French Socialist Party

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

French Socialist Party


founded in 1905 through the merger of the French Socialist Party (led by Jean Jaurès), the Socialist Party of France (headed by Jules Guesde), and the Workers’ Socialist Revolutionary Party (led by Jean Allemane). Prior to 1969 the party was called the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO; Section Françhise de l‘Internationale Ou-vrière). The unification of the socialist forces was a great victory for the workers’ movement of France. However, reformists soon gained control of the party. At the outbreak of World War I the SFIO leadership openly shifted to a position of social chauvinism, and Guesde, M. Sambat, and A. Thomas held ministerial posts in the government.

During the postwar revolutionary upsurge important shifts occurred within the SFIO: many members opposed the policy of class cooperation espoused by the leadership and advocated the establishment of a genuinely revolutionary party that would join the Comintern. At the Tours Congress in 1920 the SFIO adopted a resolution to join the Comintern, a decision that led to the founding of the French Communist Party (PCF). By refusing to abide by the resolution the right-wing and centrist leaders of the SFIO split the Socialist Party, creating a new party that they continued to call the SFIO.

Three principal currents emerged within the new SFIO. The party was controlled by the centrist majority, headed by L. Blum and P. Faure. While declaring their adherence to Marxism, the centrists pursued an anticommunist, reformist political course of cooperation with the left-wing bourgeois Radical Party, preferring parliamentary activity to developing mass struggle. The party’s left wing, headed by Jean Žeromski, insisted that the party subordinate its activity to the tasks of achieving worker unity and developing the mass struggle. The right-wing, led by P. Renaudel and M. Déat, demanded an open rejection of Marxism and the elimination of any obstacles to the policy of class cooperation and anticommunism.

On the eve of the 1924 parliamentary elections the SFIO leaders, having previously rejected a proposal by the Communists to forge a pre-election alliance, joined the Socialist Radicals and several other left-wing petit bourgeois parties in forming the Left Bloc. After the Left Bloc’s victory in the elections the SFIO refused an invitation to join the government (cabinet), preferring instead to give parliamentary support to the Radical government. From 1925 to the mid-1930’s the SFIO was an opposition party, but its attitude to the bourgeois governments was highly inconsistent. While rejecting invitations to join the bourgeois governments and criticizing various antilabor actions of the ruling circles, the SFIO leaders pursued an anticommunist course and actually sanctioned many of the domestic and foreign policy measures taken by the bourgeois parties in power, which seriously hampered the organization of the mass struggle against reaction.

During the 1930’s, as dissension within the SFIO became more acute, the amplitude of its policy swings increased. A resurgence of the social and political struggle among the masses and the growing fascist menace in the early 1930’s strengthened the leftist tendencies within the party and in the policy of its leaders. In 1933 the party’s right wing, the neosocialists, was expelled. Under pressure from the masses, the SFIO leadership signed the United Action Pact with the Communist Party in July 1934 and the Popular Front Program in January 1936. The creation of the Popular Front, which included Communists, Socialists, and Radicals, dealt a mighty blow to the fascist reaction.

The parliamentary elections of 1936 (April-May) brought to power a Popular Front government composed chiefly of Socialists and Radicals headed by Blum. With Communist support the Blum government pushed through parliament a number of important social reforms, among them provisions for collective bargaining, paid vacations, and a shorter workweek. Nevertheless, the Blum government was unable to withstand the pressure of capital and reaction. Blum refused to aid republican Spain in its struggle against fascist rebels and Italian and German interventionists (1936–39). In February 1937 he announced that his government was temporarily suspending further implementation of the reforms envisaged in the Popular Front program. The endorsement of the Munich Pact (1938) by most of the SFIO leaders caused a final split in the Popular Front. In 1939–40 the anti-Soviet and anticommunist policy of the SFIO leadership brought the party to a state of moral and political collapse.

In 1940, when the fascist German armies were invading France, most of the Socialist deputies favored capitulation and supported the establishment of the profascist Vichy regime. For a time the party virtually ceased to exist, but it resumed its work in 1943 in the underground. The party participated in the Resistance. In 1944 the SFIO and the French Communist Party reached an agreement on unity of action. Collaborating with the Communist Party, the SFIO helped carry out democratic and social reforms in postwar France, such as the nationalization of certain industries, the broadening of social legislation, and the expansion of the rights of trade unions.

With the onset of the cold war the SFIO chose to break up the coalition with the Communists. In May 1947 the Socialists V. Auriol and P. Ramadier signed the decree that expelled Communists from the government. The SFIO leadership proclaimed the party to be a “third force,” opposing both reactionaries and Communists. Actually, the concept of a third force screened the SFIO’s cooperation with the bourgeois parties to achieve anticommunist objectives. Between 1947 and 1951, SFIO leaders were included in coalition governments that pursued a policy of strengthening the dominance of the bourgeoisie within the country, and they adopted an anti-Soviet course in the international arena. The basic directions of the SFIO leadership’s policy remained unchanged from 1951 to 1955, when the party was in opposition. In 1956–57 the government headed by the SFIO leader Guy Mollet (general secretary from 1946 to 1969) waged a colonial war against the Algerian people and took part in the aggression against Egypt. The Socialists’ efforts to carry out certain social reforms were nullified by the SFIO leadership’s policy of class cooperation and anticommunism.

In 1958 the SFIO leaders helped to bring General C. De Gaulle to power and to abolish the Fourth Republic. They took part in drawing up the Constitution of the Fifth Republic and joined De Gaulle’s first government. At the beginning of 1959, under pressure from the masses, which had moved to the left, the SFIO leaders were obliged to go into “constructive opposition” (1959–62), which meant criticizing certain aspects of De Gaulle’s social policy while remaining loyal to the regime as a whole. The SFIO leaders attacked De Gaulle most sharply for what they considered to be his insufficient fidelity to “Atlantic solidarity.” Only in the fall of 1962 did the SFIO leaders shift to a more consistent opposition, refusing to support constitutional reforms aimed at strengthening the president’s personal power. At the same time, the party began to depart from its position of extreme anticommunism. The new tendencies in the SFIO’s policy were sharply opposed by its right wing, headed by G. Defferre. The struggle between these two currents, exacerbating intraparty disagreements, weakened the SFIO for many years.

From the second half of the 1960’s there was a distinct shift in the relations between the SFIO and the Communist Party, manifested in meetings between delegations of the two parties in 1966 and 1968 and in an agreement between the Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left and the PCF concerning electoral tactics for the 1967 elections.

During the acute social and political crisis of May and June 1968 the SFIO on the whole remained aloof from the events. The Extraordinary Congress of 1968 adopted a resolution to dissolve the SFIO and to merge with other left-wing noncommunist parties. However, the calling of early presidential elections in 1969 delayed the creation of a new socialist party.

The Unity Congress of June 1971, at which the new Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste) was formed, proclaimed the party’s rejection of the concept of a third force and called for continued contacts with the PCF. F. Mitterrand was elected first secretary of the party. The next year, after negotiations between delegations of the PCF and the Socialist Party, an agreement was signed providing for a joint governmental program of left-wing forces. The program envisaged the resolution of economic, social, domestic political, and international problems in the interest of broad strata of the French people.

The next three party congresses, held in June 1973, January 1975, and June 1977, confirmed the Socialists’ commitment to an alliance of left-wing forces on the basis of a joint governmental program.

During these years, the Socialist Party intensified its criticism of the government’s domestic, especially social, policy. It abandoned its extreme pro-Atlanticism of former years. In 1975 contacts were established between the Socialist Party and the CPSU: upon the invitation of the Central Committee of the CPSU a Socialist delegation headed by Mitterrand visited the Soviet Union. These positive changes have not affected the fundamentals of the party’s social-democratic platform. The Socialist Party continues to be a reformist party. After the 1974 presidential elections, in which Mitterrand, the sole left-wing candidate, received 49.3 percent of the votes, the leaders of the Socialist Party declared their first priority to be the transformation of the party into the “foremost party of France.”

However, talks held by the left-wing parties in 1977 with a view to revising and specifying certain points in the 1972 joint governmental program showed the Socialists’ reluctance to accept the importance of the changes that had occurred since 1972. The talks were suspended and, when the 1978 parliamentary elections were held, the alliance of left-wing forces virtually disintegrated. The French Socialist Party launched a slanderous campaign against the French Communist Party. In January 1980 the so-called socialist draft program was adopted, confirming the Socialists’ departure from the basic points of the joint governmental program and markedly revealing a rightist orientation of the party’s leadership toward a pro-NATO postition.

The highest body of the Socialist Party, the Congress, elects the Steering Committee, from among whose members are chosen the Executive Bureau and the Secretariat. The party’s primary organizations are sections, which are grouped into federations. A member of the Socialist International, the party had a membership of 180,000 in April 1980. F. Mitterrand is the first secretary. The daily newspaper Unité is the central press organ. As of 1980 the party had 104 deputies in the National Assembly.


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French Socialist Party


(Parti Socialiste Français, PSF), a socialist party headed by J. Jaurès and created by advocates of Millerandism.

The decision to found the party was made at the 1901 Lyon Congress of Socialist Organizations, but the party’s program and organizational statute were not adopted until the Tours Congress of March 1902, generally regarded as the founding date. The party was organized on the principle of full autonomy for local organizations and held reformist views. A large role in the PSF was played by its parliamentary group. Dissatisfaction with the party’s narrow parliamentary activity and its further drift to the right led to a reduction in the ranks of the PSF, which by the end of 1904 numbered only 8,000 members. A resolution adopted by the Amsterdam Congress of the Second International (August 1904), and more importantly the working class’ striving for unity, prompted the merger in 1905 of the PSF, the Socialist Party of France, and other socialist organizations into a single party. Many right-wing members of the PSF did not join the united party.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The author compares and contrasts socialist and communist networks that were active in the region, particularly those linked with the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) and the Communist Party of France (PCF).