Isaac Deutscher 1956

Break With Stalinism: II:
Higher Standard of Living To Defeat the West

Source: The Times, 29 February 1956. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

In the light of the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party the change from the Stalin era appears to be far less pronounced in foreign than in domestic policy. The change is in manner rather than in matter; but it is not unimportant. Stalin’s foreign policy alternated over the years between extremes of conciliation and recklessness. His successors avoid the extremes. Their policy is set on a far steadier course. It is less clumsy, less secretive, more self-confident, flexible, straightforward, and sensitive to public opinion.

In a very real sense the Soviet Union is playing from strength – strength derived from its own economic progress, from the consolidation of Communist rule in China and even in Eastern Europe, from the possession of a vast and massive assortment of atomic and hydrogen and conventional arms, and (last but not least) from the anti-colonialist ferment in Asia and Africa. The new sense of strength was perhaps best expressed at the congress by the semi-retired Mr Molotov, when he said that barely 10 years ago the party leaders could only in their boldest dreams imagine a situation as advantageous for the Soviet Union as the one in which they were acting now.

No Wavering: Soviet foreign policy shows at present no sign of the hesitation and wavering which it showed soon after Stalin’s death, when it appeared to be half inclined to consider an overall settlement with the West on the basis of a mutual evacuation of Germany and seemed only to wait for encouragement from the West. ‘What we have we hold’ is now the implicit maxim of Soviet policy.

This applies at least to the major bulwarks and bastions of Soviet power, not to such dubious acquisitions of the Stalin era as the naval bases in Finland and Manchuria or the joint stock companies in the Danubian countries and in China, which have been given up with little real loss and with much moral gain. The broad purpose of Soviet diplomacy is at present the preservation of the international status quo.

Yet never since the 1920s have the professions of faith in the eventual triumph of world Communism over capitalism resounded from Moscow with as much inherent conviction and strength as they do now. In the middle 1920s the Soviet party and the Comintern assumed that Western capitalism had achieved a measure of stabilisation. No such assumption is made about the present state of the Western economy, in spite of boom-like conditions, continued full employment, and feats of bourgeois progress which are no longer crudely denied. The party leaders have committed themselves to the view that the long and ‘artificially sustained’ prosperity of the West is bound to end sooner or later in a collapse at least as disastrous as the slump of 1929.

How are these forecasts and professions of faith in the ultimate triumph of world Communism related to the defence of the diplomatic status quo and to the much overworked slogan of ‘peaceful coexistence'?

Tide of History’: The answer is found not in the abstract logic of the Soviet attitude but in a specific, and in part tacitly assumed, conception of class struggle. That the ‘tide of history’ carries mankind as a whole, through whatever stages and cross-currents, towards Communism is an old Bolshevist, indeed an old Marxist, axiom. That the ‘tide’ is moving faster than could be expected 10 or 20 years ago, and that it is doing its work all the better the fewer the attempts to force its pace, is the lesson which Soviet leaders have learned from the upheavals and conflicts of the last decade, in Germany and Korea not less than in China and Indo-China.

But the process of international revolution has not been continuous. It has so far developed in two distinctly separate cycles or ‘waves’. From the first wave of revolution, that of 1917-20, Bolshevist Russia emerged victorious but isolated. From the second there has emerged the Chinese revolution, compared with which the Eastern European revolutions, carried out in the shadow of the Red Army in 1944-48, have been of only secondary importance. This second wave is now seen as having nearly spent its force.

That the third wave will come is taken for granted; but when, nobody can say. The interval, whether short or long, requires adjustments in Communist policy and a modus vivendi with the capitalist world. The first two waves of revolution had come in the wake of world war. It is a matter of some interest to Communist theory and policy whether the third wave, too, can have its origin only in a cataclysm of war. The Twentieth Congress has answered this question in the negative. It did so on the ground that although the attitude of the United States in matters of war and peace is partly unpredictable, the general balance of strength between East and West – the atomic stalemate in the first instance – militates strongly against the possibility of a third world war.

This interval between the last wave of revolution and the next may be long drawn out; it may last as long as the atomic stalemate. Both camps, the capitalist and the Communist, according to the Soviet reasoning, may hope to benefit from a long ‘respite’. Both have therefore a common interest in preserving the ‘respite’ and prolonging it to the utmost. Soviet policy invokes this common interest; and it does so all the more insistently because, whatever the variations of Soviet pronouncements on this subject, in the age of hydrogen weapons a clash of arms threatens both camps with annihilation.

Having broken the Western, or rather the American, monopoly in atomic and hydrogen weapons, the Soviet leaders plan to use the time at their disposal for breaking another, equally decisive, monopoly the West has enjoyed so far – the monopoly of a high standard of living. It is, they argue, up to the West to defend this advantage with all its economic might; and it is legitimate for the Soviet Union to challenge the West on this ground.

Such is the meaning of ‘peaceful competition’ in ‘peaceful coexistence’. Only when this Western monopoly, too, has been broken will, in the Communist view, the contest between Communism and capitalism be conducted on terms of real equality and fairness, without the need for Communism to make good its historic handicaps by all the multiple devices of economic and political protectionism to which Communist governments have had to resort.

Roads To Socialism: The new Five-Year Plan is seen in Moscow as a milestone in the struggle to break the West’s most vital monopoly. But the struggle must still last 10 or 20 years. If and when it is concluded, the Soviet leaders expect that the attraction of Communism, which will offer the masses high standards of living and education and will no longer force itself on unwilling subjects by means of terror, will be so overwhelming that the bourgeois order will not be able to resist. Then the roads by which other nations will reach socialism will prove much easier and smoother than the thorny pioneer roads trodden by the Russians and the Chinese.

This is one aspect of the idea about the ‘different roads to socialism’ which Mr Khrushchev has proclaimed. Immediately, however, the idea serves more specific and more opportunistic purposes. When the Soviet leaders speak about the possibility of a parliamentary road to socialism, a road unsullied by civil war, they certainly intend to reassure the neutral governments and parties in Asia, especially Mr Nehru and the Congress of India.

It remains to be seen how this will affect the policy of the Communist Party of India. Will Mr Khrushchev seek to subordinate that party to Congress as Stalin subordinated the Chinese Communists to the Kuomintang of the 1920s? The lure of the ‘parliamentary road to socialism’ is also meant to overcome the misgivings of Western socialist parties about united fronts or popular fronts with Communists.

This, only partly new, policy gives a moderate and ‘rightist’ twist to Communist tactics, and aims at keeping under control such revolutionary ferment as exists or may develop in the major non-Communist countries and at preventing that ferment from dangerously upsetting the present political balance between East and West. This seems to be the price which Mr Khrushchev is prepared to pay, or rather which he is prepared to make the Communist parties pay, for ‘peaceful coexistence’. Not unlike Stalin in the 1920s and 1930s, he sees that in coming years the decisive element of the international class struggle will be not the action of the French, Italian or Indian Communists, not the seizure of new positions of power for Communism, but the building up and the consolidation of the power which Communism has already won.