French Communist Party
Parti Communiste français (PCF)
The present situation of the Communist Party in France, which is now very weak - a few percent support in elections, is nothing to do with the 20-25 percent they used to have. Historically, the French Communist Party has fluctuated between the pursuit of alliance politics with other parties of the left and the pursuit of sectarian policies typical of a Stalinist party occupying a political ghetto. In 1945 it was part of a government for the first time, and was part of two others in 1981 under François Mitterrand and 1997 under Jacques Chirac.
The Communist Party was once a powerful political force in France. Having played a key role in the resistence during World War II, it surged to electoral successes following the war, participating in the provisional Liberation government from 1944-47 and commanding the highest support out of any party on the left untill it was surpassed by the Socialists in the 1980s. From 1947 to 1981, it was primarily a party of opposition, representing about 20% of the electorate.
Its decline started well before the fall of the Berlin wall. Card-carrying members left the party in droves when in 1981 it decided to join François Mitterrand's government, considered too bourgeois and centrist. In the 1981 general elections, it lost some voters, but was included in the Government (with four Communist ministers). In 1986, when the Left was defeated, the PCF's score dropped to under 10% of votes (9.7%). Though the PCF ran against Mitterrand in 1988, it had already been compromised. It made a slight recovery in 1988 (11.3%), but only gained 9.1% of votes in 1993.
The center-left Socialist party remained a dominant force in French politics. This was part of a social democratic movement that swept across Europe (and North America) in the 1990s. These nominally left-wing parties won and held onto electoral success by moving to the right, at least where economic matters were concerned. In 1994, the party appointed a new chairman, Robert Hue, to succeed Georges Marchais, who had led the PCF for twenty-two years. In the 1997 general elections, the PCF won 36 seats and four members were included in Lionel Jospin's government. Unlike most of its counterparts in other countries, the PCF has held onto its "communist" label. Despite reforms, its support has fallen; its candidate only achieved a very poor showing in the 2002 presidential elections.
V.I. Lenin wrote, the proper tactic that communists adopt toward petit bourgeois democrats "must consist of utilizing these vacillations, and not of ignoring them; utilization means making concessions to those elements that are turning toward the proletariat, when and to the extent that they are doing so, together with struggle against those who are turning toward the bourgeoisie." At the same time Lenin emphasized the need to isolate the opportunistic elements and to attract to the communist side the best workers and the best representatives of the petite bourgeoisie. But he noted that this was a long and difficult process.
The PCF was founded in 1920 as the French section of the communist Internationale (after a split with the SFIO). Bolshevism had no time for politics; it decreed that the economically dominant class holds power by virtue of that fact. When the proletariat becomes the ruling class, it will mean the liberation of the masses. Since the origins of economic alienation have been located in private ownership of the means of production, Bolshevists arrived, through a series of verbal equations (power of the party = power of the proletariat =abolition of private property = abolition of classes = human liberation), at the conclusion that public ownership of the means of production, and the omnipotence of one party, will be the same as the classless society.
When it came to the Soviet Union, economic progress justified the destruction of independent nations, in Asia or even in Europe, but when European colonies were in question, the right of peoples to self-determination was strictly enforced. The quasi-violent repression that the West exerted in Cyprus or in Africa was mercilessly condemned, while the extreme degree of repression found in the Soviet Union, involving the deportation of entire populations, was ignored or forgiven.
The French leftists who created the Fourth Republic installed proportional representation ; majoritarianism returned with De Gaulle's fifth republic. Proportional representation empowers organized minorities, and allows even extreme leftist groups to be represented. Relatively small Communist parties gained representation through proportional representation and even when not in government could influence the policy formation process. Also proportional representation often implies coalition governments that have an especially hard time resisting demands for favors and public spending in the direction of various sectors of society.
The gap between European and American social spending begins neither in the 19th century nor after World War II, but rather in the early years of the 20th century, especially after World War I. In the 19th century, America seemed far more liberal than its European counterparts. In the 19th century, American Republicans fought a war for the rights of their country's poorest citizens. It was a pioneering American labor uprising in 1886 that is celebrated today throughout Europe on May 1. What made Europe and the US move in different political directions has been the growth starting at the end of the 19th century but much more so after the First World War and the growth of the Communist movement.
While Communist and Socialist parties had been critical in the design and construction of current European political institutions and at times have ruled or heavily influenced European governments, these parties had never been successful in the US. One of the reasons why an American Communist party never materialized is the fact that ethnic diversity interfered with class solidarity in the labor movement, a point already well recognized by Marx and especially Engels and later by Sombart (1905). The self selection of European immigrants is one factor. Perhaps those who left Europe in the final part of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th were different from those who stayed and transmitted different values to their children. Those who left were prone to search for individual fortunes taking a long perilous and uncertain trip. Perhaps they were less risk averse than those who stayed. The latter were more likely to demand social changes in Europe (through the Socialist Communist parties) while the former searched for an individualistic market solution to their poverty.
The French press boasts a wealth of national and regional dailies and a thriving magazine sector, but closer inspection reveals complex trends which are different for each sector. Out of a total of 3,080 titles, 11 are national dailies (with over 2 million copies sold per day) and 63 regional dailies (over 6 million copies sold per day). In 1945, there were 26 national daily newspapers (4.6 million copies sold daily) and 153 regional dailies (7.5 million copies sold per day). It emerges from these figures that France has lost half of its daily newspapers since the enf of the Second World War. Only four newspapers, of which one (L'Equipe) is exclusively a sports newspaper, sell more than 300,000 copies; in the 60,000 - 115,000 bracket there are two newspapers with a financial slant (Les Echos and La Tribune) and one turf paper (Paris-Turf). L'Humanité is the only newspaper linked to a political party (the French Communist Party) and La Croix gives a special place to the views of the Church of France.
At the end of World War II, the General Confederation of Labor [CGT - ConfédérationGénérale du Travail] commanded a significantinfluence over the working-class movement, and communist activists had a strong hold over the union at all levels. Half a century later, many within the CGT did not endorse the idea that a tradeunion is a 'transmission belt' of a political party. After the fall of the Berlin Wall the grip of the Communist Party on the CGT was weakening, as the possibility of an alternative to capitalism was fading away. In March 2003, during the 47th CGT Congress, the last remaining members of the union's leadership who had any form of responsibility within the Communist Party were not re-elected to the Executive Secretariat.
The left was a product of the Enlightenment; it invoked the principle of free thought, it wished to see more 'Bastilles' destroyed, it looked forward to a simultaneous increase in wealth, through the exploitation of natural resources, and in justice, through the elimination of superstition and the enthronement of Reason. The traditionally strong left-wing political parties in France were as surprised as everyone else by the fall of the wall. But as the Soviet bloc crumbled, so did their support. Losing the model of a non-capitalist economy took away the Communists' best argument: that another economic system was viable. While it wasn't a perfect model, they argued, it at least provided a counter example to the free market. In the public mind the ideas of central economic planning and public ownership, which had gained authority from the 1920s through the 1970s, were discredited by the economic collapse of the Soviet bloc.
The left is divided, with its lowest levels of support in generations. The Soviet Union no longer exists and Communist parties no longer attract voters or intellectuals mesmerised by the Soviet model, long L'Opium des intellectuals.
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