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.