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La fête de l'Humanité

The history of a paper, a festival and a party

Article published on the 2008-09-05 Latest update 2008-09-16 11:45 TU

L'Humanité 18 March 1907, with illustration by Steilen.(Source: L'Humanité)

L'Humanité 18 March 1907, with illustration by Steilen.
(Source: L'Humanité)

The first-ever Fête de l'Humanité was in 1930 and, since then, it has become a nationally-known event attended by thousands. The festival owes its success to the role of the Communist Party in French 20th century history and the name-recognition of its paper, founded by legendary socialist leader Jean Jaurès. The history of party and paper are inextricably linked.

1904: The giant of French socialism, Jean Jaurès, MP and brilliant orator, founds l'Humanité as the voice of one of the many socialist groups at the time.

Jean Jaurès

Jean Jaurès

1905: France's socialists unite in the Section Française de l'internationale ouvrière (SFIO), the French section of the Socialist Internati

onal established in the previous century by Karl Marx, Freidrich Engels and Ferdinand Lassalle.

1911: L'Humanité becomes the official organ of the SFIO.

1914: Jaurès is assassinated by nationalist Raoul Villain in central Paris. World War I breaks out, splitting the international socialist movement between those who opposed the war and those who supported, and sometimes joined, their own countries' governments. L'Humanité's editor Pierre Renaudel imposes a pro-war line.

1917-1918: Revolution in Russia; the war ends. Marcel Cachin becomes editor of L'Humanité.

1920: The national conference of the SFIO votes to become the French section of the newly-established Communist International (Comintern). L'Humanité becomes the new party's paper. A minority of members keep the SFIO going.

1921: Against a background of industrial unrest, party leaders are arrested on conspiracy charges. L'Humanité's circulation rises to 200,000.

1923: The party agitates against the French occupation of the German industrial region, the Ruhr, leading to raids on l'Humanité's office and arrests of many of its leaders and members.

1924: L'Humanité's editor Boris Souvarine is expelled from the Comintern, and therefore the party, at the start of the international purge of Trotskyists.

1927: Following Comintern orders, the party adopts the "class against class" line, declaring the Socialists to be "social-fascists" and refusing to co-operate with other parties.

1930: First Fête de l'Humanité in the town of Bezons.

L'Humanité announces the 1936 general strike

L'Humanité announces the 1936 general strike

1934: Again following Comintern orders, the party adopts the "popular front" line of alliances with socialists and other parties that it decides are "progressive".

1936: Socialists, Radicals and Communists adopt a common programme on which to fight the general election, which leads to the election of the Popular Front government. The Communists refuse to join the government but support it in parliament. Massive strikes and factory occupations force major concessions from employers.

1939: The Soviet Union signs a non-aggression agreement with Nazi Germany, known as the Hitler-Stalin pact. The French government bans l'Humanité for supporting the pact. World War II breaks out.

1940: Germany occupies France. Communist lawyer Robert Foissin applies for l'Humanité to become legal. The application is unsuccessful.

1941: Germany ends the pact and invades the Soviet Union. The Communist Party enters the resistance, losing thousands of members to deportations and executions. L'Humanité produces 383 illegal editions. Several of its journalists are executed by the occupying forces.

1943: Comintern is dissolved at Stalin's behest and the party becomes the Parti Communiste Français.

1944: Insurrection in Paris. L'Humanité appears legally again. Liberation of France.

1944-1947: Communist ministers join several coalition governments.

1947: Strike wave. As the Cold War starts, Communist ministers expelled from the government. L'Humanité denounces the Marshall plan and French acceptance of US aid.

1953: Death of Stalin.

1954: Fall of Dien Bien Phu signals the defeat of France in Vietnam. Algerian revolt against colonial rule begins.

1956: The Fête de l'Humanité moves to the Bois de Vincennes on the Paris city boundary. Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev gives a secret speech, which is soon leaked, to the Soviet Communist Party's conference denouncing the "personality cult" around Stalin and promising change. The French party follows suit.

PCF deputies vote for special powers for Socialist Prime Minister Guy Mollet who promises to pursue a more liberal line in Algeria but, in fact, increases anti-nationalist repression. The party responde by coming out in public support for the Algerian National Liberation Front and conducting sabotage inside the French army.

1960-65: The Fête de l'Humanité moves to La Courneuve.

1966-70: The Fête de l'Humanité returns to the Bois de Vincennes.

A poster denounces the end of the May 68 general strike

A poster denounces the end of the May 68 general strike

1968: Student revolt erupts in Paris and spreads to the rest of the country. Workers join the "events" in the biggest general strike in the country's history. L'Humanité carries an article by party number two Georges Marchais headlined “false revolutionaries who need to be unmasked", referring to student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit as the "German anarchist". After a government-brokered deal with the employers' federation, the Communist-led CGT union calls off the strike to widespread indignation by the rank and file.

1971: The Fête de l'Humanité returns to La Courneuve.

1972: The PCF signs a common programme with the Socialist Party

1976: The PCF annual conference drops references to the "dictatorship of the proletariat", as part of a turn away from uncritical support for the Soviet Union and towards the Eurocommunist trend.

1978: The PCF abandons the common programme with the Socialists.

1981: Georges Marchais receives 15 per cent of votes in the presidential election, compared to a high-point of 21 per cent for Jacques Duclos in 1969. Socialist François Mitterrand is elected president and forms a government which the Communists join.

1984: Communist ministers leave the government, citing its increasingly rigorous economic policy as the reason.

1984-89: The party's share in elections declines to seven per cent in the European elections.  

1989: Berlin Wall falls.

1991: Ukrainians vote for independence in a referendum. Soviet Union is dissolved and replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States.

2004: The PCF takes part in the foundation of the European Left Party, prompting protests from the anti-EU wing.

2007: Marie-George Buffet wins 707,327 votes (1.93 per cent) in the first round of the presidential election.