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Ian Birchall

The Swamp-Watchers

(January 1980)

From Socialist Review, 19 January-16 February 1980: 1, p.29.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Eurocommunism: Myth or Reality?
Paolo Filo della Torre, Edward Mortimer and Jonathan Story (eds)
Penguin, £1.95

To publish a paperback entitled Eurocommunism: myth or reality? is to answer the question before one starts. The authors of this collection of boring if fact-filled essays have a vested interest in making the myth into a reality. As long as the Eurocommunist bosses continue to vacillate and manoeuvre, they will need well-heeled commentators to explain their every movement to a waiting world.

The only trouble is that the various authors, while honest and accurate enough at the level of detailed fact, don’t really understand the political problem at all.

Time and again they come back to a strange entity called the Leninist ‘vanguard party’, until we realise that they actually believe that the Communist Parties of Europe were, until at least the early seventies, really and truly preparing to seize power by violence. Small matter that all the facts they themselves quote contradict this quaint notion; they are irrevocably hooked on it.

Stuart Holland, from whom one might have hoped for something marginally better, even claims that Alvaro Cunhal, of the Portuguese CP, ‘still believes in the spirit of Petrograd and all power to the Soviets.’ (There was little evidence of this when the PCP was breaking strikes and grabbing hold of the trade union machine in 1974-75.) And if you don’t know what the CPs are now, it’s a bit hard to work out what they are turning into. (There’s not much point in speculating what sort of butterfly a caterpillar will turn into if the caterpillar is really an earthworm.)

Again, Neil McInnes tells us that ‘the communist party has no memory: its members are mostly young people, honestly ignorant of the past; few of them stay in the party for long; and the records are party secrets.’

Leaving aside the contempt for working people that this remark betrays, it is, purely and simply, a grotesque untruth. (When I was in France in 1977, the Khrushchev ‘secret speech’ of 1956 was making front page news in the national press. An awareness of history is an absolutely central component in the current crisis of the CPs).

The authors do have some inkling of the trap that the Eurocommunists are caught in. If they move too close to the social democrats then they give the social democrats the initiative; if they move back to the left they condemn themselves to isolation. Indeed, with the CPs having suffered electoral setback in Italy, a paralysing faction-fight in France, and stagnation in Spain, the Eurocommunists may have already shot their bolt.

Doubtless their decline will provide more copy for muck-raking Kremlinologists, but as far as the real political crisis in Europe is concerned, the key issue is ‘Eurosocialism’, not ‘Eurocommunism’. Perhaps we shall see another little volume devoted to ‘Eurosocialism’. If so, it will doubtless be deferential and platitudinous. The real allies of the bourgeoisie cannot be subjected to the same critical gaze as their mythical foes.

One theme which warms the hearts of the contributors is the Eurocommunist relapse into nationalism. Neil McInnes notes with glee ‘communism’s failure to conquer nationalism. The very vice in socialist internationalism that brought Lenin to denounce it and found a new International was discovered to have eaten the heart out of communist internationalism too.’ Santiago Carillo, he will be pleased to note, agrees with him. ‘Life’, he is quoted as saying by another contributor, ‘shows that vitality of national sentiment is a factor of enormous force.’

But proletarian internationalism will not lie down and die quite so easily. Nationalism retains its grip on workers, not because it is rooted in their nature, but because their own struggles have been confined within national limits, and, above all, because their self-styled leaders have capitulated to it all down the line. One need only note the hypocrisy of the Joint Declaration of the French and Italian CPs (15 November 1975) which speaks of ‘free movement of persons inside and outside their country’, and contrast it with the French CPs shameful line on immigration.

To pander to the worst prejudices of workers and then to prove from this very pandering the ‘vitality of national sentiment’, such is the vicious circle of self-fulfilling prophecy that the charlatans of Eurocommunism have collapsed into.

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