Sergei Kovalev, The International Obligations of Socialist Countries. September 25, 1968
Original Source: Pravda, 26 September 1968, p. 4.
In connection with the events in Czechoslovakia, the question of the relationship and interconnection between the socialist countries’ national interests and their internationalist obligations has assumed particular urgency and sharpness. The measures taken jointly by the Soviet Union and other socialist countries to defend the socialist gains of the Czechoslovak people are of enormous significance for strengthening the socialist commonwealth, which is the main achievement of the international working class.
At the same time it is impossible to ignore the allegations being heard in some places that the actions of the five socialist countries contradict the Marxist-Leninist principle of sovereignty and the right of the nations to self-determination.
Such arguments are untenable primarily because they are based on an abstract, non-class approach to the question of sovereignty and the right of nations to self-determination.
There is no doubt that the peoples of the socialist countries and the Communist parties have and must have freedom to determine their country’s path of development. However, any decision of theirs must damage neither socialism in their own country, nor the fundamental interests of the other socialist countries, nor the worldwide workers’ movement, which is waging a struggle for socialism. This means that every Communist party is responsible not only to its own people but also to all the socialist countries and to the entire Communist movement. Whoever forgets this is placing sole emphasis on the autonomy and independence of communist parties, lapsing into one-sidedness, and shirking his internationalist obligations…
Each Communist party is free to apply the principles of Marxism-Leninism and socialism in its own country, but it cannot deviate from these principles (if, of course, it remains a Communist party). In concrete terms this means primarily that no Communist party can fail to take into account in its activities such a decisive fact of our time as the struggle between the two antithetical social systems-capitalism and socialism. This struggle is an objective fact that does not depend on the will of people and is conditioned by the division of the world into the two antithetical social systems…
It should be stressed that even if a socialist country seeks to take an “extra-bloc” position, it in fact retains its national independence thanks precisely to the power of the socialist commonwealth-and primarily to its chief force, the Soviet Union, and the might of its armed forces. The weakening of any link in the world socialist system has a direct effect on all the socialist countries, which cannot be indifferent. Thus, the anti-socialist forces in Czechoslovakia were in essence using talk about the right to self-determination to cover up demands for so-called neutrality and the withdrawal of the CSSR from the socialist commonwealth. But implementation of such “self-determination,” i.e., Czechoslovakia’s separation from the socialist commonwealth, would run counter to Czechoslovakia’s fundamental interests and would harm the other socialist countries. Such “self-determination,” as a result of which NATO troops might approach Soviet borders and the commonwealth of European socialist countries could be dismembered, in fact infringes on the vital interest of these countries’ peoples, and fundamentally contradicts the right of these peoples to socialist self-determination. The Soviet Union and other socialist states, in fulfilling their internationalist duty to the fraternal peoples of Czechoslovakia and defending their own socialist gains, had to act and did act in resolute opposition to the anti-socialist forces in Czechoslovakia…
The assistance given to the working people of the CSSR by the other socialist countries, which prevented the export of counterrevolution from the outside, is in fact a struggle for the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic’s sovereignty against those who would like to deprive it of this sovereignty by delivering the country to the imperialists.
Over a long period of time and with utmost restraint and patience, the fraternal Communist parties of the socialist countries took political measures to help the Czechoslovak people to halt the anti-socialist forces’ offensive in Czechoslovakia. And only after exhausting all such measures did they undertake to bring in armed forces.
The allied socialist countries’ soldiers who are in Czechoslovakia are proving in deeds that they have no task other than to defend the socialist gains in that country. They are not interfering in the country’s internal affairs, and they are waging a struggle not in words but in deeds for the principles of self-determination of Czechoslovakia’s peoples, for their inalienable right to decide their destiny themselves after profound and careful consideration, without intimidation by counterrevolutionaries, without revisionist and nationalist demagoguery.
Those who speak of the “illegality” of the allied socialist countries’ actions in Czechoslovakia forget that in a class society there is and can be no such thing as non-class law. Laws and the norms of law are subordinated to the laws of the class struggle and the laws of socialist development. These laws are clearly formulated in the documents jointly adopted by the Communist and Workers’ parties.
The class approach to the matter cannot be discarded in the name of legalistic considerations. Whoever does so forfeits the only correct, class-oriented criterion for evaluating legal norms and begins to measure events with the yardsticks of bourgeois law…
There is no doubt that the actions taken in Czechoslovakia by the five allied socialist countries, actions aimed at defending the fundamental interests of the socialist commonwealth and primarily at defending Czechoslovakia’s independence and sovereignty as a socialist state, will be increasingly supported by all who really value the interests of the present-day revolutionary movement, the peace and security of peoples, democracy and socialism.
Source: L. S. Stavrianos, The Epic of Man (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971), pp. 465-466.