As is well known, a reassessment of the relationship between Democracy and Socialism lies at the heart of Eurocommunism’s theoretical aggiornamento, underpinning the strategy of ‘democratic roads’ to socialism and the conception of a ‘State of advanced democracy’. This reassessment, which is explicitly presented as a revision of Lenin’s theses on the State, may be summarized as follows. Between ‘democracy’ and socialism there is a relationship not of discontinuity but of inherence and consubstantiality. So-called bourgeois democracy and its valued ‘formal liberties’ were not generously granted by the dominant class, but conquered in the heat of battle by the armed people. The fruit of class struggle, they are neither wholly bourgeois nor wholly proletarian; in a proportion that varies with the relationship of forces, they are both the one and the other—an instrument of bourgeois domination and a machine with which the proletariat wages war against such domination. They embody a truncated form of democracy (truncated by the bourgeoisie), but one that is capable of being perfected (through the action of the popular masses). A favourable evolution of the class relationship of forces will allow the development of democratic rights and freedoms, the democratization of existing institutions, and consequently the achievement of a democracy that is less and less ‘formal’, more and more ‘real’. From this reassessment flow the driving ideas of Eurocommunist strategy.

First driving idea of Eurocommunism. Contrary to the views advanced by the Marxist classics, the transition to socialism does not necessarily run up against the institutions of the bourgeois-democratic State. It may perfectly well be achieved inside the framework of these institutions—provided that a dialectic is established between the movement of self-organization of the masses in civil society and the action of democratic transformation within the state apparatuses. This thesis has its right variants—Berlinguer, Marchais, Carrillo.footnote1 But it also has left versions, such as those of Bruno Trentin, Fernando Claudín, Nicos Poulantzas and Christine Buci-Glucksmann. Denying that it suffers from any legalist, gradualist or parliamentarist illusion, this Eurocommunist Left holds that the dialectic between mass movement and democratic transformation within the existing institutions leads to a series of breaks in the state apparatuses, and that mastery over the latter thereby passes to the popular movement. As a result of their numerical and functional development, the state institutions are invaded by wage-earning layers originating in the dominated classes or the petty bourgeoisie. This process shakes from top to bottom the relations between State and civil society. For in the course of the class struggle, these state employees may undergo massive leftward polarization, drawing the state apparatus to the side of the popular movement and making a decisive contribution, from within, to its remodelling.footnote2

Second driving idea of Eurocommunism. Again in opposition to the theses of classical Marxism, it is argued that socialist democracy does not imply a radically new institutional system, qualitatively distinct from bourgeois parliamentary democracy, but can blossom fully within the framework of the latter’s (rejuvenated) institutions. For Eurocommunists of every shade, the ‘Paris Commune type of State’ or ‘Republic of Workers’ Councils’ extolled by Marx and Lenin as embryos of the workers’ State merely constitute a dangerous utopia. All share Norberto Bobbio’s judgment that, while the structures of rank-and-file power or direct democracy can and should be useful correctives to parliamentary democracy, they can in no way serve as a substitute for it.footnote3 The regional, local and categorical fragmentation and distribution of power throughout the body of society implies ‘a moment in which the general will takes shape’ (Ingrao); in other words, it implies a locus of centralization and synthesis. This site cannot be an assembly of regional delegates—the Central Council of Councils envisaged by Lenin. More generally, workers’ councils cannot be the basic organs of the new state power, since they group the workers as producers rather than as citizens. For this reason, they are constantly in danger of being overcome by a ‘parish pump’, corporatist outlook. Historical experience shows that, by their own efforts, workers’ councils are inadequate to the function of centralizing state power. What happens in reality is that the centralized apparatus of the dominant party or parties assumes this function in their name. If one is to avoid such covert centralization, together with the totalitarian fusion of Party and State which it implies, it is necessary to allocate the role of centralization and synthesis to a parliament elected by a secret, universal and territorially-based vote, free of binding mandates, and so on.

Third driving idea of Eurocommunism. The transition to socialism is a decades-long process of socialization of economic and political power. The conquest of power is not effected through a paroxysmal crisis—which the very development of the State has made inconceivable in the West. It is achieved through the protracted labour of breaking up the hegemony of the dominant class, laying siege to its state apparatuses and dislocating its alliances; it is in this way that the working class asserts itself as the new hegemonic class. Here too, right and left variants exist side by side. For most Eurocommunist spokesmen, ‘the succession of broad structural reforms, both economic and political, itself constitutes the Revolution’ (Jean Elleinstein).footnote4 But for the Eurocommunist Left, the transition to socialism cannot be accomplished without ‘qualitative leaps’ or ‘breaks’. However, it is a question of ‘breaks’ in the plural, each of which occurs on a specific terrain (ideological, political, economic, etc.) and according to a temporality of its own. Buci-Glucksmann speaks of ‘one continuous break’ and of ‘protracted dual power’. But this has nothing to do with a revolutionary break in which the global stakes are class power and the nature of the dominant mode of production.

Who today would deny that the Leninist theses on democracy and socialism present certain excesses and lacunae? When they first proclaimed these positions, the Bolshevik leaders were doing their utmost to resist social democracy’s Europe-wide collaboration in re-establishing bourgeois order, under the banner of defending democracy. Seen in this light, Lenin’s denunciation of ‘bourgeois democratism’ and his symmetrical apologia for ‘proletarian democracy’, according to an unhappily familiar (and to some extent inevitable) procedure, ‘bent the stick in the other direction’. All too often, Lenin used the term ‘formal’ in the sense of illusory, unreal and ‘purely formal’, presenting democratic rights and liberties under capitalist régimes not as partial, truncated and manipulated rights, but as straightforward ‘lures’, ‘swindles’ and ‘hollow phrases’. In the already pretty intolerant Russian workers’ movement, these excesses gave succour to a cynical and authoritarian frame of mind which did more than a little to facilitate the resistible rise of Joseph Dzhugashvili Stalin and his lesser comrades.

Conversely, the alternative solution of soviet democracy was idealized to the point where its operating conditions, contradictions and difficulties were left unexamined. Very sharp-eyed in exposing the thousand tricks whereby bourgeois democracy eludes popular sovereignty, the Bolshevik leaders did not question the clauses of soviet democracy that could produce the same effects. The ‘Paris Commune type of State’ or ‘Workers’ Council Democracy’ were presented as capable of direct application: there was no need for a transitional régime, through which the preconditions of a functioning council democracy might be established and its procedures worked out.

Worse still, having been driven by the weight of enormous difficulties to adopt exceptionally authoritarian measures, the Bolshevik leaders tended to erect some of their solutions as universal principles (the subordination of mass organizations to the Party, the dictatorship of the proletariat conceived as the power of the Communist Party, and so on). This did great harm to the international workers’ movement, and was roundly denounced by Rosa Luxemburg. No doubt Lenin and Trotsky have the excuse that their enterprise was of a quite novel character, accomplished in the context of extreme difficulties. But that is no reason for following behind them: especially since the experience of Stalinism, while not being attributable to them, was to some extent facilitated by the way in which the Bolsheviks handled the question of democracy.