This article deals with the views of Santiago Carrillo (1915-2012), former general secretary of the Spanish Communist Party (1960-1982) and one of the founders of “Eurocommunism” as expressed in his book Eurocomunismo y Estado, translated into English as Eurocommunism and the State (1978).
Carrillo maintained that the conditions in Western Europe were so changed after WW2 that many of the views of Lenin and of the CPSU no longer applied to this area. Rather than simply following the line of the Soviet Union, national parties should develop Marxism according to their own history and special circumstances.
As Carrillo wrote in his introduction: “It must be recognised, however, that the approach to the problem of the State in the following pages involves a difference from Lenin’s thesis of 1917 and 1918. These were applicable to Russia and theoretically to the rest of the world at that time. They are not applicable today because they have been overtaken in the circumstances of the developed capitalist countries of Western Europe. What has made them inapplicable is the change in economic structures and the objective expansion of the progressive social forces, the development of the productive forces (including nuclear energy), the advance of socialism and decolonisation, and the defeat of fascism in the Second World War.”
At least that is how the world looked to Carrillo in 1976. Much of this is questionable today when the economic structures have still to recover from the economic crisis initiated in 2008; the so-called expansion of the progressive social forces has called forth a revitalized ultra-right and new fascist movements; the productive forces have become responsible for the climate crisis which threatens our civilization; nuclear energy has become a threat and must be replaced wherever possible; the collapse of the Soviet Union and the east European “socialist” countries has halted any advance of socialism that Carrillo had in mind; decolonization has been replaced by neocolonialism in the guise of “globalization,” and fascism seems to be having a comeback after its defeat in the Second World War. Perhaps Lenin is not as out of date as Carrillo thought.
In any event, many of Carrillo's ideas are still around today and to a greater or lesser degree have influence in Communist and socialist parties here and abroad. We shall now look at each of the six chapters of his book. I do not propose a commentary, but rather some observations based on hindsight concerning major points put forth by Carrillo in the 1970s and how well they have, or have not, withstood the test of time.
Chapter One “The State Versus Society.”
Point 1.) “The capitalist state is a reality. What are its present characteristics? This is the problem of every revolution, including the one we propose to carry out by the democratic, multi-party, parliamentary road.” [p.13]
In the half century since this was written there has not been one successful revolution to establish a socialist state by the means suggested by Carrillo. This is a position that has its origins in the revisionism of Eduard Bernstein and his book Evolutionary Socialism and all attempts to establish a socialist state by these means have been aborted. In the U.S. the ultra-right has grown and captured the Republican Party and made inroads in the Democratic Party as well. Fascist movements have grown in and outside of Europe, and within and without bourgeois democratic governments. Ministerialism, Opportunism and Pragmatism are rampant in many Communist and socialist parties and there is no real empirical evidence in support of Carrillo’s ideas for a peaceful road to socialism. This doesn’t mean such a road is impossible, but few parties have advanced very far along it and most have programs that actually help to perpetuate the capitalist state despite high sounding slogans and party programs giving lip service to Marxism.
Point 2.) “Socialist relations of production which rest on an insufficiently-developed basis of the productive forces can only have formal socialist aspects in the same sense as we refer to the formal freedom of bourgeois society.” [p.14]
Two points are to be made here 1. Carrillo is pointing out that the Soviet Union has backward productive forces relative to the advanced capitalism of the West. 2. It has formal but not actual socialism in the same way bourgeois “democracy” is not really actually democracy but a capitalist control system to keep the working class in its place. Real democracy will only exist under socialism — real democracy doesn’t exist in the Soviet Union either. This is why Communists in the West should not just follow the Soviet model. Carrillo seems to overlook the fact that his model of evolutionary socialism relies on not formal but real democracy and this undermines his peaceful road theory. The Soviet Union would eventually collapse due to – among other things – its inability to move from formal to actual socialist relations of production.
Point 3.) “From the formal Marxist point of view Kautsky was right in affirming that in Russia the conditions did not exist for achieving socialism in 1917. But the formal Marxism of Kautsky could not be applied to the revolutionary crisis in Russia in 1917.” [p. 18]
The role of Lenin was to adapt Marxism to Russian conditions. This was a revision of original Marxism and produced Marxism-Leninism. Carrillo thus replies to his critics that his “revisionism” is no different than that of Lenin. He is adapting Marxism to the special conditions in Europe which are totally different in the 1970s than they were in Russia in 1917.
Point 4.) “Marxism is based on the concrete analysis of concrete reality. Either it is this or it is pure ideology (in the pejorative sense of the term) which sets reality aside and is not Marxism; and the reality of the present day in Spain, Europe and the developed capitalist world has very concrete peculiarities which we cannot avoid.” [p.19]
Well, times have changed in the last fifty years. The road to socialism based on the ideals of capitalist democracy and elections has led to the possibility of a fascist takeover. Even if prevented this time around we should not deceive ourselves that this is the only, or even the best way, to think about establishing socialism.
Point 5.) “In essence, the attitude of Marx, Engels, and Lenin towards the state defines it as an instrument of the domination of one class over others, stressing particularly its coercive character….The present day state state….is still the instrument of class domination defined by Marx, Engels, and Lenin; but its structures are far more complex. More contradictory, than those known to the three Marxist teachers, and its relations with society have quite different characteristics.” [pp. 20,22]
Carrillo starts with the orthodox Marxist view of the state but begins to morph into class collaboration which orthodox Marxists still believe is the road to defeat, not to socialism. The next point begins to make this clear.
Point 6.) “In the old days, the liberal bourgeois State presented the outward appearance of an arbiter state, which mediated between the opposing classes. When it intervened against the workers’s protests utilizing brute force or class legislation, it did so in defense not only of one group of privileged capitalists but of all the other groups and classes of society, of principles which were challenged only by the conscious proletarian minority.” [p.24]
This is not correct. It was not just the workers being oppressed by the State and everybody else being helped by it. The farmers, peasants, minorities, and small businesses were also having their interests sacrificed to the interests of the big capitalists. Marx, Engels, and Lenin were fully aware of this. Carrillo gets down to business with the next point.
Point 7.) “Conversely, the state appears today, ever more clearly, as the director State in all spheres, particularly that of the economy. And since it is the director State which no longer serves the whole of the bourgeoisie, but only that part which controls the big monopolistic groups….it is now confronted, in its capacity as such a State, not only by the advanced proletariat but also directly by the broadest social classes and strata including part of the bourgeoisie: it is entering into direct conflict with the greater part of society.” [p.24]
But this is not a new phenomenon. The so-called old State also functioned this way. The main difference, Lenin pointed out, is that financial capital has replaced the older capital dominated by the big monopolies and has become international so that Spain, etc., and the other developed nations are part of a globalized capitalist system dominated by the US and its junior partners the EU (AKA Germany), Japan and UK and its allies Australia, Canada, New Zealand. The class struggle has become internationalized as well. As far as the US is concerned there is no advanced proletariat (due to no CP around that wants to carry out this function) and no confrontation. Many socialists are telling the workers to support one capitalist party against the other, without explaining to them the deeper background and why they are both ultimately enemies – even when as a tactic they must sometimes support one rather than the other. This is to the right of Euro-Communism!
Point 8.) Carrillo thought that this new (really the same as the old) contradiction between the State and the various classes and strata outside of the big monopoly bourgeoise “can and must culminate in a crisis within that apparatus” I.e., the State workers come from the working and middle class and have to serve the interests of the monopoly ruling class, not their own. ”It follows from this that the ideological and political currents which are developing in society have new possibilities of penetrating the State apparatus and winning important sectors of it.” [p.26]
Well, in the US there is no sign that this is happening. Those on the left who try to build alliances or coalitions with the Center (an unreliable hodgepodge of conservative and liberal forces, none really progressive) find themselves increasingly irrelevant as they have played down Marxism and conceded the ideological battle ground to the Center in order not to alienate it. This blunts the developing consciousness of the workers from adopting advanced Marxist ideas and leaves them open to the neoliberal ideology of the two-party system. Nor do other advanced capitalist countries appear to have had their state apparatuses penetrated by forces hostile to their ruling class. The class struggle appears confined to the electoral arena (it occasionally breaks out in strikes, but these end with the ruling class still in control).
Point 9.) With reference to the crisis associated with capitalism, Carrillo thought these, along with “the thought-provoking actions of the vanguard forces, will undoubtedly lead to a more widespread and general understanding and to a clearer definition of the conflict between the great majority of society and the present powers of the State”. [p.26]
What we have seen, however, is the growth of the ultra-right and fascist forces in Europe, and especially in the US, and a fightback led by the traditional Establishments not vanguard forces. In some areas the role of a party as a “vanguard” is played down in order to attract centrist allies (a bit of a deceit it would seem).
So much for Carrillo’s first chapter. It appears as if the world did not live up to his expectations. We shall look at his next chapter in Part Two on “The Ideological Apparatuses of the State”.
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association. He is the author of Reading the Classical Texts of Marxism.