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The French Section of the Workers' International (Section Française de l'Internationale Ouvrière, SFIO), founded in 1905, was a French socialist political party, designed as the local section of the Second International (i.e. the Workers' International). After the 1917 October Revolution, it split up (during the 1920 Tours Congress) into two groups, the majority creating the Section française de l'Internationale communiste (SFIC), which became the French Communist Party (PCF).

Following the first unification of the French socialist movements in 1901, the French Socialist Party and the Socialist Party of France united during the 1905 Globe Congress in Paris, which followed the 1904 Amsterdam Congress of the Second International. The 1905 Globe Congress thus united the Marxist tendency represented by Jules Guesde with the social-democrat tendency represented by Jean Jaurès. The "party of the workers' movement" was born, and continued existing until 1969, when it was replaced by the current Socialist Partymarker (PS). The SFIO was led by Jules Guesde, Jean Jaurès - who quickly became its most influential figure, Edouard Vaillant and Paul Lafargue. It opposed itself to colonialism and to militarism, although following Jean Jaurès' assassination on 31 July 1914, four days before Germany's declaration of war to France, it abandoned its anti-militarist views and, as the whole of the Second International, replaced its internationalism conceptions about class struggle with patriotism, by supporting the National Union government (Union nationale). After the war, this was regarded as a major failure of the socialist movement and explains, in part, the split of the Tours Congress. Jaurès' ashes would be transferred to the Panthéonmarker in 1924, while his assassin, Raoul Villain, who was judged but acquitted in 1919, would later be executed by the Spanish Republicans in 1936.

Before the 1905 unification

After the failure of the Paris Commune (1871), French socialism was severely weakened. Its leaders died or were exiled. In 1879, during the Marseille Congress, workers' associations created the Federation of the Socialist Workers of France (FTSF). However, three years later, Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue (the son-in-law of Karl Marx) left the federation, which they considered too moderate, and founded the French Workers' Party (POF). The FTSF, led by Paul Brousse, was defined as "possibilist" because it advocated gradual reforms, whereas the POF promoted Marxism.

In the same time, Edouard Vaillant and the heirs of Louis Auguste Blanqui founded the Central Revolutionary Committee (CRC), which represented the French revolutionary tradition.

In the 1880s, the Socialists knew their first electoral success, winning control of some municipalities. Jean Allemane and some FTSF members criticized the focus on electoral goals. In 1890, they created the Revolutionary Socialist Workers' Party (POSR). Their main objective was to win power through the tactic of the "general strike". Besides these groups, some politicians declared themselves as independent socialists outside of the political parties. They tended to have moderate opinions.

In the 1890s, the Dreyfus Affair caused debate in the Socialist movement. For Jules Guesde, the Socialists should not intervene in an internal conflict of the bourgeoisie. In Jean Jaurès's opinion, the Socialist movement was a part of the Republican movement and needed to take part in the struggle in ordrer to defend Republican values. In 1899, another debate polarised the Socialist groups regarding the participation of Alexandre Millerand in Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau's cabinet, which included the Marquis de Gallifet, best know for having directed the bloody repression during the Paris Commune. Furthemore, the participation in a "bourgeois government" sparked a controversy pitting Jules Guesde against Jean Jaurès. In 1902, Guesde and Vaillant founded the Socialist Party of France, while Jaurès, Allemane and the possibilists formed the French Socialist Party. In 1905, during the Globe Congress, under pressure from the Second International, the two groups merged into the "French Section of the Workers' International" (SFIO).

From the 1905 unification to the 1920 Tours Congress split

The new SFIO party was hemmed in between the middle class liberals of the Radical Party and the revolutionary syndicalists who dominated the trade unions. Indeed, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) proclaimed its independence from political parties at this time and the non-distinction between political and professional aims. Furthemore, some elects refused to join the SFIO, which considered as not enough reformist. They created the Republican-Socialist Party (PRS). Besides, contrary to the other European socialist parties, the SFIO was a decentralized organization. Its national executive institutions were weakened by the strong autonomy of its elects and its local levels. Consequently, the function of secretary general, held by Louis Dubreuilh until 1918, was essentially administrative and the real political leader was Jean Jaurès, president of the parliamentary group and director of the party paper L'Humanité.

If, contrary to the PRS, the SFIO members did not participate to Bolck of Lefts's governments, they supported a part of its policy, notably the installation of the laïcité based on the 1905 Act of separation between Church and State. However, they criticized the ferocious repression of strikes by Radical Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau after 1906, in spite of the creation of the Ministry of Labour, held by the PRS leader René Viviani.

During the July 1914 international crisis, the party is divided between its belonging to the Socialist International and the wave of patriotism which surged on the country. The assassination of Jaurès, on 31 July 1914, beheaded the pacifist wing of the party and contributed to the rally to the wartime government of national unity. The governmental participation during the World War I caused divisions which accentuated after 1917. Furthemore, internal disagreements appeared about the 1917 October Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

In 1919 the anti-war socialists were heavily defeated in elections by the Bloc national (National Bloc) coalition which had played on the middle-classes' fear of Bolshevism (posters with a Bolshevik with a knife between his teeth were used to discredit the socialist movement). The Bloc national won 70% of the seats, making the Chambre bleue horizon ("Blue Horizon Chamber").

On 25 December 1920, during the Tours Congress, the majority of SFIO members voted to join the Third International (Comintern), created by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 October Revolution. Led by Boris Souvarine and Ludovic Frossard, they created the French Section of the Communist International (SFIC). Another smaller group also accepted the membership to the Comintern, but not all 21 conditions, while the minority, led by Léon Blum and the majority of the elected socialists members, decided to "keep the old house" (in Blum's words) and remain within the Second International. Marcel Sembat, Léon Blum and Albert Thomas refused to align themselves with Moscow. Paul Faure became secretary general of the SFIO Socialist Party but its most influential figure was Léon Blum, leader of the parliamentary group and director of the new party paper Le Populaire. Indeed, the previous party paper L'Humanité was under the control of SFIC Communist Party's founders. Ludovic Frossard would resign from the SFIC and rejoined the SFIO in January 1923.

One year after the Tours Congress, the CGT trade union made the same split - those who became communists created the United General Confederation of Labour (CGTU), which fused again with the CGT in 1936 during the Popular Front government. Léon Jouhaux was CGT's main leader until 1947 and the new split leading to the creation of the reformist Workers' Force (CGT-FO).

From the 1920 Tours Congress to the Popular Front

In 1924 and in 1932, the Socialists joined with the Radicals in the Cartel des Gauches coalition. They supported the government led by Radical Edouard Herriot (1924-1926 and 1932), but they didn't participate.

The first Cartel saw the right-wing terrorized, and capital flight destabilized the government, while the divided Radicals didn't all support their socialist allies. The monetary crisis, also due to the refusal of Germany to pay the reparations, caused parliamentary instability. Edouard Herriot, Paul Painlevé and Aristide Briand would succeeded each other as president of the Council until 1926, when the right-wing came back to power with Raymond Poincaré. The newly elected communist deputies also opposed the first Cartel, refusing to support "bourgeois" governments.

The second Cartel acceded to power in 1932, but this time, the SFIO only gave their support without the participation of the Radicals, which allied themselves with right-wing radicals. After years of internal feuds the reformist (or right) wing of the party, lead by Marcel Déat and Pierre Renaudel, split from the SFIO in November 1933 to form a neosocialist movement, and merged with the PRS in the Socialist Republican Union (USR). The Cartel was again the victim of parliamentary instability, while various scandals led to the 6 February 1934 riots organized by far-right leagues. Radical Edouard Daladier resigned on the next day, handing out the power to conservative Gaston Doumergue. It was the first time during the Third Republic (1871-1940) that a government had to resign because of street pressure.

Following the 6 February 1934 crisis, which the whole of the socialist movement saw as a fascist conspiracy to overthrow the Republic, a goal pursued by the royalist Action Française and other far-right leagues, anti-fascist organizations were created. The French Communist Party (PCF), supported by the Comintern's abandoning of the "social-fascism" directives in favor of "united front" directives, got closer to the SFIO, the USR and the Radical Party, to form the coalition that would win the 1936 elections and bring about the Popular Front. In June 1934, Leon Trotsky proposed the "French Turn" into the SFIO, which is where the entrism strategy takes its origins from. The trotskyist Communist League's (the French section of the International Left Opposition) leaders were divided over the issue of entering the SFIO: Raymond Molinier was the most supportive of Trotsky's proposal, while Pierre Naville was opposed to it and Pierre Frank remained ambivalent. The League finally voted to dissolve into the SFIO in August 1934, where they formed the Bolshevik-Leninist Group (Groupe Bolchevik-Leniniste, GBL). At the Mulhousemarker party congress of June 1935, the Trotskyists led a campaign to prevent the United Front from expanding into a "Popular Front," which would include the middle-class Radical Party.

However, the Popular Front strategy was adopted and, in the 1936 election, the coalition became majority and, for the first time, the SFIO obtained more votes and seats than the Radical Party. In this, Léon Blum became France's first socialist president of the Council in 1936, while the PCF supported - without participation - his government. A general strike applauded the socialists' victory, while Marceau Pivert cried "Tout est possible!" ("Everything is possible!"). Pivert would later split and create the Workers and Peasants' Socialist Party (PSOP); historian Daniel Guérin was also a member of the latter. Trotsky advised the GBL to break with the SFIO, leading to a confused departure by the Trotskyists from the Socialist Party in early 1936, which drew only about six hundred people from the party. The 1936 Matignon Accords set up collective bargaining, and removed all obstacles to union organization. The terms included a blanket 7-12 percent wage increase, and allowed for paid vacation (2 weeks) and a 40-hour work week — the eight-hour day had been established following the 1914-18 war of attrition and its mobilization of industrial capacities.

Within a year, however, Blum's government collapsed over economic policy (as during the Cartel des gauches, capital flight was an issue, giving rise to the so-called "myth of the 200 hundreds families") in the context of the Great Depression, and also over the issue of the Spanish Civil War. The demoralised left fell apart and was unable to resist the collapse of the Third Republic after the military defeat of 1940 (during World War II).

World War II

A number of SFIO members were part of the Vichy 80 who refused to vote extraordinary powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain in July 1940, following which the latter proclaimed the Révolution nationale reactionary program and the establishment of the Vichy regime. Although a minority engaged in Collaborationism an important part also took part in the Resistance. Pierre Fourcaud created with Félix Gouin the Brutus Network, in which Gaston Defferre, later mayor of Marseilles for years, participated, along with Daniel Mayer. In 1942-43, Pétain's regime judged the Third Republic by organizing a public trial, the Riom Trial, of personalities accused of having "caused" the defeat of France. Those included Léon Blum, the Radical-Socialist Edouard Daladier, the conservatives Paul Reynaud and Georges Mandel, etc.

At the same time, Marcel Déat and some neosocialists who had split from the SFIO in 1933, participated to the Vichy regime and supported Pétain's policy of collaboration. Paul Faure, secretary general of the SFIO from 1920 to 1940, approved of this policy too. He was excluded from the party when it was reconstituted in 1944.

Under the Fourth Republic

After the liberation of France in 1944, while the PCF became the largest left-wing party, the project to create a Labour party rallying the non-Communist Resistance failed in due to the disagreements opposing notably the Socialists and the Christian-Democrats about laïcité, and the conflict with Charles de Gaulle about the new organization of the institutions (parliamentary system or presidential government). The SFIO re-emerged and participated in the Three-parties alliance with the PCF and the Christian-Democrats (Popular Republican Movement, MRP) under the leadership of de Gaulle, President of the provisional government. This coalition led the social policy inspired by National Council of Resistance's programme, installing the main elements of the French welfare state, nationalizing banks and some industrial companies. In Spring 1946, the SFIO reluctantly supported the constitutional plans of the Communist Party. They were rejected by referendum. The party supported the second proposal, prepared with the PCF and the MRP, and it was approved in October 1946.

However, the coalition split in May 1947. Because of the Cold War, the Communist ministers were excluded from the cabinet led by Socialist Paul Ramadier. Anti-communism prevented the left from forming a united front. The Communists had taken control of the CGT trade union. This was relatively weakened by the 1948 creation of a social-democratic trade union Workers' Force (FO), which was supported by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. This split was led by former CGT secretary general Léon Jouhaux, who was granted the Nobel peace prize three years later. Teachers' union (Federation for National Education, FEN) chosen to gain autonomy towards the two confederations in order to conserve its unity. But Socialist syndicalists took the control of the FEN, which became the main training groud of the SFIO party.

A Third Force coalition was constituted by center-right and center-left parties, including the SFIO, in order to block the opposition of the Communists on the one hand, and of the Gaullists on the other. Besides, in spite of Léon Blum's support, the party leader Daniel Mayer was defeated in aid of Guy Mollet. If the new secretary general was supported by the left-wing of the party, he was very hostile to any form of alliance with the PCF. He said "the Communist Party is not on the Left but in the East". At the beginning of the 1950s, the disagreements with its governmental partners about denominational schools and the colonial problem explained a more critical attitude of the SFIO membership. In 1954, the party was deeply divided about the European Defense Community. Against the instructions of the party lead, the half of the parliamentary group voted against the project, and contributed to its failure.

Progressivly, the Algerian War of Independence became the major issue of the political debate. During the 1956 legislative campaign, the party took part in the Republican Front, a center-left coalition led by Radical Pierre Mendès-France, who advocated a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Guy Mollet took the lead of the cabinet but led a very repressive policy. After the 13 May 1958 crisis, he supported the return of Charles de Gaulle and the establishment of the Fifth Republic.

Moreover, the SFIO was divided about the repressive policy of Guy Mollet in Algeriamarker and his support to De Gaulle's return. If the party returned in opposition in 1959, it couldn't prevent the constitution of another Unified Socialist Party (Parti socialiste unifié or PSU) in 1960, joined the next year by Pierre Mendès-France, whom was trying to anchor the Radical party in the left-wing and opposed the colonial wars.

The Fifth Republic

The SFIO received its lowest vote in the 1960s. It was discredited by the contradictory policies of its leaders during the Fourth Republic. Youth and the intellectual circles preferred the PSU while the majority of workers considered the PCF as its spokesperson. The Fifth Republic's Constitution had been tailored by Charles de Gaulle to satisfy his needs, and his Gaullist movement managed to gather enough people from the left and the right to govern without the other parties' help.

Furthermore, the SFIO hesitated between allying with the non-Gaullist center-right (as advocated by Gaston Defferre) and reconciliation with the Communists. Guy Mollet refused to choose. The SFIO supported François Mitterrand to the 1965 presidential election although he was not a member of the party. The SFIO and the Radicals then created the Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left (Fédération de la gauche démocrate et socialiste or FGDS), a center-left coalition led by François Mitterrand. But it split after May 1968 and the electoral disaster of June 1968.

Gaston Defferre was the SFIO candidate in the 1969 presidential election. He was eliminated in the first round with only 5% of votes. One month later, at the Issy-les-Moulineaux Congress, the SFIO was refounded as the current Socialist Partymarker. Guy Mollet passed on the leadership to Alain Savary.

In West Africa

The SFIO suffered a split in Senegalmarker in 1934 as Lamine Guèye broke away and formed the Senegalese Socialist Party (PSS). However as the Senegalese Popular Front committee as formed, PSS and the SFIO branch cooperated. In 1937 a joint list of SFIO and PSS won the municipal elections in Saint-Louismarker. Maître Vidal became mayor of the town. The congress of PSS held 4 June-5 June 1938 decided to reunify with SFIO. Following that decision, a 11 June-12 June 1938 a congress of the new federation of SFIO was held in Thièsmarker.

In 1948 Léopold Sédar Senghor broke away from the Senegalese federation of SFIO, and formed the Senegalese Democratic Bloc (BDS). During the 1951 National Assembly election campaign, violence broke out between BDS and SFIO activists. In the end BDS won both seats allocated to Senegal.

In 1956 another SFIO splinter group appeared in Senegal, the Socialist Movement of the Senegalese Union.

In 1957 the history of SFIO in West Africa came to an end. The federations of SFIO in Cameroonmarker, Chadmarker, the Congo-Brazzavillemarker, French Sudan (Malimarker), Gabonmarker, Guineamarker, Nigermarker, Oubangui-Charimarker {Central African Republicmarker), and Senegalmarker; the meeting was held in Conakrymarker from 11 January to 13 January 1957. At that meeting it was decided that the African federations would break with its French parent organisation and form the African Socialist Movement (MSA), an independent Pan-African party. The Senegalesemarker section of MSA was the Senegalese Party of Socialist Action (PSAS), and it was led by Lamine Guèye. The first meeting of the leading committee of MSA met in Dakarmarker from 9 February to 10 February the same year. Two SFIO delegates attended the session.

Election results


  1. Zuccarelli, François. La vie politique sénégalaise (1789-1940). Paris: CHEAM, 1988.
  2. Nzouankeu, Jacques Mariel. Les partis politiques sénégalais. Dakar: Editions Clairafrique, 1984.

See also

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