Astonishing events in Czechoslovakia were only the latest in a series of changes in the communist world that took the outside world by surprise. The thaw and Hungarian rebellion of 1956, China's break with the Soviet Union and immersion in internal convulsion, and even the rejection of Russian control in Rumania-all were largely unforeseen (with only a few exceptions) even by expert opinion in the West, Like military planners who prepare for the last war, commentators on communist affairs in their preoccupation with accounting for the last surprise have often left the public unprepared for the next one. The concept of monolithic totalitarianism, based on parallels between Hitler and the later Stalin, ill prepared us to expect rebellion in Hungary; preoccupation with the Sino-Soviet split (which was only belatedly thought to be important, and then rapidly promoted into being the controlling factor in the divided communist world of the sixties) distracted us from any expectation of liberal deviation in Czechoslovakia.
There are many reasons for our continuing failure of perception besides simple unfamiliarity (too often disguised and in high places) with either Eastern cultures or communist politics. But two enduring intellectual prejudices are worth pointing out: the tendency to look for political factions rather than underlying forces to explain events; and to make short- term predictions of what national leaders will do rather than seek a strategic perspective on where they stand or an inner understanding of who they are.
Preoccupation with short-term political analysis has been particularly marked in the