Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> France
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 336-338
FRANCE: The Party System in 1950-1957 and 1958-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Following the expulsion of the German invaders in World War II, General Charles de Gaulle led a provisional government of France until he resigned in 1946 over the shape of the new French government. The Constitution creating the Fourth Republic was adopted by referendum in October 1946. Governmental power was centered in the National Assembly, with a prime minister dependent on majority support in parliament. As feared by de Gaulle and others, multiparty politics, along with structural features in the Constitution, resulted in considerable cabinet instability and frequent change of governments throughout the life of the Fourth Republic

Five major political parties, some minor ones, and many "independents" were represented in parliament throughout the life of the Fourth Republic, which extended throughout the first half of our time period. From left to right, the major parties are usually identified as the Communist (PCF), Socialist (SFIO), Radical, Socialist, Popular Republican Movement (MRP), and Gaullists organized first into the Rally of the French People (RPF) and then the Union for the New Republic (UNR). None of these parties ever claimed a majority in the Assembly during the Fourth Republic, and maneuvers to establish governing coalitions occurred among the non-Communist centrist parties acting to exclude from government the Communists, who consistently constituted one of the largest blocs of deputies. The non-Communist parties could not agree among and within themselves enough to offset the permanent opposition of the large and well-disciplined Communist bloc, which voted against all governments and most policies. The result was governmental paralysis, often referred to as "immobilisme." For a time during the Fourth Republic, de Gaulle attempted to exercise political leadership through his own party, the RPF, whose mission, like that of the Communists, was to oppose the government. But the Gaullist purpose was to create conditions conducive to governmental reform and strong executive leadership. When the strategy failed to achieve its purposes, de Gaulle quit the leadership of the RPF and retired from party politics, leaving the country to its just deserts.

The political situation deteriorated to the point of virtual collapse. Faced with threat of an army coup d'état, the government resigned in late May 1958, and de Gaulle was called from retirement to serve as premier in June. By September, he won a referendum on his Constitution for the Fifth Republic. The new government invested strong powers in a president elected by an electoral college. Deputies pledged to de Gaulle were organized into the UNR and won the largest bloc of seats in the November elections, while the Communists, disadvantaged by the electoral system, emerged as the smallest of the major parties in the Assembly. The Fifth Republic brought an era of government stability in stark contrast to the instability of the Fourth Republic. De Gaulle was elected president and Michel Debré was appointed prime minister. Debré lasted until his resignation in April 1962, when he was succeeded by George S. Pompidou. Pompidou lost a vote of confidence in October 1962, but the subsequent elections gave the Gaullists an absolute majority in the Assembly and Pompidou was reappointed prime minister. Our period closes with France governed by a strong president backed by a party in control of the legislature--a far different situation from the beginning of the period.

Continuity and Change since 1962

France displayed more volatility in its party politics since 1950 than most Western nations. Of the five French parties that qualified for the original study, only three continued to participate vigorously in electoral politics in subsequent elections. Another has staggered from election to election into oblivion. The other has faded from public view more silently, but many of its activists have returned under one of the two new parties that have met the study's criteria of strength and stability for party activity since 1962.

Original Parties, Terminated

111 Popular Republican Movement. Electoral fortunes of the MRP declined steadily from 1946 to 1962, the last year it visibly participated in elections. It is not possible to fix an exact date of passing, but we regard it as terminating around 1967, when the party urged its embers to join the Center Democrats in contesting elections (Keesing's Contemporary Archives, September 7-14,1968, p. 22898).

112 Radical Socialist Party. It can be argued that e Radical Party did not terminate, for there was still a Radical headquarters in Paris after its stated demise rears 1977, p. 79). But survival of the party name does of indicate survival of the party, and the Radical Party the 1950s must be regarded as different from the Radical parties of the late 1960s. A venerable centrist party in the Third and Fourth Republic that is still strong in many local governments, the Radicals declined parliamentary strength under the Fifth Republic and 1965 joined with the Socialists in a Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left (FGDS). Some Radicals rejected this alliance with socialism, however, and ran instead as Democratic Center candidates in the 1967 and 1968 elections. The split of the Radicals into left and center-right parties was further defined in 1972, with the formation of the Movement of Left Radicals (MRG), which supported the common program of the Socialist and Communist parties (McInnes 1977, p. 19). With "Radical" candidates on both sides of opposing alliances in all the parliamentary elections since 1967, the reality of the situation requires acknowledging the demise of the "old" Radical Party in 1967, although its passing was not certified until the split of 1972.

Original Parties, Continuing

113 Socialist Party. Originally the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO), the party was reorganized in 1969 and renamed simply the Socialist Party. Although it joined with Radicals in 1965 in an alliance called the Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left (FGDS), which changed to the Union of the Socialist and Democratic Left (UGSD) in 1972, the Socialist Party maintained its identity throughout our time period.

114 Gaullist Party. As in the 1950-1962 period, the Gaullists functioned under several names. In late 1962, they acquired the support of the Democratic Union of Labor (UDT) and became known as the UNR-UDT. In 1967, the party was reorganized under Georges Pompidou, de Gaulle's prime minister, as the Union of Democrats for the Fifth Republic (UDVe) to contest the 1967 parliamentary election. After the disorders of May 1968 and in preparation for the June elections, they emerged as the Union for the Defense of the Republic (UDR). While still known as the UDR for the 1973 elections, the Gaullists joined with two other parties in an electoral alliance called the Union of Republicans for Progress (URP). Proving that keeping the UDR label for two elections was not habit-forming, the Gaullists were reorganized by Jacques Chirac in 1976 as the Rally for the Republic (RPR). In view of this bewildering sequence of name changes, we are fortunate that the "Gaullists" survived de Gaulle's death, for the term greatly simplifies reference to the party, if not its ideology.

115 Communist Party. Unlike the more pragmatic Italian Communist Party, the French Communist Party retained its hard-line, Stalinist character, even defending the 1968 Soviet suppression of the democratizing tendencies in Czechoslovakia. [Editor's note: Reference to the French Communist Party as a continuing party was inexplicably omitted from the 1980 book; so this paragraph is new on the electronic version.]

New Parties, Continuing

116 Democratic Center. The Democratic Center (CD) was formed in 1966 by Jean Lecanuet to contest the 1967 parliamentary elections. Its victorious CD deputies formed a parliamentary group called Progress and Modern Democracy (PDM), and the party contested the 1968 elections as the Center for Progress and Modern Democracy, using the label Centre-PDM. Joined by a few Radicals, the party contested the 1973 election as the Reform Movement (MR). Then in 1976, Lecanuet's group of Center Democrats was rejoined by a group of former CD deputies who had bolted to the government majority as the Center for Democracy and Progress (CDP). This reunion resulted in the Center of Social Democrats (CDS). Lecanuet was president of CDS, which was composed of many old MRP activists but virtually no former Radical allies from the Reform Movement (Frears 1977, pp. 75-76). However, the Radicals and the CNIP, along with the Giscardien Republican Party (PR), joined Lecanuet's group again in 1978 in a new version of their 1966 Democratic Center. The new group, with Lecanuet once more as president, was called the Union for French Democracy (UDF) and welcomed non-Gaullist majority candidates in the 1978 elections. The UDF alliance with Lecanuet as president was formalized in March as a federation of its constituent parties (Keesings Contemporary Archives, November 24, 1978 p. 29327). Because such coalitions have led short lives in the past, we view the UDF as an alliance rather than a new party, but time may prove us wrong.

117 Republican Party. The Republican Party is regarded as originating in 1966 as the Independent Republicans (RI). The RI descended from the loose association of independents called CNIP (National Center of Independents and Peasants), which was formed in 1948 but functioned more as a parliamentary group than as a political party. Giscard d'Estaing, one of the leading figures in the CNIP, organized some members into a political party (the National Federation of Independent Republicans, FNRI) in June 1966. Although Giscard d'Estaing technically severed his affiliation with FNRI in 1974 after being elected to the presidency (Political Handbook of the World, 1978, p. 167), the party was still known as "Giscardien" (Frears 1977, p. 60). In 1977, the FNRI was joined by smaller pro-Giscard groups to form the Republican Party (PR), which is an electoral alliance with the CDS and a group of Radicals, forming the Union for French Democracy (UDF) as a common designation for non-Gaullist majority candidates. Although this alliance was formalized in March as a federation of constituent parties, the PR is regarded as having preserved its identity.


Thus, the three strongest parties from our original study remained strong in 1979, holding the. same general positions as in the 1960s. The Gaullist Party, though having lost strength, was still the largest single party in the assembly. The Socialist and Communist continued to divide the leftist vote almost evenly but both with larger shares. Opposed to the growing leftist opposition was a center-right "majority" bloc of Gaullists, Republicans, and the Democratic Center (the latter two groups were allied in the Union for French Democracy). Despite the confusing changes of party names primarily in the center and on the right and the procession of electoral alliances on both the left and the right, some important continuities can be found in French party politics amidst the considerable changes.

1. Our study of party politics in France is based on a file of 2,844 pages from 92 documents, all of which are in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Judith Newsome Gillespie, Jean Jacobsohn, and Marcelino Miyares. The MRP was coded by Carol Ostheimer, David Leibowitz, Barbara Seeder, and Kenneth Janda. The Radical Socialist Party was coded by Maurice Farbstein, Phillip Lentz, Gregory Kenzewski, and Janda. Farbstein also coded the SFIO, aided by Laurie Etkin and Tony Bianchi. Seeder, Paula Harris, Ronnie Glasner, and Janda coded the Gaullists. Farbstein coded the Communist Party. Kay Lawson was our consultant.