Publikation Soziale Bewegungen / Organisierung The KSCM and the EU: Still, At Least One Third of the Glass Full

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Dezember 2005

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The attitude of the KSČM to the EU has been influenced by the following factors:

  1. the internal division of the party along the conservative-modernisation axis
  2. changing  opportunity structure on the European level – Europeanization and EU-ization vs. anti-Western bias
  3. changing opportunity structure on the national level

While a programmatic shift of KSČM towards a social democracy is hard to be denied, the party’s aim of a revolutionary, systemic change has been maintained. The revolutionary rhetoric notwithstanding, the party seems to come closer to the conservative-liberal Civic Democratic Party (ODS) than to ČSSD mainly in a number of foreign policy issues in 2002-2005.

The party can be tentatively described as consisting of three main streams:
The “conservative” (or Marxist-Leninist) stream seeks to reinforce the communist identity of the party by maintaining its ideational continuity with the pre-1989 political analysis, symbols and partly also concepts. 

The much weaker stream has been the one of neo-communists and modernisers. They seek to adjust the party and its image to the post-cold war reality and post-Marxist-Leninist leftist ideology. For that reason they tried cautiously to move the party along the path of modernisation. The concept of self-governance and party as a mediator between individual social groups remained vague though.

The third and very vague stream, the traditionalists, represent the majority of the party membership base, officials and staff. Rather than being ideologically mobilised and active, the traditionalists stick to the communist mental map, symbols and language of the past.

The neo-communist stream sought programmatic innovation and the conservatives tried to bridge the pillars of Marxist-Leninist ideational construct and the new reality. The traditionalists, whose mind-set had been historically and culturally shaped by the strict communist ideological construct before 1989, have typically been consumers of approaches which seemed to reinforce their views.
Unsurprisingly, the conservatives and traditionalists have been closer to each other than they were to the modernisers. In fact, the conservatives have exerted cultural hegemony over the party and shaped its public image since the Prostějov congress of 1993, limiting thus severely her political options and ideational/cultural appeals. The KSČM was ostracized, ignored and neglected for most of the post-communist period. And is still is when it comes to the national and regional level.

All streams have engaged into pragmatic policy-making and co-operation with other social groups and political parties.
While the neo-communists saw limits of such co-operation principally on the populist right, the conservatives often distanced themselves from the social-democratic and liberal left – and were closer to conservative-liberal positions on issues such as the EU and relations to Germany.

The 6th party congress in České Budějovice reaffirmed the hegemony of the conservatives and weakened the position of the modernisers in the leadership.  The Chairman of the party Miroslav Grebeníček, a typical centrist politician, who acknowledged and reflected the hegemony of the conservatives, stepped down after having produced a remarkable example of poor judgment in October 2005. His reluctant successor is Vojtěch Filip, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Czech Parliament.

The Attitude to the EU

What is the role of the attitude to the European Union in the general development? The Czech communist movement was never nationalist but rather Slavic/Russophile.  Also, the KSČM has never been a proponent of autarchy in international relations.

However, the class struggle principle, which implicitly represents the core of the ideology of the conservative stream, is not compatible with the current EU, or with any political model of the West, including the Swedish welfare state. In order to gain a wholehearted support of the party's conservative Marxist-Leninist stream, the EU would have to fit into the (class) anti-systemic doctrine of the party or at least not conflict with its basic postulates.
Thus the EU is viewed as a construct designed to preserve capitalism and German domination. Its normative and institutional framework has been perceived as the ultimate sanctioning of the capitalist system (Exner, 2002,b). For conservatives therefore, the EU has played role of a guarantee of the capitalist ruling class against the radical ”systemic change”, which KSČM has advocated. As a result, the conservative tend to a Euro-negativist attitude.

The neo-communist modernisers have been critical about a number of systemic and institutional issues of the EU. They, however, point out that the EU has a positive political and economic potential and therefore represents a basis for advancement of the leftist ideas in Europe as well as in the Czech Republic. The neo-communists and modernisers work therefore for a Euro-activist approach.

The general view of the membership base and party officials on various levels has been highly critical as regards the capitalist EU. The traditionalist majority, given its ideational background and social status  has been thus primarily Euro-sceptical in its attitude. The conservatives and a majority of the traditionalists thus were united in their opposition to the Czech accession before 2004 and criticising its effects.

Nonetheless, an important incremental change has been taking place precisely within the traditional majority of the party. It has reflected the gradual involvement of the KSČM into the process of EU-ization on several levels:
Mainly the neo-communists, modernisers and a section of the policy- (instead of faith-) oriented traditionalists seek and develop diverse links with the European left; by definition the core of the activities of any European political movement is centred in the EU. In addition to that, they readily exploit the multilevel network of non-political contacts and co-operation, which the EU offers.
The conservatives view the EU-centric focus of the activities of the European left with caution – mainly in the context of the European Left Party and less so in the framework of the GUE/NGL – as unacceptable. Even so, the EU is becoming a part of the internal life of the party to a considerable extent.

As a result, the growing range of practical political experience with the EU has an important influence on the position of the more pragmatic and less ideological circles within the traditionalist majority. Communists and their social milieu (including their family members) have gathered experience at different levels. Also, the way, how the present EU-member states and primarily their radical left view the balance between advantages and pitfalls of the integration process, has been of increasing importance. The example of the PDS and its program of co-operation with the KSČM on the EU-issues have been illustrative. An effective co-operation of KSČM with the ”hard left” on the regional and European level has been advancing. Crucially, the EU has not been viewed as dominated by Germany any more. 

Now I the EU, the KSČM has engaged into a bargaining better position not only for Czech employees/consumers but also producers. Receiving a “fair share” of the EU-budget became an important priority.

Programmatic framework

The programmatic and conceptual documents reflect the heterogeneity of views regarding the EU. To be sure, both conservatives as well as many of the modernisers reject what they call the neo-liberal concept of EU integration, as implemented in the Maastricht model of integration. The conclusions they arrive at are different, though.
The party’s only more elaborate document regarding European policy is still a Manifesto ”For a democratic Europe”, written during late 1990s, re-edited in 2002. While not approved by a party congress, fragments of the text found their way into numerous programmatic documents of the party.
The document hardly sees the EU as an instrument for work towards any of the party's objectives. In a text of 10 pages or 4500 words, the EU is not being dealt with in any detail. The reference to the EU is positive only in one sentence – concerning the European Social Charter - without attributing it to the EU, however. The document manifestly sides with the scepticism of the conservative-liberal right, as expressed in the ”Manifesto of Euro-realism” of the conservative-liberal ODS (the party of Václav Klaus). Some of the Manifest’s criticism vis-à-vis the EU reveals deficiencies in understanding the integration process very similar to the attitude of the liberal-conservatives. So, like the conservatives, the Manifesto identifies the ”evil” of the integration process as the ”Brussels bureaucracy”. It does not recognise that most of the politically controversial decisions (be it in social policy or trade) have been initiated by individual member states and their coalitions. Like in case of Vaclav Klaus, the undiminished primacy of the national state is in the core of this position.

The 5th congress in 1999 presented a more balanced account of positive and negative considerations regarding the EU. Unlike the Manifest, which was elaborated by a largely conservative expert group of the KSČM for foreign policy, the main documents, adopted by the 5th Congress were drafted with relevant participation of all major streams within the party. The address by the party Chairman Grebeníček acknowledged positive aspects of the integration process in the area of social standards, environment protection and regional policy. ”Processes of integration are inevitable and natural.” (Grebeníček, 5th Congress, 1999, 12). He at the same time warns against European bureaucrats, lack of democracy and equality within the EU. ”The EU in its current form represents an instrument of the most powerful member states” and the Czech Republic has not been granted an ”equal position”.

The party's programme of 1999 emphasised:  “We reject the EU in its current form”. At the same time, the programme takes a largely positive view of the EU. It perceives the European integration as “an instrument for co-operation and integration of the Left forces”. It even approved of ”the transfer of part of the state’s sovereignty to supranational bodies”, as long as mutual advantage and equality are guaranteed (”KSČM na přelomu tisíciletí", 1999). 

Similarly, the mid-term ”Programme for Renewal” approved of ”integration processes”. In fact, it takes EU-accession for granted when it calls for effective utilisation of resources from the EU funds including the pre-accession assistance ("Program obnovy", 1999).
The party’s programme for elections of 2002 turned to the EU several times. It brought up EU-policy in areas such as social affairs, environment protection, support programmes for regional development, for rural areas, agriculture and structural reform etc. Deliberately or not, the EU has become the most important external reference point of the party beyond the ”hard left” political milieu (S lidmi pro lidi, 2002).
Nonetheless, the work on the issue has not progressed due to the division of the party over the EU-accession. So, the 6th party congress of 2004 defined the KSČM as a proponent of a confederate or a 'moderately federal' EU. (Zpráva o činnosti, 2004, 30). In fact, however, the thesis - implanted into the document by the theoretical unit of the central committee of the party - has never been really worked through and does not have any notable backing in the party.

Policy issues

Rather to the contrary, the original distance from the EU has resurfaced. In 2005, the then Chairman Grebeníček referred in his key speech at the radical left parties´ conference in Prague to the EU in the same way as did the Manifesto of 1999. He argued that “the welfare state and the European Social Charter represent the primary positions, upon which the European left should base its efforts in Europe under unification”. At the same time he did not attribute the Charter to the EU. In his 15 pages or 6 616 words long text he did not mention the EU once. Instead, China is referred to five times and is presented as an example of successful socio-economic transition (Grebeníček, 2005). The Press release, summing up the conclusions of the conference from the point of view of the KSČM, mentioned the EU only in the context of its alleged militarization: It called to withstand “the Treaty on the Constitution of Europe, by which the European Union confirms the class context of its origins and anchors also militarizing the Union and its member states, incl. accepting the dangerous concept of „pre-emptive wars“ (Press Release, 2005). In contrast to that China is praised for “developing a socialist market economy”. By “connecting the advantages of a power of the people with the latest achievements of science and technologies as well as with an active presence in the top international markets, (China) brought original contribution to developing the theory and practice of socialism with a great inspiring power for the entire international left” (Press Release, 2005).

The euro-activists have been more open to a sensible strengthening of the supranational principle of the EU. Conservatives on the other hand, put special emphasis on preservation of the sovereignty of national states in principle. Clearly, on the EU there will be no compromising position, similar to the ”soft NO” regarding Czech EU-accession. The Central Committee rejected the EU Constitution Treaty as the ultimate sanctioning of capitalist rule and instrument designed to prevent the systemic change of the social order. The integration should continue within the EU as well as beyond its framework. It has to be based on specific principles: it should be politically neutral, democratic, based on social security and justice and must avoid militarization (Stanovisko, 2005). Indeed, special statement of the Central Committee on the European Security and Defence Policy of the EU viewed the ESDP as an instrument of militarization of Europe and therefore rejected it. An alternative, truly democratic and peace-loving ESDP is called for – a policy which should involve all partners (indirect reference to Russia) and should be controlled by the EP, the national parliaments of the member states as well by “the people of whole of Europe” (Společná zahraniční, 2005). The statement is in contrast with the fact that two Communist deputies (one of them Miloslav Ransdorf) voted in favour of purchase of the supersonics Grippen in order to prevent US domination of the Czech Army.
Similar split occurred on the US and international action in Afghanistan. The modernisers viewed the US attack as legitimate. The conservative majority regarded the action, however, as an act of aggression and perceived the ISAF mission as a NATO occupation.

Given the heterogeneity of the party, the modus vivendi between the three ideational streams has been put under critical pressure in the context of two current developments: the creation of the European Left Party, on the one hand, and, even more importantly, the first ever offer of co-operation extended by the Czech social democratic Premier Paroubek on the other.

Czech communists were not initially invited to participate in preparing the launch of the ELP in late 2003.  KSČM split over what the ELP should do, how it should be organised and how much sovereignty the individual parties should accede to it.  The party’s conservatives opposed the creation of the European Left Party as they envisaged it developing into an organisation that might water down the communist identity of the CPBM.  The neo-communists and policy-oriented traditionalists argue in favour of accession to the ELP. 

The conservative stream perceives the ELP as continuation of the “Euro-communist” tradition (Charfo, 2004). Euro-communism has never lost its negative connotation in the KSČM discourse, as it still bears the stigma of betrayal it had been given by the Soviet Communist Party and its satellites during the 1980s. The conservatives also view the prospect of an individual membership as unacceptable, seemingly because the KSČM might be by-passed at some point by this supranational party structure; a non-communist radical left could develop in the Czech Republic over the head of the KSČM. They argue also against the principle of equality in the representation of the ELP leadership, pointing out that KSČM should not just have the  two representatives in the Executive Committee of the ELP like the Czech SDS (paradoxically, though, it demands equality in the EU, particularly in the Council of the EU). The possible ways of financing the ELP have been viewed as problematic, too. A conflicting issue of the history has come to a deadlock: the Czech conservatives argue against singling Stalin out as the symbol of the atrocities committed by the communist rulers in the former socialist countries. 
All in all, the ELP is viewed as undemocratic and the aim has been to open it up for the truly communist parties, primarily that of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine etc. Such an extension of the party would divert the ELP from its EU-centric focus, change its nature along the lines of the KSČM, which than could assume a leading position in it.

The Prime Ministers Praboubek´s offer to the KSČM to work together in case the communist party adopts significant changes, prompted no programmatic changes yet. It did, however, indirectly challenge the position of the then Chairman Grebeníček. The new Chairman Filip, has hardly any concept how to steer the party in the stormy waters of political change. He, however, is aware of the fact that the KSČM will have perhaps lest chance to get on the train of policy-making on the regional and national level. For Paroubek, the attitude to the EU has been one of the key preconditions for co-operation with the KSČM. As for now, the party, however, has not produced any position in this regard nor has it started internal debate about the options and possible changes. In fact, since the EU-accession debate in the party, all other issues remain to be debated only within the individual streams, avoiding any open confrontation.

Conclusions

  • The differentiation of perceptions and preferences regarding the EU has developed along the Euro-negativist/Euro-sceptical – Euro-activist axis
  • KSČM may arrive at an activist socialist ”Europe a la carte” position. The precondition, however, is that the conservative stream looses its hegemony over the traditionalist majority in the party.
  • The role model of China, as presented by the KSČM, illustrates the detachment of the party from the Czech public discourse, including its soft and radical left spectrum. Bringing Chinese and Russian communists "in" equals to keeping the Czech communist out of touch with any creative radical left activities.
  • As was assumed earlier, the communist strategy of “soft NO” to EU represents a “muddling through” attitude. The KSČM turns into a bizarre example of waste of political potential, rather than offering a model of a modern and successful left party in the EU context.
  • A not unimportant precondition for a Euro-activist policy is institutional: will the party have the sufficient expert knowledge analysis in order to elaborate elaboration on party’s position in a wide range of specific issues of EU policy?
  • Can the KSČM arrive through EU-ization to Europeanization? All other democratic mainstream parties moved from the Europeanization to the more practical EU-ization. The Europeanization of the KSČM may become the result of practical involvement (EU-ization), rather than the other way round.

The public vote campaign regarding the EU-constitutional treaty may make hopes for a formal co-operation with the ČSSD on the national level futile. It may rather emphasise ”Euro-realist closeness” between the ”retreat coalition” of the KSČM and the liberal conservatives of Václav Klaus.

As for now, unless the programmatic modernisation of KSČM comes forward and changes the party’s image, we expect the dichotomy to persist. An activist KSČM will be a valuable partner for ČSSD (and other left) as regards a matter-of-factual co-operation. It will be, however, ignored whenever the negativist image and policy of KSČM prevails.


References

Charfo, H. (2004) Zakládající sjezd Strany evropské levice, Haló noviny, 4.6.2004
Grebeníček, M. (1999), ‘Vystoupení předsedy ÚV KSČM´, in Dokumenty V. sjezdu, 1999, p. 12.

Grebeníček, M. (2005) address during the International Conference on the            Occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation, Prague, April, 23, 2005

Stanovisko 14. VV ÚV KSČM 10.6.2005 k ratifikaci Smlouvy o Ústavě  pro Evropu, http://www.kscm.cz/article.asp?thema=3029&item=26647
10.12.05

P r e s s    R e l e a s e  o f   t h e  C P B M, At the conclusion of International Conference of Communist and Left Parties, Prague, 23-24 April 2005, http://www.kscm.cz/viewDocument.asp?document=2707
10.12.05

‘S lidmi pro lidi, Volební program KSČM’ (Prague: ÚV KSČM, 2002)

Společná zahraniční a bezpečnostní politika EU; ozbrojené síly EU – přístup KSČM. 15. schůze VV ÚV KSČM dne 15. 7. 2005,

The KSČM position, as its has developed as yet, indicates that the party may seek a ” Europe a la carte” position..

Zpráva o činnosti  ÚV KSČM po v období po V.sjezdu KSČM (Documents of the 6th Congress of the KSČM, 14-15.5.2004, České Budějovice)