Updating the Brezhnev doctrine

Two years before their invasion of Afghanistan the Soviets, in published doctrinal statements, now appear to have been preparing the way for a shift of policy. Both President Carter and his security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, have expressed surprise over the bold, overt use of the Red Army. Brzezinski called the Russian military action a "new stage of Soviet assertiveness." That it was. Yet there were earlier, ideological tip- offs of that assertiveness.

The most recent doctrinal about-face appeared in the party journal Kommunist in February of last year. Before this article, which anticipated this year's commemoration of the 1940 Soviet takeovers of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Soviet writings customarily described the Baltic intrusions and Sovietizations as "defensive" moves in the face of the Nazi threat (despite the Nazi-Soviet friendship pact of August, 1939). Traditionally , the use of the Red Army to secure these buffer territories was considered exceptional when rationalized in Soviet history texts.

But in the new Kommunist version, not only is the "revolutionary" aspect of the takeovers stressed; the military methods that were used are endorsed and updated: "The course of events dictated realistic corrections in the strategic and tactical plans of the Communists . . . [This] experience has general application and . . . demonstrates how a new breakthrough in the imperialist system was accomplished, how another step forward was made in the world-revolutionary process . . . and a further broadening and strengthening of the base of socialist revolution [in the USSR] achieved. . . . Under present-day conditions, this course of events has become more realistic. . . ." It should be recalled that the forcible military invasion and occupation of the Baltic states followed the previous use of the Red Army as a "revolutionizing force" -- in Finland during the Winter War of 1939-40. Then, as in Afghanistan 40 years later almost to the month, the Soviets "explained" the invasion as a form of Leninist revolution. They installed a puppet regime in the Finnish city of Terijoki, under Stalin's ideologist, Otto V. Kuusinen, who immediately appealed to the Soviets for "fraternal military aid to the Finnish proletariat."

The Soviet puppet in Afghanistan, Babrak Karmal, followed Kuusinen's precedent and also used "imperialism" as the scapegoat. (Incidentally, Brezhnev's chief ideologist, Mikhail Suslov, bossed the Baltic Sovietizations and has been singled out by some Western Sovietologists as counseling the latest intrusion into a neighboring state.)

Another ideological hint of Kremlin toughening came on the tenth anniversary of the 1968 "internationalist aid" extended to "fraternal" Czechoslovakia, to which the Brezhnev doctrine was applied by military means to crush the liberal-communist regime of Alexander Dubcek. Commemorative articles written in the Soviet Union and in Czechoslovakia two years ago paid tribute to this type of bayonet-exported "assistance." By contrast, just two years earlier (1966), on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Red Army intrusions into Hungary that ousted the liberal-communist regime under Imre Nagy, no "summing-up" articles appeared; the anniversary was ignored as if it were an embarrassment.

In 1968, of course, the Brezhnev doctrine was designed to apply to a communist state already firmly established. The doctrine, however, has been updated to include a neighboring state -- Afghanistan -- which is only in the very beginning stages of "building socialism." This updating was anticipated in the 1978 commemoration by a statement that the Brezhnev doctrine applies to any socialist country (i.e. communist) country within or outside the Soviet bloc.

In statements made in Kabul by the Soviet- installed Karmal regime in the first week of January, the Afghan dictator indicated that his regime intends to give fraternal assistance to the Iranian "revolution" if need be. This suggests a further updating of the Brezhnev doctrine to include the use of a newly gained pawn which in turn acts as a Soviet proxy helping to expand Soviet-style socialism elsewhere in Southwest Asia. And not only to Iran, but perhaps also to Pakistan, which Soviet writings declare to be "ripe" for revolution.

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