Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

34ème Congrès du Parti communiste français: New Leader Pierre Laurent.

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Pierre Laurent has been elected as the National Secretary of the Parti communiste français on Sunday the  20 June with 80,7 % of the vote. He replaces Marie-George Buffet (here). The Communists call for a  “pacte d’union populaire” and will continue to back the Front de Gauche (here).

Laurent is said to be a “pure product of the party-apparatus”. He is an ex-Editor of l’Humanité.  He came to public attention in the recent regional elections as head of the list in the Ile-de-France. This was achieved only after an internal fight with the ‘refounder’  (the party’s opposition) Patrick Braouezec – who has since left the PCF (a decision covered on this Blog).

Laurant has lost no time in announcing his backing for the strategy of the Front de Gauche. This got 6% of the vote in the regional elections earlier this year. However without a first-round agreement with the Parti Socialiste the Communists went from 178 councillors to 95. The party now has around 134, 000 members – a figure which signals a continuing slow but steady decline.

In 1946 the PCF had 28,2% of the vote and sent 183 deputies to the National Assembly. In 1969 the General Secretary Jacques Duclos still got 21,3%. After the break up of the Union de la Gauche and in the late 1970s the Communists still had 15,3% in 1981. But since then the PCF score has not ceased to drop, Robert Hue (now the leader of a micro-independent organisation) had 3,3% in 2002. The nadir (to date)  was the result obtained by Marie-George Buffet in 2007 1,9%

Critics (such as Braouezec) allege that the PCF has not been able to open itself up to new forms of struggle or discover a new reference point – to replace the ‘model’ of the USSR. It is true that history weighs heavily on the PCF. It was totally enamoured with the Soviet Union. Its record from the 1930s to the 1950s is thoroughly tainted.  It was intolerant of all opposition, and was organised by on  the most pyramidal forms of  democratic centralism. However ‘openess’ is a harder issue to gauge. 1968 is said to have been the key turning point towards decline. That the Party effectively suffocated the May Revolt, particularly by its hostility towards the student movement. This ignores the he PCF’s brief second breath during the period of the Programme Commun – 1972 – 1978 (PCF details here). Its real problems came when Mitterrand became President in 1981, and the period of the Union de la Gauche (a government coalition Parti Socialiste, with the PCF as the junior partner along with the phantom  party, the Left radicals). The PCF was systematically outmanoeuvered,  and lost all sense of direction.

To grasp how off-beam a general critique of the PCF’s hostility towards its left opponents during the 1968 events is  Louis Althusser (L’Avenir dure longtemps 1992) offers some suggestions. He distinguished  between the ‘gauchists’ (leftists) of the period and the ‘extreme-gauche’. That is, the mixture of spontaneists, Maoists and followers of a galaxy of fashionable gurus (Foucault, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Gauttari and Deleuze – though the latter two had a more serious committment to the left), and the non-Communist  left – from the Ligue Communiste Rèvolutionnaire (LCR – now the Nouveau parti anti-capitaliste) to the self-management current. The extreme-left, Althusser stated, was ‘part of the workers’ movement’, the gauchists were not. This is not to deny that many of their theorists were interesting and important,. But politically, as the episode of the nouvelle philosophie demonstrated, they were not really of the left. The present position of many of them  – pro-market liberal-libertarians (Daniel Cohen-Bendit), ‘anti-totalitarians’ (that is, pro-NATO and supporters of ‘humantiarian intervention’ who demonstrate how right the Marxist philosopher was. That the PCF now cooperates with Trotskyists in the Front de Gauche equally indicates his good judgement.

There is no doubt that  long agony of the PCF accelerated after the collapse of Official Communism.  I recall visiting Le Havre in the late 1990s and there was still a vibrant (in appearance) Communist municipality. But in an interview with the PCF Town Hall aides one could almost physically feel the sense of impending loss. The film Petites Coupures (2003) centres on  the ebbing faith of Party cadre. It this feeling of great sadness that crept gradually throughout the membership that accounts for its terrible indecision and hesitation.

There is a host of reasons to be wary of the PCF. But one should never forget their moment of eternal glory. The film L’Armée du Crime (2009) is a dramatisation of the events that led to the Affiche Rouge. This is a famous poster (shown in the clip posted here of Le Chant des Partisans) of  the first ‘terrorists’ who fought the German occupation in Paris. These were ‘immigrants’, Ashkenazi Jews, Anti-Fascist Spaniards and Italians, and Armenians. All were caught.

After having been tortured for three months, the 23 were tried by a German military court. In an effort to discredit the Resistance, the authorities invited French celebrities (from the world of the cinema and other arts) to attend the trial and encouraged the media to give it the widest coverage possible. The Manouchian Group’s members were executed before a firing squad in Fort Mont-Valérien on February 21, 1944. The woman, Olga Bancic, who had served the group as a messenger, was taken to Stuttgart, where she was beheaded with an axe on May 10, 1944.


The film shows their very real actions – of spectacular  courage, and imagines a scenario of their personal lives. The director Robert Guéduguian wished to show the profound courage and decency of these members of FTP-MOI (PCF-led resistance).

I agree – I am sick to death of all the (once merited but long outdated) attempts to show the sordid side of French life under the Occupation. We need the ‘legend’. But there is the reality. There is incredible violence, not least in scenes of torture carried out by the Gestapo and their French collaborators. Ethical issues get raised. The Resistance figures refuse to attack a Bistro where German soldiers consort with French women. Unlike certain modern terrorists who would no doubt find an added bonus in killing ‘slags’. The film has real moments of pure beauty. As Guéduguian says, after his capture and facing impending death, one of the resistors announces, ” I refuse to hate the German people.”

Never forget that for all the rest the PCF has this inheritance.

And this:


Written by Andrew Coates

June 20, 2010 at 12:08 pm

13 Responses

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  1. There was a good article in Libe on Friday on the four major strands in the PCF- this is just a bit of it http://www.liberation.fr/politiques/0101642052-parti-communiste-la-maison-glose

    Pete Shield

    June 21, 2010 at 10:41 am

  2. Pete wish there were more in the Libé extract.

    I buy a copy of Le Monde about three-four times a week but they don’t sell Libé here.

    I do prefer reading the stuff in print.

    Andrew Coates

    June 21, 2010 at 11:54 am

  3. Hold on- I will go and get the hard copy out of the recycling and knock together an abridged English version- anything but actually do the work I am suppose to be doing- filling in Ecocert forms.

    Pete Shield

    June 21, 2010 at 12:39 pm

  4. Right this is really paraphrasing and adding my own bits.

    In essence there is four major tendencies within the PCF right now.

    1.The leadership faction represented by Marie-George Buffet and her dauphin Pierre Laurent. There strategy is based around building the Front du Gauche(The alliance with the PdG of Melenchon and the Gauche Unitaire of Christian Piquet) by reaching out and including more social movements and broadening out what is at the moment an electoral alliance into an active Broad Left .

    9 days before the Congres there was a meeting with the FdG partners to discuss a ‘programme partage” for the 2012 Presidentials. What has been avoided so far is to decide the candidate, Melechon is already to go for it, but within the PCF there is talk of either the Director of L’huma, Patrick Le Hyaric or the Deputy for Puy-de-Dome, Andre Chassaigne. One potential Party candidate that isn’t been talked about is Alain Bocquet, Deputy for the Nord- who is very clearly associated with the “identitaire” faction (see below). What is not on the acrds is to change the name of the Party, as Patrick Le Hyaris said, “There is no purpose in being refered to as the ex-communists”.

    2. Le Refondateurs.
    Most of this lot, around Braouezec, Jacqueline Fraysse and the historian Roger Martelli didn’t bother to fight their corner at Congres. Around 200 of communistes “unitaire” resigned last week saying that the party was essentially unreformable. (I read this as meaning that they knew that they would lose any vote in Congres as their common platform is based on what they don’t like rather than on a possible alternative- many are already grouped around La Fede and will end up working with the PCF if they want to be re-elected)

    3. Les Identitaires
    Basically the older fashioned comrades from the North- they see the dilution of the Party electoral front into the FdG as party of a long term liquidationist trend. They believe that the Party needs to go back to its roots and stand alone and militant. They want a PCF candidate to stand alone in 2012. “We are becoming a part of the PS” claims the Deputy of the Rhone, Andre Gerin. MEP and ex Maire of Calais Jacky Henin, who was elected under the banner of the FdG says that in the case of a Left victory in 2012 the PCF should not automatically join the Government”.

    4. The ex-Huistyes
    Based around Robert Hue, ex National Secretary of the PCF who has since departed into oblivion.
    This lot think that the FdG is a waste of time, and that the PCF shouldn’t bother trying to get the Left of the Left under one banner but should build a new Union of the Left with the PS and Europe Ecologie. The think that the Rainbow Alliance government of Jospin, which brought the Greens the PS and the PCF together is the most realistic possibility for the Left.

    In Congres the Hueists and the Identitaires found themselves voting together against the FdG strategy of the leadership. “Its strange to see those with nostalgia for Jospin going with those with nostalgia for Stalin” mused Marie-Pierre Vieu, an old collaborator of Hue who is now a supporter of the FdG strategy.

    Pete Shield

    June 21, 2010 at 1:34 pm

  5. Pete with that grasp of factional detail you should be writing for the Weekly Worker!

    Which, btw, I highly recommend as a genuinely Marxist paper open to debates – the real stuff.

    I have written for them – the most recent is on David Harvey https://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2010/04/24/david-harveys-%e2%80%98a-companion-to-marx%e2%80%99s-capital%e2%80%99-a-review/

    Andrew Coates

    June 22, 2010 at 9:21 am

  6. In Cahiers Leon Trotsky Volume 23 of septembre 1985 there are a few article on Manouchian.One by Pierre Broue the editor and the other by Rene Revol.Though these might be of interest

    Jim Monaghan

    June 22, 2010 at 3:40 pm

  7. Well that Libe take on the factions in the PCF.

    In reality its a lot less clear cut than that, but its a good place to start.

    You wouldn’t get me near the Weekly Worker,I had enough of Toy Town Trots in the student movement in the late 80s.

    At least we have industrial quality Trots here in France that are a pleasure to work with, just as long as you wear earplugs after they have had a drink or two.

    Pete Shield

    June 22, 2010 at 5:17 pm

  8. Here’s Alain K’s take on it (For French readers)

    Pete Shield

    June 22, 2010 at 5:23 pm

  9. […] On French Stalinism yesterday and today. […]

    Poumnation « Poumista

    June 27, 2010 at 7:53 am

  10. A Great Party
    with a Great History

    The Paris rising against the Nazi’s
    The Resistance Movement

    we have much to be proud of

    Michael Walker

    June 28, 2010 at 12:57 am

  11. […] Stalinism: I have already linked to this piece by Andrew Coates on the new leader of the French Communist Party, but I did so very flippantly and want to re-link with a recommendation to read it. The post comes […]

  12. The Communist French Party is unfortunatly almost dead. Let’s hope Pierre Laurent will do a good job and bring it back (I doubt it is possible though…).
    Great article anyway.

    Les dauphins

    August 11, 2010 at 1:17 am

  13. Les Dauphins, with a membership of just under 100,000, over 10,000 elected members the PCF may be a ghost of its past but it is still 20 times stronger than the entire left of Labour in the UK.

    Pete Shield

    August 11, 2010 at 10:26 am

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