9. Draft Paper Prepared by N. Spencer Barnes of the Policy Planning Staff0
LONG-TERM TRENDS IN THE SOVIET EUROPEAN SATELLITES
A recent discussion1 of long-term trends in the Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe produced substantial agreement on the nature and direction of xpected trends, but differences as to their strength.
Area of Agreement:
It was generally agreed that in the foreseeable future—probably at least over the next ten years—no internal developments were likely to change the basic characteristics of the present political, economic and social structures in the Soviet-dominated states of Eastern Europe. Such changes were not anticipated, therefore, unless there should be profound evolutionary developments in the Soviet Union or comprehensive settlements of major international problems. Neither of the latter were within the scope of this discussion.[Page 41]
It was further agreed that there would be a tendency toward consolidation and strengthening of both regimes and system. This would mean in practice, some ten years or more from today and other things being equal, that:
- Satellite regimes would still be totalitarian, one-party Communist governments; self-perpetuating without benefit of free elections; accepting the hegemony of Moscow to the extent of taking instructions on basic domestic and foreign policy, though exercising a certain leeway in minor decisions and implementation; protected from external aggression or popular revolt first by the presence or threat of Soviet armed force and secondly by internal police controls; with a centralized, planned, government-controlled and largely government-owned economy. In sum, the situation would be very similar in kind to that at pres-ent.
- It would also mean that this type of system would be more firmly entrenched than it is today, in that the masses would accept it more readily, there would be less popular antagonism toward it and less underlying resistance to it.
In support of this forecast, it was believed (assuming the Soviet state and Soviet motivations unchanged) that the following major influences would act in the direction indicated:
- In the absence of internal disorders—which would in fact be inhibited by Soviet armed force and readiness to use it—the simple passage of time would condition peoples to perpetuation of the regime, and favor their judgment to it.
- The economic situation would gradually, if slowly, improve and so reduce dissatisfaction.
- The Soviets would gradually accord more freedom of action to the local regimes, thus making Soviet control less conspicuous even if ultimately determinant, which would reduce popular dissatisfaction stemming from nationalism.
- Continuous indoctrination would finally have some effect, particularly on youth who would have no first-hand experience with other ways of life.
Disagreement on Emphasis:
The existence of such trends was generally agreed on, as well as their tendency to strengthen regimes and reduce popular dissatisfaction. There was, however, a noticeable difference of opinion as to how pronounced the effects would be. One view was that the cumulative impact would be very considerable. No one would go quite so far as to predict that, even after ten or twenty years, in the hypothetical event that Soviet pressures were eliminated, the local Communist regimes would be firmly enough entrenched to maintain themselves and their system through indigenous controls alone. But an impression was given that this condition might be approached; and that the ability of regimes to resist popular pressures directed toward change would be much stronger than at present.[Page 42]
The other view was that not one of the influences listed, or even all combined, would be much more than marginal; and that, even after ten or more years of enforced stability, if the support of Soviet armed force should for one reason or another be withdrawn, popular pressures would force basic changes on the regimes. It was felt that such changes would come just as surely, and not very much more slowly than if the hypothetical situation were to develop in 1958.
Arguments supporting this view rested largely on the following considerations:
- It is very doubtful whether popular disapproval of a Communist system—whether expressed with violence as in Hungary or sublimated as in Rumania—has appreciably abated in these countries during the last ten years. It is hard to gauge, but it may even have increased in some areas.
- Continuous indoctrination has not had great effect. Evidence suggests that the youth, a prime target of indoctrination, have nowhere become unquestioning advocates of the system. If anything—as everywhere and at all times—the most skeptical attitudes appear to be found among youth.
- Superficial apathy should not be confused with willing acceptance. A people are quite capable of retaining a smoldering dislike for a system or a regime not of their own choice, even for generations as history has shown, passive but ready to burst into flame under favorable conditions.
- While the economic situation may gradually improve, the overall standard of living will rise so slowly as to create no great reservoir of good will for the regimes. Even in the Soviet Union, after 40 years of impressive industrial progress, the standard of living of the masses is not so very much higher; and its present level is a matter for considerable complaint—perhaps as much in the 1950’s as in the 1920’s.
- Despite all Soviet efforts to camouflage their hegemony, the majority of the people in the satellites will remain quite aware that they are living under an alien system; and will be under no illusions as to what foreign power forced the system on them, and what foreign power is committed to maintaining it.
- Despite continuation of present censorship and other techniques tending to isolate the peoples from conditions abroad, considerable awareness of realities in the non-Communist world will probably continue to seep through the curtain. Presumably living conditions in Western Europe and America will actually be better for a long time, barring holocaust; and relative but not complete isolation may even be counterproductive to the satellite regimes—other fields sometimes look more green when seen dimly from afar.
- Human nature being what it is, and the essence of the Soviet Communist system what it is—political and economic monopoly in the hands of a few—it seems probable that a basic antagonism between the two will persist for decades if not indefinitely. Two of the strongest human urges are: (a) to acquire the comforts and conveniences of life, according to taste of the individual; and (b) to think for himself, and express his conclusions in word and action as he chooses within reasonably liberal limits. In the foreseeable future it seems improbable that a [Page 43] centralized, planned economy can achieve the flexibility to compete with the consumer’s choice of an economic democracy in the first respect; and improbable that a single-party government espousing a frozen ideology can compete with political democracy in the second. In consequence, it seems very doubtful that the masses in any European satellite, though they may become somewhat more tolerant and apathetic with time, will become supporters of communism by preference in the foreseeable future.
If the above argumentation be accepted, it could lead to the following prediction:
Other things being equal, within the next two or three decades an evolution within the Soviet Union which will substantially modify the system in the direction of political and economic freedoms is more likely than an evolution in the European satellites which will result in popular preference for the Communist system as it now exists.
Implications for U.S. Policy:
The first and most obvious policy implication to flow from the above consideration is: If change away from Communism in the Soviet satellites is desirable; and if it is unlikely—in fact if an opposite trend seems probable—except in consequence of major evolutionary changes in the USSR or comprehensive settlements of international problems; then the best opportunities for promoting the end in view must lie in efforts to further such an evolutionary process and to achieve such settlements. Results are more likely to be attained indirectly than directly.
At the same time, and particularly if the second line of analysis outlined earlier be correct, a constructive, long-term policy pointed directly at the satellites should also be possible. If the underlying spirit of resistance is likely to persist for years with only a gradual drop in potential, other things being equal, then it is reasonable to suppose that a policy of promoting continuing contacts of all kinds, of encouraging a flow of information, a reasonable amount of trade, tourism and normal contacts on the official level, should tend to give some additional support to this potential. Admittedly the effect will probably not be great. But assuming that the inner fabric of resistance potential is strong and durable, the addition of even a marginal degree of Western influence might act to preserve the spirit of dissatisfaction with foreign-imposed Communism for very many years. The ultimate outcome would still be uncertain. In a fast-changing world, however, ultimate is a long time. The unexpected may always be anticipated, and to keep the resistance potential alive should be a sound aim in itself, even when it is not clear in precisely what way this potential may finally be translated into action.
On the other hand, while the most soundly conceived and implemented policy may have positive but quite limited and contingent effect in promoting policy aims, an unsound policy could have more [Page 44] pronounced adverse effects. It seems to be admitted that at the least a gradual process of consolidation and strengthening of Communist regimes in the satellites is probable. Should Western and U.S. policy emphasize antagonism and aversion, minimize contacts of all kinds, treat the captive nations and their representatives alike as pariahs, as participating causes rather than victims of Soviet imperialism, it might accelerate the process considerably. Complete discouragement, no hope for and little acquaintance with an alternative, could then bring a more fundamental change involving popular acceptance of and adjustment to the system within a good deal shorter period than might otherwise have been the case.
In sum, reasonable conclusions appear to be the following: It is probable that the spirit of resistance to a Soviet-Communist system among the peoples in the satellites of Eastern Europe, due mainly to its innate strength but with some assistance from U.S. and Western policies, will remain alive and a strong otential force for many years—quite probably until global developments have produced significant changes of one kind or another in international relationships. The type of U.S. and Western policies which could give such assistance would appear to be substantially those now accepted in the Department. They require ad hoc skill and judgment in implementation and careful differentiation not only between peoples and regimes but between elements within regimes, almost to the point of schizophrenia. But they are not impossible of implementation.
On the other hand, it is conceivable in any event and quite possible if U.S. and Western policies change in the direction of cutting off and “writing off” the satellites, that the process of regime consolidation and strengthening will accelerate. This could result in a general, passive but more or less permanentpular acceptance of the Communist system in Eastern Europe in the nearer future, and perhaps before other influences have weakened the Soviet drive for expansion.
- Source: Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 67 D 548, Europe (East). Confidential. According to a handwritten note on the source text, this subject was discussed at the Policy Planning Staff meetings on May 25 and July 7. Very brief summaries of the discussion at these meetings are ibid., Meetings. This draft paper and another draft paper by Barnes, dated November 7, 1957, entitled “Considerations of US Policy Toward the Communist States of Eastern Europe Exclusive of the USSR,” were combined and condensed by Barnes to produce a revised paper printed as Document 11.↩
- Presumably a reference to the discussion at the Policy Planning Staff meeting of May 25.↩