MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms
Eurocommunism was a current among the Communist Parties, mainly in Europe, from 1968 up to the early 1980s, which sought autonomy of their own national parties relative to the leadership claims of the Soviet and Chinese parties or each other, being particularly critical of the lack of internal democracy in the Communist movement and of exclusive focus on the organised working class.
A number of factors contributed to the growth of Eurocommunism:
- the Sino-Soviet Split, which began the unravelling of the once-unitary Communist International;
- the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, and to a far greater degree, the crushing of the Prague Spring by Soviet tanks;
- the failure of the Communist Parties in Europe to win leadership of the Women’s Movement and the Student Protest Movement following the break-up of the Bretton Woods Arrangements in 1968-73.
- the growing commodification of labour, growth of the service sector and the associated decline in the social weight of the blue-collar, organised working class in the major capitalist countries and growth in the political influence of the professional middle-class.
Togliatti’s Italian Communist Party, began to abandon fundamental positions of Marxism as early as 1956. In the wake of Khrushchev’s speech, the Italians wanted to put distance between themselves and Stalin, and find a perspective and an image more acceptable to Italian society. The Italian Communist Party supported the repression of the Hungarian Uprising, but in 1968 they did not hesitate to condemn the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. They soon became convinced that the road to success lay through bourgeois respectability. With some justice, the Italians claimed their ‘historic compromise’ with the Christian Democrats to be no more than an application of the Popular Front policy of the Comintern in the 1930s. Untroubled by its inability to win over the youth being radicalised by the events of the 1960s, the Italian Communist Party remained confident that so long as it fared well in elections to the Chamber of Deputies, it had nothing to fear from its left flank.
Manuel Azcárate, International Secretary of the Spanish Communist Party, said that Euro-communism originated in the wake of the May/June events in Paris ('it was bringing to the surface fresh social forces ... technicians, scientists, intellectuals, professional men') and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia:
‘the Soviet invasion made the Western Communist parties realise with unprecedented force and urgency that they had to separate themselves off from the Soviets by rejecting the “Soviet model” ... and to carry out a genuinely Marxist critique of the East European societies as well’. What is Eurocommunism, Editor G R Urban, 1977.
The following statement by Jean Ellenstein, a Eurocommunist in the French Communist Party, is the epitome of Euro-communist ideology: She judged that:
‘the 22nd Congress of our Party, at which the dictatorship of the proletariat was voted out of the party programme, was a turning point in our entire orientation ... not a mere formality. Our task is now to re-work the whole concept of the state, power and revolution. ... contrary to the Leninist conception of revolution, revolution in the West European countries, and especially in France, can only be peaceful, democratic, legal and gradual.
‘It will consist of a series of reforms which will modify economic conditions, social relations and transform people’s consciousness – a cultural revolution, French-style. Some of this is already taking place ...’
According to the Communist Party of Australia’s Eric Aarons:
‘The old, certainties were crumbling; no new model of a communist party, one suitable to our conditions and which we could emulate, existed. We were obliged to rely on our own interpretation of Marxism, and our own analysis of the conditions in which we worked. ... Our once-strong base among workers such as wharfies, miners, seamen and others was eroding’. [What’s Left, 1993]
And in the decade that followed 1968, Communist Parties, completely disoriented by their Stalinist heritage, thrown without any defence into the milieu of debate in the bourgeois environment of the ‘Left’ in their native country, more or less completely unravelled ‘Marxism’. It was but a short step for the French Communist Party, from abandoning the dictatorship of the proletariat, to discovering that the working class did not exist at all; from abandoning defence of the Soviet Union to supporting the French nuclear deterrent.
In 1956, the world communist movement was a single organisation, with its headquarters in Moscow; by 1971 all significant Communist Parties outside of COMECON (i.e., USSR and Eastern Europe) were independent parties, mostly critical of Moscow. With the Prague Spring in 1968 and anti-Soviet working class riots in Gdansk and Gdynia, Poland in 1970, even that was unravelling.