Communist ministers entered the government of France today for the first time since the cold war began as President Francois Mitterrand named a new Cabinet that included four members of the rigidly doctrinaire French Communist Party.
The announcement of the 44-member Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, came only after prolonged negotiations between Mitterrand's cominant Socialist Party and the Communists over a common stance on major issues especially in foreign policy. The final statement to which the Communists pledged themselves amounts to a significant departure from their traditional support for major Soviet foreign policy goals, including the Middle East, where the two French parties accepted the Camp David accords as a major contribution to Middle East peace.
In return for giving them the relatively important Transport Ministry and three lesser posts, Mitterrand's government also received a pledge from the Communists to abstain from attacks on the Socialists at the local and regional levels as well as nationally.
The announcement came on the eve of the arrival of Vice President George Bush, who is to hold talks Thursday with Mitterrand and his major ministers. One close political friend of the French president suggested the policy statement should make it difficult for Washington to object to the inclusion of Communists in the government on such terms.
[The White House had no comment last night but a spokesman said "there will be some reaction."]
The French public has been carefully prepared by the overwhelmingly dominant Socialist Party headed by Mitterrand for the participation in the government by the seriously weakened French Communist Party. Nevertheless, when the event actually came after a long night of negotiations between the two leftist parties, it seemed to be a major shock for the French public. It underlined the extent of the change in the French political atmosphere since the defeat of conservative president Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
Finance Minister Jacques Delors, Froeign Minister Claude Cheysson, Defense Minister Charles Hernu and Interior Minister Gaston Defferre, all of whom were in Mauroy's interim Cabinet, were renamed to their posts. It was these key ministers who gave the interim Cabinet, named just after Mitterrand's victory May 10, its reassuringly moderate coloration.
All four are considered to be basically anticommunist and are understood to have argued in private against Mitterrand's determination to maintain the unity of the French left by bringing the Communists into government. But they bowed to the Mitterrand view that more was to be gained than lost by giving the Communists a few Cabinet posts under circumstances in which Communist votes are not needed to assure a parliamentary majority.
Only one of the four new Communist ministers, Charles Fiterman, the second-ranking leader of the party, is known to the general public. He was named transportation minister and was one of the five ministers out of 44 to be given the additional honorary rank of minister of state, which ranks them right after the prime minister in protocol terms.
It seems symbolic that Fiterman is one of the six members of the French Communist Politburo to have lost his parliamentary seat in the devastating election process that ended Sunday with the party's representation in the National Assembly reduced by nearly half, to 44 from 86. The Socialists rose from 117 seats to 289 in the new 491-member assembly.
The other Communist ministers were Jack Ralite as health minister, Marcel Rigoult as vocational training minister and Anicet Le Pors as civil service minister.
Paradoxically, the moderate caste of the Cabinet was reinforced with the namig of the highly respected Pierre Dreyfus, 73, former president of the state-owned Renault automobile company, as industry minister. He replaced Peirre Joxe, the only party left-winger in what was considered to be a key job. Joxe announced that he plans to run for the leadership of the Socialist Assembly group.
The Industry Ministry takes on added importance because of the Socialist pledge, reaffirmed in the overnight negotiations with the Communist, to nationalized portion of French industry from 12 percent to 17 percent.
The only other major change in what was essentially a limited reshuffle to make room for the Communists was the naming of Robert Badinter, the leading opponent of the death sentence among French lawyers, as justice minister, replacing Maurice Faure.
It was the replacement of one close Mitterrand friend by another among the Cabinet moderates. Faure, a former leader of the Socialist Party's closest ally, the Radical Party, was apparently dropped because he appeared as too much of a gradualist. Mitterrand had disavowed Faure's statements that the State Security Court, created with military judges during the Algerian war, would be reformed rather tham simply abolished.
Louis Mermaz, another Mitterrand intimate, stepped aside as transportation minister to make way for Fiterman. Mermaz is now the Socialist choice for the presidency of the National Assembly.
Communist leader Georges Marchais conceded in a commentary on the conditions that his party had to accept when entering the government that "people will talk about capitulation." He also conceded that he has "problems with my own comrades" since the results of the presidential elections didn't meet our expectations." As Communist presidential candidate, Marchais led his party to its lowest electoral showing since 1936 -- 15 percent of the vote.
He said there would be a thorough debate in the party's Central Committee about the responsibility for the sharp drop in the Communist Party's historic share of 20 to 25 percent of the vote. A sign that the debate has actually started was the length of the Central Committee session that lasted all day yesterday before a unanimous acceptance of a Socialist-Communist joint policy statement signed by the two parties' negotiators at 3 a.m. today.
When Marchais was first presented the Socialist draft to sign, he reportedly said, "You may as well give me a Socialist Party membership card to sign." His party wound up accepting virtually all of the Socialist demands.
The joint statement issued by the two parties calls for:
Respect for France's membership in the Atlantic Alliance and a pledge to work for the simultaneous dissolution of both the Soviet and Western blocs.
Noninterference in the affairs of Afghanistan and the withdrawal of Soviet troops.
The right of Poland to "bring to a successful conclusion its process of economic, social and democratic renewal."
Recognition of the Camp Davis accords between Israel and Egypt as a major contribution to peace in the Middle East.
East-West negotiations over both the installation of U.S. Pershing II missiles in Europe and the presence of Soviet SS20 missiles aimed at Western Europe.
The Communists accepted the Socialist list of industrial groups to be nationalized without renewing their demands that it be extended and without a schedule. That was the issue over which the Communists and Socialists split in 1977 when the united Left seemed to be on the eve of winning the 1978 National Assembly elections. The impression created then that the Communist Party sabotaged that victory may explain why so many of its traditional voters deserted it this spring.
Socialists close to Mitterrand say in private that the extent of the Socialist electoral sweep gives the ruling party freedom to interpret its commitment to nationalizations as loosely as it wants sice it need no longer fear pressure from its left on the issue.
Perhaps most significantly, the Communists pledged today to maintain their solidarity with the government and to refrain from political attacks, not only at nationally but also in city and regional governments and at the factory level. A major advantage of Communist participation, Socialists argue, is that it buys peace on the labor force.
Metterrand is said to have held that the only disadvantage he could see is that it wouldhold up the settling of scores within the Communist Party. But Marchais' words seemed to belie even that fear.