The victory or suppression of a revolution affects more than just the countries in which it took place. The Cuban Revolution spurred revolutionary movements in Latin America and around the world. Had the U.S. suppressed it, the “turbulent sixties” might have looked very different. Perhaps this did not happen due to the fact that the USSR did not recognize Latin America as a sphere of influence of the United States. Unlike Eisenhower, Khrushchev defended the Cuban revolution and put the world at risk of nuclear war, but he may have saved the Cuban revolution. Had the Hungarian Revolution not been suppressed, the sixties might have been much more turbulent in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, this did not happen, and after the suppression of the Prague Spring, a gradual turn to the right (reinforced by the neoliberal turn in the capitalist world) began in the so-called “Second World.” Dissident circles in the USSR and its satellites increasingly shifted from socialist positions to liberal and conservative ones, and nationalist sentiments grew stronger in these societies. Henry Kissinger’s strategy to strengthen the sovereignty of Eastern European communist states during détente, which he promoted in the hope that this would lead to the Finlandization of these countries (though he was wrong), also contributed to the conservative turn to some extent.

The result of suppressing uprisings in Eastern Europe was that when the need to renew “real socialism” became apparent even to the Central Committee of the CPSU, it was already too late. The new revolutions provoked by perestroika no longer led to “socialism with a human face” but to neoliberalism. Subsequent Western-initiated “shock therapy,” in turn, entailed even more reactionary tendencies in post-socialist societies. The apex of this process was the transformation of the Putin regime, which not only turned to aggressive territorial expansion, but, in the words of Volodymyr Artyukh, began to form an anti-revolutionary “Holy Alliance” – much like tsarist Russia did in the 19th century.

The division of the world into spheres of influence sought by the Kremlin consolidates the domination of the great powers. It also undermines the ability of revolutionary movements and small countries to exploit the contradictions between them.  In many ways, it is this policy that has made democratization and renewal of “real socialism” impossible, with the result that neoliberalism, conservatism, and nationalism have come to dominate post-socialist space.

The UN and Spheres of Influence

The division of Europe into spheres of influence after World War II had negative consequences – and not only for those countries that found themselves in the Soviet sphere. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, the main victim was Greece, where Anglo-American troops, together with former collaborators, began to exterminate pro-Communist, partisan anti-fascists. Moreover, the USSR not only agreed to allow Greece to fall under the British sphere of influence but also actively used this agreement to strengthen its dominance in Eastern Europe. As historian Geoffrey Roberts has written, “Stalin and Molotov never tired of deflecting Anglo-American complaints about the exclusion of Western influence from Eastern Europe by pointing to Soviet forbearance in relation to Greece.”

But was there a better alternative to a policy of spheres of influence after World War II? The most paradoxical thing about the history of the postwar international order’s formation is that it was the representatives of the USSR who insisted most on the division of spheres of influence. This was the case despite the fact that the very emergence of the USSR was closely linked to hopes for a world revolution, and its leaders proclaimed themselves followers of Lenin, who was sharply critical of all aspects of covert diplomacy, including the very idea of spheres of influence. Moreover, for the USSR, attempts to divide Europe into spheres of influence with Britain and the United States were a logical continuation of the preliminary agreements with the Third Reich that both Moscow and the Western democracies had before the war.

Unlike Stalin, the Roosevelt administration opposed spheres of influence. This was largely thanks to some State Department officials, such as Leo Pasvolsky, who promoted a universalist vision of the UN as a centralized international organization, one that would do away with spheres of influence. Moreover, as Peter Gowan notes, “Pasvolskyafter committing the faux pas of reminding his boss that the Japanese had described their Co-Prosperity Sphere as a Monroe Doctrine for Asiawent so far as to observe that ‘if we ask for the privilege, everybody else will,’ which would ‘push the Soviets into a combine’ of their own, a prospect to be thwarted. Roosevelt was sympathetic to such considerations.”

After Roosevelt’s death and the defeat of Germany, U.S. policy on this issue changed. But it is possible that Roosevelt’s position on spheres of influence saved one country from Soviet occupation: Finland. Milovan Djilas wrote in his memoirs that Stalin called it a mistake not to occupy Finland because “we looked back too much on the Americans, and they would not have lifted a finger.”1Interestingly, the English edition of Conversations with Stalin does not contain these words. I cite first Russian edition (1992), translated from Serbo-Croatian, published in a collection of his texts. Djilas M. (1992). Litso totalitarisma [The face of totalitarianism]. Moscow: Novosti. p. 111. Джилас М. (1992). Лицо тоталитаризма. Москва: Изд-во «Новости», С. 111.

Roosevelt’s (or rather, Pasvolsky’s) project failed, and instead the confrontation between the former allies intensified, and the Cold War began. But it is worth paying attention to who on the American side was most culpable. First, there was the reactionary sector of the State Department, dealing with Latin American affairs under Nelson Rockefeller. He tried to maintain U.S. hegemony in Latin America and to this end pushed through changes to the UN Charter. As Peter Gowan has pointed out, John Foster Dulles later told Rockerfeller, “If you fellows hadn’t done it, we might never have had NATO.”