Communist and Post-Communist Parties of Western Europe

In the old capitalist states of Europe (that is to say, the ones that did not belong to the socialist world system in the years prior to 1989-91) the end of state socialism constituted a major turning point for the Communist parties. Up to then, they had been characterised by:

  • a political focus upon the manual labour proletariat.
  • holding on to a model for the conquest and maintenance of power that they referred to as Marxist-Leninist (including an affirmation of the dictatorship of the proletariat),
  • an orientation towards the Soviet Union or another state-socialist system, such as the People’s Republic of China

In the member organisations of the Trotskyist Fourth International, the third criterion was dispensed with from the very beginning. To the extent that the preconditions of these politics were discarded and previously Communist parties adjusted to that, these parties can be described as Post-Communist. This development had already partially set in before 1989-91.

Since 1956 (Khrushchev’s revelations of Stalin’s crimes and the invasion of Hungary by the Soviet army) and increasingly after the intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968, a few parties distanced themselves from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, without breaking fully from it. This was the case for some Scandinavian Communist parties, the Party of Labour in Switzerland, the British Communist Party and the Italian Communist Party (PCI). The concept of Eurocommunism that the PCI, along with the Spanish and ultimately the French Communist parties, advanced in the 1970s went through the readiness to adhere to parliamentary-democratic rules and the development of transformation concepts oriented towards it and beyond. (Outside Europe, the Communist Party of Japan also advanced, and still advances, such positions). A convergence with the conceptions of traditional social democracy appeared possible.

To that extent, it could not be assumed that the collapse of the Soviet Union would necessarily weaken the Eurocommunist parties in a decisive way.

Nonetheless, this was the case: the Italian Communist Party has disappeared into a new formation – the Partito Democratico – without any socialist objective. In France, the Communist party preserved its organisational independence, but its political effectiveness is partially tied to a general alliance (‘La France insoumise’) under the leadership of the left-socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The same is the case in Spain.

Dropping commitment to a foreign state socialist power also applied to the small Maoist parties in the Federal Republic of Germany around 1980.

A few Communist parties cling on to the focus on the proletariat, even the appeal of Marxism-Leninism. Among them, the Portuguese Communist Party and the Greek Communist Party (KKE) continue to be anchored in the masses with a parliamentary presence. This applies to a much greater extent to Syriza, a ‘coalition of the radical left’, which the former Eurocommunist wing of the KKE joined.

Others – such as the German Communist Party (DKP) – are even more strongly marginalised than in the period before 1989-1991. The same is the case for the Communist Party of Austria, whose leadership has broken away from Marxism-Leninism and a proletarian orientation and replaced it with a more far-reaching general-emancipatory and non-materialist programme (feminism, ecology, anti-racism, anti-sexism, internationalism beyond the once-exclusive orientation toward the Soviet Union).

The disappearance or reorientation of previously Communist parties led to the splitting off or re-establishment of very small organisations that held on to two of the three essential elements of the old Communist parties (orientation toward the manual labour proletariat, Marxism-Leninism). In the case of the DKP and its youth organisation, the Socialist German Workers Youth (SDAJ), it is not a case of a new organisation, but rather of a return to earlier positions after internal conflicts.

These small Communist groups adopt a critical or hostile position towards the European Left Party and endeavour at conferences to found their own international association. The Belgian ‘Partij van de Arbeit’ has taken on a coordinating function in this. The party has a relatively strong mass base, and has mandates at the municipal, regional, and national level. What these organisations have in common is their rejection of the EU.

Where they tend to combine their traditional fundamental orientation with successful rank-and-file work, they transcend their otherwise predominant marginalisation and are visible in parliament. This applies to the Partij van de Arbeit, the Steiermark state association of the Communist Party of Austria (which is critical of the non-materialist orientation of the party as a whole), and in the Netherlands the Socialist Party, the founding of which occurred with a decisive contribution from members of an earlier Maoist organisation. The small organisations that emerged from the earlier Italian Communist Party (among them the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista), by contrast, have, in the meantime, largely lost their initial mass influence. In Germany, at least in the past, the Maoist Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD) has had limited but tangible significance locally and within trade unions.

The only Communist Party with a broad base and conspicuous presence in a former state-socialist country in Europe is the Czech Communist Party (the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, KSCM).

The party called ‘Die Linke’ in Germany also has a special position, to the extent that its largest predecessor organisation – the ‘Party of Democratic Socialism’ (PDS) emerged from a former governing party of a state-socialist country and initially only grew in popularity in the West among members of the small groups which still existed there. From 2005, it was able to expand as part of the West German social democratic potential, organised in ‘Labour and Social Justice – the Electoral Alternative’ and, ultimately, came into existence through a fusion with it. But the PDS had already taken leave of its programme of exclusive class politics and replaced it with general-emancipatory aims.

The Trotskyist associations – to the extent that they maintain their ‘entryist’ tactics (operating in other parties) – brought and bring themselves into Post-Communist parties and alliances, but hold on to their orientation towards the working class and the revolutionary aim.