The Soviet reaction to the emergence of reformism within the CPCS prompted a general tightening of party reins in eastern Europe which persisted until the mid-1970s. At the same time most east European parties announced that they had moved from the stage of socialist construction into ‘real existing’, ‘developed’ or ‘mature socialism’. Party programmes and state constitutions appropriate to this new stage of historical development were adopted. The socialist stage was in theory one in which material provision would increase rapidly; consumer goods and services would become ever cheaper and more widely available. But if the years 1956-68 ended with the bankruptcy of ideological communism, the years 1968-80 ended with the failure of consumer communism.
If the east European economies were to provide improved living standards they would have to be modernised and geared to intensive rather than extensive development. Such a transition would be difficult for a variety of reasons. The labour force had never been educated or trained to appreciate the importance of the quality rather than the quantity of production; capital could not be generated in sufficient volume to invest in the newest technologies, and those that were adopted were earmarked primarily for the military; besides which, it is doubtful whether any planned system could have coped with technological innovations as profound, as frequent, and as rapid as those of the 1970s and 1980s. One avenue of escape from the dearth of capital and from socialism’s increasingly disadvantaged position in the technology race was to import or to steal know-how and equipment from the west.
If technology were to be imported there had to be an easier relationship, political and economic, with the western powers and above all the United States. Political détente was achieved in the Helsinki agreements of the summer of 1975. Closer economic links had been developing in the early 1970s when a number of east European states had decided to borrow from the west in order to finance domestic modernisation. Initially this had been easy as the western banks were eager to lend, interest rates were low, and trade was sufficiently buoyant to suppose that the loans could be serviced from exports. The great oil price increase of 1973 transformed the situation. Credit became much more difficult to find, interest rates rose, and trade contracted. To make matters worse,