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Dissidents Speak At 25th Communist Congress

February 7, 1985

ST. OUEN, France (AP) _ The unheard-of was heard Thursday in this working-class suburb that houses the famous Paris flea market - key members of the traditionally disciplined French Communist Party openly questioning its line and its leaders.

The voices of dissent were restrained, defensive and few, but came from the podium in front of 1700 delegates to the 25th party congress. The French press called that ″the never before seen.″

Some veteran French reporters suspected the debate might have been staged to give the impression of a free exchange at a time of fading party fortunes and a growing sense of irrelevance.

Planned or not, three basic criticisms that are said to have been argued within party circles for the past several months came to the surface:

-Lack of criticism of repressive Communist governments and resulting damage to the party’s credibility with the French public.

-Intolerance of internal dissent in the name of party unity under the ideological banner of ″democratic centralism.″

-A sense that the party is isolating itself from French society following an unhappy three-year accommodation with the President Francois Mitterrand’s Socialist government and a disastrous showing in the June 1984 European Parliament elections.

The dissidents were outnumbered by about 9-to-1 during the ensuing debate involving delegates on the floor. Party chief Georges Marchais made clear Wednesday that the party would intensify criticism of the Socialists and that only discreet internal dissidence would be tolerated.

Two leaders of regional Communist federations expressed doubts about the party’s direction in speeches from the podium Thursday.

Helene Constans of the Haute Vienne federation near Limoges said Marchais’ explanation of the party’s slip from 20 percent of the vote five years ago to just over 11 percent in the 1984 European elections shifted responsibility away from the leadership.

Marchais said in a 51/2 -hour speech Wednesday that the Socialists were to blame. He said they had turneed their backs on the ″union of the left″ that gained them power in 1981 and had joined the capitalists.

The Communists ended a junior coalition partnership with Mitterrand’s government last July over employment and industrial policies resulting from the decision to restructure troubled basic industries.

Ms. Constans’ federation includes prominent dissident Marcel Rigout, one of the four former Communist ministers in the coalition, and was one of only three among 97 federations to vote against the draft resolution the leadership submitted to the congress.

″The Communist Party itself is responsible for the implementation of our policies over the last 10 years,″ she said. Marchais has headed the party since 1972.

She added that she was not against democratic centralism, or the principle that once the majority has ruled the party speaks with one voice, but felt the rank-and-file should have a more direct part in decisions.

Felix Damette of the Paris area federation said that by criticizing the government and virtually ruling out cooperation, his party was isolating itself from political reality, social change and popular feeling.

″It is too simple and it is too dangerous to describe French society simply as the decadent bourgeoisie,″ Damette said. ″It is a symptom of our attitude of always being on the outside of society.″

Charles Fiterman, a top party figure who was transport minister under the Socialists, said many of the objections were ″simplistic.″

He attributed much of the party’s recent troubles to the ″illusions and hopes that we held″ for the Socialist government when it came into office.

Marchais is expected to be re-elected on Sunday, but there has been considerable speculation that he will be forced to share power with one or two assistant secretaries-general.