Dissension Inside the Kremlin

Clearly there is dissension inside the Kremlin, says EDWARD CRANKSHAW, but it is "no longer something to be thought of in terms of crisis, but as an integral aspect of the evolution of government in the Soviet Union." Mr. Crankshaw, a leading authority on the U.S.S.R., is the author of CRACKS IN THE KREMLIN WALL and RUSSIA AND THE RUSSIANS.

In October of last year it looked as though the Soviet Union had reached, and was about to negotiate, a critical turning point in its post-Stalin evolution. The occasion was the 22nd Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. There seemed no necessity to hold this Congress just then, unless it was to draw a line under the past and lay down a clear direction for the future.

The 20th Congress, in 1956, had been the deStalinization Congress, in which the new leadership, Khrushchev above all, contrived to rid itself of a large part of the past. It not only repudiated Stalin; it also shook itself free from the paralyzing Leninist dogma of the inevitability of war, and thus gained new freedom of maneuver in the international field. The 21st Congress, three years later, was called an extraordinary Congress; its main purpose was to celebrate Khrushchev's victory over the anti-Party group in June, 1957, and to consign its members, Malenkov, Molotov, Kaganovich, "and Shepilov, who joined them," to oblivion. The ostensible purpose of the 22nd Congress last October was to discuss and approve the new Communist Party program, a Twenty-Year Plan which was to bring the Soviet Union to the verge of the millennium, not in 1984 but in 1981, in time for Khrushchev's eighty-seventh birthday.

It had been a long fight for Khrushchev since, early in 1954, he had forced Malenkov's resignation from the premiership. The secret speech against Stalin in 1956 had been a major battle in the campaign. The loosening up after that had led to the bloodshed in Hungary and the moral defeat of the Soviet leadership by Gomulka in Poland, both in the late fall of 1956. It had also very nearly led to Khrushchev's downfall. In the winter of 1956 he was desperate; but he fought back, and by the early summer of 1957, he had won. Even though men as widely different in ideas and attitudes as Malenkov and Molotov had come together for the sole purpose of overthrowing him, he turned the tables on them, and with the help of the provincial Party bosses and of Marshal Zhukov at the head of the army, he scattered his enemies. Soon after that he contrived to get rid of Marshal Zhukov.

Khrushchev was supreme. But he was still not an autocrat as Stalin had been an autocrat. Blind devotion and uncritical admiration are not qualities which Khrushchev inspires in those closest to him. Nor does he instill awe, as Stalin did. A healthy regard for his temper; fear of his malice, by all means. But not awe. Above all, there is a reluctant respect for his genius as a practical politician; he is, indeed, the first true politician, as the word is understood in the West, to be produced by Soviet Russia. With this goes a high valuation of his extraordinary combination of physical stamina, nervous drive, boldness and cunning, and adroitness. There is nobody else anywhere near the top of the Communist hierarchy who can drive and lead as Khrushchev drives and leads. So the Soviets need him. He is the best head of state they have got, and they know it.

This does not mean that they approve of all he does, or that they do not sometimes succeed in checking him in full flight. Khrushchev is without doubt the top boss, the leader, but he is boss by permission of the others. His colleagues could easily put him down. But the fact that such a thing could happen does not mean that it is in the least likely to happen. First, a decisive majority has to agree that it is desirable; there must also be agreement as to who is to replace him.

What follows from this? Surely a sort of democracy follows—not a grass-roots democracy, but what one might call a top-people democracy. The crucial point is that if Khrushchev, the leader himself, cannot have his own way in everything, this also applies to his closest colleagues and to all the members of the Communist hierarchy all the way down the line. There is no unquestioned, authoritative line, as there was in Stalin's time. And, paradoxically, the very fact that Khrushchev is not a complete autocrat makes decisive opposition, the sort of opposition that ends in a putsch or a palace revolution, more difficult. The opposers are not all the time united against a tyrant; rather, they are free to maneuver amongst and against themselves. Comrade X will be intriguing for his own advancement and seeking the boss's favor; Comrade Y will be lining himself up with Comrades A and B, whom he detests, in order to put pressure on the boss to do this or stop doing that; and so on. The chances of Comrades A to Z all coming together to demand, more or less unanimously, the boss's head are pretty remote—as in a Western democracy. Surely a lack of clearcut policy follows—as in a Western democracy.

The more voices the Soviet leader must attend to, the less certain and deliberate will be his policies. Changes of line which appear to us to be the result of chessboard calculations may be, and sometimes demonstrably are, in fact, due to uncertainty—the more so when we think of the new position of the Soviet Union in the Communist world. Stalin was not merely absolute master in his own house; he was also the acknowledged leader of the global Communist movement. How different from Khrushchev, who has collided head on with the Chinese, is defied by the Albanians, and is heavily questioned by other Communist parties outside Russia, or by elements in them.

Presented by

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Video

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy."

Video

The Joy of Running in a Beautiful Place

A love letter to California's Marin Headlands

Video

'I Didn't Even Know What I Was Going Through'

A 17-year-old describes his struggles with depression.

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

More in Global

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In