Georges René Louis Marchais
(7 June 1920, La Hoguette in Calvados - 16 November 1997, Paris) was the
head of the French Communist
Party (PCF) from 1972 to 1994, and a candidate in the French presidential elections
of 1981 - in which he managed to garner only 15.34% of the
vote, which was considered at the time a major setback for the
Georges Marchais in 1981.
Born into a Roman Catholic
he became a mechanic, just before the beginning of WWII, with the
Société Nationale d'Étude et de Construction de Moteurs
. After the fall of
, he appears to have enrolled in Nazi Germany
to work in the Messerschmitt
aircraft manufacturing plant, as
he left for Germany before the establishment of the STO system, by
which French workers were compelled to work in German plants.
he became secretary of the metalworkers' trade union in Issy-les-Moulineaux, and advanced in the
générale du travail in his commune from 1951, becoming secretary of
the Seine Metallurgical Workers' Union Federation from 1953
He entered the Party in 1947. In 1956, he was appointed a member of
the extended Central Committee
and in 1959 a full member of it and of the Politburo
. From 1961, he was the secretary in
charge of the organization, then junior General Secretary
in 1970. He co-signed the
Common Programme with the Socialist
Party (PS) and the Movement
of Left Radicals (MRG) in June 1972. From 1973 to 1997, he
was deputy of Val de
Marne département, in Southern
In reaction to the riots of May 1968, Marchais showed his contempt
for Daniel Cohn-Bendit
him a German anarchist
In December 1972, he became General Secretary, following Waldeck Rochet
's retirement. During his
mandate, the PCF lost its place of "first left-wing party" to
Socialist Party. At the beginning, he supported reforms in his
party, which participated to Eurocommunism
and renounced the notion of a
dictatorship of the
(22nd congress, 1976). Then, faced with
electoral growing of the PS at the expense of his party, he imposed
a re-alignment on the Soviet Union at the end of the 1970s.
parties failed to update their Common Programme
the 1978 legislative
, even though they were leading in the polls. Outside
and inside the party, he was accused of being responsible for this
defeat. One year later, he supported the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan (1979), judged the Communist governments "fairly
positive", and criticized the "right-wing drift" of the Socialist
In the 1981 presidential
, he came fourth in the first round, with 15% of votes,
thereafter endorsing Mitterrand, who won the second round.
In 1984, after President Mitterrand renounced the left's Common
Programme, the PCF's ministers resigned from the cabinet. An
electoral decline ensued and Marchais faced internal dissent from
figures such as Pierre Juquin
and Charles Fiterman
. He was reserved about
. Unlike the Italian Communists
, he refused to
change the name of the French Party after the collapse of the
In 1994, at the 28th Congress of the PCF, he ceded his place as
General Secretary to Robert Hue
he maintained his titular role as a member of the Politburo - now
significantly renamed the National Office. The same year, he became
President of the PCF Comité pour la défense des libertés et
droits de l'homme en France et dans le monde
the Defense of Human Liberties and Rights in France and Throughout
the World"). He criticised the renovation of the party under his
successor. He died in 1997.
Georges Marchais was a notable personality because of his
mannerisms (Ct'un scandaaaale
— "This is a scandal!") and
brusque demeanor, often lambasted by comic Thierry Le Luron
. He is particularly
remembered for an outburst
- Taisez-vous Elkabbach ("Shut up, Elkabbach!")
to journalist Jean-Pierre
, although he never actually said this. It was said by
Pierre Douglas imitating him to Thierry
who was imitating Raymond
During his TV performances, he had an aggressive and humorous tone
with the journalists and his opponents. They stayed in the memory
of the French audience.For instance, questioned by Elkabbach and
about his economic
propositions, he answered: "you are privileged, you hold many jobs
and make good salaries (in TV, radio, papers...), probably you are
concerned by my proposition for a wealth tax, I understand why you
don't want the change!"
- Les Communistes et les Paysans - "The Communists and
- Le défi démocratique - "The Challenge of Democracy"
- La politique du PCF - "PCF Policies" (1974)
- Communistes et/ou chrétiens - "Communists and/or
- Parlons franchement - "Let's Be Frank" (1977)
- Réponses - "Answers" (1977)
- L'espoir au présent - "Hope in the Present"
- Démocratie - "Democracy" (1990)
- Brown, Bernard (1974). Protest in Paris: Anatomy of a
Revolt. Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.
- Brown, Bernard (1982). Socialism of a Different Kind:
Reshaping the Left in France. New York: Greenwood Press.
- Duby, George and Philippe Aries
(1991). A History of Private Life. Cambridge, Mass:
Harvard University Press.
- Lane, A Thomas (1995). Biographical Dictionary of European
Labor Leaders. Two volumes. Westport: Greenwood Press.
- Penniman, Howard (1988). France at the Polls, 1981 and
1986. Durham: Duke University Press.
- Wilsford, David (1995). Political Leaders of Contemporary
Western Europe. Westport: Greenwood Press.