Commentary Magazine


The “News&rdquo About Eurocommunism

Many of our leading papers and magazines have lately been spreading the “news” that West European Communists have reached a point of no return in their relations with the Soviet Union, and are on the verge of becoming (or have in fact already become) democratic, pluralistic, and pro-Western. According to this view, “Eurocommunism” is well advanced along the road to independence from the Kremlin, and now threatens Brezhnev and his comrades in the Politburo with something even more menacing than the two great schisms in the history of world Communism, the Titoist defection and the Sino-Soviet split. Moreover, unlike the previous ruptures, this one is held to threaten the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe, and perhaps the very structure of the Soviet Union itself.

This “news,” to be sure, is hardly new. Columnists and correspondents like Tom Wicker and Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, Sari Gilbert and Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post, along with various intellectuals and would-be Secretaries of State, have been spreading it for years from the lofty heights of learned foreign-policy journals and the somewhat lower altitude of diverse op-ed pages. But there are signs that the theory of an impending schism in the Communist world is gathering momentum; and since the theory is false, its rapidly growing popularity with the American press has alarming implications for American political culture and American foreign policy.

The word “Eurocommunism” was invented in 1975 by an Italian journalist who writes for Milan’s anti-Communist daily Il Giornale nuovo, and it referred originally to the propaganda with which Enrico Berlinguer, the leader of the Italian Communist party (PCI), attempted to convince the Italian electorate that the PCI was part of the Western democratic tradition. As the word has come to be used in the American press, however, it takes this claim not as propaganda but at face value. Here, for example, are five recent definitions of Eurocommunism:

A Communist rule free of Moscow’s domination, as advocated by the parties of Italy, France, and Spain, and free of the Soviet features of violent accession to power and repression to retain power (James Markham, New York Times, June 25).

A version of Marxism which stresses transition to socialism by parliamentary means (Christian Science Monitor, June 28).

Those Western Communists who had given up hope for revolution and chosen the parliamentary path to power, and, at the same time, had rejected Moscow’s claim to subservience and first loyalty as “the world’s first Socialist country.” . . . All three parties, though to different degrees, . . . are in favor of a national or Western defense which, put bluntly, concedes a fear of Soviet might (Flora Lewis, New York Times, July 3).

A mixture of socialism and Western democracy (Sari Gilbert, Washington Post, July 7).

A tendency in some Western Communist parties to stress independence from Moscow and opposition to coercion (Paul Hofmann, New York Times, July 4).

As these quotations demonstrate, one hardly ever finds European Communists subjected to the sort of probing analysis or critical questioning which the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, and the rest reserve for all other politicians, especially American ones. Thus, on July 31, the Times gave over an entire page to two long interviews, one with Giancarlo Pajetta of the PCI, the other with the French Communist theoretician, Jean Kanapa. When Pajetta bragged of his party’s reputation for “honest and capable management” in local governments, the interviewer (Ina Lee Selden) went him one better, even trying to explain away occasional failures: “The Communists do have a reputation for clean government. They have done well . . . where they inherited economically or administratively sound structures and where the population has a reputation for industry. They have been less than effective in Naples and other chronically poor southern cities. . . .” The interview went on to reinforce the idea of Eurocommunism as “independent” of Moscow, and committed to democratic processes and Western political traditions in general.

The PCI has long been treated with kid gloves by the American press, but it is only recently that this gentle approach has been extended to Georges Marchais and his comrades in the French Communist party (PCF). In his Times interview with Kanapa, Paul Lewis dealt with him as indulgently as Ina Lee Selden dealt with Pajetta in the adjoining columns. The conversation with Kanapa was “a relaxing experience,” and the Communist leader was allowed to present himself as a champion of human rights. “No one has suffered more from oppressive governments than the French working class,” he told Lewis. “We insist on preserving the maximum of democratic liberties.” The PCF, said Lewis, although “long thought of as the most rigidly orthodox and pro-Soviet in Western Europe,” was now “anxious to show itself as a moderate, democratic, liberty-loving adherent of Eurocommunism.”

The theme is always the same: the European Communists are committed to democracy. Moreover, this presumed Western orientation carries over into the field of foreign policy. C. L. Sulzberger of the Times puts it as follows:

Personally, I have been impressed in long talks with Berlinguer and it seems to me he is being logical when he insists his party wishes at present to continue Italy’s membership in NATO. . . .

The reason is that Berlinguer not only believes in developing a different form of socialism—with democratic guarantees—in his country, but also recognizes the very real possibility of a Soviet or pro-Soviet putsch in neighboring Yugoslavia some time after Tito’s death.

And Berlinguer . . . doesn’t fancy the idea of a Soviet or Soviet-puppet neighbor for the independent Italy whose independent future he now . . . is helping to plan.

Sulzberger’s fellow Times columnist, Tom Wicker, agrees:

The Italian Communist party, even in power, need not necessarily be dominated by Soviet ideology nor subservient to Soviet foreign policy. It is neither of those things now, which is one good reason for its increasing acceptability to Italian voters.

This supposed independence from the Soviet Union, both in domestic and foreign matters, is generally considered a threat to the traditional unity of the “world Communist movement.” Indeed, the Western European Communists are often represented as the Protestant rebels of the Communist church. Just as Martin Luther pressed the Pope for theological reforms, so Berlinguer, Marchais, and Santiago Carrillo of the Spanish Communist party (PCE) are seen as challenging Brezhnev to change his line on a long series of questions ranging from the relations among Communist parties and countries to the treatment of dissidents and even the internal organization of the Soviet Union. Victor Zorza put forward the extreme version of the “Reformation thesis” in the Washington Post on June 29:

. . . some European Communists suspect that important forces in the Kremlin might welcome the break-up of the Western Communist movement. Otherwise it might emerge as a cohesive force that could press Moscow to proceed with internal political reforms more in keeping with the democratic traditions to which the European Communists lay claim.

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For a while, the New York Times editorial page maintained a certain skepticism about the genuineness of the Communists’ conversion to Western values. On April 19 it warned President Carter that the West had to “gauge the democratic slogans uttered by the ‘Eurocommunists’” carefully and should look for some “legitimate steps” it might take in order to “discourage their progress.” By mid-summer, however, the Times’s concern over the Communist threat to the values of Western democracy had vanished. The cause was a Soviet attack on a book by Carrillo entitled Eurocommunism and the State: “Why is Santiago Carrillo . . . now at the head of the Kremlin’s list of public enemies?” the Times asked editorially on July 1. Because, it answered, “even more than his Italian and French comrades . . . Mr. Carrillo holds Communism to be compatible with constitutional democracy. That means he believes there is a higher law than the will of any Communist party, even in a Communist country. . . .”

Yet the plain fact is that none of the Western European Communist parties, not even the Spanish, is democratic, either in structure or in policy. Without exception, they all remain firmly committed to the rigid Leninist model of “democratic centralism” which severely limits debate within the party and enforces a harsh discipline once decisions have been taken at the top. This form of party organization is one of the major differences between the European Communist parties and the European Socialist parties—so much so that even so radical a Socialist as Olof Palme has said he would not be prepared to trust the Eurocommunists unless and until they abandoned democratic centralism. No sign of any such change can be detected in any of the Big Three—the Spanish, French, or Italian Communists.

Given the widespread assumption that Carrillo is a social democrat with a Leninist mask, it may come as a shock to some people to discover that the leader of the Spanish Communist party is not only a Leninist where internal party organization is concerned, but that he is not even committed to the rules of democratic elections. He writes in Eurocommunism and the State:

We are not returning to social democracy. . . . We do not rule out, by any means, the possibility of taking power through revolution, if the dominant classes close democratic channels and the circumstances that make revolution possible were to come about.

To Carrillo the electoral process is thus only a means for achieving power and not a transcendent value, as the New York Times and every other major American publication (with the exception of Time) have chosen to believe.

This rejection of the rules of the democratic game is common to all three parties. Italian party theoreticians have repeatedly stressed that the PCI views pluralism simply as a means to an end—the conquest of power—and only last January Berlinguer defiantly announced to a cheering mob in Milan that his party was not about to become social-democratic and that there would be no “Bad Godesberg” of the sort that marked the German SPD’s acceptance of Western “bourgeois democracy.” As for the French, the famous vote in 1976, by which the PCF rejected the doctrine of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” by the remarkable margin of 1,700 to zero, suggests a monolithic organization capable of producing abrupt changes in doctrine, regardless of the convictions of the party’s membership. Indeed, the drastic shifts which have characterized the propaganda of the Eurocommunists of late show just how undemocratic all three parties are. As the London Economist has said in discussing the Carrillo affair: “Mr. Carrillo has an iron grip on the Spanish party. His authoritarian control is, paradoxically, the reason he can swing the Spanish Communists solidly behind his anti-Soviet line.”

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But what of the claim that the Euro-communists represent a new schism in world Communism? On this point there can be no doubt that Carrillo, at least, has taken the significant step of rejecting the Soviet Union as a model of Communism. Eurocommunism and the State clearly asserts what has been common knowledge among all non-Communists for many years: that the Soviet Union is still Stalinist—a class-bound, repressive society which regularly and systematically exploits the working class and can in no sense be considered the embodiment of socialist ideals. For Carrillo, the true socialist revolution will have to be made by the Eurocommunists following a different line of development. It was because Carrillo challenged the very legitimacy of the USSR as a revolutionary society and as the leader of a revolutionary movement—and not because of his rhetorical and tactical support for democratic elections, as the Times would have us believe—that Brezhnev excommunicated him.

As it happens, the battle between Carrillo and the Soviet Union has been going on for nearly a decade (a fact which was, again, only mentioned in Time). In the late 60’s the Russians even attempted to overthrow him and split the PCE by creating a loyalist Communist party under the leadership of General Enrique Lister. But in the past year and a half, Carrillo’s criticism of the Kremlin has become more pointed, and again the Russians have reacted.

So far as Eurocommunism in general is concerned, however, the important point to notice is that neither the Italian nor the French party has come to Carrillo’s support. Thus, in February 1977, Berlinguer refused to associate himself with Carrillo’s claim that the Soviet Union is not a socialist country and told a national television audience in Italy that he could find no reason for an ideological break with the Kremlin. The following month, the much-heralded “Eurocommunist summit” was held in Madrid, in part to celebrate Carrillo’s return from exile and in part to present the world with an image of an ideologically coherent and respectable Western European Communist movement. Carrillo was ready with a statement critical of the Iron Curtain countries and sympathetic to the dissidents throughout the Soviet bloc, but the French and Italians would have none of it. The Russians organized a counter-summit in Sofia on the same weekend, and an Italian spokesman was quick to tell newsmen that “we have no intention of a confrontation with any of our brother countries.” Then, at the end of April, Marchais came to Rome to meet with Berlinguer, but again no word of criticism of the Kremlin was uttered. In June, when Brezhnev launched his attack against Carrillo, there was no protest from the PCI or PCF. The Italians lamented the “tone” of the Kremlin’s criticism, but had nothing to say about the content of Carrillo’s ideas—which was the real issue. The French were virtually silent on the question, muttering nationalistic slogans about their continued “independence.” At the end of June, a three-man PCI delegation went to Moscow and returned proclaiming that the PCI “continued to be part of a great international movement.” There was no criticism of the Soviet system and no defense of Carrillo. Carrillo himself was quite explicit, telling a friend that “Berlinguer ha fallado,” the PCI Secretary had failed him in his hour of need.

But if Carrillo is the only Eurocommunist leader to have broken with the Russians on the issue of the nature of Soviet society, no Eurocommunist party, including the Spanish, has broken with the Kremlin on issues of foreign policy. Contrary to the claims of Wicker, Zorza, and their ilk, there is a virtual identity between the foreign policies of the Western European Communists and the Soviet Union on all matters involving the struggle between democracy and totalitarianism. Carrillo is violently anti-American and rarely departs from the Pravda line on international affairs. Marchais, the “Gaullocommunist,” has never been a great supporter of the Western alliance (he wants French missiles aimed at America). Italian Communists steadfastly deny even the vaguest possibility that the West is threatened by Soviet power, and just this past May, one of their leaders, Ugo Pecchioli, told Rowland Evans that while American domination of Western Europe was a serious problem, he saw “no element of Soviet imperialism in Eastern Europe.”

The Eurocommunists (again including Carrillo) stand with the Soviet Union on issue after issue: Cubans in Angola are “freedom fighters” while pro-Western Angolans are “imperialists.” The Israeli liberation of Jewish hostages at Entebbe airport is branded “an intolerable violation of Ugandan national sovereignty.” After years of supporting Somalia, the Big Three suddenly shift to the side of Ethiopia—along with the same change in Soviet strategy. NATO itself is singled out for particular criticism by the “pro-NATO” PCI which, in fact, continually says that although it would not wish to take Italy out of the alliance, it would work to change NATO’s pro-American, anti-Soviet character.

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Yet despite the undeviating support the Eurocommunists give to the Soviet foreign-policy line, the press—in keeping with its view of the “schism” with the Kremlin—continues to claim that Eurocommunism potentially or even actually represents an anti-Soviet force in world affairs. Victor Zorza says that the Russians are alarmed at the prospect of a “European Communist foreign policy that might take an anti-Soviet direction,” and Time suspects that “Moscow’s deepest concern is probably the possible reverberations that Eurocommunism, if allowed to develop unchecked, might have among the captive regimes of Eastern Europe.” The New York Times concurs:

It is the idea that threatens the Soviet regime . . . the idea is an even greater threat to the Soviet-sponsored regimes of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany which have all faced similar demands from their peoples, including Communists. . . . Once it is acknowledged that Communists may be challenged and defeated at the polls by non-Communist or even rival Communist parties, and that citizens enjoy rights of speech and assembly beyond those granted them by a ruling Communist oligarchy, there would remain no ideological defense for the East European dictatorships and not much difference between Europe’s Communist and Socialist parties.

This theory has now achieved something approaching universal acceptance, even—if Bernard Gwertzman of the New York Times is correct—among some in the Carter administration:

. . . some officials assert privately that over a long period the evolution of independent, more democratic Communist parties, such as that in Spain, might not be a negative phenomenon.

They said that, in historical terms, if the Western European Communist parties evolved into democratic bodies and were legitimately willing to take part in free elections, this could have a major influence in eroding the Soviet Union’s hold in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Communist party itself.

In other words, if the West European Communists ceased to be Communists and turned into social democrats, the captive nations of the Soviet empire would discover that life is better without Russian tanks and COMECON rationing. As though the people of Poland, Hungary, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia—who revolted against the Kremlin at a time when there was not the slightest hint of heresy from Rome, Paris, and Madrid—needed Carrillo, Marchais, and Berlinguer to make them hate their Soviet taskmasters, and as though the Soviet empire were held together by anything other than Soviet tanks!

Along with the notion that Eurocommunism menaces the Kremlin goes the complementary view that it is a movement which is good for the West. Tom Wicker, for example, while admitting that the entry of the PCI into the Italian government might easily produce the disintegration of NATO, argues that this is not so very important:

. . . a substantial body of opinion doesn’t think American forces in Europe contribute all that much to fundamental Western security anyway. And if new structures of Western security have to be built or old ones adapted because of European political developments, that may be easier than trying to forestall those developments with American threats and CIA money.

That is to say, the destruction of the Atlantic alliance is a small enough price to pay for the success of Eurocommunism, which Wicker believes is clearly in the best long-term interests of the West:

. . . an Italian government with Communist participation might well bring that country more prosperity and stability. Is Italian stability good for Western security, or should we prefer continuing economic chaos and political paralysis under the discredited Christian Democrats?

But the truth of the matter, of course, is that Eurocommunism is a threat to the West and hardly menaces the Soviet Union at all. It is a threat to the West because it represents a new tactic in the unremitting effort to lull the democratic world into the belief that it has nothing to fear from the spread of Communism. This is, paradoxically, one of the major explanations for Russian ambivalence about the rapid growth in the strength of the Western European Communist parties. The Soviets worry that a premature entry of the Eurocommunists into government might rekindle Western anxieties and therefore also Western resolve to resist both the undermining of democracy from within and the external threat to the security of the democratic world embodied in the massive Soviet military build-up and the adventurist foreign policy of the Kremlin. To be sure, the Russians are also concerned about the possibility that Carrillo’s heretical ideas might spread to France and Italy, but events have demonstrated that this is highly unlikely. It is the threat of a Western response to Communism that is far more alarming to Brezhnev and his comrades.

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The fact that so many of our leading papers and magazines insist that a major schism has either occurred or is about to take place can be understood in the context of a long search by Western intellectuals for a viable alternative to American-style capitalist democracy on the one side and Soviet-style totalitarian Communism on the other. This dream of a “third force” was, ironically, once attached to Italian Fascism. During the 20’s (though many would prefer to forget it), Mussolini was widely hailed throughout the democratic countries in much the same terms reserved these days for Berlinguer, and it took more than a decade before Italian Fascism began to be revealed as a mortal danger to Western civilization. After World War II, the dream of an independent third force came to rest with the social democrats, but after thirty years of exercising power in many European countries, the socialist parties have lost their glamor. European socialism now appears too bland, too “bourgeois” to carry the burden of a vision of a radical alternative which is capable of transforming the world.

Today, improbable as it once would have seemed, the West European Communist parties are being cast in the role of the third force—a radical socialism free of any trace of Stalinism and as independent of Moscow as it is of Washington. That the Communists are badly miscast in this role ought to be obvious to everyone, especially journalists whose job it is to expose just such tendentious political illusions. Instead, the press has all too often been the mouthpiece and propagator of these illusions, parroting the rhetoric in which our enemies become our friends, our defeats become victories, and our weakness becomes strength.

Orwell was clearly a better prophet than even his greatest admirers have thought: judging from the American press, we are ahead of his schedule by a full seven years.

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