Richard Lowenthal, currently a visiting research fellow at Columbia University, was for many years a journalist who wrote from London on international affairs. Few men have his theoretical and practical knowledge of current trends in world Communism. His latest book does not pretend to be a definitive and systematic treatment of its subject. It consists of a series of studies of various aspects of the disintegration of the Soviet camp, most of which have previously appeared in specialized journals such as Problems of Communism and China Quarterly. Although these essays were written about concrete issues which arose in the Communist camp at one moment or another, and have been only slightly revised, they are informed by the same overall vision of the Communist phenomenon; as such they help us to understand not only specific events like the break and reconciliation with Tito and the mounting Sino-Soviet conflict, but also the more general problems of the dynamics of totalitarian power.
One of the past successes of Communist propaganda has been in persuading many of its opponents to accept the myth of international Communist unity. While anti-Communists could readily perceive the internal contradictions of the Western response to Soviet challenges, they were often willing to believe that everything went according to plan in the expansion of Soviet power and that the Communist “world conspiracy” was exempt from internal tensions and conflicts. In fact, it was still fashionable only a few years ago to wallow in a kind of pathos of pessimism in which the defeat of democratic values and the ultimate victory of Communism were seen to be almost inevitable. Today a glance at the newspapers shows up the absurdity of this view, which is now shared only by such inveterate ideologists as the editors of the National Review and Gold-water's backwoodsmen. But it was much easier to fall into this trap a few years ago.
Lowenthal shows convincingly that the disintegration of the Communist camp was foreshadowed as early as Tito's split with Stalin in 1948 and was in full progress after Stalin's death in 1953. He also shows that the breakup of world Communism resulted from the interplay of ideology and national interests; thus he avoids the common fallacy of reducing the behavior of Communist nations to one or the other explanation. While Lowenthal regards the clash of national interests to be the ultimate cause of the Sino-Soviet conflict, he also makes us aware that the Chinese decision to challenge the supremacy of Russian ideology and to assert China's superiority in the post-Stalin Communist movement severely exacerbated the conflict and made a compromise virtually impossible. Once the Chinese ideologists came to regard Soviet policy as not only erroneous but heretical, they embarked on a crusade in which intransigence rather than the ability to compromise identified the true believer. Thus, what began as an attempt to force specific changes in Soviet foreign policy developed into a deadly contention over the true guardianship of the Marxist-Leninist tradition.
In this respect the Sino-Soviet conflict differs significantly from the other disputes that have marked the increasing polycentrism of the Communist camp. The Yugoslavs, the Poles, the Hungarians, and, presently, the Rumanians all desire to attain some degree of independence from Russian domination, but none of them, not even the followers of Tito, aspire to become the center of a new world Communist movement. They wish for more diversity in the Communist camp; the Chinese strive for ideological hegemony. In November 1957, during the fortieth-anniversary celebration of the Bolshevik seizure of power, Mao is supposed to have remarked, “The Soviet Union has two Sputniks, while China has not even a quarter Sputnik.” Less than six months later the Chinese founded their first experimental “people's commune,” and baptized it “Sputnik.” In the years that followed, the “conciliar” model of world Communism, which both Khrushchev and Mao seemed to favor, progressively broke down. It proved impossible to negotiate the rival claims of two major totalitarian states at different stages in their internal development. Such pragmatic adjustments are possible between powers whose national interests are in opposition, but they cannot be attained by nations who represent opposing ideologies. “Without some mutual respect of parochial authority,” writes Lowenthal, “or of the principle cuius regio, eius religio—ideologically independent state parties can hardly live together in a common ecumenic organizaton.”
By a curious paradox, then, the Marxist-Leninist ideology which was such a powerful instrument in the expansion of Soviet influence has by now become a major obstacle to continued co-existence in the Communist world. When the Chinese refused to refrain from carrying the “ideological struggle” into the territory dominated by the Soviet bloc, they brought about a schism in the Communist movement which may rank in historical significance with the great religious schisms of the Western world.
All of which is not to minimize the clash of national interests. The Sino-Soviet conflict arose mainly over the question of the extent of economic and technological aid from Russia. It was reinforced by the refusal of the Russians to entrust the Chinese with the knowledge for building atomic bombs. It was further extended by fears that the Russians were preparing to make agreements with America in such matters as nuclear weapons that would leave the Chinese holding the bag. On the Russian side, the clash was clearly precipitated by Khrushchev's view that providing enough “goulash” for the Russian masses had priority over helping to build the infrastructure of Chinese industrialization. Put to the test, the Russian policy-makers were more concerned with their own “constituency” than with the ideological imperatives that called for the rapid development of satellites and potential rivals. As they began to observe the first signs of the revolution of rising expectations among their countrymen, as the vision of “affluent Communism” began to be more than a mirage, they evidently felt less inclined to share their benefits with their hungry comrades. Fraternal sharing is easier in common misery than when possibilities of abundance begin to dance before one's eyes.
Tito's heresy provided the first major challenge to Stalin's total domination of the Soviet bloc. Tito suggested that one could be a good Communist while rejecting Moscow's directives—and he got away with it. After Stalin's death, Khrushchev saw that the period of the puppet satellites was over and proceeded to recognize the rights of the various national governments within the bloc to proceed along variant lines of policy, provided they remained within the broad framework of Communist ideology and military unity. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956, however, showed the narrow limits and the fragility of the attempted compromise between national autonomy and ideological conformity. The Soviet Union once again asserted its claim to being the single center of authority. At this moment of crisis even the Chinese insisted on the recognition of Soviet leadership and doctrinal authority, and the first outcropping of “polycentrism” seemed to have been eradicated. But the inner logic of national development was soon to compel the Chinese to their radical challenge of Soviet leadership, and in time the unity of doctrine could no longer survive the dispersal of power. “A spiritual movement,” says Lowenthal, “may preserve its world-wide doctrinaire unity so long as . . . it refrains from seeking to exert political power directly. But in a movement constructed on the Byzantine model, where loyalty to the faith and obedience to the state coincide, ideological fragmentation is bound to follow the growth of political pluralism.”
These are the main lines of Lowenthal's analysis, which I have perhaps extended a bit further than he intended and with which I am in essential agreement. It remains for the author, in his promised book on the dynamics of totalitarian power, to develop the broader theoretical significance of the breakdown of the international Communist faith which he touches upon here in a stimulating but rather fragmentary manner.