Modern History Sourcebook:
The Brezhnev Doctrine, 1968
In reponse to the efforts, early in 1968, of the Czechoslovakian
Communist Party, under the leadership of Alexander Dubcek, to
introduce a number of reforms, including the abolition of censorship,
the Soviet Union adopted a policy of combating "anti-socialist
forces". The polict became known as "Brezhnev Doctrine". Dubcek's movement, known as the "Prague Spring,"
was suppressed in an invasion. It was in November 1968, speaking
before Polish workers, that Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev gave
the following justification.
In connection with the events in Czechoslovakia the question of
the correlation and interdependence of the national interests
of the socialist countries and their international duties acquire
particular topical and acute importance.
The measures taken by the Soviet Union, jointly with other socialist
countrieS, in defending the socialist gains of the Czechoslovak
people are of great significance for strengthening the socialist
community, which is the main achievement of the international
We cannot ignore the assertions, held in some places, that the
actions of the five socialist countries run counter to the MarxistLeninist
principle of sovereignty and the rights of nations to selfdetermination. The groundlessness of such reasoning consists primarily in that
it is based on an abstract, nonclass approach to the question
of sovereignty and the rights of nations to selfdetermination.
The peoples of the socialist countries and Communist parties certainly
do have and should have freedom for determining the ways of advance
of their respective countries.
However, none of their decisions should damage either socialism
in their country or the fundamental interests of other socialist
countries, and the whole working class movement, which is working
This means that each Communist party is responsible not only to
its own people, but also to all the socialist countries, to the
entire Communist movement. Whoever forget this, in stressing only
the independence of the Communist party, becomes onesided.
He deviates from his international duty. Marxist dialectics are opposed to onesidedness. They demand
that each phenomenon be examined concretely, in general connection
with other phenomena, with other processes.
Just as, in Lenin's words, a man living in a society cannot be
free from the society, one or another socialist state, staying
in a system of other states composing the socialist community,
cannot be free from the common interests of that community.
The sovereignty of each socialist country cannot be opposed to
the interests of the world of socialism, of the world revolutionary
movement. Lenin demanded that all Communists fight against smallnation
narrowmindedness, seclusion and isolation, consider the
whole and the general, subordinate the particular to the general
The socialist states respect the democratic norms of international
law. They have proved this more than once in practice, by coming
out resolutely against the attempts of imperialism to violate
the sovereignty and independence of nations.
It is from these same positions that they reject the leftist,
adventurist conception of "exporting revolution," of
"bringing happiness" to other peoples.
However, from a Marxist point of view, the norms of law, including
the norms of mutual relations of the socialist countries, cannot
be interpreted narrowly, formally, and in isolation from the general
context of class struggle in the modern world. The socialist countries
resolutely come out against the exporting and importing of counterrevolution
Each Communist party is free to apply the basic principles of
Marxism Leninism and of socialism in its country, but it cannot
depart from these principles (assuming, naturally, that it remains
a Communist party).
Concretely, this means, first of all, that, in its activity, each
Communist party cannot but take into account such a decisive fact
of our time as the struggle between two opposing social systems-capitalism
This is an objective struggle, a fact not depending on the will
of the people, and stipulated by the world's being split into
two opposite social systems. Lenin said: "Each man must choose
between joining our side or the other side. Any attempt to avoid
taking sides in this issue must end in fiasco." It has got to be emphasized that when a socialist country seems
to adopt a "nonaffiliated" stand, it retains its
national independence, in effect, precisely because of the might
of the socialist community, and above all the Soviet Union as
a central force, which also includes the might of its armed forces.
The weakening of any of the links in the world system of socialism
directly affects all the socialist countries, which cannot look
indifferently upon this. The antisocialist elements in Czechoslovakia actually covered
up the demand for socalled neutrality and Czechoslovakia's
withdrawal from the socialist community with talking about the
right of nations to selfdetermination. However, the implementation of such "selfdetermination,"
in other words, Czechoslovakia's detachment from the socialist
community, would have come into conflict with its own vital interests
and would have been detrimental to the other socialist states. Such "selfdetermination," as a result of which
NATO troops would have been able to come up to the Soviet border,
while the community of European socialist countries would have
been split, in effect encroaches upon the vital interests of the
peoples of these countries and conflicts, as the very root of
it, with the right of these people to socialist selfdetermination.
Discharging their internationalist duty toward the fraternal peoples
of Czechoslovakia and defending their own socialist gains, the
U.S.S.R. and the other socialist states had to act decisively
and they did act against the antisocialist forces in Czechoslovakia.
From Pravda, September 25, 1968; translated by Novosti,
Soviet press agency. Reprinted in L. S. Stavrianos, TheEpic
of Man (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: PrenticeHall, 1971),
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997