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13 November 2009

On this day in history: The Brezhnev Doctrine, 1968

On 13th November 1968, the soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev made a speech at the Fifth Congress of the Polish United Workers' Party reiterating the new foreign policy of the USSR. This policy first appeared in a September issue of the newspaper Pravda in an article entitled “Sovereignty and the International Obligations of Socialist Countries” written by Sergei Kovalev. Known in the West as the 'Brezhnev Doctrine', the policy amounted to the USSR reserving the right to use military force to prevent any socialist country from turning to capitalism.

The Soviet leadership used the doctrine to justify their invasion of Czechoslovakia earlier that year (as well as the invasion of Hungary in 1956). In effect the policy could be used to limit the independence of any country within the Warsaw Pact and to prevent reform or deviation from the Russian model of socialism by governments in the Eastern bloc and beyond. In 1979 the Soviet leadership applied the doctrine during their invasion of Afghanistan to prop-up the socialist government there; however, ten years later Mikhail Gorbachev effectively ended the doctrine when he chose not to use military intervention to halt the reform movements in eastern Europe.

The text of Brezhnev's 1968 speech follows.

The might of the socialist camp today is such that the imperialists fear military defeat in the event of a direct clash with the chief forces of socialism. Needless to say, as long as imperialism exists, the danger of war that imperialist policy entails can on no account he disregarded. However, it is a fact that in the new conditions the imperialists are making increasingly frequent use of different and more insidious tactics. They are seeking out the weak links in the socialist front, pursuing a course of subversive ideological work inside the socialist countries, trying to influence the economic development of these countries, attempting to sow dissension, drive wedges between them and encourage and inflame nationalist feelings and tendencies, and are seeking to isolate individual socialist states so that they can then seize them by the throat one by one. In short, imperialism is trying to undermine socialism's solidarity precisely as a world system.

The experience of the socialist countries’ development and struggle in these new conditions during the past few years, including the recently increased activity of forces hostile to socialism in Czechoslovakia, reminds the communists of socialist countries with fresh force that it is important not to forget for one moment certain highly important, time-tested truths.

If we do not want to retard our movement along the path of socialist and communist construction, if we do not want to weaken our common positions in the struggle against imperialism, we must, in resolving any questions of our domestic and foreign policy, always and everywhere, maintain indestructible fidelity to the principles of Marxism-Leninism, display a clear-cut class and party approach to all social phenomena, and deal a resolute rebuff to imperialism on the ideological front without making any concessions to bourgeois ideology.

When petit-bourgeois leaders encounter difficulties, they go into hysterics and begin to doubt everything without exception. The emergence of difficulties makes the revisionists ready to cancel out all existing achievements, repudiate everything that has been gained, and surrender all their positions of principle.

But real communists confidently clear the path ahead and seek the best solutions to the problems that have arisen, relying on socialist gains. They honestly acknowledge the mistakes made in a given question and analyse and correct them so as to strengthen the positions of socialism further, so as to stand firm and refrain from giving the enemies of socialism one iota of what has already been won, what has already been achieved through the efforts and struggle of the masses. ln short, it can confidently be said that if the party takes a firm stand on communist positions, if it is faithful to Marxism—Leninism, all difficulties will be overcome.

Experience shows most convincingly the exceptional and, one might say, decisive importance for successful construction of socialism that attaches to ensuring and constantly consolidating the leadership role of the Communist party as the most advanced leading, organizing, and directing force in all societal development under socialism.

Socialist states stand for strict respect for the sovereignty of all countries. We resolutely oppose interference in the affairs of any states and the violation of their sovereignty.

At the same time, affirmation and defence of the sovereignty of states that have taken the path of socialist construction are of special significance to us communists. The forces of imperialism and reaction are seeking to deprive the people first in one. then another socialist country of the sovereign right they have earned to ensure prosperity for their country and well-being and happiness for the broad working masses by building a society free from all oppression and exploitation. And when encroachments on this right receive a joint rebuff from the socialist camp, the bourgeois propagandists raise the cry of "defence of sovereignty" and “non-interference." It is clear that this is the sheerest deceit and demagoguery on their part. In reality these loud-mouths are concerned not about preserving socialist sovereignty but about destroying it.

It is common knowledge that the Soviet Union has really done a good deal to strengthen the sovereignty and autonomy of the socialist countries. The CPSU has always advocated that each socialist country determine the concrete forms of its development along the path of socialism by taking into account the specific nature of their national conditions. But it is well known, comrades, that there are common natural laws of socialist construction, deviation from which could lead to deviation from socialism as such. And when external and internal forces hostile to socialism try to turn the development of a given socialist country in the direction of restoration of the capitalist system, when a threat arises to the cause of socialism in that country — a threat to the security of the socialist commonwealth as a whole — this is no longer merely a problem for that country's people, but a common problem, the concern of all socialist countries.

It is quite clear that an action such as military assistance to a fraternal country to end a threat to the socialist system is an extraordinary measure, dictated by necessity; it can be called forth only by the overt actions of enemies of socialism within the country and beyond its boundaries, actions that create a threat to the common interests of the socialist camp.

Experience bears witness that in present conditions the triumph of the socialist system in a country can be regarded as final, but the restoration of capitalism can be considered ruled out only if the Communist party, as the leading force in society, steadfastly pursues a Marxist-Leninist policy in the development of all spheres of society's life; only if the party indefatigably strengthens the country's defence and the protection of its revolutionary gains, and if it itself is vigilant and instils in the people vigilance with respect to the class enemy and implacability toward bourgeois ideology; only if the principle of socialist internationalism is held sacred, and unity and fraternal solidarity with the other socialist countries are strengthened.

Let those who are wont to forget the lessons of history and who would like to engage again in recarving the map of Europe know that the borders of Poland, the GDR and Czechoslovakia, as well as of any other Warsaw Pact member, are stable and inviolable. These borders are protected by all the armed might of the socialist commonwealth. We advise all those who are fond of encroaching on foreign borders to remember this well!

Source: "Speech to the Fifth Congress of the Polish United Workers' Party", The Current Digest of the Soviet Press (Vol. 20, No. 46), pp. 3-5.