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International Socialism, Summer 1981


Tim Potter

The death of Eurocommunism


From International Socialism 2 : 13, Summer 1981, pp. 105–128.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to the Lipman-Miliband Trust.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The last two years have seen the major West European Communist Parties enter an immense collective crisis – certainly the biggest in their history since the break up of the Stalinist myth in 1956. The symptoms of the crisis are easy to spot: the Communist Parties of Spain, Italy and France are all losing members and votes. All are wracked by internal questioning or public disagreement. None have been able to develop any coherent strategy for the problems facing them in the eighties.

In France, the Communist Party (PCF) has been humiliated in the Presidential and parliamentary elections, losing a quarter of its votes to the Socialists with its lowest percentage of the votes since the thirties. It is now the very junior partner on the left forced to follow in the footsteps of the new Socialist President. Internal dissent has burst into the open with a succession of resignations and expulsions from all levels of the party.

In Spain, the Spanish CP (PCE) has stagnated in the five years since its legalisation. Far from being the dominant force on the left, which it was under Franco, it has remained in the shadow of the much larger Socialist Party. There too, open splits have emerged within the Party with whole federations declaring themselves opposed to the line of the centre. Leading members of the PCE have resigned from the Party, issuing damaging critiques of its regime. With the whole of Spain living under a constant threat of a renewed coup attempt, the PCE appears paralysed, lacking direction in what could be the most perilous year for its existence since the death of Franco.

The crisis in the Italian Communist Party is only superficially less dramatic. There are no clamorous expulsions or dramatic debates, but the silence which surrounds the party does not reflect an unanimity within its ranks. On the contrary, it is the product of a sense of confusion and bemusement as leaders of the Party demonstrate themselves incapable of developing an alternative to the strategy of the Historic Compromise which failed so abjectly over two years ago.

The crisis of the Communist Parties comes less than a decade after they had, with great publicity, radically transformed their politics to give rise to ‘Eurocommunism’. The rise in the current created excitement bordering on hysteria throughout the world. Its opponents, the professional cold warriors of the west, denounced what they saw as the latest deceit of the perfidious communists in trying to grab power by dressing up as democrats. Left reformists welcomed it with open arms, hoping it would provide them with a bit of intellectual rigour and industrial muscle, two qualities they grievously lacked, to support their woolly schemes for social reform. Even parts of the new left, disillusioned with the failure of the groups of 1968 to provide an alternative to the traditional workers organisations, saw Eurocommunism as providing a short-cut to socialism and entered their respective Communist Parties.

In the East too, the rise of Eurocommunism provoked fears from the ruling class and hope from dissident intellectuals. While the leaders issued stern warnings against the heresy, dissidents often looked to Eurocommunism as a possible blueprint for socialism with a human face.

Today, only five years after the official birth of Eurocommunism, it has all but disappeared as an international current. The much publicised summits no longer take place. Inside the parties, those whose star was in the ascendant as they proclaimed themselves Eurocommunist are now in disarray. Some are leaving as the dreams for real social change through the medium of the parliamentary road turn to ashes. Others are under siege as old-style Stalinists reappear. Others, again, rediscover for themselves the dogmatic certainties of the past. While the manifestations of the break-up of Eurocommunism differ, nowhere in Europe has it spawned any heirs.

The crisis of Eurocommunism lies as an enormous burden on the shoulders of the workers’ movement. The paralysis of the parties threatens to infect a major part of the working class as it enters a critical period in European history.

The rise of Eurocommunism

If a date is demanded, the official birth of Eurocommunism can be fixed on 11 July 1975 at a joint meeting between the leaders of the Spanish and Italian Communist Parties. All the major themes that were to be the distinguishing features of the current were hinted at in the discussions: independence from the demands of the USSR, the gradualist road to socialism through a progressive extension of bourgeois democracy, the relative liberalisation of the internal life of the parties.

But while the current was christened in 1975, its roots go back to almost half a century before. Those origins have been documented in dozens of books and articles which trace the development of Eurocommunism from the adoption of a national road to socialism by Stalin in Russia, through the 1935 Congress of the Third International, the governments of national unity after the Second World War to the break up of the Stalinist monolith in the fifties and sixties. But the real turning point for the development of Eurocommunism was the upsurge throughout the West in the late sixties and seventies; an upsurge which shattered the certainties of the Cold War, leading to a general radicalisation throughout society, and which presented the West European Communist Parties with their first real opportunity for making substantial gains in membership and influence since 1948.

But in order to take advantage of this radicalisation it was essential that the Communist Parties progressively distanced themselves from the Soviet Union. Their respective ruling classes would never allow the Communist Parties to gain a share of governmental power if doubts remained as to whom the parties owed their first allegiance. While the Russian connection remained intact, the Communist Parties could never aspire to government. To break the link was to make a public declaration that their primary loyalty had shifted, that they could be relied on not to radically break with their new rulers.

There was another reason propelling the Communist Parties towards a break with the Soviet Union. As long as it existed it remained a barrier between the parties and the new groups radicalised in 1968 and after. The new militants were a different generation from those inspired by the Red Army at Stalingrad. Where the struggle reached its peak, the newly radicalised workers and students explicitly demanded a new way of political activity from the tired and manipulative style which had characterised the Communist Parties for so long. It was no surprise that the Parties substantially missed out on the mass movements of the late sixties; after all, the French student who shouted ‘All power to the imagination’ in the streets of Paris in May ’68 was unlikely to join the bureacratised ranks of the PCF, still wedded to the Stalinism of a different age.

The invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 was the occasion when the split between the USSR and the Western Communist Parties was finally revealed. Condemnation and criticism were voiced by all the major parties. While the terms used were often timid in the extreme, their importance was that, for the first time, the parties distanced themselves from the policies of the USSR.

Over the next decade, the gulf was to widen dramatically. It was the PCE that moved furthest in this direction, going so far as to call into question both the class basis of the USSR and whether it was in fact socialist at all. The other parties were more restrained, contenting themselves with the criticism of ‘excesses, deviations and mistakes’ but never looking at it as a whole. While this rather weak criticism avoided an open clash with the hard-line Stalinists within the ranks, it meant the piling up of contradictions inside the politics of the Communist Parties. The demand for Bukharin to be rehabilitated could be allowed, but not those for Zinoviev or Trotsky. Adulation of the ‘socialist fatherland’ was out but no analysis was developed to replace it. All this led to some strange results. The CPGB, for instance, were forced to use the arguments of Ernest Mandel in order to counter the state capitalist analysis of the USSR. In both Britain and Spain, the unreconstructed Stalinists split away from the main party to form pro-Russian sects. Less publicised was a drift of members from all four parties into the political wilderness.

Despite these difficulties, the switch away from Russia brought benefits to the Eurocommunist parties. It enabled them to transfer the allegiance once owed to the rulers of the USSR behind the interests of the West. Typical in this regard was the attitude towards the EEC. The PCI became enthusiastic supporters and participants within the Community, attempting to strengthen it as a third force within world politics, a bulwark against the division of the world between the two super-powers. The PCE took up a similar line, supporting the efforts of the Spanish bourgeoisie to enter the EEC. Even the PCF began to participate in its workings despite its deeply ingrained nationalist hostility to any institution which threatened the sovereignty of the French nation. Only the CPGB remained implacably opposed to the EEC – it was a luxury they could easily afford given their lack of any influence over national politics.

But the most important shift in the loyalties of the Communist Parties was revealed over the crucial issue of defence. The PCI, for instance, dropped its twenty year hostility to NATO and declared that when it came to power it would do nothing to jeopardise the Pact’s stability. This was not merely because it could prejudice the precarious European balance of power. Berlinguer, the secretary of the PCI declared that he actually felt safer behind NATO’s shield. In other words, this organisation for the defence of Western capitalism could protect the PCI as it built socialism in Italy! While this was the most staggering example of the Communist Parties’ transference of allegiance to the interests of their own ruling class, in neither Spain nor France did the Communists challenge the need for strong armed forces. The PCF demanded the retention of an independent nuclear deterrent and took upon themselves the honour of the army: ‘In the face of the government’s attempt to disgust young people with military service, it is we who defend the army’. [1] The PCE too, demanded a European defence pact, independent of the two super-powers, but presumably not independent of the European ruling class.

This class collaboration over defence and foreign policy was only the reflection of the strategy proposed by each party to reach socialism. The national road to socialism, whether of the French, Italian or Spanish variety was essentially similar. It revolved around an identification of ‘monopoly capitalism’ as being the principal barrier to the forces of progress which spanned sections of all classes. It was objectively possible to unite all ‘progressive’ currents and classes against these centres of reaction. As they were isolated, the ties between it and the state machine could be gradually dismantled and the state, with doses of pressure from the base, could be used to pilot the transition towards a socialist society.

This programmatic commitment to a parliamentary road forced the Communist Parties to look outside their own resources, for in none of the countries could they hope to won a parliamentary majority in the foreseeable future. In France the PCF adopted a Common Programme with the Socialists in 1972 to offer a single alternative to the right. In both Spain and Italy, however, the scenario of a united left taking government power and gradually steering the country in a socialist direction was queried as carrying far too many risks for the stability of the existing order. The election of a left government, it was argued, could alienate the right and provoke it into destroying not only the government but the existing democratic order as well. The only solution to this problem was for the Communists to enter into an alliance with all the ‘historically progressive’ forces within their societies and to take no action which could drive the middle layers into the arms of the right. Both the PCI and the PCE came up with some interesting ‘progressive forces’. In Italy, Berlinguer proposed the ‘Historic Compromise’ with the corrupt and inefficient Christian Democrats, the major capitalist party which had ruled Italy without interruption from the end of the war. In Spain, the PCE entered a series of alliances not only with the socialists but also with representatives of the bourgeoisie and followers of the monarchy. It disclaimed hopes of becoming a determinant force within a post-Franco government but contented itself to being only one force amongst others, pressing not for socialism but only for the democratisation of the regime.

Of course, this complete and pragmatic commitment to the parliamentary road and collaboration with what had been shortly before the sworn enemies of the Communist Parties meant that they had to fully accept all the rules of the parliamentary game and give up the symbols which remained in their politics which spoke of a different tradition. Thus one by one the embarrassing slogans of a past age were dropped. The PCE gave up the self-definition of being Leninist, the PCF, the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. All pledged themselves to be pluralists and proclaimed the end of ideological monolithism as a basis of party membership.

Of course, much of this was hypocrisy: the PCE, for instance, had precious little ‘Leninism’ which Vladimir Illyich would have recognised to give up, and bureaucratic expulsions continued throughout the seventies in all three parties. But this regularisation of the Communist Parties to bourgeois democratic norms meant an enormous change in the internal life of the parties. For the first time in almost fifty years, Communist leaders, and, to a lesser extent, the base were allowed to openly criticise and debate the line of the party even in the official party press. By the mid seventies, it appeared that a massive change had taken place both in the theory and the practice of Western Communism.

The flowering

The mid seventies saw the new current of Eurocommunism flourish. Each of the major parties went through a period of rapid growth both in its members and at the polls, and each were to regain a relevance they had seemed in danger of losing in the quarter of a century since the end of the war as they languished in opposition.

Most spectacular was the rise of the PCI. It had been losing members consistently during the fifties and sixties. It was a slow but steady drain which reached its nadir at the beginning of the seventies. But from 1972 onwards it began to grow rapidly at the rate of 60,000 members a year before peaking in 1977 with over one and a quarter million members. Its progress at the polls was just as striking. Between 1972 and 1976, its votes leapt by 7%, a remarkable increase in the static voting patterns that had previously characterised Italian political life. In just four years it had recorded a bigger increase in its votes than in the previous 25 years. With over a third of the electorate it could no longer be confined to opposition.

In Spain and France, the growth was slower but still very significant. The Spanish Communist Party emerged from forty years of illegality with 9% of the votes and some 220,000 members. Further, it controlled the Workers’ Commissions, the strongest and most respected trade union organisation. The French Communists also gained members during these years even though their growth was overshadowed by the rapid development of the Socialist Party. More important, it appeared as the back-bone of a united left which throughout the mid-seventies seemed within a hand’s breadth of power. The French CP was guaranteed a relevance within the political scene by their alliance with the Socialists.

This rapid growth in the development of the Communist Parties was accompanied by the first signs of increasing problems for the revolutionary left which had sprung up after 1968 throughout Europe. [2] Their perspectives of continued rapid growth for themselves and continuing marginalisation for the mass Communist Parties from the workers’ movement were disproved and indeed in many countries the terms reversed. The left groups were forced to re-evaluate both the development of the class struggle (which all had tended to see developing in an exponential way) and the role of the Communist Parties (which they had tended to write off).

The most common explanation given by much of the left groups was to argue that the militancy of the working class, fully demonstrated at the end of the sixties, was looking for a political outlet, to solidify and extend the gains it had won through workplace struggle. Not finding one in the small groups of the revolutionary left, it turned back to its traditional home within the Communist Parties.

Viewed in this light, the development of Eurocommunism was essentially, in however distorted a fashion, a shift to the left in order to accommodate these new militants. Thus the task of revolutionaries, according to this view, was to attempt to influence the Communist Parties in order to give expression to those militants. Both in Spain and Italy, important components of the new left began to move increasingly closer to the Communist Patries. In Spain, the majority of Bandiera Roja actually entered the Communist Party, while in Italy, the Il Manifesto group (and in a much more haphazard way, Lotta Continua) saw the rise of the PCI to power as being the indispensable instrument of a socialist transformation.

A close examination of the growth of the Communist Parties, however, disproves much of this thesis so agonisingly developed by the left groups. Italy, perhaps, is the clearest example of this given that the growth of the Communist Party there was not distorted either by the persistence of the Francoist regime or by the competition from a strong social democratic party.

The PCI’s growth from 1972 Onwards was not the direct continuation of the militancy of the late sixties. Undoubtedly, many of its new recruits were the young workers who had been radicalised in and made up the vanguard of the struggles of the late sixties. Yet they did not join at the height of the movement or in its immediate aftermath. Indeed, during those years, the strength of the Communist Party decreased in the work places, with its factory cells continuing the decline registered in the fifties and sixties. In the schools and the universities, the other centre of unrest, the PCI’s youth federation (the FGCI) was almost swept away by the radicalisation of the youth. Recovery for the Communist Party only came after the struggle was clearly on the downturn – after the perspective of developing counter-institutions to those of the state had not developed. After 1972, the strength of the PCI certainly increased both in the work-places and in the schools and universities. But this came only after the militants had seen the failure of the Factory Councils to remain independent of the union leaderships and the failure of the revolutionary left (which was in a dominant political position within the students’ movement) to develop any stable structures to co-ordinate and strengthen the movement.

The growth of the Italian Communist Party was a symptom of the ebbing of working class self-confidence in their own ability to change society. Of course, much of the militancy remained – in 1976, just before the elections, mass demonstrations of workers took up the slogan ‘power, to those at work’, but what had taken place was a conscious delegation of their own power towards their elected parliamentary representatives. [3] In that sense, the growth of the PCI was based on the defeat of the themes of 1968.

Besides, the recruitment of the militants of ’68 and ’69 was not necessarily typical in the growth of the PCI. What was far more noticeable was the rapid expansion of the Party amongst intellectuals, small employers, self-employed, middle management, and, especially, state employees. These were to be much more important in the development of the PCI’s politics than the countervailing pressure of the working class militants. The transformation of the PCI’s politics made no concessions towards the militancy of its worker recruits; much more noticeable was its move towards being an inter-class party, one which attempted to represent all ‘healthy parts’ of the nation against what was corrupt and inefficient in Italian life. The attractiveness of the PCI was that it seemed as the one cohesive force in what otherwise appeared to be a disintegrating society.

These developments inside the PCI have a historic parallel in the tensions which led to a rise in social democracy after the First World War. Then too, a strike wave rich in revolutionary under-currents was eventually defeated. There too, workers turned overwhelmingly to social democratic parties as the movements exhausted themselves in a period marked by the partial retreat of the working class. Today of course, the economic and social crisis is not as acute as it was fifty years ago, and the demoralisation within the working class is not as great. But Eurocommunism filled the same space as that occupied by social democracy fifty years before it. Eurocommunism was not the continuation of, but the alternative to the radicalisation of the late sixties. It rested on the partial defeat of the most advanced sections and their failure to create a revolutionary strategy counter-posed to reformism.

The contradictions of Eurocommmunism

However, the closer the Eurocommunists moved towards governmental power, the more they were shown to be incapable of carrying through any kind of social transformation. This was not due to any lack of determination on the part of the leaderships of the parties, rather it was because of deep contradictions running through the very theory of Eurocommunism which made it impossible to implement.

The most immediate problem which effectively prevented the Spanish and French Parties from moving anywhere near power was that of the social democratic parties. Crudely posed, it boiled down to this: if the Eurocommunist parties posed a gradualist, parliamentary road to socialism based on collaboration between the classes, what in essence differentiated them from the social democrats? And if the differences were clear only to the initiated few, why should not voters asked to choose between two variants of social democracy go for the real article and not the new converts?

This problem was shown up most dramatically in France. When the Common Programme was signed in 1972, the PCF was overwhelmingly the dominant force on the left with a regular vote of around 21% of the electorate and a massive presence within the industrial working class. In comparison, the Socialists were a tired and discredited clique of leaders without a base. In the presidential elections of 1968, it polled a derisory 5% of the votes. Yet within a year of the Common Programme, the Socialists had quadrupled their vote to less than 1% behind the PCF. As Marchais, the secretary of the PCF grimly noted: ‘For the first time, unity is to our partners’ advantage and not to ours, or more to theirs than ours.’ [4] The PCF had succeeded in giving a new lease of life, not to themselves but to their potential competitors and throughout the mid seventies this phenomenon came to dominate the thinking of the PCF.

The quarrel came to a head in the autumn of 1977, only six months before the parliamentary elections which the left was widely expected to win. Ostensibly the argument was about the scale of nationalisation that a left government should carry out but that was only a pretext for a more deep-rooted problem. If the PCF had continued to back the left union it would have found itself very much the junior partner after the elections, committed to participating in and supporting a government over which it had relatively little influence. The PCF found itself in a postion of responsibility without power: responsible for guaranteeing social peace at a time of economic and political crisis but with little power to determine the course of events.

In the event, the PCF made a demagogic turn back to its base, putting increased conditions on the Socialists which the latter as an opportunist centre formation was unable to accept. The two parties went into the elections with no programmatic agreement and the right kept power. But the fears of the PCF were realised; for the first time since the war the Socialist Party was the major force on the left. In Spain, the legalisation of the PCE saw it emerge as the most powerful force on the left in social terms if not in elections. While in the first elections after the fall of Franco it came well behind the Socialist Party, its importance was guaranteed by its dominant position within the Workers’ Commissions. The strategy of the PCE was based on the supposed need to construct a broad front of progressive forces to isolate those reactionary elements who demanded a return of the old regime. The role of the PCE in the construction of this block was crucial for only it had the strength to carry the strategy within the working class. The workers’ involvement was critical for, it was argued by the Communist Party, excessive militancy on their part could scare off ‘progressive’ sections of the bourgeoisie as well as frighten the most reactionary parts of the state into organising the overthrow of the fledgling democracy.

The role of the Communist Party was to influence the workers’ movement into accepting the necessary restraint to guarantee the confidence of the state machine and its backers. The most well-known result of this was the Moncloa Pact – a union, government and employers’ agreement which effectively controlled wages and conditions in exchange for spurious concessions over employment.

The Spanish Communist Party’s weight within the union structures was thrown into the defence of the Moncloa Pact. The result was predictable; there were increasing tensions between the working class base of the party and the official strategy. Resignations became increasingly common, the membership declined, whole sections of the party became critical of the Madrid leadership, and expulsions had to be used to keep control of certain regional organisations of the workers’ commissions.

The Socialist Party and the union it influenced, the UGT, while it too was a signatory of the Moncloa Pact was able to adopt a much more fluid line than the Workers’ Commissions. Not being a tightly centralised Party, it was unable to control its base as effectively as did the PCE. Its implementation of the Moncloa Pact was far more contradictory than the PCE and the Workers’ Commissions, leaving its militants with much greater autonomy. The result was a disaster for the Worker’s Commissions. From being the most prestigious, militant and biggest section of the union movement after the death of Franco, it had lost perhaps half its membership and in the recent elections for workplace delegates lost out to the UGT.

In terms of electoral policies too, the PCE has been unable significantly to increase in strength despite its claims to ‘respectability’. In the elections of March 1979, they increased their votes only by 1%, a meagre reward for their efforts. But that small gain actually masks the real problem in the electoralist politics of the PCE. They continue to be dominated by the much larger Socialist Party. Institutional power, even on a local level, depends on continued collaboration between the two parties yet the PCE has to continue to differentiate itself in order to appear as an independent alternative. The problem has so far proved insuperable and is likely to remain so. Tied to parliamentary politics, the PCE remains tied to the best practitioners of that policy within the working class – Social Democracy.

The relationship with the Socialist Parties bedevilled the growth of the Communist Parties in both Spain and France. They were caught in the impossible task of attempting to strengthen the whole of the left along social democratic lines without strengthening Social Democracy itself. Of course, in the project the Socialist Parties started with many advantages over the Communists. It was not only a question of tradition. Rather they did not have to prove their trustworthiness and respectability to their own ruling class, that was assumed as fact. As a result they could be much more open than the Communists to the new movements arising in Western Europe. The Communist Parties were constantly on the defensive towards these movements, forced to take a moderate line within them in order to prove they could be trusted in government. A classic example of this was in relation to the movements around nuclear power and weapons, one of the biggest movements of the late seventies throughout Europe. Capitalist economics and politics demanded that they both be developed rapidly, the new movements were calling for their abolition. The Communist Parties were faced with a choice, either to be with the movements or to demonstrate their fitness for governmental responsibility within existing system. In most cases, the parties decided clearly for the latter. It took its most extreme form in France, where the Communist Party explicitly supported the development of nuclear power arguing that it was a ‘trump card for France, democracy and socialism’ and denouncing anti-nuclear demonstrators as ‘petty bourgeois, insensitive to the wretchedness of workers’. [5] In other parts of Europe, of course, the Communist Parties have not stooped to the crude insults of the French, but neither have they been able to win the militants to their banner. Rather they have been embarrassed by the anti-nuclear movements as in Italy or in Spain or ended up on its right wing, as in Britain.

The Socialist Parties have not been impeded by the need to prove their respectability. In general, they have been much more receptive towards these new movements, being able to hide any unease behind ambiguous pronouncements. They very fact of not having tight party structures has meant that the Socialists have not been bound by a distinct line. The left could welcome the new movements while the right could ensure that it was never likely that their demands were put into effect. Despite this the initial openness of the Socialists towards the new movements meant that when the movements looked to a party for political representation it was unlikely that their choice fell on the Communist Parties. It was much more usual for it to go towards the Socialists, ‘Green’ parties or the groups of the revolutionary left. The list of examples that could be given here would be long indeed; the most glaring ones would be the women’s movement, anti-fascist movements, for gay rights and around migrant workers. On all of these, the European Communist Parties have been consistently outflanked by other political forces both to their left and right. There is the somewhat paradoxical situation today where on many of these issues, Socialist Parties, much closer to government power than the Communists, are at least in words well to the left of the latter.

The problem of the Communist Parties’ relations with the Socialists while it spelt the end of Eurocommunism’s attempt to reach governmental power in Spain and France was not so significant in Italy. There, the PCI in the mid seventies, totally overshadowed its Socialist rival. But as the PCI seemed to move irresistibly to sharing power with the Christian Democrats, the central contradiction in the strategy of Eurocommunism was revealed. The other two parties considered here did not have to deal with it but only because they never reached the position of power attained by the PCI.

The problem in a nutshell was this: the PCI was faced with two different ways forward after its electoral victory of 1976. One way was to use its industrial and social strength to wring concessions from Italian capitalism. But this was sure to lead to an accentuation of class conflict, an out and out clash with the right, a clash which the PCI leadership thought they had no hope of winning and which, at worst, would lead to a repetition of the Chilean tragedy. Further it was a policy which for thirty years the PCI had explicitly rejected and which would have meant the overturning of the whole training of the leadership, and much of its base.

The other road was that of the Historic Compromise, the belief that an alliance with all progressive social forces and especially its political representatives in the Christian Democrats and other parties was essential if social change was to take place. But to say it was essential was to pass all the PCF’s cards over to the Christian Democrats. For to win that alliance it was necessary to make concessions, and the Christian Democrats could demand any price in order to keep the alliance intact. The obvious target was the PCF’s control over most of the militants and organisations within the work-place. The price to be paid for continuing PCI-Christian Democrat collaboration was for the PCI to deliver up its working class base to the austerity plans of the bosses. And that was what the Party did. Unemployment grew, conditions in the factories were attacked and the PCI could do little more than provide tortuous ideological justifications of why the workers should accept these changes. [6]

In almost all areas, the policy of the PCI was a failure. Take, for instance, the central question of the democratisation of the state. Obviously, the PCI was unable to dramatically change the functioning of the state machine let alone its class nature, but even on the minutiae the strategy failed. One example should suffice: for some years, a powerful current had arisen in the police demanding union rights. It was a heaven-sent opportunity for the PCI to weld the police into the union movement and break the links which bound the police to the right. Yet the PCI could not force it through. To do that would have provoked a split with the Christian Democrats and the whole strategy of an alliance would have been threatened. Instead the PCI and Christian Democrats voted together to set up an ‘independent’ union for the police which, without links to the major class in society, was bound to remain ineffective. The alliance remained intact but without achieving anything profound and at the cost of more disillusioned PCI supporters.

Rather than the Historic Compromise leading to a steady increase in the strength of the PCI as had been predicted by its theorists, the reverse happened. There was a slow but steady drop in the number of recruits, a rise in resignations and disappointment. Nor was the PCI able to replenish its ranks from the movements for reforms that arose in Italy throughout the seventies. Rather it abstained from every major battle for civil rights since to support them would conflict with the Christian Democrats. The story is the same wherever one looks, be they the struggles for divorce, abortion, against repressive laws, nuclear power or arms. The PCI has never initiated a fight on these issues and has tended to be reticent or even antagonistic towards them. Since its election victory, the PCI has been acutely aware of the dangers that would be posed to it of a movement arising to its left. This would have thrown into question the legitimacy of its claim to be the party of the left and also implicitly posed an alternative to its politics. 1977 saw precisely this development take place when tens of thousands of students, unemployed and service workers took to the streets in the ‘Movement of ’77’. Rather than seeing it as a valid demand for change within its politics, the PCI attempted to repress the first movement, through integration, then by isolation and finally through initiating calls for its suppression by the law and the police.

The increasing repression – with CP support – of these movements, meant that a large space opened up within the political scene for parties demanding respect for civil liberties and the extension of rights. At the same time, there was real disillusionment amongst the PCI’s voting base. In the elections of June 1979, the disastrous results of the Historic Compromise were revealed: for the first time since the war, the votes of the CP fell. The Socialists and Radicals gained because of their supposed commitment to civil liberties, and the Christian Democrats could unceremoniously throw the CP back into opposition. Having used their support for three critical years and seen the popularity of the CP decline, the Christian Democrats could now feel more optimistic for the future.

The election results were disastrous for the Communist Party. The votes they lost were not those of the radicalised middle class, they came from the most working class areas of the great cities, and especially from amongst the young. For a party which revolved around electoralism, which claimed to be the political representation of the working class, it was a disaster. But worse was to come, for in the months and years ahead the Italian Communist Party was shown to be incapable of proposing any new strategy, and entered its most profound crisis of identity since the late forties.

By 1979, the Eurocommunist project had clearly failed in the tasks it had set itself. It had failed to create ‘a stable social alliance of progressive forces’; if anything, it had contributed to an increasing disillusionment in the prospects for political change and an accentuation of the divisions between and within the classes. It had failed to create a united left; the differences remained fundamental. It had not even won more votes for itself; the period ended with the Parties receiving the same or fewer votes than when they entered it. Directly or indirectly, Eurocommunism had led to the strengthening of social democracy and the stagnation or weakening of its own forces. This was the gloomy heritage for the Communist Parties of the biggest social radicalisation since the end of the Second World War.

The crisis of the European Communist Parties

The symptoms of the crisis are most clearly revealed in the abrupt ending of the talks between different parties which so characterised the development of Eurocommunism as an international current. As late as the summer of 1979, Marchais could still say ‘As we say at home, Eurocommunism has the future before it, and our party, the PCF, will not fail to take initiatives in the coming period’. [7] But that promise was never to be carried through. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan polarised the Eurocommunist camp. While the Spanish, Italian and British Parties condemned the invasion, Marchais visited Moscow immediately after the invasion and expressed support for it in quite unambiguous terms. The rift was confirmed when in April 1980, the French and Polish Parties organised a conference in Paris on the fight for world peace. Its intentions were clear: to reply to the Western criticism of the invasion with a counter-blast of its own. The Spanish, Italian and British parties failed to attend, and the split in Eurocommunism was clear.

As the Eurocommunist current began to fracture, the PCI began to look around for other allies. Not surprisingly given its politics, the obvious contender was the European Social Democracy. In two well publicised meetings Berlinguer met first Brandt and then Mitterrand. The second meeting provoked the PCF to launch a bitter attack on Berlinguer and with the two most powerful Communist Parties in the West at loggerheads, the rift was complete.

The split at an international level, however, was only the expression of changes within the national parties, for in each there is a profound crisis of strategy, ideas and even identity.

The problems have been most acute inside the PCF. With the collapse of the Common Programme and the strengthening of the Socialists, the PCF made a desperate attempt to accentuate the differences between it and the Socialists in order to retain its following. This led it into making a ‘left’ turn in order to highlight its traditions and re-establish the links between the Party and its old base. Symptomatic were changes inside the Party and in a few public statements by PCF leaders. Thus at the end of 1979 the PCF launched a new weekly magazine called Révolution. It was to replace the previous weekly France Nouvelle and the monthly Nouvelle Critique, both much less radically named. Marchais himself has made some quite radical sounding statements, In August 1979 he told a press conference:

You can expect to see an extremely combative Communist Party – and I add: extremely hard. With the present regime – the most anti-democratic, the most reactionary, the most anti-national we have known – it is necessary to develop firmly, on class grounds, a fierce struggle in defence of workers’ interests and, in the first place of the interests of the least privileged. I promise the regime it will have some bad moments. [8]

This turn also involved the PCF (through its base in the CGT union) in a period of industrial militancy. It reached its peak in the winter of 1979/80 with a number of major strikes led by the CGT, often with very militant mass picketing and bitter struggles with the police.

But the ‘left’ turn was only a tactic, it could never become an overall strategy for the PCF. It was far too tightly wedded to the parliamentary road for it to develop an all-out opposition to the government or economic power bases of French capitalism. That would have demanded a different party, with different traditions, theory and history. The PCF was not interested so much in winning as re-attracting its old supporters and putting the knife into the Socialist Party’s growth. Thus the CGT refused to engage in united action with the CFDT (the union organisation close to the Socialists) which was the precondition for success in the economic struggle. At the peak of the strikes in 1979, Georges Seguy, (secretary of the CGT and leading member of the PCF) revealed the weakness of the turn. He warned that if the CGT lost its influence in the working class, then workers would turn ‘to any irresponsible elements. In France you’d get a pile of unofficial, violent anarchistic actions.’ [9] He went on to speak of the need for a ‘sense of responsibility, not only towards the workers, but also towards the economic interests of the country’. Hardly fighting talk in defence of a whole new strategy.

The real target of the PCF leaders was not capitalism but their rivals in the Socialist Party. In the recent presidential elections, the PCF launched its main attack on its erstwhile allies, accusing them of wanting to do a deal with the right and threatening not to support them on the second round of voting. It was the culmination of a three year long campaign attacking the Socialists and anyone who gave them support; included in the latter were the PCI, when Berlinguer met Mitterrand. After that incident, Marchais attacked the PCI in vitriolic terms which were far removed from the tones used when Eurocommunism was in vogue:

There are some broad areas of agreement between the Italian Communists and the French Socialist Party. Both are in favour of austerity – we are against. Both support the enlargement of the EEC to include Greece, Portugal and Spain, and we are against in the interests of the peasantry and the national interest ...

I’ll add a final element which I believe was the aim of Mitterrand in having this meeting. Basically he has gone to Enrico Berlinguer to find a support for his policy of alliance with the right. You doubtless remember that for a while Mitterrand was critical of the policy of the Italian Communist Party, the Historic Compromise, the pursuit of an alliance with the Christian Democrats. That policy is perhaps conceivable in Italy but it is not valid in France. What we need is the Union of the Left. Well! since Mitterrand has abandoned the Union of the Left and since he is now preparing to join up with the right... to put into effect an anti-social, anti-democratic and anti-national policy he doubtless thought it was a good idea to go and look for some support from Enrico Berlinguer. [10]

It was this same consideration of differentiating themselves from the Socialists and thus shoring-up their sliding base that led to a shift back to a pro-Russian stance by the PCF. Its attitude to Afghanistan has already been noted while its criticisms of the treatment of dissidents, while they continued, were much more subdued than in the past. But this did not mean that the nationalist tendencies within the PCF were buried, rather they flourished as never before. Stalinism and nationalism were two sides of the same coin; a concentration on the nation-state as the fundamental instrument and an arena of ‘socialist’ change. Thus Charles Fiterman, a member of the PCF Secretariat could give the following glorification of nationalism:

Today, the French nation – we say it with gravity – is threatened with slow disintegration, a progressive dissolution into the West European and Atlantic conglomerate. The masters of capital and their government have a deliberate intention in doing this and they are applying themselves to the task with unprecedented enthusiasm and all the means at their disposal ...

No! the nation is not an outdated framework! No, independence and sovereignty are not old-fashioned! The nation has its economic coherence, its history and its culture. That is why it is strong and that is why it can take great steps forward. [11]

This chauvinist rhetoric led directly to racism, the PCF leadership launching a crude anti-immigration campaign. Such a campaign flowed quite naturally from the chauvinism deeply imbedded within the politics of the PCF but it still came as a justifiable shock to many of its members. The attacks on an immigrant hostel by a mob led by a Communist Mayor at Vitry-sur-Seine or the hounding of an immigrant family by the PCF in Val-d’Oise, led to major disagreements within the Party and its outside supporters. Al Bayane, for instance, a Moroccan Communist paper published in France attacked this line of the PCF arguing that it ‘shamed all those who see the PCF as the party of French workers, of whatever race of colour’. [12]

The intention of the PCF leaders was clear: it was to rebuild the party as an independent force by feeding off the supposed prejudices of its base and the working class generally. The formula was economic militancy, a dash of racism plus a dose of Stalinism to keep the Party faithful in line. But it turned out disastrously. First, it was unacceptable to many of the Party members, (perhaps a half of whom had joined since 1968) who could not countenance the return to explicit support of the USSR or to whom racism was anathema. Second, electorally it was incoherent for it meant that if the left was divided governmental power was bound to remain in the hands of the right. After thirty years of right wing rule, the prospects of forcing out the right were much more attractive than supporting the PCF against the Socialists.

At the presidential elections of April 1981 the PCF votes plummeted to just over 15%. Fully a quarter of the PCF’s electorate deserted it to ensure that Mitterrand would go into the second round as the candidate of the left. The PCF leaders were faced with a fait accompli; after such a devastating verdict they dropped all their conditions on Mitterrand to give him unconditional support in his successful second round fight with Giscard. But to no avail. In the parliamentary election of June alongside further sweeping electoral gains for the Socialists, the Communist vote remained at the same rock bottom level it had received in April.

The last three years have been disastrous for the PCF. Their sectarianism and crudeness have reaped bitter fruits. They are now very much the second party on the French left with the initiative firmly in the hands of the Socialists. Within the Party, dissent has been steadily growing ever since the break-up of the Union of the Left and is now endemic. Hardly a week has passed over the last year when Le Monde has not published members denunciations of the PCF or resignations from it.

Most of the dissent has come from the right of the PCF. This is to be expected, given that over half of the Party has joined since 1968, the year that the PCF openly broke with the USSR and set its face firmly against the new left groups. The right wing critics have concentrated above all on the remaining links with Russia and the increasing distance from the Socialists. Most will probably end up by entering the Socialist Party as their politics are not substantially different.

The left currents within the PCF have been generally weaker, tending to concentrate on the theoretical problems involved in the turn towards Eurocommunism. However, there have been significant episodes of dissent. Perhaps the most important was the petition calling for ‘Unity in Struggle’ signed by tens of thousands of militants of both the Socialist Party and PCF calling for an end to the sectarianism which has prevented the CFT and CFDT fighting together in the work-places. The involvement of the LCR (the French section of the Fourth International) can scarcely have endeared it to the PCF’s leaders,but the movement’s base clearly extends well beyond the LCR’s periphery. The PCF’s leadership has taken disciplinary actions against the organisers, refusing to allow some to re-register.

As with the right opposition however, the resignations and expulsions of the left which hit the headlines tend to be those of the most well known members of the Party. Most significant here was the expulsion of Etienne Balibar who in a open letter to the PCF denounced the racism and sectarianism of the Party in ringing tones. [13]

The prospects of a major left current arising which would be capable of either changing the PCF or posing itself as an alternative to it are, unfortunately, very remote. The current leadership of the PCF is extremely well entrenched and has had little compunction in expelling or isolating those critics who appear as a significant threat. The ties of loyalty and obedience which bind the base to the Party, while weakened, remain enormously strong. But most important, the opposition which remains in the PCF has so far appeared incapable of providing an alternative strategy to that of the leadership. Without that, no real focus can develop to attract the widespread discontent which exists. Instead, the intellectuals leave noisily and amongst the rank and file there is a slow but persistent drift away from the Party.

Of course, the electoral humiliation of the PCF and the triumph of Mitterrand has opened up a whole new period for the French left. Changes are bound to take place, certainly in the strategy and perhaps in the leadership of the PCF. The course of the events is still unclear but any changes are going to be difficult to carry through. If the PCF supports the Socialists, it risks losing more of its base as the Socialists’ star continues to rise. If it remains in opposition and threatens the stability of the new regime, it could alienate thousands of members anxious to see the left in power after such a long period of right wing rule. Either way the future looks both difficult and stormy for the PCF.

The same cannot really be said for the Italian Communist Party. There the overwhelming impression is of a mass party, slowly subsiding into passivity, paralysed by indecision as to which road to take.

At first sight, it seems strange that this should be happening. After all the problem is pretty clear: it is that the strategy of the PCI between 1976 and 1979, when it attempted to put into practice the Historic Compromise, was a failure. By following it, the PCI lost votes and members for the first time since 1968. It found itself increasingly isolated as the Christian Democrats and Socialists began to put together a new ruling majority and major strains began to arise between its leadership and parts of its base. While it gave Italian capitalism a breathing space as workers suffered rising unemployment and worsening working conditions, the ruling class did not use the opportunity to regenerate society as the PCI had hoped. By any index the social problems intensified. More and more corruption inside the state was uncovered, no dramatic improvements were made in the social services, unemployment rose rapidly and political violence from left, right and the Mafia increased apace.

Despite this dramatic failure of a strategy, the only coherent criticism of the Historic Compromise has come from the right of the PCI leadership. They (Amendola – until his death in early 1981, Napolitano, etc.) criticised the PCI for not carrying through the Historic Compromise right through to its logical consequence. They argue that as the crisis of Italian capitalism and society worsens, the only force that can hold back the growing gap between the people and the state institutions is a force like the PCI still uncorrupted by power.

If it is unable to take power the alternative is a slide into authoritarianism in government and anarchy on the streets. But to avoid this it is necessary to carry on the policy of the Historic Compromise to its very limits. Where it failed last time lay in the refusal of the unions to to accept all the sacrifices that the Historic Compromise implied. In short, it was the resistance of the working class to accepting the necessary sacrifices that led to the end of the PCI’s experiment. Despite the unpopularity that it would cause the only way forward for the PCI was to demand greater sacrifices from the masses in order to give capitalist development the opportunity to regain its strength. Only in that context could the plans for the democratisation of state and society go forward.

There was an obvious problem to this strategy of the right; the base of the PCI would not have it. The PCI risked further electoral defeats if it continued along that path and, tied to the electoralist road, the majority of the leadership rejected it. But it had nothing to put in its place. To revert to hard opposition would have meant risking breaking up the ruling block and its state which has been so closely tied to the Christian Democrats. Such a development undoubtedly would have exacerbated the political and economic crisis, and the PCI has rejected taking power in such a scenario ever since the end of the Second World War. It carried too many risks of developments taking place which the Party could not control.

But if a real opposition was rejected, the PCI leadership could think of nothing else. Ever since its electoral defeat in 1979, it has remained paralysed in the face of events. Typical was its attitude at Fiat in September 1980, where workers closed down the factory for over a month to stop 25,000 redundancies going through. In a dramatic intervention, Berlinguer promised the strikers full support were they to occupy the plants. A few days later, the real target of the PCI, the government, fell. And that was the end of the PCI’s involvement at a national level in the strike, except for the trade union leaders signing the abject surrender to the Fiat bosses over the heads of the workers. That was the full extent of any ‘left’ turn within the PCI.

There have been a few other very small signs of the same tendencies developing within the PCI as took place in the PCF. PCI reaction to Afghanistan, while it was one of condemnation was couched in very oblique tones and the speech of Pajetta at the CPSU congress this year voiced few criticisms of Russian foreign or domestic policy. It is also true that one intellectual from Bologna has been refused a Party card for his outspoken attacks on the PCI’ s internal structures. But the fact remains that these are only very isolated incidents. No recognisable strategy has emerged from the Party for the last two years.

The most obvious example of this lack of ideas and strategy was the official dropping of the strategy of the Historic Compromise in November 1980. It was announced shortly after the disastrous earthquake in which the inefficiency of the Italian state was revealed on yet another occasion. Berlinguer used the event to announce that the Christian Democrats were too corrupt to enter into an alliance with. But, as one journalist asked, was an earthquake really necessary to reveal this truth to the PCI? What was even more amazing was that nothing has yet replaced the old line. In the weeks and months afterwards, PCI leaders issued conflicting statements as to whether the new strategy (as yet undefined) was a continuation or rejection of the Historic Compromise.

The confusion that surrounds the PCI and its politics has led to a state of paralysis right in the heart of the Italian working class. As the bosses go on a spree of cutting jobs and weeding out the militants, the most powerful section of the working class has no clear lead. It does not know whether to accept this in the name of ‘austerity’ and ‘productivity’, the old battle-cries of the Historic Compromise, or whether to launch an all out fight against it. The last few years have been grim, and until the PCI makes its position clear it threatens to pull down the working class with itself.

If the situation in Italy is one of great difficulty, in Spain it is potentially disastrous. The attempted coup on 23 February this year has highlighted not only the instability of parliamentary democracy there, but also the failure of the PCE’s strategy to safeguard and extend it. For that objective was the central plank of the Party’s policy after its legalisation. But what have been the results, five years on?

Far from building up a stable anti-fascist alliance, the ruling UCD has moved rapidly to the right. The Francoist regime far from being dismantled has been strengthened through a series of anti-terrorist laws. Despite successive pacts between the unions and the government, inflation is rising rapidly and unemployment stands at 11%. The Communist Party far from having proved its respectability is farther from power today than it ever was. Above all, the armed forces dominate the political scene, rumours of another coup abound and yet the PCE seems powerless to mobilise its base to prevent it. Instead, it, along with the other political parties, bends over backwards to appease the armed forces, seemingly blind to the fact that the greater the appeasement the more confidence will be gained by the most reactionary sections of the forces.

Not surprisingly, to many sections of the Party the record of the last five years appears disastrous and profound divisions run through the PCE. On a national level, while the votes of the PCE held up at the last elections, there has been a rapid fall in members. In 1978, it claimed 220,000 members, today less than 160,000. The real problem the leadership faces, though, is powerful opposition currents existing inside the local sections.

Most important is that which exists in Catalonia, by far the strongest regional organisation of the PCE. It too has lost many members, losing half over the last three years. In an effort to reverse this trend two major currents developed in opposition to the national Eurocommunist leadership. There was a resurgence of an old style Stalinism which now represents almost 40% of the membership. Often allied to them against the centre but much more interesting is the so-called ‘Leninist’ faction. It arose out of the successful attempt by the national leadership to remove the word ‘Leninism’ from its Party Statutes. Essentially, they demand a strategy to the left of the national leadership; one which is more openly anti-imperialist, anti-nuclear and anti-Nato and one which also allows for the working class base of the Party to use its economic strength to fight for its aims. This leftish current has been mirrored in other parts of the country notably in Asturias and Andalusia. In both areas, this has led to open splits and resignations from the Party and the development of ex-PCE currents inside the unions.

These developments pose a critical threat to the PCE and there remains the possibility of either major splits from the Party or defeat for the current leadership at the coming Party congress. It was probably the last prospect that moved the national leadership of the PCE to issue its sternest condemnation yet of the Catalan Communists. A leading national member declared after the last Catalan Party conference: ‘Everything passed at this congress, in both domestic and foreign policy was regressive, incompatible with the reality of European society and stems from a primitive dogmatism. In such circumstances, what was passed has nothing to do with feelings, consciousness or opinions of the majority of Catalan Communists.’ When the centre can use such language about an integral part of its organisation, a split cannot be too far off. But a split would be a disaster for the PCE, given that the Catalan CP, the PSUC, is overwhelmingly the most important single section of the national party.

Opposition has not been confined to the left within the Party. Sections of the Eurocommunist wing are also in revolt against the centre, arguing that the Party has been totally unable to involve itself within the movements be they of women, youth, ecologists or nationalists. The most important resignation here was that of Ramon Tamanes, one of the leading intellectuals of the Party who was also deputy-mayor of Madrid and an Executive Committee member, in protest at the lack of democracy inside the Party. It was not an isolated protest; 250 leading members of the Madrid PCE, including Tamanes’ successor at the town hall have signed a petition supporting his stand.

The impression that the PCE gives out at the moment is of a party being torn apart by radically different currents who disagree over structure, traditions and strategy. The centre, under attack from all sides, appears incapable of proposing any mediation or independent initiative. Of course, the danger of a coup may temporarily unite the Party against an external threat but the basic problems besetting it so far seem incapable of resolution.

In all three countries, the Communist Parties have entered a period of major crisis in their strategy and, indeed, identity. All adopted an essentially similar theory a decade ago, all put it to the test and all have seen the experiment fail, leaving them in a substantially weaker position than they had once enjoyed. Despite the evident failure of Eurocommunism, little has emerged from its wreckage which points to a way out of the debacle. Yet sooner or later the Communist Parties of Europe are going to have to re-examine its failure and come up with some alternatives. But there seem few options open to them. They could attempt the ‘French turn’ and attempt to turn themselves into a populist sect attempting to defend the supposed short-term interests of a part of the working class. But that experiment has already been tried and ended in the disaster of the 1981 French elections. They could attempt to become fully fledged ‘national’ parties, taking on the interests of the whole nation against the sectoral interests of the different classes. Yet this was the strategy of the Historic Compromise and it too failed badly, leading to intolerable strains between the Party and its base. Besides, in every other country bar Italy the Socialist Parties are far more suited and adept at playing that role.

Other possibilities appear very limited. Certainly, there is no chance of the Communist Parties returning to, and developing the traditions on which they were founded sixty years ago. The ideas of revolutionary Marxism have been buried long ago underneath one generation of Stalinism and a second generation of reformism. To return to the perspectives of revolution would mean overthrowing not only the present leaderships but also substantial parts of the base and more important, all the traditions and history that bind the Parties together.

Of course, day to day politics can postpone indefinitely the self-criticism and discussion that is long overdue in each of the Parties. In France, the election of Mitterrand has dramatically changed the political climate of the country. Despite the humiliation of the PCF they may find a role as a very junior partner to the Socialists. In Spain, the shadow of the coup can temporarily still the criticisms raging within the Party. In Italy, the revelation of the latest scandal and the fall of the government has opened up once again the corruption of the Christian Democrats and strengthened the position of the Italian CP. But none of these events can solve the crisis of the Communist Parties. All of them arose not because of the initiatives of the Parties, they took place in spite of them. They can only temporarily obscure the deep-rooted problems within the different Parties.

The failure of Eurocommunism has dramatically demonstrated the weakness of its central ideas and the contraditions which ran through it from the very beginning. Its definitive collapse has revealed something else – within the leaderships of all three parties there is a dramatic vacuum of ideas to replace it. This is despite the fact that the crisis within the mass Communist Parties is as profound as at any time in their turbulent history.

But the problems which have overtaken the Communist Parties are not necessarily hopeful signs for the revolutionary left despite the loosening of their grip on large parts of the working class. The political trajectory of its members and leaders is clearly towards their natural home in Social Democracy. Only in Spain have substantial currents emerged which are clearly to the left of the old strategy and which may be open to revolutionaries. In Italy and France, only small sections of the membership and scattered individuals appear to have moved to the left under the impact of the failure of Eurocommunism. It will require very careful and detailed work on the part of revolutionaries to attract these dissidents into their orbit.

What is lacking and becoming increasingly urgent if the process of retreat on the part of the European working class is to be halted, is the reawakening of the self-confidence and aggression within the movement. The few signs there are of that in terms of resistance to redundancy and wage cuts have to be developed if the present defeat of the Communist Parties is not to be spread to the parts of the class they represent.


1. L’Humanité, 17.5.77. L’Humanité is the official party daily of the PCF. All the quotes and much of the analysis on France was prepared by Ian Birchall, on Spain by Doug Andrews.

2. For details of this infatuation see C. Harman, The Crisis of the European Revolutionary Left, in International Socialism 2 : 4.

3. This is not to say that the political representation of a movement is unimportant. The relationship between workers’ struggles, with the programme they implicitly carry and the traditional parliamentary process was to bedevil the revolutionary left in Italy where it was forced to confront these problems. But it is an argument against those (for instance, the Fourth International) who argue that the changes in the Communist Parties were the leaders’ response to the demand of the working class to find a political solution to their struggles. The point is that what the working class was demanding from around 1972 onwards in Italy was explicitly and consciously a reformist, gradualist solution which was based on a rejection of revolutionary perspectives. Therefore, it was misguided for the revolutionary left to expect either Eurocommunism to evolve to the left or expect to be able to ‘expose’ the leadership and see major splits to the left taking place.

4. Quoted in Eurocommunism: Myth or reality?, Penguin, p. 122.

5. Le Monde, 1.11.80 and 16.12.80.

6. At times, these became so obscure as to be bizarre. The sacrifices demanded of the Italian working class were labelled ‘austerity’, and seen as a means of emerging not to a socialist society but ‘out of the logic of the mechanisms of capitalism’, whatever that meant. ‘Austerity’ became the ‘rigorous selection between the necessities and requirements of diverse social strata, based on the affirmation of a new scale of values aimed at improving the quality of life’. No wonder the leaders of the Italian CP complained that they had not been altogether successful in explaining to their base exactly what the Historic Compromise meant!

7. Le Monde, 1.8.79.

8. Le Monde, 4.8.79.

9. Le Figaro, 25.10.79.

10. Le Monde, 27.3.80.

11. Le Monde, 25.10.78.

12. Le Monde, 15–16.2.81.

13. Printed in Le Nouvel Observateur, March 1981.

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