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Foreign Affairs From The Anthology: The Essays of Zbigniew Brzezinski
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Threat and Opportunity in the Communist Schism

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 (i.e. "revisionism") were created, and these in turn provoked a fundamentalist reaction from those parties whose conditions were still adequately served by orthodox Marxism-Leninism.

Thirdly, the nationalism of the Communist rulers prevented effective "deviation-control." This was not the conventional nationalism of nineteenth-century Europe, but Communism interpreted in terms of the interests of the state power wielded by particular Communist régimes, i.e. national Communism. The so-called international Communism of Stalin was based on one leader (Stalin), on the primacy of one Party (the C.P.S.U.), and on the acceptance of one program (the Soviet). In effect, it meant the supremacy of Soviet national Communism. Neither Stalin nor his successors ever adjusted to the requirements of an international Communist community; nor have they been willing to subordinate Soviet interests to it. They mechanically identified the interests of international Communism with those of the U.S.S.R. That worked only as long as the C.P.S.U. was the effective leader. But the eventual emergence of independent or semi-independent Communist régimes, especially in China, gave rise to demands that their interests also be considered, with the Chinese even suggesting (very much in the Leninist tradition) that only their interpretation was the correct one. It should be remembered that nationalism is a phenomenon of early development, and most Communist élites reflect the peculiar self- righteousness which comes with it. This made compromise and adjustment difficult, indeed eventually prevented it altogether.

Moreover, the polarization of the Communist parties throughout the world into either the orthodox or the revisionist fronts is taking place in part on the basis of racial differences, pitting the occidentals against the Afro-Asians, and in part on the basis of differences in stages of development. In a true Marxist these considerations should prompt some unhappy reflections, refuting Khrushchev's claim that only "subjective" differences are involved.

In many parties factional conflicts are now in progress. Irrespective of how they are resolved, they contribute to further hostility between the two sides. At the same time, the appeal of Communism as the only scientific guide for our age has been badly discredited, and its claim to absolute truth undermined. The Chinese assertion that they are the only true "Marxists-Leninists" is certainly not helped by the fact that most parties have sided with the Soviets. On the other hand, the Soviets, in their efforts to gain support, have watered down considerably the binding tenets of the doctrine, and now accept many models of "socialism" and more diversity in the relations among Communist states. As Khrushchev put it in a speech last December 12:

Different interpretations of concrete questions of socialist construction, a different approach to various problems, are not excluded. This is what happens in practice, and it apparently will happen in the future when other peoples take the road to socialism. That is why it would be incorrect to evolve a certain model and to adhere to it in mutual relations with other socialist countries. It would be an error to condemn as renegades all those who do not fit that model.

This means the relativization of the doctrine, the erosion of its binding force. But old habits die hard, and the Soviets have not been able to overcome entirely their traditional conviction that only they are right. Hence in that very same speech, a mere few sentences later, the Soviet leader charged the Albanians with pursuing "errors" and declared that they are not Marxists-Leninists. Thus even within revisionist Communism the conflict between the doctrinal and the pragmatic approach is far from resolved; it contributes to further tensions and eventually new dissensions, and all the while eroding the unifying bonds of the ideology.

In the present phase of the schism, it is likely that there will be a further strengthening of ties between the Soviet Union and its allies on the one hand, and China and its supporters on the other. One sees evidence of that in the growing importance of the Council for Mutual Economic Aid (CEMA) and in the much more frequent consultations between Soviet and East European leaders. Similarly, the Chinese will probably try to rally more closely the revolutionary parties and eliminate from them the vestiges of Soviet influence. The long-run trend, however, points toward even further diversification: revolutionary parties, as both the Jugoslavs and the Chinese taught the Soviets earlier, are extremely difficult to control and it is unlikely that the Chinese hegemony can be effectively maintained, especially in view of the relatively limited Chinese resources; similarly, the ruling Communist parties in Eastern Europe are likely to press gradually for a greater margin of autonomy, and the Soviet wooing of Jugoslavia is bound to intensify these pressures. The Italian party has already asserted its autonomy. Thus both the orthodox and revisionist wings are likely to see further erosion of central power.

In the meantime, the two Communisms will be pursuing openly and often competitively different strategies against the West. The Chinese have recently spelled theirs out at length. Their statements, particularly the one of December 16, 1962, make it clear that the general line of revolutionary Communism rests on "slighting imperialism strategically" and on "respecting it tactically":

On the question of how to deal with imperialism and all reactionaries, the Chinese Communist Party has always maintained that one should slight them strategically but deal seriously with them tactically. That is to say, on the one hand, strategically, from a long-term point of view and taken as a whole, imperialism and all reactionaries, in the final analysis, are doomed to failure and the masses of the people will certainly triumph. Without this understanding it would not be possible to encourage the masses of people to wage with full confidence resolute revolutionary struggles against imperialism and all reactionaries, nor would it be possible to lead the revolution to victory. On the other hand, from the tactical point of view, on each immediate, specific issue, it is necessary to deal with imperialism and all reactionaries seriously, to proceed with care and caution and to pay attention to the art of the struggle. . . .

This means basically a policy of encouraging insurgency, of stimulating popular unrest, of subordinating the national bourgeois governments, and of intense propaganda warfare against the West, particularly the United States, but all that without precipitating a direct showdown.

The Chinese have made it clear that they regard Khrushchev's Cuba misadventure as a negative confirmation of the soundness of their line. In their view, because he overestimates the importance of nuclear weapons and assumes that they have a decisive importance, he recklessly involved himself in the export of nuclear weapons to Cuba, i.e. he was tactically an adventurist. And again, because he attaches such importance to these weapons, he then allowed himself to be intimidated by U.S. nuclear power; he pulled back and settled for a "compromise," i.e. he was strategically a "capitulationist." In other words, Khrushchev's short-range gambles are reckless, while his long-range policy involves the abandonment of revolutionary struggles by the masses.

In contrast the Chinese presumably see their recent policy toward India as a positive confirmation of their strategy. By exercising restraint in capitalizing on their military advantage, they prevented direct Western involvement on India's behalf, thereby displaying "tactical" respect for imperialism. At the same time, the long-range effect of their military victory over India in their view showed the other nations of Asia that China is the number-one power in the region, that it cannot be defied effectively, that it has the ability "to slight imperialism strategically." As the revolutionary Communism gains in strength, the Chinese may eventually expect to be able to "slight" imperialism tactically as well, thereby precipitating a major threat to peace.

The policy of Moscow's revisionist Communism is much more ambivalent. On the one hand, Soviet criticisms of the Chinese are in many ways reminiscent of the criticisms voiced in the early 1920s by the Social Democratic leaders of the Second International against Lenin's Third International. The emphasis on peace, the assertion that "peaceful coexistence" is a reflection of optimism in the victory of Communism whereas the Chinese are nothing but prophets of doom, the glowing praise for Soviet achievements- all are a repetition of earlier Socialist criticisms of Communist revolutionary strategy. The European Socialist leaders argued that socialism could be achieved by modifying democratically the bourgeois society, that Bolshevik reliance on revolution was sheer pessimism, that the workers had already achieved too much to risk an open clash with the entrenched but gradually yielding bourgeoisie. As the Socialist-Communist argument mounted, the gap between them widened, and eventually the Socialists participated in coalition governments and adjusted themselves to the notion of very gradual reform. Indeed, by the time of the Communist revolution in Russia many of the Western Socialist parties were already in a post-revolutionary mood. Their argument with the Communists enabled them to shed the remaining revolutionary myths.

This, too, could happen to the Soviet Union and its allies, none of which any longer believes basically in the feasibility of the "old-fashioned" revolution. They are certainly not ready to make heavy sacrifices for it, even though they still pay lip service to it.

But that is only one side of the picture. What makes the Soviet policy ambivalent and supplies the "on the other hand" of the argument is that the global ambitions of Communist ideology have now been harnessed to a new sense of national self-assertion, intensified by power and achievement. That combination drives the Soviet Union toward global primacy. It would be a mistake to consider the Soviet leaders simply as nationalists, cynically manipulating Communist slogans to gain support. In all probability, they believe themselves to be true Communist internationalists, but they interpret that internationalism in terms of Soviet interests and purposes. Thus they will use foreign revolutions, such as Cuba, in their struggle against the United States, and they will even back Cuba with their nuclear weapons; but, again as Cuba showed, in moments of crisis they will be ready to sacrifice the foreign revolution for the sake of the U.S.S.R.

It has been suggested that the Soviet leaders may now concentrate on domestic development, since it is hopeless to surpass America in military power, and push in the direction of a general disarmament which will eventually equalize American and Soviet power. This argument is not entirely convincing. Psychologically, it is hard to see the Soviet leaders accepting passively the idea of prolonged American predominance, and it would certainly be difficult for them to abandon their external aspirations without intensifying domestic pressures for greater freedom. The recent ideological debate in the arts shows clearly the need for an enemy if the ruling élite is to justify its power. Ideology, nationalism and the interests of power thus merge, and the competition with America is their natural expression. Moreover, given the Soviet image of America, the very least the Russian leaders will have to do is to keep up with American military development, lest in their view some future "right-wing" American government be tempted to impose its will on a much weaker Soviet Union.

The Soviet leaders are thus likely to continue pressing forward with their military development, hoping perhaps for a "breakthrough" in weapons development or relying on such military spectaculars as spaceships armed with rockets for military and psychological effect. This will provide them with the necessary minimum for probing for Western weak spots, in Berlin and elsewhere, for backing revolutions where the danger of a direct showdown is not too high, and to deter Western moves affecting Soviet interests. In all probability, however, this will not be a crash program of military development, which sacrifices domestic aspirations altogether, or even largely. In fact, the Soviet leaders are probably quite sincere and serious when they argue that in the long run it is the pace of Soviet economic development that will be decisive in tipping the scales of history. An economically dominant Soviet Union could then effectively assert its primacy among the developing nations, while surpassing the United States militarily. The tension between the desire to take advantage of immediate opportunities to give history a push and the longer-range reliance on economic development creates the dangerous ambivalence in Soviet policy.


In the short run, then, the revisionist Communism is the more dangerous because it is based primarily on Soviet power, reflects intense Soviet national ambitions, and is backed by a nuclear rocket force. As the Cuban adventure showed, the Soviet leadership is willing to brandish this destructive power in order to assert its interests. However, the gradual decline in the revolutionary orientation of the Soviet leaders, their growing recognition that a nuclear war would not bring about a Communist victory, and their increasing stress on economic competition leave room for some optimism concerning a future adjustment with the West. The orthodox Communism, because of its military impotence, is less of an immediate danger, but it represents the greater long-range threat to peace. One may presume that its Chinese leaders will strive to promote international instability, not only in order to promote revolutionary situations but also to embroil Moscow's revisionist Communism in a more direct conflict with the West.

Our policy in the years to come must accordingly be based on a recognition of these differences in terms of both their short-range and long-range implications. Basically, our task is to eliminate the ambivalence in Soviet policy and to encourage the Soviet Union toward a grand reconciliation with the Western world. For the foreseeable future, it is therefore absolutely essential to maintain American military superiority over the Soviet Union, since even parity could tempt the Soviet leaders to engage in brinkmanship on the assumption that our society would be more likely to yield to nuclear blackmail. Similarly, it would be dangerous to make concessions to Khrushchev on the grounds that obstinacy on such issues as Berlin (or Cuba) plays into the hands of the more militant elements. Quite the contrary, anything less than military superiority and firmness actually rekindles the increasingly dormant revolutionary tendencies in the Soviet Union and sets back the process described above. In this connection, it is certainly high time to bury the fashionable notion, assiduously disseminated by Jugoslav and Polish diplomats and eagerly repeated by Western journalists, that Khrushchev's fall would be a major setback for peace. In the unlikely event that he were to fall because of Western firmness, it is almost certain that his successor would be anxious not to get into a similar difficulty until such time as the Soviet Union was stronger than the West.

This effective American counterweight to Soviet power prevents (to use Chinese parlance) Soviet "tactical adventurism" and consolidates Soviet "strategic capitulationism." Gradually, the U.S.S.R. might come to accept international stability; that is, acceptance of the status quo might eventually seem preferable to maintaining the costs of armament at present or higher levels. For this reason, disarmament should be pursued cautiously. It is only logical to assume that as long as political enmity exists between the West and the U.S.S.R., it is in the interest of the weaker side to use disarmament to obtain, first, greater equality in power and, second, perhaps even the opportunity surreptitiously to change the balance of power. Furthermore, the premature elimination of the mutual nuclear restraint could result in new complications, given the persisting tensions between the two sides and the continued challenge from the orthodox Communist forces.

The maintenance of American military superiority over the Soviet Union would also make possible the political steps designed gradually to attract and absorb the revisionist Communism into the Western world. In Europe this would involve a peaceful engagement in the affairs of the several Communist states for the purpose of increasing their margin of autonomy and eventually achieving their return to the European fold. Whenever forces for moderation emerge, such as those in Poland and more recently in Hungary, they should be encouraged with aid and closer contacts. At the same time, the territorial security of such states as Poland and Czechoslovakia should in some form be guaranteed by the West. West Germany could well be advised to abandon the Hall-stein doctrine so as to permit closer contacts between East Europe and the new and democratic Germany. (The doctrine could still be applied toward states that exercise a real freedom of choice in their foreign policy, and be backed by economic sanctions which, in the final analysis, provide the real deterrent to a recognition of East Germany by many neutral states.) All of these measures would help the trend toward more autonomy and moderation in Eastern Europe. They would also further isolate the East German régime, which, lacking a national base, is unable to moderate itself. Hence, it would become an isolated political anachronism in Eastern Europe, and a burden to the U.S.S.R.

In this connection, a word should be said about the special and changing role of Jugoslavia. As long as the Communist world was united and hierarchical, a Jugoslavia outside it was a definite asset to the free world. But today the situation is quite different. The return of Jugoslavia into the revisionist Communist camp has helped to outrage the more orthodox parties, while within Eastern Europe the participation of the independent Jugoslavs (who certainly are not Soviet-controlled) helps to undermine Soviet supremacy. We should, therefore, not worry too much about Jugoslav friendship for Moscow and the decline in its sympathies for the West. Its "subjective" friendship is far less important than the "objectively" disruptive character of its participation in the revisionist Communist community.

In promoting the evolution of Eastern Europe, an essential role will inevitably be played by Western Europe. As de Gaulle has unintentionally demonstrated, the concept of European unity is perhaps the most potent force on the Continent today, and it is gradually beginning to be felt in Russia also. Western Europe is not likely to remain satisfied with the artificial division of Europe into two halves. It can be assumed that pressures toward "a Europe to the Urals" (de Gaulle's phrase) will increase as Western European power grows. The inevitable acquisition of a nuclear force in some form will give the West Europeans a new sense of power and will create the basis for a foreign policy preoccupied primarily with Europe. By linking itself with the effort to break down the present division of Europe, America can both strengthen its momentum and also exercise a restraining influence on those West European powers that may have strong emotional and geographical reasons for challenging Russian domination more forcefully than the United States might think prudent. A joint European atomic force, backed by the United States, would have an entirely different political complexion and would offer a far less dangerous-but more powerful-front to the East than a series of national nuclear powers, including eventually Germany. It is not too far-fetched to postulate the possibility of a Europe, dominated by France and Germany, becoming to America what China has become to Russia, unless the United States now takes the lead both in shaping a militarily united Europe and in defining common affirmative-and not merely defensive-goals for all Europe.

The Common Market can be a powerful vehicle for attracting Eastern Europe and eventually Russia, but in the short run there is danger that it will actually intensify the political and economic integration of the Soviet part of the Communist world. By making trade with the West more difficult, it has already forced some of the East European states into greater economic dependence on the Soviet Union. It is for this reason important to consider ways in which an economically united and increasingly powerful Europe could eventually extend the hand of coöperation to the states united in CEMA. A new European-based version of the Marshall Plan could be envisaged as a step toward the unification of all of Europe. Thus Eastern Europe as a unit, now more industrialized and increasingly integrated in CEMA, could be encouraged to relate itself step by step to an all-European economic development, at first in very loose form, later in a more binding fashion. Over several decades the open wound on the Elbe might be healed.

To attempt a disengagement in Central Europe at a time of tensions between East and West is both useless and dangerous. But in time it may become both possible and useful as a way of bridging the gap between Western Europe (and indirectly America) and the revisionist Communist world. Rather than press for the immediate reabsorption of East Germany into the Federal Republic, one might consider a transitional status, perhaps under United Nations auspices, which would offer reassurance that drawing together with Western Europe does not mean the political ascendancy of the West, nor the immediate deprival of East German industrial resources to the countries of CEMA.

Even more important is the possibility that the present integration of Eastern Europe with the Soviet Union may make Russia increasingly susceptible to the attraction of Europe. Eastern Europe can serve as a transmission belt reaching ever wider circles of Soviet society, especially the intelligentsia. And as China increasingly repels, it gradually pushes Russia toward Europe and sets the stage for perhaps an entirely new historical relationship. This is not to suggest that the Soviet Union will be transformed into a social democracy or that its internal institutions will soon come to resemble those of the West. But a Russia deprived first of its revolutionary zeal and then of its global Communist ambitions may eventually find a more fruitful place for itself in the European confraternity, provided its way to aggression is first blocked by America and the way to reconciliation with it gradually paved by both Europe and America.


As in the case of the revisionist Communism, the response to the orthodox Communism also must be based on the distinction between the immediate threat and the long-range problem. Communist China is our most immediate concern, while the conditions of underdevelopment and socio-economic crisis in Asia, Africa and Latin America which nourish revolutionary Communism pose the more enduring challenge. Basically, we must combine a policy of repulsing and isolating Communist China with a policy of regionally inspired and not only U.S.-managed economic development.

China is now on the way to establishing itself as the number-one power in Asia. It has successfully humiliated India, and anyone who has recently travelled in Asia comes to be very impressed with the political isolation of India, achieved in large measure by China's skillful combination of diplomacy (e.g. toward Nepal and Burma) and military power. In effect, Burma has already become China's Finland, and Cambodia, Ceylon and Nepal are not far behind. The success of the Chinese policy was well demonstrated by the Colombo powers' negotiations to achieve a settlement of the border war: of the six powers present, only the non-Asian U.A.R. squarely backed the Indian cause. The view that the United States is not willing to engage itself actively in a conflict with China is widespread in Southeast Asia; one highly placed neutralist spokesman remarked to the writer that Laos (as contrasted with Cuba) made it clear that Asian countries have little choice but to seek their accommodation with China. Whether or not Laos is a fair barometer, the foregoing view is less widespread among Indians, but unfortunately there is still uncertainty as to the degree of American willingness to aid threatened nations.

Therefore, the first and most urgent response should involve the building up of Indian power, especially in the military sphere. The coming generation of Indian political leaders seems to be quite realistic in its assessment of international politics; it has been deeply impressed by the fact that China has not dared to attack a single SEATO power, and it is prepared to seek large-scale Western economic and military aid in order to challenge China's regional primacy. This leadership will soon dominate India's political scene, especially as Nehru's power to impose his own successor has been weakened by recent events.

It would be illusory, however, to expect India to join a collective security pact such as SEATO. Too much of an emotional investment has been made in "non-alignment" for even the post-Nehru leadership to reverse it. What is important, however, is not the form of the new Indian-American relationship but its substance. It is more than likely that in the long run India will show greater understanding of American interests elsewhere, as for example in Berlin and Cuba, and may be in a position to use its influence to restrain more extremist Russian action. The West should not hesitate to make clear to India how it defines its own interests, just as the Indian leadership is not hesitant in making its needs known.

In addition, responsible Indian public opinion seems by and large far more willing than the present leadership to seek some adjustment on the Kashmir issue. There is the short-run danger that the anti-Western left (as well as the Soviet government) will use the Kashmir issue to stimulate a new wave of anti-Westernism (and even perhaps justify a temporary acceptance of the Chinese conditions on the grounds that the alternative is submission to Western blackmail on Kashmir), but here again the longer-range perspective, both in terms of Indian domestic politics as well as the defense needs of the Indian subcontinent, dictates a more affirmative and bolder Western course, which could also reduce Pakistan's embitterment.

Until such time as India's military power is adequate to neutralize the present Chinese capacity to intimidate India's neighbors, the primary responsibility for preserving the security of Southeast Asia will rest with the United States. Sooner or later this may require carrying counter- insurgency actions into North Viet Nam, in order to force Ho Chi Minh either to desist in the south or to obtain more direct Chinese assistance, thereby exposing Viet Nam to Chinese control, a prospect which few Communist Vietnamese would relish. Such measures would also reassure Thailand, badly shaken by events in Laos, fearful of present trends in Cambodia and Burma, and increasingly subject to Communist insurgency in its own northeast. Hopefully, India will adopt a more understanding attitude in these matters, while its diplomacy could be helpful in obtaining Soviet "neutrality" in the West's purely defensive operations against revolutionary Communism.

Offensive operations against the China Mainland would not be opportune. They might precipitate Soviet aid and diminish the schism. But by the same token, it would also be unwise to rush into a political and diplomatic, or economic, courtship of China. For the time being, the continued isolation and repulsion of China is the best policy calculated to keep internal dissension within the Communist world and to prolong the fundamental economic weakness of China.

In the meantime, it is to be hoped that efforts to accelerate the development of the new nations will gradually begin to bear fruit. In this connection, it is desirable to encourage more regional leadership of economic and political development by countries other than the United States, thus depriving the Communists of their anti-American appeal. For example, much more can be done in Asia by Japan, apart from actual aid and trade, by providing a model for economic development under conditions of raw-materials scarcity and over-population. Till now, the Japanese have been reticent to project themselves as a model for economic development in Asia, but perhaps the growing power of China, including its eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons, will force Japan to assume a more active role in Asia, not only economically but in a broader sense providing some of the inspiration and direction. This would also have the effect of deflecting Japan from its present preoccupation with trade with China. While eventually such trade might become desirable as a means to provide China with an opening to the West and an inducement to follow more moderate policies, at present it would merely serve to strengthen its capacity for pursuing revolutionary policies. Japanese resentment against the United States for impeding trade with China might be overcome if gradually there emerges in Japan a greater consciousness of its regional responsibility for guiding and inspiring the development of Asia.

There are those few moments in history that can rightfully be described as turning points. The Communist schism is one of them. International Communism has lost its momentum and the rhythm of Communist policy has been disrupted. Gloating over it is not enough, and to pursue policies which were developed during the time of a unified Communist threat could be self- defeating. Our task is to perceive the implications of the schism and to read-just accordingly both our perspectives and policies.

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