OBITUARY:Gaston Plissonnier

Gaston Plissonnier was an eminence grise in the French Communist Party, whose true position is not known and may not be known until the archives of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in Moscow are opened to public inspection.

This is not just because the French Communist Party (PCF) itself is secretive, but because the likelihood is that, as with Auguste Lecoeur, another leading member of the PCF, Plissonnier had direct and individual contact with his Russian superiors, in particular Mikhail Suslov, the chief party ideologist, except when he had to go through Boris Ponomarev and Vladimir Zagladin who were in charge of the CPSU Department for Foreign Parties. Plissonnier was an authentic Russophile and maintained contacts with Moscow during the dog-days of CPSU / PCF relations in the mid-1970s.

Plissonnier was born in 1913 into a family of artisans in Batagnes (Sane- et-Loire). He joined the Young Communists and the Communist Union de la jeunesse agricole de France and was rapidly promoted. Plissonnier's organisational talent was evident when, in 1939, he was put in charge of the training of bureaucrats and activists and travelled around France on this mission. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union he joined the maquis in the Toulouse region, under the pseudonym "Duchne", and ended the Second World War as a captain in the Forces franaises de l'intrieur (FFI). After the Liberation he returned to his work as an organiser and in 1948 was sent to rebuild the Loir-et-Cher federation which was suspected of dissidence and was its first secretary from 1948 to 1953.

Plissonnier was made a member of the Central Committee in 1950 and entered the Political Bureau in 1964 when Maurice Thorez passed the post of secretary general to Waldeck Rochet. Plissonnier had played a crucial role as head of Thorez's private office organising the meetings of the secretariat and responsible for personnel.

In addition to this organisational knowledge, which had few rivals, Plissonnier was an unconditional admirer of the Soviet Union, for example telling the 27th CPSU Congress in 1986 that, "In attaching great importance to the people's self- government your party has revealed the democratic nature of socialism . . ." Even before the collapse of the Eastern bloc, this was regarded as breathtakingly uncritical.

Plissonnier was the go- between for the International movement and was the principal contact for the CPSU's Department in charge of Western Parties (Zagladin and Ponomarev). At Moscow's insistence he also assisted illegal Communist parties in Europe, and a former East European diplomat claimed in 1990 that Plissonnier had been the conduit for funds from the Eastern bloc - he denied this accusation. The former Communist philosopher Roger Garaudy states that Plissonnier was one of the pro-Russian hardliners responsible for promoting Georges Marchais to secretary general while Waldeck Rochet was ill in 1969.

When, during the mid-1970s, the French Party had a dispute with the Kremlin, Plissonnier maintained the continuity of relations with the CPSU with frequent visits to the Soviet Union. He is credited with preventing the French Party from going too far in its disavowal of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia and with introducing the phrase "globally positive" in 1979 to describe the Eastern regimes. Plissonnier probably directed the return to pro-Soviet positions in the late 1970s after the brief flirtation with "Eurocommunism". He controlled the International Department, nominally run by Maxime Gremetz.

Within the French party Plissonnier ran the section for party bureaucracy - the cadres - which gave him control over promotion and nominations and he was thus the most important figure after the secretary general. (When Marchais had a heart attack in 1975 it was Plissonnier who was made interim secretary general.) Plissonnier was a pure apparatchik, but seemingly devoid of personal ambition and seeing no higher duty than to serve. This self-effacement explains his longevity at the top of the French Communist Party and his concentration of power - he posed no threat and could be trusted to support the leadership. He was awarded the Soviet Friendship Medal in 1973.

Gaston Desir Plissonnier, politician: born Batagnes, Sane-et-Loire 1913; author of Une Vie Pour Lutter 1985; married 1954 Juliette Dubois (one son); died 16 May 1995.

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