The paradox of the concept of Eurocommunism is undoubtedly the combination of its extraordinary success in the United States and the skeptical treatment it has met since its birth in Europe in the countries concerned.1 European political commentators, including this author, noted in 1975 how difficult it was to apply the same concept to situations so different as the Italian one, where a powerful Communist Party was allied to a powerful conservative party in order for the two of them to monopolize political life; the French one, where, in contrast, an important, though not dominant, Communist Party allied itself to the Socialists and cut the political world into two irreconcilable halves; or the Spanish or Portuguese situations, where two minor Communist Parties (about 10 percent of the vote) had more coverage than their actual weight justified (the Spanish, because it presented the most liberal image in the Western world and risked nothing by doing so, and, on the other hand, the Portuguese, by trying with the help of the army to establish a dictatorship in the purest Leninist style).

The point at which Europeans had little confidence in the solidity of Eurocommunism was evident from the moment that the first cracks appeared in the Union of the French Left, in September 1977. The explanation that immediately came to the minds of the Socialist analysts, when they perceived the incomprehensible hardening of the French Communist Party, was the influence of Moscow. These are the same people who for five years had been maintaining that French communism had completely detached itself from Russian communism, and then decided from one day to the next to perceive the hand of the Kremlin in the crisis of the French Left. The noted Paris daily, Le Monde, which for years had been the most ardent defender of the thesis of the independence of the French Communist Party from the U.S.S.R., published in rapid succession two articles, "The French Communist Party and Proletarian Internationalism"2 and "The Hand of Moscow",3 both of which attributed the change of course of the French Communists to Leonid Brezhnev. While it is true that they left question marks, until quite recently Le Monde would have considered the mere question itself to be sacrilegious. Nowadays, articles and declarations proliferate in Italy, in France and in Spain, proclaiming "the death of Eurocommunism" and adding "if it ever existed." François Mitterrand, Alvaro Cunhal, Felipe Gonzalez and Giorgio Amendola all agree on this point.

On the other hand, during my visits to the United States in 1975, 1976 and 1977, I saw to what degree one is suspect by the academic and the liberal press Establishment if one retains a critical attitude in regard to Eurocommunism or, indeed, to communism in general. According to the current cliché, it means "a return to the cold war." American liberals do not understand the existence in Europe, and in France and Italy in particular, of a violent anti-communist Left among people who were only 20 in 1970 or even 1975 and who have not lived through the cold war and do not even know what it is. The explosion of the "new philosophers" in France, the mass demonstrations of the extra-parliamentary extreme Left in Italy fall into this category (together with many members of the preceding generation, who have not been conditioned by the cold war). The communist phenomenon, including what I have called in The Totalitarian Temptation, "unofficial Stalinism," should be examined independently and not in relation to other concepts, such as the "cold war" or "McCarthyism," which are today without any semantic content.

For instance, to ask oneself whether the West European communist parties have remained Stalinist is not a matter to be resolved by a vague evaluation or by impressions gathered through personal contacts with French or Italian Communists or by a subjective confidence in their writings, promises or declarations. On the contrary, it is a technical problem: as long as the Western communist parties remain organized according to the so-called schema of "democratic centralism," meaning a Politburo, recruited by cooptation, which nominates and controls from top to bottom the members of the Central Committee and the federation secretaries, the sections and lastly the cells, and consequently all the delegates to the congresses, it is ridiculous to speak of de-Stalinization. Actually, this structure adheres strictly - and has always done so - to the Stalinist-Leninist organization of the communist party. It transforms the deliberations of the rank and file into phony discussions, completely prefabricated by the Politburo. This results in a ritual "unanimous" vote of the Central Committees of the parties. Indeed, the French and the Italian Parties have never ceased to function in accordance with this schema. And this leads one to ask the following question: if, tomorrow, in France, coalition governments were to include Communist ministers, whose orders would these Communist ministers obey? The Prime Minister's? The President of the Republic's? or those of the Politburo of their Party? In the current state of things, the answer is: the Politburo's. This is incompatible with the practice of a representative democracy, and with the Constitution, precisely because the Communist Party works in an undemocratic and oligarchic way. This technical angle is the only one that makes it possible to see things clearly: all the rest is literature and impressionistic gossip.

To take another example: independence from Moscow. It is impossible to know absolutely the degree and method used by Moscow to control the Western communist parties. But one thing can be measured with precision because it consists of public and published declarations, i.e., the extent of the support of the Italian and the French Communist Parties for Russia's foreign policy. Has there been, since 1975, one or several aspects of Soviet foreign policy toward which a Western communist party has adopted a reserved or critical attitude? The answer is simple: none. Whether it be Angola, Mozambique, the Polisario liberation front, the conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia, the Helsinki agreements, Israel, the civil war in Lebanon, communist newspapers and communist leaders in the West have approved wholly and unconditionally Soviet theories and behavior. It is not a question of mysterious secret ties between Moscow and the Western communist parties but of historical fact.


Certainly there are other elements to be taken into account: the condemnation of the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia by the Italian Communist Party or the pledge by both the Italian and French Parties to remain within the Atlantic Alliance. In these two cases, however, one must examine not the propaganda value but the substance of their declarations. The Western communist parties claim that they condemn the excesses of Soviet repression but simultaneously have launched a fantastic campaign of intimidation and calumny against Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Amalrik and Vladimir Bukovsky. They say they want to stay in the Atlantic Alliance (the Italians even in NATO) but French Communist Jean Kanapa's report on the defense policy of the French Communist Party results in the isolation of France within the Atlantic system and, thus, in the dismantling of the Alliance. This serves "objectively" Soviet interests, the principal designated enemy being West Germany! It is not surprising that François Mitterrand has described the new Communist doctrine in defense matters as ludicrous and that it has been one of the main points of the conflict in the crisis between Socialists and Communists in France.

Here are some examples of diagnosis and of concrete questions, which are really the only way of dealing with Eurocommunism. By contrast, to deal with it, as is frequently done, by generalizing leads to utter confusion. And, above all, the evolution of the communist phenomenon in the world should not be confused with the evolution of the psychological attitude of Americans toward communism.

In the 1950s, communism was much less powerful and widespread than it is today. The Soviet regime was isolated in its geographical sphere and the inferiority of its economy, its military forces and its technology. The riots and the staged trials in the satellite countries and the revelations on Stalinism by Khrushchev in 1956 had discredited it. Cuba was not communist. Southeast Asia was not communist. That vast portions of Africa could, one day, become subject to the direct or indirect influence of the Soviet Union was unthinkable. It was also inconceivable that West European communist parties might accede to power either by electoral means or by revolution.

At that time, however, Americans saw the communist danger everywhere. Any European who tried to explain to them the existence in Europe of a long tradition of non-communist, non-totalitarian socialism and stressed the necessity of understanding this would himself be accused of being a communist. Even worse, if he explained that the large number of communist voters in Italy or in France was not entirely due to the machinations of the KGB but had, instead, national roots that one had to analyze, he was considered an active propagandist of communism.

Today, even though communism exists on all the continents and the influence of unofficial Stalinism overlaps the actual communist sphere and penetrates even Britain's Labour Party, we witness the opposite phenomenon. Americans no longer see totalitarian danger anywhere when it is present everywhere. Only détente and Eurocommunism are respectable and accepted at their face value.4 American liberals, and even non-liberals, have retained from the 1950s the idea, or rather the conditioned reflex, that the rejection of communism is always a conservative stance. This is completely wrong. In Europe, the most uncompromising anti-communists have always been the socialists, the large social-democratic parties of Germany, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Austria and Great Britain (before the current "Marxization" of its Left wing). To this very traditional anti-communist Left have recently been added the young anti-totalitarian radicals I have mentioned above. In this context, the experiment of an alliance between the French Communist Party and the Socialist Party of François Mitterrand is not the rule but the exception, and (as the mishaps of the alliance seem to indicate) an unfortunate exception. In general, it has contributed more to the Finlandization of the Socialist Party than to the democratization of the Communist Party. Hence, it is profoundly unfair and wrong to consider all the skeptical reactions to Eurocommunism as coming solely from the Right.

The fundamental controversy about Eurocommunism in Europe is thus not a debate between the Right and the Left but between two Lefts. The question is which trend of European socialism - the Leninist or the social-democratic - will prevail.


Let us now return to what is, in theory, the substance of Eurocommunism, so that we can then ask ourselves if it is viable or even if it exists. Eurocommunism defines itself, in the first instance, as a demand by the communist parties for independence from Moscow and hence the right to define, at home, "their national road toward socialism." Further, it defines itself by a desire for democratization on the part of the Western communist parties and for respect for the law, both in the struggle for and in the exercise of power. Communists promise, in particular, to give up power if they lose the elections (provided there are any).

These two points - de-Russification and pluralistic democracy - must be examined in turn according to two criteria.

First, are the themes of Eurocommunism new? It is important to know if this is so because Eurocommunism has been presented as a decisive, indeed an irreversible innovation, of Western communism. Second, to what extent do the words and deeds of the Western communist parties coincide? It is important to measure this, because, curiously, although communist leaders in every country have lied far more than anybody since the beginning of politics (even more than Hitler who, after all, announced his intentions quite clearly in Mein Kampf), it is virtually sacrilegious today to doubt their promises. Skepticism in regard to electoral promises of any political party is considered in democracies as a prudent and an elementary right of the citizen; however, the exercise of this right, when it comes to Eurocommunists, is considered (and, at the risk of repeating myself, especially in the United States) as the irrefutable sign of a conservative mentality.

To test whether or not the Eurocommunist communist parties are truly independent in relation to the U.S.S.R. and if this is a new phenomenon, one must keep in mind the following principles.

1. The relations between non-Soviet communist parties, in or out of power, and Moscow have never been without problems. The history of the communist movement is full of cases of leaders who did not think the policy that Moscow wanted to impose was suitable for local conditions. Between 1956 and 1964, for instance, the French Communist Party was constantly hostile to Khrushchev and plotted with the "Molotov group" of old-line Stalinists. On the other hand, the Italians, who had previously been in veiled disagreement with Moscow, supported Khrushchev ardently. It is difficult to interpret the real relationship because secrecy reigns over the communist world. For instance, the Italian Communist Party is now by far the Western Party that enjoys the best relations with Moscow. Pravda does not miss an occasion to praise Enrico Berlinguer, although logically he should be the most detested leader, since he presumably launched the Eurocommunist wave. At the Eurocommunist summit in Madrid, in March 1977, Enrico Berlinguer was the man who insisted that the final statement contain no mention of human rights in the U.S.S.R. And let us not forget that before the 1948 breach, the Yugoslav Party was the most pro-Soviet of European parties.

2. The programs of "national democratic unions" and of popular fronts demanding "original paths toward socialism" reappear periodically in the history of communist parties, especially of those that are not, or not yet, completely in power. In 1946, Klement Gottwald declared before the Czechoslovak Central Committee: "There is not just one road to socialism, there is not just the path that passes through the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Soviets. Another road to socialism can be envisaged."5 Maurice Thorez, Secretary General of the French Communist Party, in an interview given to The Times of London on November 18, 1946, declared: "The progress of democracy throughout the world, despite those rare exceptions that prove the rule, permits other roads to socialism than the one followed by Russian Communists." In the same year, Mathias Rakosi for Hungary and Georgi Dimitrov for Bulgaria offered numerous reassurances in the same style: different ways toward communism exist and "there will be no dictatorship of the proletariat." These were the periods of the great alliances: Communist ministers were members of the French and of the Italian governments, with Christian-Democrats, Socialists and Gaullists. These alliances were also broken overnight. As for the countries of Central Europe, one knows the nature of the regimes they were rapidly subjected to (including Czechoslovakia, from 1948 on, without any intervention by the Soviet army).

3. Until now, communist strategies have always been reversible. A communist party "line" does not mean a profound change in policy as long as it can be changed at any time. We have seen in France this past September how a sudden hardening of the Communist Party can, with one stroke, reverse a policy followed for years, thus giving lie to the predictions of those who judged the change in the French Communist Party as being "final."

4. Even when the "Marchais line" and the "Berlinguer line" give formal endorsement to a certain autonomy, the governing bodies of the French and Italian Parties always include members close to the Soviet leadership, ready to take over if necessary. The same is true of the communist unions, like the CGT in France.

5. The financial relations between Moscow and the non-Soviet communist parties no longer consist of direct payments, as in former times, except in the case of the small parties (Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, etc.). But in Italy and in France financial relations do exist by way of commissions on commerce between East and West received by import-export companies independent in legal form from any political party but actually owned by straw men of the Communist Parties. The most famous one in France is a company by the name of Interagra, headed by the "Communist billionaire," Jean-Baptiste Doumeng, which has the monopoly on French commerce with the East in wine, meat, cereals and butter. There are other companies of the same sort for manufactured goods. No French or Italian producer, who wants to sell to the East, can ever obtain a contract without going through one of these middlemen. This largely explains the wealth of the French and of the Italian Communist Parties, which paradoxically are the two richest political parties in their countries, although the contributions of the registered members (500,000 in France, 1,500,000 in Italy, not to be confused with voters) are very far from explaining this wealth. Consequently it is quite obvious that if the U.S.S.R. ever considered Eurocommunists as its enemies, it would put a stop to this considerable source of profits. By the same token, the Western communist parties can hardly afford the luxury of breaking completely with the Russians, even when they find them difficult to put up with. One can sometimes be on very bad terms with Moscow without breaking with Moscow, as one can sometimes be on very bad terms with one's wife or husband without divorcing.

6. Eurocommunists have never stopped totally supporting the foreign policy of the Soviet Union (as has already been mentioned above).

To conclude: there have always been periods of affirmation of "national roads" followed by periods of avowed obedience to Moscow. For example, in France, the national road and the popular front from 1935 to 1939; return to Moscow with the Russo-German Pact; and, during national or Eurocommunist periods, relations with the Soviet Party are never broken. Thus, between 1935 and 1939, Maurice Thorez had his independent policy dictated to him by an agent of the Comintern who stayed at his side and whose name and activity is now known: Eugen Fried.6


What about democratization and participation by Western communist parties in the political life and the public debates in their respective countries? Notwithstanding all the reservations that I have made above, the right to criticize the present regime in the U.S.S.R. and the other East European states has certainly been clearly established since 1968 and particularly since the publication of The Gulag Archipelago. The Western communist parties had to separate their image from that of the U.S.S.R., which had become simply too repulsive. Whenever the question "Where would you want to live if you had to leave France?" was asked in polls, hardly two percent of Communist voters would answer "in the U.S.S.R." In October 1977, the French Communist Party condemned unequivocally the parody-like trial in Prague of certain dissidents.7 But, at the same time, the French Communist Party never ceased approving as authentically socialist the foundations of the Soviet system, particularly its economic base. Proving themselves to be bad Marxists, French Communists do not ask themselves how an economic system can be fundamentally good and liberating if 60 years of police-state terror has been necessary in order to enforce it.

Above all, the essential point that I want to make here is the following: even if the Western communist parties were to go to the point of breaking openly with Moscow, which is possible, it would not mean that they had become, in a domestic context, democratic parties. De-Russification is not democratization. The Communist Parties of Yugoslavia, China and Albania have broken with the Soviet Communist Party, but they have maintained and even aggravated the totalitarian system. The most totalitarian of all the popular democracies of Eastern Europe is Romania, which as a nation-state is the one that least follows Soviet foreign policy. Nonalignment is a concept that has to do with the will of the leadership to be all-powerful and not with the will of the people to be free. The present Cambodian leaders are nonaligned, despite the recent courtesy visit of Pol Pot to Peking.

Moreover, when studying the evolution of the French Communist Party since April 1977, it is clear that its unquestionable firmness in relation to Moscow's admonitions has been accompanied by a tougher stand on domestic policy and a return to the most intransigent Leninist principles. The purpose of the campaign to "update the Common Program" was to extend nationalizations to such a degree that the better part of the French economy would have passed under the control of a state bureaucracy. In addition, the French Communist Party demanded that in all such nationalized companies the chief executive officers be "elected by the rank and file," that is to say, in practice, designated by the Communist union, the CGT, and by the Communist cells within the company. These two decisions would, as a practical matter, let the Communist Party gain control over about half of the French industrial apparatus, especially through the nationalization of all the subsidiaries of the large companies that would come under state control.

At this point in the negotiations, the Socialists realized that their Communist allies were laying the foundations for an East European-style economy. Hence the rupture. But it is erroneous to give it a headline as The Washington Post did (September 27, 1977): "French Reds Risk Electoral Hopes for Ideology." Ideology had nothing to do with it. It was a question of power. Ideological concessions such as "the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat" do not bother Communists one bit. But they never yield when it comes to real power: controlling the economy, securing for the state the monopoly of economic initiative, and therefore eliminating the autonomy of the economy. This has always been the essential instrument of power of Leninism and consequently of Stalinism. This is the reason why Eurocommunists still consider social democracy as their main enemy. For the past few weeks, the French Communist Party's campaign against social democracy and the Socialist International has been revived with increased violence. If one adds to this program the maintenance of the authoritarian, even military, structure of the internal organization of the Communist Party, I really fail to see how it can be said that they have changed on truly important points.

These observations apply less to the Italian Communist Party, which is not eager to increase the public sector, already overgrown, poorly managed and operating at a loss. But what I have said remains true of its internal organization and its takeover of the mechanics of society. While representing only a third of the voters, the Italian Communist Party has managed to carry two-thirds of the cities and the regions in elections. It heads the most powerful union. And, above all, most recently it has succeeded in gaining control, directly or indirectly, over the press, the media, the publishing houses and the educational system. The ideological control of society has always been since Gramsci the essential objective for the Italian Communist Party. Neither in France nor in Italy does the Communist press show any tolerance toward adversaries or even political partners or for that matter toward Communist dissidents. Everything is always voted unanimously. How can one believe that the communist parties in power would grant freedom of expression to non-communists when they do not even acknowledge this right in the case of communists?

Eurocommunism may be defined, then, as the result of two phenomena that have occurred over the last 20 years. First, the realization in Western Europe of the economic and human failure of Soviet socialism. This realization is not quite clear yet but it is no longer possible to suggest the "Soviet paradise" as a goal and a model for Western voters. Second, the adaptation of the communist parties to advanced industrial societies - or rather, their clumsy efforts to "direct" these societies without renouncing their principles. Even Spain has enjoyed an economic boom during the 1960s. Portugal is the only country that missed it, and it is no coincidence that its Communist Party has been the most archaic of all.

The first phenomenon enabled the communist parties to have a much freer hand in dealing with their particular situations. If we take the Spanish Party, for instance, we must keep in mind that its extraordinary good will comes from the atrocious image it had given the Left as a result of its behavior during the Civil War. It fought the Civil War for itself and for the Soviet Union within the Republican camp, against the Anarchists and the Socialists far more than against Franco. It had to purify its image at any price.

The second phenomenon - the increasing complication of the social structure of societies enriched by industrial and post-industrial development - forces the communist parties to confront a dilemma: remain revolutionary parties and take power illegally or take power legally and blend into social democracy. Eurocommunism can be logical and coherent only if it results in the disappearance of communism. This is the reason why its short history is already filled with illogicalities, contradictions and reversals. Nothing, however, makes it possible to believe that communists do not have as their goal, today as yesterday, the monopoly of power.


1 One of the favorite amusements of "political scientists" is to search for the author of the term "Eurocommunism," which was not devised by the communists. Some attribute it to Zbigniew Brzezinski, others to the director of Turin's La Stampa, Arrigo Levi. The latter, actually, used the word "neo-communism" (Newsweek, European edition, July 14, 1975). It took German erudition, in its own special way, to resolve the enigma. The word Eurocommunism was devised, during the summer of 1975, by the Yugoslav journalist, Frane Barbieri, former editor-in-chief of the most important Belgrade weekly, N.I.N., fired during the purges of 1972 and today a contributor to Il Giornale of Milan. ("Ursprung und Konzept des Eurocommunismus," Deutschland-Archiv, April 1977.)

2 Le Monde, September 16, 1977.

3 Ibid., September 25-26, 1977.

4 One could go back even further to observe this curious Anglo-American swing: sometimes everyone is suspected of communist sympathies, sometimes no communist is considered dangerous. On May 23, 1943, The New York Times published an article stating that the Russians were changing the structures of their economy and progressively abandoning communism. Fortune (April 1943) believed that, after the war, the U.S.S.R. would be too weak to expand in Europe, even ideologically. Finally, the dissolution of the Comintern was hailed by The Times of London (May 24, 1943) as one of the most important events of the war and proof that the Russians would not try to influence Central Europe after peace. The monumental naiveté of these assertions need hardly be stressed today.

5 Rude Pravo (Prague), September 26, 1946. An even stronger declaration appeared in Rude Pravo on October 5, 1946.

6 See the biography of Thorez by Philippe Robrieux, recognized today as authoritative: Maurice Thorez, Vie secrète et vie publique, Paris: Fayard, 1975.

7 L'Humanité, October 19, 1977.

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  • Jean-François Revel is a columnist for l'Express and the author of Without Marx or Jesus, The Totalitarian Temptation and other works.
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