A destroyed Soviet tank in Budapest, 1956.

The Crisis in the Soviet Empire

IF we are much too near the recent tumultuous and tragic events in Poland and Hungary to write their history or to venture any predictions for the future in Eastern Europe, we can at least make a serious, if tentative, appraisal of what we feel we know and do not know about the nature of this crisis which has shaken the satellite empire. What is the significance of the changes and disturbances in the Soviet orbit since Stalin's death, and more especially since the monolithic apparatus of party and state control which he perfected has come under criticism by Communists themselves?

When we consider four of the more illuminating developments in 1956--the Twentieth Party Congress of the C.P.S.U. and the secret Khrushchev report; the stormy advent of the Gomulka régime in Poland; the Hungarian revolution and its suppression by Soviet troops; and the reactions of Tito's Jugoslavia to these happenings--we see that the trend away from Stalin's rigid pattern of organization and control has proceeded along three different, and conflicting, lines: 1) toward modified centralized control; 2) toward a "polycentric system," to use a phrase adopted, though not invented, by Palmiro Togliatti; and 3) toward the ascendancy of centrifugal forces. Within the Communist world the play of these divergent trends is framed, on the one hand, by an almost universally felt need to reduce some of the rigors and excesses of the Stalin era, and, on the other, by the need to prevent the return to a non-Communist political and social order. There is no reason to question the reality, from the Communist point of view, of either of these needs. Some Party members may feel that things were simpler in the old days, but there is ample evidence, for example in Khrushchev's secret report, that even the most powerful Communist figures felt the pistol pressing at the base of their skulls.

Within the Soviet Union itself, where both the state and the individual have long been under the control

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