Date of Award

Fall 8-2009

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International studies

Committee Director

Peter Schulman

Committee Member

Stephen Foster

Committee Member

Steve A. Yetiv

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.I45 V55 2009


The French Communist Party (PCF) played an instrumental role in giving a voice to a segment of the population that was otherwise poorly represented in democracy. This paper attempts to illustrate the origins of communism in France by drawing on French history to connect a unique and separate branch of thought, beginning with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. From Rousseau's ideals on the evil of private property and his disdain for the rule of law being merely a tool to support the existing ruling class, through the Jacobins of the French Revolution, and continued by the French Socialists of the Nineteenth Century, it can be proven that communism had a uniquely French character. The PCF was more an outgrowth of this sustained intellectual development than it was a tool of the Soviet Union.

This squares with the performance and actions of the PCF in the greatest historical epochs of existence, the era between the World Wars. During the interwar phase, the PCF was singularly most responsible for the achievement of the Matignon Agreements-the cornerstone of the French social model even today. Furthermore, the PCF consistently worked for the unity of the left in the face of the rising tide of fascism, correctly understanding the menace of German aggression when others did not, and found a leader in Maurice Thorez who was able to command respect, even from Joseph Stalin.

During World War II, it was the PCF that provided the impetus for French Resistance and performed that role extremely effectively. The party established itself not as a party of revolution, but rather a party of French nationalism. In doing so, it helped erode class discrepancies and perhaps was most responsible for the liberation of Paris and other territories. The decline of the PCF is also noted, for its inability to overcome differences in both the political left and the labor unions so as to effect consolidation thereof resulted in it abandoning a traditional lesson of French politics-the necessity of compromise. Consequently, the PCF signed the Cominform and ceased to embody what it did at its height.


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