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)