Almost from the time when Marx became a communist he was attacked for harbouring authoritarian designs on society. His disciples faced similar charges. In 1917 the first revolution to be made in the name of Marx's principles appeared to confirm the critics. This study grew from that observation. Were the political features of the early Soviet state the necessary product of an attempt to fulfil Marx's project, or a distortion of his project? For those who consider Marx's project viable, the contemporary relevance of such a question is obvious. It is perhaps fitting that we should first look at the answers given to it by one recently prominent group of such Marxists, the Eurocommunists, and by their critics, in order to assess how the question should be tackled and to uncover the mines laid for the unwary.
The Eurocommunists rejected the ‘Soviet model’ for achieving Marx's goals; instead, they declared themselves defenders of freedom and democracy, and legitimate contenders in the West European electoral arena. They recognized, in the words of George Urban, that ‘the obstacle to Communism is Communism – Soviet style’. The Italian and Spanish Communist Parties, and sections of the French Party, the bastions of Eurocommunism, appealed to voters that they would respect Western liberal democratic traditions, that there was nothing to fear from a communist, or communist–coalition government.