French Communist Party’s origins in Tours + a brief look at Stalinism & Trotskyism in France

In 1920 Tours, the major city of the Touraine, became the birth place of the French Communist Party.

When the 18th Congress of the French United Socialist Party opened in Tours on 25 December 1920. The main question delegates addressed was whether to join the 3rd Socialist International which had been founded by the Russian Bolshevik revolutionaries earlier in the same year.

There were three factions at the Tours Congress: the left-wing of the party that favoured joining the 3rd International, the right-wing opposed to membership; and the centre faction which was itself split on the issue. The left-wing faction represented around 70% of the votes being cast, the right-wing 10% and the centrists 20%. Following an ultimatum sent by the executive of the 3rd International, the opponents to joining were excluded from the party which was then renamed the French Communist Party. Those Socialists who had been excluded, which included a majority of MPs and elected officials, met in Tours and founded the SFIO (Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière). The SFIO became the Socialist Party in 1971 at which time it also absorbed a few lesser parties and associations.

The Vietnamese Revolutionary, Ho Cho Minh, who later founded the Viet Minh in 1941 and then declared the independence of Vietnam, was present at the Tours Congress.

The founders of the French Communist Party retained control of the party paper, L’Humanité, which had been founded in 1904 and which remained tied to the party until the 1990s and is still printed today.

After the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the PCF was declared a “proscribed organisation” by Édouard Daladier’s government. At first the PCF continued its commitment to national defence, but after Comintern of the 3rd International declared the war to be ‘imperialist’, the French party changed its position. PCF members of Parliament signed a letter calling for peace and were favourable to Hitler’s peace proposals.

In September 1938, just prior to the outbreak of War in Europe, Trotsky and international supporters of his political programme held a conference near Paris and established the 4th International. The French Trotskyist Party was called Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI). (In fact Trotsky was a fluent French speaker and had been in France in 1914, as a war correspondent for the Kievskaya Mysl. In January 1915 he was the editor of Nashe Slovo (“Our Word”), an internationalist socialist newspaper produced in Paris. He was later deported to Spain and from there to the USA.). During the Stalinist campaign and purge of Trotsky and Trotskyism from the 3rd International many French members of the PCF supported Trotsky. When Trotsky was deported from the Soviet Union in 1929 he was offered asylum in France in 1933. In 1935 he was no longer officially welcome in France and moved to Norway.

During the Nazi occupation of France the relationship between the Communists and the occupation was ambivalent to say the least. It was obliged to follow Stalin’s line of non-aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union. It did, however, organise various actions against occupation including a demonstration of thousands of students and workers in Paris on 11 November 1940. In May 1941, it helped to organise more than 100,000 miners in the Nord and Pas-de-Calais departments in a strike. On 26 April 1941, along with the Gaullists, the it called for a National Front for the independence of France.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the PCF expanded it activities in the French Resistance and called for the use of systematic and direct action and political assassinations. By 1944 the PCF reached the height of its influence in France. Through the Resistance units under its command it had control of large areas of the country. Some members of the Party wanted to launch an armed revolution as the Germans withdrew from the country, but the Stalinist leadership opposed such action and instead pushed for a line of co-operating with the Allied powers and promoting a new Popular Front government. By the end of 1945 the membership of the PCF stood at around half a million. In the elections of 21 October 1945 for the interim Constitutional National Assembly, the PCF had 159 deputies elected out of 586 seats.

From 1945 to the 1970s the French Communist Party was the largest of all the French left-wing parties. It participated in three governments: in the provisional government of the Liberation (1944–1947), at the beginning of François Mitterrand’s presidency (1981–1984) and in Plural Left’s cabinet led by Lionel Jospin (1997–2002). It started to loose support in the 1980s, falling behind the Socialist Party (PS).

After the 2007 election, the party did not have, for the first time since 1962, the minimum level of 20 deputies needed to form a parliamentary group by itself. The PCF then allied itself with The Greens and other left-wing MPs to form a parliamentary group to the left of the Socialist Party, called The Democratic and Republican Left.

The PCF is a member of the Party of the European Left, and its MEPs sit in the European United Left–Nordic Green Left Group (sic!).

I am hoping to meet a few elderly people of the Touraine who themselves, or their parents, lived through the period of WWII and the post war years and know of the activities and levels of support for the Communist Party in the region during that period. There should be some interesting material for blog posts arising from the conversations.

About Jim McNeill

I am a blogger on 'The Social History of the Touraine region of France (37)' and also 'The Colonial History of Pennsylvania and the life & Family of William Penn'. I am a Director of Fresh Ground Group Ltd.
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7 Responses to French Communist Party’s origins in Tours + a brief look at Stalinism & Trotskyism in France

  1. Pingback: Gaston Monmousseau (1883-1960): trade unionist and political agitator of the Touraine. | Social history in the Touraine ~ Central France

  2. Pingback: Notes on Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, in the city of Tours ~ fresh veg, Yankie shoes and union strikes | Social history in the Touraine ~ Central France

  3. Pingback: Socialist Congress in Tours 1920 | Social history in the Touraine ~ Central France

  4. I’m impressed by your great job!! excelent!!! I’m french and you teach me about this part of France that I didnt know as well as you do. I’m looking for people who have memories of this time, in my husband but you know what: it seems that they dont like to speak about those years, as they dont like to speak about war’s years. I have an idea of the reasons,but I’ll tell you in private.
    My father born on 1925, go to fight against german at 17th. But we lived on north africa, when north africa was french departement!!! My father was very patriotic and went to south of France to liberate Toulon and its coasts. But in Tourain, I only meet people talking about “resistance”, about “réfractaire” or “partit zone libre”. In fact, you’ll find in Touraine, very few people who have fight against german. Sorry for my bad english!!! Thanks for you great job and for sharing with us.

    • Jim McNeill says:

      Thanks for the comment, Col. As I mentioned in the blog, I hope to be meeting soon with some people in Descartes who have memories of WWII and the activities of Communist Party members and supporters. The number of French farmers who were members was, I think, quite high ~ it’s a totally different tradition and folk/political culture from the UK at the time. It’ll keep me busy for the next 10 years or so!
      Hope you’re keeping well.

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