Book Review: Santiago Carrillo’s “Eurocommunism and the State”

Santiago Carrillo, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Spain, articulates in Eurocommunism and the State (1977) the reasoning behind the Eurocommunist strategy for communist parties in advanced imperialist countries (it ought to be noted from the outset that the “Euro” in Eurocommunism unnecessarily narrowed its geographic and political scope and did not reflective its popularity amongst non-European parties like the Japanese Communist Party and the Communist Party of Australia).In this book, Carrillo articulates what he regards as being the necessary updating of the Marxist-Leninist strategy having taken into consideration the democratic traditions that had been established in Europe. The book was widely discussed and reviewed after its publication, and I have recently been reading it as background reading before starting my ‘Crisis in Marxism’ syllabus (I recommend Chris Harman’s review from International Socialism available here for a more in-depth discussion of it. I know that Enver Hoxha had also penned a critique of it, but have not read it). In fact, I first came across the book when reading the Indian liberal Ramachandra Guha’s 2011 essay, “After the Fall,” on the fall of the Left Front government in West Bengal. In the essay, Guha’s offers an exegesis of B.T. Ranadive’s, a politbureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), scathing review of the book in Social Scientist. In some areas Carrillo and his argument are correct, but on a whole host of issues his analysis and strategy quite miss the mark. In this book review I will first briefly outline Ranadive’s critique of Carrillo’s book, since Ranadive in some respects makes an “orthodox” critique of Carrillo; then I will point to three theses from Carrillo’s book I think we in the Far Left should indeed adopt; then I mention to arguments that I think should be discussed further because whilst they contain a kernel of truth, but require a great deal of nuance which Carrillo does not provide; and finally discuss four of Carrillo’s arguments that I think we should reject. I will not address Carrillo’s critique of the USSR. Not because I do not think that his comments on the USSR are not worthy of comment (he is incredibly critical of the USSR), rather I think those comments are underdeveloped and better discussed by other authors who were articulating a critique of the USSR at the time.

Ranadive, according to Guha, strongly disagrees with Carrillo on six grounds: 1) his advocacy of a democratic road to socialism and rejection of armed struggle in advanced imperialist countries; 2) his argument that communists parties do not have a monopoly on the truth, and ought to recognise the need for multiple parties, which reflect different sections of the working class; 3) his economic proposals that allow for non-monopolistic private industries, which would work in relation to the State to help grow and develop the economy; 4) his international strategy, which would place communist parties and the strategy for communist development as being equidistant from both American imperialism and Soviet social imperialism (in contradistinction to the previous relationship of subservience to Soviet interests or the Maoist analysis of regarding Soviet social imperialism as the primary threat); 5) his argument that Marx, Engels and Lenin were not infallible and needed to be updated in respect to one’s conditions and in light of the the historical development of socialism; and 6) his claim that the communist party itself was not always correct and should allow its members a great deal of autonomy in non-political matters, like their preferences in art etc.

The following theses I believe are indeed correct and should be promoted: 1) communist parties do not have a monopoly on truth and that any communist party must be open to the existence of any party of the working class, and ought to work with them whenever possible around issues that will benefit the class as a whole; 2) Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao etc., were indeed fallible and need to be constantly updated; and 3) the communist party should give their members and society autonomy in non-political matters. If these theses are not upheld by every communist around the world then I fear that the communist project will remain as marginal as it currently does. Indeed, it is important to note that notable human rights activists, like Gautam Navlakha, have made similar arguments in respect to the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

The following theses have some element of truth, but need to be nuanced: 1) Carrillo argues that there is a democratic road to socialism. I disagree with him that such a road exists (and I cannot emphasise this strongly enough, more on this in the next section), but do agree with him that there is indeed a role that democracy must play prior to and after the capture of State power. Indeed, I agree with Carrillo that given the changes in capitalist societies around the world, the role that ideology plays cannot be underestimated and that through democratic processes it is possible to develop one’s own ideological hegemony and that the electoral process at times can serve as a measure of one’s successes in developing this hegemonic project; and 2) whilst communist parties should articulate their own national roads to socialism and not allow their own projects of socialist construction subservient to any other country (like the USSR or Mao’s China), they also have to engage in internationalist projects to help spread socialist revolution around the world. I will not discuss first point one extensively in the rest of this post, even though it is very controversial. Indeed, I hope to write a post in the near future on whether one should boycott the upcoming Canadian general elections and would like to address some of these issues there. But in passing I admit that i found his chapter on the ideological apparatuses to be interesting inasmuch that it is this struggle for hegemonic control over the ideological state apparatuses (ISAs) that is the linchpin for class struggle. However, regarding the second point, I think it is vital that communist parties around the world reject any attempt to make their own socialist revolutions subservient to that of a “socialist fatherland” inasmuch that this will only undermine the socialist revolutionary project in those countries, which will in turn weaken any possibility of defending the socialist camp.

Now I would like to briefly enumerate my strong differences with Carrillo: First of all, I am not convinced by his anti-monopoly strategy, which includes winning over sections of the non-monopolistic bourgeoisie. Indeed, I think it is one thing to try to win over small farmers and sections of the petit-bourgeoisie (like small family run businesses), but quite another to make appeals to losing sections of the bourgeoisie. The losing sections of the bourgeoisie have only one interest: to become the winning sections of the bourgeoisie and become monopolistic. Indeed, I think besides individuals in the bourgeoisie who may be won over to the working class camp (Kobad Ghandy immediately springs to mind), entire sections of the bourgeoisie not only cannot be won over, but should not be because all they can do is exert a negative influence on the united front. Second, I am not convinced in the least about his arguments that armed conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat can be overcome through the democratisation of the repressive state apparatuses and through the formation of bodies like police unions which supposedly allow for a different relationship between the police and the public. Indeed, police unions in Canada and the USA simply reflect the political and economic interests of the repressive state apparatuses, which more often that not include the accretion of more powers to said apparatuses and increased public monies to fund this. Third, I am not convinced by Carrillo’s conflation of proletarian democracy and bourgeois democracy under the guise of “generic concept of democracy”. Indeed, it seems to me that while he is right to argue that proletarian democracy will “give rise to new forms of democracy”, but it must be understood that these new forms will most likely – except in very rare situations – come into conflict with the previously existing forms of democracy and will need to be defended, often through extra-parliamentary means. Indeed, even in the very limited case of my trade union local there is a consistent attempt to union bureaucrats to undermine the rather unique democratic processes that exist in my union (like monthly general assembly meetings, which are the supreme decision-making body etc.), which need to be defended from these attacks. To wit, I cannot imagine the bourgeoisie just handing over power to the working class simply because they got the majority of votes in a given election. And finally, I disagree with Carrillo’s reasons for rejecting the concept of the dictatorship. I, like Althusser, am not wedded to calling the dictatorship of the proletariat a “dictatorship” given the negative associations that the term has in our common parlance and admit that is in part due to the democratic deficit in the USSR and China under Mao. However, Carrillo does not only reject the use of the word of “dictatorship,” but extends this to a critique of the idea that the working class may have to use political power to suppress the bourgeoisie and smash the existing bourgeois democracy and replace it with a more thorough-going democratic system. Indeed, I agree that we ought to retire Marx’s rhetoric phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” with something more akin to “proletarian democracy,” but make it clear that this is a more robust form of democracy, which includes worker self-management over the economy, greater political involvement of the majority of society in the political process, the dissolution of the standing army and replacement with people’s militias (which are themselves democratically run) etc.

When I first asked a Greek comrade about Carrillo’s book he remarked that Carrillo’s views were the “right-wing” of Eurocommunism and I cannot but agree. No where in Carrillo’s book is the self-organisation of the working class a focal point. Rather, Carrillo’s book is a call to return to the United Fronts from Above, rather than a United Front from below. Furthermore, Carrillo’s rejection of the need to smash the bourgeois state and replace it with a proletarian democracy means that his account fails to properly understand the nature of the modern state, although he makes some very interesting comments about the changes in the modern state caused due to the changes in the ideological field. However, Carrillo’s book is correct to point out that we must no longer use the USSR as a model for the kind of State that we must build and that we need to re-affirm the most revolutionary aspects of the bourgeois programme, which include the freedom of speech, the freedom of association and universal franchise. Indeed, what we need is to recognise is that it is unlikely that one party will represent the entire working class as a whole and thus there should be a free and fair space in which there can be a contestation of ideas and perspectives, and that these political differences can take the form of multiple parties that can fully participate in proletarian democratic elections. I strongly recommend people read Carrillo’s book. Not because I think we should adopt his politics, but because his book is still an important intervention into debates about the path forward in building a Communist project for the 21st century. Indeed, in reading Carrillo’s book, I could not be reminded of the direction that the UCPN(Maoist) has taken in Nepal and but not wonder if they had read Carrillo themselves and derived inspiration from it.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Santiago Carrillo’s “Eurocommunism and the State”

  1. Very interesting review and article. I have much to say, and some things I disagree about but I find interesting in this article. The last line about the direction of the UCPN M probably has some truth to it.

    I would take issue, although not in much detail here, with the comments about ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’.
    I think that this term is mostly used vaguely, and without clear meaning as to what is meant by it by most of the different groups on the left.

    I suppose it seems to me that ultimately, the party that controls the armed forces, has the leading role, and it is not possible for the working class as a whole to control the army, but a particular party and a certain small number of leaders. After all, without a peoples army, the people are nothing. But who controls the peoples army?

    Although Marx and Engels discuss DOP, they do not go into it in any great detail, and there is little information about what are the norms and values, the institutions etc of a society under DOP. The only sources we have are the experiences of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and a handful of others.

    I guess what i’m trying to get at is what is the content of DOP? or workers democracy, if they are indeed the same thing? It seems to me that part of DOP historically has been ‘dictatorial’, and this has been necessary to control the imperialists and their agents, and take their land and wealth away from them, and imprison and punish them. All necessary, thus there is a need for prisons/gulags/work camps etc or a legal justice system.

    if multiple parties contest elections, then what class interests do the different parties represent, in a situation of DOP? There are problems regarding this, which turned up in the criticism of Bhattarai’s ‘Development of Democracy in the 21st century’ text which put forward some arguments along these lines.

    1. Hi Roshan,
      My apologies for the tardiness of my reply.
      1. I think that this is where we differ: ultimately for you power rests with the party that controls the repressive apparatuses of the state or future state (the armed forces) and has a leading role, whereas for me it is the people that control both the party and the army. Indeed, I agree without an army the people have nothing, but its key that its the people who are the possessing entity, not the party. Thus, one can speak of not forming a standing army with a classical hierarchal power structure, but rather of a people’s militia which is composed of the masses themselves and is organised on the basis of a more egalitarian decision-making structure. I would like to point out that the Soviet Red Army for the majority of the civil war was organised not by rank, but by functional title. The re-introduction of a hierarchal rank structure began in 1920 and was increasingly formalised in the subsequent decades. Thus, I do think that we need to think carefully about the military-form.

      2. Now about the dictatorship of the proletariat: I think the question is what aspect to emphasise? The democratic or the dictatorial? Given that the dictatorial is in fact supposed to be more limited in scope (imperialist agents) than the deepening and extension of a proper proletarian democracy (the working class as a whole), it seems to me that emphasising the former is unwarranted, especially given the historical experience of the dictatorship has been that it has not been limited in scope to simply imperialist agents but the entire proletariat (indeed, I think under Stalin there was a dictatorship over the proletariat, which often was benevolent in the services that it provided to the masses). Indeed, I think that the conditions for counter-revolution are not primarily external, but internal. Even in places like Venezuela, no deep proletarian democracy by any means, the bourgeoisie was unable to effect a military coup because the internal conditions for a coup did not exist due to the popularity of Chavez and his reforms. Thus, the bourgeoisie in Venezuela are allowed to have their media and protests as long as they do not violate the usual rules of the State, and if the latter does occur the Venezuelan government reserves the right to respond using the normal repressive state apparatuses. I am not suggesting that the bourgeoisie will allow a proletarian democracy to flourish, but think we need to ensure that we do not throttle the proletarian democracy ourselves, as has been repeatedly been the case in the history of communism, in our attempts to safeguard the revolution. If a revolutionary government is so unpopular that the masses do not rise to its defense then the problem is internal, not external. The capacity for the masses to rise to its defense again speaks to the need for the masses as a whole to be armed and mobilised to safeguard the revolution.

      3. Now on the question of multi-party elections: I do not think we should assume that the working class can simply be represented by one party inasmuch that the working class will have numerous different approaches to solving the problems of first making the revolution and then subsequently socialist development. I do not see the problem in allowing these different approaches take a political form in the formation of multiple parties. So let us take the case of Nepal, there are a number of communist parties that represent the working class with different ideological frameworks, whether it is Mohan Bikram Singh’s party, or Mohan Baidya’s party, or Netra Bikram Chand’s party etc. These parties all have organised x numbers of people into different mass organisations and party organisations, in different areas etc. They, in effect, already represent these different perspecives when they approach the same problems like the path to revolution and different solutions to other problems. Of course, these parties should try to come to some common agreement in the course of joint struggle against the bourgeoisie and feudal landlords, but then realise that it just means that the differences in policy will appear inside the party. And one has to ensure to make enough internal democratic space for these disagreements to be aired etc.

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