London, October.—This is not a good moment to be writing about the probable shape of things to come in Eastern Europe. Setting aside the obvious unpredictability of the Soviet Union's present rulers, the calendar keeps interfering. On the eve of the Czechoslovak invasion last August, the date in everyone's mind was September 9: the day fixed for the convocation of the special party congress which was to have placed the official seal upon the Communist reformation. As the experts quite rightly pointed out, the Russians would have to intervene before that date if they meant to avoid the extra odium of reversing a decision taken in broad daylight by a properly elected party convention attended by hundreds of foreign visitors. In the end this consideration probably weighed more heavily with the Capomafiosi in Moscow than Ulbricht's real or supposed share in pressing the panic button on the eve of the Soviet Central Committee's emergency session on August 19. We may never know what exactly made Brezhnev and a few others come off the fence on which they had been sitting since their meetings with the Czechoslovak leaders at Cierna and Bratislava in late July and early August. But it was obvious that September 9 was the last date if they were going to march. Thereafter, their stooges in Prague would have been voted off the Presidium, and probably expelled from the Central Committee as well. Then it would have been too late—not for the Soviet military, but for their civilian superiors who at the moment still have the last word (for how much longer?).
Now the next critical hurdle to be taken is October 28, by which time these words will be in print. For on that day the Czechs and Slovaks will either commemorate or ignore the 50th anniversary of their Republic's birth in 1918. If the celebrations are held as planned, Ludvik Svoboda will be proclaimed the legitimate successor of Thomas Masaryk. Whoever makes the official speech on that occasion—Dubcek if he is still there or another man in his place—can hardly fail to remind his hearers that the literal meaning of the name Svoboda is “freedom,” and that a country occupied by foreign troops is a protectorate, even if the presence of these unwanted guests is covered by a thin legal veil.
So once more we sit and wonder: will the Russians take the risk of letting Dubcek broadcast to the nation on that day, knowing that the romantic and patriotic side of his nature might at any moment take precedence over his ingrained caution? Or will they seek to replace him by a safer man who would yet be acceptable to the people of Czechoslovakia? But the only plausible candidate in sight at the moment is the redoubtable Gustav Husak, currently (at the time of writing) party leader in Slovakia; and Dr. Husak, while a less emotional man than Dubcek, is potentially no less dangerous to the Russians. A former Resistance hero under the Germans, he spent nine years, from 1951 to 1960, in jail under the Stalinists, and a man who can survive that sort of experience must be made of fairly tough material. The choice, then, is not an easy one. It is a measure of the Kremlin's miscalculation that the only conceivable replacement for Dubcek is a man whom the Stalinists imprisoned on the grounds that he was a “Slovak nationalist.” He could still become his country's chief jailer—after all Gomulka and Kadar suffered likewise under Stalin—but somehow the odds are against it.
In saying this one necessarily goes out on a very fragile limb indeed. But these days we all have to take calculated risks, and if the men in Prague and Bratislava are willing to gamble their lives, a commentator sitting safely in London ought not to be too worried about his reputation. Besides, what is there to be lost in stating one's belief that the Czechoslovak Communists will eventually convert their moral victory into a political one by getting the Russians to withdraw their troops, while retaining a measure of internal autonomy? It is the obvious solution from everyone's viewpoint, and if the current Soviet leaders are too stupid to see it, their successors will. Unless, that is, those pessimists are right who fear that last August's invasion of Czechoslovakia heralds a new and altogether more adventurous phase in Soviet foreign policy. But in that case the problem is no longer political but military, and the question to be asked is: Will it be the turn of Rumania next, and then of Yugoslavia? It is a legitimate question and I shall revert to it. Meantime, it will do no harm to take a look at that anniversary celebration.
It has become conventional to relate Czechoslovakia's present misfortunes to those of the past, and some of Dubcek's more emotional countrymen have already compared that amiable man to Jan Hus, the Czech reformer who was burned at Constance in 1415 under the joint chairmanship of Emperor and Pope. His martyr's death—a century before Luther's successful revolt—fed the flames of the Czech proto-Reformation. A more relevant date perhaps is 1620, when the disastrous battle of the White Mountain ended Bohemia's independence for three centuries. Thereafter the triumphant Counter-Reformation (led by the Habsburgs in Vienna) destroyed not only the ancient Czech aristocracy but the Reformed Church and drove hundreds of thousands of Protestants into exile (mostly to Germany, though some wandered as far as the United States). These were Czechs, not Slovaks, for Slovakia had remained Catholic when Bohemia and Moravia adopted the Reformed faith.
Ancient history? Irrelevant? Tell that to an Irishman! Religion along with nationality was for three centuries the key issue under Habsburg rule, and when the Austro-Hungarian monarchy finally collapsed in 1918 (exactly three hundred years from the day the Habsburgs launched the Catholic crusade known as the Thirty Years War), Thomas Masaryk—a Slovak—created the new Republic out of two nationalities divided internally by a religious cleavage as well, for a sizable Protestant minority had survived in Slovakia under Hungarian rule, whereas the Czech lands were forcibly reconverted to Rome. Hence when Hitler in 1938-39 destroyed Masaryk's Republic, it was only logical that he should have capped his protectorate over Bohemia by turning Slovakia into a separate “state” under the rule of fanatical Catholics.
Likewise when Dubcek and Smrkovsky were dragged from their foul dungeon last August and flown to Moscow, their Soviet captors confronted them with the ultimate threat: destruction of Czechoslovakia as a nation and the annexation of its Slovak half to the USSR. This no doubt explains the Moscow “compromise” (in fact a disguised capitulation on the part of Svoboda and Dubcek). But there is another side to the story: by acting as they did, the Russians finally destroyed Slovak separatism. They had already been obliged to witness the orderly and peaceful replacement of their henchman Novotny (a Czech) by Dubcek, a Slovak. Now their last remaining hope is Husak—another Slovak! What is worse (from their viewpoint), they have turned the entire Czechoslovak Communist party into a national resistance movement. One can go further and say: by marching their big battalions into the country, they unwittingly created a nation.
Why did they do it? And why, having done it—in deference to their East German allies or to their own military—did they not go the whole hog by slaughtering the Czechoslovak leadership on the spot, shooting a few thousand intellectuals, and deporting two or three million people to Siberia? This was the treatment the Baltic Republics got from Stalin after 1939, and it is what would have happened to the Czechs and Slovaks if the Old Man could have got out of his grave by the Kremlin wall. In fact Svoboda and Dubcek had to listen to just such threats, and take them seriously.
But savage brutes though they have shown themselves once more to be, the Kremlin bosses (“we thought they were dogmatists; they are just bandits,” one of the Czech leaders remarked on his return to Prague) are not quite up to Stalin's murderous level. Stalin was both the last Bolshevik and the greatest terrorist produced by the Russian Revolution. His heirs are just plain ordinary political gangsters of the type who used to work with Capone when that gentleman was in his prime. They would do well as leaders of the Honored Society in Palermo, but are out of place as rulers of an empire. This has its reassuring side, for quite plainly these squalid butchers are frightened men who in their hearts long for a quiet life. To them the Soviet bloc is Cosa Nostra: something to be defended by all means short of nuclear war with the United States—the only peril they really dread. They lack Stalin's demonic will power and his total indifference to world opinion. They also lack his vestigial belief in the worldwide triumph of Bolshevism as a political faith. Militarily they may still hope to expand (into the Middle East, for example). Politically and ideologically they are on the defensive.
Hence the mixture of panic and brutality with which they greeted Dubcek's well-meant if naïve attempt to square the circle by making Communism democratic. For of course it cannot be done quite in the way he intended. If the Communist party is to preserve its “leading role,” it must get along without genuine political competition. Alternatively it must become social-democratic, in fact if not in name. To that extent the “dogmatists” are right. Only—and this is truly one of history's little ironies—they have now handed Alexander Dubcek an unbeatable trump card by turning him into a national figure. Whether in the end he becomes a hero or a martyr—at the moment one cannot be quite sure which it is going to be—his place in the history books, and in the affection of his countrymen, is already secure. Today he could hold a free election and get 90 per cent of the vote. That much the Soviet occupation has done for him.
There will of course be no election, and in the end the party may have to adapt itself or go underground (it may even combine both operations—the Czechs are old hands at this kind of game). Meantime a few salient memories are worth preserving: the treatment handed out by the Soviet leaders to their loyal comrades whom they had bear-hugged and kissed at Cierna and Bratislava a few weeks earlier; Dubcek and Cernik—party leader and Prime Minister respectively—handcuffed and dragged off to a filthy jail, where they squatted in their own excreta for three days, waiting to be shot, until Svoboda's unexpected firmness (the old man twice threatened to commit suicide) compelled the Kremlin bosses to release them; the demand (rejected by the Czech leaders) that Frantisek Kriegel—a member of the Czechoslovak Party Presidium and a veteran of the Spanish Civil War—and Professor Eduard Goldstuecker, chairman of the Writer's Union, be put on trial as “Zionists”; and lastly that remarkable moment at the close of the “discussions” in Moscow on August 26, when Brezhnev and Co. casually told the Czechs they had permission to “liquidate” their pro-Russian colleagues—Kolder, Indra, Bilak, Svestka, and the rest—the very men who had plotted the invasion with the Soviet ambassador, and then failed to form a puppet government because they could get no one (not even the secret police) to help them!
Since then these men have been beating their breasts in public, affirming their loyalties and swearing on their honor (!) that they never asked the Russians to march in. No one believes them, but no matter: they are safe because universally despised. In fact, even Antonin Novotny is reliably reported to have signed a petition asking for the withdrawal of the Soviet forces. Be it said in fairness to this old Stalinist murderer that during his long reign he repeatedly refused “offers” to garrison his country with Russian troops. Of course while he was in control the Kremlin had no need to worry, but still it shows that even for Novotny there were limits: He knew just how much his countrymen would take.
And just before it all goes down the memory-hole, let us briefly remember that on August 23 there was a token general strike lasting one hour (too short, much too short, but still . . .) all over the country; and that the day before a thousand hastily assembled Communist party delegates had secretly met in a Prague factory, under the muzzles of the Soviet tanks, to elect a new Central Committee. Unfortunately most of the Slovak delegates were unable to attend, a circumstance that caused some resentment in Bratislava and led not only the Russians but also the newly elected Slovak leader, Husak, to describe the meeting as irregular. It is an aspect of the unreality now surrounding everything and everybody in Czechoslovakia that while this emergency 14th Party Congress is officially discounted, its nominees have in fact been coopted to the enlarged and reconstituted Presidium of the party, now overwhelmingly “liberal,” in contrast to its predecessor. This curious state of affairs will eventually have to be regularized, Moscow permitting. Meantime it can at least be said with some confidence that the party has been regenerated by what was in effect a spontaneous rebellion of its working-class membership against the military occupation and the handful of bureaucrats who had temporarily gone over to the Russians, until they got cold feet and decided to play safe.
And thereby hangs a moral: Even though the political elite and the intelligentsia may have lost the battle they started in January, the burden of resistance has now fallen upon the shoulders of the working class. That class will of course need some leadership, and it can only get it from a revitalized Communist party (anarchists and populists please note). For Czechoslovakia is no Hungary where in 1956 the party lay in ruins and the intelligentsia feared its own people more than it feared the Russians. The most civilized country in Central Europe is also the only one where democratic socialism could in principle be made to work. It was in this spirit that Alexander Dubcek ended his sad broadcast to the nation on August 27 with the words: “A people guided by reason and conscience will not perish.” If this language recalls Lincoln rather than Lenin, the explanation is simple: the tired and dejected man who spoke that day was not only the leader of his country's Communist party. He was also—whether he knew it or not—the heir of Hus, Comenius, and Masaryk.
It would be agreeable to stay at this level. But a political commentator also has to take account of what is comically known as the “real world”: the world of the Kremlin gangsters, their Prussian and Polish satellites, their faithful North Koreans (who until this year had probably never heard of Czechoslovakia), and their candid friend Fidel Castro. As regards the last, it has to be reported that his broadcast of August 24 caused some consternation on the Parisian rive gauche, if not in Havana where El Lider no longer has to fear Guevara's shadow (that steely fanatic might have been a trifle less accommodating). Even so, Castro managed to step on Pravda's sensitive corns by describing the Russian military intervention as a flagrant breach of international law. It could only be justified (he said) on political grounds: The Czechoslovak leaders were on the road to perdition. Specifically, they were following in Tito's wake by throwing their country open to “capitalism.” This happens to be nonsense, but a Latin American caudillo whose theoretical equipment consists of a dozen hastily assembled slogans can hardly be expected to be an authority on socialist economics. What is rather more alarming is Castro's apparent cynicism where his own so-called principles are concerned.
For consider the logic of his pro-Soviet apologia: If the “socialist camp” is entitled to intervene militarily whenever one of its members shows signs of taking its independence seriously, then where is the limit? And where does this sort of reasoning leave Castro if the next administration in Washington should take it into its head to invade Cuba? If one adopts a cynical viewpoint one may say that the Russians did nothing in Czechoslovakia that the United States has not done in the Dominican Republic. But this line of argument—much favored in Moscow and Washington alike—is not open to the leader of a small country struggling to preserve its independence. Castro may have fancied that he was being brutally honest when he came out with his defense of what the Russians have done, but he might have been better advised to say nothing. One does not suddenly abandon two centuries of tradition without paying the price. Historically, Latin American nationalism has put independence first and everything else second. I suspect Fidel has blundered and will live to regret it. His brand of revolutionary rhetoric has hitherto rested on (he widely shared belief that Washington has no right to tell the peoples of Latin America what to do. In future this line of talk won't go down quite so well, coming from a man who has said in so many words that the Czechs and Slovaks must invariably conform to Moscow's orders.
Not that Mao's condemnation of the Kremlin's behavior was significantly more honest. After all, the Chinese swallowed Tibet without consulting the Tibetans. As for the deplorable Indira Gandhi, she probably had to think of Kashmir. But none of these considerations applies to Castro. He does not have to run an empire and can afford to stick to principle. If he chooses to abandon the ground on which every Latin American revolutionary must ultimately take his stand, the only possible explanation is that uncontrolled personal power has finally gone to his head. His broadcast of August 24 was not merely unnecessary (all he had to do was to say something about “tragic necessity”), it was a notable example of vanity and folly triumphant at the expense of principle and common sense alike. International law, he said, did not really matter. “If all we had to rely upon against the threat of Yankee invasion was the law, if the principle of sovereignty were our country's sole protection, our revolution would long ago have disappeared from the face of the earth.”1
But Castro is at least trying to be honest, even if he confuses honesty with cynicism. If he dispenses with legality and morality alike, he does so in the name of a revolutionary doctrine in which the Kremlin gangsters have long ceased to believe. There lies his (political) error: He thinks he can commit them to the global exercise of Communist solidarity, which is why in the same broadcast he demanded to know whether they were ready, in case of need, to intervene in Korea, Vietnam, or—Cuba! Mao thinks he knows the answer: The Big Two have tacitly divided the world between them. Fidel may suspect something of the sort, but he appears to believe that he has some leverage in Moscow as long as he stays within the bloc, while threatening to take a Maoist line unless his demands are met. In terms of Realpolitik he may even be right, for the Russians cannot simply ditch him or have him murdered (how they must long to do it!). But in the end he may become expendable. What is Cuba to them in comparison with another Yalta?2
The remainder of the Communist world reacted in standard fashion-that is to say, by following the law of political gravity which decrees that in the absence of principles (now dead), self-preservation is the only rule. Peking having condemned the Russian invasion (on the grounds that it sprang from a Soviet-American plot to divide the world), Albania dutifully followed suit. The Communist parties of India and Japan were displeased and said so. Ho Chi Minh sat on the fence and finally came down on the Soviet side (what else could he do? After all, China is Vietnam's historic enemy). The Communist parties of Chile and Venezuela fell into line, as did that of Luxembourg (this must have come as a great relief to the Kremlin). The corpse of American Stalinism emitted a squeak “regretting” the intervention, but conceding that it was “necessary.” The British CP, on the other hand, thought it both “deplorable” and unnecessary (and then took some comfort from the Moscow “agreement” of August 26, five days after the military rape). The French party “disapproved,” then watered its disapproval, and finally saw some hope in the self-same Moscow “agreement.” The Italian party was disgusted and said so. If there is going to be an autonomous West European regional Communist bloc, it will have to take its intellectual lead from the Italians, although the French will provide much of the political muscle. The Rome statement expressing “grave disagreement” with the Soviet action is reliably understood to have been drafted not by the “revisionist” Amendola, but by Pietro Ingrao, leader of the party's left wing.
“Grave disagreement”—as many a Vatican or Kremlin observer knows—is more serious than “disapproval,” and indeed the Italian party is even more furious with the Russians than is the French. It is also larger and has a better chance of coming to power democratically if it can get its countrymen to take its professions of honor and patriotism seriously. The British Communists, on the other hand, having nothing to lose (or win), could have afforded the luxury of sticking up for the Kremlin. Since instead they chose to align themselves with the Dutch and Scandinavians in measured disapproval, the explanation probably has to do with the general political and cultural climate in these countries. To any Communist movement operating in a democracy, Dubcek represented the best news in years: The man was actually about to make Communism look decent and respectable when the roof fell in on him. No wonder the British Communists were furious. “Our bloody Russian Vatican has done precisely the same as Rome,” one of them said to a reporter. “They've kicked us in the teeth. But there's a difference: When the Pope condemned the Pill, he knew his followers would bash away at sex regardless. In our crisis, the followers will bash away at the party.”3
Within the Communist orbit, the strongest reaction came, predictably, from Yugoslavia and Rumania, two countries whose very existence was placed in peril by the Soviet intervention: not so much because they now have stronger Russian forces near their borders, but because the Kremlin by its recent behavior has formally served notice that military intervention may be practiced at any moment in the name of “socialist solidarity and the struggle against imperialism.” In this context it makes small difference that Rumania is nominally a member of the Warsaw Pact grouping, while Yugoslavia is not. The sort of reasoning employed to justify the occupation of Czechoslovakia can be extended indefinitely, which is why Tito and Ceausescu promptly placed their countries on a semi-war footing and warned that they were ready to fight.
Setting aside for a moment the significance of these declarations in terms of the politico-military lineup, it is just as well to be clear about their long-range impact upon the Communist world movement. If Communist leaders are prepared to order their respective armies to fire on each other, they are as good as telling the world that the October Revolution has not after all inaugurated a new political order. This may seem obvious, but the effect of such a revelation upon the minds of genuine Communists can only be shattering. Historically-minded cynics may dismiss this sort of anguish as mere sentimentality. If Christendom and Islam had their internal wars, why not Communism? But most people are not historians and don't think in such terms. To the average member of a Communist party in Europe (one is less sure about Asia) the notion of fratricidal warfare among the heirs of Lenin is intolerable. It is easy to say that Communists will have to get used to it, much as Catholics and Protestants got used to the spectacle of their rulers making political deals across the religious chessboard. But what if they refuse to accept this sort of reasoning? Then either the unity of the world Communist movement must somehow be restored, or its aims will be relegated to the status of mere aspirations compatible with almost any kind of Realpolitik.
Now this sort of accommodation—for which there are precedents in European history since the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries—is easier for Christians than for Communists. The religious and the secular spheres can somehow be divorced from each other, even though theologians have traditionally been scandalized by the spectacle of nominally Christian states and nations going to war with each other. Communism, by contrast, is a this-worldly faith which leaves no transcendental refuge for people to whom politics does not greatly matter, and who in the last resort are prepared to write the entire historical realm off as an inferior domain given over to the passions. No Leninist can retain his faith in an abstraction called “communism” if the actual behavior of the Kremlin shows that the USSR has become an “imperialist” power. For Lenin—unlike Marx, who hardly bothered with the subject—had made the struggle against “imperialism” the touchstone of the new creed born in the October Revolution. If the Soviet Union is an imperial power like any other, then what is there left of the Leninist faith? Precisely nothing at all. Unless one concludes with Mao Tse-tung—himself quite an able practitioner of Great Power politics—that the whole aberration is the fault of a handful of “revisionists” and “traitors” in the Kremlin. But this explanation, though it may satisfy the old man in Peking and his captive audience, is a bit too simple-minded for most Marxists.
For the sake of completeness—though it is hardly worth the bother—let us consider what sort of apologetics may emerge if the leadership of the USSR continues to rest with men who are determined to call themselves Leninists and to be recognized as such by others. Pravda's rubbish about “counterrevolution” has persuaded no one, not even the French CP which had unblinkingly swallowed the 1956 intervention in Hungary. A different group of leaders in the Kremlin may one day write the whole thing off as a gigantic miscalculation, and even apologize publicly to the Czechs and Slovaks, as Khrushchev apologized to Tito after 1955. From the standpoint of the world Communist movement this would be the ideal solution. It is not wholly impossible, but seems unlikely; partly because it would require a pretty drastic reshuffle among the Moscow leadership (heads will roll in any case, though not necessarily those of the real culprits), but also because it assumes that the Khrushchev experiment can be resumed.
Now the essence of that experiment was the attempt to revitalize the party which had been discredited by Stalin's personal despotism, backed up and sustained by the secret police. The party machine did in fact recover the central position it lost under Stalin, but the concurrent attempt to bring Leninism back to life ended in failure. Khrushchev was enough of an instinctive populist to realize that the bureaucratic terror machine must somehow be checked if the people were to regain confidence in the leadership. To some extent he succeeded—largely by dint of economic concessions to the consumer, a line duly pursued by his successors. But just because the regime has now obtained some grudging popular support, it can afford to take unheard-of liberties abroad, as long as it is able to portray itself in the role of defender of the USSR against all comers (foreign Communists included). Patriotism has become by far the strongest emotion animating the ordinary Soviet citizen, and patriotism shades off imperceptibly into imperialism. As long as the Kremlin can represent its policy as being in line with what national security demands, it has nothing to fear from the masses, though it may incur the anger of poets and painters. It has nothing to fear from the military either—an important consideration.
And yet patriotism is not quite enough. A different formula has to be found for the benefit of foreign sympathizers and of the Russian party itself. The spectacle of Soviet tanks crushing a democratized Communist regime is just too awful to be forgotten. There is on record the public address to the nation given by the old Communist Josef Smrkovsky, speaker of the Czechoslovak National Assembly, on his return from his brief captivity in Moscow on August 27: “Our country was suddenly occupied by an enormous military power which it was absolutely hopeless and impossible to resist in like manner. . . . Here lies the tragedy of the quest for new socialist achievements.”
No amount of whitewash is ever going to eliminate this infamy from the minds of the Czech people, who for over a hundred years have been Russia's best friends in Europe. Indeed one may say with confidence that the rather romantic feeling for Russia so long and obstinately nourished by the Czechs has been killed stone dead. But this need not greatly matter to the Soviet leaders if they can hold the loyalty of the Czechoslovak party or a significant fragment of it. To this end only one argument will serve, and happily (from Moscow's standpoint) it can also be made to do duty in the permanent cold war against NATO: The Soviet forces in Czechoslovakia are protecting the country against “West German revanchism.” In the language of Soviet officialdom—still trying to dress itself up in Leninist clothing—“the frontiers of the socialist world have advanced to the Elbe and the Bohemian Plateau” and they must not be rolled back. This may be a piece of self-delusion, but it makes sense to a great many Soviet citizens who still remember the German invasion. It also appeals to the Communist parties of Poland and East Germany, whose leaders know that if the Russians ever go home they are in for a tough time. “West German revanchism” is a convenient scarecrow, which unfortunately draws some plausibility from the obstinate refusal of the Bundesrepublik to recognize the frontiers of Poland and Czechoslovakia (the imbeciles in Bonn are still debating the precise legal status of the 1938 Munich “agreement” imposed by Hitler upon the wretched Benes).
There is thus a chance that the Kremlin can make its invasion of Czechoslovakia look like a defensive operation, at least to its own people and to its East European satellites. But the threats already uttered by Moscow against Rumania and Yugoslavia tend to undermine the credibility of this line of reasoning, for neither country was or is threatened by “West German revanchism.” The USSR is thus increasingly coming to look like its real self: a power trying to hold on to its military empire and ready to trample on anyone—Communist or not—who gets in the way.
In the long run this is going to be quite a healthy development. It is high time the Communist movement got rid of the albatross hung around its neck by the Kremlin Mafia, and if the rape of Czechoslovakia helps to open the eyes of true believers in East and West, the unfortunate Czechs and Slovaks will in retrospect be seen to have performed a service of world historical significance. Not that this thought is likely to ease their burden in the immediate future. They must do the best they can to get the Russian forces out of their country, and unfortunately they can achieve this reasonable aim only at the cost of their democratic program. Even if they conserve a limited degree of internal autonomy, their country will remain a protectorate. By the same token the “socialist camp” will at long last be shown up for what it is (and always was): an extension of the USSR and its satellite empire. This is nothing to cheer at, but at least we shall have got rid of a certain amount of hypocrisy, and the surviving inmates of the Stalin cloaca will presumably lose even the limited audience they have hitherto cornered among the dispirited remnants of the Old Left.
“Czechoslovakia is, after all, a Central European state. Its fortunes must in the long run lie with—and not against—the dominant forces in this area”—George F. Kennan, From Prague After Munich: Diplomatic Papers, 1938-404 Mr. Kennan's words of wisdom, disinterred by him thirty years after Munich and thus preserved for posterity, have been much quoted these days by the reviewers. Possibly this is unfair to their distinguished author who in 1938 watched the German takeover with helpless anger and distress. Still, there he was, notifying the State Department in his best professional manner that it was now going to be the duty of “the more realistic and more responsible leaders” of Czechoslovakia to make the best of an admittedly bad situation. Germany was the strongest power in Central Europe. Hitler or no Hitler, responsible men in Prague (he felt sure) would come to realize that “the cornerstone of any long-term Czech policy must be a modus vivendi with the Germans.” There was “no room for the glories of martyrdom,” for nothing could “relieve them of the immediate neighborhood of those 80 million German people.” Only “irresponsible” people could “dream of dramatic liberation and revenge.”
Mr. Kennan's successors at this moment are probably busy penning similar advice to their superiors in Washington, and their chances of being listened to are even better. In 1938 Germany had to reckon with European rivals and opponents (including Russia), but the Kremlin in “restoring order” in Czechoslovakia, is, from a geopolitical viewpoint, simply tidying up a fringe area of its Eastern European empire. The spectacle may be distressing, but there is nothing to be done about it short of challenging the status quo established in 1945 at Yalta and Potsdam.
Mention of Yalta, needless to say, acts as an irritant upon American and British policy-makers. General de Gaulle never fails to remind the world that France (meaning himself) was not invited to attend the Yalta conference in February 1945, when the great carve-up got under way. He did it again at his recent press conference on September 9 and was duly rebuked the following day by some of the surviving veterans of the British diplomatic service (but not by the BBC, which had wisely omitted this passage from its regular news bulletin. Foreign Office control of the BBC news service, while less visible and clumsy than the corresponding arrangement in Paris, is just as tight and effective). One gathers that the State Department, too, was pained. How could the General be so perverse as to hint that the present relationship between the Big Two dates back to Yaltal Surely everyone ought to know that but for American resistance Stalin would have gobbled up the other half of Europe as well. Be that as it may, it is indisputable that in 1944-45 America and Britain agreed to certain arrangements which legitimized Soviet control of Eastern Europe.5
Now it may be held that they had no option. That at any rate was how Roosevelt saw it. Churchill was less sure. In May 1945 he advised Truman (who had taken over in April) that the Western Allies should hold on to their existing positions “in Yugoslavia, in Austria, in Czechoslovakia, on the main central United States front, and on the British front . . . including Denmark,” pending an over-all political settlement with the Soviet Union.6 However, Washington decided otherwise, on the grounds that a breach with the Russians must be avoided, if only because they were in effective occupation of Berlin and Vienna and might have denied the Western Allies access to those cities.
This was a common-sensible attitude, setting aside Roosevelt's earlier delusions as to his ability to make a “deal” with Stalin. Nor did the outbreak of the “cold war” two or three years later make any difference. “Cold war” and “coexistence” have always been two sides of the same coin: a circumstance obstinately ignored by right-wing and left-wing critics of U.S. policy alike. There are still (one gathers) some ardent pen-pushers around who go on arguing that the “cold war” was all the fault of their own side, and not of the Russians, who merely wanted to be left in peace. This may be a useful corrective to Dullesian fantasies about a “Communist conspiracy” to take over the world, but from a European standpoint—or a Gaullist one, which comes to the same—it is not terribly relevant. No matter who started the mutual game of bluff known as “the cold war,” what most Europeans have come to dislike is the initial carve-up itself. The logical consequence of this particular line of reasoning is simple: The cold war will only come to an end when the Americans and the Russians have both gone home. Then, and then only, can the two halves of Europe be re-united.
This is emphatically not what the British or the Germans believe (they want the Americans to stay and the Russians to go). But it is what the Old Man in Paris believes. It is also increasingly what the Rumanians and the Yugoslavs suspect to be true. The Czechs were probably beginning to think so too until they were told to stop thinking and revert to the simpler habit of obeying orders. (Incidentally, the present writer is willing to bet his bottom dollar that the next move on the chessboard is going to be a military pipeline linking Bucharest with Paris, and thus indirectly with the West, though not with NATO, which remains taboo for roughly the same reason that “CIA” has become a naughty word among liberal intellectuals.)
Now for a sophisticated defense of Bismarckian Realpolitik. Having started with that elegant and persuasive disciple of Bismarck, George Kennan, we might as well go the whole distance: Let us hear a noted British historian—Mr. F. H. Hinsley of St. John's College, Cambridge, a recognized authority on international law and the author of a standard work on political history, Power and the Pursuit of Peace7 (much superior, by the way, to Mr. A. J. P. Taylor's perverse nonsense). Mr. Hinsley has this to say about the Yalta and Potsdam settlements:
Important parts of the peace of 1945 have not even been formally ratified, but like the settlements of Westphalia in the 17th century and Vienna in the 19th it will go down as significant in history.8
The Vienna Congress of 1814-15, which terminated the Napoleonic era, needs no explanation. But why the reference to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 which put an end to the Thirty Years War? Because what was then “settled” was the fate of Central Europe. The arrangement was fairly crude, but it lasted. The basic rule was simplicity itself: Everyone was to keep what he had, no matter how or when he had got it. Furthermore, Catholic and Protestant rulers (the war had, after all, started as a “religious crusade”) were granted a free hand with their respective subjects. The principle of cuius regio eius religio, already proclaimed a century earlier in Germany, was now extended to the whole of Europe. For the Czechs this meant that the Habsburgs were free to get on with the business of imposing the Counter-Reformation on the country, its Protestant nobility having been slaughtered in 1620-21 and the middle-class nonconformists—led by scholars like Comenius—driven into exile thereafter. Correspondingly, Protestant rulers felt free to massacre Catholics—as Cromwell did the Irish Catholics. All this is old and familiar stuff to Europeans, but not perhaps to Americans, even though it was they who benefited from the resulting population movements.
Now what is the point, you may ask, of bringing all this ancient stuff up at the present time, when we have so many more urgent things to worry about? Simply that the British, the Germans, the French, the Poles, the Czechs—and who knows, maybe the Russians too—believe the settlement of 1945-48 may come to rank with the Peace of Westphalia, in that it will retrospectively be seen to have legitimized the partition of Europe along an East-West axis determined by the arrangements then entered into by the Big Three (there were Three then, there are only Two now). Could this outcome have been avoided, or significantly altered, by different dispositions on the part of the Western Allies? Mr. Hinsley (a political conservative, it might be remarked) does not think so. Here is what he has to say on the topic:
Every significant territorial gain that Russia has made since 1945 was made in the few months in which the Second World War was being wound up, and even in those months the gains she sought were limited by the checks imposed by the emergence of the United States with power that balanced her own . . . the most significant facts in the most recent analysis of the Potsdam Conference of 1945—which was the nearest thing to a general peace settlement that the Powers were able to achieve—are, first, that there was no power on earth that could impede Russia in her determination to have her way in the settlement of Poland, Finland, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania, and, second, that not even this determination was as pronounced as Russia's lack of interest in outlying matters in which the Western Powers dominated, as she now dominated in Eastern Europe. . . . She could have excluded the West from Austria; demanded her say in the resettlement of Italy and Greece, including a share in Italy's African colonies; insisted on a revision of such questions as the international control of Tangier and the Turkish Straits. She raised all these questions. But she raised them only as bargaining points, never pressing them except to gain agreement to her immediate wishes. Even they were somewhat more limited than is sometimes supposed. A smaller Poland—and a larger Eastern Germany—would have been no worse a settlement for her in the long run. Only her uncertainty as to bow far she should or could retain control of Eastern Germany can explain the determination with which she nevertheless insisted that Poland's western frontier must be the Oder-Neisse line (p. 352).
I have quoted at some length because Mr. Hinsley's dispassionate language is a useful antidote to the feverish rhetoric commonly employed by cold warriors and coexistentialists alike. What these rival propagandists have in common is a curious inability to perceive that they are quarreling about nothing at all. And so, for the benefit of these embattled scribes, I shall cite Mr. Hinsley's observations on the balance of power:
It is perhaps time that the limited nature of Russia's aims in the post-war settlement were given as much prominence as the determination with which she pursued them. It is certainly time to abandon the view that, apart from completing her position by the absorption of Czechoslovakia, she ever intended further expansion into Europe and that only the American monopoly of the nuclear weapons up to the early 1950's prevented catastrophe for the West . . . the American position contained her long before the policy of containment was invented. It would have contained her if the weapons had never been invented (pp. 252-53).
This last seems questionable, but no matter. Mr. Hinsley, like Mr. Kennan, takes no account of Leninism as a dynamic factor in Stalinist policy. This may be a misjudgment, but it is in line with the traditional diplomatic approach: Ideology, according to this line of reasoning, is never more than a cover for the extension of power—at best its legitimization, at worst mere hypocrisy. As for the choice between cold war and coexistence, the answer should by now be obvious: They are identical, two sides of the same devalued coin.
Whatever may be thought of the underlying philosophy, Mr. Hinsley's evaluation of the Big Two compact to refrain from committing suicide is sound enough as far as it goes. “Russia and the United States have each become Powers on such a colossal scale that, whatever the number of its allies, neither can hope to defeat the other, and thus constitute an all-pervasive and ineluctable check upon each other” (p. 353). One may also agree that “they will begin to collaborate in other ways ‘between the brinks’ and in particular . . . they will find it more practicable to limit the armaments of other states than to control their own” (p. 355). This last, of course, is just what de Gaulle resents. So does Mao Tse-tung. The British, on the other hand, have decided to be philosophical about it, on the sensible grounds that there is nothing to be done about it anyway.
So far, so good (or bad). But if nuclear war between the Big Two is ruled out for all practical purposes, limited warfare by proxy is not. Last year the world got a brief foretaste of the probable shape of things to come, when Egypt and Israel slid into war: to their own surprise and certainly not because they had been egged on by their respective backers.9 Next time . . . but if there is a next time in the Middle East, we shall know that the Russians have willed it. For in this area at least the USSR has now acquired sufficient political and military control to stop a war if it does not want one. It has also obtained a position which in effect makes it the second-ranking power in the Mediterranean. And at this point Mr. Hinsley's neat construction, however appropriate for the situation in 1945 and immediately thereafter, begins to lose some of its plausibility.
Consider the implications of the Soviet Union's present military policy, from the recent doubling of its stockpile of landbased intercontinental missiles10 to the expansion of its naval strength, making it the world's second maritime power. When combined with aggressiveness in Central Europe—at the expense of friends and allies—and a forward strategy in the Middle East, this does not look like the behavior of a power intent on nothing but its own safety. Russia's aims may still be “limited,” but then so were Hitler's: All he wanted was control of Europe. Having got that he would have been quite willing to leave the British in possession of India. Not only did he say so; there is every reason to believe that, down to the autumn of 1940 when he expected Britain to throw in its hand, he actually meant it.
In this sense the USSR's aims too may be “limited,” for there is reason to believe that its rulers are not averse to the idea of making a deal with the United States. But the limits are sufficiently flexible to permit expansion into areas weakly defended or regarded as expendable by the West. All of which is quite compatible with the neo-Stalinist ideology that identifies the progress of “socialism” with the growth of the USSR's strength and the enlargement of what in old-fashioned language would be called its “sphere of influence.” It is also quite in accordance with the traditional aims of Tsarist policy, as currently interpreted by the Capomafiosi in the Kremlin and their paid or unpaid hacks abroad. Tito and Ceausescu at least have no illusions on this score, and neither has Mao Tse-tung, though if someone were to ask him how Soviet imperialism is to be explained in Leninist terms, he might have a hard time answering the question. After all, the USSR does not exactly suffer either from a shortage of raw materials or from a superfluity of exportable investment goods, hence its expansionism cannot be attributed to pressures arising from the economic sphere. At a pinch, Mao might argue that the “revisionists” in the Kremlin (who are in fact old Stalinists, although lacking the personal qualifications of their late teacher) have sunk to the level of “great power chauvinism.” But although doubtless true enough, this is not much of a Leninist explanation, and anyway Castro takes a different view of the matter: In his eyes the Russians are culpable for one reason only—they are making too many concessions to the United States, notably in failing to back his own activities in Latin America.
All told, the outlook for disarmers is bleak, for if anything is certain, it is that the Kremlin, by its recent behavior, has started off another arms race. The Economist of August 31 merely stated the obvious when it predicted an American decision to “block the attempt the Russians have been making over the past few years to pull themselves up to a level of nuclear equality with the United States.” The technical details—“multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle,” and all the rest—concern only the specialists. What matters is the new political climate which has made an understanding between the only two existing Great Powers more difficult. Such coldness is in principle quite compatible with the continuation of the basic line pursued by both sides since 1945. The Russians knew beforehand that the United States would no more interfere in Czechoslovakia than they themselves would intervene in Guatemala (as on Castroite principles they ought to, but won't). Hence it can be argued that fundamentally nothing has changed. But then nothing fundamental had changed in Anglo-German relations after 1900 either—except that the Germans had started building a big navy and suddenly began to look like dangerous rivals, whereas until that date they had seemed self-centered, provincial, and even a trifle ridiculous.
It is always dangerous to extrapolate from past experience, but Soviet-American rivalry is beginning to resemble the Anglo-French antagonism of the 17th and 18th centuries and the Anglo-German conflict of the 20th. The outcome may be different, but the underlying constellation is surprisingly similar. Rival world powers have clashed before and may do so again, openly or by proxy. In the struggle between Britain and France—to say nothing of the earlier conflict between England and Spain—religious (“ideological”) animosities also played their part and at times even overrode conventional political calculations.
Russia's new “forward strategy” in Central Europe may have been motivated by the simplest of military aims: the desire to improve the Soviet Army's position vis-à-vis NATO in general and West Germany in particular. But when combined with the evident jitteriness of Russia's rulers, their growing incompetence, and their patent unwillingness to spare the feelings even of fellow-Communists, this sort of aggressiveness takes on a coloration with which Europeans are only too familiar. Imperial rivalry antedates by several centuries Lenin's mental exercises on the topic of capitalist expansion into backward areas. Even granted that everything he said in 1916 was true for the genesis of the First World War (actually he underrated the importance of national antagonisms and political miscalculations), Lenin's theory of imperialism breaks down when applied to the behavior of his heirs: the present rulers of the USSR. They are expansionists all right, but not for any reason that can be discovered in Leninist textbooks (or Maoist ones, for that matter). Paradoxical though it may sound, the world would be a safer place if Leninism provided a clue to international relations. Unfortunately it doesn't. To understand what is happening in Central Europe these days, one has to go back to the age of the Counter-Reformation. It is not an enjoyable experience, but it brings one up against realities that have shaped history for centuries—and continue to do so.
1 Le Monde, September 5. Even the most notable of Castro's French sympathizers, M. Claude Julien, was unable to offer more than an embarrassed apology for this imbecile cynicism (ibid). It was, he said, a sequel to the long-standing feud between Tito and Castro. An odd sort of defense. Even if Castro disapproves of Tito's foreign policy, he might have remembered that the Yugoslav dictator became a national hero by defending his country's national independence. What else has Castro been trying to do for the past ten years?
2 Especially if Fidel goes on being tactless at their expense. In the same broadcast he blamed the Novotny regime for having sold Cuba outdated World War II war material captured from the Germans, “at a high price too.” For good measure he accused various unspecified “socialist countries” of ignoring the problems of the underdeveloped regions and of conserving, in their relations with the Third World, “practices belonging to the developed capitalist bourgeois world.” With such a candid friend around Brezhnev needs no enemies.
3 The Sunday Times, August 25. It may be worth noting that although the British CP counts only 30,000 members, these include a number of influential trade union leaders. One of them, Will Paynter, General Secretary of the Miners Union, called the Soviet intervention “a disgusting betrayal of all the principles of the international Communist movement,” and there is reason to believe that he was voicing the sentiments of his colleagues. The Kremlin is going to discover that there are limits to what authentic British labor leaders—Communists or not—are prepared to stand.
4 Princeton University Press. 294 pp. $6.50.
5 For details see Herbert Feis, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin: The War They Waged and the Peace They Sought, Princeton University Press, 1957.
6 Feis, page 636.
7 Cambridge, 1963.
8 I cite from the 1967 paperback reprint, p. 351.
9 See Theodore Draper's “Israel and World Politics,” COMMENTARY, August 1967.
10 According to the annual report issued by the British Institute of Strategic Studies, cited in the London Times of September 13.