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Which Socialism, Whose Détente?

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Maud Bracke

Part I. West European communism and internationalism, 1956–1967

Conclusions to Part I

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1On the eve of 1968, both the PCI and PCF experienced a highly problematic relationship with the world communist movement, and in particular with the Soviet Union. In 1956 the PCI had started questioning the organization and modes of operation in the communist world through the concept of (minimal) polycentrism. This led it, in the 1960s, to expand its internationalism, in the sense of widening its alliances on the international level (Europe and the Mediterranean). Moreover, 1956 marked the start of the questioning of the value of the Soviet Union as a model for socialism. The PCI’s implicit move away from “orthodoxy” in this regard was evident from a combination of elements: its analyses of capitalism, its domestic strategy, and the implications of its European strategy. The limits of this development, however, lay in the fact that the PCI, between 1957 and 1968, did not develop a systematic critique of the socialist regimes and did not link this to the type of socialism that would come about in Italy.

2The dramatic changes undergone by the PCI’s internationalism, in contrast to the PCF’s continued resistance to change, should be understood as a result of the domestic situation of these parties in interplay with the international position of their country in the East–West conflict. In the case of the PCI, symmetry occurred between the evolution of its domestic position and its outlook on the evolution of the East–West conflict and global strategy. The political situation in Italy from the early 1960s onwards resembled a “domestic détente,” which created the possibility for the PCI to escape its domestic isolation. From the PCI perspective, a similar development needed to take place on the European and global level. European détente and global anti-imperialism would create the conditions in which Western countries such as Italy could become socialist. In this sense, WCM strategy, based in this phase on European détente and global anti-imperialism, was highly supportive of PCI strategy. This explains the absence of an acute conflict between the PCI and the Soviet Union in this phase.

3It is the PCF case which demonstrates the new problems created to West European communism by détente, and this because France, unlike Italy, was a major actor in European détente. In the case of the PCF, an asymmetry existed between the domestic evolution, by which the party partly succeeded in escaping its political isolation, and the development towards European détente, in which Gaullist France played a major role. In the first instance, the Soviet–French rapprochement helped the PCF to improve its domestic position by, to some extent, legitimizing its anti-NATO and philo-Soviet positions. However, the impasse which the Soviet–French rapprochement caused became sharply clear when, in the presidential election campaign of 1965, the Kremlin openly supported de Gaulle rather than the socialist candidate to who the PCF was allied in the frame of its Union de la gauche strategy. The uncertainty which this created regarding Soviet support for socialism in the West followed the party’s older suspicions about peaceful coexistence not being an “orthodox” strategy.

© Central European University Press, 2007

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