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Which Socialism, Whose Détente?

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Maud Bracke

Part III. The consequences internationalism after Czechoslovakia

Conclusions to Part III.

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1In the aftermath of the Czechoslovak crisis, the line of the PCI and PCF on internationalism was reset on specific issues. While these changes made the continuation of their Soviet-aligned internationalism acceptable to the bulk of the rank and file of these parties, as well as, generally, to their main domestic political partners, it did not solve the central problem connected to their internationalism, namely, the implications of Soviet global and European strategy for their domestic strategy. It was the persistence of this problem that led to Eurocommunism in the second half of the 1970s. After 1968, the PCI narrowed down its Soviet-aligned internationalism to the strategic dimension. Doctrine as an underpinning of this alliance was increasingly less important, up to a point where it became clear that the PCI’s concept of socialism was very different from the one held by the communist regimes. While the party continued to position itself inside the world communist movement, it watered down its ambition to change the state of affairs from within into assuring for itself a relatively autonomous position. Instead, it focused its attention on the global strategy against imperialism, which permitted it to develop anti-imperialism as a source of legitimation. In Europe, it focused its attention on détente. Although it understood détente as a dynamic concept, and for this reason included non-communist actors in its international strategy, it chose to disregard the fact that the most powerful actor in this enlarged communist strategy, the Soviet Union, had given proof in 1968 of a static understanding of détente as far as the situation in Europe was concerned. The question of whether Soviet European strategy was still supportive of the transition to socialism in Western Europe was a taboo, as became clear from the Manifesto affair.

2After 1968 the PCF narrowed down its internationalism to a sense of belonging to a historical process and movement. As in the case of the PCI, at the heart of this lay a problematic relationship with the Soviet Union, its actual strategy and its actual leaders. Its points of reference for the definition of socialism, as well as for the organization of the communist world and for the elaboration of global strategy, were to do with Leninism and the October Revolution, rather than with the actual situation. This shift occurred as a consequence of the configuration of the party’s sources of legitimation, in which revolution played a crucial role. The maintaining and reassessing of its classic concept of revolution, based on the link between 1789 and 1917, permitted the party to revitalize its revolutionary appeal while at the same time giving proof of its national character, and, hence, to increase its emphasis on sovereignty as a source of legitimacy. The fact that the invasion of Czechoslovakia had precisely led to the questioning of the relationship between sovereignty and Soviet-aligned internationalism was willfully ignored by the PCF leadership. The non-renewal of its concepts of revolution and socialism made it impossible to learn from the May ’68 events or from the Prague Spring. While its political partners did not systematically object to this, the continued criticism on this issue from communist intellectuals led the party leadership, in the atmosphere of realignment and under Soviet pressure, to undertake an “anti-revisionist” campaign. This resulted in the exclusion of a number of renowned intellectuals, and in the removal of Waldeck Rochet, who had given proof of a concept of internationalism that ignored the furthest implications of Soviet dominance.

3Despite the fundamental contradictions in the internationalism of the two parties after 1968, conditions in the early 1970s were such that this did not come to the fore. While the PCI rejoiced at the successes of the “global anti-imperialist struggle,” the PCF concentrated on its national strategy of alliance with the socialists. However, by the mid-1970s a number of European and global events seemed to upset the Cold War order: the German settlement, the end of the Vietnam War, the events in Chile, Portugal and Spain, and the successes of the PCI and PCF themselves. These circumstances on the one hand confirmed the defensive nature of Soviet strategy in Europe, and on the other hand seemed to provide the West European communist parties with an opportunity. The temporary convergence of the PCI, PCF and PCE into Eurocommunism was the result. For both the PCI and PCF the continued strategic problem, which went back to the late 1960s, was the profound reason for their shift towards Eurocommunism. In the short term, its emergence was provoked by domestic developments (in both cases) and another acute crisis in relations with the Soviet Union (in the case of the PCF). However, it soon became clear that the PCI and the PCF had very different, and in some sense opposite, views on European strategy, and that their concepts of socialism lay far apart. Moreover, as the PCF once more appeared unwilling to resist Soviet pressure and unable fundamentally to question “orthodox” doctrine, the PCI shifted in an ambivalent way between its aims to change the world communist movement from within, and unwillingness openly to confront the Soviet Union and other powerful actors of this movement on matters of strategy and doctrine. Hence, Eurocommunism was unable to become more than a pressure group inside the world communist movement, a limitation which had already become clear in 1968. Born out of a convergence based on opposite perspectives on internationalism, doctrine and strategy, by the late 1970s Eurocommunism ended up as a movement which did not want to be one.

© Central European University Press, 2007

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