers
the other falls who will die?

The one who believed in heaven
The one who didn’t?
They are in prison
Who has the sadest pallet
Who freezes more then the other
Who prefers the rats?

The one who believed in heaven
The one who didn’t?
A rebel is a rebel
Two sobs make a single knell
And when the cruel dawn arrives
They pass on

The one who believed in heaven
The one who didn’t
Repeating the name of the beauty
Neither of the two betrayed
And their blood runs red
Same colour same vividness

The one who believed in heaven
The one who didn’t
It runs, and runs, and mingles
Into the earth it loved
So in the new season
Muscat grapes would ripen

The one who believed in heaven
The one who didn’t
One runs and the other flies
From Brittany or Jura
And raspberries or plums
Crickets will sing again
Flute or cello, tell the story of
This double love that burnt
The lark and the swallow
The rose and the reseda

The Rose and the Reseda read by Louis Aragon

Pierre-Jean de Béranger, 1839

The Old Tramp (LE VIEUX VAGABOND)

      Here in this gutter let me die:
        Weary and sick and old, I’ve done.
      “He’s drunk,” will say the passers-by:
        All right, I want no pity–none.
      I see the heads that turn away,
        While others glance and toss me sous:
      “Off to your junket! go!” I say:
    Old tramp,–to die I need no help from you.

      Yes, of old age I’m dying now:
        Of hunger people never die.
      I hoped some almshouse might allow
        A shelter when my end was nigh;
      But all retreats are overflowed,
        Such crowds are suffering and forlorn.
      My nurse, alas! has been the road:
    Old tramp,–here let me die where I was born.

      When young, it used to be my prayer
        To craftsmen, “Let me learn your trade.”
      “Clear out–we’ve got no work to spare;
        Go beg,” was all reply they made.
      You rich, who bade me work, I’ve fed
        With relish on the bones you threw;
      Made of your straw an easy bed:
    Old tramp,–I have no curse to vent on you.

      Poor wretch, I had the choice to steal;
        But no, I’d rather beg my bread.
      At most I thieved a wayside meal
        Of apples ripening overhead.
      Yet twenty times have I been thrown
        In prison–’twas the King’s decree;
      Robbed of the only thing I own:
    Old tramp,–at least the sun belongs to me.

      The poor man–is a country his?
        What are to me your corn and wine,
      Your glory and your industries,
        Your orators? They are not mine.
      And when a foreign foe waxed fat
        Within your undefended walls,
      I shed my tears, poor fool, at that:
    Old tramp,–his hand was open to my calls.

      Why, like the hateful bug you kill,
        Did you not crush me when you could?

      Or better, teach me ways and skill
        To labor for the common good?

      The ugly grub an ant may end,
        If sheltered from the cold and fed.

      You might have had me for a friend:
    Old tramp,–I die your enemy instead.