AUGUSTE LECOEUR was a leading figure in the French Communist party until he was ousted from the leadership in 1954, and a key organiser in the wartime Resistance.
Born in 1911 in Lille (Nord), Lecoeur went to work in the mines at the age of 13. His family, which was Socialist and politically active, moved to Paris. He joined the Communist Party at 16. He was more inclined to union work than pure politics and he read widely to acquire an education. His two years of military service were devoted to acquiring the educational background he had missed. He was on the point of leaving the highly sectarian Communist Party when Stalin changed the party's line and he was caught up in the Popular Front enthusiasm and took on political responsibilities.
In 1937 the party sent him to Spain as a political commissar with the International Brigade and he became a battalion leader under Andre Marty. He was ordered to close an escape route for deserters, which he did with exemplary efficiency. And his discipline was noticed by the leadership. On returning from Spain in 1937 he became a full-time party employee as Secretary of the Pas-de- Calais Federation and was then put in charge of organisation. He showed all the outward signs of being an unconditional Stalinist. He supported the Hitler-Stalin pact (against the ordinary activists who deserted in droves) and was arrested and spent six months in prison. He was then called up, his platoon was captured in 1940, but he escaped and returned to France.
At the liberation Lecoeur was elected deputy for the Pas-de-Calais and nominated to the Central Committee in 1945. He was an under-secretary for Industrial Production in the Gouin and Bidault governments of 1946. Lecoeur was a rising figure in the 1940s and early 1950s. But the return of the party leader Maurice Thorez inaugurated the systematic removal of the Resistance. Lecoeur was put in charge of the party apparatus after the Comintern (the Third Communist International) had criticised the party's lack of revolutionary preparation. In 1950 he joined the Political Bureau and secretariat, as late as 1952 he appeared to be the third-ranking figure in the French Communist Party.
As a disciplined Communist, Lecoeur sought to bring the new Soviet de-Stalinisation to France. However, he encountered the resistance of the Stalinist Party leadership and he was swiftly demoted. Lecoeur was excluded from the party in a trumped-up 'show trial' in 1954. He was expelled in 1955. Lecoeur characteristically refused to play the game: he did not deliver an abasing self-criticism, refused to repent and flung himself into furious political activity. He went back to work and founded the journal La Nation Socialiste. He joined the Socialist party in 1958, but was critical of the Socialist-Communist alliance of the 1970s and briefly joined the centrist PSD (Partie Social- Democrate). He also published biographies on the Communist Party and exposed the party leader Georges Marchais' claims about his wartime career to public scrutiny.
In public Lecoeur was a humourless authoritarian, but he was a man of moral and physical courage (he was badly beaten up in 1956 for his views) and driving will-power. Although he broke some of the rules, Lecoeur kept to the unwritten code for ex-Communists that some of its murkier subjects were off-limits.