Jospin finally admits he signed up to party as Trotskyist 'mole'

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The French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, was obliged to admit yesterday that he was a Trotskyist in his 20s and 30s, a fact he had previously denied.

Less than a year before the French presidential election, the admission will damage Mr Jospin ­ not because he was once connected with the extreme left but because he lied in public.

Le Monde, a centre-left newspaper, which generally supports Mr Jospin, produced a two-page dossier yesterday of evidence that the Prime Minister belonged, under the code-name "Michel", to the secretive "Lambertiste" Trotskyist sect from the early Sixties to the mid-Seventies and possibly up to 1981. The newspaper said that the young Mr Jospin, who is now 63, joined François Mitterrand's Socialist Party in 1971 as a Trotskyist "mole", awaiting the "great day" of the revolution of the proletariat.

When he rose to become general secretary of the Socialists in 1981, he gradually distanced himself from his extremist comrades, Le Monde said. The Prime Minister-to-be finally broke all ties in 1987.

Without confirming all these details, Mr Jospin told the National Assembly, in reply to a question from an opposition member, that he had "formed links with a Trotskyist group" in the 1960s. The Prime Minister said: "This was part of a personal, intellectual and political journey, of which I have nothing to be ashamed."

In that case, it will be asked, why did he tell journalists in 1995, when he was running for President: "I was never a Trotskyist. People confuse me with my brother, Olivier [who was openly a Trotskyist until the late Eighties]."

Why Mr Jospin, whose reputation is based on honesty and openness, should have lied remains unclear. A connection with the far left in one's youth is not, in itself, damaging to a politician in France. President Jacques Chirac, Mr Jospin's principal rival in next year's election, was briefly a leftist revolutionary himself as a young man.

Yesterday's Le Monde said that Mr Jospin had drifted towards the Lambertistes, later the Organisation Communiste Internationale, in the early 1960s. It said that a number of Trotskyists from the time ­ now researchers, journalists, teachers or academics ­ had confirmed that Mr Jospin had belonged to their cell.

One of the early leaders of the Lambertiste movement, Boris Fraenkel, stated that he had "trained" Mr Jospin and had suggested to the movement's founder, Pièrre Lambert, that Mr Jospin should be given special status. Mr Fraenkel said: "I got without any problem the special [secret] status that I asked for to protect him."

Le Monde said Mr Jospin was one of dozens of Lambertistes who joined the Socialist Party in the 1970s. It said: "The order was to prepare, to occupy senior posts, to forge links and build networks, in preparation for the 'great day' [when the Revolution came]."