Is Europe, like Britain, swinging to the right? Whatever the answer, the State Department need not be haunted, for the time being, by the ghost of Eurocommunism. In the recent Italian elections the Communist Party, for the first time since the war, lost rather than gained votes. In France where, as local cantonal elections have just confirmed, the left has a majority in the country, it is so split as not to be able to contemplate victory in the near future. The recently held congresses of the two protagonists, the Socialists and the-Communists, revealed the depth of this division. On closer scrutiny, they also suggested that the vagaries of the European left and the setback of Eurocommunism may both be temporary byproducts of the economic crisis.
The French Communists have just held their congress at St. Ouen in the Red belt of Paris. Three years ago the same suburban sports stadium had housed their previous congress, a triumphant occasion at a time when they seemed poised for victory. In the meantime, the French left has managed to achieve the apparently impossible and squander its chances. The shock of the electoral defeat has affected as well Communist militants, who for years had been told, like the rest, that victory and a radical change in their lives were just around the corner. But this deep disappointment found no echo in the congress hall. At St. Ouen the opposition was conspicuous by its absence. The “critical Communists,” as the dissidents call themselves, were too dispersed and poorly organized to pass through the “centrally democratic” mincer. The 2,000 or so delegates listened attentively, clapped enthusiastically and voted unanimously. In the ritual uncontroversial debate, all the speakers merely elaborated the main themes set out by Georges Marchais, the Secretary General, in his marathon introductory report.
Relations with the Soviet Union were one important theme. The Secretary General had to justify the assertion in the party theses that Russia’s balance sheet since October 1917 has been “globally positive.” He started defensively arguing that the Communists had to pick up the challenge because the capitalist mass media were painting in black and showing only the seamy side of the Soviet achievement. He then settled the matter with a simplistic question and answer: “Is it a good thing that these countries have built socialism? Yes, it is a good thing for them and for us.” It does not seem to have crossed the mind of Georges Marchais that what these countries are erecting need not necessarily be described as socialism. True, he did restate his party’s rejection of any model and its right to criticize the absence of democracy in the Soviet bloc. But after years of significant departure from the Soviet orbit this is no longer enough. As long as French Communists will not be permitted to question the very nature of the Soviet regime they will stand still on this issue. Indeed, in the last few months, they have been advancing backward.