Maurice Thorez

Maurice Thorez (French: [mɔʁis tɔʁɛz, moʁ-]; 28 April 1900 – 11 July 1964) was a French politician and longtime leader of the French Communist Party (PCF) from 1930 until his death. He also served as Deputy Prime Minister of France from 1946 to 1947.

Maurice Thorez
Maurice Thorez - VIIIe Congrès national du PCF.jpg
Maurice Thorez in 1936
National Secretary of the French Communist Party
In office
Preceded byPierre Semard
Succeeded byWaldeck Rochet
Personal details
Born(1900-04-28)28 April 1900
Noyelles-Godault, France
Died11 July 1964(1964-07-11) (aged 64)
Black Sea, Bulgaria
Political partyFrench Communist Party
Spouse(s)Jeannette Vermeersch


Thorez, born in Noyelles-Godault, Pas-de-Calais, became a coal miner at the age of 12. He joined the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) in 1919 and was imprisoned several times for his political activism. After the 1920 split in the SFIO led to the formation of the French Communist Party (PCF), Thorez became party secretary in 1923 and, in 1930, secretary-general of the Party, a position he held until his death. In wake of his own struggle with Leon Trotsky, the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin supported Thorez for PCF leadership following splits in many non-Soviet Communist parties. As the official leader, Thorez was secretly controlled by the Comintern and by the secretive Eugene Fried.[1]

In 1932 Thorez became the companion of Jeannette Vermeersch; they had three sons before marrying in 1947, and remained married until his death.

Thorez was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1932 and reelected in 1936. In 1934, following a Comintern directive, he helped form the Popular Front, an alliance between Communists, Socialists, and radical Socialists. The Front, because of strong popular support as France was reeling from the impact of the Great Depression, won the elections of 1936. With the support of the Communists under Thorez, the socialist Léon Blum became prime minister of a Popular Front government and managed to enact much of the Front's social-legislation programme. Meanwhile, Thorez presided over massive growth in the Communist Party, beginning with the elections of 1936.

World War IIEdit

Following the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 and the subsequent Soviet participation in the invasion of Poland, the Communist Party was against the French war effort and so was outlawed: the Communist Party did not support what the Nazis stood for, but did support the Soviet Union's tactical treaty with Germany in order to direct German aggression away from the U.S.S.R. and toward Britain. Its publications were banned and many Party members were interned. Thorez himself had his nationality revoked. Shortly thereafter, Thorez was drafted, but rather than fight the Germans, he deserted from the army to flee to the Soviet Union. Thorez was tried in absentia for desertion and sentenced to death.

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the French Communist Party openly declared it would violently resist the German occupation (though even before this the Communist Party organized a demonstration of thousands of students and workers against the occupation on 11 November 1940, and in May 1941 organized a strike of 100,000 miners in the Nord and Pas-de-Calais departments). During this time, articles written by and ghostwritten for Thorez appeared frequently in the party's underground newspaper, Humanité Clandestine. Each of these letters was signed 'Maurice Thorez, Somewhere in France.' It was not until several years after the war that the party admitted that this was false, and that Thorez had been in Moscow for the entire war. In his absence, the affairs of the Party and of the Party resistance movement (FTP) in France were organised by his second in command, Jacques Duclos.

When General Charles de Gaulle's Free French Forces liberated France in 1944, Thorez received a pardon. After the Liberation, Thorez was ordered by Stalin to lead the PCF immediately after the Second World War to a non-revolutionary road to power. The instructions were to have the reluctant wartime Communist partisans to surrender their weapons, while the party became a powerful force in the postwar governments since it was thought that they would soon win legally.


In November 1944, he returned to France from the Soviet Union, and in 1945 his citizenship was restored. The PCF emerged from the Second World War as the largest political party in France based on its role in the anti-Nazi resistance movement during the occupation of France, at least after 1941. He tried to make a revolution,[citation needed] after strikes that he organised, in 1948 that failed only because the post-war army was strongly for the democratic Fourth Republic. Thorez was again elected to the Chamber of Deputies and reelected throughout the Fourth Republic (1946–1958).

In powerEdit

Forming a popular front with the Socialist Party in the 1945 elections, he became vice premier of France from 1946 to 1947. During this time, the Communist members of the coalition government supported the French drive to renew colonial rule in Indochina. [2] They were supported in this regard by Joseph Stalin.[dubious ] (ibid.)

By 1947 a combination of the emerging Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and growing social conflicts in France, linked to the increasing gap between wages and prices, put the three party union (SFIO, PCF and MRP) under heavy pressure. But the crisis came with the beginnings of the colonial war in Vietnam, with the communist deputies in the Assemblée nationale voting against the communist-participating government. That incident led Premier Paul Ramadier to dismiss his Communist ministers from the government on 7 May 1947. Contrary to a very common legend, the firing of the communist ministers was not linked to U.S. pressure, as a condition for France to benefit from the coming Marshall Plan. But the parallel movements in Italy and Belgium show that Cold War resistance to Communism was rising all over Western Europe at that time. The Communists' refusal to continue support for the French colonial effort in Vietnam on one hand and a wage-freeze during a period of hyperinflation on the other were the immediate triggers to the dismissal of Thorez and his colleagues from the ruling coalition in May 1947.

In oppositionEdit

Soviet commemorative postage stamp featuring Thorez issued following his death.

Although the Communists under Thorez's leadership continued to enjoy a dedicated following among a minority of the electorate, the French democratic parties operated to isolate and marginalize them for the remainder of the regime. Following the Cominform meeting in September 1947, Thorez abandoned its cooperative attitude towards the other political forces, intending to follow the Zhdanov Doctrine. He then proved to be the most Stalinist of all communist leaders in Western Europe, blocking the change of his party. That, and the growing popular distaste for the Party, clearly appeared after de Gaulle came to power again in 1958 upon the founding of the French Fifth Republic: the Communist Party's strength in the Chamber shrank to 10 seats. However, Thorez retained his seat.

In 1950, at the height of his popularity among party members, Thorez suffered a stroke and remained in the Soviet Union for medical care until 1953. That March, Stalin died and Thorez was among the French delegation at Stalin's funeral. During his absence, the party was de facto controlled by his ally Jacques Duclos, who expelled Thorez's rival André Marty. Thorez resumed his duties upon returning to France. Although his health deteriorated, Thorez remained party leader, until shortly before his death in 1964 on a Black Sea cruise.

He published Fils du peuple (1937; Son of the People, 1938) and Une politique de grandeur française (1945; "Politics of French Greatness").

The city of Torez in Ukraine was named after him in 1964. On 12 May 2016 the Ukrainian parliament renamed the town back to Chystyakove.[3]

The Maurice Thorez Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages (Московский институт иностранных языков имени Мориса Тореза), was once named in his honor.


  1. ^ Annie Kriegel, Stéphane Courtois: Eugène Fried: Le grand secret du PCF, Seuil, 1997. ISBN 2020220504.
  2. ^ See, George Moss, Vietnam: An American Ordeal, 3rd Edition 1998, Prentice-Hall; ISBN 0-13-897083-1
  3. ^ [1]

Further readingEdit

Bulaitis, John, Maurice Thorez: A Biography, IB Tauris, 2018.

External linksEdit

Party political offices
Preceded by
Pierre Semard
Secretary General of the French Communist Party
Jacques Duclos as acting Secretary General from 1950 to 1953
Succeeded by
Waldeck Rochet
Political offices
Preceded by
Deputy Prime Minister of France
22 January – 4 May 1947
Succeeded by
Pierre-Henri Teitgen