Chris Harman Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Chris Harman

Eurocommunism: The State and Revolution

(September 1977)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.101, September 1977, pp.11-14.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Review article of Santiago Carrillo’s “Eurocommunism” and the State, whose English translation is due to be published by Lawrence and Wishart in October.

The phenomenon of Eurocommunism has caught the eye of the media, as a number of Western European Communist Parties have criticised repression in the Eastern bloc and offered their services to bail out the capitalist governments of their own countries. Santiago Carrillo, leader of the Spanish Communist Party, received special attention when his book, “Eurocommunism” and the State, was attacked by the Soviet leadership. Chris Harman examines the ideas of the Eurocommunists as expressed in this book.

“Eurocommunism” and the State is an attempt by the Secretary of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) to justify theoretically the tenets of “Eurocommunism”, the new ideology propagated by the West European (and Japanese) Communist parties. According to these parties, socialism can be introduced without a revolutionary break with existing institutions, whether through the establishment of workers’ councils or through the imposition of a Stalinist dictatorship. The book has been a cause celebré since it was attacked in the Moscow journal New Times.

According to Carrillo, his aim is to “elaborate a solid conception of the possibility of democratising the apparatus of the capitalist state, transforming it into a valid tool for constructing a socialist society, without needing to destroy it radically by force”. This task is to be achieved without becoming “identified with social-democracy”. [1]

The problem lies in the tail: how to carry out this justification of a peaceful, parliamentary road to socialism without falling into the positions of the social-democratic parties from which the Communists split nearly sixty years ago?

So Carrillo continues to insist that “the state continues to be an instrument of class domination”; yet this capitalist class state, he believes, can be “democratised” and transformed into an instrument of working-class power without civil war. In other words, Carrillo wants to square the circle.

Revolutionary socialism and scientific technical revolution

CARRILLO’s argument is that in their time Marx and Lenin were quite right to insist on the necessity of smashing the state machine. The state was then quite a simple institution, made up almost entirely of “bodies of armed men”, cut off from the rest of society, dominated by those integrated into the ruling class and obsessed by the requirements of waging imperialist war. At the same time, the state was backed up by powerful means of ideological control which supported capitalist society uncritically – the church in particular, but also the professions, the universities, and so on.

But today things are changing fast, because of the spectacular development of the forces of production caused by the “Scientific technical revolution”:

“The law of human progress is breaking, by one means or another, the restraints of the capitalist system.”

As a result, the balance of forces inside society has been changed. The economy is increasingly monopolised by a few powerful interests, forcing other groups in society, “including part of the bourgeoisie”, into conflict with the monopolists controlling the state. One such group cutting itself a drift from the system is “the middle bourgeoisie, shaken between the social character of the organisation of the enterprises they manage, and the contradictions that grow between that character and the fact that their objective is capitalist profit”.

The same developments have thrown “the ideological apparatus” into crisis. “The advance of science and technique, and the extension of culture to wide masses, have destroyed a number of dogmas”, and caused a crisis in the church, within which anti-capitalist tendencies are developing. Similarly, the scientific revolution introduced by post-war capitalism involved massive educational expansion. “Higher education is deprived by this of its character as an aristocratic privilege” and the universities are transformed into “a mirror of the conflicts existing in society”.

The family, too, “is in a period of profound transformation. This process ... began as the result of the increasing dehumanisatiori of life in the developed capitalist system”. The family is ‘no longer the cell that automatically reproduces traditional social relations.’

These changes in the universities and the family have had repercussions elsewhere. Already in France, Spain and Italy there are groups of junior judges and magistrates who campaign in defence of the independence of the judiciary, “an idea that in practice brings about a conflict between justice and the existing type of state power”.

These crises in the apparatus of ideological control create an entirely new situation for the revolutionary left. In the past, it was not possible to talk of taking ideological control over society, of winning “hegemony”, before state power had been taken. Now the sequence can be reversed. The left can, by winning over the “middle strata” who dominate many of the means of ideological control, create a “hegemonic block of the forces of labour and culture”.

The formation of this block will undermine the ruling class’s monopoly of force: “When the ideological apparatuses enter into crisis, the same crisis affects also the coercive state apparatus”. The starting point for the “democratisation of the state” resides “precisely in achieving the loss of hegemony by bougeois ideology over the ideological apparatus”.

But for this “democratisation” to be successful, the left will have to change many of its traditional attitudes. No longer should revolutionaries be negative towards the armed forces: they should attempt to relate to “the new sense of identity that is developing among the military”.

Carrillo spells out what he means. There has to be “an open fight for a type of army capable of taking on national defence ... Also necessary is a national industrial development that, in case of war, can assure the means of defence”. “The socialist and democratic forces have to pose a military policy ... more rational, more national, more attractive than that of the monopolistic oligarchic state”. Then a left-wing government can “win to itself the professional soldiers and ensure that the majority of them loyally support the new state power”.

A number of other things will have to be dropped on Carrillo’s strategy.

“This conception of the state and of the fight for democracy presupposes a renunciation of the idea, in its classic from, of a workers’ and peasants’ state; that is of a state created on a new plan, bringing to its offices the workers in the factories and the peasants working the land and sending to take their place the officials that until then worked in the offices”.

And if the Stalinist conception of a one-party state goes out of the window, so does the dictatorship of the proletariat, an idea that was valid in the past when the working class was a minority of the population, but not today when “the forces of labour and culture” are the overwhelming majority and can take power peacefully.

Complete State control of the economy is also rejected. According to Carrillo,

“the democratic road to socialism supposes a process of economic transformation distinct from what we consider the classic model. That is to say, it supposes the coexistence of public and private forms of property for a long period. In this phase ... of political and economic democracy ... which is not yet socialism, which is not either the domination of the state by monopoly capital, there is preserved the maximum of productive forces and social services already created, recognising the role represented by private initiative”.

There will be room in Carrillo’s socialism not only for private capitalism, but for the multinationals;

“A democratic and socialist Spain will have to take account of the realities ... of the internationalisation of the forces of production, of foreign investment and the multinationals ... and utilise them to facilitate the development of those sectors that are in the national interest”.

Finally, Carrillo makes it clear that “a democratic and socialist Spain” would do nothing to antagonise US imperialism, let alone side with the Russian bloc:

“We are not concerned with destabilising the present world equilibrium of forces, of passing from American influence to Soviet influence”.

The inevitability of civil war

Carrillo thus goes far further in his willingness to compromise with capitalism than does the Communist Party of Great Britain in the new draft of The British Road to Socialism. However Carrillo and the authors of the new draft share the same assumption – the necessity of a “left government” representing a “democratic stage” short of socialism. The difference lies in the detail in which Carrillo draws out from this assumption the logic of managing a capitalist “mixed economy” – the Common Market, the arms industry, the development of the armed forces, the preservation of private medicine, agreements with the multinationals.

However, while our British Eurocommunists follow Carrillo in laying great stress on “the ideological apparatuses”, they do so from quite a different standpoint. Carrillo argues that capitalist control over these apparatuses is being undermined as a result of economic developments. Indeed, the emphasis he places on “the law of human progress” and “the development of the forces of production and technology” is that of a crude, mechanical materialism – given the development of the material base everything else will fall into place, he seems to say.

By contrast, his British co-thinkers treat any discussion of the effects of the economic crisis upon workers’ struggles and consciousness as “economism”. For them the apparatus of ideological control has a life of its own, divorced from the economic and social forces at work in society.

One can speculate concerning the causes of this difference. Carrillo is the leader of a party which he believes can play a major role in bourgeois politics in Spain, so he stresses how the mechanical development of history is driving his way. The British Eurocommunists are members of a small, very unsuccessful reformist party, so they paint a picture of society totally dominated by bourgeois ideology, in which the left cannot hope to achieve many results. The difference is between two sorts of parliamentary cretinism, one optimistic, the other pessimistic.

The starting point of Carrillo’s analysis is far from completely wrong. Thirty years of capitalist boom have caused profound changes in the traditional means of ideological control. Many of the changes he chronicles have indeed taken place – the decline in the church, the expansion of higher education, the proletarianisation of many professionals and white-collar workers, the erosion of patriarchal ideology in the family. In the right circumstances, these changes can contribute to undermining the hold of the established ideology on sections of the army and the police. Carrillo is right to take note of these phenomena and his British co-thinkers are wrong to ignore them.

But it does not follow that the means of ideological control can be turned against the bourgeoisie, as Carrillo claims.

In the first place, the ideological apparatuses – teaching, the churches, the media, etc. – are organised along hierarchical lines, and controlled by small, highly privileged groups at the top which identify closely with the ruling class. So, while individual sections of these apparatuses may escape from ruling-class control from time to time, the main sections remain intact.

Moreover, Carrillo completely ignores a vital new development. The erosion of traditional means of ideological control like the church has been accompanied by, and is partly due to, the rise of new ideological apparatuses – the cinema, radio and, above all, television.

These new media tend to be organised along very tight and hierarchical lines – just look at the BBC. This does not prevent sections occasionally getting out of control (although usually the “highbrow” sections). But control of these apparatuses as a whole will remain firmly in the hands of the ruling class – unless and until there is real fight for power by rank-and-file workers within them.

The importance of the mass media for the ruling class explains the bitterness and tenacity with which the Portuguese bourgeoisie fought to regain control of radio and television when the fall of fascism seemed, briefly, to deliver these media into the hands of the left. In Chile, the ruling class continued to control the majority of the radio and television channels and the big newspaper combines under Popular Unity, and the media proved to be a vital weapon the struggle to overthrow the Allende government.

There is only one way in which the working class will win control of the Daily Express and the BBC, and that is for revolutionaries to lead rank-and-file media workers in a physical fight to take over these media. Workers’ control of the media will be opposed not merely by the proprietors and the top highly privileged ranks of media personnel, but by the capitalist state – the police, the courts and, if necessary, the army. Carrillo caught in a contradiction – He says the state apparatus can be won over once the left control the BBC and the Daily Express. But to control the BBC and the Daily Express it will first be necessary to neutralise the courts and the repressive foces of the state.

If Carrillo ignores the mechanisms by which the ruling class control the “ideological apparatuses”, the problem is even more serious when he comes to deal with “the coercive state apparatus”. The armed forces and the police in every advanced capitalist country are organised along lines which seek to ensure the acceptance of ruling-class ideas not only by the officer corps but also even by the rank and file of elite units like the SAS, the paratroops and the Special Patrol Group. The methods of control are increasingly sophisticated, with enormous efforts being put into the ideological preparation of recruits to positions enjoying even limited control over firepower.

It does not follow that the police and the armed forces will be left untouched by any deep social crisis. But some sections will be much less affected by the resulting ideological turmoil than others. While whole sections of the rank and file and even some officers will identify with “the process of transformation”, the majority of officers and considerable groups of the rank and file, especially in elite units, will be increasingly hostile.

Carrillo goes halfway towards recognising this fact when he writes that “a correct policy can win for democracy an important part of the forces of public order” (my emphasis – CH). If you win over only part of the armed forces, then presumably another part is not won over and is therefore hostile.

But Carrillo refuses to consider the conclusion which follows from recognition of this fact. The armed forces are, by definition, armed. They are also based on the principle of the lower ranks giving unquestioning obedience to their superiors, who are in turn integrated into the ruling class. The “part” of the armed forces which has not been “won over to democracy” will deal with the “part” that has, the moment the balance offered allows it. Such a moment will be one where a downturn in the struggle leaves the working-class movement exposed to the reactionary sections of the armed forces. Such a moment occurred in Chile in the autumn of 1973: the forces of the right, which had not felt strong enough to act when the Popular Unity came to power in 1970, sensed that support was falling away from the left, however temporarily and that they could take to the offensive. They took care to deal with those elements within the ranks of the armed forces that supported Popular Unity, like the sailors in Valparaiso, before they moved against the government.

A split within the armed forces, in which “part” comes over to the working class is not an alternative to armed struggle: it is the precipitating factor which makes armed struggle inevitable. Ideological struggle must raise the question of whose ideas command a monopoly of armed force. And that is a question which can be settled only by the sword, not the pen.

One soldier who goes over to the workers will be disciplined, even shot, by his superiors. If the majority of the soldiers and some of their officers go over to the workers, they must be prepared to use force to stop themselves being disciplined by the rest of the armed forces, which remains loyal to the ruling class.

That is why every successful revolutionary in history has had to come to the conclusion that civil war is inevitable. The only way to ensure a relatively peaceful seizure of power is to be prepared to prosecute that civil war with the utmost determination, so as to throw the enemy onto the defensive and to disarm them before they have time to mobilise fully. To repeat: it is no good “winning over” part of the armed forces, unless you use that part, in conjunction with armed workers, to wage civil war in order to disarm the rest.

To use the Portuguese example again: the forces used by the ruling class to regain control of the army and the media on November 25 1975 were much inferior in men and firepower to the forces at the disposal of the left. But most of the ‘left’ regiments, in particular those controlled by the Communist Party remained in their barracks until they were disarmed and their officers arrested.

Workers’ democracy and bourgeois democracy

WHETHER the left has a majority of seats in Parliament does not alter this situation in the slightest. Not only is it extremely dangerous to assume that this would prevent the top officers from staging a coup – Carrillo, who experienced Franco’s rising against the democratically elected Popular Front government in 1936 ought to know this better than most – but it distorts the way in which revolutionary consciousness develops.

Carrillo argues as if winning a general election in the course of a mass upsurge of the workers’ movement were a necessary condition for the transition to socialism. But the essence of Marxism is the understanding that it is through activity and conflict that workers’ ideas become open to change. It is not the superiority of the means of propaganda at our disposal that makes us believe that we can win a majority of workers to socialism – it is the fact that workers do, if only occasionally, become involved in immense struggles that begin to unite the class in practice. When this happens, workers go through practical experiences which knit in with Marxist ideas: they begin to feel that they collectively, as a class, can take control of their futures. The only hope for Marxists lies in building on these experiences.

But you cannot build on them if you tell workers to abandon their mass struggles for a form of politics that is based on passivity, removal from struggle and fragmentation of the class. Yet this is precisely the form of politics involved in bourgois democracy.

It is well-know that in strikes the employers always prefer workers to vote in secret postal ballots at home rather than at mass meetings. At home each worker is cut off from his or her fellow workers, subject to the maximum pressure from the media, most likely to regard himself or herself as an individual citizen, not part of a collectivity struggling for control over the means of livelihood.

The parliamentary system is the secret ballot writ large. It weakens and dilutes the class consciousness that develops in the course of mass struggles. The logic of Carrillo’s position is to tell workers who are seizing control of industry, fighting to control the content of the media, beginning to organise joint armed committees with the rank and file of the armed forces, to abandon all these efforts and wait for an election to “legitimise” the socialist transformation. Such a course is fatal.

In the great French revolution, the Jacobins insisted that delay in attacking the reactionary forces would be fatal; only “audacity, audacity and still more audacity” could guarantee victory. Marx considered the greatest mistake of the Paris Commune of 1871 to be its failure to march on the reactionary forces in gathering in Versailles while elections were organised in Paris. In September 1917 Lenin insisted that if the Bolsheviks waited for elections to the Constituent Assembly before seizing power the revolution would be drowned in blood.

Why? Because a revolution is also a war. When the turning point comes in a battle any further delay will lead to a defeat. Delay sows demoralisation in your own forces, and encourages wavering elements to side with the enemy, while sharpening resolve within the ranks of the enemy. Delaying the seizure of power until it can be legitimated by elections will give the reactionary forces time to reimpose their hegemony.

Stalinism and Anti-Stalinism

THERE is nothing terribly original about Carrillo’s ideas. Social-democratic theoreticians having been producing much the same arguments for many years. And indeed Carrillo indicates his hopes for the fusion of the Communist and social-democratic parties. But he is well aware that reconciliation with the social democrats is impossible unless the Communists renounce their past allegiance to Moscow. This leads him to devote a section of his book to ideas which, according to some, represent a break with Stalinism. Not surprisingly, it is this section that seems to have caused the most anger in the Russian bureaucracy.

Indeed, at one level, Carrillo’s critique of the Eastern European states is extremely radical. He begins by insisting that the state that exists in Russia today is quite different from the workers’ state described in Lenin’s The State and Revolution. It has a “bureaucracy with greater privileges than a worker’s wage which has made itself virtually as irremoveable as the functionaries of a capitalist state”. This state is “evidently not a bourgeois state, but neither is it yet the working class organised as a ruling class, it is not yet an authentic workers’ democracy”.

Indeed, Carrillo says that Stalinism possessed some of the “formal” characteristics “similar to those of a fascist dictatorship ... although the essence of the Soviet social regime was fundamentally opposed to fascism”. Moreover, Krushchev did not succeed in “transforming the state apparatus created under Stalin”.

Carrillo defines the Soviet state as “intermediate between the capitalist state and the authentic socialist state in the same way that the centralised monarchies were between feudal society and modern capitalist parliamentary democracies”. He even suggests that this state may not be open to peaceful reform:

“the question that arises today is whether the very structures of this state have not converted themselves, at least in part, into an obstacle to the evolution of socialism, whether the state as it exists is not a brake on the development of an authentic workers’ democracy and the material development of the country”.

All this makes one wonder if this veteran anti-Trotskyist had taken his ideas from Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed. In one respect, indeed, Carrillo’s analysis is superior to Trotsky’s. He does not locate the origins of Stalinism in the unequal distribution of wealth after the civil war, as Trotsky does, but in the enforced accumulation of the means of production “because of capitalist encirclement”. Moreover, today “the arms race acts objectively to accentuate the element offered in the Soviet state”. This proves “the impossibility of constructing full socialism in one country unless this regime also triumphs in a series of advanced countries”.

But Carrillo does not draw revolutionary conclusions from this radical analysis of the Soviet bloc. Instead, he uses it to justify his moderation. His insistence, against Stalin, that it is impossible to cut off a single country from the capitalist world economy is used to justify his acceptance of the multinationals in Spain. The impossibility of completing the construction of socialism in one country is an excuse to put off indefinitely the establishment of a socialist regime that will begin that construction and seek to spread the revolution other to other countries.

Trotsky was a revolutionary critic of Stalinism who still believed, wrongly, that the Russian bureaucracy was the heir to the October revolution. Carrillo is a reformist, social-democratic critic of Stalinism who wishes to repudiate the lessons of October, for which Trotsky fought. The difference between them emerges in their practical conclusions. Even though the his critique of Stalinism was less radical that Carrillo’s, Trotsky called for a revolution to overthrow the bureaucracy. Forty years later, despite the experiences of Berlin, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, Carrillo still believes that change will be initiated by the ruling parties in the eastern bloc. Even his anti-Stalinism is reformist.

The right-wing motivation of Carrillo’s critique of Stalinism is revealed most clearly by his discussion of the Spanish civil war. In order to allay any fears that the Spanish Communist Party has any intention of infringing bourgeois-democratic norms, Carrillo admits some of its past errors – especially of the accusation in the 1930s and 1940s that Trotskyists were fascists and the justification of the murder in 1937 of Andres Nin, leader of the anti-Stalinist POUM.

Having washed the blood off his hands, Carrillo then goes on to justify the policies that caused it to be spilt in the first place. He boasts of the moderation of the Spanish Communist Party during the civil war. To do this he has to repeat some of the old lies. For instance, he claims that the “press was free”, although this freedom, extended to the bourgeois papers but not to the proletarian papers run by the POUM and the Anarchists, which were censored. Moreover, he claims that the repression of the POUM and the Anarchists in 1937 was necessary because they had attempted a “putsch” against the government of Largo Caballero. Yet he omits to mention that the repression was only introduced fully after Caballero along with the left Socialists and Anarchists had been driven from office for opposing the repression.

The standard liberal history of the civil war describes a cabinet meeting on May 13 1937 at which the Communist ministers

“proposed the punishment of those responsible for the May Days [clashes in Barcelona between the Communist-controlled police and the Anarchist and POUM militias during May 1937 – CH], the POUM and the CNT [the Anarchist trade unions – CH] ... Largo Caballero called the communists “liars and calumniators” and said that he was above all, a worker, who would not dissolve a brotherhood of workers, unless there were proofs against them.” [2]

The following day the government fell, to be replaced by a coalition of the Communists, the right-wing Socialists and the bourgeois republicans which proceeded to wipe out the POUM as an organised force. Contrary to Carrillo’s claim, the repression was not carried through by “legal tribunals”. When those POUM leaders who had not been murdered by Stalin’s secret police in prison were finally brought to trial in October 1938,

“the case against them collapsed ... The judgement found the POUM to be true socialists, and absolved them of treason and espionage.” [3]

So much for Carrillo’s alleged willingness to criticise his party’s past. Compare this sorry attempt to justify the crimes committed during the civil war with these words of Fernando Claudin, another leader of the Spanish Communist Party, whom Carrillo expelled in 1965:

“For my part I will only add that the repression of the POUM and especially the vile murder of Andres Nin, constitute the blackest page in the history of the PCE, which acted as accomplice in a crime committed by Stalin’s secret service. We Spanish Communists were undoubtedly put out of our right minds, like all the world’s Communists at this time and for a long time after, by the monstrous lies that were fabricated in Moscow. This, however, does not rid us of our historical responsibility.” [4]

Carrillo’s anti-Stalinism is skin-deep, a pose adopted to ingratiate himself to Western liberals and social-democrats. It reflects nothing but his desire to prove the moderation of the social-democratic road to socialism charted in this book.



1. All quotations are from S. Carrillo, “Eurocommunismo” e il Estado, Madrid 1977.

2. H. Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (revised edition), Harmondsworth 1977, pp.663-4.

3. Ibid., pp. 865-6.

4. F. Claudin, The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform, Harmondsworth 1975, p.711.

Chris Harman Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 23.12.2007