Peaceful Coexistence

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Peaceful Coexistence


a type of relation between states with different social systems. The underlying principles of peaceful coexistence include the renunciation of war and the adoption of negotiations as a means of resolving disputes between states; equal rights, mutual understanding, and trust between states, as well as consideration of each other’s interests; noninterference in the internal affairs of another state; and recognition of each people’s right to choose freely its own socioeconomic and political system. In addition, peaceful coexistence presupposes a rigorous respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries and the development of economic and cultural cooperation based on full equality and mutual benefit. A policy aimed at establishing and developing this type of relations between states is called a policy of peaceful coexistence. Its intent is to eliminate from the international arena relations of dominance and subjugation and to affirm the general democratic norms that have been crudely violated by imperialism.

Peaceful coexistence is a specific form of class struggle between socialism and capitalism in the international arena. The struggle is waged between two ruling classes, each of which possesses full state power. The basically antagonistic conflict between the two opposing socioeconomic systems is transferred from the level of military clashes to that of economic competition, comparison of political systems and ways of life, and ideological struggle. The organic relationship and unity of struggle and cooperation are characteristic of peaceful coexistence and are both the source of its internal contradictoriness and a continual stimulus for seeking mutually acceptable solutions that preclude military conflict.

The feasibility of peaceful coexistence as a system of relations, as a practical policy, and as a theoretical concept stems from a fundamental peculiarity of the historical process—the uneven development of the world socialist revolution. With the appearance of the first socialist state in 1917, the coexistence of the two socioeconomic systems became a fact. The question was, what kind of coexistence it should be and what kind it would be. The imperialists supported the formula proposed by the French premier G. Clemenceau: “Intervention and blockade.” The communists expressed their point of view in Lenin’s Decree on Peace. “What we prize most is peace and an opportunity to devote all our efforts to restoring our economy,” declared Lenin (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 42, p. 313).

The elaboration of the concept of peaceful coexistence was one of the greatest achievements of the political theory of Leninism. While upholding on the battlefield the right of a socialist state to exist, Soviet Russia clearly formulated its view of the coming postwar period. “Our slogan has been and remains the same,” proclaimed the report of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs delivered at a meeting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee on June 17, 1920. “Peaceful coexistence with other governments, no matter what kind they are. Reality has made it necessary for us to establish long-term relations between the workers’ and peasants’ government and the capitalist governments” (Dokumenty vneshneipolitiki SSSR, vol. 2, 1958, p. 639). This conclusion, which was derived from an analysis of the international situation, particularly the condition of world economic ties and the conflicts among the imperialist powers, expressed the conviction that the preservation of the gains of the October Revolution and the building of socialism were the main internationalist duties of Russia’s working class.

The principles of peaceful coexistence were affirmed in a sharp struggle with various left-extremist elements, including L. Trotsky and N. Bukharin, who rejected the possibility of “peaceful cohabitation” between the socialist republic and the imperialist powers and defended the right of “red intervention.” Lenin proved that the irreconcilability of the class interests of the world bourgeoisie and the triumphant proletariat is not an insurmountable obstacle to peaceful relations between socialist and capitalist countries. The struggle to establish such relations became one of the most important tasks of the socialist state’s foreign policy.

The defeat of the foreign and internal counterrevolution and the stabilization of the situation in the country and on its borders confirmed that Lenin’s position on peaceful relations between capitalist and socialist countries was correct. As early as 1921 he had ascertained the development of “a certain equilibrium, though a highly unstable one” (ibid., vol. 44, p. 291) in the relations between Soviet Russia and the capitalist world. Because of the extremely unstable character of this equilibrium and the sober realization that it was highly probable that the balance of forces of that time would encourage new attempts by imperialism to destroy the emerging socialist world by force, the limited goal of achieving a “peaceful breathing space” was given priority in the foreign policy of the Republic of Soviets. The Soviet state achieved this goal, and war was avoided for two decades.

The decisive role played by the Soviet Union in the defeat of fascism, the formation of the world socialist system, the collapse of colonial empires, and the general upsurge in mass democratic movements led to radical changes in the international arena. The new balance of forces was characterized by the growing superiority of international socialism over imperialism. The forces of peace gained a real opportunity to narrow substantially the field of activity of the forces of war and aggression. Particularly after the USSR developed nuclear missiles, imperialism’s reliance on a world thermonuclear war as a means of achieving political objectives became untenable. All of these changes created the preconditions for a substantial broadening of the framework and content of the policy of peaceful coexistence.

The world communist movement endorsed the fundamental conclusion reached by the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, that the prevention of a new world war is possible. As stated in the Declaration of the Conference of Representatives of the Communist and Workers’ Parties of the Socialist Countries (1957), the Leninist principle of peaceful coexistence between the two systems “is a stable basis for the foreign policy of the socialist countries and a reliable basis for peace and friendship of peoples” (Programmnye dokumenty bor’by za mir, demokratiiu i sotsializm, 1964, p. 9). The Statement of the Conference of Representatives of the Communist and Workers’ Parties (1960) emphasized that “through the united efforts of the world socialist camp, the international working class, the national liberation movement, all countries that oppose war, and all peace-loving forces, a world war can be prevented” (ibid., p. 57). This profound conviction became the basis of the international foreign policy of the Soviet Union, other socialist countries, and all peace-loving forces. Favorable conditions for detente and peace in Europe were created by the signing of treaties between the USSR and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and between Poland and the FRG (1970), the quadripartite agreement on West Berlin (1971), the treaty on the principles of relations between the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the FRG (1972), and the treaty on the normalization of relations between the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and the FRG (1973).

Major advances have been made in Soviet-American relations. Both countries are committed to do everything possible to avoid military confrontations and prevent the outbreak of a nuclear war. Summarizing the results of the implementation of the Peace Program proposed by the Twenty-fourth Congress of the CPSU, the April 1973 Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU confirmed the change from the cold war to detente and noted that the principles of peaceful coexistence have received wide recognition as a norm of relations among states with different social systems. The Plenum set the goal of ensuring that the changes achieved in the international situation become irreversible.

The theoretical and political problems associated with the interpretation and embodiment of the principles of peaceful coexistence are focal points of the contemporary ideological struggle. Three groups of ideas are contrary to a correct understanding of peaceful coexistence: right-wing bourgeois ideology, certain liberal bourgeois points of view, and various leftist views.

Right-wing bourgeois ideologists stubbornly adhere to the idea that the policy of peaceful coexistence is a Communist “trap,” “ruse,” or “tactical maneuver” designed to cover up “the export of revolution.” In practice, however, contemporary international relations and all of the actions of the socialist states in foreign policy serve as evidence that the policy of peaceful coexistence is not a tactical device but one of the fundamental elements of the foreign policy strategy of socialism. This strategy, which is oriented toward the attainment of a durable, stable peace, as well as security for the peoples of the world, makes a principled rejection of the export of revolution—that is, the forcible artificial imposition of revolutionary transformations on any people. F. Engels wrote: “The victorious proletariat can force no blessings of any kind upon any foreign nation without undermining its own victory by so doing” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 35, p. 298). V. I. Lenin, who held the same views, wrote that people who believed revolution could break out in a foreign country to order or by agreement were either mad or provocateurs (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 36, p. 457). “We exercise our main influence on the international revolution,” wrote Lenin, “through our economic policy.… The struggle in this field has now become global. Once we solve this problem, we shall have certainly and finally won on an international scale” (ibid., vol. 43, p. 341). The policy of peaceful coexistence is the logical culmination of this way of posing the question of world revolution.

Lenin wrote that no forces would have been able to undermine capitalism if it had not been undermined by history. Communists proceed from the premise that the capitalist social structure is doomed by its own internal laws of development. The fate of capitalism will be decided not by the export of revolution but by the class struggle in the capitalist countries.

The liberal group of bourgeois ideologists, and the Social Democrats and revisionists, lean toward a very expansive interpretation of the potential of peaceful coexistence, which is viewed as a way to extinguish the political and ideological struggle between capitalism and socialism and bring about the gradual convergence of the two systems. At best, this point of view is Utopian. The struggle of the two systems is rooted in deep-seated social processes and in the opposition of the fundamental principles of the organization of society. Thus, ideological coexistence and the gradual interpenetration of the two social structures are ruled out. The policy of peaceful coexistence does not and cannot solve the cardinal social problems of our time and cannot prevent political and ideological clashes, which may occasionally be very sharp. Indeed, it is not required to solve these problems. It has a very different purpose—to preserve world peace, to prevent a global thermonuclear conflict, and to find mutually acceptable principles for cooperation between socialist and capitalist states.

The third group of false interpretations of the policy of peaceful coexistence is associated with various leftist views. Their spokesmen attempt to prove that in pursuing a policy of peaceful coexistence, the socialist countries bar their own way from actively supporting revolutionary processes. Thus, from their point of view, peaceful coexistence contradicts the pursuit of proletarian socialist internationalism and impedes the development of mass anti-imperialist movements. As an alternative to peaceful coexistence they essentially propose increasing international tension, intensifying the confrontation of the two systems, and exporting revolution. Historical experience teaches that peaceful coexistence does not hinder but stimulates the world revolutionary process. In rejecting the export of revolution, victorious socialism is by no means isolating itself from liberation movements. Lenin said that the world socialist revolution “must be helped.” However, he immediately added that “we have to know how to help it” (ibid., vol. 35, p. 396).

By pursuing a policy of peaceful coexistence and imposing it on imperialism, the socialist countries create favorable preconditions for the rapid development of their economies and for the all-around progress of socialist social relations. The stronger the world socialist system and the more fully its ideals are implemented, the greater its revolutionizing influence on the masses of the working people will be, and the broader the possibilities for supporting revolutionary movements, which is by no means the same as artificially spurring them on. Under the conditions of peaceful coexistence, imperialism’s opportunities for aggressive actions in the international arena and for exporting counter-revolution are sharply curtailed. The policy of peaceful coexistence also influences the domestic situation in capitalist countries. In connection with a conference in Genoa, Lenin declared that it was a task of socialism “to split the pacifist camp of the international bourgeoisie away from the gross-bourgeois, aggressive-bourgeois, reactionary-bourgeois camp” (ibid., vol. 44, p. 408). In carrying out this task, the policy of peaceful coexistence promotes the growth of all democratic, anti-imperialist forces. It blocks the imperialists’ attempts to overcome internal conflicts, impeding their efforts to aggravate international tension, and it promotes the development of the class struggle against imperialism on a national and worldwide scale. The policy of peaceful coexistence “meets the overall interests of the revolutionary struggle against all forms of oppression and exploitation” (Mezhdunarodnoe Soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii: Dokumenty i materialy. Moscow, 1969, p. 318).

The policy of peaceful coexistence is a compromise in the sense that it is based on a quest for a reasonable balance of interests and for mutually acceptable agreements. Of course, within the framework of these agreements each side seeks to uphold its own principled, fundamental interests.

Lenin clearly defined the principles on which possible accords between a socialist state and capitalist states should rest. “Of course, an advocate of proletarian revolution may conclude compromises or agreements with capitalists. It all depends on what kind of agreement is concluded and under what circumstances. Here and here alone can and must one look for the difference between an agreement that is legitimate from the angle of the proletarian revolution and one that is treasonable, treacherous (from the same angle)” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 40, pp. 289–90). Concretizing his ideas about the “price” of a compromise, Lenin wrote: “We must make it a rule not to make political concessions to the international bourgeoisie . . . unless we receive in return more or less equivalent concessions from the international bourgeoisie to Soviet Russia, or to other contingents of the international proletariat which is fighting capitalism” (ibid, vol. 45, p. 142). Lenin’s methodology forms the basis of the practical activities of the USSR and other socialist countries in establishing mutually beneficial cooperation with the capitalist world.

As the main principle of conducting international affairs, the principle of peaceful coexistence is applicable in theory only to relations between the two world systems—capitalism and socialism. In practice, however, there is a tendency to use and to regard peaceful coexistence as a regulatory principle of the entire system of international relations—that is, of relations between states, regardless of their socioeconomic systems. Without disputing the historical validity and political reality of this tendency, it is necessary to emphasize that the highest principle of relations between socialist countries is socialist internationalism. Nonetheless, peaceful coexistence still has meaning in this context. In a sense, it is taken for granted as a natural, minimal basis for relations between states. The center of gravity shifts to mutual assistance among fraternal socialist states on the basis of class solidarity.

With the growth in power and size of the world socialist system, with the deepening of progressive transformations in the Third World countries, with the further strengthening of ties between the socialist and the developing states, the principle of internationalism will play an increasingly important role in the evolution of international relations. Its consistent implementation leads to the creation of additional opportunities for solidifying peace and peaceful coexistence. The converse relationship between the implementation of a policy of peaceful coexistence and the growth of internationalism is not as clear-cut. In some instances, the relaxation of international tension dulls the sense of class solidarity and stimulates a weakening of internationalist bonds. Therefore, a well thought-out, realistic policy of peaceful coexistence that soberly takes into account all the positive and negative aspects of the situation presupposes a purposeful struggle for the further cohesion of the socialist countries and all states actively opposing imperialism.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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