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Historical Dictionary

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FRENCH COMMUNIST PARTY

Created in 1920 during the Congress of Tours, the French Communist Party (FCP) was one of the rare political groups to support Vietnamese anti-colonialism during the interwar period. That support continued after World War II, but it was marred by the FCP’s reluctance to jeopardize its majority position in the postwar French coalition government and the potential chance to lead it by supporting too overtly the independence cause of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). In November 1946, the FCP became the biggest political party in France, winning 28 percent of the vote and electing 170 deputies to the National Assembly. This made it a major partner in the coalition government led by a socialist. Support for the DRV was ambiguous. On 22 March 1947, when President Paul Ramadier asked for a vote of confidence on approving money for the Indochina War, communist deputies were absent and the communist ministers voted with the government. Even the communist representative to the Cominindo, Charles Tillon, remained taciturn during the coalition period, as was another influential communist, Henri Lozeray. In 1946–1947, supporting French national unity trumped communist internationalism and anti-colonialism. French conservatives even thanked their leftist counterparts and the Soviet Union for not interfering in the war in Indochina in early 1947.

The party’s policy on Vietnam changed when it entered into the opposition in May 1947. However, doubts remained between the FCP and their Vietnamese communist counterparts. Certain French communist leaders questioned Ho Chi Minh’s decision to dissolve the Indochinese Communist Party in November 1945, while the Vietnamese complained privately of the FCP’s lack of support for a brother party and the anti-colonial struggle. As Pham Ngoc Thach explained to a Soviet diplomat in Switzerland in September 1947, the FCP had provided little tangible help to the Vietnamese communist movement. From early 1949, as the Cold War intensified in Europe, the FCP organized its first mass campaign in France against the sale guerre or dirty war in Indochina and, with the support of the Confédération Générale du Travail, launched worker’s strikes demanding “peace in Vietnam” and “bringing home the Expeditionary Corps”. This mobilization opened the way for increased worker agitation, including the refusal of dockers in 1950 to load war material on to ships in Marseilles, Dunkirk, La Rochelle, and elsewhere en route to Indochina. The party also launched an effective, highly public campaign to free Henri Martin, arrested by the French security services for his role in the docker strikes of 1950. External factors also explain the increase in French communist support for the Vietnamese. Moscow and Beijing’s decision to recognize the DRV in January 1950 aligned the communist bloc squarely behind the DRV.

Upon his return from a visit to DRV areas in northern Vietnam, the FCP emissary Léopold Figuères reported favourably on the Vietnamese communist movement, its struggle for national liberation, and its ideological reliability. While the Chinese took the lead in assisting the Vietnamese communists, the FCP immediately sent two ranking delegates to help the DRV in propaganda and proselytizing overtures towards French troops in the Expeditionary Corps. The first was named André, who adopted the Vietnamese name Le Chinh and became a secretary of a party provincial committee. The second was comrade Roland who took the Vietnamese name Lang but left Vietnam soon thereafter, allegedly unable to adjust to the harsh living conditions. André was none other than Jean Marrane. Upon the latter’s suggestion, the DRV began releasing prisoners as part of a wider strategy to influence French public opinion positively by stressing “peace and repatriation” of the soldiers. Marrane also helped the DRV to target better enemy French soldiers in their proselytizing and propaganda missions. Elsewhere in Indochina the FCP had little real influence, neither in the army nor in the Groupe culturel marxiste that operated in Saigon between 1945 and 1950. It was in France where the FCP played the leading mobilizing role in turning public opinion against the Indochina War, casting it as a “shameful” event rather than a heroic one. See also BOUDAREL AFFAIR; GEORGES BOUDAREL; INTELLECTUALS; MYTH OF WAR; SECTION FRANÇAISE DE L’INTERNATIONALE OUVRIÈRE.