The present-day Socialist Party was born in Epinay in 1971 (or, arguably, Issy in 1969), and the PS’s ancestor, the SFIO, a socialist party with a penchant for Marxism, was born in 1905. The SFIO was the biggest party of the socialist left for most of the Third Republic and then the largest left-wing party in the Fourth Republic’s Troisieme Force, but still weaker electorally than the independent PCF. The SFIO actually didn’t form many governments during the Fourth Republic: most governments were MRP, CNIP, or Radical- more moderate parties that could win confidence votes. It did, however, form the government from 1956 to 1957 under Guy Mollet (SFIO), making it the longest Fourth Republic government, just over 400 days in power. That was in the midst of the Algerian conflict.
Mollet’s hard-line platform in government to the Algerian crisis was far from popular within his own party. In fact, Mollet was elected in 1956 on a platform to end the war, which he called stupid, and give Algeria its independence. That is, until he received tomatoes in his face in Algers from pieds-noir and until the Assembly couldn’t provide him a majority on a liberal line of action. He adopted a hard-line and pro-war platform in government. In 1958, the SFIO under his leadership supported the return to power of Charles de Gaulle and the new Republic. Those to the left of the SFIO formed the Autonomous Socialist Party (PSA) in 1958 and then the Unified Socialist Party (PSU) in 1960. By the early ’60s, the SFIO had lost 80% of its 1945 members, and under the Mollet leadership, the SFIO was reduced to a minor party.
The PSU was neither a social democratic party nor a far-left Trot party. It sought to occupy the middle ground between socialism (SFIO) and communism (PCF). The party, composed mostly of anti-colonialist socialists, was split into two factions: revolutionaries and reformists. The party was joined by Pierre Mendès France, member of the Radical Party who rejected the Fifth Republic. During the 1968 crisis, the PSU supported the student movement, unlike the SFIO and PCF. From there, the PSU turned into an anti-establishment and autogestionary party, and it refused to sign the Common Programme. Ironically, the PSU had always proned the Union of the Left. With Epinay, the PSU became a fringe party next to the united left, and numerous left to join the PS, such as Michel Rocard, who was formerly the leader of the PSU. The Trot faction joined the LCR or ultra-fringe Maoist and Marxist parties (PCMLF). The PSU participated in the Mauroy government with Huguette Bouchardeau. This participation was unpopular in PSU ranks and the reformists became a minority at the 1984 Bourges Congress. The party dissolved in 1989, with members joining various red-green parties (AREV), anti-globalization thingees (CAP), or even the Greenies.
Electorally, the party polled an average of 2 or 3% of the votes. In 1962, it won 2.33% and 2 seats (Finistere, Seine); in 1967 it won 2.26% and 4 seats (Ardennes, Cotes-du-Nord, Finistere, and Isere [with Mendes-France]). In 1968, despite polling its highest vote share ever, 3.94%, it lost all seats. One must note, however, that the PSU ran much more candidates in 1968 than it did in 1967 (321 in 1968 vs. 117 in 1967). In fact, PSU candidates won an average of 4,234 votes in 1967, but only 2,723 votes in 1968. In the 32 constituencies where the party had obtained over 10% in 1967, the PSU lost in 24 of those and gained in only 8 of those. In 1973, it won 3.3% and Yves Le Foll (Cotes-du-Nord) was the only PSU to retrieve his seat. Le Foll also served for numerous years, until 1983, as Mayor of Saint-Brieuc. In 1978 and 1981, the PSU was grouped with the far-left in vote totals.
In the 1965 presidential election, the PSU, like the SFIO and PCF, supported the candidacy of Francois Mitterrand, who was independent of all parties and member of the Convention of Republican Institutions (CIR). Mitterrand won 45% in the runoff against Charles de Gaulle. With the explosion of the FGDS in 1969 (see below), the left ran divided in 1969. Michel Rocard ran for the PSU, and obtained 3.61%, only a few percentage points behind the Gaston Defferre-Mendes “ticket” of the SFIO (in the American President-Veep style). In 1981, the PSU candidate Huguette Bouchardeau won only 1.11% of the vote, a result of the decline of the PSU that started with Epinay in 1973. In 1988, the PSU supported the Communist dissident candidate Pierre Juquin, who won 2.09%. Juquin was also supported by the LCR and SOS Racisme and had the ambition to build a coalition of Trots, red greenies, PCF dissidents, and other revolutionary crazies.
Despite its chaotic history, and marginalization over the years, the PSU was the first party for numerous present-day PS members. From the PSU ranks came Jack Lang, Michel Rocard, Marylise Lebranchu, Jean-Paul Huchon (all PS), Alain Lipietz, Gilles Lemaire (Greenies), and Arlette Laguiller (LO).
The Union of Democratic Forces, or UFD, was a little known anti-Gaullist left-wing party that had a brief existance at the birth of the Fifth Republic. It was composed of union members, and other non-Communist candidates opposed to de Gaulle. In the 1958, it won only two seats, but its candidate in the 1958 indirect presidential election, Albert Chatelet, won 79,416 electoral “votes”, or 8.46%. Its members later joined the PSU.
The Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left, FGDS, was formed after the sucess of the Mitterrand candidacy in 1965 (45% in the runoff against de Gaulle). Mitterrand, who had been the candidate of the SFIO, PCF, CIR, and PSU, united the SFIO, Radicals, CIR, and UDSR under the FGDS banne. In the 1967 election, the united FGDS, which had signed electoral deals with the PCF, came very close to defeating the Gaullist majority. In fact, the UNR won only 233 seats in metro France, while the PCF+FGDS+PDM (all opposition parties) won 237. The UNR formed a majority government with its success in overseas seats (12 of 15 seats to the UNR). The FGDS group, formed of 116 FGDS MPs and 5 (4 PSU and 1 DVG) caucusing members, numbered 121 in all, making it the second largest party. The SFIO group had only 66 seats in 1962. However, the question of deals with the PCF divided the party. During the May 1968 crisis, Mitterrand was certain that de Gaulle would resign in the wake of the protests, and announced his candidacy to the “presidential election of 1968″. de Gaulle did not resign, and dissolved the National Assembly. The FGDS won only 16.5% and was reduced to 57 seats, lower than 1962. In terms of seats, Giscard’s Independent Republicans formed a numerically larger parliamentary group (61 MPs). The UDR won a majority of seats on its own, and with the CD and RI, it had nearly 400 of the 485 seats. In the wake of the electoral rout, the FGDS blew up, with the SFIO leading its own candidacy in 1969. Gaston Defferre, for the SFIO, won barely 5% of the votes, far behind the third-placed PCF candidate, who won over 20%.