Although its electoral support has declined in recent decades, the PCF retains a strong influence in French politics, especially at the local level. In 2012, the PCF claimed 138,000 members including 70,000 who have paid their membership fees. This would make it the third largest party in France in terms of membership after the Republicans (LR) and the Socialist Party (PS).
Founded in 1920 by the majority faction of the socialist French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO), it participated in three governments:
It was also the largest party on the left in France in a number of national elections, from 1945 to 1960, before falling behind the Socialist Party in the 1970s. The PCF has lost further ground to the Socialists since that time.
Since 2009 the PCF has been a leading member of the Left Front (Front de gauche), alongside Jean-Luc Mélenchon's Left Party (PG). During the 2017 presidential election, the PCF supported Mélenchon's candidature; however, tensions between the PCF and Mélenchon's movement, La France insoumise, have led the two movements to campaign separately for the general elections.
French Communist Party
Parti communiste français
|National Secretary||Fabien Roussel|
|Founded||30 December 1920|
|Split from||French Section of the Workers' International|
|Headquarters||2, place du Colonel Fabien|
|Student wing||Union of Communist Students|
|Youth wing||Mouvement Jeunes Communistes de France|
|Political position||1920 to 1977:|
1977 to present:
|European affiliation||Party of the European Left|
|International affiliation||International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties|
|European Parliament group||European United Left–Nordic Green Left|
11 / 577
12 / 348
1 / 74
|Presidency of Regional Councils|
0 / 17
|Presidency of Departmental Councils|
1 / 101
Until 2008 the party was also member of Popular Front (1936-1938), CNFL (1940-1947) and the Plural Left (1997-2002)
The French Communist Party (PCF) originated in 1920, when a majority of members resigned from the socialist French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) party to set up the French Section of the Communist International (SFIC), with Ludovic-Oscar Frossard as its first secretary-general; Ho Chi Minh, liberator of Vietnam, was one of the notable agitators who participated in its creation. The new SFIC defined itself as revolutionary and democratic centralist. The 1920s saw a number of splits within the party over relations with other left-wing parties and over adherence to Comintern's dictates. The party entered the French parliament, but also promoted strike action and opposed colonialism. Pierre Sémard, leader from 1924 to 1928, sought party unity and alliances with other parties; but leaders including Maurice Thorez (party leader from 1930 to 1964) imposed a Stalinist line from the late 1920s. With the rise of Fascism after 1934 the PCF supported the Popular Front, which came to power under Léon Blum in 1936. The party supported the Spanish Republicans, and opposed the 1938 Munich agreement with Hitler.
The party was banned by the government of Édouard Daladier (centre-left) as a result of the German–Soviet Non-aggression Pact, due to its membership in the Comintern, which opposed the War (prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany). The leadership, threatened with execution, fled abroad. After the German invasion of 1940 the party began to organise opposition to the occupation. Shortly before Germany invaded the Soviet Union the next year, the PCF formed, in May 1941, the National Front movement within the broader Resistance, together with the armed Francs-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP) group. At the same time the PCF began to work with de Gaulle's "Free France" government in exile, and later took part in the National Council of the Resistance (CNR).
By the time the German occupation ended in 1944, the party had become a powerful force in many parts of France. It was among the leading parties in elections in 1945 and 1946, and entered into the governing Tripartite alliance, which pursued social reforms and statism. However, amid concerns within France and abroad over the extent of communist influence, the PCF was excluded from government in May 1947. Under pressure from Moscow, the PCF thereafter distanced itself from other parties and focused on agitation within its trade union base. For the rest of the Fourth Republic period the PCF, led by Thorez and Jacques Duclos, remained politically isolated, still taking a Stalinist line, though retaining substantial electoral support.
Although the PCF opposed de Gaulle's formation of the Fifth Republic in 1958, the following years saw a rapprochement with other left-wing forces and an increased strength in parliament. With Waldeck Rochet as its new secretary-general, the party supported François Mitterrand's unsuccessful presidential bid in 1965. During the student riots and strikes of May 1968, the party supported the strikes while denouncing the revolutionary student movements. After heavy losses in the ensuing parliamentary elections, the party adopted Georges Marchais as leader and in 1973 entered into a "Common Programme" alliance with Mitterrand's reconstituted Socialist Party (PS). Under the Common Programme, however, the PCF steadily lost ground to the PS, a process that continued after Mitterrand's victory in 1981. Initially allotted a minor share in Mitterrand's government, the PCF resigned in 1984 as the government turned towards fiscal orthodoxy. Under Marchais the party largely maintained its traditional communist doctrines and structure. Extensive reform was undertaken after 1994, when Robert Hue became leader. This did little to stem the party's declining popularity, although it entered government again in 1997 as part of the Plural Left coalition. Elections in 2002 gave worse results than ever for the PCF. Under Marie-George Buffet, the PCF turned away from parliamentary strategy and sought broader social alliances. To maintain a presence in parliament after 2007 the party's few remaining deputies had to join others in the Democratic and Republican Left group (GDR). Subsequently a broader electoral coalition, the Left Front (FG), was formed including the PCF, the Left Party (PG), United Left, and others. The FG has brought the French communists somewhat better electoral results. Pierre Laurent was leader from 2010 to 2018.
The PCF, in contrast to weaker and more marginal communist parties in Europe, is usually seen as a left-wing rather than far-left party in the French context. While the French far-left (LCR/NPA, LO) has refused to participate in government or engage in electoral alliances with centre-left parties such as the PS, the PCF has participated in governments in the past and still enjoys a de facto electoral agreement with the PS (mutual withdrawals, the common practice since 1962 and in 1934–39). Nonetheless, some observers and analysts classify the PCF as a far-left party, noting their political proximity to other far-left parties.
In the 1980s, under Georges Marchais, the PCF mixed a partial acceptance of "bourgeois" democracy and individual liberties with more traditional Marxist–Leninist rhetoric. During this same period, however, the PCF—still run on democratic centralist lines—still structured itself as a revolutionary party in the Leninist sense and rejected criticism of the Soviet Union. Under Robert Hue's leadership after 1994, the PCF's ideology and internal organization underwent major changes.:174 Hue clearly rejected the Soviet model, and reserved very harsh criticism for Soviet leaders who had "rejected, for years, human rights and 'bourgeois' democracy" and had oppressed individual liberties and aspirations.:174 Today, the PCF considers the Soviet Union as a 'perversion' of the communist model and unambiguously rejects Stalinism. That being said, it has not attributed the failure of the Soviet Union as being that of communism, rather stating that the failure of Soviet socialism was the failure of one model "among others", including the capitalist or social democratic models.:176–177 It also tried to downplay the PCF's historic attachment to Moscow and the Soviet Union.:176–177
Since then, the PCF's ideology has been marked by significant ideological evolution on some topics but consistency on other issues. Some of the most marked changes have come on individual rights and immigration. After having vilified homosexuality and feminism as "the rubbish of capitalism" in the 1970s, the PCF now fully supports both gay rights and feminism.:174 In the 1980s, the PCF supported reducing the age of consent for homosexual relationships and opposed attempts to repenalize homosexuality. In 1998, the PCF voted in favour of the civil solidarity pact (PACS), civil unions including homosexual couples. The PCF currently supports both same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption. On 12 February 2013, PCF deputies voted in favour of same-sex marriage and adoption rights in the National Assembly. (However, one PCF deputy, Patrice Carvalho, voted against.) The PCF also supports feminist movements and supports policies to further promote gender equality and parity.
On the issue of immigration, the PCF's positions have also evolved significantly since the 1980s. In the 1981 presidential election, Georges Marchais ran a controversial campaign on immigration which was harshly criticized by anti-racism organizations at the time. In 1980, the PCF's leadership voted in favour of limiting immigration. The same year, Marchais supported the PCF mayor of Vitry-sur-Seine who had destroyed a home for Malian migrant workers; the PCF claimed that the right-wing government was trying to push immigrants into ghettos in Communist working-class cities. The Libération newspaper also alleged that PCF municipal administrations had been working to limit the number of immigrants in housing projects. Today, however, the PCF supports the regularization of illegal immigrants.
One consistency in the PCF's ideology has been its staunch opposition to capitalism, which must be "overcome" because, according to the PCF, the capitalist system is "exhausted" and "on the verge of collapse".:177 The PCF has interpreted the current course of globalization as a confirmation of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels's view on the future evolution of capitalism. The party feels that the financial crisis of 2007–2008 and the Great Recession have further justified its calls to overcome capitalism.:177 However, the PCF has remained somewhat vague on how capitalism will be 'overcome' and what will replace it, placing heavy emphasis on utopic models or values.:178
The text adopted at the XXXVI Congress in February 2013 reiterated the party's call on the need to "overcome" capitalism, fiercely denounced by the PCF as having led to "savage competition", "the devastation of the planet" and "barbarism". It contrasts its vision of capitalism with its proposed alternative, described as an egalitarian, humanist, and democratic alternative. It emphasizes human emancipation, the development of "each and every one", the right to happiness and the equal dignity of each human being regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. The party further posits that such an egalitarian society is impossible within capitalism, which "unleashes domination and hatred".
The French Communist Party inherited from the Jacobins the concept of France as a centralised, French-speaking, unitary state, with a unitary culture and it is opposed to the separatism and regional identity of other European minority groups native to the area of what consists the French Republic. For instance in 1984, the Soviet ethnographer Solomon Bruk (who had worked under Sergey Tolstov) published a study on France and mentioned the existence of other ethnic groups in the state such as Bretons, Corsicans, Alsatians, Basques, Catalans, Flemish and others. In response to this work, General Secretary Georges Marchais wrote a letter of protest in February 1984, complaining bitterly to the Secretariat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
France is one country, one nation, one people. We protest indignantly against such ridiculous and odious allegations. For us, as for all the citizens of our country, every man and woman of French nationality is French. Every attempt using hazardous criteria which borders on racism in an ill-defined way, seeking to define as not purely French such and such members of the French community, is offensive to the national consciousness. Nobody here can accept that, our Party least of all.— George Marchais, Letter to the Secretariat of the Communist Party of the USSR, February 1984.
The PCF has traditionally been a "mass party", although Maurice Duverger had differentiated it from other mass parties because the PCF kept a tight control over membership and regularly expelled unsuitable members. In its heyday, the PCF maintained a large base of members and the party's political and electoral actions were supported in society by a trade union, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT); a newspaper, L'Humanité; and a large number of front organizations or associations in civil society which organized a large number of political or non-political social activities for PCF members.:166 One such activity which still exists today is the annual Fête de l'Humanité organized by the L'Humanité. French and foreign left-wing parties, organizations or movements are represented and the activities feature musical performances.
Since the PCF's decline began in the 1970s, however, it has seen its membership base slowly dry up and its allied organizations disappear or distance themselves from the party. The PCF claimed 520,000 members in 1978; 330,000 in 1987; 270,000 in 1996; and 133,000 in 2002.:166 In 2008, the party claimed that it had 134,000 members of which 79,000 were up to date on their membership fees.:166 In the 2011 internal primary, 69,277 members were registered to vote and 48,631 (70.2%) did so.:166 The party likely has about 70,000 members as of today, but only about 40 to 50 thousand seem to actively participate in the party's organization and political activities.
According to studies by the CEVIPOF in 1979 and 1997, the makeup of the PCF's membership has also changed significantly since 1979. The most marked change was a major decline in the share of manual workers (ouvriers) in the party's membership, with a larger number of employees and middle-classes, especially those who work in the public sector.:175 The form of political action taken by members has also changed, with less emphasis on direct political or electoral action but a greater emphasis on social work and protests.
The party's structures were democratized at the 1994 Congress, dropping democratic centralism and allowing for the public expression of disapproval or dissent with the party line or leadership. The party's top posts, like that of 'secretary-general', were renamed (secretary-general became national-secretary). The party, since 2000, is now led by a national council, which serves as the leadership between congresses; and the executive committee, which is charged with applying the national council's decisions. The national-secretary is elected by delegates at the congress. Likewise, the national council is elected by list voting at every congress. A reform of statutes in 2001 has allowed "alternative texts" - dissent from the text proposed by the PCF leadership - to be presented and voted on; dissident lists to those backed by the leadership may also run for the national council.:170–171
The General Confederation of Labour (CGT) was dominated by the PCF after 1946, with all its leaders between 1947 and 1996 (Benoît Frachon, Alain Le Léap, Georges Séguy, Henri Krasucki, Louis Viannet) also serving in the PCF's national leadership structures. For years, the CGT and the PCF were close and almost indissociable allies - notably in May 1968 when both the CGT and PCF were eager for a restoration of social order and welcomed the Grenelle agreements. While the CGT has remained the largest trade union in France, it has taken its independence vis-à-vis the PCF. Louis Viannet spectacularly quit the national bureau of the PCF in 1996 and Bernard Thibault, the CGT's leader between 1999 and 2013, left the PCF's national council in 2001.
L'Humanité has retained closer ties with the PCF. The newspaper was founded by Jean Jaurès in 1904 as the socialist movement's mouthpiece, and it followed the communist majority following the split in 1920. After having been the official newspaper of the PCF, with a readership of up to 100,000 in 1945, the newspaper's readership and sales declined substantially partly due to the PCF's concomitant decline. In 1999, the mention of the newspaper's link to the PCF was dropped and the PCF no longer determines its editorial stance. It sold an average of 46,929 newspapers per day in 2012; down from 53,530 in 2007.
Secretaries-general (1921–1994) and national-secretaries (since 1994)
There are no formal organized factions or political groupings within the PCF. This was originally due to the practice of democratic centralism, but even after the democratization of the PCF structure after 1994 the ban on the organization of formal factions within the party remained. According to party statutes, the PCF supports the "pluralism of ideas" but the right to pluralism "may not be translated into an organizations of tendencies". Nevertheless, certain factions and groups are easily identifiable within the PCF and they are de facto expressed officially by different orientation texts or lists for leadership elections at party congresses.
Preparatory votes on 'orientation texts' for PCF Congresses since 2003
|Faction||XXXII (2003)||XXXIII (2006)||XXXIV (2008)||XXXVI (2013)||XXXVII (2016)|
|La Riposte||-||-||15.05%||10.05%||5,40 %|
At the XXXIV Congress in 2008, for the election of the national council, the majority's list won 67.73% from the congress' delegates against 16.38% for Marie-Pierre Vieu's huiste list backed by the refondateurs, 10.26% for André Gerin's orthodox list and 5.64% for Nicolas Marchand's novateur list.
Currently, the PCF retains some strength in suburban Paris, in the Nord section of the old coal mining area in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the industrial harbours of Le Havre and Dieppe, in some departments of central France, such as Allier and Cher (where a form of sharecropping existed, in addition to mining and small industrial-mining centres such as Commentry and Montceau-les-Mines), the industrial mining region of northern Meurthe-et-Moselle (Longwy) and in some cities of the south, such as the industrial areas of Marseille and nearby towns, as well as the working-class suburbs surrounding Paris (the ceinture rouge), Lyon, Saint-Étienne, Alès and Grenoble. The PCF is also strong in the Cévennes mountains, a left-wing rural anti-clerical stronghold with a strong Protestant minority.
Communist traditions in the "Red Limousin", the Pas-de-Calais, Paris proper, Nièvre, Finistère, Alpes-Maritimes and Var have been hurt significantly by demographic changes (Var, Alpes-Maritimes, Finistère), a loss of voters to the Socialist Party due to good local Socialist infrastructure or strongmen (Nièvre, Pas-de-Calais, Paris) or due to the emergence of rival parties on the radical left (the Convention for a Progressive Alternative, a party of reformist communists, in the Limousin and Val-de-Marne).
There exists isolated Communist bases in the rural anti-clerical areas of southwestern Côtes-d'Armor and northwestern Morbihan; in the industrial areas of Le Mans; in the shipbuilding cities of Saint-Nazaire, La Seyne-sur-Mer (there are no more ships built in La Seyne); and in isolated industrial centres built along the old Paris-Lyon railway (The urban core of Romilly-sur-Seine, Aube has elected a Communist general councillor since 1958).
During the course of the Twentieth Century, the French Communists were considered to be pioneers in local government, providing not only efficient street lighting and clean streets, but also public entertainment, public housing, municipal swimming pools, day nurseries, children’s playgrounds, and public lavatories. In 1976, for instance, the Communist mayor of Sarcelles, Henry Canacos, was named “best mayor in the Paris region” by Vie Publique (a trade periodical for urban planners and administrators) for enriching Sarcelles’ public spaces with new restaurants, movie theatres, cafes, more parks, a large shopping mall, and better transportation. Education also became, in the words of one text, an “identifiable characteristic of Communist government at the local level.” A study of municipal budgets that was completed in 1975 (but using data from 1968) found that while Communist local government spent 34% less than non-Communist Left governments and 36% less than moderate-Right governments for maintenance, it nevertheless spent 49% more than moderate Right governments and 36% more than non-Communist Left governments for education and educational support.
|Election year||Candidate||1st round||2nd round|
|# of overall votes||% of overall vote||# of overall votes||% of overall vote|
|1969||Jacques Duclos||4,808,285||21.27 (#3)|
|1981||Georges Marchais||4,456,922||15.35 (#4)|
|1988||André Lajoinie||2,056,261||6.76 (#5)|
|1995||Robert Hue||2,638,936||8.66 (#5)|
|2002||Robert Hue||960,480||3.37 (#11)|
|2007||Marie-George Buffet||707,268||1.93 (#7)|
|2012||Jean-Luc Mélenchon (as Left Front candidate)||3,985,089||11.10 (#4)|
|Election||Votes (first round)||Seats|
26 / 581
11 / 604
10 / 607
72 / 610
159 / 586
153 / 586
182 / 627
103 / 625
150 / 595
10 / 546
41 / 465
73 / 487
34 / 487
73 / 488
86 / 488
44 / 491
35 / 573
27 / 575
24 / 577
35 / 577
21 / 577
15 / 577
7 / 577
10 / 577
19 / 81
10 / 81
7 / 81
7 / 87
6 / 87
2 / 74
3 / 72
1 / 74
The PCF publishes the following:
Traditionally, it was also the owner of the French daily L'Humanité (Humanity), founded by Jean Jaurès. Although the newspaper is now independent, it remains close to the PCF. The paper is sustained by the annual Fête de L'Humanité festival, held in La Courneuve, a working class suburb of Paris. This event remains the biggest festival in France, with 600,000 attendees during a three-day period.
During the 1970s, the PCF registered success with the children's magazine it founded, Pif gadget.