Dissent and Disorder
One of the most obvious European developments of the last two
decades, but particularly of the 1970s, has been the increase in expression of
political unrest. Extending from intellectual dissent in the Soviet Union to
violent terror in Italy, this far-ranging dissatisfaction suggests a postwar
domestic political turbulence even deeper and more persistent than the
student rebellion of 1968.
The outspoken attitude of Soviet intellectuals was a concomitant
feature of de-Stalinization. Criticism of the oppression and ineptness of
Stalin's rule was first publicly made by Nikita Khrushchev at the Communist
Party Congress of 1956. From that date until the official denunciations of the
work of the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1964, the Soviet Union seemed
to be entering a period of liberalization, of self-criticism. Poets, novelists, and
artists gave expression to this new freedom in what appeared to be an
intellectually pluralistic world, where ideas other than those officially
promulgated might be tolerated.
However, a sharp turn away from this liberalization was evident
shortly after the publication of Solzhenitsyn's first major work, "One Day in
the Life of Ivan Denisovich" ( 1962) . A description of political prison life
under Stalin, the work was initially praised, but then roundly condemned by
1964. When Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970,
the decision was officially denounced in the Soviet Union as an expression of
Once again, the Russian leadership had been reorganized, with
Khrushchev removed, and Leonid Brezhnev taking his place in late 1964.
The change in leadership was the most obvious indication that the brief
period of official, political self-examination was terminating, and a
reinforcement of older restraints on criticism of the government beginning.
Yet intellectual dissent was not silenced. On the contrary, it took on new
proportions after the signing of the Helsinki Accords of 1975. Officially
entitled the "Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe," this
meeting in Helsinki of representatives from thirty-five nations chiefly
resulted in American recognition of the postwar political status quo in
Eastern Europe. However, this recognition was given in return for expected
Soviet relaxation of restrictions on travel, personal freedom, information,
and international commerce. The failure ofsuch a relaxation to occur has, in the last few years, led to increased intellectual protest and this, in turn, has officially been greeted by a series of arrests and trials that in 1978 aroused international concern.
In Western Europe, protest of quite a different sort gained in notoriety,
also in 1978, when one of Italy's leading political figures, Aldo Moro, was
kidnapped in March and executed in May. Moro, several times premier and
foreign minister of Italy, and the leading figure in the Christian Democratic
Party, was the victim of a terrorist group, the Red Brigades. Pledged to the
overthrow of the state, denouncing Italian society as corrupt, and espousing a
rhetoric of violence and radicalism, the Red Brigades have become the most
significant of the terrorist groups now operating in Europe.
Postwar terrorism first attracted world attention when a number of
hijackings of European civilian aircraft occurred in the early 1960s.
Perpetrated by dissatisfied nationalist groups, of which the Palestinian
Liberation Organization was the major one, the hijackings were a political
tactic designed to alert world opinion to the plight of minorities incapable of
changing the political order by their own means and, therefore, seeking
support from without, even if by the device of hostages and ransom.
Within Western Europe itself, there was a variety of terrorist
organizations operating in more traditionally clandestine and disruptive
ways. In Northern Ireland, the Irish Republican Army in 1969 began a series
of terrorist attacks, notably bombings and assassinations, in an effort to
dislodge the British and the dominant Protestant majority from control of the
territory. Although denounced by the Irish government, IRA terrorism has
extended to bombings in England and has not yet abated in Northern Ireland.
In the Netherlands, South Moluccan refugees from the former Dutch East
Indies have, in the late 1970s, seized trains in protest against the lack of
support of the Dutch for the freedom of the Moluccan homeland from
Indonesia. And in Spain, Basque terrorist forces have assassinated Spanish
Yet the most striking development in terrorism is the emergence of
"transnational" groups, those which operate without a regional or nationalist
purpose, which often lend support to similar groups in other countries, and
which - in contradistinction to "international" terrorists - receive no support
from outside nations. The two most important of the European "trans-national" groups have been the Baader-Meinhof Gang, named after its two
leaders; and the Red Brigades. The former has been active in Germany since
1972, when they were held responsible for the killing of five American
soldiers. In 1977 they gained international notoriety with the assassination of
a well-known German industrialist and the seizure of a German aircraft,
which they forced to fly to East Africa. Although both Baader and Meinhof
were imprisoned and subsequently committed suicide, the influence of the
group is still considered pervasive.
In 1977 and 1978 the Red Brigades made terrorism the major Italian
problem, creating a condition of "civil war," according to one politician. With
over two thousand terrorist attacks recorded in 1977 alone, the domestic
situation was already precarious when the kidnapping and assassination of
Aldo Moro shook the nation.
Critics who have attempted to analyze the new terrorism of the 1970s
have frequently seen it as a reflection of the economic conditions of the time.
Many of the terrorists come from middle-class families and are or have been
university students. They belong to that social segment which Italians call the
"marginal ones," those who do not have jobs, or do have jobs that pay poorly.
Self-declared victims of the economic system, the terrorists are thus directing
their revolt against capitalism and what they consider to be the politically
compromised state that supports it. In this interpretation, the terrorism of
1978 may be a newer manifestation of the student rebellion of 1968: general
discontent with the present social system and its economic inequities.
Certainly, it is evident that a small segment of discontented youth is
responding bitterly and viciously to what they interpret ideologically as a
corrupt society, or to what they see as a social and economic order in which
they cannot find a suitable role.
Whether this modern terrorism will become the "key problem of the
so-called liberal societies," as one French critic has suggested, or whether it
will eventually be seen as a minor social phenomenon projected by the
communications media to undue proportions, as some other critics have
asserted, it does remain a serious consideration of the present and an
indication of the vulnerability of modern society to violent action by
It is worth noting that the new form of terrorism has intensified
during the same period in which the domestic politics of Western Europe
have been changing with the appearance of Eurocommunism, a form that
publicly eschewed revolution.
The leader of the Spanish Communist party, Santiago Carrillo,
remarked in 1976: "For years Moscow was our Rome, the Great October
Revolution was our Christmas. Today we have grown up." What he meant
was that each national Communist party had matured so that it could enjoy
the right to pursue its own policy in light of its own political needs.
Eurocommunism has thus come to mean many communisms, each tailored
to the nation in which it is situated. But Carillo carried the idea further,
insisting in 1978 that communism no longer meant perpetration of
revolution, but participation in parliamentary practices. And most
Eurocommunists generally agree with him in asserting that their intention is
to guide their parties along the lines followed by the more traditional
European parties: engaging in elections, supporting foreign policy, and even
leaving office if voted out.
This obvious deviation from the former international practice in
which Moscow dictated policy is an indication of the further fracturing of the
Communist "bloc." Not only did ideological disputes with China cause initial
trouble for the Soviet Union, but also the practices that state followed in
attempting to prevent independence within the system of European political
satellites had disturbing effects.
Ever since Marshal Tito led Yugoslavia away from Soviet control
through his policy of national independence in 1948, Moscow has been
concerned with the possibility of other such acts of defiance. When a revolt
against Soviet control broke out in Hungary in 1956, following upon de-
Stalinization, the Soviet leadership responded quickly and forcefully with
tanks and troops.
More significant was the Prague invasion of 1968. In that turbulent
year throughout all of Europe, the Czech government, under the new leadership
of Alexander Dubcek, sought a policy of liberation, of what Dubcek called
"socialism with a human face." Dubcek's reforms included certain basic
freedoms, like those of the press, assembly, and travel. While the response to
his efforts was favorable in some Communist countries, notably Yugoslavia
and Romania, Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union viewed the reforms
with grave displeasure. After efforts at political maneuvering proved
unsuccessful, the Russians made a firm decision. In August of 1968, Warsaw
Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia and ended any further "socialism with a
human face." Dubcek resigned and soon retired to private life.
It was against this background of harsh Soviet interference and in light
of their growing belief that parliamentary success might soon be theirs, that
many of the Communist party chiefs in Western Europe grew bold. The
occasion for their affirmation of independence was a meeting in East Berlin
in July 1976 with Brezhnev and the Eastern European heads of state. Despite
his efforts to achieve solidarity and his attempt to find acceptance for his
concept of "proletarian internationalism" (the official justification for
intervention in Czechoslovakia), Brezhnev was unable to prevent a public
declaration of the new national policy, which would soon be labeled
Since 1976 the Eurocommunists have refined their ideology and
program. They have dropped the term "dictatorship of the proletariat," and,
in 1978, Carrillo even called the notion of class warfare outdated for Western
Europe. It would appear that the French cry of "socialism decked out in the
national colors of France" is a clear description of the new approach.
Yet the sincerity of Communist intentions is still doubted by many
people in Europe and warily assessed by the American government. To date,
Eurocommunism seems only clearly successful in Italy, where the
Communist party has long had a strong following. Elections in France in the
spring of 1978 resulted in a stunning defeat for the parties of the Left, with
both Socialists and Communists doing poorly.
Whatever its less than successful showings in general elections,
Eurocommunism gives further proof of the political fermentation in
What was recently called the "postwar era" has already become part of a
dimming past for Europe. A new generation that was born after 1945 and
introduced to the benefits - and problems - of a materialistically directed and
highly regulated society is now taking over. It is confronted with the major
issues of inflation and unemployment, but also cannot ignore the equally
persistent difficulties of pollution.
Yet even if hampered by these conditions, European economic
recovery has brought to a hitherto unimaginable number of citizens a new
standard of living and a new style of life which clearly distinguish Europe
today from all the Europes of yesterday.
There exists a new Europe, one in which history is a part of tradition,
not an active force in daily life.