FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: The Essays of Zbigniew Brzezinski

The Challenge of Change in the Soviet Bloc

John F. Kennedy meeting Nikita Khrushchev, 1961.

THE declaration issued by 81 Communist parties in Moscow last December 6 marks a seminal date in the history of international Communism. For the first time in the history of the Soviet bloc a conference of Communist leaders ended not merely with the usual "unanimous agreement" but also with a silent agreement to disagree. For the first time in about 35 years the general strategy of the Communist parties scattered around the globe is no longer to be set purely in terms of Soviet estimates of what will most benefit the interests of the Soviet Union. Cast aside is Stalin's categorical dictum that "a revolutionary is he who, without arguments, unconditionally, openly and honestly . . . is ready to defend and strengthen the U.S.S.R . . . . " What is good for the Soviet Union is no longer automatically also good for the Soviet bloc and for International Communism.

The Moscow conference thus highlights a process of transformation of the Soviet bloc into a Communist one. This process was inherent in the shift of Soviet power beyond the Soviet frontiers. However, Stalinism, with its insistence on absolute centralization of power in Moscow and on Soviet ideological infallibility, involved a conscious effort to prevent such a transformation. In fact, Stalin did not fear only national Communism--he even rejected its much more subdued variant, "domesticism," i.e. the effort to make some domestic adjustments while accepting the principle of bloc unity and absolute Soviet leadership.

The Jugoslav break in 1948 was the first signal that an international Communist system could not work effectively merely by applying Stalinist domestic practices to the new Soviet bloc. The change became more rapid after Stalin's death. Several factors prompted it. The new ruling Communist élites in East Europe gradually--and not everywhere at first--became somewhat more confident of their ability to build "socialism," especially if given sufficient leeway to make some domestic adjustments. The presence of an indigenous and independent Communist régime in China "objectively" (as the Marxists would put it) strengthened the case

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