Dissension Inside the Kremlin

More

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.

All this it is necessary to establish when thinking about dissension inside the Kremlin. There is clearly much dissension. Continuing and sharp disagreements about various matters of policy can alone explain the events of past months. But to predicate dissension is not to predicate a clearcut conflict between Khrushchev and his supporters on the one hand and an anti-Khrushchev party on the other. The scene is much more confused than that.

What are the main focuses of disagreement? There is the problem of China. Is Khrushchev right in pressing the Chinese quarrel so far? If he is right, should he push it to its logical conclusion and accept the responsibility for an open split? If he is wrong, how can the quarrel best be patched up? How far should the Soviet Union go in accommodating itself to Chinese ideas for the sake of unity? Should it give China nuclear arms? Should it recognize a Chinese Communist, as distinct from a Russian Communist, sphere of influence in Asia? Should it continue to supply material and technicians to China, even if it is felt that these are being wasted and misapplied?

There are the questions, intimately bound up with the Chinese question, of war and peace, of the hard line versus the soft, of Germany, of disarmament, of nuclear testing, of the desirability of dealing seriously with America.

There are the questions of heavy industry versus consumer goods, of more or less freedom of expression, of the place of the Party functionary in a changing society.

There is, above all, the great question of food production and of how to develop and modernize Soviet agriculture.

All these issues, and many more besides, give almost infinite scope for argument—and for vacillation and dithering. More important still, there are probably no two individuals who hold identical views on all these matters.

Let us, bearing this in mind, look at last October's Congress and the strange policy void which followed it.

Quite soon it was plain that the October Congress was by no means a straightforward victory parade. Rather, it was in many ways the dramatization of a continuing struggle. Instead of turning his back on the past and welcoming the future with confidence and calm, Khrushchev came out fighting. He pitched into the poor old shattered anti-Party group more viciously than ever before; he put the aged Marshal Voroshilov, still sitting on the platform as a member of the Party Presidium, in the pillory; he caused Molotov to be accused of actively plotting against the higher leadership from his sinecure post in Vienna; he brought out new accusations against Stalin and charged Molotov, Kaganovich, Malenkov, Voroshilov, and others with participation in some of Stalin's crimes. Above all, by going bald-headed for Enver Hoxha and the Albanian leadership, charging them with sins which everyone present knew were really the sins of Peiping, he reopened, more publicly than ever before, the great Sino-Russian quarrel which had been papered over at the Moscow meeting of the eighty-one Communist parties less than a year before. To crown everything, with extreme suddenness he caused Stalin's body to be cast out of its tomb, with Chou En-lai's wreath resting, still green and fresh, against the bier. Chou En-lai, having sharply protested against the attack on Albania, flew home to Peiping with the Congress still in session, to be demonstratively welcomed at the airport by Mao Tse-tung.

In the midst of this uproar, the new Party program was analyzed and approved. Madame Furtseva, the formidable, brilliant, and attractive protégée of Khrushchev, rose to speak and expatiated on the glorious days of the 22nd Party Congress, which marked a climacteric in the advance toward Communism. But Madame Furtseva herself had to turn her mind from the joys of the present and the future and take time off to accuse the anti-Party group of complicity in the murder, or execution on false charges, of Marshal Tuchachevsky and the greater part of the Red Army higher command in 1937. She also contributed, as did Mikoyan, to the sense of hidden struggle. Mikoyan was not content to state the Khrushchev line about coexistence and the avoidance of war; he defended it with passion. Against whom was he defending it? Madame Furtseva went even further. She did much more than add her voice to the general chorus of approbation; she went out of her way to plead with the audience, begging the Congress to understand that Khrushchev had had to fight very hard to overcome formidable difficulties, and her tone was such as to suggest that he was by no means out of the woods.

The interesting thing about Madame Furtseva, the first woman ever to achieve the level of the Party Presidium (the old Politburo), is that she had already lost a good deal of ground. After her notable performance at the 22nd Congress, she was dropped, without explanation, from the Presidium, together with others (Mukhitdinov and Ignatov) known to have been close to Khrushchev. Soon after that she was in a Moscow nursing home, officially suffering from a heart attack, actually from a nervous breakdown. In March she disappeared even from the list of candidates for the Supreme Soviet election. So did Aristov, a great organizational figure, and Mukhitdinov, who at forty-five had appeared to have Khrushchev behind him and the world at his feet. So did Belyaev, one of Khrushchev's right-hand men, who had earlier been made the scapegoat for the 1960 fiasco in the virgin lands. Voroshilov, who had been so violently attacked at the Congress, survived. Molotov went as a free man to place his vote.

This is not name-dropping. What I am trying to do is to show the futility of name-dropping. Nobody has the least idea why Furtseva and Mukhitdinov went, or, indeed, what they stood for. Nobody, to go further back, has the least idea why Kirichenko went before them. Kirichenko had always been known as Khrushchev's right hand in the Ukraine. He was brought to Moscow by Khrushchev and soared to the heights as Khrushchev soared. At the 21st Congress in 1959 he made a more positive contribution than any man except Khrushchev. Yet in a very short time he was gone. Did he go because Khrushchev decided he was threatening to become a dangerous rival? Did he go because others decided that the Khrushchev-Kirichenko combination was too powerful and must be broken up? It is impossible to tell. And the real burden of this article is to suggest that it does not matter one way or the other.

Kremlinology is out of date. There was a time when it served a purpose. It grew up under Stalin. Under Stalin there was an almost total dearth of hard information about the Soviet Union. Statistics were meager and false. Nobody ever spoke except Stalin, and he spoke only rarely. When he did speak, he had nothing of interest to say about the domestic affairs of the Soviet Union, and his pronouncements on foreign relations were oracular and deceitful. The little that could be learned about the state of Russia and Stalin's intentions had to be gathered laboriously by reading between the lines, and above all, by studying new appointments, promotions, and demotions. From the time of the great purges onward, the leading political and administrative organs—the Politburo, the Secretariat, the Orgburo, the Control Commission—and the police hierarchy formed a closed circle, a strictly limited group of men exceptionally added to, exceptionally subtracted from, who appeared to be engaged in a sort of ritual puppet dance.

With the passage of time, it became possible for the close student of this remarkable parade to discover to some extent what these changeless individuals stood for, hardness or softness, overconfidence or paranoia, conservatism or experimentalism, total bloodiness or qualified bloodiness, pragmatism or dogmatism, and so on. Once this was known, it was possible to make inspired guesses about Stalin's mood or intentions by watching the advances and retreats of these puppet figures, because the master had the interesting habit of presenting them to the public view in a constantly changing order of merit. This was the whole raison d'étre of Kremlinology, which, I suggest, is no longer a useful pursuit.

It is no longer useful, first, because Khrushchev, one of the world's most compulsive talkers, is perpetually shouting his intentions at the top of his voice and in a stream of nonstop speeches, harangues, interviews, and inspired newspaper articles which can be read and digested by all who have the time. This is not to say, of course, that Khrushchev is not very often misleading. But he says enough to serve as a useful guide. Second, Kremlinology is out of date because it is no longer necessary to try to fit ideas to people.

What concerns us, the onlookers, is not who holds what ideas, but rather which ideas and attitudes are winning at any given time. There is a constant debate in the Kremlin, and this debate is intimately affected by the views of what can only be called pressure groups outside. Far more people are involved in the actual making of policy than was the case under Stalin; and these people are constantly changing. Belyaev goes, Voronov comes (from where?); Kirichenko vanishes, Frol Kozlov soars (why?). We do not even know what Khrushchev himself stands for. In many cases it is impossible to say whether any given policy he advocates is close to his own heart or whether it has been forced on him by others.

For example, here is Khrushchev speaking to the Central Committee in January of 1961. He is attacking, and very sharply, those who put too much stress on heavy industry at the cost of food production: "Some of our comrades have developed an appetite for giving the country more metal. This is a praiseworthy desire, provided no damage is done to other branches of the national economy. But if more metal is produced while other branches lag, their expansion will be retarded. Thus, not enough bread, butter, and other foodstuffs will be produced. This would be a lopsided development."

Again, as recently as May of 1961, he said in a speech at the British exhibition in Moscow: "Soviet heavy industry must be considered as built. Therefore, in the future light and heavy industry will develop at the same pace."

But two months later, out came the new Party program, which once more insisted, in the old familiar terms, on the paramount importance of heavy industry and made no provision for any serious diversion of resources to light industry and the manufacture of consumer goods.

And in March of this year, at the latest plenum of the Central Committee, advertised in advance as the crowning effort to put Soviet agriculture in order, we find Khrushchev specifically declaring that there can be no increased investment in agriculture at the expense of industry. When it is a question of turning out more tractors quickly, all he can recommend is that a factory that has lately taken to making family motorcars must at once go back to making tractors.

Does this mean that Khrushchev has changed his mind in the past year? Or does it mean that he has been overridden by the Comrades who "have developed an appetite for giving the country more metal"?

We do not know. How much does this ignorance really matter? We at least know what is happening. We know that Khrushchev is still there as the boss. And we know more or less the sort of man he is. The rest is, surely, history in the making.

The point is that the Soviet Union is developing, slowly and painfully, along certain lines, toward a freer and more enlightened society; that, short of a major upheaval, it will continue developing along those lines, now faster, now more slowly, now falling a step backward; that this development is the outcome of innumerable and complicated pressures, social, economic, political, and military; that to hold the country together during this unfreezing process calls for prodigies of balancing; that Khrushchev is a supreme balancer.

It follows, surely, that we should begin to change our whole attitude toward the idea of dissension in the Kremlin. Dissension is no longer something to be thought of in terms of crisis (as it certainly still was in 1957), but as an integral aspect of the evolution of government in the Soviet Union, to be taken for granted—as we take it for granted in the West.

This is not to say that future crises are ruled out. On the contrary, at any time, and over any one of a number of issues, Khrushchev might be so heavily defeated that he would have to go. But I believe that the Soviet Union has now reached a stage when this could happen without a direct reversal of all Khrushchev's policies, or, more particularly, a reversion to Stalinism in any thoroughgoing way. Khrushchev can have survived the past eight years only because the general body of opinion in the Soviet Communist hierarchy is broadly in sympathy with his general direction, even though individuals, or groups, may dissent sharply from his handling of particular issues.

If this view is accepted, and only if it is accepted, we can make sense of what went on before, during, and after the 22nd Congress last October. It is clear enough that the new Party program was not achieved without a great deal of debate. It is clear to anyone who has studied Khrushchev's speeches over the past few years that the program was not a one-man diktat; rather, it was the fruit of compromise. More than that, when it came to light industry and the problem of agriculture, the debate was still continuing, so that no firm line could be laid down.

But when Khrushchev stood up last October to make his report, he knew very well that, in spite of opposition in detail, he was fully master of the situation, and he must have decided that he was strong enough to force a number of issues which were still thought to be open. I think particularly of the Chinese issue (there is no doubt at all that the attack on Albania and Molotov was unexpected). I think also of the symbolic casting out of Stalin and the renewed and ferocious attacks on the anti-Party group. Here Khrushchev sought to underline past victories and to indicate to all dissident elements that, in the last analysis, he was boss and proposed to behave like one; that debate and opposition were all very well up to a point, but there were limits; and that he had no intention of putting up with any more argument about matters that had already been decided—he had smashed opposition in the past, and he had known how to compromise in the past to ensure his own continuance in office. The lesson of his attack on the anti-Party group was that opposition could be smashed again.

But it did not quite work. Khrushchev carried the day at the Congress. But after the Congress there was evidently some very plain talking. And there followed an extraordinary period of emptiness and suspense, pierced intermittently by strange cries. Certain government departments almost ceased functioning at all; everyone was waiting for something. The air was thick with rumors about conflict, about impending dismissals. Madame Furtseva had her nervous breakdown. There were others. Ilychev, recently promoted to be the chief of propaganda, the keeper of the ark of the covenant, fired simultaneous broadsides against the heretics of the right, the revisionists (those who want to move too fast), and the heretics of the left, the dogmatists (the neoStalinists).

Toward the end of January, the air began to clear a little, and the ranks, it seemed, began to close. Pravda came out heavily in support of the Khrushchev line on coexistence, simply laying it down, not arguing about it. Pospelov, never an ardent Khrushchevite, contributed some thoughts about Lenin's way with heretics, discussing quietly whether or not it was a good thing to expel them from the Party. After all the confusion about Molotov's future, the statements and the denials about his return to Vienna, Pravda came out with a definitive statement of his sins. It was clear that Khrushchev had succeeded in swinging the Party into line behind him. In December Ilychev had been furiously arguing on behalf of Khrushchev. Argument had now given place to plain instruction.

This still did not mean that Khrushchev was going to have his way in everything. He had got his way, certainly, about his Chinese policy, about a new attempt to treat with America, very probably about Berlin. But there were still innumerable opportunities for debate. One of them was dramatized again by Ilychev on the one side and Ilya Ehrenburg on the other. Ehrenburg, with some courage, felt impelled to write about the shabby treatment of Pasternak at his death. This nastiness, he said, had reflected "a certain attitude on the part of certain people and a way of life which, fortunately, is more and more receding into the background." He was careful not to say that it had entirely receded. And the reason was made clear in an article by Ilychcv about creative freedom in the arts. 'Lenin, Ilychev agreed, had certainly advocated creative freedom for artists in expressing their ideals, but, he went on, this could only apply when the ideals of the individual artist coincided with the ideals of the people as a whole. Ehrenburg, nevertheless, survives.

Still more revealing was the widely publicized plenum of the Central Committee which opened on March 5. The object of this meeting was to recognize the shortcomings of Soviet agriculture and lay down conditions for a mighty new upsurge. But Khrushchev simply tinkered with the problem. There were no radical measures offered which came anywhere near the heart of the matter—the condition and mood of the collectivized peasants. Two mock panaceas were offered, and defensively at that—the abolition of ley farming and the institution of special management committees under the chairmanship of local Party secretaries. The main problem of how to get the peasants on the side of the regime was not even touched.

Why was this? Clearly because there was no agreement among the Comrades. Khrushchev was to be allowed to try a couple of experiments, one agricultural, one administrative, while everybody thought again and the situation drifted.

The evolution of a new top-people democracy in the higher levels of the Party has manifested itself more and more in evident indecisiveness and drift, and in switches of line, not to be regarded as deliberate and calculated acts of policy, but rather as temporizing expedients. We must get used to manifestations of this kind in Soviet foreign policy. We should, I think, welcome them.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Wild Vacation in the Pacific Northwest

A not-so-ordinary road trip, featuring extra-tall art bikes, skateboards, and hand-painted vans


Elsewhere on the web

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

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In