The French electorate, according to opinion polls, is showing a narrow, but persistent, preference for a change to the left.
The French electorate, according to opinion polls, is showing a narrow, but persistent, preference for a change to the left. How far this is translated into actual votes and National Assembly seats, in the elections later this month, will be affected by how far the two principal left-wing parties, the Socialists and Communists, work together in the second round of balloting. One of the most influential voices in determining that course will be the Secretary-General of the French Communist Party, Monsieur Goerges Marchais.
SYNOPSIS: Goerges Marchais: 57-years-old, an active Communist for 30 years, and party leader in France for the past five. The communists regularly command about 20 percent of the French vote, solidly based on organised labour; and M. Marchais, a miner's son, has put himself at the head of public protest against unemployment, rising prices and what the left regard as the economic failures of the present French Government.
His qualities as a persuasive speaker showed themselves when he called for an emphatic "no" to any enlargement of the European Common Market from six to nine members.
M. Marchais was making fun of those willing to say "yes" to British, Danish and Irish entry. He said they ranged from a definite "yes", through a tentative of conditional "yes", to those who managed to say "yes" and "no" at the same time.
Nowadays, he is well in tune with other Communist leaders in Western Europe, such as Enrico Berlinguer of Italy and Santiago Carrillo of Spain. The three met in Madrid exactly a year ago, and endorsed the so-called "Euro-Communist" principle that national Communist parties have the right to chart their own policies and are answerable to their own people.
A year earlier, the French Communist Partys' Congress had proclaimed its independence from the leadership of Moscow. It was a turning point for Marchais, who was outspoken at the meeting about restrictions on liberty in the Soviet Union.
Last November, M. Marchais went to Budapest to meet Mr. Janos Kadar, First Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party. It was reported then that Mr. Kadar hoped to ease relations between the west European Communist parties and the Soviet Union. He had already met Signore Berlinguer.
M. Marchais had a heart attack three years ago, but he appears to have fully recovered, and still campaigns with great energy.
The alliance between the French Communists and Socialists, Forged in 1972, broke down last September over Communist demands for more nationalisation. How far M. Marchais and the Socialist leader, M. Francois Mitterrand, will support each other's candidates in the crucial second ballot is still in some doubt. Mr. Marchais has said some hard words about the Socialists in the campaign; but he has left the impression that he is keeping his options open until he sees how the Communists fare in the first round.