Tony Cliff
and Ian Birchall

France – the struggle goes on

The party of permanent treason

The counter-revolutionary role of the PCF is an old story. In the space available we will quote only a few examples out of this long and ugly history.

The Popular Front period

Following the Franco-Soviet Pact of May 1935 the PCF moved quickly toward class collaboration. Shortly after Foreign Minister Pierre Laval returned from Moscow and announced, “Stalin fully approves France’s policy of national defence in order to maintain its armed forces at a level sufficient to preserve its security,” the CP, in a letter to the Radical Party Congress, declared, “Private property, the fruit of labour and saving, must be respected”. [61]

When in May and June 1936 a mass sit-in strike spread spontaneously throughout France, involving some 1.5 million workers, the PCF proved itself to be the “Party of order”.

It took upon itself the role of trying to control the strike wave. The leadership was bewildered by the revolutionary nature of the struggle. Cachin said, “We are confronted – we and the others – by the fact of the strike”. [62] Communist militant Henri Raynaud and Socialist Jules Moch were not admitted to a factory by the striking workers with whom they went to discuss. [63] On 11 June Thorez addressed a party meeting:

If it is important to carry out a movement of demands properly, it is also important to know how to bring it to an end. It is not a question of taking power at the moment ... If the aim now is to achieve satisfaction for demands of an economic character, while progressively raising the level of consciousness and organisation of the masses, then one must know how to stop a strike as soon as satisfaction has been obtained. [64]


In August 1944 the armed resistance movement, consisting mainly of workers, used the fall of German power to take control of Paris. They seized the main factories, and, arms in hand, patrolled the town, disarming the collaborating police. The “200 families” – the financial magnates of France – had no popular support at all, as they had willingly collaborated with Hitler and done good business under Nazi rule. Indeed, one can unquestionably say that the knell of French capitalism had sounded. How, then, did it survive? The answer is to be found mainly in the conduct of the French Communist (and Socialist) parties.

After de Gaulle signed the 20-year Franco-Soviet alliance in December 1944, Thorez declared him a “great friend and ally of the Soviet Union”. The Party acted in the spirit of this “friendship” and immediately after his return from Moscow agreed to the disarming of the popular militia, a measure which it had opposed earlier in the year. Thorez then raised the slogan “One State, one army, one police force”, and the Stalinist cabinet ministers, Thorez, Tillon and Billoux, voted for the decree dissolving the people’s militia.

The “one police force” which was to remain was the very same as had served the strikebreaking government of Daladier, and later that of Vichy and the Gestapo, the same force which persecuted the Resistance for four years and which had not since been purged. Thorez could shamelessly declare, “We do not put forward any socialist demands.” And another leader of the party, Duclos, could say on 19 November 1945, “Since the Liberation we have contributed to the re-establishment of order in the country. We have led a campaign for the disarmament of the armed groups and for production.”

How the CP leaders encouraged productivity and prevented strikes is clear, for instance, from Thorez’s speech at Waziers on 21 July, 1945, where he caught a genuine [Lord Alfred] Robens-like accent:

It is true that only we, the Communists, had enough authority to put a stop to the strikes in June 1936, and that only we, five months ago, had enough authority to say: we must stop playing at civil war and not allow provocations against the working class and our country.

Besides, it isn’t true that miners do not love their work. You know I come from a family of miners ... Old miners love their work like sailors love the sea.

I want to come back to the question of absenteeism. Many reasons and pretexts are being given for absences. I must say, dear comrades, that I am not fully convinced by the reasons given to justify absences.

I will tell you, dear comrades, that in the Loire basin the same question came up in the winter when there was so much flu and food shortage. The union got together the delegates to the Welfare Fund and told them, “Examine the medical certificates and discuss with the doctors,” and they were told, “These doctors, for the most part, are not your friends. They give certificates too easily. They, who have for a long time been the enemies of the working class and of nationalisation, easily give certificates; they are encouraging disorganisation.” There are going to be elections to the Welfare Fund. The union must demand that these questions are raised everywhere and say to the delegates to the Welfare Funds that you are going to elect, “You must be intransigent; we have finished with such methods, because it is anarchy, an encouragement to idleness.”

I was told the other day that at the Escarpelle pit about 15 lads asked to knock off at six o’clock to go dancing. This is impermissible.

Similarly, in 1945, Thorez denounced as “agitators” the civil servants who threatened strike action. [65] But despite this there were strikes, for the PCF did not have total control of the workers – Paris printers in January 1946, Post Office workers in July 1946, and the Renault strike of April 1947 which coincided with the CP change of line. [66]

Support to imperialism

On 4 April 1946 the Stalinist Deputies in the French parliament voted for the following message of congratulation to the French troops fighting in Indo-China against the Viet Minh: “The National Constituent Assembly sends to the troops of the Expeditionary Force in the Far East and to their leaders the expression of the country’s gratitude and confidence on the morrow of the day in which their entry into Hanoi sets the seal on the success of the government of the Republic’s policy of peaceful liberation of all the peoples of the Union of Indochina.” Again, “On the occasion of Christmas, the Commission of National Defence sends to the French soldiers in Indochina the expression of its affectionate sympathy and salutes their efforts to maintain in the Far East the civilising and peaceful presence of France” (10 December 1946).

In March 1947, when the PCF was still in the government, the Political Bureau issued a statement instructing Communist deputies to abstain on the vote of credits for the military expedition to Vietnam, but added, “There is no need for Communist Ministers to break Ministerial solidarity”. [67] Later, although some dockers and other individuals took direct action against the Vietnam war, the Party failed to organise mass demonstrations. [68]

On the Algerian question, which roused the emotions of French people much more strongly, the Party’s role was worse.

Before the war the French Party had never seriously considered the problem of Algerian nationalism. In January 1937 the Popular Front government dissolved Messali Hadj’s Etoile Nord Africaine. [69]

In May 1945, after a nationalist demonstration in Algeria which led to riots, there was sharp repression by the authorities leading to at least 10,000 Muslim deaths, probably many more. The French government at the time of the reprisals contained two Communist ministers [70] and L’Humanité of 19 May contained the statement, “It is necessary to mete out the punishment they deserve to the Hitlerite killers who took part in the events of 8 May, and to the pseudo-nationalist leaders.” Thorez’s report to the Tenth Congress of the PCF (June 1945) gave some indication of the reasons: “We are short of food. Algeria could provide us with a million sheep every year, if water supplies were improved.” And Caballero, General Secretary of the Algerian Communist Party, “concluded by emphasising that the Algerian people had the same enemies as the French people, and do not want to be separated from France. Those who claim independence for Algeria are the conscious or unconscious agents of another imperialism”. [71]

In 1954, when the Algerian war broke out, the PCF had neither the excuse of famine nor governmental responsibility.

The Mollet government in 1956 asked for special powers to deal with the Algerian situation – the PCF deputies voted for them – giving the excuse, “The essential aim of this vote was to make the scales lean to the left and free the government from the pressures of reaction”. [72]

Demonstrations in protest against the recall of demobilised soldiers to Algeria, called by local CP militants, were disavowed by the Party, while the Socialist government exercised repression against such demonstrations. The PCF leadership forbade direct contact between French and Algerian Communists. [73]

After de Gaulle took power, the Soviet Union obviously was worried about the situation; the USSR only recognised the Provisional Government in October 1960; Khrushchev urged a negotiated settlement, and the USSR was chary about arms or non-military supplies. [74]

When a PCF militant, Albert Liechti, refused to bear arms in Algeria and was imprisoned, the PCF did not wage a campaign on the issue for nearly a year. [75] When the Manifesto of the 121, supporting the refusal to bear arms against the Algerians, was published in 1960, the Party replied (though nine members had signed it) that it could not “approve, in any form, the appeal for insubordination or the organisation of it”. [76]




61. M. Thorez, Fils du Peuple (Editions Sociales, 1960), p.124.

62. Quoted in L. Trotsky, Whither France? (New York, 1936), p.152.

63. G. Lefranc, Juin 36 (Juillard, 1966), p.134.

64. Within the CP there was some opposition, notably Ferrat, a member of the Central Committee, who attacked the CP for supporting the Matignon Agreements as a compromise holding back mass action. He was expelled (G. Lefranc, Juin 36, pp.235-237).

65. Histoire du Parti Communiste Français (Unir), III, p.23.

66. G. Lefranc, Le Syndicalisme en France (PUF, 1964), p.104.

67. Cahiers du Communisme, March-April 1947, p.340.

68. Histoire, III, p.65.

69. E. O’Ballance, The Algerian Insurrection (Faber 1967), p.30.

70. E. O’Ballance, Algerian, p.33.

71. L’Humanité, 30 June 1945.

72. F. Bonte, in France Nouvelle, 17 March 1956.

73. Histoire, III, pp.146-147.

74. E. O’Ballance, Algerian, pp.155-159.

75. Histoire, III, p.189.

76. J. Fauvet, Histoire du Parti (Fayard, 1965), p.310.


Last updated on 21.4.2003