The Iron Ring, 1956–1968

  • Thomas W. SimonsJr.


As the Cold War developed, it drew attention away from its place of origin. The Soviet invasion of Hungary was overshadowed in the West by the debacle at Suez, and the East-West tension of the years after 1956 was no longer focused in Europe. For the West, Eastern Europe continued to symbolize what Soviets would do if they were not contained but was no longer considered to be a prime arena of active competition. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, opening the age of the intercontinental ballistic missile, ending American invulnerability, and bringing the Cold War home to Americans. Meanwhile, decolonization was creating new opportunities for the Soviet Union to expand its influence in the Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and the West felt compelled to respond. Berlin in 1961 was the last great East-West crisis in Europe, Cuba in 1962, the first of a series of confrontations in the Third World that were politically recognized as such (for Korea had been considered a confrontation at the core).


Foreign Trade Economic Reform Hard Good Communist Rule Polish Party 
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  1. 1.
    For convenient data on the economic buoyancy of the late 1950s, see Maurice Ernst, “Postwar Economic Growth in Eastern Europe” and Josef Goldmann, “Fluctuations and Trends in the Rate of Economic Growth in Some Socialist Countries,” in George R. Feiwel, ed., New Currents in Soviet-Type Economies: A Reader (Scranton, Pa.: International Textbook Co., 1968), 75–121.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For some recent appreciations, see George W. Breslauer, Khrushchev and Brezhnev: Building Authority in Soviet Politics (London: Allen & Unwin, 1982),Google Scholar
  3. and Ferenc Fehér, “The Social Character of Khrushchev’s Regime,” in Ferenc Fehér and Agnes Heller, Eastern Left, Western Left. Totalitarianism, Freedom and Democracy (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press International, 1987), 77–103.Google Scholar
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  5. 3.
    The approach had already begun to emerge before 1957: Brzezinski, “Khrushchev’s Conception of the Communist Camp,” in his Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict, rev. ed. (New York, Praeger, 1961), 168–176; but it was really put in place thereafter. For intelligent meditation on regime problems in the post-revolutionary period, see Richard Lowenthal, “The Ruling Party in a Mature Society,” in Mark G. Field, ed., Social Consequences of Modernization in Communist Societies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 81–120. Contemporary scholars tended to feel that as time went on it would get easier to achieve value consensus, but that this would make it harder to justify the Party’s political monopoly.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
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  19. 7.
    For vivid data on 1955 to 1965 increases in Soviet oil and gas production and exports to Eastern Europe, see Robert W. Campbell, The Economics of Soviet Oil and Gas (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969), 225–249;Google Scholar
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  21. 8.
    On the role of foreign trade, see Franklyn D. Holzman, “Foreign Trade Behavior of Centrally Planned Economies,” in Henry Rosovsky, ed., Industrialization in Two Systems. Essays in Honor of Alexander Gerschenkron (New York: John Wiley, 1966), 237–265, and at more length, his Foreign Trade Under Central Planning (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974).Google Scholar
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  23. 9.
    And they were still doing it when the “velvet revolution” came: Craig R. Whitney, “A Casualty of Amnesty: A Plant Using Convicts,” New York Times, 1 April 1990 (the Skoda plant at Mláda Bolesláv), and Tony R. Judt, “Metamorphosis: The Democratic Revolution in Czechoslovakia,” in Ivo Banac, ed., Eastern Europe in Revolution (Ithaca, N.Y. and London: Cornell University Press, 1992), 114.Google Scholar
  24. 11.
    The locus classicus on how this worked is still John Michael Montias, Economic Development in Communist Rumania (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1967), and especially its summing up, 231–247.Google Scholar
  25. 12.
    “I am tempted to conclude, then, that [Czechoslovakia and the GDR] are exploited by all the others”: Peter J.D. Wiles, Communist International Economics (Oxford: Black-well, 1968), 247. The classic account of the 1953–1957 crisis for Czechoslovakia isGoogle Scholar
  26. John Michael Montias, “Economic Nationalism in Eastern Europe: Forty Years of Continuity and Change,” Journal of International Affairs, 20, no. 1 (1966): 45–71. The comparison is to the beggar-my-neighbor policies of the 1930s: Montias shows that between 1953 and 1957 Czechoslovakia’s exports to Romania dropped by two-thirds, compared to one-third between 1928 and 1933, and that between 1953 and 1956 its machinery exports to Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland dropped by over half.Google Scholar
  27. The reverse effect, on Romania, is described by Montias in his “Background and Origins of the Rumanian Dispute with Comecon,” Soviet Studies, 16, no. 2 (October 1964): 125–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. And for a short, sharp retrospective on these years (in response to Montias), see Wiles, “Foreign Trade of Eastern Europe: A Summary Appraisal,” in Alan A. Brown and Egon Neuberger, eds., International Trade and Central Planning (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 166–176.Google Scholar
  29. 13.
    Frederic C. Pryor, The Communist Foreign Trade System (London: Allen & Unwin, 1963), 33n.Google Scholar
  30. 14.
    The classic early account is William E. Griffith, The Sino-Soviet Rift (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1964);Google Scholar
  31. more recently, see Alfred D. Low, The Sino-Soviet Dispute. An Analysis of the Polemics (Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1976), which takes the story through 1969.Google Scholar
  32. 15.
    For a summary, see “Collectivization in Eastern Europe,” in Karl-Eugen Wädekin, Agrarian Policies in Communist Europe. A Critical Introduction (The Hague: Allenheld/Osmun/Martinus Nijhoff, 1982), 63–82 and 141; for the effects on Romania, see Montias, Economic Development, 87–134; for the Bulgarian Great Leap Forward, see J.F. Brown, Bulgaria Under Communist Rule (New York: Praeger, 1970), 83–95;Google Scholar
  33. and for the Polish exception, see Andrzej Korbonski, The Politics of Socialist Agriculture in Poland: 1945–1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965) and his “Peasant Agriculture in Poland Since 1956: An Alternative to Collectivization,” in Jerzy F. Karcz, ed., Soviet and East European Agriculture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 411–431, which takes the story through 1965.Google Scholar
  34. 16.
    Paul Neuberg, The Hero’s Children. The Post-War Generation in Eastern Europe (New York: William Morrow, 1973) is still full of insights on elite generational change in general during the 1960s,Google Scholar
  35. and Zdeněk Mlynář, Nightfrost in Prague: The End of Humane Socialism (New York: Karz, 1980), passim, conveys the smell and feel of it in Czechoslovakia.Google Scholar
  36. 17.
    For the GDR’s situation as it later looked, beginning in the 1970s, see Werner Klein, “The Role of the GDR in Comecon: Some Economic Aspects,” in Ian Jeffries and Manfred Melzer, The East German Economy (London: Croom Helm, 1987), 261–279.Google Scholar
  37. 19.
    On Romanian help over Hungary, see Robert R. King, Minorities Under Communism. Nationalities as a Source of Tension among Balkan Communist States (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), 82–85. J.F. Brown also points out that after 1956 there was a serious crackdown in Romania itself, mainly against the Hungarian minority which had sympathized with the Hungarian revolution, and which began an erosion (that continued until 1989) of the distinct Hungarian minority institutions granted in the early postwar period: Surge to Freedom. The End of Communist Rule in Eastern Europe (Durham, N.C. and London: Duke University Press, 1991), 14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Just as Montias remains good on the economic side, Kenneth Jowitt, Revolutionary Breakthroughs and National Development. The Case of Romania, 1944–1965 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 135–231, is still very good on Romanian politics in this period.Google Scholar
  39. 20.
    For a useful brief review of Romanian party history as background to Ceauşescu’s rule (which omits the politics of consolidation in the late 1960s, however), see Vladimir Tismaneanu, “Ceauşescu’s Socialism,” Problems of Communism, 34, no. 1 (January–February 1985): 50–66, and, at greater length, his “The Tragicomedy of Romanian Communism,” Eastern European Politics and Societies, 3, no. 2 (Spring 1989): 329–376. For historical background on the soporific effect of state-sponsored nationalism on the Romanian intelligentsia,Google Scholar
  40. see Michael Shafir, Romania Politics, Economics and Society. Political Stagnation and Simulated Change (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1985), 144–150, with citations to further readings.Google Scholar
  41. For a longer treatment of this critical period that includes some sense of the argument within the leadership over economic strategy, see Mary Ellen Fischer, Nicolae Ceausescu. A Study in Political Leadership (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1989), 83–159. But J.F. Brown also usefully recalls that Romanian obstinacy checked a streak of supranationalist millenarianism in Khrushchev, or at least kept it at bay in practical terms, and thereby saved the rest of us a lot of potential trouble: in the work cited above, 17–21. A former senior Polish communist, very much of the post-1956 generation, reminded me in a private conversation in early 1993 just how passionately he and others like him believed in heavy industry as the key to Poland’s modern future; if it was true in Poland, it was true in spades in Romania; and the resulting economic structures are a problem for them all, now that communists like him are gone.Google Scholar
  42. 21.
    Bill Lomax has recently developed and documented the theory that the germs of later liberalism were all present in the tough early days of the Kádár regime, although Kádár was then an impotent and inexperienced figurehead: “The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Origins of the Kádár Regime,” Studies in Comparative Commumsm, 18, nos. 2 & 3 (Summer/Autumn 1985): 87–114. For a balanced assessment, see Charles Gati, “Moscow and János Kádár since 1956: An Overview,” in his Hungary and the Soviet Bloc (Durham: Duke University Press, 1986), 156–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 23.
    On the struggles over economic reform after 1956, see Janusz G. Zieliński, Economic Reforms in Polish Industry (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), 1–14 and passim;Google Scholar
  44. Włodzimierz Brus, “The Political Economy of Reform,” in Paul Marer and Włodzimierz Śliwiński, eds., Creditworthiness and Reform in Poland (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 67–70; and the chapter titled “The Economic Reform Deadlock in Poland,” in Paul M. Johnson, Redesigning the Communist Economy: The Politics of Economic Reform in Eastern Europe (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 121–138.Google Scholar
  45. 26.
    The insider account is Zdeněk Mlynář, Nightfrost in Prague, but Galia Golan’s reconstructions, The Czechoslovak Reform Movement: Communism in Crisis, 1962–1968 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971) and Reform Rule in Czechoslovakia: The Dubček Era, 1968–1969 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1973), are still useful,Google Scholar
  46. and Judy Batt’s Economic Reform and Political Change in Eastern Europe (New York: St. Martin’s, 1988), 171–232, should now be consulted. In the wake of the regime’s collapse, 1968 in Czechoslovakia is getting some urgent reconsideration:CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. see Jan Moravec, “Could the Prague Spring Have Been Saved? The Ultimatum of Cierna nad Tisou,” Orbis, 35, no. 4 (Fall 1991), 587–595; Jíří Valenta, “The Search for a Political Solution,” ibid., 581–587, and Valenta, “The Last Chance,” ibid., 595–601. And for a preview of the extensive new documentation now becoming available, see Mark Kramer, “New Sources on the 1968 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin (Washington, D.C.: The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars), no. 2 (Fall, 1992), 4–13, which includes the text of the hardliners’ August “request” to Brezhnev for intervention, and promises to review interpretations in a future issue.Google Scholar
  48. 28.
    Ibid, 101–104, 120–124; but his whole chapter on the Prague Spring, 77–145, is well worth reading. For wrenching evidence of personalism at leadership level during the 1968 Czechoslovak crisis, see the memoirs of Gomułka’s interpreter, Erwin Weit, At the Red Summit: Interpreter behind the Iron Curtain (New York: Macmillan, 1973), 193–217. On divided counsels within the Soviet leadership, see Jiří Valenta, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968. Anatomy of a Decision (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979). For how it felt watching it as a Western correspondent in Moscow, seeGoogle Scholar
  49. Anatole Shub, An Empire Loses Hope (New York: Norton, 1970), 369–442.Google Scholar
  50. 30.
    Peter Wiles characterizes the effect as a shift from “the once half-accepted theocracy to a ‘Logocracy’”; the latter “still makes enormous moral claims, but they have become totally invalid”: in Jan Drewnowski, ed., Crisis in the East European Economy. The Spread of the Polish Disease (London: Croom Helm, 1982), 11. For the same testimony in different words from someone who helped with the shifting, see Adam Michnik, “The Prague Spring Ten Years Later (August 1978),” reprinted in his Letters from Prison, 155–159. For a sensitive short account of the whole 1956 to 1970 period and its 1968 culmination in Poland,Google Scholar
  51. see Neal Ascherson, The Polish August. The Self-Limiting Revolution (New York: Viking, 1982), 81–105.Google Scholar
  52. Leszek Kołakowski, while clear about Poland (Main Currents of Marxism: Vol. 3: The Breakdown [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978], 466–468), is somewhat more sanguine about socialism’s staying power in Czechoslovakia, incorrectly as it turned out: 69–70. On the critical role of 1968 for the East European intelligentsia and the opening up of the split with Western leftists, see the introduction to Fehér and Heller, Eastern Left. Western Left, 1–47, andGoogle Scholar
  53. Ferenc Fehér, Agnes Heller, and György Márkus, Dictatorship Over Needs (New York: St. Martin’s, 1983), 290ff. This work also includes some pertinent meditation on the “anti-Bolshevik Bolshevism,” which they see as one plausible historical alternative.Google Scholar

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© Thomas W. Simons, Jr. 1993

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