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Communist parties operating in Western European political systems face a profound dilemma about how to respond to the European Union (EU). As Giorgos Charalambous illustrates in his book, European Integration and the Communist Dilemma: Communist Party Responses to Europe in Greece, Cyprus and Italy, since Communist principles are incompatible with the EU philosophy about the free market and government-economy relations, a Communist party may either choose the path of consistency with its main ideological principles, thus inevitably adopting positions critical of the EU, or it can follow the path of moderation, by becoming accommodating toward EU ideas and policies. As Charalambous clarifies, moderation does not necessarily imply that the party alters its core principles (even though that is also possible), but mainly that it chooses to downplay EU-related issues in its official rhetoric and policy agenda. The main advantage of choosing the path of consistency is maintaining ideological purity, while moderation can yield important electoral benefits: as the party moves closer to the mainstream, it can increase its share of the vote and thus its chances to govern. [End Page 174]
This dilemma between ideological purity and pragmatism is not unique to Communist parties. As Charalambous himself points out early in the book, there is already an extensive literature in political science about parties considered to lie at the fringes of European political systems (such as parties of the extreme Right, Green parties, and many single-issue parties) that face similar dilemmas about different issues. What is unique about this book, and what makes it interesting, is that it provides an original, nuanced, and penetrating look into how Communist parties resolve one of their biggest ideological challenges, which is second perhaps only to their struggle to define their role in bourgeois, liberal democracies. Charalambous uses the dilemma as a conceptual lens (or as a magnifying glass) that helps the book’s audience identify and examine a range of reactions of Communist parties toward the EU. Those reactions can vary between parties in different countries but also in the same party over time. Hence, he consciously avoids separating Communist parties in a crude dichotomy of anti- and pro-EU camps.
Charalambous employs what scholars of comparative politics call a “most different systems” research design. Three detailed case studies constitute the empirical core of the book: the Greek Communist Party (KKE), the Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL) of Cyprus, and the Rifondazione Comunista (RC), a main successor of the Italian Communist Party. How these parties resolve the dilemma is the study’s dependent variable. Charalambous finds that the KKE has reliably followed the path of consistency, while AKEL has chosen moderation to such an extent that it displays some characteristics of a mass party. RC falls between these two perspectives, and although its positions have fluctuated over time, it tends to fall closer to the AKEL side of the spectrum.
Charalambous explores the reasons behind the three parties’ different trajectories by comparing how they perform in regard to several factors, which are the study’s independent variables. These explanatory factors are separated into three levels of analysis: the level of the organization (for example, ideology, party leadership); the level of the national system (for example, party competition patterns, party system positions); and the international level (for example, transnational alliances, the effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union). In terms of retrieving and analyzing empirical evidence, the book adopts a qualitative approach. The empirical material is drawn from the programmatic/policy proclamations of the three parties, elite interviews, records of party congresses, party-affiliated newspapers, and other party-sponsored publications.
Charalambous makes a compelling case about the importance of the Communist dilemma for two reasons. First, the book relies on solid empirical foundations. Indeed, the evidence for each case study is rich and detailed. Moreover, it is placed in the appropriate historical context, and thus a reader who is not already familiar with the context can still place the evidence...