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Thorez, Maurice (1900–1964)

French politician and leader of the French Communist Party (PCF) during 1930–1964. Born in Noyelle-Godault in the Pas-de-Calais region of northern France, the son of an impoverished coal miner, on 28 April 1900, Maurice Thorez attended only a few years of primary school before he became a coal miner at age twelve. He joined the PCF in 1920, became a local party secretary in 1923, and rose to secretary-general of the party in July 1930. He would lead the PCF until his death in 1964, taking a staunchly Stalinist line and resisting the currents of reform associated with Eurocommunism in Italy and other European countries.

Thorez was elected to the French Chamber of Deputies in 1932 and served until 1939. In 1934, he abandoned the class-against-class strategy of the 1920s and adopted a new policy of cooperation with the socialists, a shift that culminated in communist support for the Popular Front government of Léon Blum following the legislative elections of 1936. The key objectives of the policy shift were to block the spread of fascism to France and to support the Soviet Union internationally.

With the conclusion of the nonaggression pact of 23 August 1939 between Germany and the Soviet Union and the outbreak of World War II barely a week later, the PCF adopted a new political line dictated by the Comintern that denounced the war as a clash of rival imperialisms. Thorez was mobilized into the French Army but, on Comintern orders, deserted and made his way to Moscow, leaving Jacques Duclos in charge of the party. Thorez remained in Moscow until November 1944, even as the PCF, following the June 1941 German attack on the Soviet Union, emerged as a leading force in the French Resistance.

After the French liberation in August 1944, Thorez was once more elected to the French Chamber of Deputies and served as minister and deputy prime minister in the tripartite (communist-socialist–Christian Democratic) governments of November 1945–November 1947. With the establishment of the Cominform in September 1947, Soviet leader Josef Stalin effectively compelled the PCF once more to turn sharply to the Left. Thorez subsequently confessed that the PCF had erred in cooperating with other political forces, and he mobilized the party to combat French participation in the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

In December 1950, Thorez suffered a stroke and went to Moscow for treatment. He returned to France in April 1953, following the death of Stalin the previous month. Thorez strongly resisted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's de-Stalinization campaign when it was launched in late 1956, not least because Thorez himself had established a personality cult patterned after Stalin's that went back to his 1937 fictionalized autobiography Fils du Peuple (Son of the People).

Thorez strongly opposed General Charles de Gaulle's return to power in May 1958, calling for unity with the socialists that paved the way for the union of the Left in the 1980s. Throughout Thorez's tenure, the electoral base of the PCF remained remarkably constant. The party received 28.6 percent of the vote in the national elections of 1946, 25.6 percent in 1951, and 25.7 percent in 1956. This support fell to 18.9 percent in 1958, following de Gaulle's return to power, but rebounded to 21.7 percent in 1962. Thorez died on 12 July 1964 while en route to a vacation at a dacha on the Soviet Black Sea coast.

John Van Oudenaren

Further Reading
Tiersky, Ronald. French Communism, 1920–1972. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974.

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