For several decades, the PCF collected between a fifth and a quarter of the votes cast, going so far as to exceed 500,000 members in the late 1970s. In the last parliamentary election, it had to make do with a very modest 2.7%. and he announces today just over 50,000 contributors…
Despite appearances, the PCF’s strength was not primarily due to its being a cohesive, centralized and hierarchical party. Like the social democracies of northern and northwestern Europe, it was at the center of a remarkable galaxy of organizations of all types. The Communists controlled the organizations of the first French trade union, the CGT, and headed a myriad of associations created by its hand or existing before it. To this must be added a network of municipalities, the number of which increased to almost 1,500, and which formed the framework of this “municipal communism” that colored the territories of the “red suburbs” in such an original way.
more than a party
Basically Communism was a party and it was not only that. It is this characteristic that has founded its utility. Thanks to her, he was able to “represent” the working class and have the workers’ dignity recognized in the public sphere, especially through his network of leaders and elected officials coming directly from the world of industrial and agricultural work.
By this impregnation and by using the Soviet myth – the myth, not the reality… – he succeeded in giving substance to the old popular hope in the bright future, that of the “holy equality” of the sans-culottes and the “social” of the labor movement. He was thus the focal point of a more radical Keynesian left, which offered the working classes, while they awaited the great social revolution, a perspective that guaranteed them dignity and protection of their status, at the same time as the redistribution of part of the wealth. .
As long as the PCF trusted its “galaxy” to be all of these, its influence remained strong. But he did not understand quickly enough that developed societies were moving towards different balances than those of the second industrial revolution. He thus remained fixed on an old representation of the people and the working world, and more generally he did not perceive this upheaval which, in thirty years, from 1945 to 1975, changed French society at least as much as in the previous century and a half.
Loss of utility
Let us add to this that the reality of Sovietism and its inability to transform itself punished the CP’s ability to embody the paths to another possible future. In the end, he ends up being a victim of the very thing that made him strong. As long as the Socialist Party stubbornly rejected the Communists’ agreement proposals, the PCF appeared in the eyes of millions of French people as the best unifier of a left that the institutions of the Fifth Republic limited to the minority. But when François Mitterrand’s PS decided to accept this union in 1972, he was the one who benefited. It seemed more credible, more interclass, more open to new aspirations for individual autonomy and to so-called “societal” questions. He was very left – hadn’t he signed a very ambitious program of social transformations? – and seemed less stuck in the past.
The PCF gradually lost its prestige. The workers recognized him so much that they saw in him a tool to assert their rights. When this utility was no longer so evident, they turned away from him. Thus, in the absence of sufficiently early and daring renewal, the communist leaders locked themselves into the position of timid heirs to an exceptional legacy.
The strength of French Communism was to be a party and not just a party. Being no more than one partisan organization among others, when it ceased to identify itself with the new faces of the people, it lost its originality and its usefulness. So he withered away.