Communism in France

This is the second part of a series on Communism in Western Europe; this section focuses on France in particular. The last part can be found here.

In France, the Communist Party was founded in 1920 by revolting members of its socialist party, then called the French Section of the Workers’ International (Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière, SFIO). Their new party initially did fairly poorly, only one of the numerous parties out there. In 1928, for instance, the Communists (PCF) won 11.26% of the vote.

Nevertheless, by 1936 – the depths of the Great Depression – the Communists (PCF) were making gains. Then came WWII – the best thing that ever happened to the PCF. Out of all the parties in occupied France, the Communists fought the Nazis hardest and suffered the most for it. They earned the nickname le parti des 75 000 fusillés – the party of the 75,000 executed people – and immense popularity.

Following the war, the PCF joined the new government led by Charles de Gaulle. Unfortunately for it, however, the U.S. government demanded a Communist-free government as a precondition for accepting the Marshall Plan. The French Communist Party was summarily booted out.

This did not prevent the PCF from channeling its wartime record into electoral success; from November 1946 to 1956, the Communists won a greater share of the popular vote than any other party. Their base lay amongst France’s working class, which remained a loyal and reliable constituency, and they constituted the dominant force on the French left.

Communist Party in France Performance

This state of affairs could not last forever, however. After 1956, the French Communists entered a slow decline. With the slow, gradual destruction of the Soviet Union’s credibility in the West, the PCF – tightly linked to the USSR – reached a ceiling of support. Many French voters simply would never vote communist.

Then, in 1969, the Socialist Party (Parti socialiste, PS) was founded, sounding the death knell of the Communists. Led by François Mitterrand, the socialists quickly took over the mantle as the leader of the left. Communist voters abandoned the PCF in droves, seeking a party that could actually win a majority of the popular vote – which the Communists could not. Thus, by 1988, the PCF won a mere 3.43% of the popular vote in run-off legislative elections.

Communists in France Decline

Interestingly, it was not the fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Communist Party in France, but the emergence of an acceptable alternative to the PCF. That was not the case with Italy.

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5 Responses to Communism in France

  1. Brad says:

    I am sure the French communists fought the Nazi occupation of France very fiercely after June 22, 1941. But what was the behavior of the French communists before that date?

  2. David Byron says:

    You don’t understand what happened.

    The US didn’t “aid” these countries; it occupied them. It destroyed their democracies. It overruled the will of the people and dictated that right wing or fascist elements would be put in charge. It was immoral, it was illegal, it was an effective occupation of those countries by the US. it wasn’t ‘soft power” ; there was considerable violence used. It’s not something everyone does. No country would allow — sorry no free country would allow — another country to interfere in its government — virtually dictating the form of it.

    All you’ve been told is pretty much 180 degrees wrong about the US being the “good guys” and supporting democracy. If the US had supported democracy then they would have allowed free and fair elections instead of setting up puppet governments across Western Europe.

    Of course it is hardly just Western Europe after the war that America has crushed democracy. Literally dozens of countries have been invaded or bombed or had terrorist armies supplied by the US to destroy their democracies whenever the electorate looks like it might vote in socialists. Scores more have had that impulse checked by the US sponsoring dictators or because local elites knew that if socialism was given a chance the US would invade.

    America was and is mortally afraid of democracy and afraid of the fact that people wanted communism so it used force to destroy free elections. America lies about its actions all the time spending billions of dollars on propaganda to suggest that undermining democracy is only something its enemies would do.

    The US was simply unable to compete in a free and fair election with the USSR — or rather with local communist parties since the USSR simply had no interest in involving itself with countries that the US had claimed as part of its empire. It couldn’t compete democratically so it used force.

    These links, these “secret histories” tell a substantially different story from what you are told in America. Perhaps you will chose to disbelieve the histories but you certainly shouldn’t try to dismiss them as “what every country does”. This stuff is unique to America.

  3. David Byron says:

    Well clearly it wasn’t either the fall of the USSR or the emergence of a socialist party. As you say yourself the US empire crushed the democracies of Western Europe that it occupied after WW2 and installed regimes that were psuedo-democratic but guaranteed to be friendly to US capitalist-fascist interests.

    The purpose of the marshal plan was to crush occupied Western European democracies and prevent the people expressing their desire for communism and genuine democracy — the last thing America wanted of course.

    The US set up secret death squads of fascists throughout Europe to kill the communists and secure their puppet states:

    They helped overthrow the Turkish government to make it more pro-US. The US had a more open role in overthrowing the Greek government again because it wasn’t puppet-like enough.

    Here’s more details of how the Italian government was seized:

    • inoljt says:

      Thanks for reading the blog and responding. I appreciate the comment!

      As for the U.S. role in all this, it is true that America did use tools such as the Marshall Plan to aid American-friendly governments in Western Europe (which the Communists were decidedly not).

      But that’s not exactly an inherent moral wrong. It’s called diplomacy and the usage of soft power – things every country does to strengthen itself.

      Finally, thanks a bunch for the links you put here. I found the last link extremely interesting in its portrayal of American soft power in full war mode. Wish I’d had that resource before writing about Italy’s communists.

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