Moscow — West European communists, a serious embarrassment to Moscow at the Soviet Communist Party congress five years ago, seem to be proving little more than a mild annoyance at the present one.
The unwaveringly pro-Moscow Communist Party chief of Portugal told reporters here he saw the "Eurocommunists" --avowed believers in pluralist democracy who unabashedly distance themselves from some Kremlin policies -- as a mere "fashion , . . . a passing fashion, . . . on the decline."
The Soviets seem to agree. Indeed, the French party has all but abandoned Eurocommunism since the last Soviet congress. In a clear show of Soviet pleasure at that development, the chief of the French delegation was the first nonruling foreign communist to address this congress.
Between congresses, Moscow also extended its tolerance of diversity among European parties, as long as the trend didn't go too far. This concession, says one Soviet political analyst, "is one factor in making Eurocommunism less of an issue for Moscow."
Also Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev made it clear in his keynote address that Moscow has much besides Eurocommunism to worry about these days: issues like the decline of detente, economic sluggishness at home, and unrest in Poland.
The main remaining Eurocommunist challenge to Moscow comes from the Italians, the largest Communist Party in Poland.
The main remaining Eurocommunist challenge to Moscow comes from the Italians, the largest Communist Party in the West.
Italian Communist chief Enrico Berlinguer, opposing the Soviet armed presence in Afghanistan and concerned over Soviet pressure on Poland, took the unprecedented step of boycotting the current Moscow congress. He sent Giancarlo Pajetta, head of the party's international affairs section, instead.
That presumably hurt here. One need only read a few issues of Pravda to absorb the Soviets' sensitivity to matters of their international prestige. Leonid Zamyatin, the senior Soviet foreign press spokesman who has held regular news conferences during the congress, has reacted evasively and aggressively to questions about the Italians.
But in the end, Mr. Pajetta seems to have caused only a minor, though lively, dispute at the party congress, which traditionally is a stage-managed affair. "A tempest in a teapot," remarked one diplomat.
The Soviets are seen as leery of a public split with the Italians, but sufficiently confident of Eurocommunism's fading fortunes to not let Mr. Berlinguer's snub go unanswered.
Thus, Mr. Pajetta was denied the congress podium and was allowed to speak only at a smaller gathering outside.
He made no secret of his differences with Moscow over Afghanistan and Poland, but he was generally restrained in his choice of words. "Foreign troops," he said, should leave Afghanistan. Poland's "independence and autonomy" should be respected.
Then came Act II of the controversy, apparently reflecting Soviet desires to avoid a further worsening of ties with the Italians.
Mr. Pajetta had been assured that his Feb. 27 address would be printed in Pravda, the Soviet Communist Party newspaper. Two days later, it had not been, so he protested at a meeting with two senior Soviet officials. He was assured the delay was merely "technical." On March 2, the speech was indeed reprinted, uncensored.
One European analyst noted the Italians have still not won a Cabinet seat in Rome.
The equally Eurocommunist Spaniards --whose delegation left without speaking because of the recent coup attempt in Madrid --seem no closer to that milestone. They also have been facing some pressure inside the party to adopt a more pro-Moscow line.