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Journal Articles Diplomatic History Year : 2017

Eurocommunism and the Contradictions of Superpower Détente


This article argues that Eurocommunism was an unwanted development of the détente framework that the White House and the Kremlin devised. By relaxing tensions between Washington and Moscow, détente both allayed fears of a communist threat in Western Europe and provided the CPs with more leeway to choose a semi-independent course. “The danger of détente is that it makes Communism respectable and therefore adds to the drawing power of the Communist groups”, Nixon admitted in 1974. For Kissinger, more independent and moderate CPs proved more dangerous than hardline Leninist ones because they were more likely to reach power democratically. Such a possibility, which indeed came close to happening in France (1974 and 1978) and Italy (1976-79), haunted the Ford and—to a lesser degree—the Carter administrations for none of them wanted to appear too “soft of communism” in a decade of perceived American decline. The Soviets were little more enthusiastic, if at all. For them, the Eurocommunists’ adherence democratic principles and increased criticism towards Moscow amounted to heresy. Besides, they feared, the Eurocommunists might provide Eastern European intellectuals with an alternative model of communism which, in the long run, could challenge Moscow’s. Through close examination of government and party archival material and through interviews with former actors of that period, the article attempts to shed a new light on détente’s conceptual instability and contradictions which helped turn cold war Europe into a breeding ground for change.
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hal-01640676 , version 1 (28-10-2022)



Frédéric Heurtebize. Eurocommunism and the Contradictions of Superpower Détente. Diplomatic History, 2017, 41 (4), pp.747--771. ⟨10.1093/dh/dhx036⟩. ⟨hal-01640676⟩
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