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Ian H. Birchall

Enigmatic Variations

(Autumn 1966)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.26, Autumn 1966, p.35.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Histoire du Parti Communiste II (Vingt-cinq ans de drames 1939-1965)
Jacques Fauvet
Fayard, Paris, 19.75 F.

In 1947, a conference was held, of delegates from nine European Communists Parties. Eighteen years later, the only party both of whose delegates survived with untarnished reputations was the French. As Britain lurches towards Europe, we need a deeper understanding of the French Communist Party, dogmatic, chauvinistic and tortuously opportunistic in its political line, but firmly rooted in the working class. To demonstrate the non-Marxist nature of the PCF is like taking toffee from kids – which is not to say that it should not be done clearly and often. One need only cite the Wilsonian rhetoric of Thorez at the Liberation: ‘We wish to participate enthusiastically in the battle for production. As under the occupation, to win the war, we will cooperate with all good Frenchmen, workers, industrial or white collar, peasants, employers, intellectuals’ – and even worse: ‘I was told the other day that in one pit about fifteen young miners asked to stop work at six to go dancing. I say this is impermissible.’ In face of the PCF’s recent grovelling promiscuity in organising a popular front against de Gaulle, it is as well to remember that in 1946 L’Humanité was disciplined by the party secretariat for criticising de Gaulle who had just left the Government. But the real problem is that of the relation of the party to the class. Since 1945, the Party’s membership has been halved. Nonetheless, with the solitary exception of 1958, it has maintained a vote of over four million, over 20 per cent of votes cast. It is estimated that in Paris and Marseilles, around two thirds of all workers vote Communist, and the party is not noticeably weaker among the so-called ‘new working class.’ Yet the party has less factory cells than in 1945, and its greatest growth has come in rural areas. If the fact that large numbers of Communist voters supported de Gaulle in 1947 and 1948 can in part be explained by the Party’s flirtation with the General at the Liberation, the loss of votes directly to Poujade in 1956, indicates quite clearly that many PCF votes are for ‘change’ pure and simple rather than proletarian revolution.

The relation of the Party with the CGT also deserves examination. In 1947 there was disagreement between party and union leaders on wage increases; in recent years a substantial opposition has developed in the CGT.

M. Fauvet’s book does not deal with all these questions. To answer them, we should need, not only more sociological studies like those done by Charles Micaud on CGT militants, but also the Secret Diaries of Benoit Frachon. In the meantime M. Fauvet offers a readable journalistic account of the ups and downs (should one says lefts and rights?) of this puzzling aspect of working-class history.

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