Fernando Claudin was a leader of the Spanish Communist Party until his expulsion in 1964, and is the author of the already classic The Communist Movement: from Comintern to Cominform.footnote1 The analysis of Eurocommunism and its relation to socialism put forward in his new book is very timelyfootnote2—both because Claudín produced it after his return to post-Franco Spain, when the debate about Eurocommunism in that country and the problems faced by it in France and Italy as well had become highly topical, and also because its appearance followed closely upon publication of the much-discussed Eurocommunism and the State by Santiago Carrillo, general secretary of the pce.footnote3 Claudín’s book can thus be taken as a kind of reply, by the most authoritative ‘left Eurocommunist’, to what was generally seen as a right-Communist book.

Claudín analyses brilliantly the conditions in which Eurocommunism arose and developed in Italy, France and Spain; the economic and political problems which, predictably, it is now confronting; and its party organization, political line/lines and inherent limitations. However, he then ‘derives’ political conclusions arguing for a democratic and socialist Eurocommunism which, as we shall see, unfortunately do not accord with his own very accurate analysis of Eurocommunism and its limitations, in whose light they do not seem realistically admissible.

Because of his judicious reflection upon historical and present reality alike, and because of the objective plausibility of his projections for the future, we can agree fully with Claudín on (among others) each of the following analytic theses. 1. World capitalism has since the mid-sixties entered a new deep structural crisis of accumulation, analogous to that of the inter-war period. This crisis engenders a host of political problems and responses: notably those of Eurocommunism, and the bourgeois austerity policies which are imposed with or without the agreement of the Communists.footnote4 2. In the present stage of capitalism, monopoly is an integral aspect which is only reinforced by the crisis, and which—contrary to the Eurocommunist thesis—can be combated only through a successful anti-capitalist policy, without which an ‘anti-monopoly’ policy is impossible, (pp. 101–2) 3. However, there seems to be a kind of ‘imperial historic compromise’ between the United States and the Soviet Union in opposition to socialist revolution in Europe—including, it may be added, in opposition to a Eurocommunist democracy. (pp. 136–7) Thus, more than ever, the problem of political and military power is the key question. (p. 117)

Drawing on his exceptional theoretical knowledge and his practical experience (already reflected in his earlier book on the Communist movement), Claudín analyses with equal sureness the limitations—sometimes inherent, sometimes apparently circumstantial—of the Eurocommunist parties and their policies, which are not even remotely adequate to the difficult economic and political problems they face. 1. The Eurocommunist parties, whether separately or collectively, almost entirely lack any international policy matching the international character of the economic and political problems confronting them. (pp. 143–6) 2. The Eurocommunists advocate an anti-monopoly policy that is, however, not anti-capitalist as such. But such a policy is impossible to carry through (pp. 101–2): for it is based on the false assumption that monopolies are like some benign tumour which can be cut out of the economic system, thus rendering the patient more competitive and healthy (a further misconception!) than ever. 3. The reformist policy of the Eurocommunist parties in this and other respects—such as their support for austerity plans like those of the Andreotti government in Italy or those provided for in the Moncloa pact in Spain—seeks, and what is more threatens in fact, to consolidate the bourgeois régimes, saving from bankruptcy even their politically most representative parties such as the Christian Democrats in Italy or Suarez’s Union of the Democratic Centre in Spain, as the ‘lesser evil in face of the fascist danger’ (recalling the identical formula used within the Popular Fronts during the last crisis), and thus aiding capitalism to overcome its period of economic and political crisis. (pp. 109–10 and 118) 4. Placing their hopes in the lengthy duration of a stage of democratic stability (p. 107), the Eurocommunists argue for a kind of ‘transition to the transition’ to socialism (pp. 101–2), as the Communist Party of Chile put it during the Popular Unity government. This represents a highly dangerous policy, in that it permits the mobilization and organization of counter-revolution (p. 107); it is also doomed to failure by its reformism in dealing with the most burning economic problems, leading to a popular backlash in favour of the Right (see Chile). Meanwhile, the Communist parties brake the trade-union and mass struggle and even oppose it, as we have already seen in France, Italy and Spain, (pp. 108–9) Moreover, the Communist parties place excessive confidence in the repressive bodies (police and military) of the bourgeois order (p. 112)—even on occasion to the point where they call for their use, as in Chile yesterday and Italy today. They disarm instead of mobilizing and organizing the working class and other popular forces, to confront the key question of power when this arises at the moment of truth.

Beyond this accurate analysis of the present issues and policies of Eurocommunism, Claudín returns again and again to what he views as the Achilles heel of Eurocommunism today: the problem of democracy, particularly its absence—indeed negation, to date—in the internal organization of these parties. He devotes many pages of his book to arguing that, because of their lack of democracy, the Soviet Union and other countries of East Europe are not genuinely socialist societies, since for him socialism without democracy is a total contradiction in terms. He apparently feels that, in his view, he is interpreting a widespread popular sentiment in the West, in that many workers (and others) will not be willing to sacrifice democratic freedoms in order to instal socialism. Hence, the Eurocommunists will not be able to lead, or perhaps even accompany, the Western peoples to socialism, without first cutting once and for all the political umbilical cord which still binds them to the Soviet Union, and crossing the ideological Rubicon by stating that the latter and the other countries of the East are not socialist.footnote5 This fatal but liberatory step, taken with difficulty by Santiago Carrillo, the most independent (but not therefore the most socialist) of the Eurocommunists, wetting one toe on this side of the Rubicon, is seen by Claudín as a necessary—though not sufficient—condition for a Eurocommunist transition to socialism.

In honour of this powerful democratic compromise, Claudín finds himself perhaps a little blinded by its brightness as he passes on from his analysis of objective and organizational reality to pose two separate sets of alternatives, and to the political conclusions which he derives from each of these. Seeking to draw out the political conclusions of his analysis, Claudín formulates the first set of alternatives on page 26: ‘the global crisis of the system poses the concrete question: is the crisis to be solved by an “austerity policy” which imposes the main burden of sacrifice on working people, while repairing the mechanisms of capitalism to equip them for a further prolonged period of existence—a solution which it would be difficult to conceive without a turn to more authoritarian policies?’—an eventuality which Claudín goes on to analyse subsequently, on the already cited pages 109–10 and 118, where he comments on the Eurocommunist collaboration in such policies—‘Or will the solution of the crisis introduce profound changes of economic and social structure which, even if they still involve sacrifices on the part of the masses, allow some sense of what a transition to socialism might be? The second option would necessarily involve the extension and deepening of democratic involvement in the political arena as well as in production . . .’ Of course, Claudín himself comes out in favour of the second of these options—but in the name of a perspective which has little relationship with his own analysis of reality.

In the first place, the second option (as, in principle, the first also) contains a manifest contradiction, difficult if not possible to resolve, between the Eurocommunist support for ‘policies which involve sacrifices on the part of the masses’ and the ‘extension and deepening’ of democracy. In the second place, especially in the light of this same contradiction, neither objective conditions and Claudín’s analysis of them, nor the latter’s subjective wishes, offer a guarantee that these two options are in fact the only and exclusive ones. On the contrary, precisely Claudín’s own analysis implies that this set of alternatives is incomplete, if not false, and that the most probable outcome will in fact be a third alternative: the extension of today’s austerity policies to ultra-austerity measures designed to ‘repair the mechanisms of capitalism to equip them for a further prolonged period of existence’, by means precisely of ‘profound changes of economic and social structure’, which will not become the basis for a transition to socialism (and far less to a democratic socialism) but, on the contrary, for a transition towards an authoritarian society like that which Claudín himself glimpses on page 107 (and which in my little book cited in note 4 above I term, following George Orwell, ‘1984’).