- Editor's Note
This issue begins with an article by Andrew L. Yarrow discussing the shifting messages in U.S. public diplomacy during the early Cold War. Yarrow scrutinizes the content of U.S. publications targeted at foreign audiences, especially readers in the Soviet bloc and the Third World. He argues that in the late 1940s the dominant message conveyed by U.S. print propaganda was the idealism of U.S. liberal democracy. By the late 1950s, however, the emphasis was far more on the technological dynamism and prosperity of U.S. capitalism, reflected in the wide range of consumer goods available to ordinary Americans. Yarrow points to both domestic and foreign factors that spurred U.S. print outlets by the late 1950s to focus more on the growth of living standards than on the value of democratic freedoms. Some domestic developments in the 1950s—the rise of McCarthyism and the protests against racial discrimination—had made it harder to convince foreign audiences that the United States was devoted to fundamental liberties. Meanwhile, Soviet propaganda emphasizing the Communist bloc's supposed material achievements gave U.S. officials an incentive to highlight the genuine bounty and technological sophistication of the U.S. economy, thus undercutting the Soviet messages. These converging trends accounted for the important, albeit largely unheralded, shift of U.S. public diplomacy in the mid-to-late 1950s.
The second article, by Artemy Kalinovsky, explores Soviet decision-making during the prolonged war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Numerous scholars have considered why the Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan in December 1979, and Kalinovsky does not seek to rehash that much-explored subject. Instead, he sets out to explain why the Soviet Union persisted with the war for nearly a decade afterward. Although a few officials in Moscow privately contemplated a relatively early withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, this idea never gained any traction prior to the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). After examining evidence that has emerged from the former Soviet archives, Kalinovsky contends that decision-making about the war from 1979 on remained concentrated in a small group of CPSU Politburo members, who believed that ultimately the Soviet Army and Soviet State Security Committee (KGB) could establish a viable Communist state in Afghanistan. These officials, and many others in the Soviet armed forces, the KGB, and the Soviet Foreign Ministry, feared that an early withdrawal followed by the collapse of the Afghan Communist regime would cause irreparable damage to the Soviet Union's reputation as leader of the world Communist movement and champion of pro-Soviet guerrilla forces and governments in the Third World. The prolongation of Moscow's involvement in Afghanistan increased the potential damage that a withdrawal might do to the Soviet Union's standing [End Page 1] in the world, thus reinforcing Soviet leaders' determination to see the war through to the end. Not until the ascendance of Gorbachev, who after taking power soon came to regard the war as an onerous burden, was a withdrawal from Afghanistan politically feasible.
The third article, by Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia, examines the role of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the November 1957 conference of world Communist parties, held in Moscow. Shen and Xia argue that the Chinese leader, Mao Zedong, was instrumental in organizing the conference and was able to exert crucial influence on the proceedings. In the aftermath of Iosif Stalin's death in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin at the CPSU's Twentieth Congress in February 1956, fissures had begun to surface in the world Communist movement. Khrushchev was interested in reestablishing a body that could replace the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform), which had been formally disbanded in April 1956. When the Cominform was set up in September 1947, its purpose was to coordinate the world's Communist parties under Soviet domination (though this function steadily eroded after the bitter Soviet-Yugoslav rift emerged in 1948). CCP leaders did not welcome the idea of a new Cominform, and they proposed instead to hold a major gathering in Moscow of high-level delegations from Communist parties around the...