Moscow

"The Soviet leaders and the nation remain preoccupied with two aspects of Stalin's extraordinary career: 1) what is Stalin's role in Soviet history, and 2.) what are the limits of the continuing process of de-Stalinization?"

By

Moscow

A year and a half after Khrushchev's dramatic speech at the camera session of the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party on what Russians euphemistically call "the struggle against the personality cult," the Soviet leaders and the nation remain preoccupied with two aspects of Stalin's extraordinary career: 1) what is Stalin's role in Soviet history, and 2.) what are the limits of the continuing process of de-Stalinization?

Ever since the Chinese Communists, who are playing an increasing role in the ideological leadership of the Communist world, last autumn called a halt to the excessive denigration of Stalin, Russian as well as foreign Communists have been seeking a formula describing the late ruler's proper place in history.

The problem was posed again in May at the closing session of the Soviet Writers' Plenum (the board meeting of the Writers' Union), where poet Mikola Bazhan, who is also vice premier of the Ukraine, boldly declared: "The question of Stalin's personality has not been raised correctly. Some overzealous writers went as far as erasing Stalin's name from our works."

Bazhan continued, "One Moscow writer boasted in his pride that he never once mentioned Stalin's name in his works." Describing the year of tension and turmoil that the Soviet writers experienced, Bazhan pleaded for moderation and restraint, saying, "There is no cause for hysterics or despair. Unfortunately among our intelligentsia there proved to be some unstable individuals who panicked and were driven to the thought that there must be a reassessment of all our values and a complete about-face."

In what the Literary Gazette, the organ of the Soviet Writers' Union, described as "an agitated speech which stirred the whole audience," Bazhan expressed confidence that the "Soviet writers will worthily surmount all difficulties and overcome their confusion and disarray."

Stalin's personality came up on still another level of Soviet power in the interview with Khrushchev by Turner Catledge, managing editor of the New York Times. Answering Catledge's question, Stalin's successor as the Party leader said he considered Stalin a great man, a devoted Marxist who made many errors needing correction.

That seems to be the current line, which divides Stalin's career into two periods: the first, from Lenin's death until 1934; and the second, 1934 to his death in 1953, a period marked by violent purges, a violation of Soviet legality.

Stalin's role

Stalin is given full credit for the consolidation of the so-called "dictatorship of the proletariat" and the liquidation of oppositionists like Trotsky and Bukharin, though his methods are decried.

In this connection it should be recalled that neither Stalin's policies nor his basic ideology was ever repudiated. However, it is interesting to note that at the last session of the Supreme Soviet Council, which adopted Khrushchev's revolutionary plan for reorganization and the decentralization of the management of the Soviet economy, not one speaker mentioned Stalin's name, although Stalin was the architect and executor of the Soviet industrial revolution which transformed the Soviet Union from a backward agricultural country into the world's second industrial power.

Nor was Stalin's portrait, which once dominated all Soviet iconography, displayed in the May Day parade. His body remains alongside the revered Lenin's in the mausoleum in Red Square. Nor has any definitive work appeared endeavoring to assess Stalin's exact role. For instance, the publication of the fortieth volume of the Soviet Encyclopedia, covering the letter S, which should have contained Stalin's biography, has been postponed indefinitely though six subsequent volumes have already appeared.

While Stalin is being to some extent rehabilitated, there is no apparent abatement to the process of de-Stalinization and liberalization, though the pace has somewhat slackened since last year. The writers' meeting concluded in May, as well as earlier congresses of writers, composers, and painters, was remarkable in many respects and could not have been held in the Stalin-Zhdanov era.

Of course the artists were not offered an opportunity for uninhibited debate or for the presentation of unorthodox ideas, as might have been done at a Western intellectual congress. The theory of Social Realism and Zhdanov's doctrines of loyalty to the Party and to the Communist ideology were reaffirmed.

Dmitri Shepiov, who left the foreign ministry in February to assume his old job in organizational and ideological work, took advantage of the occasion to castigate Western popular music. "The music you hear in parks, restaurants, and dance halls," he declared, "has little in common with what we are accustomed to regard as music. These hysterical, raving boogie-woogies and rock-and-rolls sound like the wild orgies of cavemen. All elements of grace, melody, and beauty have been thoroughly eradicated."

Scorn for the West

Haranguing the Artists' Congress, Shepilov asserted that the Soviet Union has no use for the "formalistic grimaces and hideous fruit of abstractionists," and said "what the Soviet Union wants is art true to life and free from alien influence."

Using language reminiscent of Zhclanow's later days, Shepilov scored Western neo-realism, as "pathological ravings and mockery of human feelings." At the same time he left no doubt in the minds of those writers and artists who since Stalin's death have expressed the belief that Party control of the arts would end or be mitigated that that would not be the case.

Shepilov notwithstanding, the modern French impressionists, especially Picasso, as well as some young Russian modernists who have been exhibited in Moscow and in Leningrad, have been drawing enormous throngs. Ilya Ehrenburg was able publicly to hail Picasso as the greatest painter of our age, although Alexander Gerasimov, who for a whole generation was the darling of Soviet art but is now discredited, still insists that Picasso is phony and cannot paint, except for the Peace Dove, which he considers a true work of art. Meanwhile the restaurants and dance halls continue to play jazz, though of a somewhat old vintage.

The intellectual congresses held here during the past year were marked by stormy sessions and by debates which would have been inconceivable a few years ago. Breast-beating by intellectuals who had fallen short of the official line was conspicuously absent. Harsh words were spoken, but not a single writer, artist, or composer was denounced as the "enemy of the people," nor were any works proscribed.

Criticism of the regime

The storms continued to rage unabatedly over the head of VladimirDudintsev, the most controversial writer since Stalin's death, who has become the symbol of unorthodoxy. His novel Not by Bread Alone has beenblasted throughout the land as libelous of the Soviet regime. But it has also been publicly defended, while Dudintsev himself refuses to recant, insisting on the reality of his heroes and villains.

What is even more significant is that the novel, which had first been serialized in the literary monthly Novy Mir, has recently been published in book form. And Dudintsev's severest critics, including Konstantin Simonov, who as editor of Novy Mir first published Not by Bread Alone, have not challenged the author's good faith or accused him of plotting against the Soviet regime, as might have been done in an earlier era.

Criticism, by and large, has been confined to questioning Dudintsevís realism and accurate depiction of Soviet realities. Sirnonov incidentally committed another one of his numerous flip-flops, and although he at firstdefended Dudintsev's work, he later, became one of his principal accusers. But Dudintsev insists that his theme was right; and what is even more surprising, Simonov announced that he would shortly publish some of his short stories.

Another new note at the Writersí Plenum was struck by Mikola Bazhan, who, after he had denounced "nationalist, anti-Russian, anti-Semitic" manifestations in the Polish and Hungarian literature, admitted similar phenomena in Russia. "These were nihilistic trends,î the Izvestia editorial declared.

Without names, Bazhan referred to writers "who had been crossed out of the history of Soviet literature," and welcomed their rehabilitation. Bazhan singled out some Ukrainian and Russian writers recently guilty of greatpower chauvinism and of fomenting racial animosities, but he was repudiated. He mentioned Valentin Ivanov, whose novel Yellow Metal he characterized as "yellow literature permeated with the spirit of great-power intolerance toward small nationalities." He added, "This Ivanov dared calumniate Ukrainians, Georgians, Jews, and Armenians. I can name another work of this gutter type N. Zhdanov's On the Edge of Mystery."

Shostakovich speaks out

Another breath of fresh air recently came from Shostakovich's speech at the Composers' Congress. The Soviet Union's greatest composer is again the most honored name in Soviet music. He is again writing symphonies and concertos.

No one could have mistaken Shostakovich's meaning when he said, "Many of our past shortcomings could be eliminated if we composers could engage in a fruitful, broad, creative discussion. Unfortunately, we don't have such yet. Debate is often hindered by the survival of the personality cult. I mean those intolerable methods of discussion by which one side effects discreditation and calumniation of the other side. As soon as one side is ideologically discredited, the discussion is practically killed."

In addition, Shostakovich castigated the "demagogy" of certain musical officials and demanded the election of leaders who are not just administrators but "musicians who love music." The pay-off was Shostakovich's election to the executive board of the Composers' Union and his receipt of the Order of Lenin, the highest Soviet civilian award.

Legal reform

The Hungarian and Polish setbacks do not seem to have checked the sweeping series of domestic legal reforms initiated soon after Stalin's death and Beria's arrest. A high Soviet official, V. L. Kudryavtsev, Assistant Procurator General, recently confirmed to Professor Harold Berman of Harvard Law School what has been common knowledge in Russia for the past few years: namely, the gradual liquidation of oppressive, corrective labor camps. According to Kudryavtsev, over 70 per cent of the prisoners have been released since 1953, and two thirds of the camps have been dissolved. Less than per cent of the present prison population are political prisoners. The camps in remote inaccessible localities are being replaced by more humane labor colonies in the areas of the prisoners original residence.

A lively debate is now going on in the legal world over the drafting of new and more liberal legislation, to be codified and approved by the Supreme Soviet next fall. The new legislation will reflect the discreditation of certain legal theories enunciated by the late Andrei Vishinsky, who, as chief prosecutor and head of the juridical institute, for many years dominated Soviet legal thought.

Vishinsky fathered the doctrine that confession alone proves guilt. Now the Soviet courts demand corroborating proof establishing guilt beyond doubt. Another discredited doctrine is that of "analogy"—namely, that a person can be sentenced for acts which are not criminal under existing laws if those acts may be held analogous to statutory crimes.

One of the most odious provisions of Soviet law, under which innocent relatives of armed deserters who flee abroad may be sentenced administratively to five years' exile, has already been declared a "dead law' and according to Kudryavtsev will be eliminated from the new criminal codes.

These reforms are significant in the context of Russian and Soviet traditions and do not foreshadow the introduction of anything like some of the fundamental Western institutions such as the writ of habeas corpus. But the concepts of strict legality and enforcement of constitutional guarantees are beginning to take shape. The onslaught against arbitrary police action practiced under Beria still goes on. The security organs are being decentralized and deprived of judicial functions. Soviet citizens now appear to be enjoying more freedom from fear than at any time in the past twenty years.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1957/08/moscow/303395/