THE MARXIST REVIEW OF BOOKS
Adam Eastman tackles the argument that Eastern Europeans
are the architects of their own backwardness
Who made Eastern Europe?
Eastern Europe is now said to be a prisoner of its past. What's more, its
past is now said to have been self-created rather than imposed from outside.
News reports of the war in the former Yugoslavia and commentaries upon Eastern
European affairs are all framed by reference to the past. The problem is
either ancient blood feuds among Slavs, or a historical aversion to democracy
in the East. This approach is not just the work of Western journalists,
but is beginning to be put forward as a comprehensive theory to explain
the peculiarities of this land that time forgot.
- The Making of Eastern Europe, Philip Longworth, Macmillan,
- Columbia History of Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century,
Joseph Held (ed), Columbia University Press, £19 hbk
- The Other Europe, E Garrison Walters, Syracuse University
Press, £7.95 hbk
The impulse to search back in time for the answer to the problems of Eastern
Europe has been stimulated by disappointment at the results of the supposed
liberation of the region that took place in 1989. Until recently it has
been possible to suggest that the region's difficulties, even its very existence
as a distinct 'Eastern' body, were modern products of domination by the
Germans during the Second World War, and then by the Soviet Union after
1945. It was only Eastern Europe because the Soviet Union had made it so.
In academic terms, this meant that a standard pre-1989 work on the subject
could be introduced with the claim that, 'before the imposition of the Soviet
template in 1944-45, what is now called Eastern Europe was not usually perceived
as a distinct geopolitical entity' (The Other Europe, dustjacket).
In more popular terms it meant that the peoples of the region were held
up as victims of the Russian bear. As a consequence, they could do no wrong
in the eyes of the West.
It was widely supposed that once Soviet domination ceased, and the area
was left to its own devices, a renewal could begin, and perhaps even backward
'Eastern-ness' be overcome, as the former Soviet satellites joined the European
family. But it is now clear that the collapse of the Soviet bloc has led
to no such renaissance. Eastern Europe remains beset by economic and social
malaise, and its distance from the body of Europe seems as great as ever.
In many ways, Eastern Europe is seen to be more of a problem now than during
the Cold War. Back then, the West depicted Eastern nationalism as an anti-communist
force for liberation. Now the apparent revival of explosive nationalist
tensions in the East is a source of grave misgivings in the West. The peoples
of the region are themselves being held responsible for these problems.
The Poles and Czechs are no longer the darlings of the Western media. Even
the most incorrigible reactionary would have difficulty in blaming the USSR
for the current conflicts. In fact many would almost prefer that the Soviet
tanks were back in control, keeping the lid on the ethnic tensions.
In shifting the blame for Eastern Europe's failure away from outside influences
and towards the character of the East itself, most commentators emphasise
the rise of nationalism. This is generally understood as a historical problem.
The argument is that the various nationalities of Eastern Europe are now
resuming hostilities which were abandoned because of the imposition of Stalinism;
therefore the roots of the problem must lie in the past rather than in the
It is not 1945, but 1919, which is now the favourite date for the birth
of the modern Eastern problem. The recognised starting point for understanding
the issue is the Treaty of Versailles, which led to the creation of most
of the states of Eastern Europe after the First World War, rather than the
1945 Yalta agreement between Stalin and the Western Allies, which ratified
their incorporation into the Soviet bloc. If the problem of Eastern Europe
is seen to stem from an internally generated nationalist intolerance, then
it would be consistent to suggest that the region's crisis began in the
year that these national claims were officially recognised and endorsed
by the victors of the First World War.
Some imply that the problem goes back even further. The Making of Eastern
Europe draws out the logic of the new approach to the subject. 'The
distinction of East and West is not of recent origin', claims the author.
'Ever since the time of Charlemagne, Westerners have considered Eastern
Europe to lie beyond the civilised pale.' It is therefore no coincidence
to discover that 'the frontier dividing Charlemagne's Europe from the barbarian
East coincides almost exactly with the line along which the Iron Curtain
fell'(p8). The inference of the introduction is spelled out by the fact
that the book works backwards historically, century by century. The earlier
chapters on the twentieth and even the nineteenth centuries are perfunctory
and brief. The real meat of the book's analysis, and volume, is pre-modern.
To emphasise that the roots of the present troubles lie in Eastern Europe's
ancient past is to suggest that the region 'made itself', rather than being
shaped by modern outside forces. The problems of the Eastern peoples are
therefore essentially of their own making. If Philip Longworth lays bare
the logic of the new view, then Stephen Fischer-Galati's 'Old wine in new
bottles', the key chapter of the new Columbia history of the region, is
most explicit in attributing blame. For Fischer-Galati, 'the failure of
the democratic experiments might be more reasonably attributed to internal
factors in all the Eastern bloc countries' (p2).
If we strip away the self-importance of authors who wrap themselves in the
authority of the past, the thrust of their argument can be boiled down to
one basic proposition. The reason why Eastern Europe is a living nightmare
is nothing to do with us, and everything to do with 'history'. It has nothing
to do with Western capitalism and everything to do with those people themselves.
In so far as the West is handed a share of the blame, it is for recognising
the claims of Eastern nations to an independent existence in the first place.
Hence the focus on 1919. 'If only we hadn't been so naive as to imagine
these peoples could run their own affairs!' is the cry from the West today.
Bring back Stalin, even Hitler, the Habsburgs - maybe even Charlemagne!
The problems of Eastern Europe used to be blamed entirely on contemporary
Soviet domination. Now they are said to be the product of the dim and distant
past. But what happened to the bit in the middle? Might it not have been
in this period that the modern East was set apart? In fact the interwar
years of the twenties and thirties - the period when the new countries of
Eastern Europe made their first attempts at independent development - must
be the starting point of any discussion. If we examine this period, we find
that these nations never stood a chance.
Brought into existence by the Allied powers in order to form a barrier to
German and Soviet expansion, their existence was predicated upon the continuation
of the post-First World War balance of power. Countries such as Czechoslovakia,
Romania and Yugoslavia were only as strong as their French patron's guarantees.
National concerns were secondary, international considerations were all.
That is why politics in a country like Poland did not split along lines
of class or political principle, but around the question of which great
power the country ought to ally itself with.
The countries of Eastern Europe were at the mercy of great power politics
long before a piece of paper signed in Munich by Neville Chamberlain decided
the fate of Czechoslovakia. Even before the Second World War, Germany began
to displace French influence and turn the region into a colony. This process
was speeded up by the Depression of the thirties. The interwar crisis of
capitalism had a particularly devastating impact on the countries of Eastern
Europe. Their relationship to the world economy had long been established
on terms of inequality. Most were agricultural producers, and the collapse
of the international market meant they had nowhere to turn but to Germany - on
terms of Hitler's choosing.
The countries of Eastern Europe had been created and wrecked by the West
in the space of two decades - long after Charlemagne, and years before Stalin
got his hands on them. Far from being an indictment of the peculiar history
of a peculiar people, the tragedy of Eastern Europe is an indictment of
the failures of European capitalism in the twentieth century. The East experienced
that failure in a particularly harsh fashion, not because of its history
or character, but because of its subordinate position in the Western-dominated
Factors particular to a single country, such as Hungary's lack of minerals
or access to the sea, can explain quite a lot about the problems it might
have faced in the Middle Ages. But in the modern age they are pretty irrelevant.
Certainly, 'the West' of Europe developed before 'the East', but the question
is why was it incapable of generalising its achievements and eradicating
any regional differences with the rest of the continent? After all, countries
like Czechoslovakia and Hungary are a stone's throw from France and Germany.
Why was it that any 'historical' inequalities, far from disappearing, grew
wider with time?
The arguments put forward to explain the persistence of the division of
Europe are fundamentally illogical. The inability of capitalism systematically
to develop international society meant it was forced to compound rather
than overcome historical inequalities. This is a truth too uncomfortable
to face for mainstream historians. So the specific problems caused by the
collapse of interwar capitalism are obfuscated into a general problem of
'history'. Now that they can no longer blame communism for the backwardness
of Eastern Europe, they have had the cheek to turn around and blame the
Eve Anderson reviews the autobiography of General HN
Schwarzkopf, and discovers an anti-racist family man with the blood of thousands
on his hands
Not since Ike or Monty has a military figure been so popular with the public,
or had such a public profile. During the Gulf War General H Norman Schwarzkopf
became a media personality in his own right. Now he is retired and flies
round the world attending literary dinners and press launches.
- It Doesn't Take a Hero, General H Norman Schwarzkopf
with Peter Petre, Bantam Press, £17.99 hbk
The fame that attaches to Norman Schwarzkopf is an expression of contemporary
militarism at the end of the Cold War. Who can remember the generals in
the Berlin airlift or the Cuban missile crisis, when the world seemed poised
on the brink of nuclear destruction? Yet Schwarzkopf is a household name.
Schwarzkopf's high profile reflects two related developments. The first
is the enhanced ability of the West to intervene in the third world in the
absence of any Soviet influence. The collapse of the Soviet Union has strengthened
the authority of the West. Rather than the West being seen as the cause
of the problems in the third world, it now appears to many that turning
to the West is the only conceivable solution. So the West's military representatives
abroad have a new-found legitimacy and prestige.
The second development is the unravelling of traditional Cold War party
politics and the growing disenchantment with politicians. The theme of the
honest soldier versus the corrupt politician has been around in America
since Vietnam, and was more recently popularised in films like Rambo.
But at the end of the Cold War it has even greater purchase than before,
as the Iraqgate scandal illustrates. Here we have a classic case of venal
politicians putting profits before national security and the national interest.
This theme is milked for all it's worth in It Doesn't Take a Hero. Throughout
the autobiography, Schwarzkopf rails against the 'ticket-punchers', the
careerists and opportunists, sitting behind their desks manipulating their
next promotion up the army ladder. And he attacks the meddling politicians
who got it all wrong in Vietnam. In the Gulf War he scorns all of the men
in Washington, be they hawks who don't know one end of a gun from the other,
playing with the lives of the troops, or doves who overreact to every ripple
in public opinion.
Since the end of the Gulf War, Schwarzkopf has continued plugging this anti-politics
theme by informing his audience that he is apolitical, and sneering at the
'The current presidential campaign has confirmed for me the wisdom of not
being a politician....When you look at the stuff going on over there now,
the mud-slinging, the stories that are being fabricated and circulated around,
it makes you think, why would anyone want to run for political office?'
(Oxford Times, 30 October 1992)
Schwarzkopf, of course, is different. For him, soldiering is a vocation.
He cares about his troops and wants to fight for his country. In between
times, he muses on the profanity of war and the tragic loss of life it entails.
If Schwarzkopf the pseudo-pacifist is a bit rich, then Schwarzkopf the anti-racist
will definitely be too strong for your stomach. He recounts his mother's
early lecture on 'tolerance'. Kids had laughed at him for giving up his
seat on a bus to a black woman. His mother advised him never to look down
on other people and that he was lucky because 'you were born white, you
were born Protestant and you were born American....But always remember you
had nothing to do with the fact that you were born that way' (pp14-15).
Mum's homespun philosophy stood Norman in good stead in Vietnam. There he
was popular with the South Vietnamese troops because he insisted that their
dead should be returned to base...to save the soldiers from carrying them!
In the Middle East he did not mind wearing Arab dress, and whenever he was
abroad he always ate disgusting foreign delicacies in the cause of good
diplomatic relations. Pull the other one Norman.
While our hero professes to being a loving, sensitive, family man, he makes
light of the American atrocities in the Gulf War. He blithely dismisses
the Basra High Road massacre, where hundreds of fleeing Iraqi soldiers were
caught in open fire as their convoy of retreating vehicles jammed bumper
to bumper. One American pilot described it as a turkey shoot. Not Schwarzkopf:
'Though many Iraqis in the convoy had died, most had jumped out of their
vehicles and run away.' Schwarzkopf's remedy for Washington's discomfort?
Turn off the 'damned TV' and don't watch the war (p468).
The book documents how, in the lead up to the Gulf War itself, Schwarzkopf's
professional militarism coincided with the American military establishment's
needs of the moment. Schwarzkopf joined Central Command, which covers parts
of the Middle East, in July 1988. By July 1989, running short of the enemies
a general needs to justify his job, he was pointing the finger at Iraq:
'I was confident of the Middle East's strategic importance and, therefore,
of Central Command's reason for existence. Nobody except a few stubborn
hardliners believed that we'd go to war against the Soviets in the Middle
East....So I asked myself, what was most likely? Another confrontation like
the tanker war, one that had the United States intervening in a regional
conflict that had gotten out of control and was threatening the flow of
oil to the rest of the world. What was the worst case? Iraq as the aggressor....'
Schwarzkopf worked overtime to throw out the old 'Zagros Mountains plan'
which assumed a Soviet invasion and replaced it with 'Internal Look'. The
new plan assumed an Iraqi invasion to seize Saudi oil fields.
The telling thing here is that Schwarzkopf, in line with his own career
outlook assumes that there must be an enemy, and then goes looking for one.
The wish is father to the thought. What is generally true for generals happens
to be particularly true for a militaristic society like the USA - first they
needed an enemy, then they found one.
Looking back at this episode, it is not hard to see why perceptive commentators
believed the Iraqi regime had been set up to invade Kuwait in August 1990.
On the eve of the invasion April Glaspie, the US ambassador to Iraq, told
Saddam Hussein that the USA had 'no opinion on the Iraq-Kuwaiti dispute' - at
the same time that the US military command for the region was actually preparing
for a war with Iraq. In late July 1990, Schwarzkopf staged a mock-up of
'Internal Look' just two weeks before Iraq invaded Kuwait. As he says himself
'the movements of Iraq's real-world ground and air forces eerily paralleled
the imaginary scenario in our game' (p292).
In the aftermath of the war, many who supported the West have questioned
the wisdom of leaving Saddam in power. Schwarzkopf plays it both ways. In
'Afterthoughts' he cites the legal reasons for not going the whole hog - the
UN resolution did not provide for a march on Saddam. However, in a recent
interview with the Oxford Times the legalistic arguments are entirely
'It is too bad everybody tends to focus on one human being. If he was to
go, the reality is that he would be replaced by someone worse and someone
who would have a voice in the Arab world.' (30 October 1992)
In other words, Schwarzkopf was happy to leave Saddam in power rather than
see him replaced by a more popular Arab leader. At least Saddam could be
relied upon to put down the Kurdish and Shiite revolts and maintain a modicum
of stability inside Iraq. A popular Arab leader could also threaten US interests
in the region, mobilising the masses against Western domination in earnest,
rather than as a stage army.
More than anything else, Schwarzkopf's attitude to Saddam reveals an underlying
cause of the Gulf War. There was nothing special about Saddam; indeed he
was just about America's favourite despot in the Middle East until the end
of the eighties. But after that, the USA's strategic interests shifted more
towards other Arab dictators such as Hafez Assad of Syria; and they became
in need of a fall-guy against whom to boost America's flagging standing
in the world. Saddam was the perfect patsy.
Schwarzkopf's title is more modest than he intends. It doesn't take a hero
to run about in a panda suit barking at the press corps in Saudi Arabia
while the troops and their hi-tech war machines butcher up to a quarter
of a million ill-defended Iraqi soldiers and civilians. Norman Schwarzkopf
was the local architect of a monstrous campaign to present a ramshackle,
conscript army as a threat to the world. In the event, American casualties
were fewer than one hundred. That adds up to about 2500 Iraqis killed for
every dead American. Heroic odds, or what?
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 51, January 1993