Branko Pribicevic. Eurocommunism and the New Party. 1981

Eurocommunism and the New Party


Source: Branko Pribicevic; “Eurocommunism and the New Party” - in Richard Kindersley, ed. In Search of Eurocommunism, London: MacMillan, 1981;
Transcribed: by Patrick Olofsson.


The last 20 years have seen many significant, profound and far-reaching changes in the development of the communist movement, involving the doctrinal positions and policies of many communist parties. There has been a basic shift in the relations between a large number of communist parties. Changes of this kind are so substantial that one may reasonably ask whether the traditional and conventional expression “international communist movement” can still be used to describe the sum of organised communist party forces today.

In this period of major changes it might appear that the parties themselves have changed slowest of all. Moreover there is a good deal of scepticism at large about the possibility of such changes; and the view that changes are unnecessary is equally widespread. In Western countries many experts on these problems hold that a communist party is an organism resistant to all demands for change. They emphasise that a communist party cannot change its structure, internal relationships or mode of action without ceasing to be a communist party;[1] and there are a good many supporters of a very similar view in the communist movement itself. A fairly large number of parties – let us call them the protagonists of the orthodox line – often assert that there is nothing to be changed, and even that changes are unnecessary. For these parties the traditional concept and model, which they call Leninist, offers in every way the best solution, and is accorded lasting and universal significance.

Discussions of the possibility of, or need for, certain changes in communist parties have been particularly topical in the last few years with the affirmation of the Eurocommunist position in a number of developed Western countries. In this paper we shall try to show that such changes are not only theoretically possible, but that there are already important new elements in the structure and mode of action of certain Eurocommunist parties. It is our opinion that a communist party not only can, but must, change if it is to keep in step with times and conditions which are altering quickly and profoundly. Parties which do not change sooner or later begin to suffer the consequences of fossilisation and functional and political sclerosis.

It is true, however, that the idea that the party can and should adapt itself has made slow progress in the ranks of the communist movement. For a number of years the Yugoslav communists were almost isolated in their warnings that changes were necessary. One important document of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia stated that: “Existing forms of organisation of the working class frequently show signs of fossilisation and therewith a high degree of social obsolescence ... .” [2]

There have been serious theoretical differences and political arguments in the communist movement about the need or possibility of changes in the structure, internal relationships, and especially definition of the role of revolutionary parties. On one side the forces which favour these changes have increased their influence while on the other there is an ever-increasing resistance to proposals of this kind. The most powerful resistance comes from conservative trends and groups. Such positions are frequently taken by representatives of “orthodox” tendencies in communist parties, who are unable “in principle” to reconcile themselves to a change in, or abandonment of, certain earlier theoretical propositions and political solutions. These forces particularly attack those concepts and projects which aim at a deeper democratisation of internal relations in communist parties and a different way of playing their part in contemporary class and political struggles.

In their resistance to democratic change and to the various proposals for bringing the structure and mode of action of communist parties into line with changing historical and social circumstances, these conservative forces most frequently adduce two arguments. According to the first argument, any proposal which calls for substantial changes from the inherited traditional concept of a communist party is a deviation from the Leninist theory of the party. The second, which is very similar, holds that there is, and in principle can be, only one “correct” historically tested concept of a communist party: the type of party which is rooted in the ideas worked out by Lenin at the beginning of this century. Any departure from this concept is therefore an ideological and political “deviation.”

In our view both propositions are theoretically indefensible. Two particularly important arguments may be advanced against them. First, the view that any form or type of political organisations can have universal and lasting significance is historically untenable. The political party of the working class is not an end in itself, or in any case should not be so. In Marx’s and Engels’ understanding it was always postulated as a means to the realisation of the essential historical interests and aims of the working class. This approach is particularly characteristic of Lenin. His theory of the party is linked with a definite conception and strategy of the socialist revolution. But just as there can be no universal strategies of the socialist revolution, so there can be no universal model of the party.

In Lenin’s theory of the revolutionary vanguard, some elements have broader international and therefore lasting significance, but there are others which reflect the specific conditions in which the Russian revolutionary movement was then acting. The special quality and value of this concept of the party represents a successful synthesis of these two elements. The Bolshevik party would not have succeeded in its epoch-making achievement if it had represented only an incarnation of the general principles of organisation of a revolutionary vanguard without simultaneously adapting them to the particular circumstances of the class struggle in the Russian conditions of the time. Later interpretations of the Leninist theory of the party, which became official doctrine in the communist movement, often proclaimed as equally lasting and universal also those elements which reflected the specific conditions in which the theory was formed. This is particularly true of the organisational principles of the party, which are in the nature of things extremely liable to the influence of the specific environment and circumstances.

Secondly, in what is today often called the traditional or “universal” conception of the communist party, which many communist parties adopt as their theory and practice, there are a good many elements which were introduced later and which represent an alteration, supplementation and sometimes even deformation of Lenin’s original theory of the revolutionary party. Now some of these alterations were certainly necessary as a response to the changed conditions in which communist parties were acting and the new problems which they had to resolve. There was also new knowledge which required certain modifications. Let us recall that even in Lenin’s lifetime certain changes were introduced into the original conception. At the VI Congress of the party, held in July 1917, significant changes were made in the statute, especially in the definition of the principle of democratic centralism. Much more important changes were adopted at the X Congress (March 1921) which significantly narrowed the range of free expression of different political attitudes within the party. Enrico Berlinguer emphasised in a recent interview that: “a certain restriction of internal disagreement [that is, disagreement within the party] begins to appear towards the end of Lenin’s life, i.e. before Stalin came to power. We do not therefore hesitate to criticise it ....” [3]

Much more important and far-reaching changes came with the later development of the communist party. The most important of these came in the second half of the 1920s and in the early 1930s. In the guise of a struggle for the unity of the party, or for the elimination of divisions on fractional lines, a major limitation of the democratic rights of the party members was carried out. The democratic component of democratic centralism became severely atrophied in favour of bureaucratic and authoritarian centralism. By means of the Comintern these defects were internationalised. Thus, in one way or another, this form of Stalinism was to be found in almost all parts of the international movement, though not, of course, always to the same degree. These later additions modified Lenin’s original concept of the communist party to such an extent that today, when we speak of the inherited or traditional model of a communist party, it would be more accurate to characterise it as the “Comintern” than the Leninist type of party. We shall try to show that the Eurocommunists, in their efforts to build a new type of party, are abandoning to some extent even certain features characteristic of Lenin’s theory of the party, as well as – much more decisively – those later essential components of that type of political organisation which we here call the Comintern model of a revolutionary workers’ party.


The new ideas about the working-class party put forward by representatives of Eurocommunism have their roots in the changed strategic orientation of the parties. The rejection of the earlier belief in a violent socialist revolution as the only possible form of radical social change has inevitably brought into question the traditional Comintern concept of a communist party. The same consequences follow from the denial that the model of socialism which is dominant in most East European socialist countries has universal validity. The type of party which answers more or less successfully the requirements and needs of the one-party form of political system is less and less acceptable for those socialist forces which have accepted a pluralist concept of the political system.

The changed conditions in which these parties now act (which differ not only from the conditions in which ruling communist parties act but also from those in which they themselves acted some decades ago); changes in the position of the working class and other working strata; and particularly the adoption of a new strategy of social transformation and a new concept of socialism – all these required innovations in the structure, mode of action and internal relationships of the party.

The new strategy of the Eurocommunist parties is to a large extent rooted in a critical reassessment of their earlier policies. It is now fairly widely accepted in these parties that their policy was then in many respects inadequate. [4] As a result, at least some of these parties have come to the conclusion that in most of the developed Western countries there are good prospects for the realisation of radical social change by peaceful means, and particularly that this change does not imply the establishment of the communist party’s monopoly of power.

The emergence of new conceptions of the party was particularly influenced by those elements of the new strategy which emphasise the importance of democracy and political freedom; party pluralism and the struggle for broad social alliances and political coalitions; the possibility of using the existing state as a means of change, at any rate in the initial stages, rejecting the idea that the existing state must inevitably be smashed; and finally the secular character of the state and society which these forces adopt as their goal. The Eurocommunists often emphasise that social progress is possible in these countries only in so far as such changes are supported by a powerful popular majority. The PCF, for instance, has asserted that “social changes must be a matter of common action and desire on the part of the majority.” [5] The link between socialism and democracy, or socialism and political freedom, is constantly underlined in all the important new documents of these parties and in statements by their prominent representatives. The joint communique by the PCI and PCF in 1975 stated that:

The French and Italian communists consider that the way to socialism ... must be realised in a framework of constant democratisation of economic, social and political life. Socialism will be the highest stage of democracy and freedom, democracy taken to the limit.

The two parties expressed their allegiance to all the traditional freedoms of Western societies such as freedom of thought, expression, press and association and particularly the right of opposition and plurality of political parties. [6] Very similar ideas are expressed in the joint statements signed by the PCI and the PCE, and the PCI and the Japanese party.

The Eurocommunist parties frequently emphasise that their conception of democracy is inseparable from party pluralism; that is, that they now adopt that conception of democracy which is today the dominant feature of the political culture of these societies. In the polemical discussion in 1975 between the PCI’s daily L’Unitá and the Czechoslovak party organ Rude Pravo the former stated that “the democracy of which we speak is of course the democracy which we know and in which we are living.” [7] Marchais said very plainly:

There is no democracy and liberty if there is no pluralism of political parties, and if there is no freedom of speech.... We consider that the principles we enunciate concerning socialist democracy are of universal value. It is clear we have a disagreement with the Soviet Communist Party about this question. [8]

Enrico Berlinguer also emphasised the universal value of democracy as practised in Western countries. [9] In his speech at the Moscow celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the October revolution Berlinguer said:

The experience we have gained has led us to the conclusion ... that democracy is not only the terrain on which the class enemy is compelled to retreat but also a historically universal value which must be at the basis of the construction of an authentic socialist society.

Hence there are regular references to “socialism in democratic colours” or “socialism in freedom.”

The new strategy for socialist transformation entails certain changes in the structure, role and mode of action of Eurocommunist parties. Parties which want existing society, and especially other democratic forces, to become more open towards them, must themselves become much more open towards society and towards their present or potential partners. Parties which hold that socialism can be realised only by the stable support of a convincing majority must equip themselves to win such a majority. Parties which assert that the social transformation presupposes broad and stable political alliances must adapt their policy and mode of action to the establishment of such alliances. Parties which consider that the radical transformation presupposes the formation of very wide class and social alliances linking the working class with numerous and very various social strata – from agricultural producers to various categories of the urban middle class (the idea of the “historic bloc” developed by the PCI) – must prepare themselves to form such alliances. Parties which stress the decisive significance of direct democracy in all areas of social and political life must ensure a greater degree of political participation by their own members.

Many of these requirements can not be satisfied by a traditional party of the Comintern type. Thus, for instance, the traditional type of party always carries the risk of certain introversion and of a sectarian attitude to broad stata of potential fighters for socialism. Certain features of this type of party made it very difficult for it to gain a mass following. The sort of party which can gather a relatively small revolutionary elite, composed of utterly devoted and deeply involved militants, may offer too narrow a framework to attract a more numerous membership and various categories of potential supporters of radical social change. The earlier insistence that the communist party, as the paramount vanguard of the working class, must also have a special status among organised workers’ and socialist forces was a prohibitive barrier to the establishment of lasting cooperation with other workers’ parties.


As they gradually took account of some of the internal contradictions mentioned above, communist parties in some developed capitalist countries began to search for new solutions in many areas of party organisation and activity, including the principles determining their global role.

The first signs of a critical rethinking of the traditional Comintern model of the revolutionary party and of a search for new solutions appear with the end of the Second World War. These efforts were prompted by the Communist movement’s broad anti-fascist platform and by the general political climate of those years. For many communist parties this was the first opportunity for them to break through the walls of their own isolation and to establish themselves as a serious national political organisation. It came to be seen that the Comintern type of party was unsuitable for the new conditions in which many communist parties in developed capitalist countries were then placed. Some very radical ideas appeared. The President of the CPUSA, Earl Browder, proposed that his party should be disbanded and replaced by a new political party of the left, much broader and better adapted to the American political climate. (Browder’s proposal met with a very sharp reaction from the “international centre” of the communist movement, which qualified it as an expression of “capitulation to the class enemy.” Browder was quickly expelled from the party and therewith all attempts to bring this party out of its traditional isolation came to an end.) Because of the very marginal status of the CPUSA, Browder’s initiative had no broad international repercussions; but moves made by the Italian and French parties at that time carried much greater weight. The leadership of these two parties did not propose such radical changes as Browder’s, but they succeeded in putting certain innovations into practice. Involved as they were in a fairly broad resistance movement against nazism and fascism they had to make an opening towards their political allies. Inevitably, too, they had to go beyond the traditional bounds of a cadre party. Both parties in those years threw themselves into a struggle for mass membership which brought results never since then surpassed: the PCI reached the impressive figure of nearly two and a half million members, and the PCF about one million.

In the PCI there were powerful demands for profound internal changes. Soon after his return to Italy in 1944 Palmiro Togliatti began to press for the building of “a new working class party.” In a speech in 1944 he said:

First of all – and this is essential – the new party is a party of the working class and the people. It does not confine its activity to criticism and propaganda but participates positively and constructively in the life of the country.... When we speak of a new party we are thinking primarily of a party which must be capable of reflecting in its policy and in its everyday activity that profound change which has come about in the position of the working class.[10]

Togliatti’s appeal did not remain without response. In the next few years the PCI underwent some fairly important changes. There was a significant democratisation of internal relations. The party opened its doors to broad strata of the left. It became to a great extent a “mass party.” Its role in the coalition government was both “positive and constructive.”

However, with the coming of the Cold War, this tendency ran into increasing resistance. Togliatti later said that his idea of a “new party” was from the very beginning received with a good deal of misunderstanding and that there was resistance. The course laid down in the first years after the war was not consistently followed.[11] The traditional Comintern model of the party was reaffirmed and in some places crudely imposed. In all parties, including those in developed capitalist countries, a sectarian and dogmatist line was re-enforced, and the parties turned in upon themselves. Stalinism was an impassable obstacle to the democratisation of communist parties. All parties subjected to the domination of Stalinism had to continue to move in the framework of the so-called general laws and universal model of a communist party.

The historic breakthrough made by the Yugoslav communists in 1948 and the condemnation of some aspects of Stalinism at the XX Congress of the CPSU laid the foundations for a more serious reassessment of the Comintern concept and for more lasting changes in many communist parties. Among parties in developed capitalist countries, the PCI again took the initiative. Cautiously but fairly decisively the parties returned to the line which was broken by the opening of the Cold War in 1947. Characteristically, intra-party problems did not at first occupy the centre of attention; the accent was rather on the creation of a new global strategy. In this context there appeared ideas of an “Italian way to socialism” and a specific theory of structural reforms. In the early 1960s, when the new line was finally and widely accepted, a debate on the party was opened. This debate became particularly lively when in the late summer of 1964 Giorgio Amendola made some very substantial criticisms and drew far-reaching conclusions on the possibility of renewal of existing communist and socialist parties. Amendola surprised most of his colleagues from the party leadership when he recommended the foundation of a “new united workers party” which would be a direct continuation of neither of the prevailing types of workers’ party, i. e. communist and socialist or social democratic.[12] The proposal was very radical: Amendola advocated creation of a quite new type of workers’ party differing from the traditional model in the conceptualisation of its role, mode of action and internal structure and relations.

Amendola’s ideas aroused a very lively and sometimes stormy polemic. The most responsible party leaders took the view that he had to some extent “exaggerated” or had “spoken too early” (Longo) or that his proposals were “premature.” However, this stormy debate finished without any condemnations or ideological name-callings, which was very indicative of the new atmosphere in the party. It was concluded that the struggle for the democratisation of the party must be continued. In the PCI the conviction prevailed that a solution should be sought in modifying the existing party and not in building a new one. It was held that favourable conditions did not yet exist for the formation of a new united working class socialist party which could embrace all socialist forces in Italy.


Discussions on the party are still under way. Indeed it could be said that they have become a good deal more lively just recently. The subject of discussion is various aspects of the theory of the revolutionary party. There are some fairly important new approaches and ideas. On the whole, the proponents of these ideas do not go as far as Amendola did in the mid- 196os. The view has prevailed that necessary changes can be implemented within the existing communist party model. In this sense solutions are sought for certain problems in the field of intra-party relations, the party’s mode of action and in the definition of its role in the workers’ movement and in the political life of the country concerned. In all these fields there are not only new ideas but also new phenomena in party practice.

It must be said at once that the new tendencies are not equally represented in all Eurocommunist parties. On the contrary, there are sometimes important differences of approach to particular aspects of the creation of the “new” party. Nevertheless, it is true to say that the basic direction of evolution is similar. The same is true of the changes which have been realised so far. There is a firm foundation for the statement that in all the more important Eurocommunist parties we find, in one form or another, an effort to carry out a definite democratisation of internal relationships as well as an adaptation of the parties’ structure, role and mode of action to the specific social and historical environment of developed capitalist countries. What is most noticeable is the effort to create a type of party which will be in much greater measure appropriate to the strategy of the peaceful path to socialism and to a lasting commitment to action in the framework of a democratic pluralist political system.

The following features may be cited as the most important innovations in party theory and practice which have so far been carried out:


The role of the communist party in the working class movement and in the struggle for radical social change has to some extent been redefined. This includes particularly the relationship between the working class and the communist party. There are some indications that the problem of the political vanguard of the working class is now formulated in a rather more flexible way. The actual idea of the vanguard is not brought into question. Here it is emphasised that radical social change cannot be realised without a political force of the vanguard type. The communist parties of these countries see themselves as providing that force in the future as in the past. Numerous party documents emphasise that these parties are by their social essence working-class parties, and their leading position, or leading role, in the process of social change is no less firmly asserted.

The new approach finds expression in three essential points. First, the idea that a communist party is by definition a vanguard – that is, that every communist party must have the vanguard role – is abandoned. It is now emphasised among Eurocommunists that this role is not derived from the name of the party or from the doctrine which it professes, but exclusively from the nature of its links with the working class and the real part which it plays in the political life of the country concerned. In other words the role of vanguard is not pre-ordained for anyone, nor is it guaranteed for all time. It has to be constantly won and confirmed anew. The vanguard character of a workers’ party can be measured only by the depth, breadth and firmness of the support which it has in the working mass. It is untenable to claim a vanguard character in cases where there is no such support. It is further emphasised that the vanguard character is expressed in the capacity both to contribute to the solution of certain current problems of the social existence of the working masses and at the same time to point the way to radical social change. Thus a successful synthesis of these two roles is essential. Secondly, it is now allowed that the communist party should share this role with certain other political forces. It is explicitly said that other parties may also represent the legitimate interests of particular strata of the working class and that they have an important role in the social revolution. Thirdly, the political implications of the role of vanguard are now interpreted in an essentially different fashion. Whereas previously there was a regular insistence that the vanguard party must have a special, that is privileged, status among workers’ organisations and other democratic political forces, there is now much more emphasis on its obligations. Sometimes it is even said plainly that the leading or vanguard workers’ party has not and cannot have any special, greater or higher rights than other workers’ parties and trades unions.

This new approach has been fairly comprehensively formulated by Santiago Carrillo in his book “Eurocommunism” and the State:

The new ideas about the road to socialism in the developed countries allow certain diversification with regard to the role and function of the communist party. It continues to be the vanguard party, inasmuch as it truly embodies a creative Marxist attitude. But it no longer considers itself the only representative of the working class, of the working people and the forces of culture. It recognises in theory and practice, that other parties which are socialist in tendency can also be representative of particular sections of the working population ... it has no hesitation in accepting, when circumstances warrant, that others may be more accurate than it in analysing a particular situation... . The role of the vanguard is not now a privilege derived from a name or a programme. Nor is it some sort of providential mission with which we have been entrusted by the grace of our teachers or through some authorisation from on high. It is a position which has to be earned every day, every hour and sometimes, I repeat, by going against the stream. Either we turn our role as vanguard into a reality in that way, or that role is reduced to an ideological fantasy which may serve to console us from time to time for our ineffectiveness.[13]

This approach is also found in the PCI. According to a recent important party document, “We have already abandoned the view of the communist party as a prototype of the state and of socialist society.” A similar message is found in the following passage from the same document: “Parties are bound to definite class interests, but do not represent the unqualified automatic expression of these interests."[14] Today there is more and more readiness to accept that the communist party has no monopoly in the representation of the interests of the working class and other working strata. Equally, it has been repeatedly stated in the PCI that the communist party can have no monopoly not only of truth and wisdom but also of social progress.

There are similar ideas in the PCF. Although the party leadership often emphasises its vanguard character, this role is newly defined. To the question “Are you ready to admit that the plan for socialism is no longer a preserve of one party alone"? Jean Elleinstein recently answered: “Certainly. The PCF cannot and should not have the monopoly in any area."[15]

The very term vanguard and vanguardism are much less used today than previously. The PCI’s official documents more and more use the expression “guiding party” instead of the traditional term. In the PCF it is often said that the process of social revolution implies its “directing influence.” [16]

In support of the thesis that the traditional interpretation of the communist party as a pre-ordained and exclusive vanguard is gradually being abandoned, one may mention the Eurocommunists’ approach to the problem of political alliances. Whereas previously communist parties generally accepted only those alliances in which they had the leading role (although there were exceptions to this general rule in certain alliances of the popular-front type which were made in some countries in the mid-193os and at the end of the Second World War), it is now understood that this conception is quite unrealistic and even incompatible with the idea of the “peaceful, democratic, legal and gradual way to socialism.” No concept of alliances has any prospects of success except that which is based on the absolute and unconditional equality of all partners. It is our impression that today these parties not only assert in principle the thesis of equality of potential partners, but behave in practice in this way. There is a real and increasing tendency towards dialogue and cooperation between equal partners.

Even more important, these alliances are no longer seen as merely a temporary and palliative instrument, useful in solving certain current social and economic or political problems. On the contrary, nowadays it is more often emphasised that these alliances are the most appropriate – and it is sometimes said (for instance in the PCI) the only possible – political framework for the realisation of long-term aims and tasks of social change. Whereas previously it was considered possible that the communist party itself should be the agent of radical changes in society, it is now seen that this is unrealistic. It is openly said that the establishment of broad political coalitions is a conditio sine qua non of the implementation of the new strategy of socialist transformation.

The impression may have been gained that the PCF is more inclined to try to preserve some elements of the earlier approach, and some authors consider that the repeated statement that there can be no socialist transformation in France without the PCF’s “directing influence” is evidence of this old approach. The term “directing influence” has not been elaborated and is therefore subject to various interpretations including those which hold it to be no more than a euphemism or another way of expressing the wish to retain vanguard status in the workers’ movement in any case. It is our impression, however, that the PCF is nevertheless gradually having to face the logic and implications of the pluralist concept of the path to socialism and also of a socialist goal in which there is no room for a vanguard of the Comintern type.

Closely related to this are certain innovations in the relations between the party and trades unions in countries where the Eurocommunist line has won acceptance and the influence of the communist party in the trades unions is traditionally fairly strong. Previously in these countries the well-known “transmission-belt” model of the party-trades union relationship was applied. The unions with strong communist influence were treated as junior partners – they were in every respect controlled by the party. Their subordination was not only political; it involved also functional, organisational and even personal aspects. This relationship has been subjected to a good deal of re-examination and revision. The general rethinking of the role of the communist party was reflected in this sphere as well. From the trades union side came demands which at least some of these parties were prepared to comply with. These trends emerged particularly strongly in Italy. De Vittorio, the prominent leader of the communist-led trades union federation (CGIL) stated as early as 1956 that “trades union unity requires complete independence not only from the employers and the state but also from all political parties.” [17] Agostino Novella, who succeeded De Vittorio as President of the CGIL, urged the separation of the trades union movement from political party control in his speech to the 1961 Congress of the World Federation of Trades Unions.[18]

The result of these efforts was the decision made at the CGIL Congress in 1969 to rule out the possibility that the same persons should hold important positions in the trades unions and the party. In practice this meant that communists holding leading posts in the CGIL could no longer be elected to the ruling bodies of the PCI. In the joint PCI-PCF communique of 1975 it is said that the two parties had decided to guarantee the “free activity and autonomy of trades unions.” [19] In the PCE’s theses prepared for the IX Congress it was stated as follows: “The PCE rejects the idea of trades unions as a cogwheel for mechanical transmission and proclaims strict respect for the independence of the trades unions. “[20]

When these parties support trades union autonomy, that is the abandonment of the unions’ earlier role as party “transmissionbelts,” this is not merely an expression of their choice of a new conception of the role of the party as a matter of principle. There are also important practical motives here which found, and still find, particularly marked expression in the trades unions of these countries. These unions have been much weakened by the division of the union movement on party-political and ideological lines. Time has made it clear that the close connection of unions with particular parties had become an insuperable barrier to trades union unity. The “emancipation” of the unions from party domination is the first condition for more successful cooperation between existing trades union groups, and even more for their ultimate unification.


The next important innovation is found in the gradual and increasingly emphasised “opening” of the Eurocommunist parties towards the existing class society in which they act. This is in fact a two-way process: not only do the parties open themselves towards society and its leading political forces, but these forces, in spite of all their reserves and inhibitions, adopt a different attitude towards the communists. Some authors have quite felicitously described this as “interpenetration.” The walls of isolation surrounding the communists have begun to crack, and the political ghetto in which they lived for years is largely a thing of the past. Communist parties which in earlier conditions had to react by closing in on themselves, by creating the so-called “countersociety,” which were driven to defend themselves with a “fortress mentality” (and it must be added that this position was not only imposed by the ruling forces of the existing order but was also largely determined by the Comintern concept of the role of a communist party in class society) are now overcoming these constraints.

Whereas previously the attitude of the communist parties of these countries, and also of all others acting in class society, was by definition emphatically critical and negative, and sometimes captious and nihilistic, their approach is now much more balanced. Increasingly the conviction is to be found among Eurocommunists that the societies and system in which they act contain not only things to be criticised but also a good deal to be defended and endorsed. We find also a readiness to take on major and direct responsibilities for the regulation and functioning of existing society. It is significant and characteristic that the PCI insists that it no longer accepts the status of an opposition party. It considers that it already now has the character of a “party of government” even though it is not in the government.

Another symptom of the new era is that the activity of Eurocommunist parties is much more open to the inspection of the public at large than hitherto. There have been occasions when the PCF and PCI invited non-members to attend the meetings of party cells and sections, and sometimes some broader party gatherings. Journalists are also often allowed to attend such gatherings.

Closely linked with this is what some authors call the emergence from the complex of a special party or communist “sub-culture.” This is understood to mean that Eurocommunist parties no longer claim the right to direct and check all spheres of interest and activity of their members. Whereas previously many parties tried to influence effectively such matters as the artistic and cultural attitudes, the philosophical and aesthetic views of their members, such claims are now increasingly renounced. It is particularly emphasised that the party should not interfere in the personal life of its members. This too can be seen as an element in the party’s opening to society.

This opening of the Eurocommunist parties to the societies and systems in which they act should not be interpreted as “growing into” these systems. When the leaders of the PCI state their determination to follow the so-called “third road,” they mean, among other things, that they reject both the previous sterile dogmatism and sectarianism on one hand and any “growing in” of a social-democratic type on the other hand. The ambition of the Eurocommunists can certainly not be reduced to a desire to manage the existing capitalist order. Their aim is that the order should be changed.


Almost all the Eurocommunist parties have rejected the traditional concept of a cadre party. The view is now widely accepted that the conditions in which these parties act, and in particular the new strategy for socialist transformation, require an essentially different type of party: what is needed is a mass party, or as it is sometimes called a true people’s party or a party of the broad and democratic masses. This does not of course mean that cadres do not have a great significance for these parties. In one of the latest programme documents of the PCE the importance of both mass membership and the creation of a core of cadres is emphasised: “The PCE, as a mass party of a new type, must pay much attention to the formation and development of cadres... .” [21]

The decision to go for a mass type of party has involved a revision of earlier criteria and procedures for the acceptance for new members. In all the parties these criteria have inevitably become much less stringent than hitherto. In practice the previously fairly detailed checking of the political, ideological and other qualities of potential members has been abandoned. The procedures for acceptance have been greatly simplified. It is now possible to proceed to a decision on enrolment as soon as an application has been made. (Already at the end of the Second World War the practice of the so-called candidate period was dropped.) The decisions of basic organisations on the enrolment of new members no longer require ratification by higher party organs.

The struggle of these parties for a mass membership dates back some time. The PCI and PCF had already grown into mass political organisations at the end of the Second World War, and in fact, together with the British Labour party, had become the largest political parties in Western Europe. Recently, however, new efforts have been made to extend the party ranks still further. In this respect the greatest success has been achieved by the PCF which between 1973 and 1978 increased its membership from 410,000 members to 630,000. In ‘the same period the PCI registered almost 200,000 new members,, reaching a total of approximately 1,820,000 members. The main source of new members is most frequently to be found in the category of so-called sympathisers, that is, people who by voting for communist candidates and by cooperating in some of their initiatives have expressed their support for these parties.


The principle of democratic centralism has had, and still has today, a key importance for communist parties. A good deal has been said about this principle in the discussions carried on in recent years in these parties. In some cases there were proposals that the principle should be basically revised, or even abandoned: the Communist Party of Sweden, in which some groups made such proposals in the mid-1960s, went further than any other in this respect. The basic forces of Eurocommunism, however, do not accept such drastic suggestions. They reject the view that the principle is incompatible with party democracy, and that it inevitably breeds bureaucratic and authoritarian tendencies. On the other hand they accept that in practice this principle has often served as a screen and cover for major defects in the internal life of many communist parties. Rather than abandon democratic centralism, they propose to free it from some elements which have been conducive to such bureaucratic deformations. Romano Ledda, a prominent member of the PCI, admitted in one statement the possibility that the principle should be revised, and his view that the acceptance of political pluralism involves such a revision is of some interest.[22] The PCI has defined its position as follows:

The method of democratic centralism corresponds to the aims of the party which wishes to change the basis or class character of a society and state... . This method has made it possible ... for the PCI to carry out its obligation towards the country through its own democracy and unity. Nevertheless progress should be made by means of appropriate organizational changes. The popular mass character of the party ... requires a closer organic link between the factors of democracy and unity. This is why the party should further develop profound mass democracy, the habits of free discussions and of free expression of a critical position, and the initiative of every member and every cell. At the same time one must strengthen the spirit of unity, creativity, unselfishness, loyalty in comradely relationships and the rejection of the method of “currents” which involve divisions and corrupt the life of the party, hindering or making impossible true democratic dialectic."[23]

The PCE’s position is similar: “The principle of democratic centralism to which we adhere, but which is today adapted to conditions of legal work, will help internal democracy to flourish.” [24]

It is, we believe, a tenable view that at least some, if not all, Eurocommunist parties have achieved definite results in the “democratisation” of the principle of democratic centralism. To some extent at least the democratic component of this traditional formula for the organisation and structure of a revolutionary workers’ party has been rehabilitated. Even some authors who are very sceptical of the possibility of a renewal of democracy in communist parties have to recognise certain changes. According to Neil McInnes:

There have been retreats from the rigors of centralism as practised during the Cold War, in all the western parties. Debate in the cells has become more frank, and at the level above, the section, there is open discussion, in which disagreement does not invite reprobation. [25]

Moreover, there are recently more and more instances of prominent party personalities expressing distinctly different emphases and attitudes.

The internal democratisation of the Eurocommunist parties is manifest in various ways, of which the most important are the following:

(a) The principle of monolithic unity which is practically incompatible with internal party democracy has been dropped. The legitimacy of different views within these parties has been accepted. In some cases they are officially recognised and even “advertised”; in others they are merely tolerated. Some parties do their best to discourage such groupings. The PCE seems to be quite liberal on this score. In a statement to a Madrid newspaper about the forthcoming IX Party Congress Santiago Carrillo said that it would “reflect currents which now exist in the party.” [26] As it turned out he was right – the currents did emerge at the congress. The PCI does not officially recognise the existence of different tendencies but there is some evidence that they are present. Some leaders of the PCI have on a number of occasions mentioned “correnti” as a fact of life.

In sum, there is no doubt that in these two parties such phenomena are accepted with a great deal more tolerance. The PCF, on the other hand, has made efforts to discourage the formation of distinct tendencies. Not long ago a prominent official of the PCF specially underlined that the general democratic line of the party does not mean that different political positions can be represented “because it is essentially a matter of efficiency: if half-a-dozen different positions co-exist in a single party; how are the workers to find their way?.” And then he went on to say:

We have no ambition to be a “party of the whole people.” The PCF is not a Tower of Babel. It is not a place of dialogue for people to express opposed views on France and France’s future. No; it is a gathering point for citizens who share the same ideals, and the same aims, and who belong to the CP in order to contribute together ... to the triumph of its policy. In these conditions it is only natural that we are seeking a form of intra-party life which will make possible at once the broadest confrontation of views [!, the clearest definition of political decisions and the greatest efficiency in carrying them out.[27]

The PCF’s rejection of the existence in practice and even more of the legitimation of distinct tendencies does not, however, mean that it disallows the expression of differing views or even criticism of the leadership’s policy. The open discussion which took place after the electoral failure of spring 1978 confirms that significant changes are under way in this party too. The leadership reacted to the public criticism of a large group of intellectuals by rejecting their assessments and arguments, but refrained from applying any disciplinary measures. It seems that the days are passing when notorious affaires could result in the expulsion of party members, including some prominent officials, because they criticised aspects of party policy or doctrine. This does not of course mean that the party will in future tolerate every sort of internal opposition. The expression of completely contrary attitudes cannot be tolerated, not only in a Communist party but in most other parties too. The toleration of the convergence of individuals with similar views in “correnti” does not necessarily imply a readiness to tolerate fractions, or to legitimise oppositional activity in the party.

(b) It seems that the influence of party congresses has increased somewhat, making them more like gatherings where effective political debate is conducted and influences the formation of party policy. The importance of the central committee as a policymaking body also seems to have grown relative to narrower executive organs such as the secretariat, directorates, executive committees and so forth.

(c) There is reason to conclude that at least to some extent the role of party members has increased. The opportunities for intraparty communication from the base to the top are now certainly greater than before. The increasingly free discussions in party organisations create a sui generis “party public opinion” to which the political leadership must pay attention.

The Eurocommunists are sometimes criticised for not going further in their democratisation and for not allowing the formation of party fractions. Sometimes it is even suggested that this is the acid test of their democratic intention, in the sense that only those parties which tolerate fractions can be accepted as democratic. The Eurocommunist parties, for understandable reasons, do not accept this sort of judgement. They say that fractions are quite acceptable for parties whose role is exhausted by gathering votes or by running the existing order. Parties which aim at radical social change must have a much higher degree of internal cohesion and capacity for action. It is quite certain that fractions are incompatible with these requirements.

The fact that fractions are not accepted in principle does not mean that they have not occurred in Eurocommunist and indeed in some other communist parties. It is, however, true that they have not lasted long, except in the Finnish party. The fractions in the Communist Party of Sweden in the mid-1960s are well known. Towards the end of the same decade similar groups appeared in the PCE (Garcia, Lister and Gomez). The Finnish “exception” – two fractions coexisting in the party for some ten years – is to be explained more by certain specific peculiarities of the international position of Finland than by particular features of Finnish communists.

A further reproach levelled at Eurocommunists is that elections still do not have a proper weight in the formation of leading party structures. It is said that the procedure of adopting candidates, which takes place in the framework of the leading organs, is more important than the elections themselves. Some analysts consider that the candidature procedure is often still much more influenced by party leaderships than by the rank and file and basic organisations. It has sometimes been suggested in these parties that the number of names on the list of candidates should be increased, i. e. that there should be more candidates than places to be filled. These suggestions are not usually accepted when it is a matter of elections to leading party organs. This attitude is usually supported by the argument that the practice would introduce into party life elements of politicking, bidding for popularity and cheap demagogy. On the other hand the possibility of nominating a larger number of candidates in elections to less important party functions is accepted. It is our view that the future will bring a further democratisation of the electoral process. The general trend of development of these parties is in that direction.

One of the most controversial aspects of internal development in the Eurocommunist parties is the role of the party apparat, especially its professional element. This apparat has on the whole retained the significance and role which it had in the past. It is widely accepted today that the enormous concentration of power in the hands of the party apparat was an important source of the numerous deformations which affected most communist parties in the Stalinist period. Amendola recently laid particular emphasis on the great concentration of power which took place in the organisational and cadre sector of the party apparat headed at that time (that is, till 1953) by Secchia, and said that this concentration left even the party secretariat and the PCI directorate at a disadvantage.[28] The struggle against concentration of power in the apparat and in some executive bodies cannot, in the Eurocommunists’ view, be identified with the struggle against a strong leadership. In fact a communist party does presuppose a strong leadership. This leadership must have a competent and efficient apparat. No doubt this is an inherent contradiction of the revolutionary party of this type. The way out is obviously not to scrap the mechanism but to make it responsible to the membership. This is the course taken by most Eurocommunist parties.

This is of course a problem faced not only by communist parties. Party leaderships and apparats in many other types of party try to monopolise the right to political initiative and the power of decision. This deserves some emphasis because some criticisms directed at Eurocommunists try to make out that there are no such problems in other parties, and that communist parties are some sort of exception in this respect. It may be accepted that in many communist parties this problem was indeed particularly serious and acute, especially in the years of Stalinist domination, but not that it is a problem for them alone.


There are important innovations in the approach to party ideology. The role of ideology in the formation and internal life of the party has been changed. In the first place, the basic approach to party ideology has been largely freed from the ballast of rigid dogmatic interpretations. All these communist parties emphasise their basic Marxist position. They accept Marxism as the source of ideological inspiration and the basis of their view of the world, but some earlier forms of exclusiveness have been abandoned. The possibility of other influences is acceptable. The official position of the PCI is characteristic:

The communist party takes as a model the tradition of ideas and culture which, beginning from a basic Marxist inspiration, has been created in the course of its history by a lasting and fruitful contact with the living currents of Italian and world culture... . We have long since held that the formula “Marxism-Leninism” does not reflect the whole richness of our theoretical and ideological heritage.[29]

In the PCI openness towards changes in society, and therefore readiness to revise certain theoretical positions is held to be in the spirit of Marxist tradition. Lucio Lombardo Radice has said that in this sense Lenin too was a “revisionist,” and continues: “We are all revisionists, or, if you like, Marxist-Leninists, in the sense that we have all adapted, changed or ignored the texts according to the demands of concrete situations."[30]

There is a similar message in the statements of some prominent representatives of Eurocommunism that their parties’ ideology is not an incarnation, or emanation, of universal and absolute truth. Berlinguer has in this sense several times emphasised that “part of the truth” is always to be found in other political forces. Jean Kanapa, a member of the PCF Politburo, pointed out in an interview that the official party ideology and “scientific theory is not absolute truth. We do not think that we have the sole possession of such truth."[31] Another significant innovation is that Eurocommunists emphasise their decisive opposition to the establishment of any state ideology.[32] There are more and more statements in favour of ideological pluralism as a lasting feature of the society which these parties favour and for which they struggle. PCI representatives have more than once emphasised that they are equally opposed to state religion and state ideology. When they say that they are struggling for a secular society they include the ideological aspect of this secularisation. Moreover, the PCI emphasises that it not only stands for the secular character of modern society but considers that the party itself should have such a character.

In line with this position in principle, the PCI (and also the other two big Eurocommunist parties of western Europe) have abandoned the traditional demand that only someone who adopts the official party ideology can be made a party member. The first breakthrough in this direction came in the PCI. As early as 1946 at its VI Congress the PCI adopted a statute which opened the doors of the party to people of other philosophical and ideological views. In article 2 of this statute it was stated that membership is open to “all citizens who are 18 years old without regard to their ... religious or philosophical denomination who accept the party programme.” This was certainly a major change compared with the traditional criteria for enrolment which were defined for all communist parties in the “Twenty-one conditions” of the Comintern in 1920.

The sense of this approach lies not only in a desire to carry out a sort of de-ideologisation of the criteria for enrolment and thereby a secularisation of these parties as a matter of principle. There is also a political motive connected with the desire of these parties to open their doors to that section of the working class and other working people which is under the powerful influence of Christian ethics and the Christian world view as a whole. Practice has confirmed that the earlier atheism of these parties was a great and sometimes impassable barrier to their efforts to approach these strata of the population. After this opening took place, tens of thousands of Christians joined the communist parties in these countries. It is important to note that nowadays Christian convictions are no longer considered primarily as an “error” which is “magnanimously” and “benevolently” tolerated. There are more and more statements which recognise certain essential values of the Christian view of man and society. Togliatti was one of the first prominent personalities in the communist movement to say this openly. In a speech in 1963 in Bergamo he said: We have stated, and we insist on the statement, that the aspiration towards a socialist society can not only find support in people with a religious belief, but can find encouragement in religious consciousness itself.[33]

More recently such judgements have become fairly common. A religious, or, more precisely, Christian outlook is treated as an important source of socialist inspiration.[34] It is of interest to note that a considerable number of Christians have won important reputations in some of these parties. Today there are a fairly large number of communist Christians in important positions in the PCI and PCE.


On the whole, the Eurocommunist parties have had considerable success in their democratisation and particularly in their efforts to bring their structure, role and internal relationships into harmony with the conditions in which they act and the most important tasks which they face. Their experience, like that of many other parties, shows that difficulties, obstacles and resistances in this area are particularly serious. However, the periods of stagnation and vacillation in the process of democratisation cannot be reduced simply to internal resistances and misunderstandings. These certainly exist but the problems extend beyond them. There are also certain objective difficulties and contradictions. It is not easy to get away from forms of organisation and political action which are the outcome of accumulated customs and traditions. It should be said at this point that resistance to the challenge of the time and to demands for change is present also in most other working-class parties (socialist and social-democratic) and trades unions.

One must also reckon with the pressure of forces which, in the guise of a struggle for innovation and modernisation of communist parties, in fact try to deprive them of some of their most essential features as revolutionary organisations. There have been very marked efforts by the Eurocommunists’ present or potential partners to make them agree that if they accept pluralism as the framework and essential feature of the political system in which they have to implement their policy, they must also adopt a kind of intra-party pluralism. Quite a few people today stress that only two choices are possible – either the traditional Comintern party of monolithic unity and a dominant apparat or, on the other hand, the traditional bourgeois or social-democratic party with a loose structure, ill-defined programme and especially with developed internal, and most often fractional, divisions.

The Eurocommunists do not accept these appraisals, which are sometimes a form of blackmail by their political partners and opponents. They emphasise that pluralism in the political system of a country does not presuppose the same kind of pluralism in parties as the subjects of its political life. They decisively reject the thesis that the only choice is between a Comintern or a socialdemocratic type of party. The innovations which they have already introduced have shown that a “third” solution might be possible. The new type of party which they favour, quite understandably, runs into many difficulties and unknowns. Most of the problems are entirely new. The enterprise is thus largely a pioneering one, and it is in that sense that the difficulties, weaknesses and contradictions which appear from time to time must be understood. Breaking new ground and searching for new forms of revolutionary organisation and action was never an easy, simple, one-dimensional operation. The important thing is the basic direction of this enterprise. Here there can be no doubt: the Eurocommunist parties are searching for a conception of a revolutionary party adapted to the conditions of the milieu in which they work and demands imposed on them by the last quarter of the twentieth century. Those who reproach the Eurocommunists that democracy in their parties is still insufficient or faulty should be made aware that contemporary political parties in general are not sterling examples of democracy. Parties which do not accept the essential imperative of capacity for action cannot put to communist parties such demands as they do not meet themselves.


1. In his well-known essay “The prospects for pluralistic communism,” published in the early 1960s, Richard Lowenthal defends the view that departure from the traditional Leninist model can lead only in two directions – either to the social-democratisation of the communist parties or to their degeneration into utopian sects. See also his article “Communism as an historical force,” in International journal, vol. 32, no. 1 (1976). Neil McInnes emphasises that .” .. it is in respect of their internal organization that the western parties have evolved least from the original model” – Eurocommunism, The Washington Papers, no. 37 (1976), p. 43.

2. Platform for the Tenth Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (Belgrade, 1974), p. 182.

3. Repubblica, 2 August 1978.

4. Giorgio Amendola wrote in 1964:

Neither of the two solutions which have been offered to the working class of the West European capitalist countries in the last fifty years – the social-democratic solution and the communist solution – has so far proved adequate for the task of realizing the socialist transformation of society .... (Rinascita, 28 November 1964).

5. Declaration of the PCF Central Committee prepared for the XXII Congress of the Party (February 1976), “Ce que veulent les communistes pour la France,” L’Humanite, 12 November 1975.

6. L’Unita, 18 November 1975.

7. Quoted in Politika (Belgrade), 3 September 1975.

8. L’Humanite, 15 January 1976.

9. See, for instance, his speech published in L’Unita, 25 July 1978.

10. Speech of 24 September 1944 at a meeting of the Rome federation of the PCI, Rinascita, vol. I, no. 4. See also his speech to the Naples PCI aktiv published in Critica Marxista, 1964, nos. 4-5, and the speech made in Florence in October 1944, Rinascita 29 August 1964.

11. Speech at the VIII Congress of the PCI: Osmi Kongres KPI (Belgrade 1957), p. 44

12. Rinascita, 28 November 1964.

13.Eurocommunism” and the State (London, 1977), pp. 99-100

14. Theses for the XV Congress of the PCI, 20-5 March 1978 (theses 15 and 12). A similar view was expressed by Giorgio Napolitano, who said in one statement that no one party or group could claim exclusive representation of the working class. Napolitano expressly says that “other parties” such as the Socialist and Catholic parties, the trades unions, cooperatives and some other organisations “also play a role in expressing legitimate needs of the working class.” R. Tökés (ed.), Eurocommunism and Detente (New York, 1978), pp. 121-2.

15. Nouvel Observateur, 25 September 1978.

16. Georges Marchais emphasised in his report at the XXII Congress of the PCF, .” .. the possibility of building socialism in France is linked to the Communist Party’s capacity to exercise a directing influence in the popular movement” – Cahiers du Communisme (February-March 1976), p. 60.

17. De Vittorio, speech at the VIII Congress of the PCI, 1956.

18. Tokes, op. cit., p. tot.

19. L’Unita, 18 November 1975.

20. Resolutions of the IX Congress of the PCE, thesis no. 7.

21. Ibid., thesis no. 15.

22. Interview given to L’Europeo, 16 July 1976.

23. Theses for the XV Congress of the PCI, thesis no. 15.

24. Resolutions of the IX Congress of the PCE, thesis no. 15.

25. McInnes, op. cit., p. 44.

26. Politika, 23 January 1978.

27. Paul Laurent to France Nouvelle, quoted in Politika, 22 June 1977.

28. L’Unita, 11 February 1978.

29. Theses for the XV National Congress of the PCI, Thesis no. 15.

30. Quoted in Norman Kogan, “The Italian Communist Party: the modern prince at the crossroads,” in Tokes, op. cit., p. 119.

31. Nouvel Observateur, 5 February 1978.

32. In the theses for the XV Congress of the PCI it is stated: “The democraticsecular state must not take as its own any particular current of ideology or religious belief” (thesis no. 15).

33. Quoted from Rinascita, 30 March 1964.

34. See the very significant passage in the Draft Theses for the XV Congress of the PCI: “Experience teaches us that in the dramatic situation of our time Christian belief can be a motive to join the struggle for the socialist transformation of society” (thesis no. 14).

Santiago Carrillo argues that in Spanish conditions the communist party can only gain, and be enriched, by Christians joining it: “We say that with the entry of Christians our party has gained a new dimension; one could perhaps add that the same has happened to the faith of our Christian members.” Carrillo in fact holds that the entry of Christians into the communist party leads to mutual enrichment. (“Eurocommunism” and the State, pp. 32-3.)