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International Socialism, November 1977


Notes of the Month


Euro CPs & the crisis


From International Socialism (1st series), No.103, November 1977, pp.5-6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The current strategy of the major Western European Communist parties is to prove that they are responsible and respectable candidates for the role of rationalising and modernising their ‘own’ local national capitalism in the face of a capitalist crisis. To do this they need to present themselves both as potentially safe governing parties and as capable of controlling the response of the working class. This involves a good deal of tightrope walking, as ‘respectability’ implies endorsing attacks on workers living standards, while keeping control of workers implies at least some degree of responsiveness to the demands of workers.

This balancing act has been going on longest in Italy, where the term ‘Historic Compromise’ was invented to justify it. The Communist Party now supports the Christian Democrat government from ‘outside’. Its votes, or at least abstentions, maintain the government in office, while in return it gets ‘consultation’ on the programme of the government.

For a long time the existence of a dictatorship prevented the Spanish CP from carrying out similar schemes, but the limited democratisation of the last year now allows it to spread its wings. The Spanish version of the ‘Historic Compromise’ began in a fairly small way when the Spanish CP (PCE) abstained to keep the government in office when the reformist Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) voted against the government after the Civil Guard had beaten up and arrested one of their MPs.

The strategy has blossomed with the signing of the Moncloa Pact – a Spanish Social Contract – which is supported by both the PCE and the PSOE. This will among other things, limit wage rises to 22 per cent in a year when inflation is estimated to be running at between 30 and 40 per cent. The support of trade union leaders is particularly vital as the last few months have seen Spanish workers begin to fight for concrete gains now that they have won some limited democratic rights. The PCE control one union federation – the Workers Commissions; the PSOE another – the General Workers Union (UGT). Initially these unions opposed the Pact but by 11 October Camacho, Communist leader of the Workers’ Commissions, was stating that he had always upheld:

‘The necessity of negotiations between the government, the political parties and the trade union leadership to provide a solution to economic, political and social problems which will allow us to get out of the crisis which renders the state of liberty we have won precarious.’


The argument is a familiar one: either workers accept savage cuts or we will have the military back. The next day he went even further and argued that the leadership: ‘expresses the conviction that only sacrifice can save the country from the crisis and that these sacrifices will be borne above all by the classes and social sectors which profited from the dictatorship (of Franco)’. These arguments are so familiar that they could easily be translations of Jack Jones.

In France, the situation is rather different as the CP still sees a chance of a direct entry into the government.

The dispute between the parties of the Union of the Left about the content of the programme on which the left will fight the coming elections, due next March, has introduced a new factor into the situation. Until recently, France seemed to be the European country in which the election of a Communist-Socialist coalition was most likely. Now there is much more doubt about whether the Left will come to power at all, and if so in what form. But it would be premature to write the obituary of the Union of the Left. There have been sharp polemics before (notably over Portugal in 1975), and to understand the prospects we must look beyond the rhetoric to the base and strategy of the two main parties.

The whole strategy of the CP for the last fifteen years at least has been an alliance with the Socialists. Such an alliance represents the only way in which the CP could achieve a share in national political power (as distinct from the extensive power it already enjoys on a municipal and trade-union level). The breathless conversion to ‘Eurocommunism’ over the last couple of years, with unprecedented criticism of Russia and the junking of any Leninist hangovers in the Party’s programme, only makes sense in this perspective. The idea that the CP has now changed its mind – because of a phone-call from Moscow or because it realises power will present it with problems – is pretty implausible. It is put across only by those who still see the CP as a conspiracy, not as a mass reformist party.

The CP are clearly worried by the fact of the Socialists’ electoral growth. They have to make their presence felt by some hard bargaining. But to break definitively with the SP would mean a return to the ghetto of the 1950s and 1960s, with fifteen years of compromise and concessions all wasted.

For the SP the alternatives seem more varied. Mitterrand and others make no secret of the fact that their aim is to extend their voting base until they can go it alone electorally, and dictate terms to any government partners thereafter. The alliance with the CP was just a part of this strategy. Moreover, Mitterrand has to show his middle-class voters that he can stand up to the CP.


There is nothing in Mitterrand’s ‘principles’ (if the word has any meaning in this context) to prevent him ditching the CP and cobbling up an alliance, before or after the election, with some of the fragmentary groups of the political centre, maybe even with Giscard d’Estaing. But it would not be as simple a task as is often suggested.

Firstly, the SP left (the CERES) would almost certainly not tolerate such a switch. They would probably split and gravitate back to the left reformist PSU. A lot of the work that has built up the SP from a discredited rump that got 5 per cent in the 1969 election to its present shape would be lost.

Secondly, and far more crucially, if the CP are electorally ditched, they must inevitably make a tactical left turn to a wave of industrial action. Anything else would condemn the CP to oblivion and cause enormous discontent within the Party’s industrial base. The SP, despite its electoral advance, cannot begin to compete with the CP in the main industrial sectors. But if Mitterrand’s entry into government was accomplished by a massive strike wave, his value to the ruling class as possible architect of a French ‘social contract’ would be negligible. He would soon be dispensed with.

The prospects may be summarised as follows:

Meanwhile, back in Moscow, the Russians are getting even more hysterical. They have recently wheeled out Suslov, last survivor of Stalin’s inner circle, to denounce the errant Westerners. It is unlikely that this will impress anybody very much. The problem the Russians face is that, although it is in the interests of their deals with the West that the major CPs are seen to be independent, some of them are taking their freedom a bit too far. This means that they are no longer any use as adjuncts to foreign policy and bargaining counters for the Russian bureaucracy. Secondly, the denunciations of repression in Russia or Czechoslovakia, where the bureaucracy have started imprisoning signatories to Charter 77, provide considerable encouragement and occasional material assistance to opposition inside the monolith.

The Russians, it seems, cannot come to terms with the fact that the western CPs are now indigenous reformist parties responding much more sensitively to the demands of their ‘national’ life than to anything that Moscow chooses to call principles. It is difficult to see what the Russians can do. Even the extreme tactic they adopted some years ago in Spain, consisting of encouraging a pro-Moscow split, does not seem to work very well.

There can only be two possible beneficiaries of Eurocommunism. Either the local bourgeoisies will use it to ride out the crisis or the revolutionary left will be able to use the splits the policy must mean to gain a much greater implantation in the working class.

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