Rise of the Communist Party

The 1920 Christmas-time congress of the Socialist Party at Tours splits with the majority setting up the French Section of the Communist International

Nationalism, Reparations, Imperialism, Socialist split, Communist Party, Class against Class to Popular Front – in progress

Boulevard de l’Hôpital

Arrondissement 5, 13

Numbers: 47, 127, 163

Hospitals often have strange stories to tell. The former gunpowder factory and prison that became the Salpêtrière hospital at No. 47 was where Joseph Ignace Guillotin practised his ‘more humane’ method of execution (than hanging or shooting) on the hospital’s dead bodies on April 15 1792.

Six months after Dr Guillotin was there, 35 women common prisoners held there were murdered in the panic of the September massacres to which the revolutionary Jacobin leaders turned a blind eye.

Six months after Dr Guillotin was there, 35 women common prisoners held there were murdered in the panic of the September massacres to which the revolutionary Jacobin leaders turned a blind eye.

A centre for neurological diseases, this was where André Breton was treated by Dr Joseph Babinski in 1917.

Much further along the Boulevard, on March 25 1920 the future Ho Chi Minh attended an anti-colonial conference based on Lenin’s support for national independence at No. 127.

In the interwar years the Communist Party organised many meetings at the Trade Union Centre at No. 163 of groups such as the Women’s Union, the Humanity Defence Committee and the Red Campers.

The Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière at No. 47 was requisitioned by the Germans in 1940, and was where they used to bring tortured resistance fighters or their dead bodies.

The statue of the neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot erected outside the hospital on December 4 1898 was melted down for guns in 1942 to help the German war effort, as were 100 others under the law of October 11 1941 passed by the Vichy Government.

The Boulevard was the route taken by the 9th company of Leclerc’s 2nd battalion on its way into Paris on 24 August 1944. Among the troops were 130 Spanish republicans whose armoured vehicles had been given names like Guadalajara, Teruel and Guernica.

Much later, this was where France’s first artificial heart was implanted in 1986, nearly twenty years after the first heart transplant in France took place there.

Two years earlier, in 1984, the hospital saw the deaths of two very different contributors to Paris’ left culture: Michel Foucault and Pierre Frank.


Rue Monsieur le Prince

Arrondissement 6

Numbers: 14, 16, 20, 41, 56, 63, 65

Rue Monsieur le Prince viewed from the Boulevard St Michel

Until the 1960s the narrow road climbing up from the Boulevard St Germain towards the Boulevard St Michel was much as it had always been in the 19th and 20th centuries: a very low-cost area for students, artists and revolutionaries to live amid cafes and bookshops.

The road originally skirted the Charles V city wall and was called after the court title of the Prince of Condé, whose palace grounds bordered the road. From 1793 to 1805 during the French Revolution the road was renamed ‘Rue de la Liberté’.

The triangle of land, mansion and estate occupied by the House of Condé between the Rue Monsieur le Prince, the Rue de Condé and the Rue de Vaugirard in the Turgot plan of Paris in 1740

To get an idea of the wealth and stature of the Condé branch of the Bourbon family, you can take a look at the door to No. 4 – built on the site of the stables of the Condé town house.

The wonderful door and window above it at 4 Rue Monsieur le Prince are all that remain of the private Hôtel de Bacq, built in 1750 for Pierre Darlons, the secretary of the Prince of Conde

The black American writer Richard Wright lived at No. 14 from 1948 to 1959, the year before he died in Paris aged 52. A plaque has been put up to his memory, not mentioning the reports he gave to the American embassy on Nkrumah and French communists he met, arguably doing so to ensure the renewal of his passport. The building has another interesting door built under the Second Empire.

The wooden sculpted entrance to the four-floored building at No. 14 is in the Napoleon III style. On the right the libertine, on the left the student.

Next door, at No. 16, there used to be a very long-lasting anarchist bookshop. It survived from 1908 to 1932 and before the First World War was a regular meeting place for anarchist trade unionists.

A couple of doors further up the road, the Communist Party owned the Racine/Social publications bookshop at No. 20 in 1938.

No. 20 was also where, after midnight on December 5 1986 a young student, Malik Oussekine, coming out of a jazz club, was chased down the road to the entrance where he was beaten to death by riot police who attacked him because he was an Algerian and young. The previous day hundreds of thousands of young people had taken part in the day’s demonstrations against the Devaquet election reform. The police tried to cover the murder by calling an ambulance that took the dead body to hospital. Three years later two of the three police were found guilty of wounding Oussekine so badly that he died, and given suspended sentences of five and two years in prison.

On December 6 2006, 20 years later, a memorial plaque was put in the pavement outside No. 20 at a ceremony led by the Paris Mayor, Betrand Delanoë. The sister of the victim found it strange that it wasn’t on the wall. Others criticised the reference to a demonstration that had occurred on December 4, and that it didn’t say that two policemen had been found guilty of his murder.

Paul Verlaine, moving frequently in the last years of his life, lived in No. 21 in 1894, while much earlier, Arthur Rimbaud had a room at No. 41 in May 1872.

Over the years Verlaine and many other writers and artists like James Joyce, Hemingway and Max Ernst used to eat at the Polidor restaurant on the ground floor of No. 41. Until recently its old style benches on which basic French food is served was commanded over by a stereotypical in-your-face French waitress. Now, however, it has even expanded and set up a wine shop.

In 1920, Nguyên Ai Quôc, the future Ho Chi Minh, lived at No. 56. He would have been not at all pleased by the coincidence that led the Indochinese section of the Trotskyist Communist League to meet at No. 65 in 1930.

The first cheap room where the teenage Émile Zola lived on arriving in Paris in 1858 was at No. 63.

Plus d’informations



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…