From the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
Eurocommunism, as a word, first came into use in 1975 to describe the policies of certain European Communist Parties, in particular their refusal any longer to take orders from Moscow as they had done for the previous fifty years. The Communist Parties concerned—such as the Italian, Spanish and French— themselves prefer to emphasize another aspect: their claim that they are now committed to using peaceful and democratic methods to achieve their objectives. But this claim is not new. Ever since the 7th World Congress of the old Communist International at the end of 1935 Communist Parties had been proclaiming a commitment to democracy—while at the same time pointing to Russia under Stalin as the most democratic country in the world.
The new factor is the criticism of Russia. This was first made public in 1967 (though, apparently, the Italian Party through its leader, Togliatti, had been making similar criticisms in private for some years previously) when a number of European Communist Parties openly criticized the trial and jailing of the writers Daniel and Sinyavsky and, even more noticeably, when they denounced the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia the following year. In the days of the pre-war Comintern (dissolved in 1943 by Stalin to please his new allies, America and Britain) this stance of the Eurocommunist parties would have been denounced as “rightwing opportunism” and illustrates an ever-present problem for the Russian ruling class in relation to its puppet parties in other countries.
In order to be an effective agent of Russian foreign policy a Communist Party needs to have a mass following, but such a following can not be built up on the basis of unconditional support for Russia but rather on vaguely stated issues like Democracy, Anti- fascism and Peace. A party built up on this basis will contain a large element, perhaps, even a majority of ordinary members and voters, who are more interested in the vague aim than in supporting Russia. Hence the danger that the leadership of these parties will, in order to retain their mass support, pander to the views of their followers at the expense of furthering Russian foreign policy.
This is more or less what has happened with the two European Communist Parties—the Italian and the French—which did succeed in becoming mass parties, thanks largely to their leading role in the struggle against the Nazis in the last years of the war. The Italian and French Communist Parties have since the war both consistently had the support of between 20 land 25 per cent, of the votes (the Italian party now has an even larger percentage). For ten or so years after the war Moscow managed to retain control of these mass parties. In 1947 with the outbreak of the cold War the Italian and French parties, through the trade unions they controlled, obediently launched a series of political strikes aimed at bringing pressure on their governments to reject the Marshall Plan; then they waged a bogus “peace campaign” designed to give Russia a respite in which to develop its own atomic bomb; and they loyally supported the Russian suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. But then, in the wake of Khrushchev's revelations in 1956 and in 1961 of Stalin’s atrocities, the leaders of what in the circumstances could only be described as Russia’s fifth columns in France and Italy, became less obedient, leading in 1967, as we have seen, to open criticisms of acts of the Russian government.
Dictatorial Class Rule
The extent of the Eurocommunist criticism of Russia should not be exaggerated. They still regard Russia as basically socialist and look upon the acts they criticize as isolated incidents, as “breaches of socialist legality”, rather than expressions of a dictatorial class rule. Even Santiago Carillo, the leader of the Spanish party, who has gone the furthest in his criticisms of the Russian regime, still sees Russia as “progressive” and even socialist though not as “socialist” as the Russian leaders claim. In his book, first published in April last year “Eurocommunism” and the State (an English translation has recently been brought out by Lawrence and Wishart), he rejects the official Soviet doctrine that Russia is socialist society developing towards “full communism”, saying that because of its undemocratic features — “serious bureaucratic deformations” and “degenerations” as he puts it — it has not yet reached “full socialism”.
In his discussion of why this should have happened he begins a line of argument that has dangerous implications for all supporters of Lenin and Russia: that “a bureaucratic layer” was able to come to power because, after 1917, Russia was a backward and isolated country faced with the same task as had the developed capitalist countries in the previous century, that of the creation of a modern industry and with it a modern industrial working class recruited from the peasantry, a task which could not be accomplished democratically but only by a minority acting dictatorially.
The implication of this line of argument is that Russia was not ripe for Socialism in 1917 and that the October Revolution could not have been a socialist revolution but was the seizure of power by a modernizing elite which was later to evolve into a new ruling class exploiting the workers. Carillo himself, however, does not see this. He does not regard Russia as a class-ruled, exploitative society. In fact in 1964 a group which did was expelled, for this and other reasons, from the Spanish CP, including Fernando Claudin, the author of an excellent book showing the close relationship between the policies of Communist Parties and the foreign policy of Russia entitled The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform (published by Penguins). Similarly, in 1969, the Italian party expelled a group, some of whose prominent members had come to the (correct) conclusion that Russia was state capitalist. Clearly there are certain limits beyond which criticism of Russia must not go .
The Eurocommunist position on Russia is in fact very similar to that the Trotskyites have been peddling for years: that it is basically a “workers” or “socialist” country but that it suffers from “bureaucratic deformations”. This is nonsense; how can the oppressed and exploited workers of Russia, who are unable even to organize genuine trade unions, be in any way regarded as the rulers there? It is nevertheless a convenient argument that allows those who hold it to have their cake and eat it; they can support and criticize Russia at the same time!
This ambiguous attitude of the Eurocommunists to Russia inevitably calls into question their sincerity when they proclaim a commitment to democracy as an inseparable part of socialism. For how can they hold this opinion, yet at the same time regard the obviously undemocratic system in Russia as somehow socialist? Only by practising “newspeak”, defining democracy in a different way from normal, just as they did in their bad old Stalinist past.
Reformism and Gradualism
Not, we hasten to add, that a thorough break with Russia and a recognition of the class and state capitalist nature of society there would make them any more socialist. It would merely make them more like the Social Democratic parties of Europe or the Labour Party in Britain. The extent to which the Communist Parties of Europe are committed to the sort of reformism and gradualism normally associated With Social Democratic and Labour parties is not often realized, though the evidence is there.
Consider the following statement made by Enrico Berlinguer, leader of the Italian party, in 1973:
The democratic road to socialism is a progressive transformation—which can take place in Italy within the framework of the anti-fascist Constitution—of the entire economic and social structure, of the values and ideas which guide the nation, of the system of power and of the bloc of social forces in which it is expressed (Les PC espagnol, frahcais et italien face au pouvoir, p. 151, our emphasis).
Much the same view is expressed by another leader of the Italian party, Napolitano, in conversations with Eric Hobsbawn recently published in English by Journeyman Press under the title The Italian Road to Socialism.
The strategy of the Italian CP is based on this perspective of a gradual transformation of capitalism into “socialism” through a series of social reform measures passed by parliament. They even believe that this can begin before their party actually participates in the government, through pressure being put on openly capitalist governments to take measures described by Berlinguer as being “of a socialist type”. So what in practice the Italian CP seeks are reforms, reforms of capitalism which are supposed to lead to socialism but which in fact would only strengthen the state capitalist aspects of the Italian economy.
Co-operating with Capitalism
Carillo’s party in Spain (as indeed the Italian and French parties too) envisages co-operating with sections of the capitalist class to begin the supposed transformation of society from capitalism into Socialism! The programme of the Spanish CP adopted in 1975 states that “on the way leading to the socialist revolution there exists objectively an intermediate step” and that
This step is that of political and social democracy, or of anti-monopolist and anti-latifundist democracy. It is not a question of abolishing bourgeois private property or of implanting socialism but of establishing a democratic power of all the anti-monopolist forces, including the small and middle bourgeoisies . . . . (Les PC, etc, pp. 45-6, our emphasis).
Now, what is this perspective of a gradual transformation of society through parliamentary action in collaboration with sections of the capitalist class but the milk-and-water reformism expounded in 1899 by the German Social Democratic Revisionist Edward Bernstein in his book Evolutionary Socialism?
Eurocommunism is a variety of reformism and as such has nothing whatsoever to offer the working class in Europe or elsewhere. And, as long as their attitude toward Russia remains ambiguous, their commitment to democratic aims and methods must remain open to question