Chapter 4 “The Model of Democratic Socialism”
THE APPROACH TO ECONOMIC PROBLEMS
Point 1.) The Eurocommunist approach to establishing socialism does not follow the traditional Marxist model: I.e., “it presupposes the long-term coexistence of public and private forms, not property.” [p.77] It’s a stage on the road to socialism which will also have broken the control by monopoly of the state and the private sector. At the same time we will keep the advanced production forces created by the monopoly capitalist state. This would be a great trick if we could do it peacefully.
Point 2.) Rational and democratic planning will be used. The “new man” [“new person” is PC today] will be formed by our educational system which will intellectually enlighten the proletariat and other sectors of society, it will be free and also apply to “the children of the well to do.” [p. 79] We will educate the children of the “well to do” to have a more collective consciousness. We have at least a two tiered society on Carrillo’s road. How likely are the ‘’well to do’’ to peacefully give up their privileged economic position in the private sector to the creation of socialism Corrillo envisions?
Point 3.) This system still provides for the appropriation of surplus value from the working-class, but we can control it by taxation and interest rates. To be democratic we have to let the capitalists have their own political parties (not the monopoly capitalists). “ This system, which will still be economically mixed, will translate itself into a political regime in which the owners will be able to to organise themselves not only economically but also in a political party or parties representative of their interests; this will be one of the component parts of political and ideological pluralism.”[p.80] Carrillo thinks that after the socialists come to power (the monopoly capitalists are out of the picture due to socialist educational and cultural work in the broadest sense) the workers and the remaining petty capitalists will still duke it out in elections which will eventually lead to the capitalists throwing in the towel because of their defeats and gradual adoption of the collective mentality. Half a century has passed since this was proposed, how close does this program even have to get off the ground? Monopoly capitalism is firmly entrenched throughout the world (with the exception of China and a few small countries) and shows no signs of changing its spots..
SOVIET THINKING AND THE DEMOCRATIC ROAD
In this section Carrillo seeks to show that his peaceful road to socialism is not a rejection of the Soviet Union, but is an alternative based on the particular historical circumstances of the late 20th century. It is always iffy to base one’s views on predicted future developments while at same time not being beware of the actual factors at work around you.
Point 4.) Corrillo makes the point that we should be thinking of a coming worldwide advance to socialism but we can’t use a one size fits all approach. What is the reality of the 1970s? The reality is that despite its apparent strength and power, imperialism “has been disestablished, first of all by the Great October Socialist Revolution, then by the advance of socialism ….in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and through the whole process of decolonization.” [p. 82] In hindsight we see this is not what was going on. The Great October Socialist Revolution was only 15 years away from being reversed and the return of capitalism established throughout the former Soviet Union, the advance of socialism in Europe was reversed and all the European socialist states were overthrown and also reverted to capitalism. In Asia socialism held on in North Korea and China, and won a tremendous victory by the defeat and rout of US imperialism by the Vietnamese masses. In Latin America, Cuba remains the only socialist state that weathered the collapse of the Soviet revolutionary project and its worldwide after effects. Nicaragua and Venezuela are still in the process of experimenting with socialist ideas and we will have to wait and see what results.
If the Soviet Union and the advance of socialism was to be the backdrop which would ensure the peaceful road to socialism in the developed capitalist world, then Eurocommunism was being built on quicksand. Nevertheless, Carrillo makes some valid points in this section which may provide a lifeline for some aspects of the peaceful road to socialism. He refers to two quotes from Khrushchev’s reports to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. This Congress was famous for revealing the many crimes and violations of communist morality committed by the Stalin leadership (of which he was a part) that occurred during the construction of socialism in the USSR. Stalin’s role is still under evaluation today since not only was a socialist state consolidated under his leadership, but the NAZI menace to the world was defeated by Soviet arms (80% of the NAZI army was directed against Russia leaving 20% to fight the US, the UK and the free French.
The two quotes we are interested in are—1) Khrushchev quoting Lenin:”All nations will arrive at socialism — that is inevitable but not all will do so in exactly the same way, each will contribute something of its own own in one or another form of democracy, one or another form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, one or another rate at which socialist transformations will be effected in the various aspects of social life.” [p.84] And 2) Khrushchev himself said, regarding socialism coming about by parliamentary means: “[T]he present situation  offers the working class in a number of capitalist countries a real opportunity to unite the overwhelming majority of the people under its leadership and to secure the transfer of the basic means of production into the hands of the people.” [p.85] Well, this opportunity was muffed. Eight years later an inter-party coup overthrew Khrushchev and put the Soviet Union on a path that led to stagnation and eventual collapse.
The two quotes sound right even if the opportunities mentioned by Khrushchev are not so clear nowadays (in our country some leftists are fighting the Trump menace by going all out in support of a scion of the worst imperialist power in the world—Joe Biden). Carrillo also admits that the Lenin quote may have been touched up a bit as Communist leaders have a habit of taking his quotes out of context and dressing them up a bit to support their own views. Carrillo remarked that Lenin was well known for having doubts about bourgeois democracy and universal suffrage under capitalism. Be that as it may, as long as the socialists are not being persecuted and can participate in bourgeois elections it seems they should do so and shelve talk about violence, etc. for a rainy day.
A MORE FUNDAMENTAL ASSESSMENT OF DEMOCRACY
In this section Corrillo seeks to clear up some confusions regarding the concept of “democracy.” He wants to modify Lenin’s concept of democracy. He points out that in times of revolutionary struggle the fierce urgency of now can lead to overstatements and generalizations which need later amendments.
Point 5.) In the heat of the revolution, Lenin,, at times was in some of his writings “making one-sided and excessive generalisations [p [p.87] which is done by almost all leaders subject to the pressure of rapidly changing events. Fighting against reformists, who always appeal to “democracy” as the answer to the impulse that is breaking out in revolutionary violence to overthrow the capitalist state. Lenin, according to Carrillo, identifies “democracy” with “State.” That is, Lenin sees bourgeois democracy as a tool of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie to beat down the workers. The revolution will overthrow the state which will eventually wither away along with the idea of ”democracy” which is a form of State with one class exploiting another. This whole discussion rests on different concepts of the state. Carrillo gives examples of the word “democracy” as used in different ways when talking about primitive communism, Athens, Rome, under capitalism, under socialism, etc.
This misses Lenin’s point, he thinks “democracy”: is a State supported method and under capitalism it is used to support the bourgeoisie— when Lenin says “democracy” will be abolished he means that under socialism the state and its apparatuses, including state sponsored “democracy” will wither away as will class and the people will live in communal self governing organizations. This will not be a “democracy” in the formal institutional sense we have today but a natural spontaneous way of living in a classless society. Carrillo is using the term in its present capitalist sense and he wants to use bourgeois democracy to build a new kind of socialist democracy that is transitional along with his political struggle to flip the institutions of capitalist society to serve socialist ends. It is this type of peaceful new democracy struggle on the road to socialism that Carrillo thinks Lenin would have doubts about— a non existent people’s democracy that would come into reality by the successes of Eurocommunism and then move on to socialism.
CHANGES IN THE APPRAISAL OF UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE
Carrillo points out that traditionally communists have not thought of universal suffrage as part of the main road to socialism This is because communist parties were born out of the Russian Revolution which brought the communists to power without universal suffrage.Also those advanced capitalist countries with large socialist parties and universal suffrage and parliamentary democracy all ended up with the socialists supporting WWI and their own governments. Finally the fascists came to power in Italy and Germany both of which had universal suffrage. [Just to be PC— “universal suffrage” at this time meant “universal male suffrage” Women got the vote in Germany in1918, after WWI, in Italy on the local level in 1925 (Mussolini) and universally in 1945].
Carrillo defends universal suffrage as one of the main means to the road to power. All communists support it but not all communists give it the major importance that Carrillo does.[ Political power grows out of (a.) the barrel of a gun, (b) the ballot box, (c) both (d) it’s complicated.] Carrillo supports it because he favors a peaceful, nonviolent transfer of power via parliamentary democracy in a multi-party State. The failures of universal suffrage were caused not by failures of the vote, but by the failure to unify the working class and the middle strata around the democratic anti-fascist struggle. Carrillo points out that Dimitrov recognized this.
Point 6.) The development of the Popular Front stresses the importance of building unity between the working class and other progressive forces in the middle strata and petty bourgeoisie. The Eurocommunists and other revisionists go beyond Dimitrov, however, by trying to include elements of the ruling class whose objection to the monopolists is based on their own interests not on an objection to the exploitation and injustices of the capitalist order or to fascism per se as opposed to their exclusion from power themselves.
Now we come to one of Carrillo’s strongest arguments in favor of the Eurocommunist peaceful road to power. These arguments are also used by those parties who reject Eurocommunism from the right. They are based on Engel’s views from the 1890s. They are to be found in his introduction to Karl Marx’s The Class Struggles in France 1848-1850.
Carrillo says that Engels admits the experiences of the last 20 or so years (the 1870s-90s)have caused him to completely revise his views on the conduct of the revolutionary forces. From the time of the Communist Manifesto communists envisioned a revolution to be fighting in the streets, barricades, the armed workers taking on the State and over throwing it— one class, the workers, fighting the big bourgeoisie with the other strata and classes looking on to see who won.
What has changed? The growth of the State and changes in the tactics of the military make it almost impossible for street fighters to confront and overcome the organized military power of the State. The workers can no longer hope to be a lone class fighting the State. They need allies from the other oppressed sectors of the population. Politically what has changed that can make this possible? In Germany universal adult male suffrage was introduced in 1867. This is Engels’ starting point.
Engels calls this “universal suffrage” and by the 1890s the German workers had used it to build up a mass proletarian party with substantial power in the parliament— the Reichstag. By using this power the workers have been able to exercise authority over the other State institutions and apparatuses of the ruling class State. Was Engels an embryonic Eurocommunist or worse, a modern day social democrat? We shall see.
This is how workers use voting according to Engels: “In election agitation it provided us with a means , second to none, of getting in touch with the mass off the people where they still stand aloof from us; of forcing all parties to defend their views and actions against our attacks before all the people; and further , it provided our representatives in the Reichstag with a platform from which they could speak to their opponents in parliament, and to the masses without, with quite another authority and freedom than in the press or at meetings…(intro to Marx). A far cry from following the Center or other forms of tailism. Not being in a Reichstag it’s up to our press to do this.
Engels pointed out that more was done by these legal methods than by illegal methods, rebellions, trying to form uprising, etc. Engels did not foresee WWI or the rise of fascism and the NAZIs but thought, like Carrillo, the working class party would grow and grow, slowing taking over the State institutions and winning over the masses until it came to power. “Until the decisive day.” (Ibid.) This victory will happen if we stick with this democratic road and give up the utopian dream of street fighting and violence.
Engels had every reason to think that this was the way to go, considering his historic period in the late 19th century where he could see the advances of German social democracy and compare it to the fate of the Commune. Of course, Engels, as Carrillo, left open the possibility that the ruling class would resort to violence but he too thought the socialist forces would have become strong enough to be unbeatable. The horrors of the 20th century put an end to these optimistic hopes.
After WWII, as hope springs eternal in the human breast, Carrillo has found solace in Engels’ words. In the Europe of half a century ago he opined “The Europe of today the socialist forces can enter the government and come to power through universal suffrage and they will maintain themselves in a leading position in society if they are able to keep the confidence of the people through periodical elections.” [p.95] We still have leaders today with these hopes and optimistic views. They have a little touch of Santiago in the night. Who is to gainsay them?
SOCIALIST CRITICISM AND FORMS OF DEMOCRATIC STRUGGLE
Point 7.) “It is a necessity and an obligation to open up a breach, to achieve a real differentiation between those who sincerely cherish the values of democracy and political liberalism and those for whom democracy and liberalism mean only the preservation of the property of State monopoly capital and its economic privileges.” [p. 96] In other words a breach between the phony progressives and the real progressives. The phonies are the liberals, and so called socialists who act progressive as long as the capitalist system is not called into question. When that happens, when capitalism is threatened they turn their coats and “become fascists.”
In the fight we are in now the two groups are mixed up and it is hard to tell the phonies from the real progressives. The same was true in Carrillo’s day. There are critics on the left and right of the former socialist countries, the USSR, and positions taken by the communist parties that they think are wrong. Are they phony or sincere? Carrillo said that serious critics, not slanderers, who are trying to improve the struggle and complain about “real or supposed mistakes” are not ipso facto being phony. We can all work together as long as we have honest motives. Discussions, critical or not, different viewpoints, and suggestions can lead to better understanding and stronger progressive movements. “The only thing that should be banished from a society that’s profoundly democratic is terrorism and physical violence as an instrument of political action, and the use of libel and slander against individuals and groups.’’ [p.98-99] This is always a sign of phoniness in both groups and leaders pretending to be “left.” Bossiness is also a sign of being a phony.
If we are going to be able to capture the capitalist state apparatuses by means of democratic advances we must make sure we don’t end up working with the phony elements who will, in a crisis, side with the enemy against us. This is why in our time we have to be very careful with who we work and want in a Popular Front. It would appear that we don't want elements from the phony left, let alone the phony center, who will turn to reaction when the time comes to turn towards socialism. We can work on some issues with these people but not uncritically.
The Biden administration, for example, is a major part of the capitalist-imperialist system destroying the planet and preparing for a major world war in the future if the US domination of the international arena looks to be ending, even if by peaceful means of economic development. It is a major enemy of the American and world working-class and only phony liberals and leftists pretend otherwise. Yet it has potentially progressive elements within it that can be won over to the progressive side and we must try and do that by means of constructive criticism of the weakness and faults of the administration which can be improved and worked with, and also by pointing out its deadly over all nature. Eurocommunism would try working with like minded other strata along with the proletariat to form a movement “the unifies the interests and ideas of the broadest sections.” [p. 99]
THE ROLE OF THE PARTY AND OF THE NEW POLITICAL FORMATION
Point 8.) “The new ideas about the road to socialism in the developed countries allow certain diversifications with regard to the role and function of the Communist Party.” What are these Eurocommunist innovations? The Party will no longer view itself as the only representative of the working people. It will agree that other working class parties, even with different philosophical perspectives, can represent the working class and the struggle for socialism. Carrillo said must earn the status of vanguard by our actions. Carrillo thought the Communists could work together with other such parties in a multi-party state. We would still be, however, the vanguard party. “It continues to be the vanguard party, in as much as it truly embodies a creative Marxist attitude” [p.100].
But to be a vanguard others must also see us that way. Since other parties don’t have our advanced outlook they tend to participate in bourgeois politics as usual [nothing has changed in the 50 years since this was written!] We can’t do this, according to Carrillo.
Point 9.) “If they’re to keep their vanguard role, the communist parties must strictly carry out a concrete analysis of concrete reality , which at times means not only refraining from going with the stream, but swimming against it….Either we turn our role as a vanguard into a reality in that way, or else that role is reduced to an ideological fantasy which may serve to console us from time to time for our ineffectiveness.” [p.100]. Well, those leftists in the US who uncritically support Biden’s domestic policies and the Democrats as the best way to defeat the ultra-right (swimming with the stream) cannot be accused of being Eurocommunists.
Point 10.) This is a major revision point aimed at the heart of traditional Marxist theory. “The party recognizes that,outside collective political tasks, each member is master of his fate [or her-tr] as regards everything affecting his preferences, intellectual or artistic inclinations, and his personal relations.” [p.101] While it remains private and not public. So, this proposition is not earth shattering, but the next is, at least for Marxists, this is the real essence of point 10. When it comes to different scientific theories of reality, and views in the humanities on art and literature and philosophy, all sorts of different schools of thought should be allowed in Party publications. “The parry as such does not pass judgement except on questions of revolutionary strategy and political tactics.” [Ibid.] In other words, Marxism is a purely pragmatic and utilitarian political philosophy.
This has never been the view of any real Marxist. Marxism has, from the beginning, been a philosophical worldview based on the merger of Hegelian/Marxian dialectical logic and a materialist scientific world view which we call Dialectical Materialism— it is an all encompassing philosophy which includes the humanities and the natural and social sciences, especially history (historical materialism). We do not believe the class struggle is confined to politics, it is in fact based on economics of which politics is a reflection. We believe the class struggle is manifested in all aspects of culture and especially today in bourgeois capitalist culture.
We do pass judgement on scientific and cultural schools of thought. We would not permit creationism, for example, to be taught along with, or in place of, Darwinism in the educational system. We also take a stand on so-called scientific theories that promote racism and the superiority of one “race” or “ethnic” group over another. We also recognize that cultural creations in art and literature, theatre, movies, etc reflect the class struggle and can promote reactionary anti working class ideologies which act at the expense of the humanistic values of equality and basic rights for all that Marxism stands to promote now and after the abolition of the bourgeois political order. Carrillo’s point 10 is anathema to the worldview of Marxism-Leninism (AKA scientific socialism).
Point 10, however, is a foundation stone to what Carrillo called the new political foundation which he hoped Eurocommunism would bring about. This was a hodgepodge of all the political parties, different class forces, and organizations, which have broken with monopoly capitalism and will all work together in peace and harmony with each other for the greater good of all. Only this never came about because, besides having contradictions with monopoly capital, they had different goals and values to preserve which contradicted those of the other members of the hodgepodge and none of them thought the Communists were the vanguard as each thought they had the best positions. The hodgepodge couldn’t work.
Take an example from our own country. No socialists, especially Marxists, want to see the racist, crypto-fascist Republicans elected to office. The monopoly capitalist Democratic Party doesn’t want them elected either.The Democratic Party also hates all forms of socialism and especially Marxism. You would have to be nuts to think you could form a new political foundation based on a coalition which included the progressive forces of the socialist and Marxist left and the imperialist Democratic Party. The first ones to laugh us out of court would be the Democratic leadership. Eurocommunism was a dream that could never have come to fruition. Some aspects, as we have noted, of their thought may still be relevant, but the basic foundation of their new political reality was smoke and mirrors.
EUROCOMMUNISM AND SOCIAL DEMOCRACY
The difference between Eurocommunism and Social Democracy is that the SDs have abandoned the goal of replacing capitalism with socialism. Communists seek to eliminate state monopoly capitalism and replace it with socialism. SDs seek reforms of the capitalist system and seek not to overthrow the capitalist state but to administer it. Nevertheless the Communists seek to dialogue with the SD and socialist parties the same way they dialogue with Christians.
Point 11.) Eurocommunism can work with the Social Democrats because the Communists seek to win all the progressive groups over to the convergence of the new political reality that will replace monopoly capitalism. Carrillo saw this as a process illuminated by “the evolution which has led France to the Union of the Left.” [p.104]
This left union turned out to be a disaster for the French Party, it teamed up with the Socialists as a minor party in a Socialist government.The Socialists undertook to shore up the capitalist system, the French party bled membership, quit the “union” and never regained the political strength they had in the past. To this day they still form left fronts with other parties in attempts to regain their former place. They did not really turn towards Eurocommunist ideas until after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 15 years after Carrillo’s book, this despite the fact that they, along with the Italian Party and the Spanish Party under Carrillo, are considered to be one of the three founding parties of the movement. They have recently dropped the hammer and sickle as the symbol on their membership cards. Eurocommunism hasn’t done them much good.
Anyway, despite what Carrillo said about the Social Democrats, after the breakup of the Soviet Union most Communist Parties split, or dissolved, and the Eurocommunists basically became social democrats in practice. About a third of the Communist Party in the United States split off to form the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism which does not practice democratic centralism and has Marxists and social democrats as members. After the death of long serving leader Gus Hall in 2000 the Communist Party veered to the right under Sam Webb and his successors having disbanded the YCL and suppressed its theoretical journal, Political Affairs. Efforts have recently begun to reconstitute the YCL. The future of the party is uncertain as it appears to have abandoned an independent Marxist-Leninist analysis of the class struggle and is following the lead of centrist elements affiliated with the Democratic Party. Only time will tell if this analysis is correct.
THE CONTEXT OF OUR DEVELOPMENT
Eurocommunism aims to make whichever country it is in independent of both the USSR and the USA as the two dominant military blocks. Well, there is no more USSR and capitalist Russia and socialist China appear to be substituting for the enemies of the USA/NATO block. There is now only the USA military block. The context described by Carrillo is really moot. The whole point of Eurocommunism was for Communists to be able to develop outside the Soviet orbit within advanced capitalism and to ally with other progressive forces and evolve peacefully into socialism. With no more USSR there is no need for “Eurocommunism” although many of its ideas have been taken over by communists in the advanced capitalist states — especially the idea of peaceful evolution (refurbished Bernstein revisionism).
But how would Eurocommunism have brought about a peaceful evolution? Three conditions are needed: 1) the left forces need a common strategy (just that of the communists alone won’t do) 2) the left forces must make common cause with the Third World esp. progressive democratic countries pursuing anti-imperialist goals. 3.) The left forces must strengthen economic relations with the European and Asian socialist states. Since there are no more European socialist states this means basically with China, Laos, Vietnam, and North Korea (DPRK). We can add Cuba to this mix. What this really means is China as it has replaced the USSR as the #2 superpower. This is the post-Eurocommunist world context. None of the post-Eurocommunist parties have fulfilled all three of these conditions. While some communist parties are anti-NATO in doctrina they support and work with governments or organizations that are de facto pro-NATO.
There is one other idea left over from Eurocommunism. That is a European defense arrangement independent of the USA and USSR. Today that means an independent EU military independent of NATO. The US is opposed to that idea — it considers it redundant and it doesn’t want a large military force independent of its control. Europe is to remain a satellite continent.
Next is Chapter 5, “The Historical Roots of Eurocommunism’’
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.