Arrested when the PCF was outlawed at the beginning of World War II, Rochet was imprisoned first in France and then in Algiers. Freed following the Allied North African landings, he represented the PCF in the London headquarters of the Free French. Resuming his previous party posts in late 1944, in 1950 he became a full member of the PCF Politburo. He also represented the Saône-et-Loire in the two constituent assemblies and the National Assembly during 1946–1956 and in the Department of the Seine from 1956.
In 1961 Rochet became deputy general secretary of the PCF and in 1964 its general secretary. Attempting a new course for the party, he led the PCF into the Union de la Gauche (Union of the Left). The high point of this alliance was his decision to support Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left (FGDS) candidate François Mitterrand in the second round of the 1965 presidential elections.
Rochet also experienced tense relations with Moscow, culminating in 1968 when the PCF publicly expressed its disapproval of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. He then came under heavy pressure from both his more rigid colleagues and Moscow. His health deteriorated, and he was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's disease. By 1969 he could no longer function as leader of the PCF but won reelection the next year with Georges Marchais as his deputy and heir apparent. In 1972 Marchais succeeded Rochet, who was elevated to the post of honorary president. Rochet died in Paris on 15 February 1983.
Maud Bracke and Spencer C. Tucker
Fejto, Francis. The French Communist Party and the Crisis of International Communism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1967.; Vigreux, Jean. Waldeck Rochet: Une biographie politique. Paris: La Dispute, 2000.