MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | Martin Nicolaus

12  Consolidation

 

    The "palace" coup of June 1957 expelled from the pilot house of the Soviet state the only leading group -- Molotov, Kaganovich, Malenkov -- that had some potential, then and there, for grasping the helm and steering back onto a Marxist-Leninist course.

    It is an easy matter today, with the benefit of hindsight, to sit back in one's chair and dispense advice as to what Molotov and his allies should have done to prevent their defeat. Without a doubt they should not have allowed the struggle to be cooped up mainly within the highest circles of the superstructure. They should have taken it boldly to the masses. As one Sovietologist records, during the months immediately following the 20th Congress (February 1956), "There were stormy meetings in the factories at which even members of the presidium were howled down as representatives of the new wealthy 'They.'" (Robert Conquest, Industrial Workers in the USSR, New York 1967, p. 11.) If Molotov and his allies had linked up with this storm in the factories, joined in the denunciations of the "new wealthy 'They'" and placed themselves at the head of this mass movement, the outcome might well have been different.

    It is well to keep in mind, however, when one engages in

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this sort of second-guessing of history, that Molotov or any other leading figure who might have tried to act in this fashion would have had to confront and to defeat not only the speeches and policy maneuvers of Khrushchev but also the military power of the Red Army commanded by Defense Minister Zhukov, not to speak of the state security police, also under Khrushchev's control. The ouster of Khrushchev's group would have required already in 1956-57 the very real risk of a civil war. Would the troops have opened fire on the workers? Which divisions would have remained loyal to Zhukov-Khrushchev, which ones would have backed Molotov?

    Obviously no one can give an answer to this sort of question. Yet precisely this sort of question would have been at the top of the agenda for any leadership attempting in 1956-57 to lead a mass movement against the Khrushchev group. Then too there was the international situation to consider: What would have been the effect of a new civil war in the USSR on the Eastern European allies? Would such a development not have encouraged further counterrevolutionary comeback attempts, as in Hungary? Was there not a real danger, given the Cold War climate, of imperialist intervention?

    In short, when one looks at the historical situation more concretely, dozens of very difficult and complex questions show up that quickly make a mockery of anyone today who tries, like an armchair quarterback, to tell Molotov and his allies "what they should have done."

    What might have happened "if" is a matter for speculation. But what did happen once Khrushchev's group consolidated their position in the highest party bodies is a matter of historical record. In this regard, the British Sovietologist Crankshaw, already quoted earlier, has turned a phrase that deserves repeating here. Khrushchev, he said, "moved backwards into the future." (Khrushchev: A Career, p. 270.) While Crankshaw meant it primarily as a description of the Khrushchevian style, it applies even more so to the concrete policies and programs that were put through by the Soviet state once his group had fastened its grip on the helm.

    Just as Khrushchev released and/or rehabilitated

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thousands of individuals whom the dictatorship of the proletariat had earlier suppressed as counterrevolutionaries, so he began also to resurrect, piece by piece, the counterrevolutionary political line that the Bolshevik party had, at various points in its history, combated and defeated. This was the inner logic of his attack on Stalin, and necessarily so. For there was nothing in substance new in the Khrushchevian program except the rhetoric. Its concrete elements, its content, had all been put forward before by other leaders or would-be leaders, most of whose names and ideas could be looked up by any Soviet citizen in the widely-available "History of the CPSU(B) Short Course" written under the supervision of Stalin, or in any number of other documents. (Not surprisingly, one of the first points in Khrushchev's program was the discrediting and suppression of that book and the substitution in 1961-62 of a revisionist party history.)

    To resurrect a program that had earlier been defeated, therefore, Khrushchev had to rehabilitate the person who had put it forward, and vice versa, the rehabilitation of the person served as accompaniment to the reintroduction of the policy. Thus, for example, it was no coincidence that Khrushchev's 1957 abolition of the central economic planning ministries went hand in hand with a lavish press campaign in honor of Voznesensky, the former planning director whose own much more timid steps in the same direction had been cut short by arrest and execution in 1949-50 (see part nine of this series). And it was only the feeling that there were certain limits beyond which he could not go in public that prevented Khrushchev in 1956, as he recounts in his memoirs, from openly rehabilitating Zinoviev, Bukharin, Rykov "and other leaders of the people" who had opposed the collectivization of agriculture in the early 1930s and defended the interests of the kulaks (see part four of this series). (Khrushchev Remembers, Boston 1970, p. 385.) Unmistakable also in Khrushchev's 1957 barnstorming oratory against the "Moscow bureaucracy" are the echoes of Trotsky's earlier demagogy from exile; and the silence in Khrushchev's memoirs regarding Trotsky is remarkable.

    In order to push through his program, Khrushchev had

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first of all to gain a complete victory within the Communist party. Even after the ouster of Molotov, Kaganovich and Malenkov from the leading party bodies, this group retained a number of sympathizers and allies even on the presidium and on the central committee, who formed pockets of resistance and delay to the Khrushchevian course. Throughout the rest of 1957, right through the 21st Congress in January 1959 and into the 22nd Congress in October 1961 Khrushchev and his group waged an uninterrupted campaign of polemics and vilification against Molotov's so-called "antiparty group" and all associated with it. There was a wholesale removal and replacement of leading party members during this struggle. According to publications by the Chinese and the Albanian parties, who were in a position to know the complete roster of the Soviet party's central committee (Western Sovietologists had to do some guessing as the full list was not always published), "nearly 70 percent of the members of the central committee of the CPSU who were elected at its 19th Congress in 1952 were purged in the course of the 20th and 22nd Congresses held respectively in 1956 and 1961. And nearly 50 percent of the members of the central committee who were elected at the 20th Congress were purged at the time of the 22nd Congress." On the regional and local levels there was a similar turnover. (On Khrushchev's Phony Communism, Peking 1964 p. 29; also the Party of Labor of Albania in Battle with Modern Revisionism, Tirana 1972, p. 258.) Down at the rank-and-file level, the clandestine Marxist-Leninist pamphlet quoted earlier reported that in 1957 at party meetings "all those who were known to be critical of the decisions of the 20th Congress" -- i.e., of Khrushchev's line -- "were forced to recant." No figures are available on the extent of the turnover at the base.

    The point of these quantitative changes was to produce a change in the character of the party. Cadre who knew that Khrushchev's theory of "peaceful transition to socialism" was contrary to Marxism-Leninism, for example, had to give way to other cadre who would endorse it. Khrushchev's general line of "peaceful coexistence" and "peaceful competition" with imperialism, in order to

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become the line of the whole party, had to assert itself by ousting those party members who had read Lenin's critique of Kautsky (in "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism") and sided with Lenin in the argument, rather than with Kautsky, whose views Khrushchev was exhuming in a new guise. In this way, through a series of wide-ranging turnovers in the membership of the party, its ideological character was transformed from a Marxist-Leninist party into a revisionist party.

    But Khrushchev went further than these ideological transformations. In 1961 he declared that since hostile classes no longer existed in the USSR (here he was building on Stalin's error), there was no longer a need for the dictatorship of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie. The Soviet state, accordingly, was recast as a "state of the whole people." As a corollary, the Soviet Communist party was declared a "party of the whole people," rather than the party of the proletariat. As far as the party's class composition was concerned, the meaning of the new doctrine was to remove from the party statutes any effective bars to the entry of persons with bourgeois backgrounds or current bourgeois standing. Since there were no classes, a candidate's class stand did not matter -- so went the official reasoning. As several Western writers on this party "reform" note, the effect was to open wide the party's doors to managers, engineers, administrators, high-ranking academics and others with positions far removed from the ordinary workaday life of the Soviet proletariat. Party membership, the historian John Hazard wrote, became "like the British knighthood," an honor awarded to successful administrators and engineers regardless of their ideology and leadership ability. (The Politics of Soviet Economic Reform, in Balinsky, ed., Planning and the Market in the USSR: The 1960s, New Brunswick 1967.)

    Along with the new social class composition of the party went a new definition of the party's role: what Khrushchev called the "production principle." Basing himself in part on quotations taken out of context from Lenin's writings in the early phase of the New Economic Policy (see part three of this series), Khrushchev decreed that party cadre must

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give the task of economic management and the promotion of production priority over political leadership or ideological debate. (See e.g., Carl A. Linden, Khrushchev and the Soviet Leadership 1957-64, Baltimore 1966, pp. 149-52.) The party thus became explicitly -- even too explicitly for appearance's sake -- a party of the managers, whose own powers (see below) had meanwhile been considerably enhanced. To carry the "production principle" to its logical conclusions, Khrushchev then divided the party into industrial and agricultural branches joined only at the very top, and proposed that the salaries of local party officials be tied to the "economic success indicators" of the farms and factories under their authority. (Alec Nove, Economic Rationality and Soviet Politics, New York, 1964, p. 93) This meant, in so many words, that party members should be paid according to how much profit their enterprises make.

    Besides its obvious effect on the class composition of the party, Khrushchev's party "reform" had also another consequence, namely the disruption of the alliance between workers and peasants, the basis of Soviet state policy under Lenin and Stalin. To split the party into agricultural and industrial branches meant that party cadre at the local and regional levels could no longer make the preservation and strengthening of worker-peasant and town-country relationships a part of their business. They were either one or the other, divided and counterposed against the comrades in the opposite branch.

    All these and other measures in politics and economics were advanced under cover of a constant barrage of attacks against the "dogmatism" of Molotov and his allies, and with renewed campaigns of slander against Stalin, culminating in the 1961 removal of Stalin's body from its resting place at the mausoleum in Red Square. As the Khrushchevian program advanced in its course, there are more and more indications of unrest and resistance on the part of the Soviet working class. The Sovietologist Conquest, already quoted -- he is by no means a supporter of Stalin -- states categorically that "every relaxation" (meaning every fresh campaign against Stalin launched by the leadership) has been

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marked by strikes and other protests by the working class, including such cases as "major riots" like the one in Novocherkass in 1962. (Industrial Workers in the USSR, p. 11.) Such acts of resistance, about which much too little is known, were very likely one of the reasons why the leadership after each campaign against Stalin retreated somewhat, paid Stalin compliments and backed off from some of its own proposals, though without changing its basic direction.

    About the inner life of the "new" Soviet communist party, after its conversion into a party of the newly engendered bourgeois forces, it is difficult to find much information. That there was and is struggle, faction fighting and disagreements of all kinds we can deduce from history, notably the ouster of Khrushchev himself in 1964 and subsequent events. But it does not seem, at least not since the early 1960s, that any public leader or group in the party has stood in strategic, basic opposition to the line launched by Khrushchev. Such high-level disagreements as have come to the light of day, or can be plausibly inferred, have not been between revisionists and Marxist-Leninists, but rather between one and another bourgeois faction.

    What life is like at the lower levels, especially for workers and peasants who remain members of it for whatever reason, can only be imagined. A publication by the Albanian party described the inner life of the Soviet and East European revisionist parties in 1968 as a vicious caricature of Leninism:

    "In these parties, they speak loudly of democratic centralism, but that is Leninist no longer. They speak of 'Bolshevik' criticism and self-criticism, but they are Bolshevik no longer. They speak of party discipline, but it is no longer a Leninist, but a fascist discipline; of proletarian morality, but the morality is bourgeois, antiproletarian, anti-Marxist; of free expression of opinions in the party, about everything and everybody, but the expression of thoughts in the party spirit, in the proletarian spirit, in the revisionist countries leads to jail and concentration camps." (The Party of Labor of Albania in Battle . . . , p. 415.) It is at about this time, in the early

1960s under Khrushchev -- to judge from remarks in the clandestine pamphlet cited earlier -- that the first underground Marxist-Leninist grouplets and clusters began to take shape, necessarily in extreme secrecy and isolation from each other.