Double life of ruthless tycoon who steered the Trotskyists

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THE SHADOWY and authoritarian head of a French Trotskyist party - a man known to his followers for 40 years only as "Hardy" - has been unmasked as a successful and ruthless businessman.

The weekly news magazine, L'Express, reported yesterday that Robert Barcia, 70, had been living an extraordinary double life.

On the one hand he was the secretive head of Lutte Ouvriere, a sect-like revolutionary organisation devoted to the destruction of the bourgeoisie and the French state. Lutte Ouvriere is best known, in France and abroad, for the engagingly dull personality of its perpetual candidate and spokeswoman, Arlette Laguiller, who scored a startling 5 per cent in the last French presidential election in 1995.

On the other hand, Mr Barcia, aka Hardy, is also the founder and boss of a series of thriving companies, which provide services for the pharmaceutical industry. However, his concern for the rights of workers and the ultimate triumph of the worker-state does not extend to his professional activities, L'Express reported. One of his companies recently had to pay substantial compensation to two working mothers. One was sacked after taking parental leave; the other after asking to switch to part-time work.

As L'Express said, supporters of Lutte Ouvriere and other ultra-leftists face an awkward question: is Mr Barcia a Trotskyist entryist into capitalist boardrooms; or is he a capitalist entryist into Trotskyism?

The revelation will throw a large boulder into the murky world of far- left groups in France. Lutte Ouvriere ("Workers' Struggle") is by far the most powerful but also the most mysterious of such groups. It is in the midst of negotiations to create, for the first time, a common ultra- left platform and list of candidates for the European elections next June.

Lutte Ouvriere, technically the name only of a magazine, is the front for a group called Union Communiste (UC), which is in turn a branch of the equally elusive Union Communiste Internationale.

The organisations stand for old-fashioned blue-collar workerism. They avoid contact with more fashionable but, in their view, petit-bourgeois, left-wing causes such as the homeless or illegal immigrants. Ultimately, they claim to stand for "the destruction of the apparatus of the state and the bourgeoisie, including their government, courts, police and army".

Lutte Ouvriere/UC is known as an authoritarian organisation, fond of internal discipline. Among other things, it discourages its estimated 800 members from marrying, and, if they do marry, forbids them to have children. In an extract from one of Hardy's two-hour speeches to the faithful, leaked to the French press, he defined his followers as "soldier- monks, not petit bourgeois playing at politics".

Two years ago, in another of these perorations, also leaked, Hardy warned his militants that everything they did was monitored by the organisation. "There is no area which is reserved from us ... in the end, nothing escapes the discipline of the organisation." Nothing it seems, except the business activities of Hardy himself.

Arlette Laguiller, 48, a former bank clerk, has been the respectable front and the voice of the party for 25 years. In 1974, she was the first woman to stand in a French presidential election. Her unassuming appearance and quiet manner have made her almost an electoral mascot in France, disarming voters on left and right alike. Her breakthrough in the 1995 presidential election was matched by an unexpectedly good result in regional elections last March. Lutte Ouvriere now has 20 regional councillors.

Some leading members of the party were said to have been alarmed by these successes. They feared that such progress would make it harder to operate in their favoured clandestine manner: a fear which has proved justified.

Hardy, the leader of Lutte Ouvriere/UC since 1956, had never been seen in public until August of this year, when L'Express showed a photograph of Mr Barcia and identified him as the leader of the party. In a follow- up in yesterday's edition, he was further identified as a 70-year-old businessman, who runs companies that train and provide travelling representatives for pharmaceutical companies.

Bernard Lefevre, export director of the Roche laboratories in France, said he had known Mr Barcia for 27 years. "He seemed totally integrated in our political universe, which is in favour of free markets. He always expressed himself in a very moderate way. There must have been two men in one."

Both Lutte Ouvriere and Mr Barcia declined to comment. When L'Express first published his picture in August, Ms Laguiller pointed out that the photograph was taken at the funeral of a Belgian far-left leader, which was well-attended by other left-wing groups and by the French secret services. It was not, she said, the "ideal" place for a man who wished to hide his identity. However, she has not, then or since, denied that Mr Barcia is Hardy.