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Communist Party Fete Draws Huge Capitalist Crowd

September 11, 1988

LA COURNEUVE, France (AP) _ Bourgeois capitalists set up tents beside leftist guerrillas and Yves St. Laurent showed couture gowns at the annual celebration of French Communism.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended the weekend ″Fete de l’Humanite″ in this working class suburb north of Paris. It opened with the fashion show Friday and closed Sunday with a speech by party boss Georges Marchais.

L’Humanite is the French Communist newspaper. A similar fair for the Italian Communist Party daily L’Unita took place in Campi di Bisenzio outside Florence.

The French festival was reminiscent of huge country fair complete with carnival rides, Kewpie dolls and acres of food.

But ideology was everywhere.

Bumper cars faced stands emblazoned with a huge hammers-and-sickles. ″Glasnost″ T-shirts, referring to the Soviet campaign for greater openness, were a hot item. Game prizes included a free trip for two to the Soviet Union.

Stands offering Russian caviar and tea served from samovars competed with hundreds of others serving Brittany crepes, Alsatian choucroute and every sort of French regional dish.

An African National Congress booth sold buttons of the South African guerrilla group’s jailed leader, Nelson Mandela. Nearby were stands where representatives from the Dutch electronics firm Phillips and the German high- tech corporation Telefunken pitched their newest products.

″The customers are not our usual ones, but there are so many people here we can’t really afford to miss this,″ said an encyclopedia salesman, who had a volume opened to an entry on Karl Marx and a sign saying he accepted credit cards.

The variety of booths this year is greater than ever and may reflect an effort by the party to modernize its stodgy, doctrinaire image to conform with changes in French society.

Since Socialist President Francois Mitterrand reinvigorated his party after his election in 1981, French Communism has been in steep decline. Once capable of winning a quarter of the popular vote, the party’s official candidate, Andre Lejoinie, garnered only 6.8 percent of the vote in presidential balloting last spring, the lowest score since the party was founded in 1920.

Analysts blame the fall on several factors, including the inability of the party to adapt to modern society where the number of blue collar workers has significantly diminished, reducing the ranks of traditional Communist faithful.

Voters now tend to be better educated, more sophisticated and less doctrinaire.

″Like everywhere in Europe the Communist Party in France, the agent of modernization for decades, is now obsolete,″ said the French newspaper Le Monde in an article Sunday under a headline ″The Identity Crisis of the Communist Worker.″

But one Communist worker, Daniel Gauter, disagrees. A bus driver from the southwestern town of Angouleme and secretary of the local party, Gauter is hopeful that the upcoming district elections will show an increase in Communist strength.

At his fair booth Saturday night, Gauter served two girls a plate of steaming snails and talked to them about the elections.

″One of those girls was unemployed and doesn’t vote,″ Gauter, 35, said afterward. ″She said she would vote with us at the end of this month and I think she will.

″Anyway,″ he said, ″she likes our party.″

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