Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Eurocommunism

Political movement initiated by the communist parties of France, Italy, and Spain in the second half of the 1970s. Eurocommunism aimed at boosting the appeal of communism to the West European electorate by attempting to reconcile its tenets with democratic values and the rules of Western-style parliamentary politics. It also touted the three parties' autonomy from the Soviet Union and the larger international communist movement. In spite of the efforts to unify the parallel, but somewhat diverse, initiatives of its French, Italian, and Spanish parties, the movement eventually ground to a halt, and by the end of the 1970s it petered out, with each party reverting to a national strategy designed to fit its own political agenda.

The term "Eurocommunism" itself was not coined by any of the three parties; it is supposed to have been invented by the Italian journalist Franco Barbieri in order to describe the almost simultaneous attempt of the three West European communist parties to redefine their identity. Stirrings inside the Italian Communist Party (PCI) became more conspicuous after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and in the following years the PCI stepped up its efforts to renovate its political image at both the domestic and international levels. Beginning in 1972 a new party secretary, Enrico Berlinguer, intensified these initiatives while at the same time trying to establish closer contacts with other West European communist parties. By the mid-1970s, the end of the Francisco Franco dictatorship in Spain provided an opportunity for the PCI to link up with the Spanish Communist Party, which its secretary, Santiago Carrillo, was struggling to reestablish as a legitimate political force in the new regime. During 1974–1976, the leaders of the two parties discussed their strategies among themselves and with the secretary of the French Communist Party, Georges Marchais, to work out a common position. In 1975, for instance, a joint Franco-Italian declaration described the need for "continuous democratization" of political and economic conditions in France and Italy in order to build up a socialist society in the two countries.

Behind these somewhat vague statements, however, it was sometimes easier to define what the three parties were against rather than to state what they were for. They openly criticized the Portuguese Communist Party, which, in the wake of the 1974 regime change, restated its allegiance to the traditional tenets of the revolutionary approach to power. Some conspicuous differences emerged, however, when the time came to identify a common platform or to define an overall relationship with the Soviet bloc. The Spanish Communist Party, in particular, was in the forefront of the effort to maintain distance from the Soviet model and as such came under strong criticism from Moscow. The French, on the contrary, followed a more ambiguous path, often taking a more pro-Soviet line than either the Italians or Spaniards. The Italians tried to steer a middle course, gradually moving away from Moscow without breaking relations altogether.

The United States initially exhibited much interest in Eurocommunism, hoping that it might further weaken Moscow's grip on the three parties. But it also ultimately took a more defensive position and retained a deep suspicion that if successful, the movement might bring the communist parties into the governments of West European countries and eventually weaken the Atlantic Alliance. Both the Ford and Carter administrations repeatedly warned West European governments against such a danger. U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger displayed his strong dislike for the ambiguities of the movement, openly cautioning in 1975 that the domestic evolution of a number of European countries might become a major problem in transatlantic relations. The Carter administration was somewhat less blunt in its official statements but nonetheless remained strongly skeptical about the real intentions of Eurocommunists. Privately, U.S. diplomats were instructed by the Carter administration to convey to their European counterparts the concern of their government about any possible cooperation with communist parties.

In a paradoxical mirror image of American suspicions, Soviet leaders also seem to have been very apprehensive about Eurocommunism. They evidently feared a destabilizing domino effect among their East European satellites if the Eurocommunists succeeded in loosening their ties with Moscow and in providing an alternative, more liberal model to the other communist parties. In 1976 a conference of all European communist parties was held in East Berlin to display the unity of the communist movement, but it ended up revealing the increasing cleavage between Eastern bloc and Eurocommunist parties. While Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev preferred that the Soviet Union maintain a reserved attitude toward the movement, the task of displaying Eastern bloc antipathy was assigned to hard-liners such as the Bulgarians and the East Germans, who were encouraged to adopt an openly hostile attitude toward Eurocommunism. Eurocommunism thus ended up being opposed by both Cold War superpowers, as it was intrinsically linked to a progressive vision of détente that implied the gradual loosening of both blocs, obviously a prospect that neither Washington nor Moscow relished.

Leopoldo Nuti


Further Reading
Lange, Peter, and Maurizio Vannicelli. The Communist Parties of Italy, France and Spain: Postwar Change and Continuity. Cambridge, MA: Allen and Unwin, 1981.; Njolstad, Olav. "The Carter Administration and Italy: Keeping the Communists Out of Power without Interfering." Journal of Cold War Studies 4(3) (2002): 56–94.; Sassoon, Donald. One Hundred Years of Socialism: The West European Left in the Twentieth Century. London: Harper and Collins, 1997.
 

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