Academic journal article German Policy Studies

After the Deluge: The French Communist Party after the End of Communism

Academic journal article German Policy Studies

After the Deluge: The French Communist Party after the End of Communism

Article excerpt

Abstract

Although economic problems and political developments in the late 1970s and early 1980s had already started to sap its political import and erode its electoral support, since the fall of state socialism in 1989 the French Communist Party (PCF) has found itself in an even more severe identity crisis. Much of its decline can be traced to its inability to effectively define itself ideologically and its corresponding inability to formulate an attractive and relevant set of policy positions. This article presents an overview of the historical evolution of the PCF from its zenith of political relevance to its recent delicine, paying special attention to the PCF's attempt in the face of political oblivion to delineate distinctive and effective political strategies and political programs.

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Communist political parties have faced unusual difficulties in establishing identities and distinctive political programs and agendas in the aftermath of communism's collapse in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Even before this great revolution, economic problems and political developments had discredited the Marxist-Leninist ideology. It was that ideology that gave focus and distinction to Communist parties whether they exercised power in countries that they dominated or sought it in competitive western democracies and unstable developing countries (Wilson, 1993). Communism no longer appeared as a sustainable option to capitalism; Leninism and Stalinism could not compete as attractive or viable alternatives to western-style democracy (Rose et al, 1998). Faced with political oblivion, Communist parties have hunted for new ways to define themselves for voters and political leaders.

Nowhere has this quest for a new identity and program been as difficult and as fruitless as in France. The French Communist party (PCF) was once among the top two or three competitors for power in that country and among the largest and most important Communist party outside the Soviet bloc. It now struggles to elect enough deputies to the National Assembly to qualify for its own parliamentary group. Once a major force in local politics, it tottered on the brink of irrelevance in the 2001 municipal elections. Much of this decline comes from the loss of its ideology and its inability to formulate an attractive alternative dogma and policies. This article will examine the PCF's efforts to delineate a distinctive and effective political program and strategy.

Programs and Parties in the New Century

It is not just Communist parties that have struggled to retain distinctive identities in recent years. The decline of ideology that began soon after World War II as intellectuals and citizens reacted against the extremes that ideologies had produced in the 1930s and 1940s (Bell, 1960). Political ideologies that offered all-explaining, rational, and revolutionary solutions to society's problems lost favor to more pragmatic politics based on meliorating policies achieved through muddling through. This trend away from comprehensive and millenarian ideologies affected Communist parties in and out of power. The decline of ideological fervor and conviction contributed to the spread of corruption in Communist countries. In democratic countries, Communist parties found their ideologies to be obstacles to broadening their electoral appeal. There, competing parties carried little ideological baggage and relied less and less on clearly defined party programs.

The tendency to move away from ideologies or even clear party programs continued through the 1970s and 1980s as democratic parties sought to maximize their electoral appeal. In the past fifteen years, political parties in established democracies have undergone significant transformation in their basic organization, strategies, and tactics (Katz and Mair, 1995). These changes have reflected new cultural values and attitudes, political changes, socioeconomic alterations, and changes in the terms competition facing these parties and their societies. …

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