Refuting the assumption that orthodox Marxist theory contains anything of relevance on international relations, this book, originally published in 1980, clarifies, reconstructs, and summarizes the theories of international relations of Marx and Engels, Lenin, Stalin and the Soviet leadership of the 1970s. These are subjected to a comparative analysis and their relative integrity is examined both against one another and against selected Western theories. Marxist-Leninist models of international relations are fully explored, enabling the reader to appreciate the essence and evolution of fundamental Soviet concepts as such as proletarian, socialist internationalism, peaceful co-existence, national liberation movement and détente.
1. Introductory: Basic Assumptions of Theories of International Relations 2. Marx and Engels on International Relations 3. Theory of International Relations in the East 4. The East and Marx 5. International Relations Theory in the West and in the East 6. International Relations Theory in the West: Marx and Lenin. Conclusion, Appendices.
“Books have their fates” - habent sua fata libelli– is a classical aphorism dating from the 2nd century. The fates of books are intertwined with the historical circumstances in which they were written and fates of their authors. And with the passage of time, in a different era, the message of a book may change and the reader might read it differently.
This book is a case in point. Written in another era, it bears the marks of its author’s fate. Vendulka Kubálková is now professor of International Studies in the United States. This was her first book, written long ago, at the height of the hostilities of the Cold War. Those times are difficult to imagine in the completely changed world of the 21st century, with its new problems overshadowing those of the 20th century Cold War.
Twenty four years old, with a freshly minted doctorate from Charles University, Kubálková came to the West from Prague—a city then occupied by the Soviet tanks. She did not illegally jump the border as tens of thousands of her compatriots chose to do. She left on a British scholarship legally only to study the Anglo-American discipline of International Relations. The discipline of IR was not heard of at the time in the Communist bloc. By definition, it would be regarded as lacking a subject matter. From a Marxist perspective, studying the relations of states – “superstructural” phenomena – was to tear them out of their historical materialist context. “Anarchy”, “national interests”, “balances of power” were self-serving imperialist political contraptions. Historical materialism, it was believed in the Soviet bloc, held the truth and explained adequately what the Western countries were up to. Western academics returned the compliment with an equally dismissive attitude. Any ideas coming from the Soviet bloc were regarded as a meaningless ideology. By contrast, the Western academy saw itself perfectly capable of explaining every Soviet move by reference to interest and ideology. Both perspectives claimed to be in possession of universally valid objective, scientific truths, untainted by subjective, social or political interests.
It is difficult to imagine, or remember, what the world was like back then. The West and the Soviet East, were not “interdependent” in any sense, as even the US theories of complex interdependence acknowledged. Unimaginable in the era of globalization, the Iron Curtain very effectively stopped any eastward flow of ideas from the West. Crossing the Iron Intellectual Curtain felt like entering another planet: requiring to re-learn, re-examine everything, discovering that the two parts of the world were not just politically but also intellectually incompatible – indeed incommensurable, describing two unrelated realities.
By the late 1960s, Soviet and East European academics were just beginning to develop an interest in the discipline of IR. At her own initiative, Kubálková decided on going to the UK to learn what that discipline was about, to be able to follow its developments, and possibly to graft whatever insight would be of use onto Marxist Leninist historical materialism. Of course there were strings attached to accepting a British scholarship with the Communist Party’s permission. A few days before her departure she was approached by the officer of the Czech branch of the KGB, who told her that she was obliged to gather intelligence during her stay in the UK. If she refused, she would have to stay home – but obviously face consequences. After many unpleasant clandestine meetings, she agreed. No member of her family or friends knew. In a communist country this type of knowledge one had to bear oneself.
However once in England she lasted as a spy no more than a week – blown her cover and given herself up. It was dangerous and perhaps foolish in the circumstances since it meant a lifelong political exile. That young woman could only think of the Soviet tanks which had shattered her faith in Marxism as the only path, morally superior, universally valid, indeed a secular religion. The door back home to Prague was closed with a prison sentence in absentia. As her PhD supervisor later observed, she lost identity.
This book was written by a stranger to the West, almost an alien finding a way through the maze of totally different ideas and values and what counted as knowledge. And that was a virtue, an advantage. She styled the book a debate between the West and the (Soviet) East; a debate which, in the book’s opening words, “never took place and never will”. She was right.
After the Soviet Union, and with it the Soviet bloc, disintegrated and the Soviet Marxist-Leninist canon disappeared virtually overnight, any such debate would seem like ancient history. What then is the message of this book? Not that by some theoretical magic competing cultures voluntarily surrender to another and do so without uttering a word, but the very reverse. Engaging in debate, in fact in many debates in the plural world of today, is impossible to avoid. Books have their fates, voices must be heard.