During the almost six decades that have passed since the Russian Revolution of 1917, two contradictory qualities have distinguished the international communist movement. One has been the persistent Soviet effort to subordinate the interests of foreign communist parties to those of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU); the other has been the equally persistent effort of these parties to resist such "Sovietization" and, in the process, to question Moscow's leading role in world communism. Now, in the aftermath of last summer's Conference of European Communist Parties in Berlin, a third tendency may be observed in the international relations of the communist movement - the prospective export of what has come to be known as "Eurocommunism" from West to East, signifying a historic shift in the direction of influence and initiative within world communism.

At issue, then, is no longer only the much-discussed challenge to the primacy of Russian interests in the communist movement. After all, most foreign communists have long refused to see themselves as instruments of Soviet foreign policy or, more generally, to allow Moscow to impose its will on them. Tito's Yugoslavia defied the Soviet Union as early as 1948-49; the Italian Communist Party (PCI), under Palmiro Togliatti, advanced the once unthinkable notion of polycentrism soon after Stalin's death in 1953; and China's opposition to the leading role of the CPSU began to surface only a few years thereafter. Indeed, the classic Soviet definition of a communist revolutionary - as one who "without evasions, unconditionally, openly, and honestly" makes the cause of world revolution synonymous with the interests and, indeed, with the defense of the U.S.S.R.1 - has long become an embarrassing reminder of a past most communist parties in the world would rather forget.

What we are beginning to witness now is the active promotion by the more moderate European parties of their own brand of socialism. In their search for popular support and respectability - and perhaps guided by considerations of principle as well - the "Eurocommunists" of Italy, Spain, and, to a lesser extent, France have come to present their vision of "socialism with liberty" as one with both West and East European, if not quite universal, applicability. Having gone beyond criticism of single events in the East - such as the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia or the harassment of dissenters in several of the ruling party-states - they now press for the emulation of their own concepts and, hence, for systemic political change in Eastern Europe and eventually the Soviet Union itself.

Professor Lucio Lombardo Radice, a leading member of the PCI's Central Committee, for example, recently expressed the view that it was "inevitable that the Italian, French, or Spanish 'model' should become a political problem for the ruling communist parties." Linking Eurocommunism with the "socialist opposition" in the East - he mentioned Medvedev in the Soviet Union and Havemann in the German Democratic Republic - Radice further argued that "one can no longer conceive of Eurocommunism as the regional variant of a strategy ordained by the official Marxism of the socialist countries. The truth is that there is a clash between two general perspectives. What is at stake is the relationship between socialism and liberty, and the way that relationship is worked out is equally relevant to the socialist and capitalist countries."2

That Eurocommunism is neither a "regional variant" of communist doctrine nor a "political problem" for Western Europe alone was evidenced by the Berlin Conference of European Communist Parties. Countering Moscow's "official Marxism" and, indeed, dominating the conference were the "autonomist" parties of both Western and Eastern Europe - of France, Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia, Romania and others. Even though the West European parties' proclaimed commitment to pluralism was notably absent from the stated positions or present practices of the East European parties of Yugoslavia and Romania, what united them was their shared desire to resist Soviet ideological hegemony. With the Soviet leaders on the defensive, then, the proceedings vividly displayed the strength of the increasingly assertive Eurocommunist parties.

One measure of that strength and thus of the magnetism of the Eurocommunist phenomenon is the extent to which Eurocommunism poses an alternative to the more authoritarian Soviet model in world communism, particularly in Eastern Europe. To assess the prospects for such an eventuality, three questions must be raised: (1) Can the Eurocommunist objectives - including the gradual liberation of Soviet-style communism from its rigid and Byzantine features - be regarded as genuine? (2) Can Eurocommunism be exported to Eastern Europe - is it "transferable"? (3) Can the Soviet Union be expected to adjust itself to, or indeed to tolerate, the de-Russification and, hence, the Europeanization of communism?


Despite its apparent imprecision, the term "Eurocommunism" has gained wide currency as a convenient designation for a more tolerant, moderate, and democratic tendency in world communism. It refers, in particular, to the outlook of the Italian Communist Party, with its long history of theoretical divergence and partial independence from Moscow under the leadership of Gramsci, Togliatti, and Berlinguer; but the term also connotes the outlook of other West European parties - notably those of Spain and France - which have only lately come to adopt some of the features of the Italians' ideological platform and political approach.

Underpinning that ideological platform are three interrelated propositions.

- First is the persistent demand by Eurocommunists that each party be free to apply the teachings of Marxism-Leninism according to national needs and circumstances. What is being advocated as "socialism in French colors" or "socialism Italian style" is, of course, tantamount to a rejection of the universal validity of the Soviet "model" or experience.

- Second is the Eurocommunists' disavowal of any claim to a monopoly of power and thus to the establishment of a "dictatorship of the proletariat." Declaring its respect for the "verdict of universal suffrage" and pledging its commitment to "freedom of opinion, of expression, of association, of the press, the right to strike, free movement of the people, et cetera," the program of the French Communist Party (PCF), for example, puts great emphasis on pluralism and "the uninterrupted extension of democracy."3

- Third is the Eurocommunists' related interest in, and, indeed, their insistence upon the creation of a broad coalition of political forces to seek the resolution of pressing economic and social problems. Called the popular front or united front policy in the 1930s and 1940s - when it was widely regarded as a short-term tactical device to gain power - it proposes the cooperation of diverse political elements, some Marxist and some not, but all sharing a common program aimed at the reduction and, eventually, the elimination of the power of monopoly capital.

Perhaps the only novel formulation here is the Italian modification of the popular front policy through the advocacy of the "historic compromise." Instead of seeking a presumably narrow and very possibly shaky majority based exclusively on an alliance of the Left, the PCI has lately embraced the idea of a "grand coalition" that would include the centrist Christian Democrats as well. Responding to the lessons of Chile - in particular, to the military coup that overthrew President Allende's Popular Unity Front government of the Left in 1973 - the PCI has since sought to avoid a similar polarization of political forces in Italy, assuming that even if a Leftist coalition were to obtain a majority of the votes in a general election, it could not govern effectively if threatened by the prospect of civil strife. Accordingly, the party's 1976 election program stressed that "a possibility is emerging that never before existed in Italy and has few parallels in other countries: the possibility of collaboration among various forces which, without abandoning their own ideologies, . . . [can] work for common political and social goals in the common interest."4 In short, the PCI regards the "historic compromise" not only as the only viable political alternative to economic stagnation and chaos, but as a major step toward the once-heretical idea of accommodation between the country's working classes on the one hand and the middle class on the other.

Whether the "historic compromise" is merely a skillful variation on the popular front theme under changing conditions or whether it actually represents the repudiation of popular front policies remains an open question. The rest of the Eurocommunist platform, however, is more likely to invoke both a sense of skepticism and a feeling of déjà vu in Western students of communist politics.

For one thing, the Eurocommunist positions strikingly resemble those advanced by East European party leaders after World War II - just prior to their seizure of power. After all, it was not Enrico Berlinguer in 1977 but the Stalinist Jozsef Revai of the Hungarian Party in 1944 who said, "I declare that we do not regard the national collaboration [of the several parties] as a passing, political coalition, as a tactical chess move, but rather as a long-lasting alliance. We will stand by our given word."5 In a similar vein, it was the Bulgarian Georgi Dimitrov, one-time General Secretary of the Communist International, who stated at the November 7, 1945, anniversary celebration of the Russian Revolution in Moscow that the "assertion that the communists allegedly want to seize full power . . . is a malicious legend and slander. It is not true that the communists want to have a single party government."6 And it was Wladyslaw Gomulka of the Polish Party who declared in 1946 that the Polish road to socialism is "significant because it does not include the necessity of a violent, revolutionary, political upheaval . . . [it has] eliminated the necessity of a dictatorship of the proletariat."7

The West European party leaders' own statements should also generate some doubt about their long-term commitment to the democratic process. In a secret speech to the Central Committee of the PCF in June 1972 - the contents of which were disclosed three years later - Georges Marchais had referred to the Communist-Socialist union of the Left as one "favoring intervention of the masses, a springboard for the people's movement and for the development of its action."8 By using such code words, he seemed to suggest that the communist concessions implicit in the joint platform of the Left were more apparent than real, and that they would pave the way to the realization of the party's essentially unchanged objectives. In another speech, Marchais explained what the PCF had apparently meant by a multiparty system. Although no one familiar with what is left of the once predominant Polish Peasant Party or with East Germany's dormant Christian Democratic Union would ever mistake them for active partners in a genuine multiparty system, Marchais, alluding to the ruling communist party-states, claimed that "of the fourteen socialist countries, a single party exists in only six, while there are two or more parties in the other eight."9

Nevertheless, the main issue is neither the sincerity of the Eurocommunists' professed intentions nor the similarity between their statements and those of the East European parties in the postwar years. Historical analogies can be - and in this case probably are - quite misleading, for the very special circumstances that existed in Eastern Europe after World War II simply do not pertain to Western Europe in the 1970s. To begin with the most obvious factor, the political allegiance of Eastern Europe was ultimately determined by the proximity of the Soviet Union and the presence of the Red Army. In addition - contrary to revisionist interpretations of recent vintage - the West could provide no more than verbal encouragement to indigenous non-communist elements during their struggle for power. The profound social, economic and political crisis that followed in the wake of the war's devastation and the collapse of the region's old regimes also created circumstances calling for some radical remedy. Finally, with the notable exception of Czechoslovakia, the imposition of authoritarian rule was abetted throughout Eastern Europe by the absence of adequate training and experience in political democracy.

By contrast, while prevailing internal conditions in some of the West European countries may well make communist participation in a governing coalition possible and perhaps even necessary, international conditions would seem to impede the fulfillment of any residual communist ambitions for hegemony. Aside from obvious geopolitical factors - which make the Soviet Union a distant, albeit interested, observer - economic interdependence within the Common Market combined with extensive commercial ties between the United States and individual West European countries tend to militate against the establishment of a one-party communist state. Even the experience of Portugal - a country largely outside the mainstream of West European economic life - suggests that external pressure through economic leverage, such as the withholding of aid, can translate into considerable political influence.

Nor should one underestimate the continuing political strength of indigenous democratic forces in Western Europe. In view of the still vigorous, if cautious, backing of Italy's Christian Democrats by the Catholic Church, it is surely premature to dismiss their popular appeal. In France, where both the Communist-Socialist alliance and the Gaullist coalition are embroiled in contentious maneuverings, the polls suggest dramatic gains in popular support for François Mitterrand's Socialist Party and a slight, but significant, decline for the PCF. While Mitterrand remains strongly opposed to a centrist coalition with President Giscard d'Estaing - and thus to the isolation of Jacques Chirac's Gaullist movement on the Right and the Communists on the Left-the Socialists' impressive comeback to a position of senior status within the Left alliance and their strained relationship with the PCF do combine to create a new opportunity for a non-communist political alternative.

There is something to be said for the record of the West European communist parties as well. At one time or another since World War II, particularly between 1945 and 1947, communists joined the governments of France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Greece, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland; they helped keep the Swedish Social Democrats in power for years as they now assist the Christian Democratic Party of Italy; and they managed, or participated in the management of, municipal governments in hundreds of cities and towns throughout Western Europe. Indeed, part of their present appeal stems from a record of efficiency and integrity in local governing bodies. More important, only in Greece - under chaotic political conditions three decades ago - did one of these communist parties make an overt move toward political hegemony. That the others did not do so does not mean, of course, that they either did not wish to or that they might not do so in the future; rather it means that in the face of countervailing power - be that the strength of domestic political competitors or the fear of external reaction - they have quite consistently opted for a cautious course and, indeed, for what seemed politically feasible under the circumstances.

All in all, the Eurocommunist parties' past experience in office, their opponents' political skill and enduring appeal and, above all, the international environment within which they operate constitute the main conditions circumscribing their strategy. Convinced of the soundness of their goals, they have kept that strategy highly competitive and assertive. Quite naturally, they seek more power and influence. The question, however, is not so much what their final goals may be but whether they are sufficiently restrained to seek only what is attainable even if it conflicts with what they consider ultimately desirable. Paradoxically, then, one can remain skeptical about their long-term commitment to political pluralism and still concede the authenticity of their limited objectives; for, given prevailing conditions now and in the foreseeable future, as well as the lessons of Chile and Portugal, the only way for the Eurocommunists to ease into positions of power is to forestall the kind of internal and external reaction that would only blunt their apparent momentum.


If electoral necessity indicates a cautious strategy and a responsible posture at home, it requires a foreign policy platform that not only dissociates Eurocommunism from the oppressive qualities of Soviet-style authoritarian rule but also insists upon the expansion of individual liberty and national autonomy in the East. For in an atmosphere of lingering suspicions, the West European communist parties continue to suffer from what the East European communist parties do or fail to do and, indeed, from the very imposition of Soviet power on Eastern Europe.

For East Europeans, on the other hand, Eurocommunism is a promising source of ideological justification and political leverage in their search for more independence from Moscow. It tends to reinforce the image East Europeans have always had of their historic role in Europe as a bridge between East and West and, more recently, as a kind of ideological potting shed for the introduction of Western ideas into the Soviet Union. In addition, Eurocommunism falls on fertile soil in Eastern Europe: after all, its early variant - national communism - was born in Yugoslavia and then nurtured, though not always successfully, by Imre Nagy in Hungary, Wladyslaw Gomulka in Poland, Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania, and others.

But the East European elites' attraction to Eurocommunism derives mainly from their traditional belief in the impact of international developments on the processes of internal change and their reliance on it in charting their political strategies. The past shows that they have used and even manipulated various international alignments and trends to serve domestic political ends. DeStalinization in the mid-1950s, the Sino-Soviet rift in the early 1960s, the presumed uncertainty of the new Brezhnev regime in the mid-1960s, and such Western manifestations as the promises of Ostpolitik and of the Soviet-American détente during the last decade have all been utilized - individually and collectively, directly and indirectly - to help modify the political profile of Eastern Europe. That the otherwise highly authoritarian Albanian regime could escape Soviet domination and Romanian foreign policy could diverge from Moscow's international positions was, of course, facilitated by the Sino-Soviet rift. That the Hungarians' New Economic Mechanism and the ill-fated Czechoslovak experiment in "socialism with a human face" could gain ground was due to the initial sense of uncertainty the post-Khrushchev leadership had projected between 1964 and 1968.

Today, East Europeans widely predict and earnestly anticipate the effect of Eurocommunism on their region. Because it is sponsored by communist parties with which the Soviet Union maintains a comradely, if guarded, relationship, and because it has acquired considerable legitimacy in world communism, Eurocommunism is viewed as a viable within-system alternative to the Soviet model. In fact, as an alternative to prevailing theory and practice, it may prove to be the most potent foreign stimulus to have affected Eastern Europe since the convulsion produced by de-Stalinization in the mid-1950s.

Like de-Stalinization, Eurocommunism also confronts Eastern Europe with the almost certain prospect of further atomization. Significant differences have already surfaced between those who welcome the political opportunity inherent in Eurocommunism and those who fear its consequences. As of now, the "autonomist" parties of Yugoslavia, Romania and Albania are actively promoting and anxiously protecting their own brand of socialism, while Yugoslavia has already adopted not only many of the foreign policy features but also some of the domestic planks of the Eurocommunist platform. At the other end of the political spectrum, the "loyalist" parties of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and East Germany remain deeply suspicious of Eurocommunist declarations of independence from Moscow, even though intellectuals in both Czechoslovakia and East Germany have recently invoked Eurocommunism to legitimize their demands for cultural freedom. Finally, the rather ambiguous Polish and Hungarian appraisals of the Eurocommunist phenomenon suggest internal debates in these two "centrist" parties between loyalist leaders who maintain that closer identification with Eurocommunism could jeopardize their delicate relationship with the Soviet Union, and autonomist leaders who claim that rejection of all aspects of Eurocommunism could upset the precarious balance at home.

Like other external stimuli in the past, then, Eurocommunism has galvanized a new and divisive debate throughout Eastern Europe, impelling a timely reassessment of political options. The result of these deliberations remains an open question. It seems clear, however, that the ultimate response of the East European regimes to Eurocommunism is going to depend less on the loyalists' ideological reservations than on the adjustments these regimes believe they must make under changing social, economic and political conditions.

Of these conditions, the potentially most explosive now is the assertive mood of the industrial working class. Last summer's violent food riots and strikes in Poland indicate not only the workers' dissatisfaction with economic conditions but also their willingness to take considerable risks to advance their interests. That the Polish government would immediately cancel the proposed price increases and then punish the workers less severely than their intellectual defenders also suggests that a communist regime cannot easily resort to repressive measures against its own working class. It is one thing to silence or even imprison critical intellectuals; it is something else to stifle workers on whose behalf all communist parties claim to govern.

Although such large-scale riots and strikes have not occurred elsewhere, there is apprehension everywhere in Eastern Europe about the implications of the Polish events. For, in addition to facing the persistent economic dilemma of how to combine economic growth with an improved standard of living, the communist party-states are also confronted with the equally persistent political dilemma of how to avoid similar outbreaks by providing orderly procedures for the expression of legitimate grievances. (Aside from Yugoslavia, so far only the Hungarian party has sought to use the otherwise timid and party-controlled trade unions as a forum for the articulation of working-class interests, but in this case the unions' rather narrow-minded leaders have used them less for the industrial working class than against the increasingly prosperous peasantry and the technical-managerial-professional middle class.)

Inherent in the active manifestation of working-class discontent, moreover, is the failure of the East European regimes to reconcile the needs of rather sophisticated economic systems with the professed ideological imperative of centralized political control. Their inability to make the necessary systemic adjustments is reflected in the ongoing confrontation within the elites between reformist modernizers - who promote decentralization, material incentives, and reliance on non-party expertise - and the more purist members of the party elites who consider such measures contrary to proper ideological standards. The issue is whether new impetus can be given to the region's deficient economic systems solely within the confines of prevailing ideological and political limitations, or whether - given the impact of global inflation, growing foreign indebtedness, inadequate technological innovation, low productivity, and, in some countries, severe shortages of food and consumer products - fresh political initiatives and ideological flexibility have become unavoidable. In their search for the good society, then, the proprietors of power in Eastern Europe must choose between relying on purely economic palliatives or acquiescing in incremental political concessions.

This is where Eurocommunism intersects with the dilemmas of Eastern Europe. For, under admittedly different circumstances, the Eurocommunists have come to recognize that the restructuring of the economic base necessitates far-reaching reform of both their own political concepts and of the political system as a whole. While the PCI platform, for example, speaks of economic measures to curtail inflation, increase productivity, and develop more sophisticated technology, and while the PCF has addressed itself to the issue of excessive foreign debts and the dangers of a highly centralized economy as well, it is clear that, in the Eurocommunists' view, only their participation in political change can solve the "general crisis of capitalism" in Western Europe. Advocating greater political access, involvement and participation in the political process, the West European communists affirm not the intrinsic merits of a pluralistic polity, but the liberating contribution to economic efficiency of broadly based, more open and inclusive political systems.

Should the party-states of Eastern Europe realize that the only way to economic salvation is through the gradual opening-up of their political process, they would find in the selective adoption of the Eurocommunist platform a convenient, if potentially destabilizing, guide to action. Assuming that they would tinker with the present political system only as much as they believed necessary and assuming, further, that they would proceed with circumspection, they might emulate the intriguing and admittedly tenuous formula the Italian Christian Democrats have recently worked out with the PCI. The Italian formula is a peculiar variant of political co-optation: PCI consultation and assistance combined with the Christian Democrats' retaining ultimate responsibility for the exercise of political power. Adapted to conditions now prevalent in Eastern Europe, the communist parties would continue to control the major levers of power, but they would seek to co-opt such political elements as they must, with the industrial working class involved in the management of factories - for which the moderately successful Yugoslav "workers' councils" might serve as a model - and the intelligentsia participating in the formulation of cultural and economic policies. Eastern Europe could also revive its venerable tradition of parliamentary activity (which even in the past only seldom coincided with Western-style competitive party systems), by allowing contested elections between two or more candidates of similar orientation vying for a seat, and by encouraging genuine legislative debates about public policy, including budgetary priorities. Even these limited reforms would begin to provide for a modicum of historical continuity, convey a commitment to a more open society and, in the end, contribute to the legitimacy of the regimes.

Such a Eurocommunist Eastern Europe would likely mitigate persistent socioeconomic problems and, in particular, allay working class discontent by infusing the East European publics with a sense of political rejuvenation. Furthermore, by promoting, however cautiously, the twin goals of political liberty and national autonomy, a Eurocommunist Eastern Europe would apply itself to the vital tasks of appeasing intellectual dissenters and, most important, satisfying presently unfulfilled national aspirations.


The Eurocommunist anti-model is thus a profound challenge to Soviet theory and practice; even its partial introduction into Eastern Europe might serve to unite the Soviet leadership behind a rigid, conservative and possibly violent reaction.

To the extent that its security depends on Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union would fear the gradual disintegration of the Warsaw Pact. To the extent that its economy depends on extensive trade with Eastern Europe - particularly with East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland - the Soviet Union would fear the weakening of bilateral economic ties and the fading away of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON). To the extent that the Soviet leaders insist on ideological primacy in Eastern Europe, they would fear being deprived of what is left of their universalist pretensions. To the extent, finally, that Moscow would accede to the legitimacy of a Eurocommunist Eastern Europe, it would fear domestic pressures for similar reforms in the Soviet Union itself.

While these fears may not always seem justified or compelling, on all too many occasions during the last three decades - under Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev - they have served to spark harsh Soviet actions against threatening developments in Eastern Europe. Stalin's campaign may have failed to reverse Yugoslavia's "revisionist" course, but his brutal purges did contain - during his lifetime at least - Tito's radiating influence elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Prompted by such fears, Khrushchev crushed the Hungarian revolution in 1956 and Brezhnev did likewise with respect to the 1968 "Prague Spring." Even now, in this era of peaceful coexistence, Moscow remains as firmly opposed as ever to competing socialist alternatives in the pro-Soviet party-states of Eastern Europe, irrespective of whether they are inspired by West European social democracy, Yugoslav revisionism or, for that matter, Chinese "dogmatism."

Against this background, an uncompromising Soviet response to the introduction of Eurocommunist ideas into Eastern Europe might well seem foreordained. After all, the Soviet Union could not accept the socialist program of Dubcek's "Eurocommunist" course in Czechoslovakia even though, with the Communist Party in a leading position, the Dubcek regime continued to operate on the basis of the one-party system. In the end, Soviet intervention put an end to the limited expansion of civil liberties, including freedom of the press and assembly, curtailed popular participation in the political process, and aborted the country's moderate economic reforms.

Yet it is equally instructive to recall that, for several months prior to their intervention, the Soviet leaders had engaged in an almost desperate search for a nonmilitary solution to the crisis. They had met the Czech leadership at an unparalleled Politburo-to-Politburo summit as they sought to persuade Dubcek and his colleagues to slow down the momentum, if not necessarily reverse the orientation, of Prague's reformist course. They had also held extensive consultations with their East European allies, and it was the East German Walter Ulbricht rather than Brezhnev who most stubbornly advocated military action.10 Indeed, only after it became clear that the Dubcek regime could neither mollify nor control ever-increasing popular demands did the Soviet leaders abandon consideration of alternative courses of action.

Thus, while their reluctance to resort to military means can neither excuse nor justify what they eventually did, even the Czechoslovak case illustrates that Soviet foreign policy toward Eastern Europe has been more circumspect and ambiguous than commonly assumed; it has shown a measure of restraint and a good deal of procrastination. That it is, indeed, a curious mixture of imperious behavior combined with some tolerance toward diversity has been demonstrated time and again. For, despite Soviet displeasure, Yugoslavia, Albania and even Romania - which, after all, refused to take part in the invasion of Czechoslovakia - remain essentially autonomous. Despite severe and public criticisms by Soviet (and East German) economists and ideologists, the far-reaching and quite liberal Hungarian economic reform has managed to survive. And despite its own repressive practices at home, the Soviet Union has long accepted the relatively tolerant attitude of successive Polish governments toward the Catholic Church and toward Poland's largely independent peasants.

Needless to say, Moscow's grudging tolerance of diversity does not denote approval of pluralism, nor is the practice of military intervention precluded by the known preference of the Soviet leadership for achieving its goals by nonmilitary means. On balance, then, past Soviet performance still indicates the likelihood of continued and resolute opposition to the adaptation of Eurocommunism to Eastern Europe.

To recognize that a heavy-handed Soviet response is likely, however, is not to suggest that it is either foreordained or foreclosed. The economic, political and ideological cost to the Soviet Union of its imperial posture in Eastern Europe is increasingly prohibitive. First, the economic cost has become such that, contrary to the pattern of the 1950s and 1960s, Eastern Europe is now an economic liability to the Soviet Union.11 Given the rising price of basic commodities, especially oil, the Soviet Union has suffered large and still growing losses in its trade with Eastern Europe. By selling such commodities somewhat below world market prices and by providing a vast market for East European goods for which there is not always a ready outlet in the West or in the Third World, the Soviet Union has come to be a greater economic asset to Eastern Europe than Eastern Europe is to the Soviet Union. Second, the political cost of Moscow's hegemonic policies includes the perpetuation of deep-rooted popular discontent and high elite tension in Eastern Europe, combined with the damaging effect of such policies on the integrity of ostensibly limited and altruistic Soviet foreign policy objectives elsewhere. Finally, the ideological cost of the Soviet imperial posture is the further alienation of the Eurocommunist parties of Western Europe that makes it ever more difficult for the Soviet leaders to recapture their leading role in world communism.


Eurocommunism is not going to solve the "general crisis of communism" in Eastern Europe any more than it could solve the "general crisis of capitalism" in Western Europe. As of now, there is sufficient internal and external resistance to it on both sides of the continent to limit its influence and appeal. Should such resistance continue, the Eurocommunists will merely accelerate egalitarian trends in Western Europe toward the gradual fulfillment of social needs; in Eastern Europe, they will encourage the expansion of individual liberties. In both Eastern and Western Europe, only through the process of co-optation into existing political structures and ideologies can the Eurocommunists obtain the partial implementation of their platform.

Because authoritarian regimes seldom realize when they must adjust to changing conditions and how to make the necessary adjustments, the introduction of Eurocommunist ideas can have a far more destabilizing effect on Eastern Europe than on the relatively flexible political systems of Western Europe. Indeed, the major issue in Western Europe is not how to absorb the Eurocommunist parties' ideas, but how to maintain sufficient internal and external opposition to their residual ambition for political hegemony. For the Soviet Union and its East European supporters, on the other hand, the Eurocommunist phenomenon signifies a reversal in the flow of influence and initiative in the communist movement, challenging the very legitimacy of their rule and offering the prospect of a Europeanization of world communism.


1 For the full text of this definition, see J. V. Stalin, Sochinenia, Vol. X, Moscow, 1949, p. 61.

2 "Problemi dall'Est per il PCI: Il caso Biermann," La Stampa (Turin), December 8, 1976. In an early, pre-Berlin comment on Eurocommunism as an all-European phenomenon, Robert Kleiman observed that "democratic Communism in Italy and other West European countries might split the Communist world more profoundly than Titoism and undermine authoritarianism in East Europe." "Italy's Communist Tide," The New York Times, December 2, 1975.

4 The Italian Communists (Rome; PCI Information Service for Abroad), No. 2, n.d., p. 10.

5 Delmagyarorszag (Szeged), December 5, 1944.

6 Izvestia, November 13, 1945.

8 The New York Times, August 3, 1975.

9 L'Humanité, September 13, 1972.

10 For a unique eyewitness account of the July 1968 pre-invasion summit of Soviet and East European leaders in Warsaw, see Erwin Weit, At the Red Summit: Interpreter Behind the Iron Curtain, New York: Macmillan, 1973, especially Chapter 11. Weit had been Gomulka's interpreter before defecting to the West.

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  • Charles Gati is Chairman of the Department of Political Science at Union College and Visiting Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. He is co-author of The Debate Over Détente, and editor and co-author of The International Politics of Eastern Europe; Caging the Bear: Containment and the Cold War, and other works.
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