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Eurocommunism was an attempt in the 1970s by various European communist parties to widen their appeal by embracing public sectormiddle-class workers, and new social movements such as feminism and gay liberation and rejecting unquestioning support of the Soviet Union, and express more clearly their fidelity to democratic institutions.

It was precisely those Communist parties most strongly entrenched in their respective societies – notably the Italian Communist Party and the French Communist Party – that were most likely to adopt a Eurocommunist line, while smaller and more marginal parties remained correspondingly more dependent upon the patronage of Moscow.

The Communist Party of Spain and its sometime affiliate, the United Socialist Party of Catalonia, had already been committed to the liberal possibilist politics of the Popular Front during the Spanish Civil War, and it emerged from the dictatorship of Franco following an essentially Eurocommunist line. The Communist parties of Portugal and Austria also showed distinct Eurocommunist tendencies.

Western European communists came to Eurocommunism via a variety of routes. For some it was their direct experience of feminist and similar action. For others a growing distaste for the neo-Stalinist politics of the Soviet Union at the apogee of what Gorbachev later called the Era of Stagnation , especially after the events of 1968, particularly the crushing of the Prague Spring.

The politics of détente also played a part. With war less likely, Western communists were under less pressure to parrot Soviet orthodoxy yet also wanted to enage with a rise in western proletarian militancy such as Italy's hot autumn and Britain's shop stewards' movement .

But Eurocommunism was only a staging post. Some - principally the Italians - became social democrats, others, like the Spanish and the Swedish, toyed with green politics, while others again - especially the French and Portugese - returned to Stalinist politics. But in every case the communist party either disappeared or shrunk to a tiny fraction of its previous size - and the process was already maturing before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Eurocommunism was officialized in 1977, when Enrico Berlinguer of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), Santiago Carrillo of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) and Georges Marchais of the French Communist Party (PCF) met in Madrid and laid out the fundamental lines of the "new way". The PCI in particular, however, had been developing an independent line from Moscow for many years prior, which had already been exhibited in 1968, when the party refused to support the Soviet invasion of Prague. In 1975 the PCI and the PCE made a declaration regarding the "march toward socialism" to be done in "peace and freedom". In 1976 in Moscow, Berlinguer, in front of 5,000 Communist delegates, had spoken of a "pluralistic system" (translated by the interpreter as "multiform"), and described PCI's intentions to build "a socialism that we believe necessary and possible only in Italy".

Before the end of the Cold War pushed practically all Leftist parties in Europe on the defensive and made neoliberal reforms the order of the day, many Eurocommunist parties split, with the Right (such as Democratici di Sinistra or Iniciativa per Catalunya) adopting social democracy more whole-heartedly, while the Left strove to preserve some identifiably Communist positions (compare the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista or PSUC-Viu /Communist Party of Spain).

Criticism of Eurocommunism

There are two main criticisms that have been advanced against Eurocommunism. First, it is alleged that Eurocommunists showed a lack of courage in definitively breaking off from the Soviet Union. (The Italian Communist party, for example, took this step only in 1981, after the repression of Solidarnosc in Poland.) This "timidity" has been explained with the fear of losing the old members of the parties, educated in the admiration of USSR, or for a realpolitik exigence to keep the support of a strong and powerful country.

Others critics point out the difficulties the Eurocommunist parties had in developing a clear and recognisable strategy. They observe that Eurocommunists have always claimed to be different - not only from Soviet Communism but even in respect of European social democracy - and they accuse them of having been unable to produce an original and credible program in practice in spite of this ambitious view.

Some liberal critics of Eurocommunism, like the French historian François Furet, see Eurocommunism as an attempt to absolve Communism from Soviet crimes (Le Passé d'une illusion, 1997).

From a Trotskyist point of view, Ernest Mandel in From Stalinism to Eurocommunism: The Bitter Fruits of 'Socialism in One Country' views Eurocommunism as a subsequent development of the decision taken by the Soviet Union in 1924 to abandon the goal of world revolution and concentrate on social and economic development of the Soviet Union, the so-called "Socialism in One Country". Thus the Eurocommunists of the Italian and French Communist parties are considered to be nationalist movements, who together with the Soviet Union abandoned internationalism. This is analogous to the social democratic parties of the Second International during the First World War, when they supported their national governments in procurement of the war. From the Marxist-Leninist point of view, Enver Hoxha wrote in "Eurocommunism is Anti-Communism" that Eurocommunism was simply a further step by revisionists to revise Marxism-Leninism and deny the importance of Lenin as they already had with Stalin.

Further reading


Last updated: 08-29-2005 12:18:31
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46