FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: The Essays of Zbigniew Brzezinski

Threat and Opportunity in the Communist Schism

Courtesy Reuters

In ten short years since Joseph Stalin's death a once potent revolutionary force has disintegrated into two mutually hostile phalanxes linked only by ritualistic proclamations of unity: an orthodox international Communism headed by Mao Tse-tung, and a revisionist international Communism led by Nikita Khrushchev. There is no coöperation between the Soviet and the Chinese leaders; no collaboration in actual policies; no coördination of a general outlook. The alliance as an active political force is dead.

The failure of international Communism to prevent the schism appears to be rooted in certain generic peculiarities of Communism itself. First of all, the importance attached by Communists to ideology means that there must always be a "general line" guiding the tactics and the strategy of the movement. Setting the line was an easy matter when Stalin was alive. Today, it involves dealings among many parties and régimes, while the preoccupation of Communists with their alleged monoply on the only "true" and "scientific" understanding of reality results in the quick transformation of differences into matters of principle, with mutual accusations of "dogmatism" or "revisionism" inevitably following. In addition, commitment to the ideology resulted in a general delusion that, by definition, there could be no conflict among Communist states. Thus there was no predisposition to develop the tradition of agreeing to disagree or the institutions for collective decision-making.

Second, the common emphasis on the Marxist-Leninist ideology became a liability when the movement expanded to embrace some 40 percent of the world's population. A single doctrine simply could not encompass the complex, highly diverse and rapidly changing world-wide processes of change. This was especially so since that doctrine was derived from an early stage of industrial development and later adjusted to rural societies experiencing the first impact of industrialization and nationalism. Thus the ideology was particularly inadequate to cope with the problems both of the leading Communist state, the Soviet Union, and of the Communist parties of the more developed societies. Irresistible pressures toward doctrinal innovation (

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