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Historical Dictionary

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THOREZ, MAURICE (1900–1964)

Maurice Thorez was the most important 20th-century leader of the French Communist Party (FCP) and a supporter of the Vietnamese nationalist cause. The son of a miner, Thorez joined the FCP at its beginnings in 1920. Thanks to his political acumen and strict adherence to the internationalist communist line enunciated by Joseph Stalin, Thorez rose rapidly within the FCP. Between 1930 and 1964, he served as the party’s general secretary. Towards the end of World War II, when the FCP emerged as one of the dominant parties in French politics, Thorez returned to France from exile in the Soviet Union and served as minister and deputy prime minister in several coalition governments between 1945 and 1947. It was also during a brief period when Léon Blum led a transitory all-socialist government (and Thorez was not in government) that the French went to war with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), led by another communist, Ho Chi Minh. That Thorez was favorable to the independence aspirations of the Vietnamese communists and supported them, there can be no doubt, as Alain Ruscio has shown. However, Thorez’s attitude towards the Vietnamese communists at the outset of the Indochina War was complicated by the FCP’s success in French national politics. At the head of a political party that in one of the 1946 elections became the largest in France, Thorez did not want to undermine the FCP’s chances of eventually leading the government by presiding over the liquidation of the French Empire, something which he feared his nationalist opponents on the right and center could use effectively against the communists. Thorez made this point of view perfectly clear on several occasions, even to the Gaullist high commissioner for Indochina in 1946, Admiral Georges Thierry d’Argenlieu. Just after the outbreak of war in December 1946, Thorez made sure that the communist members in the National Assembly voted in favor of a motion of sympathy for French soldiers. The FCP also did not seek to prevent the transfer of funds from one part of the budget to another in order to finance the war. Later in 1947, however, Thorez’s party directed members to abstain from voting the military credits for the war against the DRV. However, those communists who held ministerial portfolios (including Thorez) voted in favor of the credits, and against their conscience, in order not to let the Indochina War break “ministerial solidarity”. That said, the failure of the FCP to fully support the war in Indochina contributed greatly to the crisis that forced the communists to leave the coalition government in May 1947. The FCP’s policy on Vietnam changed from that point as it overcame its reticence and began condemning the sale guerre. When meeting with a Soviet representative in Switzerland in September 1947, Ho Chi Minh’s diplomat at large, Pham Ngoc Thach, criticized Thorez’s failure to be of greater help to Vietnamese communists now engaged in a full-scale war. See also JACQUES DUCLOS; DISSOLUTION OF INDOCHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY.