Courtesy Reuters

The Soviet State at 65

Sixty-five years ago the Soviet state came formally into existence —at a time when the United States had chosen isolationism, at least in regard to Europe. The avowed purpose of the Soviet Union was to serve as the center of communist internationalism—yet at a time when Lenin was forced to opt for a policy of isolation, at least in regard to Europe. By 1921, however, the discrepancy between Soviet priorities, between state and ideological interests, had already begun.

By 1939 the world situation had changed dramatically. After 20 years of relative isolation, both the Soviet Union and the United States were returning to the European scene. By the end of 1942 it appeared that they would become the two principal world powers after the Second World War. And whereas during the war, and as late as 1945, the Soviet Union was seen by the American government as a (if not the) principal ally of the United States, by 1947 the American government was constrained to view it as the principal adversary of the United States: a condition which has, by and large, remained unchanged during the last 40 years. In July 1947, under the pseudonym of "X," George F. Kennan published an article in Foreign Affairs entitled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," which set forth the rationale of an American foreign policy that had crystallized at the time. I shall—very briefly—return to Kennan’s analysis at the end of this essay. The main purpose of this essay is, however, that of a survey of the development of Soviet "conduct" 65 years after the establishment of the Soviet state.


The modern state and the concept of state sovereignty—together with the practices of modern diplomacy, that is, the establishment of permanent relations among courts and states—arose among the Italian city-states during the late fifteenth century and spread across Europe during the following two hundred years. These concepts and practices did not come to apply to Russia until much later. The isolationism of the Muscovite tsars precluded

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