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The Soviet Union as a rational-revolutionary state : a conceptual framework for studying the impact of ideology on Soviet foreign policy Gavanski, Ogden


The influence of Marxist-Leninist ideology on Soviet foreign policy is examined. Any relationship that exists is not a simple one. It is misleading to speak of "the" impact of Soviet ideology as if it constituted one simple variable. The ideology is make up of different components which have profoundly different impacts on Soviet foreign policy. In addition, many other variables besides ideology influence Soviet foreign behavior in complex and sometimes subtle ways. In this essay I suggest a theoretical framework for the study of Soviet foreign policy that takes into account the complex interaction between ideology and other important variables. The failure of the national interest approach and the power politics approach in explaining certain aspects of Soviet foreign policy demonstrates the utility of a broader approach that includes ideology as a variable. A framework that views the Soviet Union as a "rational-revolutionary" state is presented that points out the dualistic character of Soviet foreign policy. On the one hand, Soviet foreign policy is driven by considerations of power and national interests and, on the other by ideological considerations. Clearly, these various considerations clash at times and often Soviet policy-makers have to choose between an ideological and a non-ideological policy. At the most basic level, Soviet Marxism-Leninism influences and shapes the perceptual and conceptual world of leaders who are socialized like other Soviet citizens. Ideology also plays a role in legitimizing Soviet one-party rule domestically. While it is probably impossible to estimate which of the two factors—belief in the ideological tenets or self-serving use of ideology to maintain power and privilege—is the more important, this study suggests that both play a significant role in Soviet policy formulation. Foreign policy was found to be less ideological than most aspects of Soviet politics. Since Soviet leaders cannot manipulate international variables to the same extent as domestic ones an ideological "blueprint" is impossible. However, ideology places certain limitation on what may be considered 'feasible' foreign policy choices for the Soviet leadership. It was found that ideology leads to power-damaging policies in two classes of actions: (1) the actual implementation and maintenance of policy intimately tied to the ends envisioned by the ideology and (2) actions that are undertaken to defend the doctrine-based legitimacy of the leadership. The ideological revisions that have often been interpreted as a betrayal of Soviet revolutionary interests are seen to be a purging of spurious and non-relevant elements from Marxism-Leninism. The conceptual framework presented in this essay demonstrates that ideology cannot be dismissed as a significant operational variable in Soviet international behavior. It often influences the form and content of Soviet foreign policy decisions. However, the framework also points out that Soviet policy is not dictated solely by ideological imperatives.

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