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The decline of the French Communist Party: the Party education system as a brake to change 1945-1990

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

The decline of the French Communist Party (PCF) was a key feature in French politics in the 1980s, one which was analysed in a number of scholarly studies. These focused on the four established contributory causes, i.e. the transformation of socio-economic structures in France since the late 1960s; institutional factors (presidentialism and bipolarisation); the rise of the French Socialist Party since 1974; and the sharp deterioration of the Soviet image in French public opinion. Although these studies were also in unanimous agreement that, to a large extent, the party leadership with its orthodox regime and intransigent practices must bear responsibility for the Party’s failure to adapt, they failed to offer any explanation and analysis of the reasons or mechanisms behind the leadership’s motives and behaviour and therefore gave an incomplete picture of tire decline. The novelty of the approach adopted in this study is that, whilst not denying the importance of the other contributory factors, it focuses primarily on elements which enabled the party leadership to sustain its immobilism in the face of changes which were taking place in the Party’s social, institutional, political and international environment. Thus, by focusing on the internal dynamics of the PCF, this investigation shows how, by the skilful utilisation of the Party s organisational principle of democratic centralism, and by the methodical use of its political training system, the leadership ensured the availability of ideologically sound cadres who would perpetuate the conservative outlook of their superiors. It is asserted that the communist political training system therefore formed one of the most important institutions for the perpetuation of the private and all embracing world of French Communism. We also argue that the Party’s political education system that had begun to mould leaders in the Stalinist era, became, in the hands of orthodox and intransigent leaders, a significant brake to change and a further manifestation of the PCF’s conservatism and inflexibility. Consequently, the question of how the PCF trained its cadres is fundamental to the understanding of the Party’s evolution and its eventual decline.
Original languageEnglish
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    Award dateJul 2000

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