French Communist Party

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

French Communist Party


(PCF; Le Parti Communiste Française), founded in December 1920, when the French Socialist Party (SFIO) split at the Tours Congress and its revolutionary majority resolutely joined the Communist International.

During the 1920’s the PCF passed through a complicated period of growth and maturation. In establishing itself as a new type of party, the PCF benefited from the advice of V. I. Lenin, the recommendations of the Comintern, and the experience of the Bolshevik Party. By struggling against opportunists and sectarians, the PCF strengthened its ties with the masses and purged itself of social-democratic and anarchosyndicalist vestiges. A restructuring of the party organization made the industrial cell the party’s base of support and brought proletarian cadres into the leadership. P. Semard was general secretary of the PCF from 1924 to 1930, when he was succeeded by M. Thorez. During the early decades the PCF’s basic strategy was worked out: the creation of a united front of working people that would struggle against capitalism and for a socialist future. From the outset, the PCF organized mass demonstrations aimed at satisfying the immediate demands of the working people, opposing the reaction, and defending peace. Thus, in 1925 the PCF led the opposition to the colonial war in Morocco and Syria that had been unleashed by French imperialism, and in 1929 it launched a protest campaign against the anti-Soviet aggressive plans of French and international reactionaries.

After the establishment of a fascist dictatorship in Germany in 1933, increasing the threat of fascism and war, the PCF succeeded in forming a united front with the SFIO (1934), and it became the organizer of the Popular Front, which included the PCF, the SFIO, and the Radical and Radical-Socialist Republican Party. As indicated in the documents of the PCF, the Popular Front was a creative adaptation, under French conditions, of the Marxist-Leninist principle of the need for an alliance between the proletariat, the working peasantry, and the urban petite bourgeoisie. Within the framework of the Popular Front program, adopted in 1936, the PCF struggled to improve the status of the working people, to avert the danger of fascism, to defend peace and democracy, and to strengthen the friendly relations between France and the USSR. During the years when the Popular Front was in power (1935–38) the PCF consolidated its position among the masses. In the parliamentary elections of 1936 it received 1.5 million votes. In 1937 the party numbered 341,000 members.

During the occupation of France by fascist Germany in World War II, the PCF, banned by the reactionary French government on Sept. 26, 1939, went deep underground and became the chief organizer of the Resistance movement. The PCF manifesto, published in its central organ, the newspaper L’Humanité on July 10, 1940, called upon the French people to fight for freedom, national independence, and the rebirth of France. Communists played a leading role in the Francs-Tireurs and Partisans, a military organization created through the efforts of the PCF. In May 1943 the party helped form the National Resistance Council, uniting all of France’s patriotic forces. In 1943 the Communists began to prepare for a national armed insurrection; the next year they played a decisive role in the Paris Uprising. In the struggle against the occupation forces the PCF lost 75,000 members.

After the liberation of France in 1944 the PCF became the country’s most important political party. From 1944 to 1947 Communists were included in the cabinet. In parliamentary elections the PCF habitually received more than 5 million votes, from 20 to 25 percent of the electorate.

At the Tenth Congress (1945) the party appealed to Communists and to the French people to struggle for the country’s rebirth and for a renewal of democracy, the basis of which was to be a substantial limitation of the economic and political power of monopoly capital. Working in collaboration with the Socialists, the Communists were able to secure the passage of progressive legislation between 1944 and 1947—the democratic constitution of 1946, the partial nationalization of banks and some branches of industry, and social reforms. In 1947, as a result of a split in the democratic camp, instigated by the SFIO leaders, and of interference by the USA’s ruling circles in France’s internal affairs, the Communists were removed from the cabinet. The onset of the cold war in the late 1940’s impelled the party to concentrate on the struggle to preserve and strengthen peace. Noting the changes in the international balance of forces in favor of socialism and the strengthening of the democratic camp in France, the Twelfth Congress (1950) stated that under the current conditions war was no longer fatally inevitable. The PCF was able to draw many French pacifists into the active struggle for peace and to work out the organizational forms, methods, and slogans of the peace movement. Adopting the slogan “The French people will never wage war against the Soviet Union,” the PCF explained the nature of the USSR’s peaceful foreign policy. The mass campaigns organized by the Communists against the “dirty war” of French imperialism in Vietnam and against the ratification of the European Defense Community treaty had an effect on the policy of the French government.

After the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958, the PCF played a major role in mobilizing the masses to resist the forces of reaction and to defend democratic liberties. The party was to a large extent responsible for preventing the establishment of military rule in France and for preserving a moderate bourgeois democracy. The Communists led a mass movement to end France’s colonial war in Algeria (1954–62). By rallying the democratic forces, the party contributed to the collapse of the ultracolonialist revolts in Algeria in 1960–61 and to the failure of the efforts to organize an antirepublican conspiracy in France itself.

By the mid-1960’s the PCF became the focal point of the democratic opposition and the organizer of an antimonopoly mass movement. Striving to maintain their influence among the masses, the Socialist leaders moved to make contact with the PCF. In the 1962 parliamentary elections the Communists and Socialists acted in concert, thereby augmenting the number of their deputies in the National Assembly. (The number of seats held by the PCF and SFIO increased from ten and 40, respectively, in 1958 to 41 and 65 in 1962.) In the general miners’ strike of 1963 many PCF and SFIO organizations put up a united front. The agreement concluded in 1966 between the PCF and the Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left, most of whose leaders were Socialists, contributed to the significant victory of left-wing parties in the 1967 parliamentary elections. (The PCF won 73 seats in the National Assembly and the SFIO, 116.)

During May and June 1968 the PCF marched in the vanguard of a powerful movement of the popular masses, who rebelled against the oppression of the capitalist monopolies.

Analyzing the profound crisis in state-monopoly capitalism and taking cognizance of the experience of the French and international workers’ and communist movement, the PCF undertook to work out an economic, social, and political program whose implementation would ensure the replacement of the existing bourgeois order by an advanced democracy that would open the way to socialism. In December 1968 a plenum of the Central Committee adopted the manifesto “For an Advanced Democracy, For a Socialist France,” defining the basic conditions for establishing such a system in France: the winning of political power by the working class and its allies, the nationalization of key branches of industry and the banks, and the presence of a party capable of functioning as a vanguard of the working class and of uniting the working people around itself—that is, the Communist Party. The Nineteenth Congress of the PCF (1970) offered specific details of the manifesto’s programmatic goals. The resolutions of the Congress stressed that an alliance between the working class and the peasantry, the petite urban bourgeoisie, engineering and technical workers, and youth was necessary in the struggle against the monopolies and for a progressive democracy and socialism.

Since the early 1970’s the PCF has endeavored to create a joint program for the left-wing forces. In 1971 the PCF adopted the Program for a Democratic Government of National Unity, which served as the basis for the joint governmental program of the PCF and the Socialist Party (1972) that was also endorsed by the Left Radicals. The joint governmental program called for limitations on the power of the monopolies, an improvement in the position of the working people, a democratization of political institutions, and a foreign policy based on the principles of national sovereignty and peaceful coexistence.

The Twentieth Congress of the PCF (1972) enjoined the party to concentrate on gaining support for the joint governmental program among the working people. In the 1973 parliamentary elections the left-wing parties, acting on the basis of the joint program, received about 11 million votes; the PCF alone won 5.1 million votes and 74 seats in the National Assembly. In the 1974 presidential elections F. Mitterand, the sole candidate of the left-wing forces, received more than 49 percent of the votes.

The Twenty-first (Extraordinary) Congress of the PCF (1974) set itself the task of creating an alliance of the French people that would struggle to implement the goals outlined in the joint program. The Congress also stated that the further strengthening of the Communist Party was a necessary condition for the effectiveness of such an alliance.

The document “What Do the Communists Want for France?” —adopted by the Twenty-second Congress of the PCF (1976)— contained a program for the transition to socialism and the building of socialism in France. Known as the democratic road to socialism, the program proposes the peaceful assumption of political power by the working people, with the decisive role to be played by the working class and with universal franchise to be combined with the persistent struggle of the masses against an exploitative system.

In the 1978 parliamentary elections the candidates of the PCF received 20.6 percent of the vote (86 seats in the National Assembly). However, the left-wing parties failed to gain a majority in the National Assembly. Based on the joint governmental program, the alliance of the left-wing forces ceased to exist.

At the Twenty-third Congress in 1979, the strategy and tactics of the PCF under state monopoly capitalism were the focus of attention. The Congress considered such problems of great importance as the struggle of the Communists against transnational companies in defense of the urgent interests of the working people, détente and disarmament, the independent foreign policy of France, and the strengthening of international solidarity.

The PCF maintains bilateral ties with almost all the Marxist-Leninist parties, and it participates in international conferences of communist and workers’ parties. PCF delegations attended the international conferences of communist and workers’ parties that were held in Moscow in 1957, 1960, and 1969, and in the conference of European communist and workers’ parties held in Berlin in 1976; the party endorsed the documents adopted by the conferences. Jointly with the Polish United Workers’ Party, the PCF initiated a meeting of European communist and workers’ parties “for peace and disarmament held in Paris in 1980.”

Table 1. Congresses of the French Communist Party
Founding Congress ...............ToursDec. 25–30, 1920
Administrative ...............ParisMay 15–17, 1921
First ...............MarseilleDec. 25–30, 1921
Second ...............ParisOct. 15–19, 1922
Third ...............LyonJan. 20–24, 1924
Fourth ...............ClichyJan. 17–21, 1925
Fifth ...............LilleJune 20–26, 1926
Sixth ...............St. DenisMar.31–Apr.7, 1929
Seventh ...............ParisMar. 11–19, 1932
Eighth ...............VilleurbanneJan. 22–25, 1936
Ninth ...............ArlesDec. 25–29, 1937
Tenth ...............ParisJune 26–30, 1945
Eleventh ...............StrasbourgJune 25–28, 1947
Twelfth ...............GennevilliersApr. 2–6, 1950
Thirteenth ...............IvryJune 3–7, 1954
Fourteenth ...............Le HavreJuly 18–21, 1956
Fifteenth ...............IvryJune 24–28, 1959
Sixteenth ...............St. DenisMay 11–14, 1961
Seventeenth ...............ParisMay 14–17, 1964
Eighteenth ...............Levallois-PerretJan. 4–8, 1967
Nineteenth ...............NanterreFeb. 4–8, 1970
Twentieth ...............St.-OuenDec. 13–17, 1972
Twenty-first (Extraordinary) ...............VitryOct. 24–27, 1974
Twenty-second ...............St.-OuenFeb. 4–8, 1976
Twenty-third ...............St.-OuenMay 9–13, 1979

The PCF is organized along the principles of democratic centralism. Its highest body, the Congress, elects the Central Committee, from which the Politburo and Secretariat are chosen. The primary organizations are the cells, which are grouped into sections and federations. In 1980 the PCF included 700,000 members. The party general secretary is G. Marchais. The party’s main press organ is the newspaper L’Humanité, and its theoretical organ is Cahiers du communisme. (See Table 1 for the Congresses of the PCF.)


Thorez, M. Izbr. proizv., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1959. (Translated from French.)
Thorez, M. Izbr. stat’i i recht 1930–1964. Moscow, 1966. (Translated from French.)
Thorez, M. Syn naroda. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from French.)
Rochet, W. Izbr. stat’i i rechi. Moscow, 1972. (Translated from French.)
Duelos, J. Memuary, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1974–75. (Translated from French.)
Thorez, M. Oeuvres, vols. 1–23. Paris, 1950–65.
Rochet, W. L’Avenir du Parti communiste français. Paris, 1970.
Marchais, G. Le Défi democratique. Paris, 1973.
Duelos, J. Mémoires, vols. 1–6. Paris, 1968–73.
Histoire du Parti communiste français. Paris, 1964.
Pour une démocratie avancée, pour une France socialiste! Manifeste du Parti communiste français. Paris, 1969.
Ocherki rabochego dvizheniia vo Frantsii (1917–67). Moscow, 1968.
V borb’e za interesy trudiashchikhsia Frantsii: 50 let Frantsuzskoi kommunisticheskoipartii. Moscow, 1971.
Varfolomeeva, R. S. Bor’ba Frantsuzskoi kommunisticheskoi partii za mir, demokratiiu, sotsializm (1945–1970). Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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