Commentary Magazine

Political Power: USA/USSR, by Zbigniew Brzezinski and Samuel P. Huntington; and A Strategy of Interdependence, by Vincent P. Roc

Conflicts & Affinities

Political Power: USA/USSR.
by Zbigniew Brzezinski and Samuel P. Huntington.
Viking. 461 pp. $7.50.

A Strategy of Interdependence: a Program for the Control of Conflict Between the United States and the Soviet Union.
by Vincent P. Rock.
Scribner's. 399 pp. $7.50.

A hundred years ago or more a leading French statesman is supposed to have commented on relations with the nation that had been his country's hereditary enemy: “We and the English have fought for so long not because we fail to understand each other, but because we understand each other so well.” In a later version it is the French and the Germans, but in any case the point is clear: similarity of systems and values and thinking is no guarantee of peace between two powerful countries, as numerous writers on Soviet-American relations nowadays presume or hope.

It is frequently supposed, on the basis of a sort of post-Marxian economic determinism, that two modern industrialized states like the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics are bound to become more and more alike in politics as well as socially and economically, and to “converge” presumably toward some model of welfare-state liberalism and international concord. This theory has challenged two leading American political scientists, the one a specialist on American government and the other on the Communist bloc, to make a joint appraisal of political institutions and trends in the two countries to determine whether in fact the systems are growing more alike or merely exhibiting circumstantial parallels. The result is Political Power: USA/USSR by Samuel Huntington of Harvard (formerly Columbia) and Zbigniew Brzezinski of Columbia (formerly Harvard) .

Brzezinski and Huntington have hit upon a stimulating method of political comparison, coupling their systematic treatment of ideas, controls, leadership, and policymaking, with an intriguing set of point-by-point parallel case studies. They compare Khrushchev's rise to power with John F. Kennedy's pursuit of the U.S. Presidency; probe the “ambivalence of power” where circumstances limit the leader, as in Soviet industrialization policy and the American race problem; weigh the Soviet problem of agricultural under-production against the opposite difficulty in the United States; and recount the corresponding civil-military contests when Truman removed General Mac-Arthur in 1951 and Khrushchev fired Marshal Zhukov in 1957. Finally, the two authors compare certain foreign policy dilemmas—the parallel interventions into Hungary in 1956 and Cuba in 1961, and the efforts to exert control over obstreperous allies—China and France respectively. The method is graphic and human; it makes us feel how much in the fabric of Soviet life is like our own; and yet it underscores constantly the fundamental difference between the two systems, with operational superiority rarely failing to accrue to the United States.

The pervading virtue of the American political system, Brzezinski and Huntington constantly assert, is the “flexibility” and “resilience” inherent in a structure of power where government reflects society and society is a complex of competing interests. In this panegyric to pluralism, the American “instrumental state” appears as the opposite of the Soviet “ideological state,” where government has created and shaped society according to plan, but cramps initiative and rules out any lesser form of organized group interest. This view of Russia is unassailably true; there is simply no ground for imagining that the Soviet power structure, however it may “liberalize” its practices, is becoming any less a matter of command from the top down. “For the two systems to converge,” Brzezinski and Huntington conclude, “there would have to be . . . a revolutionary change of direction in the path of development of one of them.”


One striking indication of the flexibility and individual initiative possible in the American system is the frequent publication of personal policy statements and critiques by the improbable breed of philosopher-bureaucrats in the United States government itself. Among the more consequential of these efforts is A Strategy of Interdependence by Vincent Rock, a political scientist who has served in a variety of federal agencies and now works in the Institute for Defense Analyses. In this book Mr. Rock presents—unfortunately in rather cloudy and theoretical terms—an approach to U.S.-Soviet relations which he hopes will eventually compel both governments to recognize their mutual interest in peace and world order.

The most significant thing about Mr. Rock's book is that it could be written—no counterpart in the Soviet Union could dream of publishing such a personal overture to the enemy. And this latter fact is the reason why Rock's approach cannot possibly work. What he proposes is that individuals of “great courage and great balance,” representing “cross-national interests” should develop “cross-national clusters of power” by engaging in various international enterprises of a non-critical sort. Rock singles out for illustrative emphasis the fields of scientific cooperation, trade, aid to developing areas, and cultural exchanges. By political pressure and positive experience this would supposedly bring both the American and Soviet governments to the point of a permanent “détente” where they would recognize their interdependence in the realm of arms and peace. (In an epilogue Rock suggests that his strategy has been the policy of the United States government since Kennedy's American University speech of June 1963 heralding the test-ban treaty.)

As one reads Rock against the background of the Brzezinski-Huntington analysis, it unfortunately becomes clear that his political presumptions are unrealistic. There can be no initiative like his in Russia. “Cross-national power clusters” are anathema to a totalitarian state. The last thing the Soviet leadership will tolerate—let alone heed—is a supra-national allegiance or interest on the part of any group in Soviet society. A good example of the Kremlin's reaction to any such possibility is the total repression of Zionism in Russia and the constant efforts to destroy the sense of ethnic and religious identity among Soviet Jews.


Nothing is happening in Soviet politics to suggest any tolerance toward independent international loyalties among Soviet citizens. It cannot be emphasized enough that in any organized, formal, or officially sanctioned contact between American and Soviet individuals, the Russians are acting and speaking not for themselves, but as representatives of the government. There is, therefore, no way to get at the Soviet Union except through its government. The various specialized approaches stressed by Rock may indeed be practical and useful, but they can only be auxiliary to the central confrontation with the Soviet Union through the traditional means of diplomatic contact and power politics.

There is reason also to question whether the individual American in contact with the Russians is as much a private agent as some may think. In myriads of ways government in this country is taking responsibility for support or guidance in presumably non-governmental activities bearing on the national security or foreign relations, ranging from research grants and international conferences to the periodic Presidential behests that every private traveler abroad regard himself as a personal ambassador of the United States. This, of course, is just one aspect of the growing decisiveness of government in relation to society in the United States, a trend which Brzezinski and Huntington recognize only in passing.


Granted that a convergence of the United States and the USSR toward open-minded, peaceable welfare-state liberalism is not a likely prospect, it is nevertheless possible that some other, less auspicious kind of convergence between the two systems is already going on. It is more evident when we look at the organization of economic and social life below the level of government, law, and formal property rights. Both societies are urbanized and industrialized, though the Russians are somewhat behind quantitatively in packing their peasant masses into cities and tranquilizing them with consumer goods. Industrial relations on either side are complex, hierarchical, and anti-humanist, both contrary to Marx's pleas of a century ago, except that the Russians do not enjoy the pluralistic, if not always democratic, protection of an independent trade-union movement. Entertainment and thought are largely monopolized by the mass media, again without any pluralistic choice or escape for the Russian side. Soviet society, in fact, represents the ultimate logic of modern industrial (as opposed to commercial) organization, bereft of the essentially pre-industrial restraints of private property and democratic individualism.

Sociologically speaking, Russia's movement is not toward more individualism, but to better organized professionalism and productivity, firmly bound to the service of the state (even if it is becoming better paid service). America's evolution toward a managerial society run by the professional salariat has been depicted by a whole library of writers ranging from Berle and Means through James Burnham and C. Wright Mills to William Whyte and David Bazelon. The American “military-industrial complex” discovered by the author of Eisenhower's farewell address is just one component of the organizational convergence among the super-powers, accentuated by twenty-five years of international war and tension.

Political freedom and pluralism still permit the American individual to rebel against all this bureaucracy and control, and rebel he does—though in the most ironically irrational fashion. Swept up by the Goldwater movement, this individual blinds himself to economic realities, hurls himself against the government that tries to countervail the private bureaucracies, and to top it off puts his faith in the American military establishment, which, with its fifty-billion dollar budget, is (after the Soviet and Chinese governments) the third largest socialist enterprise in the world.

Vincent Rock is correct in believing that the American and Russian systems may converge in certain respects. Brzezinski and Huntington are correct in discounting convergence of any beneficent sort. The Communist party bureaucracy in Soviet Russia—like their Chinese rivals—are not interested in reducing too far the international tension that justifies their power and their spirit of militaristic anti-foreignism. A similar commitment to international hostility characterizes those in the United States who would like to transcend our organized pluralism with a monolithic mass movement of radical nationalism. Coexistence will be no gainer from this kind of convergence.

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