To the Editor:
I am loath to disagree, even in part, with the very knowledgeable Michael Ledeen [“The ‘News’ About Eurocommunism,” October 1977] but, in my view, he is only half right.
He is, of course, right in warning against accepting the authenticity of the tactical “conversion” of the Western Communist parties to democracy and pluralism; but he is wrong in assuming that the Soviet Union will, therefore, acquiesce in a Eurocommunism that “is a threat to the West and hardly menaces the Soviet Union at all.” The fallacy lies in assuming that the second necessarily follows from the first.
This is made quite clear by the fateful collapse (after Mr. Ledeen’s article was written) of negotiations between the French Socialists and Communists on their Common Program, under whose banner it was widely expected that the Socialist-Communist alliance would sweep into power in the approaching parliamentary elections. The collapse cannot be explained merely as a result of the offensive by Georges Marchais (the Communist leader) against François Mitterrand (the Socialist leader) in the form of suddenly escalated demands which Marchais knew would be unacceptable. This was the appearance, but the cause runs deeper. It is, in fact, the Brezhnev offensive against Marchais— the opening gun in Moscow’s broader assault on Eurocommunism. Let us examine the matter.
The Communist parties of Western Europe found themselves in this situation: with no prospect of revolution in the foreseeable future and, at the same time, permanently excluded from political power, or even from sharing power as a halfway house to full power. They therefore opted for the tactic of a “national” policy in place of “proletarian internationalism” (a euphemism for Soviet primacy). They rejected the Soviet model (though only Santiago Carrillo in Spain went so far as to deny that the Soviet Union was a socialist state); repudiated the doctrine of proletarian dictatorship; discovered the virtues of bourgeois democracy and pluralism; and, excepting the French . . . , even declared their support of NATO.
To the Soviet Union, on the other hand, the only raison d’être for the Communist parties is to serve as instruments of Soviet policy, with unquestioning loyalty to the Soviet Union as an article of faith. Should the leadership of any party deviate even one iota from this line and take the course of “opportunistic bourgeois nationalism,” which threatens to disorient the faithful, Moscow would not hesitate to isolate and overthrow it: witness the East European purges and interventions (the suppressed Hungarians and Czechs were the first proto-Eurocommunists) and the earlier ouster of the American Communist leader, Earl Browder (which also signaled the launching of Stalin’s cold war against the West).
At last year’s East Berlin Conference of European parties, the Soviet Union only seemingly acquiesced in the declarations of autonomy of the Western parties. Now the counteroffensive has begun, with the French party chosen as first victim because its strong pro-Moscow base presents the best chance of success. Marchais has been warned: either return to the fold or Moscow will . . . bring about your overthrow or create a new party. He has clearly made his choice. . . .
The outcome of the struggle between Moscow and the Western parties is difficult to foresee. There are three major possibilities: (1) the parties will submit; (2) the parties will resist and be splintered but the heretical split-offs will remain “Leninist,” in a situation analogous to that of Yugoslavia, Albania, and China; or (3) a minority in several of the countries will break with Leninism and move toward social democracy. However it may turn out, the consequences are likely to be devastating among the “progressive” intellectuals. The precipitous decline in the influence of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, the vindication of Raymond Aron, the emergence of Jean-François Revel (The Totalitarian Temptation) and the young generation of “New Philosophers” led by Bernard-Henri Lévy1 are signs pointing to the future.
If this analysis is correct, the breach in the French Socialist-Communist alliance is both inevitable and irreversible. This new development may be the hinge of history in more ways than one. It is more hopeful in terms of the internal life of the West; it is more ominous in terms of Russia’s unswerving expansionist goals.
Elias M. Schwarzbart
New York City
Michael Ledeen writes:
It is quite true that the Soviet Union does not like the rhetoric of Georges Marchais in France, Enrico Berlinguer in Italy, and Santiago Carrillo in Spain. On the other hand, Western European Communist parties had no chance of coming to power on the themes of Bolshevism; they are doing much better (indeed, spectacularly so in Italy) with their newer slogans. The question is one of degree: how much rhetorical independence (Elias M. Schwarzbart and I agree that it is purely rhetorical) will the Kremlin accept in return for greater leverage over Western Europe?
The Italian party (PCI) has been by far the most independent of the Kremlin for the longest time, and there has never been a serious attempt by the Kremlin to sabotage the PCI. As for Carrillo, the attempt to overthrow him long predates the current ideological rupture.
This demonstates that the Kremlin is looking at realities, and not—as our own “experts” generally do—at myths. The Soviet Union will try to destroy a Communist party which is genuinely hostile to the Kremlin’s line, no matter how orthodox its pretensions, and it will tolerate a great deal of “heresy” if the party in question is known to be loyal. Furthermore, the Soviets support Eurocommunists so long as they succeed in their tactical methods, but pressure them as soon as there is a step backward. Hence Berlinguer (with 36 per cent of the popular vote) is supported, but Marchais (whose party’s strength has been steadily dropping in the polls, and who at most could have aspired to become the leader of the junior party in a tenuous left-wing coalition) has come under pressure. And Carrillo, since he is known to be disloyal (it was hardly necessary to await the publication of his book, Eurocommunism and the State, to discover this), receives the mailed fist.
There is one final consideration: even when a party clearly serves the ideological interests of the Soviet Union, it is not certain that its participation in, or domination of, a Western European government would serve the power interests of the Kremlin. As I wrote, the Russians are afraid of an awakened West: they do not want a revival of the cold war, a shift to a more actively anti-Communist policy in the United States and Germany, or new evidence of backbone in NATO. And they fear that any or all of these things might happen if France or Italy were to have substantial Communist participation in the national government. The Soviets might prefer to have strong Communist parties in opposition in such countries, thus destabilizing NATO without running the risks of backlash.
The rupture in France, then, far from marking a new epoch in the relations between the Kremlin and its foreign comrades, simply continues the old pattern. The risks that PCF entry into a Left government in France raised for the Kremlin were not worth the potential gain. But if the PCF had been the stronger of the two parties of the Left, the break might not have taken place. In Italy, on the other hand, the Kremlin is probably prepared to run risks in order to drive a wedge into the heart of the Atlantic alliance.
As for the effect of the rupture in France, I hope Mr. Schwarzbart is right, and that the French (and the rest of us) have learned the lesson once and for all that Communist parties will abide by the rules of democracy only when doing so serves their own anti-democratic interests. But it is not yet clear that the French have learned this lesson. So far, the big losers in recent polls in France have been the Socialists.
1 See the article by Roger Kaplan, “France’s New Philosophers,” beginning on p. 73 of this issue.—Ed.