Becoming and staying a “red town” in the Paris banlieue

By Emmanuel Bellanger

The French Communist Party is even today connected to the subversive imaginary of an essentially working-class and revolutionary ‘red banlieue’. This imaginary took root in the years following the creation of the French Section of the Communist International (SFIC). Its epicentre was the Paris banlieue, the home of industrialisation, the working class and radical political experiments. Beginning in 1920, the red banlieue became the place where militant engagement was tested, recognised and legitimised. However, for the adversaries of communism, these emblematic areas of communist activity were viewed as desolate areas of political separatism. The emblem of a counter-society underpinned by a ‘bastion culture’ that rejected ‘the reformist illusion’ and ‘municipal cretinism’, the red town was nevertheless, from its origins, a space for confronting and adjusting to reality. To better grasp this tension inherent to holding responsibility and exercising local power, this paper focuses on one matrix of French communism: its municipal matrix, which has never been theorised or totally accepted, but which allows the French Communist Party, even in 2020, to claim a support system that is highly fragmented, battered but still active in certain Paris suburbs.

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