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 for a long time their complete acceptance of the prevailing practices of foreign relations in Europe. (The very frontiers of the Russian Empire, for example, were left undefined and imprecise at a time when, in Europe, surveying techniques had established the geographical frontiers of the sovereign states.) It was Peter the Great who brought Russia into the European state system and brought the state apparatus to Russia, adapting it as well as he could to Russian conditions. One of these "reforms" was his autocratic subordination of the Orthodox Church to the state.

This is not the place to expatiate further upon the peculiarities of the Russian concept of the state. The scope of this essay is restricted to the Soviet period. Because of this I must say a word about Marx, whose animosity toward the state was, if anything, greater than his animosity toward capitalism (after all, according to his historical scheme, capitalism was an unavoidable stage of advance after feudalism). One of Marx’s greatest shortcomings was his failure to distinguish between state and nation. He paid virtually no attention to the latter—and this at the very time when the formerly dynastic European states were becoming national in character, when the content of the nation had begun to fill up the framework of the state nearly everywhere. The phenomena of nationality and of nationalism—still the dominant political phenomena of our times—had no role at all in the writings and the speculations of Marx, and relatively little in the prerevolutionary writings and speculations of Lenin.

The generation that came to power after Lenin—Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin—knew better. But already during the last years of his life, which coincided with the founding of the U.S.S.R., Lenin found himself obliged to make many compromises, among which the most important one was his recognition of the paramount interests of the Soviet state. That state had, first and foremost, to survive. We know of his perhaps apocryphal remark made at the Smolny Institute during that feverish gray morning of the November Revolution, when Trotsky and others were drawing up a list of commissars, including a commissar for foreign relations. "What! Are we going to have foreign relations?" Lenin exclaimed. He was obviously uncomfortable in the face of such an unpleasant bourgeois term. (Within a few weeks he would be forced to conduct negotiations with the stiff foreign ministers and rigid generals of the Central Powers at Brest Litovsk.)

What is not apocryphal is the evidence of Lenin’s then oft-stated belief, according to which it was a fortunate accident that the first communist revolution had happened in Russia, and that it was merely a matter of "weeks, perhaps months" before similar communist revolutions would triumph across Europe, probably first of all in Germany.

This did not happen. For the next 27 years, until 1945, the Soviet Union remained (except for Outer Mongolia) the only communist state in the world. There are many reasons for this. One of these was the low cultural prestige of Russia (had the first communist regime been established in Germany, the appeal of communism across Central and Eastern Europe would have been much greater). Another reason was the unpopularity of the communist ideology itself, even among the hungry and defeated peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. Whereas the American and the French (and, in the twentieth century, the Italian fascist and the German national socialist) Revolutions soon had their imitators abroad, able to rise to power and to maintain themselves even without the help of foreign armies, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 had no successful imitators. The American and the French Revolutions had led to a world war; the Russian Revolutions of 1917 were but the consequences of one.

What the Bolshevik Revolution really meant was Russia’s extensive withdrawal from Europe—geographically, militarily, politically—for at least 20 years. As early as 1919 Lenin had to recognize that the price of the survival of his Soviet state—involving the conclusion of the Russian civil war—was a retreat of the Russian frontiers, together with the acceptance of non-communist and anti-communist states along these borders. Diplomatic recognition from these states—that is, their outward acceptance of the Soviet state—was a supreme necessity, in exchange for which Lenin was constrained to proclaim (35 years before Khrushchev), albeit tongue in cheek, the principle of a "peaceful coexistence" of the Soviet state with other states of the world.

By the time Lenin died in 1924, the prospects of world revolution in Asia, too, had faded. The new Soviet state had retreated into isolation, separating itself from the rest of Europe by an "iron curtain" (this term, made famous by Churchill in 1946, was first coined 25 years earlier, circa 1921). There were many examples in the international history of the 1920s, especially in Germany, when Soviet support to communist parties abroad was superseded, curtailed or even halted by the Soviet security organs or the foreign ministry. Under the commissars of foreign affairs, Georgi Chicherin and Maxim Litvinov, the old Prussian and historicist maxim of Leopold von Ranke asserted itself: "das Primat der Aussenpolitik," the primacy of foreign policy.

But Stalin had not much in common with Chicherin or Litvinov. With all of their respect for "das Primat der Aussenpolitik" these two, while hardly classifiable as "Bolsheviks," were, after all, Marxists; and while they were intelligent enough to understand the needs of Soviet security in a largely hostile world, they showed no ambition to extend the domestic instrumentation of that security, which was Stalin’s priority at the time. Whereas Lenin was a revolutionary, not a statesman, Stalin eventually proved to be a statesman rather than a revolutionary; yet his talent for statesmanship did not really emerge until 1939—the year when, among other things, the great purges were over.


From 1935 to 1939 Stalin, relying on the state security police apparatus, brought about an extraordinary, radical change in the leadership cadres of the Soviet Union. The extent and the meaning of these purges have been often discussed; yet it was not until a generation after these events that we possessed more or less accurate descriptions of their immensity. There are, however, two important conditions of the great purges that have still not received the attention they deserve.

The first concerns the meaning usually attributed to this murderous chapter of Soviet history. Until relatively recently, many writers described the purges as ideological. This was, for example, the principal scenario of Arthur Koestler’s novel, Darkness at Noon: the psychological struggle of an Old Communist Believer. Yet we know now from the remembrances of survivors and from the reconstructions of, among others, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, that Koestler’s ideological melodrama was largely devoid of reality. More serious historians have analyzed the purges primarily from the perspective of the replacement of the older Bolshevik leadership cadres by a new set of party bureaucrats. This was true, to a large extent; but there was more to it than that. What the purges meant was the rise of a state, rather than party, bureaucracy, wholly subservient to the leader. A suggestive illustration of this tendency may exist in the respectful Soviet usage, then emerging, of the word "state." This term, in accord with the original Marxist ideology, had been eschewed, if not rejected, by official Soviet terminology and propaganda in the 1920s. Yet by 1939 in the Soviet Union the word "state" and expressions such as "state interests" or "state matters" had become sacrosanct.

The second condition concerns another, specifically Russian, practice: the traditional, and sometimes extreme, discrepancy between Russian foreign and domestic policies. In 1935 the Soviet government announced and began to pursue its Popular Front policy abroad. This policy called for a coalition with all kinds of social democratic, liberal and even conservative "antifascist" forces; and, in the name of collective security, with liberal and democratic "anti-fascist" states. Yet this happened at the very time when the terror and repression within the Soviet Union reached unprecedented proportions and when the isolation of the Soviet Union from the rest of the world was even more stringent than before. During the late 1930s the directions of Soviet foreign policy and domestic policy could not have been more different from each other. (That foreign communists and pro-Soviet sympathizers failed to see this is beside the point; this happened not because of the adroitness of Soviet external propaganda but because of the ancient human tendency for the wish to be the father of the thought.) Again, this discrepancy was not a novel Soviet phenomenon. Examples of such contrasting directions in Russian foreign and domestic policies existed during the reigns of Catherine the Great, Paul I, Alexander I and Alexander III in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Since the 1930s the primacy of the state has become stronger, and less questionable, in the Soviet Union than in any other great state of the world. Whereas in the twentieth century in the Western world "das Primat der Aussenpolitik" no longer functions quite in the older, Rankean or Clausewitzian sense, in the Soviet Union it still does. In this respect Stalin’s decision to assume the post of prime minister (or, more accurately, chairman of the people’s commissars) in early May 1941, that is, six weeks before Hitler’s invasion of Russia, was symptomatic. The head of the party found it necessary to assume the de jure (and not only the de facto) position of the head of the government. Soon afterward Stalin added to this the functions (and not only the titles) of marshal and generalissimo. For the next 12 years he incarnated this august and triune function: head of the party, of the army and of the state.


We need not dwell here on the innumerable instances—and they are especially telling during the 1939-45 period—in which the securing and the pursuit of Soviet state interests had a definite priority over those of international, or even national, communism. When the need (or opportunity) arose, Stalin and his government had no compunctions about seeking, and eventually establishing, alliances or collaborative arrangements with capitalist, imperialist, fascist or national socialist powers—with Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill, Roosevelt and Chiang Kai-shek, etc., more often than not with complete disregard for the communist parties and their representatives within the countries governed by them.

But we must go a bit further than these obvious facts. It is wrong to regard these decisions as compromises forced upon Stalin by the brutal circumstances of a world war. During the war he became a great national leader. He used nationalist slogans and phrases; he employed the Russian Orthodox Church in the service of the state; he resurrected old Russian practices and symbols in the uniforms, decorations, and in the very organization of the Soviet Army; he eliminated the "Internationale" as the Soviet anthem and pronounced the dissolution of the Comintern.

There are many people who came afterward to see these as cunning maneuvers, camouflaging Stalin’s commitment to the cause of communist expansion. There is no evidence for this. Stalin’s nationalism (as well as his anti-Semitism) was authentic. Nor must we entirely dismiss Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s view of Stalin as wholly romantic and sentimental (in Churchill’s case rather romantic, in Roosevelt’s case more sentimental) misperceptions. Churchill’s more or less realistic, and Roosevelt’s less realistic, assessments of Stalin as a statesman were not entirely wrong. What was wrong was their procrastination—and, in Roosevelt’s case, his evident unwillingness—to deal with the postwar status of Eastern Europe until it was too late. Well before Yalta, Stalin recognized this attitude (imposed, at least partly, on both Churchill and Roosevelt by their considerations of domestic support, i.e., "Innenpolitik"). He interpreted—not altogether wrongly—the general and vague Yalta statements as allowing him a free hand in the portions of Europe occupied by the Soviet armies.

Yet soon after Yalta (and in the instance of Poland, well before Yalta) the Soviets were showing what seemed to be an increased appetite. What the Western Allies had hoped for—hoped for, rather than attempted to secure—was that, in exchange for their tacit acceptance of a Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, the Soviet government would be satisfied with the presence of definitely pro-Russian, though not necessarily wholly communized, regimes, at least in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and perhaps even in Bulgaria and Romania. Yet this did not seem to be enough for Stalin. From 1945 to 1948 he eliminated those trappings of parliamentary democracy that he had for a time let exist in some of the East European states under his sway. This ugly and brutal policy confirmed the opinions of those in the West—and especially in the United States—to the effect that communism was a fanatical ideology and that, contrary to the wartime illusions about his nature, Stalin was wholly dedicated to it.

But this seemingly logical, and seemingly belated, realization was not accurate. It concentrated on ideology, not on geography. What mattered to Stalin was the latter, not the former. He said to Tito, Milovan Djilas and others in 1945 that a division of Europe had come to exist: what is ours is ours; what is theirs is theirs. "It cannot be otherwise," he said. (This was a curious reversion to the sixteenth century, to the governing principle of the Treaty of Augsburg: cuius regio, eius religio—or, rather, eius ordo.) There was no communist regime (with the minor and idiosyncratic exception of Albania) beyond the occupation sphere of the Soviet armies; and there would be none, either. Stalin’s interest in supporting the then considerable French, Italian and Belgian Communist parties was negligible. In the important 1948 election in Italy, Soviet help—financial and propagandistic—to the Italian Communist Party was minuscule compared to the massive American contributions to the campaign of the Christian Democrats.

Many people have thought and said that, in the brutality of his policies in Eastern Europe, Stalin made a great mistake. He alienated the local peoples and he frightened the West. Had he been less brutal, had he allowed a minimum of liberties, had he been satisfied with the existence of Russophile but not necessarily communist governments in Budapest or Prague or Warsaw, the cold war would have been avoided and the attraction of communism as well as the prestige of the Soviet Union would have been immeasurably greater throughout the world. This argument overrates Stalin’s paranoia while it underrates his realism. At the core of the latter stood his contempt for international communism, together with his recognition of the backwardness of Russia. The prospect of East European parliamentary governments following a pro-Russian foreign policy while their peoples kept up cultural, financial and economic contacts with the West did not appeal to him. Under such conditions Moscow would be the loser sooner or later, since Russian influence would naturally, and inevitably, decrease. His was the ancient conservative preference for a bird in one’s hand—in his case, in one’s fist.

His conservatism was the suspicious and obstinate conservatism of the peasant. It was both cautious and radical: for the sake of preserving what had come to be his, everything was permitted; the end justified any and every means. He was a conservative in another sense; his war aims were similar to those of the tsarist empire during World War I. He wanted to recover most of the territories that Russia lost, because of its revolutionary weakness, at the end of World War I. He made few pretenses about this when he sent Vyacheslav Molotov to negotiate with Hitler and when he was dealing with Churchill and Roosevelt. In 1945 he demanded from defeated Japan precisely the territories the Japanese had taken from Russia in the 1904-05 war—nothing more, nothing less, whether it made any sense or not. When in August 1945 he ordered the Soviet armies to attack Japan, his Order of the Day referred to the Russian defeat in the war with Japan under the tsars and exhorted his army "to efface the shame of forty years before." In 1905 Lenin had welcomed that Russian defeat.

Beyond these imperial recoveries there was the larger issue of Russia’s situation in Europe. Before the revolution of 1917 the diplomats of the tsar had listed for their Western allies what Russia wanted out of World War I: an Eastern Europe dominated by Russia, a Western Europe dominated by Britain and France, and a weak and divided Germany in between. That was largely what Stalin wanted in 1945 and after, and it is not very different from what his otherwise quite different successors, from Nikita Khrushchev to Mikhail Gorbachev, have wanted too. More than in the history of many European states, in the history of Russia continuity has been stronger than change. It is this continuity—often as the imprint of the dead hand of the past—that people inclined to ideological thinking, dedicated sympathizers as well as opponents of communism, have tended to ignore.


But after Stalin’s death there did come a change—or, rather, many changes. The so-called "thaw," under Khrushchev, involved both the foreign and the domestic policies of the Soviet Union. This was an exception to the frequent discrepancy between the foreign and the domestic policies of Russian regimes. It is one of the reasons why we may regret, in retrospect, the unwillingness of John Foster Dulles and President Eisenhower to explore the possibilities of a broad rearrangement of Soviet-American relations, including those of a reciprocal disengagement from certain portions of Europe. In 1955 the Austrian State Treaty showed the existence of such possibilities. Yet in 1956, during and after the Hungarian Rising, a turning point in the cold war came: Khrushchev and his colleagues realized that their predecessors’ fears were unfounded; the United States was not interested in changing the division of Europe.

The purpose of this essay, however, is not to survey the evolution of Soviet-American relations or to survey Soviet foreign policy. It is, rather, a survey of the evolving structure of Soviet leadership and, consequently, of Soviet "conduct." Here we may detect the evolution of a process in the direction of the supremacy of a state bureaucracy. During the last ten years of Stalin’s rule the security police apparatus grew steadily in importance. By 1950 it had acquired many functions in the conduct of foreign, as well as domestic, operations. By 1953, when Stalin died, the chief of the secret police, Lavrenti Beria, controlled a veritable internal army of his own. It is significant that, as we now know, it was this most feared (and hated) person in the Soviet hierarchy who, immediately after Stalin’s death, indicated a willingness to enter into secret and wide-ranging arrangements with the United States, perhaps even including a mutual withdrawal from the two Germanics. The probable reason for this was that the leader of the secret police knows more about the weaknesses and the dangers of a state policy than most of his colleagues, and consequently he is willing to act upon them, assuming the mantle of a statesman. Thus did the hated Fouché pursue a policy of cynical realism in the service of French statecraft before and during the downfall of his erstwhile master Napoleon; thus did the SS chief Heinrich Himmler, more than anyone else in the Third Reich’s hierarchy, attempt to establish all kinds of contacts with the Western Allies during the year before the death of Hitler and the end of the Reich. But in 1953 Beria’s ambitions and his power were too much for Khrushchev and his colleagues. They pounced on Beria and had him shot. It was a stroke of the party, and of the army, against the head of the state police.

It is at this point that we may detect a significant distinction. During the 1950s in the Soviet Union two different, though still vastly overlapping, elements of authority began to emerge along with the party: the army and the government. It is true that few, if any, could assume important positions of power without belonging to the party, and it is true that even at this time the most important position in the Soviet Union is that of the general secretary of the Communist Party. But increasingly, since the 1950s, party membership, and even the distinction of certain positions within the party hierarchy, have become not much more than necessary formalities. By the 1950s it was possible for people to rise high in the army ranks without paying much attention to the party. Mutatis mutandis, the same thing was true in the inchoate sphere of "government," given the Soviet Union’s increasing dependence on experts and technicians, ranging from diplomats and state police officials to scientific and cultural personages. The nomenklatura (a relatively recent term) refers to a privileged state class, not to a party hierarchy. Soviet propaganda and information, too, gradually evolved from a tool of the party to the tool of the state.

As we look at the developments of the last 30 years, we may detect a waning of the importance of the party in comparison with that of the army and the government. Khrushchev himself needed the support of the marshals, first against Beria and later against Molotov, but in 1957 he not only had Marshal Georgi Zhukov’s potential wings clipped; he also found it necessary to assume the leadership of the government in addition to his leadership of the party. He fell from power in 1964—the only such transition in the history of the Soviet Union—in part because of his unpopular errors in foreign policy.

Although the Brezhnev era was characterized by the renewed supremacy of a party hierarchy, Leonid Brezhnev, like Khrushchev, found it necessary to assume the headship not only of the party but that of the entire state—and depended, more and more, on the military hierarchy. It was the military leaders who, restive under Khrushchev, and shamed by the Soviet naval weakness during the Cuban missile episode, convinced Brezhnev to engage in a large-scale military and naval expansion program; and it was they who, wrongly, persuaded Brezhnev to engage in the occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 (where, let us not forget, the Russian intervention replaced an existing communist government with another).

During the Brezhnev (and, later, the Chernenko) years it became increasingly evident that the party leadership was woefully inefficient, antiquated and corrupt. It was thus that Yuri Andropov, and after him, Gorbachev, came into power. The first of them had risen primarily through the ranks of the state security, and only secondarily through those of the party organization. During the first two years of his leadership Gorbachev’s most significant changes in the hierarchy of the Soviet Union included not only his elevation of a former foreign minister to the ceremonial headship of the Soviet state but his inclusion of the very able Soviet ambassador to the United States among the top leadership—both promotions based on service in the government, rather than in the party.

It is in this respect that the career, and the reputation, of Gorbachev’s predecessor and former protector Andropov are significant. Andropov was a minor functionary, a relatively low-ranking Soviet ambassador en poste in Budapest, when in 1956 he found himself at the center of the Hungarian Rising, which amounted to the sharpest crisis to threaten the Soviet empire during the last 40 years. While the dour Mikhail Suslov and the wily Anastas Mikoyan had flown to Budapest twice, trying to work out some compromise among the ruins of the Hungarian Workers’ Party, it was Andropov’s cunning and duplicitous diplomacy (he may have "invented" János Kádár) that played the major part in saving the situation for Moscow. During those days and weeks, Andropov saw the total and ignominious collapse of a communist party and of a communist government before his very eyes, the rising of an entire people against communism in a revolution whose popular extent could not have been more impressive. This may have been the most important intellectual experience in Andropov’s life. It surely was the most important turning point in his career. From that time on Hungary has remained one of the calmest and most reliable allies of the Soviet state—necessarily at the cost of permitting many kinds of domestic liberties that, in essence, often amount to the abandonment in all but name of communist practices and of ideology. It was this achievement—the securing of Hungarian loyalty to Soviet foreign policy, that is, to Soviet state interests—which made Andropov so respected and popular within the Soviet leadership. Eventually he rose to become the head of the state security police apparatus. And when he succeeded Brezhnev, Andropov became popular among the Soviet people, too, who had begun to regard the party hierarchy with contempt.

Let us contemplate, for a moment, the pathos of the fate of this artless and patient people, so fearful of the disorder and the anarchy that they sense within their souls. In 1917 amidst the greatest possible anarchy and disorder, with the authority of tsar and church and state dissolved, they began to submit to the rule of a party, of a group of dedicated revolutionaries who attempted the most radical transformation of their country, and perhaps of mankind. Sixty-five years later, in 1982, that party had come to represent inefficiency worse than that of Protopopov, and corruptions reminiscent of Rasputin. Then among some of the Russian people there appeared signs of nostalgia for the crude dictatorship of Stalin; and when the former head of their secret police became the leader of the state, the masses of Russians looked upon him with respect and with hope.


Some of these developments may have been obscured by the expansionist policies of the Soviet Union during the last 25 years. Yet these policies were seldom inaugurated by the Soviet Union. They were forced upon it by the development of what has been called, rather inadequately, the Third World. Until 1960 (with the exceptions of Albania and Yugoslavia, both anti-Soviet states) there was not a single communist state in the world that was not occupied by Soviet armies, or did not border on the Soviet Union (or on China). After 1960, beginning with Cuba, communist or pro-communist regimes appeared in several parts of the world. Yet these regimes were not created by the Soviet Union. They had, as a rule, proclaimed their pro-communist or Marxist persuasion before the Soviet Union—at times reluctantly—chose to offer them cautious support. Unlike the pro-communist governments in Eastern and Central Europe after 1945, none of these governments was installed by Soviet armed forces. To some (North Vietnam being a prime example) the Soviet Union did not send a single soldier. It might furnish them with a limited number of advisers and, somewhat later, with selected weapons whose quantities and qualities have not been at all comparable to those furnished by the United States to its allies or client states. In some cases (Grenada and Libya, for example) these governments’ proclamations of loyalty and dependence on the Soviet Union evoked evident embarrassment—and, at times, actual denials—in Moscow. Again these matters have had little to do with international communism. Egypt, which 30 years ago depended on the Soviet Union, eventually turned against communism and expelled Soviet advisers; yet on the state level relations between Egypt and the Soviet Union remained constant and largely unaffected. In the case of Iran, too, the fanatical fundamentalist anti-communism of the present regime has not essentially affected its diplomatic and political relationship with Moscow.

That there is hardly such a thing as "international" socialism was Mussolini’s great discovery in 1914 and Hitler’s afterwards. The overall appearance of national socialism was a consequence. That there is hardly such a thing as international communism, while there is such a thing as national communism, is—or, rather, should have been—evident at the latest since 1948, when the first break occurred between Tito’s rigidly communist regime in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, because of Stalin’s insistence on the subordination of the Yugoslav state security apparatus to the Soviet one.

Meanwhile Soviet support to the anti-American government in Nicaragua is even less than American support to the anti-Soviet guerrillas in Afghanistan. The Soviet government would be only too glad to trade the elimination of one for the other. While Afghanistan borders on the Soviet Union, Nicaragua is very far from it. Soviet conduct in the world is still principally dictated not by ideology but by geography.

And together with the gradual, though at times imperceptible, weakening of the reputation of the party within the Soviet Union, we may detect an increasingly perceptible transformation of the official Soviet ideology, which has shown a growing inclination to adopt popular and populist nationalism for its own purposes. In sum, the tone and the content of Soviet ideology and practice have evolved from Lenin’s international communism through Stalin’s national adaptations to a nationalist communism in which nationalism has become more and more real and communism more and more abstract. Yet the Soviet rulers cannot afford to declare the abandonment of Marxism (not to mention "Leninism"), since this would mean the abandonment of the legitimacy of their government through the party, the only legitimacy in the Soviet political system. Equally important is the condition that an official abandonment of the communist character of the Soviet Union would result in a curtailment in the actual, and potential, number of its client states—states, rather than parties—abroad.

Meanwhile we are in the presence of a fundamentally nationalist, and essentially very conservative, regime which is beset by enormous problems. Among the latter looms the dormant, though inexorably awakening, nationalism of the non-Russian populations within the Soviet Union. This is a problem that Ivan, Peter and Catherine did not have to face, and this is why some of the perennial elements in Russian conduct may—I am not saying that they will—change radically in the future. But until then it behooves us to recognize that the second superpower of the globe has come far from being the incarnation, let alone the focus, of an ideological totalitarianism. All of its increasingly meaningless party rhetoric notwithstanding, the Soviet Union is a great multinational power, whose only Russian-based popular institution is its army, and the main concern of whose leaders is the security of their state—which to them, as so often in the history of Russia, is identical with the security of their government. That their concept of what is necessary for that security is different from the concepts of other governments and other states may be very disillusioning and unwholesome to us; yet the sources of this concept, and of their consequent conduct, are deeply anchored in old Russian habits, while they have little or nothing to do with what remains of the ideology of communism. The sources of Soviet conduct reside within their fears and ambitions for the security of the Soviet state.


Yet just as there are deep sources of some Soviet obsessions, their perceptions have also been deeply compromised, and misdirected, by tendencies of their ideological opponents. Many well-written books have dealt with the anatomy (and the self-deception) of pro-communist ideas and beliefs, and with the actual damage their representatives and perpetrators have caused. But the anatomy of ideological anti-communism is yet to be written. This is especially regrettable in the United States where, for complex and peculiar reasons, the tendency to identify communism with the source of every possible evil is an old one. Marx’s Communist Manifesto was largely unknown in America when, more than 130 years ago, George Fitzhugh, in his eloquent defense of slavery, Sociology of the South, proposed that the alternative to the maintenance of slavery was "communism." It may be instructive to consider that the first Red Scare within the United States reached its peak in 1920, when the Soviet Union was actually retreating from Europe. The peak of the second Red Scare, in 1953-54, during the McCarthy period, occurred after Stalin’s death and during the relative retreat and "thaw" of the Khrushchev years. This second Red Scare was not merely a domestic phenomenon; the very actions of American statecraft on the highest level were influenced by it.

We must, however, return now to the beginnings of the cold war and of the American-Soviet confrontation. George Kennan’s "X" article described the motives of Soviet conduct as both political and ideological. Soviet aggressiveness, he wrote, was the outcome of an obsessive thrust for ever more security, together with the driving force of communism—though Kennan was careful to state, too, that the latter had little in common with the impatient and fanatical expansionism of the Nazi regime. At any rate, Kennan’s judicious—and, in many instances, still valid—proposition of "containment" and his analysis of Soviet "conduct" were not at all comparable to the language that Dean Acheson employed when he gave a confidential talk to influential members of Congress on February 27, 1947 (some months before the appearance of the "X" article), when the British request for American support to Greece had come through—the moment of the birth of the Truman Doctrine, and the precise turning point in the course of the American ship of state. Acheson said that "it was clear that the Soviet Union, employing the instruments of Communist infiltration and subversion, was trying to complete the encirclement of Germany. In France, the Russians could pull the plug any time they chose. In Italy a similar if less immediately dangerous situation existed, but it was growing worse. In Hungary and Austria the Communists were tightening the noose on democratic governments."

This amounted to a vast, and perhaps conscious, misreading of Stalin’s intentions and of the situation in Europe, but it was useful for domestic political purposes. It was also the beginning of the lamentable development by which anti-communism would become, simply and squarely, equated with American patriotism.

During the last 40 years the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union have been fluctuating. A fluctuation has prevailed, too, in the proportion of the ideological and realistic components of the views of Soviet conduct on the highest levels of American statecraft. The purpose of this essay is not an argument for "realism," (which, too, may suffer from abstract constructs of its intellectualization, as has been practiced by certain respected American professors, but that is a different story). It is an argument for the necessity of a historical perspective. This historical perspective must include not only a survey of the evolution of American-Russian relations but the realization that, just as the ideological impetus of international communism has been dissolving, within the Soviet Union itself the power and the influence of the concept of the state have become predominant. That the Russian concept of the state is profoundly different from ours, and that it includes ideas and practices we find alien, disturbing and at times barbaric remains true; but to consider the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union as the result of their competing ideologies is wrong as well as dangerous. Among other things, we must remember that 40 years ago the Western world welcomed the American decision to put an end to isolationism by shouldering the defense of Western Europe, whereas the peoples of the Western world now are worried by an American internationalism that is propelled by ideological views. But this reaction among our allied nations is only one of the reasons why the ideological perception of the Soviet Union endangers the prospects of American statecraft.

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  • John Lukacs has for over 30 years written extensively on modern history, most recently in Outgrowing Democracy: A History of the United States in the Twentieth Century (1984). He is Professor of History at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.
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