On January 25, the newspaper of the French Communist Party (PCF), L’Humanité, declared it could no longer pay its bills and requested bankruptcy protection. Although the paper itself is small—its circulation has declined to 32,000 daily readers from 400,000 in its heyday in the 1940s—its travails suggest an irony of history. L’Humanité has gone bankrupt at the moment of France’s greatest wave of popular protest since 1968: the “yellow vest” movement, whose participants have pointedly excluded all parties and figures, including those of the left. The financial bankruptcy of L’Humanité perfectly represents the political bankruptcy of the French left.
L’Humanité has been the voice of the PCF throughout its history, officially from 1920, unofficially since being granted nominal independence in 1999. It has reflected not only the party line but the party’s health. Some of the paper’s problems are related to the general drop-off in newspaper sales and advertisement, a situation as grave in France as it is in the United States. But the paper’s decline has been a long one, and it is closely tied to the virtual disappearance of the PCF as a force in French politics.
Jean Jaurès, the preeminent socialist leader of his day, founded L’Huma, as the paper is familiarly known, in 1904. With it he sought to unify the fissiparous socialist movement in France, writing in the paper’s founding editorial on April 18, 1904: “For us, revolutionary socialists and reformist socialists are above all socialists.” L’Humanité, as he envisioned it, would be “in constant communion with the entire working-class movement,” which, Jaurès insisted, “has no need of lies, half-truths, tendentious information, garbled news, or calumnies.”
These pious wishes did not long outlive Jaurès, who was assassinated on July 31, 1914, by a right-wing fanatic as he, the paper, and a broader alliance of European socialists campaigned to prevent the outbreak of war. Starting in 1920, when the French Section of the Workers’ International voted to join the Communist International, L’Huma
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