Anarchism can contain right-wing individualism, in France it emerged as a bottom-up collective ideology alongside communist thought as a major mutualist strand in the 19th century and is still present today..


Artists see the world in ways that often tell stories that capture inequality, injustice and the need for change. Courbet, Daumier. Picasso, Rivera and Signac are just a few.


Communism takes a huge variety of different and often competing forms. Each generation of communists has been divided among itself. Each division has laid down its own layer in what can be considered a millefeuille of different flavours of red fruit separated by a grudging acknowledgement of a shared core of beliefs.

Cooperatism / Mutualism

The concept of cooperative working was central to French socialism. Cooperation was viewed as a real alternative to capitalism. In the late 19th century it appeared to many as the only way of keeping up the fight for equality. Cooperatives today still associate tens of thousands of small producers across France.


The French story of environmental politics is a chequered one. From 1876 to 1894 the anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus wrote 19 volumes on Universal Geography and 6 volumes of ‘Man and the Earth’. After 1968 a Ministry of protection of nature and the environment was set up and the Green parties started standing presidential elections in 1974.


From 1791 French feminists argued for their natural rights. In the 1830s and 1840s many more campaigned for equality and the vote. Some saw the 1871 Commune as a route to equality. In 1909 a French women’s suffrage movement was established. The vote was finally given by the 1945 Fourth Republic constitution. The struggle began again from 1968.

Human Rights

If both the American and French 18th century revolutions were sparked by tax revolts, the American was motivated by Property Rights while the French by Human Rights. In relation to France’s empire, however, France and the French left can be charged with forgetting these principles more often than not.


Some of France’s most influential leftists have been writers whose novels or poetry or plays inspired others to believe in resistance to the dominant powers and to take action


French socialism distinguished itself from Proudhon’s appeal to humanity’s moral responsibilities and from Blanqui’s insurrectionism in the 1880s and 1890s. In 1905 the SFIO united left reformist republicans and Marxist sectarians. It was the largest left party in the interwar period, giving way to the Communist Party between 1944 and 1976. After winning three presidential contests between 1981 and 2012, the Socialist candidate got 6% of the vote in the 2017 presidential election.

Trade unionism

Illegal from 1791 until 1884 trade unions and strikes went underground. Institution-building was not an option in face of highly reactionary paternalist employers. The unions adopted revolutionary syndicalism in the 1890s. Mass strikes saw union strength increase massively in 1936 and 1968 but then wither away. In the 21st century the divided unions have institutional influence but few members.