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Communist Rule in Eastern Europe

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By the end of the 1950s, it looked to all the world as if Eastern Europe were safely back in the Communist fold. The Hungarians were still stunned by the defeat of the revolution; the irascible Poles were finally subdued; the Czechs were laboring under the most severe repression since the death of Stalin; the Rumanians and the Bulgarians seemed, as usual, to be bearing their yoke with docility; the Albanians were too few, too far and too inconsequent to deserve the world's solicitude. Jugoslavia was effectively quarantined by Moscow and her revisionist influence was at an ebb. The 1956 interlude was over. It was hardly possible to detect at that time the forces that a few years later were to challenge the renewed order and breed confusion and disarray in the Communist ranks.

The events of 1956-from the Twentieth Party Congress of the C.P.S.U. in February to the end of the Hungarian general strike in December-had more profoundly altered the nature of Communist rule in Eastern Europe than was believed at the time. Khrushchev, in his speech at the Congress, had condemned rule by terror; by his accusations against Stalin, he had also, in effect, acknowledged the fallibility of party leadership. Terror, in the sense of wanton repression for deeds not condemned by law, has ever since been abandoned in Eastern Europe, except in Albania, which rejected the principles of the Twentieth Congress. The revelation of Stalin's follies, reinforced by criticism of Gottwald, Rakosi and Chervenkov in their respective countries, undermined the faith of Communist Party members in their chiefs everywhere; at the same time, the de facto acknowledgment of errors in the past policies of the party made it increasingly delicate to bar public discussion of present policies.

In June 1956, the Poznan riots, which were set off by economic demands, demonstrated to the ruling régimes the political risks they took in neglecting their people's welfare. This lesson has been learned: henceforth, the necessity of at least maintaining the population's level of living was to act as a dominant constraint on the formulation of economic policies in the area. More important still, the Polish and Hungarian events of October and November 1956 exposed the dangers of halfhearted measures of liberalization. When discussions about the "errors of the past" are launched, there is no end to the recriminations they arouse; once they do get started, it is as dangerous to try to bring them to a sudden stop as to let them run their course. Hence the necessity for exerting delicately graduated pressure to bring turbulence under control-as the Poles arid Czechs have understood so well in recent years.

The same fateful year also witnessed the first initiatives of the Chinese Communists in East European affairs, starting with support for Polish and Hungarian independence in October and ending by appeals for international solidarity in December. China's potential interference in East Europe has caused the Soviet Union to exercise a good deal more restraint in its policy toward its erstwhile satellites than in the days of its unchallenged predominance. Finally, the Soviet declaration of October 30, 1956, "On Friendship and Coöperation between the Soviet Union and other Socialist States," proved to be a more serious declaration of Moscow's intent to put its relations with the people's democracies on a new, more equalitarian basis than might have been expected from the circumstances at the moment of its issue, five days before the second Soviet intervention in Hungary.

In the summer of 1958, the Soviets quietly withdrew their troops from Rumania, Less than six months after this event, which went virtually unnoticed in the West, the Rumanian party leaders made their first open bids for Western credits, began to manifest a less coöperative attitude in the Council for Mutual Economic Aid (COMECON) and apparently resolved at their November plenum to reduce the dependency of Rumania's foreign trade on the Soviet bloc. The effects of this reorientation were to become noticeable first in 1960.[i]

In 1960 and 1961, the Sino-Soviet dispute became envenomed, while relations between Moscow and Belgrade gradually improved. The Albanian Communists, motivated primarily by their fear and hatred of Jugoslavia, began to veer toward the Chinese line from 1959 on. Then, after a purge of their own ranks in the summer of 1960, they came out squarely in support of the Chinese stand at the Moscow Conference of the following November. The Soviets promptly moved to isolate Albania diplomatically and to harm her economically. Soviet-Albanian trade fell by a third from 1961 to 1962, then was virtually discontinued in 1963. None the less, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Rumania maintained or increased their volume of trade with Albania during these three crucial years. None of the Soviet allies followed Moscow's lead in cutting off trade relations altogether-in contrast with the well coördinated boycott imposed on Jugoslavia by all Cominform members after the 1948 break.

In 1962 and 1963, the Rumanians hardened their opposition to the efforts of the U.S.S.R., East Germany and Czechoslovakia to reorganize COMECON as a supranational body with greater authority to coördinate and deploy the resources of its members than in the past. The Rumanians' diplomatic initiatives and their virtual declaration of neutrality in the Sino-Soviet dispute in 1964 gave Moscow notice that Rumania's autonomy would not be limited to the economic sphere. This year also, Gomulka and Kadar showed their reluctance to support the Kremlin's call for a preparatory conference of Communist parties, which would consecrate the split in the international workers' movement. They were, and presumably still are, apprehensive lest, once China and her allies have been severed from the Soviet bloc, the Russians will be in a position to reimpose tighter controls on the East European parties that have taken advantage of the dispute to increase their power for man?uvre.


A key question now that Nikita Khrushchev has been deposed is whether the gradual loosening of ties between the U.S.S.R. and the East European Communist powers was due to his gratuitous inclination to allow the former satellites more latitude or was the necessary consequence of changes in the real environment in which Soviet policy must operate, such as shifts in the balance of power, the Sino-Soviet dispute and internal developments in each country. An examination of Khrushchev's role in the events of the last eight years will hardly support the assertion that he consciously promoted autonomy inside the bloc or that he even tolerated it any more than he thought he had to. His blunt interference in Polish affairs in October 1956, his part in suppressing the Hungarian revolution, his influence in bringing about the purge of Anton Yugov and other Bulgarian party leaders in 1961, and his personal efforts to transform COMECON into a supranational coördinating body, against the will of its less developed members, all betray his intent to consolidate the Soviet bloc under Moscow's aegis.

On the other hand, there is no denying that Khrushchev tried to conciliate his allies and to create an esprit de corps in the bloc that was missing in Stalin's day, and that in so doing he achieved some measure of popularity in the higher spheres of the East European parties. There is evidence, reported by the correspondent of Le Monde, Philippe Ben, that at the time of the June 1957 showdown in the Soviet Party Presidium at which Khrushchev's opponents almost overcame him, Polish Premier Cyrankiewicz and his entourage were afraid of the coming to power of Molotov and other diehards who would be less tolerant of Poland's autonomy. Khrushchev also demonstrated at times more willingness than some of his colleagues to come to terms with Tito and to facilitate his rapprochement with the bloc (i.e. the 1963 incident when he caused the May Day slogans to be amended after publication to include a greeting to socialist Jugoslavia). Finally, if, as some observers have speculated, it was on order from Khrushchev, against Brezhnev's opposition, that the Togliatti Theses were reprinted in Pravda on September 10, 1964, this might also indicate a more liberal attitude toward democracy in the bloc than was held by the men who have replaced him.

In view of this scattered and partially contradictory evidence, how are we to interpret the reactions of the Czech, East German, Hungarian and Polish party leaders to Khrushchev's dismissal? Were the kind words they had for Khrushchev after his departure tokens of gratitude for his personal role in liberalizing Soviet relations with their countries? If they had really feared a resumption of Stalinist methods of control, they would have hesitated to antagonize the new Kremlin leaders by praising the man who had just lost the power struggle. A more likely explanation of their attitude is that they wished to convey to Brezhnev and his associates that the autonomy they had achieved during Khrushchev's tenure of office was an accomplishment which could not be reversed, and that far from expecting a Soviet attempt to curb it, they intended to enlarge it in the future.

For the time being, I think we may proceed on the assumption that objective forces rather than Khrushchev's personal inclinations weakened Soviet influence over Eastern Europe. Unless the new masters of the Kremlin are willing to take chances, they will also have to accommodate themselves to the present situation and perhaps even tolerate a further decline in Soviet hegemony over the affairs of the Communist world.

Now that the nations of East Europe have attained a significant degree of independence, their internal problems will play a more decisive role than in the past, when the Kremlin could remove an unpopular leader at will to assuage discontent (e.g. Hungary's Rakosi in 1953) or stood ready to bail out its allies with economic aid at the first sign of impending revolt (as in the wake of the Poznan riots of June 1956). If Khrushchev had been able to depose Novotny and replace him with a more popular leader in 1959 or in 1960-as the Albanians claim he tried to do with the help of Rudolf Barák- the position of the party in Czechoslovakia might not have deteriorated as far as it has. Neither would matters have come to this pass if the Soviets had supplied economic aid in 1961 or 1962 when the Czechs needed it so badly. (Instead, Czechoslovakia at present lends capital to the Soviet Union for the development of its iron ores.)

What holds the European Communist bloc together is no longer Soviet power over the lives and careers of the highest party officials of the people's democracies, but a more or less loosely woven web of ideological, economic and political threads. From this it follows that ties which are now close, due to a coincidence of interests, may be sundered tomorrow if a shock or disturbance from without happens to break up this fortuitous harmony. Internal forces may then set in motion centrifugal tendencies which would have been kept in check in the days when Bierut, Rakosi and Chervenkov ruled their satrapies at Stalin's sufferance.

The consequences of national autonomy will be felt especially sharply when one or another of the Communist Party chiefs of Eastern Europe dies or retires and leaves a wide-open field for his succession. Since the Soviets will no longer have a decisive voice in the appointment of the new Party Secretary, the ensuing struggle among contenders for the post is likely to be even more protracted and complex than when Poland's Boleslaw Bierut died in March 1956.

The special relations of the East European states to the U.S.S.R. may even aggravate rather than damp down their internal disturbances. Those that choose to back the Soviets in their struggle with China must tune their propaganda against dogmatism, condemn Stalinism and heed the revisionist currents from Moscow, even though domestic conditions may call for quite different policies. Thus, the anti-Stalinist tenor of the C.P.S.U's Twenty- Second Party Congress in November 1961 could not be ignored in Prague. It heartened the anti-dogmatic forces in the Czechoslovak party, who could now confound conservative officials with quotations freshly wafted from Moscow. When Slovak cultural periodicals, which distinguished themselves in the last two years by their independence from party controls and by their ideological boldness, heaped showers of praise on Khrushchev, they did so neither by force of habit nor on order from above, but because, rightly or wrongly, the Slovak party intellectuals saw in the Soviet Premier an ally against the dogmatists in their own party. Gheorghiu-Dej and Enver Hoxha, unlike Novotny, can take or leave a Soviet thaw and rule their country as they think best.

Indeed, the Rumanian and Albanian Parties have, by and large, maintained tighter controls over their respective populations to the present day than did those who remained faithful to Moscow's leadership in the Chinese dispute. Their leaders may have been wary of the risk that de-Stalinization would boomerang in their countries, where the party is still weak and can maintain itself in power only by an outward show of strength and severity. Furthermore, once these Balkan leaders had resolved on an independent course vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, they had to tighten their hold on the party and on the press to avoid even the semblance of international factionalism, which the Soviets might use as an interim wedge to regain their dominant position. It may be recalled in this connection that Tito's régime did not begin to loosen its totalitarian grip until nearly two years after the Jugoslav break with the Cominform. It is probable that once the Rumanian Government has won a measure of popular support by catering to the nationalistic feelings of its subjects, it will be able to launch a more clement policy. (The recent political amnesty, the rehabilitation of a few prewar historians and sociologists, and a more nuanced attitude toward Western literature in recent months may be the harbingers of this new course.) In Albania, this trend is less likely, for the party is more fundamentally committed, nationally and internationally, to a hard "Marxist- Leninist" policy.

There is no more reason now than before the overthrow of Khrushchev to expect that any countries of Eastern Europe will defy Moscow and either join the Chinese or declare neutrality in the Sino-Soviet dispute. Thus Ulhricht must have Russian support to stay in power, Gomulka feels that Poland must be closely allied to the Soviet Union in order to contain Western Germany and to safeguard the Oder-Neisse line, The Czechoslovak Communists at the present time are concerned mainly about their difficult economic situation; they have well in mind that if the Soviet market for their machinery products were cut off, the economic structure they have built over the last 15 years would collapse (the drastic curtailment of trade with China in 1961 already dealt a heavy blow to the Czech economy). Kadar's Hungarian régime, which was put in power by the force of Soviet arms, can only look to Moscow to defend Hungary's vital interests in the Balkans, more particularly in Transylvania, where the Hungarian minority has apparently been subjected to discrimination and repression at the hands of the Rumanians in recent years. And the Bulgarians, who have a long tradition of loyalty and subservience to Russia, which Moscow has kept alive by generous economic aid, can also be counted on (although they were once tempted to follow Chinese shock methods in their economic policy).


Since the Communist parties in the countries that have remained faithful to Moscow cannot exploit nationalistic aspirations and popular desire for independence to nearly the same extent as Rumania and Albania, they must resort to other means to win the minimum degree of support necessary to ran a modern state, where terror has been abjured as an instrument of domestic policy. It is not surprising, in view of the variety of political and economic conditions obtaining in this group of countries, that different techniques have been used at various times to achieve this aim. (This lack of uniformity, as we shall see, gave disaffected intellectuals in the "hard- line" countries the opportunity to challenge the existing order by making invidious comparisons with the policies of the more liberal régimes.) Not that the usual means of persuasion through education and ideological propaganda were abandoned in any of these states. Much effort was indeed devoted to the traditional methods, But these are blunt instruments, of doubtful effectiveness in the short run, and to which more sophisticated citizens have become anesthetized.

The first element of diversity has been the occurrence, at various times in the several countries of the Soviet bloc, of periods of liberalization and repression, in contrast to the pre-1956 era when the correlation was nearly perfect. Since 1961, for instance, the Czechs and the Slovaks have been enjoying a remarkable relaxation of political and cultural controls, while Poland's Communist leaders have been busy whittling away the freedoms granted to the population in October 1956. In Hungary, a novel situation has arisen, which does not have the characteristics either of a "thaw" or of a decompression period; Kadar's government has maintained a fairly tight clamp in the ideological sphere, while making substantial concessions to the Hungarian people concerning such matters as license to travel abroad, personal freedom from persecution, promotion of non-Communists to important posts and access to university education on the basis of merit rather than class background. These concessions were not wrested from the government by a clamoring press or by a turbulent populace; they were vouchsafed to widen support for the régime-with considerable success, if we may judge by travelers' reports. Even in countries such as East Germany, where leaders have the reputation of being staunch Stalinists, there have been occasional measures of leniency in the arts and debates in the social sciences which have gone far beyond what was permitted a decade ago. Although these clemencies may be promptly withdrawn-when the aspirations toward greater freedom which they engender threaten to get out of hand-they serve to remind intellectuals that the state is not entirely deaf to their pleas. In every country allied to the Soviet Union, a significant degree of interaction between the rulers and their subjects marks the progress made since Stalin's day, when the lines of force ran only one way-from the top down.

Wladyslaw Gomulka has banked mainly on the German danger to keep the Poles quiescent, and he has done this with remarkable skill. In their public propaganda, the Polish Communists have played up every incident they could find that would keep alive Polish fears of German revanchism. At the same time, supporters of the régime quietly spread the rumor that only a policy of wholehearted collaboration with the Soviet Union would keep hrushchev from making a deal with Germany at Poland's expense. This raison d'état, though of doubtful validity, has restrained many anti-Communist Poles from opposing their government. President Novotny, similarly, has exploited the unguarded statements of Bonn officials on the Sudeten problem to evoke the traumas of the Munich accord and its aftermath. (Bonn's refusal to repudiate the accord has, of course, helped to lend substance to this propaganda.)

As a matter of fact, Novotny, harassed by opposition both within and without the party, has been in need of every issue he could find to keep himself afloat. He has already thrown overboard a great deal of ballast, including his old-time colleague Viliam Siroky, who was dismissed as Prime Minister in 1963. His characteristic way of dealing with intellectual unrest is, on the one hand, to discredit intellectuals by playing on the feelings of envy, self-conscious inferiority and class animosity harbored by workers and by the party's rank and file against people more educated than themselves; and, on the other hand, to court mildly revisionist artists, scientists and professors by granting them state prizes, trips abroad and financial help. In exchange, these intellectuals are expected to keep their discussions within reasonable bounds and particularly not to air their unorthodox views beyond the confines of their professional organs. It is all right, Novotny says in effect, for the philosophers to cast an occasional doubt on the dialectics, for the painters to depart from realism, and for the historians to stray from the old party line, but this must be done with discretion, away from the public glare. What he seeks to avoid, above all, is any sudden contact of the intellectuals with members of other professions and with the public at large, such as occurred in Poland and Hungary in the summer of 1956. Unfortunately for the party leadership, as the professional organs, especially the cultural weeklies, become less orthodox, they begin to attract many new readers, and it becomes increasingly difficult to prevent the dissemination of subversive ideas among the different strata of the population.

Although, as we have seen, party authorities can now select among a wider range of alternative policies to combat resistance to their rule than before 1956, the effectiveness of their tactical moves is hedged about by two increasingly serious disabilities: the loss of momentum of the official ideology and the lack of personnel qualified to "put across" the régime's policies. Orthodox Marxism-Leninism no longer holds the initiative among intellectuals; it is no longer able to stem the encroachments of Western rational and secular thought. It is too abstract, inflexible and generally unpalatable to serve as an appropriate vehicle for enlisting the coöperation of workers, peasants or intellectuals to work for party goals. Worse yet, the party functionaries charged with ideological affairs in the Central Committee, who are themselves mediocre men of no standing in the intellectual population, can no longer find-as they did between 1945 and 1953-first-rate adepts to transmit and elaborate their dictates in cultural fields or the social sciences. The philosophers and social scientists of talent, such as Gyorgy Lukacs in Hungary and Joseph Chalasinski in Poland, learned their lesson under Stalinism and will not again debase their professional standards for the sake of party-mindedness. There is no one to take their place. The government must rely on compromised second-raters such as the philosopher Adam Schaff and the economist Bronislaw Mine in Poland or the Marxist critics Ladislav Stoll and Jifi Taufer in Czechoslovakia, who did what they were told in 1952 and can be relied on to continue to do so now. (After 1956, Schaff attempted for a while to satisfy both the wolf of party exigency and the lamb of revisionist aspirations but ended up serving the wolves when the lines were drawn.)

There has been no change in the old guard because the able scholars and writers of the next generation-e.g. in Poland, the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski and the economist Wlodzimierz Bras; in Czechoslovakia, the philosopher Karel Kotyk, the aesthetician Oleg Sus and the sociological economist Rudolf Selucky; and a whole Pleiad of economists in Hungary-think for themselves and will not act as mere transmission-belts for party dictates. The others, the ones lacking in self-respect, usually do not have the minimum prestige to police the arts and sciences successfully. The intellectuals in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland have developed a more discriminating sense of moral responsibility in recent years than in the confused aftermath of World War II; social ostracism, to an increasing extent, is the penalty reserved for those who infringe the rules of common decency, who collaborate beyond the requirements of duty or give in too easily to party pressures, A remarkable instance of these high moral standards is the defiant attitude of 22 out of the 34 Polish Intellectuals who signed the notorious "Letter to Polish Premier Cyrankiewicz" earlier this year and who are still resisting party pressures to repudiate their politically harmful initiative. (A majority of the dozen signatories who gave in to these pressures were university professors and other de facto public servants whose livelihood could more easily be threatened than that of writers and critics.) The tumultuous welcome recently accorded by a large group of Krakow students to one of the writers who held his ground shows that, unlike in the Stalinist era, an enlightened public can now express its appreciation for those who still dare to champion civic virtues.

There is an exception to the clear moral demarcation I have just referred to. The Slovak Communist intellectuals who were purged for nationalist deviations in the early 1950s, led by L. Novomesky and G. Husak, are still inflamed by their enthusiasm for Communism and are doing everything they can to instill new life into the party. These men have achieved a significant measure of popularity in Slovakia, though apparently more by virtue of their nationalism than of their Communism. It remains to be seen whether their political position is stable and whether they can influence the party stalwarts to move toward a more liberal policy. If not, the same choices may eventually confront them as did their revisionist predecessors in Poland and Hungary after 1956: they will either have to abandon politics and take up scholarly pursuits or capitulate and serve the party bureaucracy, with the concomitant loss of their popularity.

The bonds of solidarity that have been forged of late among intellectuals in the various Communist countries who share similar problems in their relations with party authorities are one of the distinguishing marks of the present period. Nonconformist Soviet poets and writers have received warm support in several cultural journals of Eastern Europe. Almost as soon as L'Express in Paris published Evgeny Evtushenko's politically candid biographical sketches, which caused a furor in Moscow, they were reprinted in the Slovak periodical Kulturny Zivot. Evtushenko is also said to be a cultural hero among young people in Hungary. The Czech literary journal Plamen was used last summer by an East German writer as a platform to complain about dogmatic critics in East Berlin and about the cultural isolation of his fellow-citizens. By far the best documented and most perceptive article on the troubles in Czechoslovak agriculture appeared under the name of a Czech author in a Polish periodical. An article by the Czech writer Josef Hoffmeister, describing the new freedoms enjoyed in Hungary, created something of a sensation in a Prague literary journal in the summer of 1963. Every blow against totalitarianism in one country is apt to be exploited by intellectuals in the rest of the bloc. And even Communists outside the bloc can on occasion serve as a liberating influence, as witness the impact of French Communist writers such as Roger Garaudy on Czech intellectuals in connection with the discussion on Kafka and alienation under socialism.

The relaxation of international tensions has been another factor making for instability in the Communist states. The party cannot as easily justify harsh policies and the imposition of strict ideological discipline by invoking the threat of imperialist war or the dangers of infiltration by spies and other "class enemies." The increasingly free access of East Europeans to world information-via the radio, tourists from abroad and more or less legally imported literature-imposes restraints on official propaganda, which must take into account these alternative news media. People cannot be deceived about living standards in France or Italy or about economic integration in Western Europe. More important still, the collectivized farmer of Slovakia knows that his Polish colleague on the other side of the border is still plowing his own land.

The rebirth of nationalist sentiment presents one of the most powerful threats to the uneasy balance of Communist rule. The nationalism of minorities challenges the principle of centralized government, as witness the Slovak opposition to control by Prague. But it may also irritate relations between states, as in the case of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania. Despite nearly 20 years of government and party efforts to rewrite history from a class viewpoint and to extirpate from the minds of citizens the antagonisms that have plagued Eastern Europe for hundreds of years, the old animosities live on, passed on from one generation to the next by word of mouth. The Czechs cannot forget that Poland seized Teschen after Munich (though the area is theirs again); the Hungarians deplore the loss of Transylvania; the Rumanians covet Bessarabia, the Bulgarians northern Dobrudja and parts of Jugoslav Macedonia. In the last year or so, some of these latent conflicts have pierced through Marxist historical writings. Slovak historians, in conjunction with their struggle for a fundamental revision of the official party attitude toward the Slovak uprising of August 1944 and toward the alleged deviations of the Clementis- Novomesky-Husak faction condemned during the Stalinist period, have brought into question the whole nexus of Czech-Slovak relations before, during and immediately after World War II. Rumanian historians, in this case undoubtedly at the behest of their authorities, now play up the role of the Rumanian Communist Party, and of Gheorghiu-Dej in particular, in the liberation of their country and more or less implicitly deprecate the Soviet contribution to this effort. An editorial article in the August 1964 issue of Lupta de Clasa, organ of the Rumanian Workers' Party's Central Committee, claims that Ana Pauker and V. Luca, who were "living in emigration during the war," disapproved of the local Communists' support of the conspiracy that led to the overthrow of the Antonescu régime in August 1944, on the pretext that if it had not been for the insurrection, power could have been taken over by the working class "immediately"-upon liberation by the Soviet forces?-instead of having to be shared with the bourgeoisie in the next couple of years. It may be surmised that the Pauker- Luca views were shared at the time by the Kremlin. In any case it is evident that the history of the liberation of Rumania is an important cause of friction between Moscow and Bucharest today.

Even pre-World War I history is now becoming a source of friction in the area. The pointed discussion that took place between Hungarian, Rumanian and Soviet historians at the Budapest Historical Congress of May 1964 on the decay and disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire disinterred various controversial issues, which also have their contemporary overtones. The Hungarians and the Soviets, for instance, rejected the Rumanian contention that the workers and peasants of the oppressed nationalities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire aspired toward "unitary national states." When the successor states actually came into being, one Soviet historian observed, they also included national minorities, which were sometimes forcibly "unified" (e.g. the Ukrainians in Rumanian Bukovina). P. Hanak, a Hungarian participant, expressed doubt as to whether the breakdown of the Empire in 1918 into independent states "had brought about favorable conditions in every respect, from the point of view of the further struggle of the working classes and oppressed peoples." He also denied that the "unitary national states have solved-even comparatively speaking-the many pernicious problems inherited from the past." He warned that these historical problems, far from being only of "museum value," involved the "question of coexistence among the Danubian peoples and their international democratic coöperation" (Valoság, No. 7, 1964). These clashes cannot be entirely attributed to a concerted attack on Rumanian nationalist deviations; similar, though apparently more muted, divergencies divided Czech and Hungarian historians on the origins of the first Czechoslovak Republic.

While these frank exchanges are perhaps more healthy than the past practice of glossing over controversial issues, there is a risk, in the short run, that mutual recriminations may upset the superficially harmonious relations among the Danubian states and lead to a resurgence of the petty feuding that proved so disastrous, both economically and politically, in the inter- war period. The members of COMECON have already had considerable difficulty smoothing over the conflicts of interests in their midst, especially between the more and the less developed countries of the area; the organization might not survive a crisis of exasperated nationalism.

It would be a mistake for Westerners to indulge in smug jubilation at the first sign of disintegration in Eastern Europe. In the long run, it will better serve the cause of peace and freedom if tensions in the region can be resolved and if the individual countries of Eastern Europe, forgetting the rancors of the past, can move toward a closer political and economic unity. This is a time when the Western allies might begin to formulate a constructive and responsible policy toward Eastern Europe-as the region might emerge a few years hence if present trends continue.


Among the disruptive forces in the bloc, economic failures have perhaps had the most powerful impact. They are particularly serious when they occur in conjunction with a malaise in the party or with some other source of dissatisfaction; for they then intensify splits in the party and promote the relaxation of ideological pressure that normally accompanies disunity. Conversely, if the party can pride itself on the simultaneous attainment of high rates of industrial growth and of increases in the population's living standards, party differences tend to be resolved and ideological struggle is apt to be waged with greater vigor (as in Czechoslovakia in 1958-1959 and in Rumania in 1958-1962).

This conjecture is related to the existence of what a Czech economist recently described as "the economic semicycle," in virtually the first analysis made by a Soviet-bloc economist of economic fluctuations in socialist countries (Planovane Hospodarstvi, No. 9, 1964). The political aspects of these fluctuations can easily be tacked on to his economic analysis. The "semicycle" begins in a period of unusually favorable circumstances-after a period of recovery from war damage, after two or three years of good harvests, or where various "tail-ends" of investments have recently been completed and have added to present-day capacity at little cost in terms of presently available resources. Plans are drawn up for the next few years in the "subjective expectation" that these favorable conditions will be maintained. But bottlenecks and other obstacles soon arise, which imperil the fulfillment of these ambitious plans. To salvage the plans, pressure is put on labor to increase its productivity, wage controls are tightened and party calls for heightened discipline go out into the land. The ideological offensive now picks up momentum; there is no more room for dissension or even for discussion of larger issues-for example, of faults in the economic system. All efforts must be mobilized to achieve immediate goals. Later, as the crisis deepens, the initial plans may be abandoned. If this decision is taken, investments are trimmed; the pace of expansion slackens; and the pressure in the system lets up. This is the turning point where a period of liberalization is most likely to set in. If, on the other hand, the party is still unified behind its leadership and if there is sufficient hope that the plans can be salvaged, then the economic and the ideological offensive will continue to be waged until success has been achieved.

To describe the social mechanism that translates economic crises into political thaws, I shall use the recent example of Czechoslovakia, where a many-sided connection can be traced between the economic difficulties that came to a head in early 1962 and the internal disunity that manifested itself at the same time.

1. Party unity was undermined by divergences in the Central Committee, and probably in the Presidium itself, on the causes of the failure of the Third Five Year Plan (1961-1965), which proved to be unfeasible almost as soon as it was launched (it was finally abandoned in mid-1962). Ota Sik, a member of the Central Committee and perhaps the most influential theoretical economist in the party, revealed in December 1963 his fundamental disagreement with Novotny on this issue. He argued that the reforms instituted in 1958 in the Czechoslovak economic system had failed because they did not go far enough toward decentralization, whereas Novotny had claimed that the reforms had gone too far, or at least that their misapplication had led to a "weakening of the central direction of the economy." The views of Jaromir Dolansky, an old-time economic expert on the Presidium who lost his post as vice-premier in September 1963, apparently were more consonant with Sik's position than with Novotny's.

2. The party Presidium, which is said to have worked on the directives of the Third Five Year Plan and to have "systematically discussed its chief problems," lost prestige in the eyes of lower functionaries when the plan failed. If party chiefs and high government officials can err by such a wide margin, then blind conformism cannot be expected of the rank and file.

3. Party officials in the National Committees (local state organs), who shared responsibility with managers of enterprises for the fulfillment of the plans, although the final version of the plans had been elaborated by central agencies without local participation, threw back the blame for failures on higher authorities. An official in the Pilsen district, for instance, attacked the Minister of Heavy Industry at the Twelfth Party Congress (1962) for incompetent meddling in the affairs of the Lenin (ex- Skoda) Works and for flagrant ignorance of the enterprise's production and financial problems.

4. The reshuffling of manpower and the dislocation of output attending the economic slowdown deepened the cleavage between Slovakia and the Czech lands. (Industrial output and the volume of construction both fell in 1963.) There was a widespread feeling in the Slovak party, and in the Slovak population at large, that the ministries in Prague were discriminating against Slovak plants in distributing scarce materials and in ordering shutdowns. The Slovak Communists began to complain that Novotny was practicing a "Bene?-like" policy with respect to Slovakia. The appointment of Josef Lenart as Premier in September 1963 helped to placate the Slovaks who wanted "their" man in the government to defend Slovak economic interests.

5. The procedures used in dismissing superfluous workers and in assigning them to labor-deficit sectors (construction, mining and state farms) also had political repercussions. In Slovakia, the selection of workers to be laid off followed strict class principles. The first to get dismissed were the close relatives of farmers who had a piece of privately-owned land and who had not fulfilled their compulsory deliveries to the state. Last to be let go were faithful party members. These practices antagonized the population and widened the chasm separating it from the party.

The economic crisis in Czechoslovakia represents perhaps an unusually clear case. At times the casual sequence may be more complex. The Polish repression of 1959, for instance, was not only linked to the party's attempt to overcome the economic setbacks of that summer, as some observers have argued, but also to Colonel Monat's defection, which precipitated the return of harsh disciplinarians, such as Kazimierz Witaszewski, to the Central Committee apparat. Actually the repression had begun in earnest in 1958 after a year and a half of economic successes; it was accompanied by an acceleration of the investment program, which was itself largely responsible for the economic difficulties that cropped up in 1959.

While economic fluctuations are of less magnitude in the Soviet Union than in Eastern Europe and play a smaller role in determining changes in the political climate, it is at least worth mentioning that three of the most oppressive periods in Soviet history-the first collectivization campaign of 1928-1930, the great purge of 1937-1938, and the Zhdanovshchina of 1948- followed a general uptrend in economic conditions.


The model sets in perspective a few interrelated factors from among the multitude of forces conditioning Communist rule in Eastern Europe. We have seen that the penetration of ideas subversive to the official ideology, the resurgence of nationalism both inside and outside the party, the relaxation of international tensions, and the looser links that have been knitted in recent years between Moscow and its former satellites have also been undermining the stability of the present régimes.

In the past, Communist leaders could delude themselves that the internal disruptive forces were due to the vestiges of bourgeois mentality. In the long run, they believed, every citizen born and bred in a socialist state would be so imbued with Communist principles that he would automatically comply and conform to party rule. But such data as have been collected on the attitudes and beliefs of young people in Eastern Europe give no ground for this optimism. In spite of their Communist education, youths, of whatever social origin, whether in Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia, cannot be induced to accept cant as a substitute for wisdom or varnish for truth. They will not accept at their face value the superficial explanations and excuses of the party for the vicious repressions of Stalin's day. (In Czechoslovakia, no one forgets that the most important trials of Slovak Communists accused of nationalist deviations took place after Stalin's death.) Moreover, their Communist elders can no longer effectively convince them with arguments about the dismal state of affairs that prevailed during the economic depression of the 1930s or during the Nazi period, because they have no direct memory of this antediluvian past. The best the party can hope for is the "depoliticization" of students, such as has occurred in Poland in recent years; but even then the intellectuals who will be drawn from the ranks of these students will necessarily be engulfed by politics, if only to fight the encroachments of the party on their professional activity.

If this diagnosis is correct, the party leaders of the East European states that have cast their lot with the Soviet Union cannot look forward to any substantial improvement in the political climate under which they rule. Can they contain the tide of popular demands for radical reforms in Communist society without falling back on terror? The evolution of the situation in Czechoslovakia in the next year or two should be instructive in this respect. During the summer of 1964 Novotny and his aides seemed to be moving away from persuasion and appeals to Communist conscience, which have borne little or no fruit, toward "administrative measures." Organizational and administrative moves are of course a long way from any reversion to terror; nevertheless, if the opposition keeps on growing, particularly in Czechoslovakia, Poland and East Germany, the options facing the rulers may narrow with time as the number of even halfway competent intellectuals willing to collaborate with the party dwindles and as mild punitive measures become increasingly ineffective. If the present party leaders eventually choose to resort to violence rather than give up power to more liberally inclined men in the party, a cataclysmic escalation of social tensions, such as occurred in 1956, would seem to be inescapable.

[i] For details, see my article "The Background and Origins of Rumania's Dispute with COMECON." Soviet Studies, October 1964.

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