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Centenary of communism in China means little to Europe’s far left

Despite plans for big celebrations this summer to mark 100 years of the Chinese Communist Party, Beijing does not expect guests from communist parties in Switzerland, France and Britain to attend. Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

China’s celebrations for the centenary of its Communist Party are in full swing. In Switzerland, France and Britain, however, the far left keeps a wary distance from Beijing.

Swiss Communists will not be flying to Beijing this summer as they once did to Moscow. While the authorities in China are going into overdrive for a year-long commemoration of the party’s first national congress in 1921, the far left in Switzerland is keeping its distance.

“The China that operates a market economy and an expansionist policy is far from reflecting the aspirations of the Workers’ and People’s Party in my canton”, is how Julien Gressot puts it. He is a municipal councillor in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a small city in Western Switzerland.

Of the ten existing cantonal sections of the Swiss far-left party, known by its French initials POP, the one in canton Neuchâtel is the most active. In the mountains of Neuchâtel, this successor of the Swiss Communist Party – which was suppressed by the federal government in 1940 – is currently increasing its membership.

In canton Neuchâtel, the POP has about 350 supporters. Its membership has been increasing since 2019, with the prominence of the feminist and pro-climate movements. At the national level, the POP – also known as the Swiss Labour Party (PST-POP) – has between 1,000 and 1,200 members. In canton Vaud, the party has also been increasing its scope over the past two years.

Julien Gressot.
Julien Gressot, a Workers’ and People’s Party (POP) local councillor in the western Swiss city of La Chaux-de-Fonds.

“That was unheard of in the previous 12 years”, says the secretariat of the local section. The same goes for German-speaking Switzerland: in Basel, a section of the POP was revived two years ago.

An inspiration to the left

For historian Pierre Jeanneret, who has written about the workers’ movement, the POP had already experienced a new surge when some of its members abandoned their “slavish following of Moscow’s line”. He notes the importance of the “Popiste” from canton Vaud, Josef Zisyadis, in Switzerland in the 1990s and early 2000s.

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This politician, who had a seat in the House of Representatives, was highly visible and vocal. Jeanneret notes that the Popistes with their initiatives manage to prick the conscience of the entire left. “The idea of establishing a minimum wage came from the ranks of the POP. Today, the party advocates for people on the fringe of social prosperity – supermarket cashiers, sales assistants, people working in restaurants, etc.”

Faithful friendship

In Britain, the Communist Party (CP), which has also been celebrating its hundredth birthday, says it remains faithful to old friendships – but with a few reservations.

“In the past, we always acted in solidarity with the Chinese people opposing foreign domination. But troubling differences arose in the course of the 1960s and 1970s on how to look towards the future”, says the current CP secretary, Robert Griffiths. “In Britain, we find that capitalism has stifled progress as regards the environment, culture and politics. China meanwhile has turned to the economy as a way of eliminating its mass poverty.”

une foule
People cheer for Chinese President Xi Jinping during a Communist Party parade in Beijing in 2019. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

The CP increased its membership in 2020, as it was able to siphon off people from the British Labour Party, which has been going through a bad patch following the 2019 elections. Born of a fusion of Marxist and socialist movements in 1920, the CP has just over a thousand members in the whole of England, Scotland and Wales. “We had a 30% increase in membership since our last congress in 2018”, points out Griffiths.

This Communist Party still upholds one immutable doctrine: “Workers of the wo

rld, unite!” In the post-Brexit era, members of the CP aspire to a society in which production, distribution and exchange are planned for the welfare of all. This programme requires “revolutionary transformation of society and the end of capitalism”.

Attached to an ideal

The French Communist Party (PCF) is also celebrating its hundredth birthday. In December 1920 in Tours, the congress of the French section of the Workers’ International joined the Communist International (Comintern), and then a year later founded the PCF.

“We are a hundred years old because we have remained faithful to our ideal”, the party‘s national secretary, Fabien Roussel, recently declared in an interview with the newspaper Libération. “We are still revolutionary and anti-capitalist, while respecting the democratic process.”

These latter-day “Reds” also proclaim themselves to be “green” in view of the current climate crisis. They have not a word to waste on the festivities planned in Beijing.

Translated from French by Terence MacNamee. Edited by Virginie Mangin

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