Eurocommunism


In this chapter, we shall try to present the reader with the main features of Eurocommunism, which has recently become the dominant trend in the communist parties of developed industrialized countries.  The basic tenets forming the body of Marxist doctrine have been subjected to critical review in the preceding chapters of this book109.  The rise of Eurocommunism confirms the validity of the thesis put forward in these chapters, which is that, one after another, these basic tenets are being abandoned by European communists disenchanted with the performance of communist parties in  power in various countries of the world.

The best exposition of the main features and orientations of the Eurocommunist movement was made by Santiago Carillo in "`Eurocommunism’ and the State".  The ideas in the book represent not only the author's personal views but also those of the Spanish Communist Party and the other European communist parties, all of which, particularly those in France, Italy, Britain and Japan 110, have fully supported them.  No better proof of the importance of this work exists than that the Soviet Union was concerned enough to publish an official reply to the ideas raised by Carillo.

On a number of specific issues, the Eurocommunist movement has adopted positions very different from, not to say incompatible with, those of orthodox Marxism.  It is our purpose here to highlight some of the most prominent of these issues:

1-  Abandoning the orthodox Marxist vision of the socialist political regime.

2-  Abandoning the orthodox Marxist view of accession to power.

3- Rejecting the Marxist call to abolish private property and advocating the coexistence of public and private property (while recognizing profit not derived from labour).         

4- Espousing the cause of democracy and human rights, and accepting political pluralism.

5-  Advocating autonomy for individual parties within world communism and abandoning the idea of emulating the Soviet model for achieving socialism (in fact, criticizing several aspects of the Soviet experience)

6-  No longer adhering strictly to the traditional Marxist conception of  the proletariat

The detailed exposition of these points given below will reveal the gap between the orthodox Marxist thought still prevailing in the countries of the socialist bloc on the one hand and that developed by the Eurocommunists and prevailing in the communist parties of the developed industrialized countries on the other.

First: Abandoning the orthodox Marxist vision of the socialist political regime, i.e., abandoning the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat and all the ideas related thereto, such as the elimination of all the classes standing against it, the withering away  of the state, etc.

Traditional Marxists believe that when societies reach the stage of capitalism, they become polarized into two classes:  an exploiting class made up of capitalist owners, and  an exploited class made up of workers.  With time, the former class becomes richer through increasing profits while the latter becomes poorer.  Gradually, the working class develops an awareness of its strength as it comes to realize how necessary it is to the exploiting class.  Workers begin to form unions and to intensify their struggle, and confrontations between the two classes set in.  With each confrontation, the proletariat acquires greater gains and becomes stronger.  However, there comes a point when the capitalists refuse to grant the demands of the workers and the contradictions between them flare up into violent confrontation.  The workers' revolution explodes and the proletariat seizes the reins of power, destroys the bourgeois machinery of state and establishes its dictatorship.  The main task of the dictatorship of the proletariat is to eliminate all other classes, particularly those whose interests are antagonistic to its own. Once the proletariat has accomplished its task and society becomes one single class, the old form of the state gradually disappears and the state as such withers away.

That particular Marxist axiom is now totally rejected by the communist parties of the developed industrial states.  In fact, the notion of dictatorship of the proletariat was one of the main points of contention between them and what can be termed the official communist parties in the Soviet Union and its satellite countries, which adhere closely to orthodox Marxist views on this and other questions.

Santiago Carillo devoted the longest chapter in “Eurocommunism” and the State" to the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat.  As it would be difficult to reproduce everything Carillo said on the subject, we shall content ourselves here with one passage in which he  clearly dismisses this formula as a necessary form of government when communists come to power.

    Carillo says: "On the other hand, I am convinced that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not the way to succeed in establishing and consolidating the hegemony of the forces of the working people in  the democratic countries of developed capitalism.  In the first part of this essay, I have already tried to explain why I am convinced that in these latter countries socialism is not only the decisive broadening and development of democracy, the negation of any totalitarian conception of society, but that the way to reach it is along the democratic road, with all the consequences which this entails.  In this sphere, and at the risk of being accused of heresy, I am convinced that Lenin was no more than half right when he said: "The transition from capitalism to communism, naturally, cannot fail to provide an immense abundance and diversity of political forms, but the essence of all of them will necessarily be a single one: the dictatorship of the proletariat".  He was no more than half right because the essence of all the various political forms of transition to socialism is, as we can judge today, the hegemony of the working people, while the diversity and abundance of political forms likewise entails the possibility of the dictatorship of the proletariat not being necessary." 111

Carillo mentions that Dimitrov 112 also supported the idea that it is possible to reach socialism without the dictatorship of the proletariat 113.  Elsewhere, Carillo refers to the position adopted by the renowned French Marxist philosopher, Louis Althusser, on the same issue when he described the Marxist theory on the state as misleading. 114

That same position was expressed by Lucio Lombardo when he declared on the pages of "La Stampa" -in the interview mentioned earlier in this book- that the Italian Communist Party no longer raised the slogan of Marxism-Leninism and that it had abandoned the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In rejecting the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Eurocommunists obviously reject all the ideas related to it, such as the elimination of the enemies of the working class, which Marxis considers to be the main task of the dictatorship of the proletariat when it assumes power.  In fact, European communists criticize the mechanism of repression that continues to dominate everything in the Soviet Union and in the countries of the  socialist bloc. 115

Similarly, European communists refuse the idea of the withering away of the state as an outcome, in traditional Marxist theory, of the dictatorship of the proletariat. According to the theory, the dictatorship of the proletariat is established in the period of transition from capitalism (where the state exists) to communism (where it will have ceased to exist).  The dictatorship of the proletariat is a necessary condition for the withering away of the state which, as an instrument of political power by which one class dominates another, or others, will have no reason to exist when the dictatorship of the proletariat will have fulfilled its main task of creating a classless society.

The European communists have also abandoned the notion of violent seizure of power, and speak now of socialism coming to power peacefully, within  the constitutional framework of democratic life, through the legitimate channels provided by the existing bourgeois state.

With so many of the notions standing at the doctrinal core of Marxism as an omniescent and irreducible world outlook being discarded by the European communists, what remains then of Marxist political thought?  The objective answer can only be: Nothing!

Second: Abandoning the orthodox Marxist view of accession to power.

Orthodox Marxists believe they cannot come to power through parliamentary means, since they consider parliamentary life to be a game practiced by the economically dominant classes to imbue their political domination with legitimacy.  Accession to power, in the view of these orthodox Marxists, can only come about through the organized struggle of the proletariat against the capitalist class.  In this long struggle, the proletariat would seize greater and greater gains until matters come to a head with the outbreak of the violent workers revolution which will break down the bourgeois state machine and install the dictatorship of the proletariat in its stead.

    Obviously, then, accession to power in Marxist theory is synonymous with, one, the dictatorship of the proletariat and, two, revolutionary violence. 116

However, some Marxists claim that the shift by communists in the advanced industrial countries from the idea of the transition to socialism through the revolutionary violence of the proletariat to the idea of a peaceful transition within the framework of parliamentary life is nothing more than a development in Marxist thinking, similar to developments in its other aspects.  Anyone with   any knowledge of Marxism cannot accept such a claim.  It is impossible to reconcile between  Marxist ideology and the idea of a peaceful transition to socialism, because the idea of violent revolution is central to the  Marxist theory.

    The struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, culminating in the workers' revolution will lead to the destruction of the bourgeois machinery of state.  There is thus an undeniable link between class struggle and the transition to socialism through violent means.  One cannot exist without the other and the removal of either from the structure of Marxist ideology entails the removal of both.  And, as class struggle is the cornerstone on which the ideology is built, its removal would bring the whole edifice of Marxism crashing down.

Nor can the idea of transition to socialism through violent means be separated from the idea of dictatorship of the proletariat, inasmuch as such a dictatorship can only be established through violent means.  It is difficult  to imagine the capitalist  class, the dominant class in the stage of capitalism, calmly handing over the reins of power to the working class! And, as the dictatorship of the proletariat is the bridge on which history moves towards the higher stage of communism, without this dictatorship, communism cannot be attained.

To speak now of socialism coming to power within the parliamentary system, i.e., through free elections, is to admit that there will not be a dictatorship of the proletariat, the necessary precondition for the higher stage of communism. Unless, of course, the acceptance of a parliamentary transition to socialism by European communist parties is but a tactical stratagem to enable them to come to power and, once there, to eliminate all other parties and tendencies.

Those Marxists who are trying to reconcile Marxism as a theory with the idea of a peaceful, i.e. parliamentary, transition to socialism, may be communists from the organizational point of view or in terms of their ideological affiliations, but they are far from possessing a comprehensive understanding of Marxism117.  Otherwise they would know that a peaceful transition to socialism, with all this implies in the way of maintaining other political parties regardless of their tendencies and the class interests they represent, abandoning the idea of dictatorship of the proletariat, etc., is in direct contradiction with the main conclusions drawn by Marx in his study on the Paris Commune, "The Civil War in France," 1871. According to Marx, the greatest mistake committed by the communards was that, having achieved their revolution through violent action and seized the machinery of the bourgeois state, they then failed to destroy it.  Throughout, he stresses how important  it is that the machinery of the bourgeois state be destroyed as soon as the proletariat comes to power.  The idea of a peaceful transition to socialism also runs counter to the views of Engels. who believed that the state, as an institution, does not disappear immediately following the proletarian revolution, that what is eliminated is the bourgeois state, to be replaced by the socialist state represented by the dictatorship of the proletariat which, in its turn, dissolves of itself and disappears.

Thus the transition to socialism through violent revolutionary action by the proletariat is one of the cornerstones of the Marxist ideological structure, and its rejection represents a definitive crack in that structure, a crack which has become `official' as the communist parties in all the advanced capitalist countries publicly declare that `violence' and `the proletarian revolution' are no longer necessary for the accession by communists to power.

Third: Rejecting the Marxist call to abolish private property and advocating long-term coexistence between the two forms of ownership: public and private 118

Carillo makes a point of showing that in   advocating the above, the European communists are going against traditional Marxist tenets. He says: "The coexistence of forms of public and private ownership means acceptance of unearned increment and the private appropriation of part of this, i.e., a mixed system." 119 & 120 He goes on to say that taxes are the means by which society can obtain its share of those profits.  That is where he comes close to Fabian socialism and the British Labour Party. After warning that those taxes should not be such as to discourage private projects 121, Carillo notes that the owners of private projects should have the right to organize themselves, not only economically but also in a political party or parties representative of their interests. 122 This, he affirms, would be one of the component parts of the political and ideological pluralism he advocates in contradistinction to the traditional Marxist position on the question of private property and political and ideological pluralism.

These ideas, which Carillo shares with his fellow Eurocommunists, deal a decisive blow to the most important economic theory in Marxism, the theory of labour as value and, hence, to the theory of surplus value based on it.  For we know that Marx and all traditional Marxists recognize labour as the sole source of value and profit and consider any other source to be economic and social “exploitation”, whereas Carillo openly advocates the acceptance of value not derived from labour.

Fourth: Adopting democratic values and political pluralism and rejecting traditional Marxist perceptions of the Western model of parliamentary democracy.

The call by European communists for a socialism to be built within the framework of democracy, with a multi-party system and an alternation of parties in power, represents a clear departure from the classical Marxist line.  Not only that, but the communist parties of Europe are openly critical of the Soviet model.  Under the heading of "Soviet Thinking and the Democratic Road", Carillo says:

     "I can already hear doctrinaire people crying out that this is sheer reformism".  That does not frighten me.  Let us take a look at the socialist countries which have carried out the revolution along a classical road.  The greater part of them have already experienced whole decades with the new regime, and while the taking of power was carried out at an extremely rapid tempo from the historical point of view, the economic and social transformation is proceeding at a much slower pace.   Examples of inequality still continue. There are vital problems, such as the standard of living and the supplying of the population with goods and foodstuffs, which cannot be considered solved.  Problems of productivity, of participation, are on the agenda.  And there remains the great unsolved question - that of democracy, and social contradictions which a one-sided propaganda hides but does not solve."123

The issue of democracy comes in for a great deal of attention on the part of Carillo, who concludes that there is a fundamental contradiction in Marxist thought concerning the idea of democracy.  Whereas Engels exalts the wonders of the democracy which existed simply and spontaneously during the stage of primitive communism, we find other leading Marxists, headed by Lenin, affirming that democracy is a form of government linked to the division of society into classes.  Lenin considered democracy to be a state system which recognizes the subordination of the minority by the majority, i.e., an organization for the systematic use of force  by one class against another.

Carillo considers this characterization of democracy by Lenin to be somewhat obscure, 124 noting that: "In the argumentation provided by Lenin on this subject in  "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky", there are aspects which (also) lend themselves to confusion, since it is stated that ...in  communist society, democracy will wither away in the process  of changing and  becoming a habit, but  will never be  “pure” democracy".  Commenting on Lenin's words, Carillo says: "Perhaps democracy will never succeed in becoming  pure - it would be necessary to  examine closely what  pure democracy is - but  if it is “modified” and becomes a habit, it seems contradictory to deduce  that  because of this it withers away.  What is transformed into a habit  remains and becomes habitual".  To underline the obscurity of Lenin's ideas on the subject, Carillo mentions that in his book, "The State and the Revolution", Lenin affirms that complete democracy will only be possible under communism 125.

In several parts of his book, Carillo proclaims the commitment of the Eurocommunists to democracy and freedoms. One passage is worth quoting here:

"But the roads we  propose - the winning of a socialism which would maintain  and enrich the democratic political liberties and human rights which are historic achievements of human progress that cannot be surrendered, and the imparting to them, furthermore, of a new economic and social dimension   -  for the realization of this ideal, it is not enough to  rid ourselves of some of the formulas coined by our theorists, such as that of the dictatorship of the proletariat;  or that we should affirm our respect for the democratic process..."126.

This public commitment to the cause of democracy, in which Carillo is joined by all the communist parties of Western Europe, underscores the important role played by the historical and cultural frame of reference in which these parties operate. As we  pointed out earlier in this book, it is easy for the Soviet people to accept tyranny and the suppression of all public freedoms as just another link in an unbroken chain of suffering under such absolute rulers as Ivan III, Ivan the Terrible, Peter  the Great, Anne, Elizabeth and Catherine I 127.  However, that is not the case for the peoples of developed industrial countries in Western Europe  and other parts of the world, who have fought long and hard to obtain public freedoms and rights.  With democracy being an integral part of their cultural heritage, it is natural that they should be repelled - even the communists among them - by an ideology that proscribes these public freedoms and rights.

The European communists are not only advocating democracy and pluralism as the values which should govern society at large, they are calling for the application of these values to the internal organization of the communist parties themselves, which had been patterned on the Soviet model.   They denounce the undemocratic practices inherited from the Leninist-Stalinist party structure, and call for free and democratic party elections and debates 128.

Fifth: Advocating autonomy for individual parties within world communism 129 and abandoning the idea of emulating the Soviet model for achieving socialism 130 (in fact, criticising several aspects of the Soviet experience).

The Eurocommunists believe the socialist states established in the Soviet Union and, later, in the countries of Eastern Europe, to be very different from the socialist state envisaged by the fathers of Marxism 131.  Accordingly, they insist on the right of each communist party to work out its own policies in total independence from Moscow.  This is eloquently expressed by Carillo:  "On the other hand, Eurocommunism should demonstrate  that the victory of the socialist forces in the countries of Western Europe will not augment Soviet state power   in the slightest, nor will it imply the spread  of the Soviet model of a single party,  but will be  an independent experience, with a more evolved socialism that will have a positive influence on the democratic evolution of the kinds of socialism  existing today....  In this respect, the independence of the communist parties in  relation to the Soviet state and  other socialist states is  essential"132.

In fact, Carillo was not the first to challenge the supremacy of the Soviet communist party.  As  early as 1956, the theory of `polycentrism', which denies the totally predominant role of the Soviet party, had been developed by Palmiro Togliatti133, general secretary of the Italian Communist Party until his death in 1964.  The present leader of the Italian party, Enrico Berlinguer, has taken up his predecessor's call for the independence of the European communist parties from the Soviet Union.  The independent stance of the Eurocommunists is most forcefully expressed in their vigorous denunciation of human rights violations inside the Soviet Union.  Their support for the human rights movement was in open defiance of the Soviet regime, which had always considered human rights activists 134 to be traitors and agents who had to be placed in mental institutions until they came to their senses and recovered from their reactionary ideas.

 The European communist parties not only advocate independence from the Soviet Union and reject it as a model for their own countries, they call the Soviet experience itself into question.  This critical revision is clear in the literature put out by this school of thought.  If Arab Marxists are unwilling to admit that fact, how then can they explain the following words of the leader of one of the biggest communist parties in Europe?

"If all states are instruments for the domination of one class over another, and if in the USSR there are no antagonistic classes  and objectively there is no need  to supress  other classes, then over whom  does  state exercise domination?" 135

"The October Revolution created a state which is obviously not a bourgeois state, nor is it a proletariat organized as a ruling class nor an authentic workers' democracy" 136

"Within that state there grew up and operated the Stalin phenomenon, with a series of formal characteristics similar to those of the fascist dictatorships!" 137

"But the state with which we are dealing  (the Soviet Union), has gone further than Lenin foresaw in this sphere.  It has kept not only  some  of the contents of bourgeois law but has  also provided examples of distortion and degeneration which at other times could only be imagined in imperialist states." 138

Carillo also firmly condemns the absence of objective criticism in the socialist states 139.  How can all that be explained if not as a rejection of both the theory and its applications?

Sixth: Recognizing that the proletariat, as conceived by Marx and other traditional Marxists, no longer exists in today's developed industrial states.

Carillo has said openly that traditional Marxists "speak of a proletariat that no longer exists in reality". 140  Most European communists share his views on the matter.  In an article published in "Le Monde" following the defeat of the coalition of the Left in the legislative elections of 1978, Louis Althusser says: "Georges Marchais (general secretary of the French Communist Party), talks of the working class as though we were still living in the nineteenth century!"  It should be noted that Althusser who, in the same article, denies the poverty of today's workers, is considered by the European communists to be dogmatic in his adherence to the letter of Marxist texts". 141

     The views expressed by the general secretary of the Communist Party of Spain, Santiago Carillo, in his book, "Eurocommunism and the State", represent more than the essence of one man's thoughts.  In fact, judging from the support the  book received from all the communist parties in Western Europe, as well as in other countries like India, Japan and Lebanon 142, it amounts to a statement of principles for the entire Eurocommunist movement.  This is also borne out by the Soviet reaction to the book, which took the form of a lengthy and highly critical review published in the twenty-sixth issue of the Soviet weekly, New Times, in June 1977.  While admitting that the ideas put forward by Carillo were representative of a current of thought that was spreading within the European communist movement, the review accused Carillo and his supporters of anti-Soviet tendencies and revisionism.