The Significance of Eurocommunism - Politics | PoFo

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The Significance of Eurocommunism by Sam Mercy

July 11, 1977

The wide-open split between the Spanish, Italian, and French CPs on the one hand and the Soviet CP on the other brings to a definitive conclusion an entire epoch in the history of the revolutionary proletariat of Western Europe. This great epoch, which was ushered in by the October Socialist Revolution, was marked by successive, heroic efforts of the proletariat over a protracted period of several decades to storm the mighty citadel of bourgeois power.

Due to an extraordinary confluence of historic circumstances of both an objective and subjective character, the West European proletariat was to be overwhelmed by the power of international finance capital.


The new, infant workers' state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, had thrust upon it three Herculean tasks utterly unprecedented in the entire history of the class struggle.

It had the duty and obligation to reorganize on a revolutionary basis the left wing of the social democratic movement, put it on a communist basis, and lay the foundation for a new and revolutionary international. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were thus obligated from the start not only to give revolutionary leadership at home but, in a way, to become the general staff of the world revolution which seemed visible on the horizon, especially in Western Europe and later in the East, in China.

Its second task, no less urgent and intimately connected with it, was for the new workers' state to defend itself against the most barbaric assaults by the united front of the imperialists, from Vladivostok to Murmansk.

And thirdly, it had to begin to lay socialist economic foundations and raise the living standards of the workers and peasants who had passed through a most horrible period of destruction, civil war, and famine.

In historical retrospect, it seemed almost inevitable that the Soviet Union had to give way somewhere, and the line of least resistance following the death of Lenin was the abandonment of revolutionary internationalism and the abuse of the great new International which he and his collaborators had founded.

Herein lies one of the deepest historical roots for the subsequent evolution of the West European and other parties in a regressive direction.

The period in which the proletariat fought its offensive battles came to an end with the victory of German fascism and the defeat of the German proletariat.


It is to be noted that all of the struggles of the European working class up until the victory of German fascism were fought in the name of, and in the spirit of, the proletarian class struggle. Leaving aside errors of both a tactical and strategic character, the struggle of the working class was organized and conducted in the spirit of prosecuting the class struggle against the bourgeoisie with the ultimate objective of a proletarian revolution, the seizure of power, and the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship for the purposes of crushing the power of capital and ending the exploitative bourgeois social system.

This was the legacy of Lenin. Those were the lessons that flowed from the character of the October Revolution. And the spirit of revolutionary struggle which it stimulated was imparted not only to the European proletariat but to the working class in general and the liberation movements throughout the world.

With the defeat of the German proletariat and the consolidation of Stalin's hold on the world CPs, the European proletariat was from then on constrained by both subjective and objective factors to conduct the struggle on a strategically defensive basis. By this we mean that the European proletariat was no longer in a position to struggle for a proletarian revolution, but merely to defend itself against the onslaught of bourgeois counter-revolution in the form of fascist totalitarianism.

The great political issue on the European arena was no longer proletarian revolution against the bourgeoisie as such. The issue became posed as bourgeois democracy or fascist slavery. In the context of CP policy at the time, this meant that the proletariat was now to confine itself to defending its status economically, socially, and politically within the framework of capitalist democracy. Furthermore, it meant no inroads into the basic fabric of bourgeois property relations, no "subversive" propaganda or activity to overthrow the bourgeois system of capitalist exploitation. The basic struggle of the working class, according to CP policy, was directed against fascist counter-revolution, not with a view towards a successful proletarian revolution, but merely to win a bourgeois democratic system, which, as all communists understood that term, meant to preserve the capitalist state in the form of a bourgeois democracy.

Now, there are two different class approaches in the struggle against both bourgeois reaction and fascist totalitarianism. It can be fought in the spirit of the class struggle for working class ends or it can be fought in the spirit of bourgeois apologetics for the preservation of capitalist private property.

The defeat of the German working class at the hands of the Hitlerite fascists had consigned the perspective of proletarian revolution, so far as the Communist parties were concerned, to the very distant and dim future. Thus, in the struggle against Franco fascism, the issue was rigidly drawn on the basis of democracy vs. fascism.


The catastrophic defeat of the Spanish proletariat can in large measure be accounted for by the constraints imposed on the proletariat. It was prohibited from going beyond the bounds of bourgeois property relations and this weakened the revolutionary elan of the workers as well as the peasants, to whom possession of the land and factories was the only kind of democracy that had any real meaning. Where the land and the factories were taken by the workers, as for instance in China, Vietnam, and Cuba, it ultimately assured the success of the socialist revolution.

It is necessary to understand these antecedent developments in order to properly analyze the phenomenon of so-called Eurocommunism.

The strategically defensive outlook imposed upon the proletariat by the Stalin leadership prevailed not only in the years immediately preceding the Second World War but throughout the entire period of the war, and was in no way essentially modified at the end of the war when the French and Italian CPs were both in a position to utilize their struggle against fascism with arms in hand to also put an end to the bourgeois system of capitalist exploitation.

The partisans in Italy and their counterparts in France were armed and in a position to exercise that kind of revolutionary assault which, under the circumstances existing at the end of the Second World War, were most favorable to the revolutionary seizure of power. But the parties were not oriented in that direction at all. The class collaboration which prevailed in the late 1930s in France through the Popular Front, as well as in Spain, continued right down into the 1960s and 1970s.


It is necessary to bear this in mind so that there will be no confusion over what is new in the phenomenon of Eurocommunism. It is not the element of class collaboration. It is not the element of reformism and class conciliation. Those were present over an extended and tortuous period that began with the destruction of the German Communist Party and the triumph of Hitlerism.

It is not a matter of assessing blame, it's a matter of attempting to see the evolution of European working class politics in true historical perspective. Eurocommunism is the logical culmination of a long historical process which after a period of time became inevitable. It should be understood that Eurocommunism is not used to mean a regional federation or grouping of West European parties. None of the CP leaders embracing Eurocommunism -- Carrillo of Spain, Berlinguer of Italy, or Marchais of France -- has expressed any such thought.

Nor is there any validity to the bourgeois propaganda that the struggle of the West European CPs is in reality a struggle for autonomy and independence from the domination and hegemony of the Soviet leaders. History has long ago passed this by.

There was once a time when a revolutionary break from the dominant leadership and from subservience to Soviet foreign policy would have been highly progressive and thoroughly revolutionary and in the deepest interest not only of the European workers but the revolutionary movement as a whole. But it is a sheer fabrication and a deception of the masses to claim that autonomy and independence is the issue now.

Palmiro Togliatti, the earlier leader of the PCI, introduced the concept of polycentrism (the idea of many different centers of Communist leadership) almost immediately after Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin in 1956. The French and Italian CPs, and others as well, have long been "free," that is, free to conduct the affairs of the party in the spirit of reformism and class conciliation and to only tangentially support Soviet positions -- such as detente, which the French and Italian bourgeoisies support.

Alfredo Reichlin, the editor-in-chief of L'Unita, declared in an editorial in the Italian Communist daily on July 10, 1976 that Eurocommunism is "the original development of thought and action in the Communist parties of Western Europe."

But there is nothing original about the rejection of the revolutionary class struggle, the renunciation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, collaborating and covering up for the bourgeoisie. There is absolutely nothing new or original in this, nothing that the social democrats of an earlier era did not promote and practice. Nor is it specifically a European phenomenon. This phenomenon is well established in such faraway places as Japan, for instance, which also claims originality and holds to substantially the same position as do the French, Italian, and Spanish CPs.

What then is new about the phenomenon of Eurocommunism?

There is, of course, an aspect of Eurocommunism which is new and which poses the most serious threat to the workers in the West European countries. It is this: it is the transformation of the CPs from social reformist parties into social chauvinist parties with an anti-Soviet orientation. This is what is new. This is what is truly alarming.


The struggle of the Carrillo-Berlinguer-Marchais triumvirate is no longer a struggle against Soviet hegemony, or dominance, over the Western CPs, nor is it a struggle against the Soviet leadership or the Soviet bureaucracy over specific, political issues of a working class character. On the contrary, the struggle is now against the USSR as a whole, against the Soviet Union as a socialist state. The pressure is on these parties from hostile bourgeois sources to make a declaration that the Soviet Union is no longer a socialist state.

That, indeed, makes a fundamental, qualitative difference in the orientation of the Western CP leaders.

(It should be borne carefully in mind that we by no means equate the class-conscious West European proletariat with its contemporary leadership any more than revolutionary Marxists equated the Kautskys, the Hilferdings, and the Noskes with the rank-and-file social democratic workers. The workers have not yet been tested on that score. They are not even fully aware of what their treacherous leaders have been slowly cultivating over these last few years.)

It should not be surprising that the transition from bourgeois social reformism to anti-Sovietism has already taken place insofar as the upper echelons of the party leadership are concerned. Once having pledged themselves to class conciliation in the form of such "novel" ideas as the "historic compromise" in Italy or the "Union of the French People" in France, it is not difficult to see how, under the impetus of the general political assault by U.S. imperialism, in league with the European bourgeoisie, the CP leaders would fall into the camp of anti-Soviet struggle.

The bourgeoisie, led by the U.S., has for many years now sought to create a variant of the Sino-Soviet split on the soil of the European continent. Eurocommunism is wholly in line with the perspective of American imperialism in its struggle against the USSR.

Only last spring in a leading article in Foreign Affairs, the organ of the Rockefeller-controlled Council on Foreign Relations, entitled "The 'Europeanization' of Communism?" raised the perspective of the "exporting 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." (Their emphasis,) By this is meant the export by the imperialists and their willing tools of counter-revolutionary theories and influence into Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.


What accounts for this shift by the West European CP leaders? We have, of course, indicated earlier the broad, basic causes which have lasted over several decades and which have culminated, logically and inevitably, in the development of this anti-working class phenomenon. But there are also the immediate causes. These should be fresh in the minds of those who have followed events of the very recent past. Berlinguer did not invent his historic compromise out of thin air.

It is the result in the first place of the catastrophes suffered by the Chilean working class. Berlinguer absorbed from this tragic experience of the Chilean workers and peasants precisely the lesson that the Pentagon and the CIA wanted to teach, not only to the West Europeans but to all others who seek to rebel against the domination of Wall Street imperialism. The counter-revolutionary coup in Chile struck fear into the hearts of the CP leaders.

The experience of the Portuguese Revolution was another factor. There too the U.S. bribed, cajoled, infiltrated, and then enlisted the social-democratic parties of all of Western Europe to support the counter-revolutionary struggle of the rightists and the Socialist Party against the revolution.

Then there was of course the worldwide capitalist economic crisis which hit so hard in Italy, southern Europe, and even France. In fear of an unfolding militant struggle by the workers, the leaders moved under the impetus of the capitalist crisis precisely as the social democracy moved in the early 1930s -- to the right -- and offered their services to the capitalist class to help solve their crisis and save their system at the expense of the working class. This is precisely what the PCI leaders are doing, but with a vengeance.

Finally there is the factor which overshadows all other considerations. It is the fierce and unrelenting pressure of American imperialism in full collaboration with the European ruling class to enlist all sections of the population in an anti-communist crusade against the Soviet Union. This is the most important, the key and the central fact of the contemporary world struggle. It has to be understood that this objective orientation of imperialism has been present ever since the birth of the Soviet Union.

The irreconcilable character of predatory imperialism and its mortal hatred of the Soviet Union and all other socialist countries is the one most abiding element in the struggle between the two world social systems. Come Lenin or Stalin, Khrushchev or Brezhnev, the objective orientation of all imperialist politics is toward struggle against, if not destruction of, the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries as the fundamental obstacle to imperialist encroachment.


Eurocommunism is not solely a European product. It has been cultivated for many years and promoted by imperialist politics and aggression. Eurocommunism, however, while it raises enormous problems for the working class in the struggle against the bourgeoisie, is not the formidable weapon, is not the great realization of their dream that the liberal arm of the imperialist establishment in the U.S. believes it is.

The more sober elements of the ruling class are not all that sure of Eurocommunism's effectiveness in the struggle against the workers on the European continent or of its counter-revolutionary ideological export to the socialist countries.

More than anything else, the ruling classes are fearful that the Eurocommunists, once entrusted with the authority of running the state on behalf of the ruling class, would inevitably and inexorably encourage the masses to take things into their own hands. They are in reality fearful that the Eurocommunists would not be able to control the masses and that mass spontaneous developments, such as the May 1968 uprising of the French workers, could sweep right over the heads of the leaders.

Finally, Eurocommunism, unlike the reformism of the social democracy, lacks a stable materialist basis for a durable existence. The reformism of the Bernstein and Kautskyan era was based on flourishing capitalist expansion. It was the heyday of imperialist piracy and its expansion with relative impunity.

That era has come to a close. The crumbs from the table of the bourgeoisie left over after its orgy of imperialist super-profits and handed to the upper echelons of the labor bureaucracy are rapidly dwindling as the bourgeoisie long ago realized. Capitalist austerity is on the order of the day.

Retreat on the part of the working class is the strategy of Eurocommunism. The reformism of the earlier era, of the Bernstein and Kautsky period, was based upon solid economic, social, and political gains, which the reformists could claim as the fruit of their policy. (In reality, the gains were a by-product of the class struggle. Of course, the social democrats overlooked the maturing of class contradictions; they refused to see that the slow, gradual, and peaceful processes of imperialist development would lead to a qualitative change -- a veritable world holocaust.)

But the purveyors of Eurocommunist ideology cannot really lay claim to any material basis for their fraudulent theories. Even the stability obtained during the 1950s and 1960s and the gains made at the time are fast dwindling away in the light of the galloping inflation and the stubborn unemployment.

Eurocommunism as a political ideology and as an instrument of anti-Soviet struggle can only thrive on the European continent if it coincides with a wave of capitalist prosperity for a durable, extended period. But this is not in the objective evolution of monopoly capitalism in the present era.

Should the U.S. in its mad militarist drive against the USSR rely upon the Eurocommunists as a social and political weapon in a showdown struggle, it will find to its grief that it will end up in a disaster that will make the Vietnam war appear to be a minor historical episode.

Since the epoch which ushered in the revolutions of 1848, the bourgeoisie on a world scale has rarely lost consciousness of the objective possibility of the proletariat seizing power. In the course of the long evolution of capitalist political development, the bourgeoisie has thrown up layers of society, mostly from within its own class, who, seemingly in opposition to it, in reality carry forward the task of capitalist development for the bourgeoisie as a whole.

During the period of capitalist expansion, the liberal bourgeoisie played that role as the initiator of social legislation and as the "champion of the people." Its real task, however, was to prevent and obstruct the development of independent organization of the working class in pursuit of its own class tasks. In this, bourgeois liberalism failed. Mass working-class and Marxist organizations grew up on the continent of Europe to challenge the bourgeoisie, great gains were made, and sections of the proletariat were tempered and prepared for future struggles as vanguard elements.

In the course of further development, the bourgeoisie moderated and to a large extent coopted these vast instruments of working-class organization, but again to no avail for the bourgeoisie. On the heels of the great imperialist war came the Bolshevik Revolution and a series of European proletarian insurrections. The Great Depression and another imperialist world war spread the example of proletarian revolution to new corners of the earth.

If the bourgeoisie thinks, as a large section of them undoubtedly do, that the cooptation of the Eurocommunists will solve the general crisis of capitalism they have only to look at the preceding half century to see how well they have done. One-third of the earth's surface is now in the hands of the workers.
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