Sunday, June 10, 2007

PARIS — The swing to the right in last month’s presidential election and yesterday’s parliamentary balloting have brought the French Communist Party — once France’s biggest political organization — to the brink of bankruptcy.

Famously supported by poets and intellectuals including Pablo Picasso, surrealists Andre Breton and Rene Magritte, and poet Louis Aragon, the Communists were historically never short of a few francs. But they were always secretive about their funding, partly because some of it came from the KGB, the Russian intelligence service.

At the height of their power, the Communists ruled in coalition administrations and could make or break governments. When they ordered a strike, hundreds of thousands brought France to a standstill.

But now the party has been forced to acknowledge that things are “seriously tight” as speculation rises that it plans to sell such prized possessions as its emblematic Paris headquarters — designed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer — and valuable art including “Mona Lisa With Mustache” by Marcel Duchamp.

In the “catastrophic” presidential campaign, party leader Marie-George Buffet ran up a $7.37 million bill that yielded just 1.93 percent of the votes. Under France’s complex system of political funding, the collapse of support meant only $1.08 million was reimbursed by the state, rather than the $10.7 million the party would have received had he won at least 5 percent of the national vote.

The party went into yesterday’s parliamentary election with predictions that it will retain as few as four of its 21 seats in the outgoing parliament, thus losing the privileges and funding given to official parliamentary groups, which need at least 20 legislators to receive public cash.

According to Le Monde newspaper, the director of a “large modern art museum” said he had been visited by a Communist Party delegation, asking him to value the large Fernand Leger fresco, “Liberty I write your name,” that hangs in the party headquarters. “I was led to believe they were in the process of selling their last assets,” he said.

A member of the party told the newspaper: “It’s true, we’re scraping around in the bottom of drawers so we don’t have to sell the family jewels.”

The Communists built a property portfolio thanks to decades of funding from Moscow, which, until 1990, was estimated to have sent about $2 million a year. Much has since been sold, but the party still owns several apartments, including one used by Vladimir Lenin during a visit to Paris.

Jean-Louis Frostin, the party treasurer, said its finances were “very stretched, but not bled dry,” adding: “None of the works of art given to us over the years has been valued because they are not for sale.” He said the headquarters “hasn’t been valued, either.”

The party’s 90,000 members pay about $8 million in dues every year, said Mr. Frostin, who acknowledged that cuts are planned to the 55 full-time staff. Olivier Dartigolles, the party’s spokesman, said: “I promise you that at the next meeting, the electricity won’t have been cut off.”

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