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Eurocommunism was a political movement that came to prominence in the second half of the 1970s in several European Communist parties, influenced by the ideas of Santiago Carrillo (b. 1915), the secretary of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) from 1960 to 1982.


In 1956 destalinization and Soviet repression in Hungary provoked unease and a certain confusion among the Communist parties of Europe, though these feelings were for the time being overcome. Faith in the USSR was restored by Soviet successes in space, by the Cuban Revolution, and by Nikita Khrushchev's assurance of the inevitable triumph of socialism. Support for Soviet policy was expressed even by opponents of the Communist parties upon the launch of the process of European economic integration, which was portrayed as another step in a capitalist-imperialist reorganization designed to benefit the United States.

All the same, the breakdown of relations between the USSR and China, which revealed the "indestructible friendship" between the two communist powers as a fiction, followed by Khrushchev's deposition in the shadow of conspiracy, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and finally the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, increasingly undermined faith in the Soviet myth.

In 1968 the French and Italian Communist parties, taking an unprecedented stance, publicly condemned the invasion of Czechoslovakia, albeit as an error and certainly not for what it was, a manifestation of Soviet "power politics." In any case, the condemnation of the event indicated that the Soviet myth was by then shaken and that the two parties had assumed a degree of political autonomy that betokened a turnaround in policy. This turnaround found its institutional expression in the birth of the movement that came to be called Eurocommunism.


It appears that the word Eurocommunism was coined not by a Communist leader but by a Yugoslav journalist, Frane Barbieri, who used it in his article "Le scadenze di Brezhnev" (Brezhnev's ticking clock), published in Il giornale nuovo of 26 June 1975, and whose political and ideological views were opposed to those of the Italian Communist Party (PCI). The new term came to represent Carrillo's policy of seeking to conform less and less with the strategic vision of Moscow while showing new openness to the European Community. According to Barbieri, Eurocommunism had been chosen over neocommunism because it represented a perspective that was geographical and not ideological, whereas the second term seemed to stand for a concept too ideologically loaded.

About a year after Barbieri's article, on the occasion of the rally of the PCI and the French Communist Party (PCF) on 3 June 1976 at La Villette, near Paris, Enrico Berlinguer (1922–1984; secretary of the PCI from March 1972 to 1984) first used the neologism, which he placed in quotation marks. Referring to the great interest in many circles of the "bourgeois" international press regarding "Eurocommunism," he defined the term generically as a label for certain common positions shared by various Communist parties.

On the occasion of the pan-European conference of Communist parties, held in East Berlin on 29–30 June 1976, Berlinguer emphasized the way in which certain Communist and workers' parties in Western Europe had arrived, by way of independent efforts, at similar perspectives on the route best followed to establish socialism. According to Berlinguer, it was to these novel perspectives and inquiries that the name Eurocommunism had been given.

On a preceding occasion, at the Twenty-fifth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, held in Moscow in February 1976, Berlinguer had already, without using the word, elaborated what the PCI considered to be its fundamental characteristics: the principle according to which relations between Communist parties were to be imbued with a spirit of friendship and solidarity, with an open concourse of diverse experiences and positions; recognition of and respect for the full independence of every Communist Party; and the idea that the construction of a socialist society ought to constitute the culminating moment in the forward progress of all democratic reforms and guarantee respect for all individual and collective liberties.

Carrillo first used the word Eurocommunism, which he likewise placed in quotation marks, on the occasion of the Berlin conference, proclaiming that the principle of internationalism was going to be profoundly modified. For Carrillo too, Eurocommunism implied a new conception of democracy, conditioned by the fact that the Communist parties of developed capitalist nations had to confront a particular set of circumstances tied to the exigencies of promoting class struggle in such environments. This reality led toward trajectories and types of socialism that would not be the same as those in other countries. The rule of the forces of labor and culture would not be imposed through dictatorial mechanisms but rather with respect for political and ideological pluralism and without a single-party system.

Finally, after demonstrating more circumspection in the adoption of the new term, the PCF at last entered into the new movement, abandoning in sudden and spectacular fashion the principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and thus ushering in a new conception of democracy, at its Twenty-second Congress in February 1976. At the Berlin conference, Georges Marchais (1920–1997; secretary of the PCF from 1972 to 1994) affirmed the principles of Eurocommunism without ever uttering the word, proclaiming that the PCF would follow an independent path in the struggle for socialism.


The innovations introduced by Eurocommunism in the field of international communism were ranged on three different planes: international, national, and party-level. On an international level, it advanced a new concept of internationalism, definitively purged of the legacy of Joseph Stalin and the Communist International gatherings. No longer was a single international center of communism recognized, nor was any one party or state henceforth considered a model to be followed. The Eurocommunist parties sought to establish a more marked autonomy from Moscow and from communism of a Soviet stamp, and they indeed criticized the USSR more and more frequently for the grave limits it placed on democracy, for its treatment of dissidents, for its disturbing shortcomings in the field of human rights, and for its ossified bureaucratic apparatus, which paralyzed every process of social transformation the world over.

While Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982; leader of the USSR from 1964 to1982) continued to affirm that the Soviet brand of socialism was the best possible, the French, Italian, and Spanish Communist parties evinced the conviction that in the West, it would be necessary to follow a "third road" separate from that followed by the Communist bloc, where "socialist democracy" had failed to develop, and from that of Western social democracy, which remained subordinate to capitalism.

On a national level, the three parties maintained similar positions regarding the crises that had struck the advanced capitalistic societies of Western Europe, beginning with the oil crisis. The situation was defined as global—because it did not pertain only to the economy but to all aspects of society, including politics and ethics—and therefore systemic. The only solution was to set out on the road to socialism. The architects of this new type of society rejected the Soviet model above all, preferring instead to emphasize the universal values of liberty and democracy, which were "inseparable from socialism."

At a party level, while they remained structured according to the principle of centralized democracy in the Leninist tradition, the three Eurocommunist parties, inspired both by their own membership and by the climate abroad, opened themselves to more democratizing reforms, albeit in very different ways.


After the meeting of 12 July 1975, the policy of Eurocommunism was enunciated at Livorno by Berlinguer and Carrillo in a joint communiqué, in which they affirmed the solemn declaration of Italian and Spanish Communists that, in their conception of a democratic advance toward socialism in peace and liberty, they intended not tactical maneuvering but a strategic conviction, born of reflection on the collective experiences of the workers' movement and on the specific historic circumstances of their respective countries.

At the second summit between the PCI and the PCF in November 1975, a second communal declaration proclaimed that the two parties were acting under different material circumstances and that each of them would therefore pursue a policy designed to meet the needs and suit the characteristics of their own nation. At the same time, given their struggle in developed capitalist countries, they stated that the problems they confronted presented common characteristics and required similar solutions.

The Madrid summit of 2–3 March 1977 constituted an important and indeed spectacular moment in the Eurocommunism movement, and the definitive testimonial to the links between the three parties. The summit, attended by Berlinguer, Marchais, and Carrillo, was considered the first and only joint conference of Eurocommunism. Rather than the apogee of Eurocommunism, however, it in fact represented the beginning of its decline. The secretaries of the three parties (particularly Marchais and Berlinguer) appeared more preoccupied with affirming that the real purpose of the summit was to show solidarity with the Spanish Communist Party, which still lacked formal legal authorization, than with giving their backing to a novel conception of the communist world.

After the meeting, in fact, due to the fragility of the accord that was reached, the absence of a common regional strategy, the resistance the new initiatives met from proponents of the old order, and the support that these proponents received from the Soviets, a period of discord began that would rapidly lead to the decline of Eurocommunism.


Eurocommunism, with its intent to bring about a transition to socialism while respecting democratic politics and pluralism, found its most authoritative leader in Berlinguer, who was inclined even to recognize the positive function of NATO (in an interview of 15 June 1976 in Il corriere della sera). The other protagonist was Carrillo, who harshly criticized the Soviet model in the study "Eurocomunismo" y estado (1977; "Eurocommunism" and the state), which focused chiefly on a Spanish and European context and was characterized by strong declarations in favor of pluralism and "Europeanism," in open polemic with Soviet ideology.

In addition to the Italian, Spanish, and French Communist parties, the Communist parties of England, Belgium, Switzerland, and Greece (in the last case, an internal faction born in 1968 from a schism in the Greek Communist Party) participated in the movement. Support also came from the Dutch Communist Party, whose total autonomy from the USSR had long been established. The same ideas were espoused outside of Europe, though with different motives, by the Communist parties of Japan, Australia, and Mexico, as well as by political factions that had broken off from Communist parties, such as the MAS (Movement toward Socialism) in Venezuela.

In Western Europe, the ranks of the Eurocommunist parties were in this period opposed by the Communist parties of Portugal, Greece (in exile), Austria, Luxembourg, and Norway.


The 1976 Berlin conference of twenty-nine European Communist parties made still clearer the difficulties facing the proposal, advanced repeatedly on Soviet initiative, to organize a new worldwide conference on the model of the one held in Moscow in 1969 (where on 11 June Berlinguer had reiterated the condemnation of the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia) for the purpose of eliminating, or at least reducing, the contrasts that continued to manifest themselves within the international Communist movement.

In order to redress a political climate conditioned by such diverse influences, the USSR promoted a series of regional conferences. The most important, aside from those in East Berlin and later Paris (April 1980), the latter boycotted by the Eurocommunists, took place between 1981 and 1985. These were "theoretical" conferences to which the presence of Soviet officials imparted a clear political hue. They were organized on the initiative of the journal Problems of Peace and Socialism, born in Paris in 1958 as a forum for interaction and debate in the wake of the dissolution of Cominform (the Communist Information Bureau).


The crisis became explicit at the moment of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, and thereafter with the Polish "affairs" of 1980 (the Baltic strike and the birth of the Solidarity union), followed in 1981 by the Polish government's proclamation of a state of siege. Such events shattered the Eurocommunist ranks. The Italian, Spanish, Belgian, English, Swedish, Swiss, Dutch, Mexican, and Japanese Communist parties criticized Brezhnev's policies, though other parties took a different stance, most notably the PCF. Furthermore, some of the parties that had continued to adhere to Eurocommunism were quick to experience serious internal divisions. As a result of the pressures exerted on party leadership by factions still faithful to old pro-Soviet policies, as well as through the direct intervention of the USSR, discord and fractures broke out that afflicted above all the Spanish, Finnish, and English Communist parties, precipitating rapid and dramatic losses at the polls.

Still more decisive, however, was the split that had come about between the leading parties. Though the PCF would never openly renounce its positions of the preceding period (from the Champigny Manifesto of 1968 to the documents of the Twenty-second Congress on "socialism in French colors" and on the abandonment of the formula of the "dictatorship of the proletariat"), it effectively sanctioned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and proceeded, together with the Polish Communist Party, to promote a meeting of nineteen parties that occurred in East Berlin in March 1979. At the Twenty-fourth Congress, the leadership of the PCF abandoned its reservations about past Soviet policy and moreover defined as "globally positive" the cumulative effects of the "real socialism" of the Brezhnev years. The adoption of these new positions not only failed to impede but indeed contributed to the electoral collapse suffered by the PCF in the subsequent administrative and political elections.

So too in the PCE, internal fragmentation resulted in a series of grave electoral defeats. The crisis led to Carrillo's resignation from the secretariat of the party in 1982, from which he was expelled entirely in 1985 (Carrillo then formed the group Unidad Comunista, from 1987 an official party).

The choices made by the PCI were different and in fact opposed, though they too were accompanied by a decline in the polls, after the positive results of the first phase. By way of carrying forward the critiques advanced in 1956 and 1968 on the problems of change in advanced capitalist societies and on the rapport between socialism and democracy, as well as on what came to be called the "new internationalism," in March 1979 the Italian Communists proposed the idea of a "third road" or a "third phase" as an alternative to the Soviet example and to that of the social democrats, both of which were considered ineffective.

In the process, the PCI came to its "rupture," with the declaration of Berlinguer in December 1981 regarding the defunctness of the "forward push" of the October Revolution and the Soviet exemplar, and the consequent necessity of following other paths to arrive at a "diverse" socialism and a greater integration of the PCI with the circle of the Western European Left.

Among the Eurocommunist parties in Europe, besides minorities in Finland, England, and France, only that of Greece (the internal faction) maintained positions similar to those of the PCI, against which there was an extremely harsh backlash from the Russian and Polish Communist parties, as well as from numerous other parties.

Thanks to its deep social and political roots in Italy, the PCI managed during the first half of the 1980s to achieve a significant electoral consensus and put an end to the opposition to European integration. Mikhail Gorbachev's rise to power in the Soviet Union gave hope that the time had come for an internal reform of Soviet communism and for the recovery of communism on an international level. The failure of Gorbachev's program inevitably drew the PCI and the other Communist parties of Western Europe into an irreversible crisis, which was accelerated after 1989. Indeed, by the end of the 1980s, with the dissolution of the USSR, the fall of the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe, the increase of repression in China, and the crisis of many pro-communist regimes in the Third World, the framework of world communism was thrown into total chaos.

In 1991 the PCI dissolved itself at its Twentieth Congress, giving life on the one hand to a Democratic Party of the Left, which placed itself under the aegis of European socialism with its adherence to the Socialist International, and on the other to a Party of Communist Refoundation, spawned from the secession of a minority. The Communists in France and Spain, for their part, saw a net decline in their collective influence. At the same time, such events and circumstances marked the culmination of the process of crisis and turned the debate on the future of communism toward an analysis of the prospects of existing communist nations and a recap of a historical phenomenon.

See alsoBerlinguer, Enrico; Brezhnev, Leonid; Communism; Gorbachev, Mikhail; Italy; 1968; 1989; Soviet Union.


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Maria Teresa Giusti