In the autumn of 2009, at the annual SYRIZA youth festival, a debate was held on the subject of “The Left and Power: What Is the Fox Doing in the Market Place?” (as an old Greek saying goes). It was preceded by December 2008 and by SYRIZA’s identification with the youthful “anti-authoritarian” rebellion, while almost at the same time the party’s electoral support in the polls was soaring to nearly 20% on account of the crisis in the socialist PASOK. This was an extremely interesting but contradictory political amalgam which, as it turned out, the party of the radical Left failed to take advantage of. That autumn SYRIZA went back to its familiar electoral percentages of around 5%, PASOK returned to power greatly strengthened, and everything apparently conspired to ensure a return to normality. Then came the crisis and all the above began to look like the precursor to the major earthquake that followed.
In the ensuing years, and as this study was being written, political reality moved beyond the realms of fantasy. The formerly powerful PASOK was gradually collapsing, identified with the austerity policy, with SYRIZA emerging explosively as the dominant anti-Memorandum force. It became the resonator for social protest, sustained by a discourse less and less class-oriented and increasingly populist. It opened up to large audiences and sought to become a national political force. Representing better than anyone our national ambivalence (“yes to Europe and the euro, no to the austerity imposed on us by the EU”) and for the first time demanding not a protest vote but a vote for governance, SYRIZA succeeded in making itself the major opposition party. It had already embarked on the trajectory that in less than three years would land it in office. The fox was already in the market place of power.
This major overturn, which became an example beyond Greece’s national borders, was succeeded by exercise of power via the relentless compulsions of the European political environment, posing harsh questions for the party of the radical Left. The paradigmatic case of a radical Left party taking power in a Western European country – and at a moment of intense crisis – unfolded in parallel with my study of the largely forgotten Eurocommunism and paradoxically proved very productive as it posed for me also some new and interesting questions. Or perhaps it was a variant on questions that had already been engendered by the Eurocommunist “moment”.
In any case, my research had begun as an attempt to approach the uncharted territory of the Greek Communist Party of the Interior (KKE Interior), the political ancestor of SYRIZA. In the Greek context the case of the Eurocommunist KKE Interior was special: a small communist party with an ideological range and compass many times greater than its electoral strength, resulting from a deep schism in the Greek communist movement (the 1968 split with the orthodox and pro-Soviet KKE), a party that in a variety of ways and for a considerable period of time exerted an influence on Greek society, despite the fact that it was mostly marching against the current of the time. But it very soon became apparent to me that what in the Greek context seemed “against the current” was part of something much more mainstream that for a significant period of time played an important role, notwithstanding its eventual defeat, in the evolution of the European Left.
I concluded, therefore, that revisiting the Eurocommunist phenomenon today might make it possible to introduce a fertile problematic of relevance not only to Greece but to a considerable part of Europe, to the historical course and transformations of the European Left situated beyond the social democracy, and indeed to the history and politics of Europe itself at a critical conjuncture of a many-faceted crisis and radical transformations. Some of these questions had already been raised at the time of the rise and subsequent fall of the Eurocommunist current. Some others are being introduced today, in a different way, and could shed light not only retrospectively on that particular time but also, mutatis mutandis, on crucial aspects of the present conjuncture. What the (communist, Eurocommunist, radical Left) fox is doing in the market place of governance and power is only one of the relevant questions, though among the most challenging.
A study of the Eurocommunist current necessarily involves the comparative perspective as an intellectual method1
and as a dimension of political analysis that allows for better deployment of its concepts,2
particularly given that it is something more than an individual party, a single national case. Without covering the totality of the Eurocommunist current, the present study focuses on four national cases: the communist parties of Italy and France (PCI and PCF), axis of the two basic protagonists that is not always harmonious, the Spanish PCE, the third largest Eurocommunist party, and last but not least the Greek KKE Interior, a small party but with a distinct political reach. In temporal terms it extends over a historical period beginning with the crisis of 1968, which in different forms manifested itself in each of the four countries, up until the first half of the 1980s, in other words prior to the collapse of the actually existing communist world in 1989. Even though the peak of Eurocommunism is to be located in the 1970s, it can only be considered together with what preceded and what followed. The macroscopic examination of such a phenomenon adds depth to the political analysis. From what viewpoint should these parties be examined? What exactly are we comparing?
Each comparative step entails multiple choices.3
Often the subject of the study itself, the Eurocommunist current, its origins and its terminations, is the way to raise more and wider questions. One point of departure is what the philosopher Antisthenes called “the visitation of names” [ή τών ονομάτων επίσκεψις
]. Eurocommunism is a unifying project and if this is the case, how is it to be structured? Which elements unify it and impart to it conceptual and historical coherence? And conversely, if it is unified, does this mean that it will be undifferentiated, or does it mean that it will incorporate internal tensions, discontinuities and deviations?
What can bring together phenomena that have evolved in different (national) societies? This is one of the questions that has been implicit in the comparative perspective from the outset as it sought to identify “scientifically verifiable regularities”.4
The crisis of universalizing schemata, particularly in the 1960s, gave rise to new approaches introducing the tools of anthropology and culture (Clifford Geertz) or history (B. Moore, P. Anderson, R. Bendix et al.).5
But the shift from universalizing to individualizing knowledge introduces new dangers: if the capacity for generalization is lost, if we limit ourselves to a juxtaposition of elements belonging to different cultures, what can be meant by scientific knowledge?
A comparative study is also bound up with these questions, although in this case Euro-communism is a purely Western phenomenon – with the paradoxical exception of the “Eurocommunist” Japanese Communist Party, which has developed an interesting Gramscian tradition of thought. If we are seeking to identify the elements which conceptually integrate the Eurocommunist phenomenon, it follows that we consider it possible to formulate generally valid conclusions from political analysis. But the contraposition of political identities without the factoring in of historical depth generates a permanent risk of essentialism.6
The methodological antidote here is the intersection of political science with history. It was in this way that historical sociology (Immanuel Wallerstein, Theda Skocpol, Stein Rokkan, Charles Tilly) attempted to address universalism’s crisis from the comparative perspective. Comparing the historical conditions of action for the Eurocommunist parties is a prerequisite for highlighting their convergences and divergences within the shared ideological discourse.
Another issue is the “geographical” frame of reference, as Marc Bloch put it: how do we study four parties that have operated in different national contexts, but together constitute a current that has by no means accepted as the first component in its title the word “European”? It is precisely here that we encounter a second aspect of the crisis of the comparative method, something that has come about as a result of accelerated post-war internationalization giving rise to a methodological model that has taken national states as a unit of comparison. The subject of this study, the Eurocommunist current, induces us to go beyond nationally focused analysis, for two reasons: these are different national cases interwoven not only in a narrow geopolitical space (western and southern Europe) but also in a historical phase of crisis and transcendence of the nation state, at an early stage of the process that has been called globalization. In this sense we propose to approach the Eurocommunist phenomenon as “histoire
croisée” (transverse history),7
including both the national level of analysis and the trans-national viewpoint.
But the Eurocommunist current in the abstract is comprised of specific political parties, and a political party is a lot of things together and at the same time. It is the people who make it up, the people to whom it is addressed, the party élite, the activists, and the voters, the organizational structure and its social base; it is a rhetoric, an ideology, a practice and a history; it is relations of power and resistance. Which of these are being submitted for judgement here? The basic material of the analysis will be the strategy and the ideology that is under elaboration by these parties, the discourse they articulate. Discourse in the broadest sense: rhetorical and polemical, ideological and programmatic, in the final analysis discourse that shapes a project, a project of political representation. The primary material is the texts produced by the parties and their main protagonists (party documents, conference resolutions, electoral platforms, texts of theoretical and political intervention, seminars, memoirs, and pamphlets). But at the same time, this discourse will be examined not as a self-referential corpus but in its correlation with the transformations being undergone by the political parties themselves and the societies in which they were active.
One last methodological observation. This study approaches the Eurocommunist current as a defining moment in the long trajectory of the 20th century’s communist left movement up to the present day. As a potentiality8
that once emerged among others, a wager that was ventured and lost, ultimately a defeat that illuminates aspects of the long history of left-wing ideas on our dark continent. The value of such a study, from the viewpoint of the losers in the story, is suggested by the observation of historian Reinhart Kosseleck that the winners tend to interpret their victory in accordance with an ex post facto
teleology, whereas the losers have a greater need to understand why things turned out differently from what was hoped or planned. In the short term history is written by the winners. In the long run ...