The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy

By Matthew J. Ouimet | Go to book overview

1

Evolutionary
Counterrevolution

The only thing as important for a nation as its revolution is its last major war. . . . What was believed to have caused the last war will be considered likely to cause the next one.

—Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics

IT IS CHaRaCTERISTIC oF THE IRoNY which pervades the entire course of Soviet history that the road to Mikhail Gorbachev's permissive bloc policies began with an effort to eliminate political diversity within the socialist alliance. 1 During the period between January and August 1968, the new Brezhnev leadership sought to define the boundaries of independent policy within the socialist alliance on the basis of ideological orthodoxy. Unlike the remarkable dismantling of communist monopoly rule that characterized the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Prague Spring was largely an effort by loyal communists to reform the practice of "real socialism" in Czechoslovakia. As such, it presented the Brezhnev leadership with one of the more intractable legacies of the Khrushchev era and its policy of "separate roads to socialism." To what degree could a member-state of the socialist commonwealth renovate its system and institutions without raising the specter of counterrevolution?


The Hungarian Revolution

From the vantage point of the new Brezhnev regime coming to power in 1964, Nikita Khrushchev's failure to define the limits of "de-Stalinization" in Eastern Europe had resulted in serious instability over the previous decade that could not be allowed to continue. Nowhere were the consequences of this failure more evident than in Hungary. Beginning with the New Course instituted by Khrushchev and Georgii Malenkov throughout the Soviet bloc after the death of Stalin, each step in the direction of correcting past abuses created political tremors in Budapest. Central to the New Course, for instance, was the principle of collective leadership. Unlike the Stalinist-era practice of a single despotic leader in each socialist country, under the New Course the first secretary of the Communist Party was to be a person different from the man running the government. In this way Nikita Khrushchev assumed the post of Soviet first secretary in 1953, while Malenkov became head of the Council of Ministers, or prime minister. Accordingly, Moscow compelled Hungary's Stalinist leader, Mátyás

-9-

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