French communist politician. As leader of the French Communist Party (PCF) 1930–64, Thorez took it into the Popular Front alliance in the 1930s and was one of France's first three communists ministers when he joined General de Gaulle's Provisional Government in November 1945.
In May 1947, faced with a substantial unofficial strike movement, the PCF deputies voted against the government's wage-freeze, and Thorez was dismissed by Paul Ramadier, de Gaulle's successor as prime minister. With the onset of the Cold War, Thorez led his party through its most Stalinist period, adopting a position of unwavering support for the USSR on all questions until 1956, when he refused to accept Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin.
He was born in Noyelles Godault, Pas de Calais, and having worked briefly as a coalminer in Pas-de-Calais, Thorez joined the Communist Party at its foundation in 1920. He was made first secretary of the party in 1930, when the earlier generation of leaders fell foul of Stalin. In 1934 he followed Moscow's tactical turn to the ‘united front’ (promoting this anti-fascist alliance in France as the Popular Front) and sought to embrace progressive Catholics too. From not much more than a sect the PCF mushroomed into a mass membership organization in this period. Thorez, rewarded with the title of general secretary, was to retain undisputed control over the highly disciplined party machine until his death.
Thorez survived the difficult period of the German–Soviet Pact of 1939–41 by deserting from the French army to which he had been conscripted and fleeing to the USSR, where he stayed until amnestied in the run-up to de Gaulle's Moscow visit in November 1944.