The Men Behind Khrushchev

Who are the men who support Khrushchev in his leadership in Russia, and to what extent is his power more limited and more precarious than that of Stalin? EDWARD CRANKSHAW, who comes to grips with these guestwns in this article, is recognized here and in Russia as a leading authority on the U.S.S.R. His earlier books, CRACKS IN THE KREMLIN WALL and RUSSIA AND THE RUSSIANS, have grown out of his residence in that country, and his latest visit was made earlier this year.



DURING the war, as a soldier, it was my job for nearly two years to work with the Red Army, and particularly with the Soviet General Staff in Moscow, The frustrations of this period would lie more clearly appreciated today than they were at the time. Perhaps as a direct result of these frustrations I used to suffer from a recurrent nightmare. i was at the bottom of Stalin’s “in" tray, and I could not get out; just when it seemed that with one more prodigious heave I could break surface, a fresh avalanche of papers would come pouring in on top of me; and this would go on until, on the verge of suffocation, I woke up.

Hut the “in” tray remained, very much a reality. For Stalin was an absolute ruler who centralized to the point of lunacy and tried to make all his own decisions. If he took no action on an affair of policy, nobody else did; and a great many urgent matters thus hung fire forever. Being desk-bound, relying entirely on the reports of others, never going out to see for himself, he had some very queer ideas about the state of the country. Statistics were fudged; information about most things came primarily from the security forces, whose first interest was to justify their own swollen establishments; and, to judge by results, when it came to a subject which did not interest Stalin very much — for example, agriculture — he had not the faintest idea of what was really going on.

This system led to corruption and inefficiency on a grand scale, and to a high level of irresponsibility on the part of what might be called the executive. It was the heyday of obscurantist vested interests; everywhere there was obstruction — and everywhere, within the framework of a general directive, there was arbitrary highhandedness. I have no doubt at all that many (though far from all) of the crimes attributed to Stalin’s personal malevolence were committed without his knowing anything about them; they arose directly from this system. In a situation of this kind the tyrant has only one weapon: terror. And it was Stalin’s terror, striking arbitrarily, which kept his subordinates in order. Unfortunately he could not even control the apparatus of terror, which grew beyond bounds and thus defeated its purpose. It stood between the great dictator and reality.

In Stalin’s day nobody could make an independent decision. All policy matters were transmitted through a rigid chain of command the whole way down the scale. This, at least, was the theory. But in fact the theory never quite worked; the country would have perished if it had worked. In spite of the appalling penalties for failure, for speaking out of turn, for pursuing original ideas outside Stalin’s own favorite spheres of endeavor — in spite of the sycophancy, the cynicism, the insecurity — there were always individuals in almost every organization who were interested enough in what they were doing to bypass the proper channels and arrange things among themselves. They formed a sort of invisible network of private enterprise and common sense within the official state bureaucracy.

And today? After a period of collective rule, or struggle, another individual, Nikita Sergeivich Khrushchev, has achieved the summit of power. Are we to conclude that Khrushchev is an absolute ruler in the sense that Stalin was an absolute ruler? If not, why not? And what is he?

THE parallels so often drawn between Stalin and Khrushchev on their way to supreme power are, I think, altogether misleading.

Within thirteen years after Lenin’s death, Stalin, emerging swiftly from obscurity, had got rid of all the senior revolutionaries and a great part of the Communist rank and file, either by shooting or imprisonment. He had also broken the Red Army as a potentially independent force by shooting practically the whole of the high command and a large proportion of the officers’ corps. He ruled despotically, surrounded by a group of personally appointed satraps. By means of the secret police he exercised a ruthless and appallingly wasteful terror throughout the land.

It is no exaggeration to say that by 1937 the flower of the Soviet Union above the age of thirty had withered away. The survivors, those who had escaped death or the concentration camps, were largely corrupt and cowed. The war, which came three years later, was won by the lucky, who had managed to accommodate themselves to the terror or who, like Marshal Rokossovsky, were brought from labor camps to fight; by the young; and by senior officers who had escaped the Party purges because they had not belonged to the Party at the time of the purges.

Khrushchev has had only six years. As a start he helped his colleagues to get rid of Beria, to break the autonomy of the secret police, to get rid of the slave system, and to undo the worst excesses of the Stalin administration. He then began to turn on his colleagues, some of whom had been much more closely associated with Stalin than Khrushchev had been. A few of these, including his most formidable rival, Malenkov, and his most respected critic, Molotov, he got rid of and reduced to ignominy. He also broke the power of Marshal Zhukov, to whom he owed much but who was threatening to wean the armed forces from political control. He killed none of these men (unless it turns out that Malenkov was secretly killed). There have been no political trials or demonstrations. What is more (and this is a factor very much underrated in the West), although Bulganin, Malenkov, Kaganovich, Molotov, Shepilov, and Zhukov have all gone, and although Khrushchev has swiftly brought forward a number of comparative newcomers, like F. R. Kozlov and A. I. Kirichenko, the higher Party and government organs still contain a far greater number of veterans who first achieved prominence under Stalin. No clean sweep has been made of all men remotely pretending to influence and power, nor is there the slightest indication that any such sweep is planned — or could be carried out even if desired.

Stalin was trying to build a new society, molding it from the beginning. He wanted a clean slate to write on. The revolution had destroyed the old society; the new one was still at school. In between the new and the old stood large numbers of men who had proved themselves in revolution, in civil war, and in producing out of chaos some sort of working society. These were the very people who were bound to get in Stalin’s way while he carried out his self-appointed task of disciplining the new Soviet man. First he used them; then he destroyed them. In destroying them he was not slashing as deeply into the fabric of Soviet society as it seemed; for these men, or most of them, had nothing to do with the society Stalin was planning and which was, in the late thirties, already growing up. They were alien to it.

Khrushchev is faced with a very different problem. The new society now exists. It has not turned out as Stalin intended; but it is very much there. Khrushchev, even if he had the power to do so, could not carry out a major lethal purge in the Soviet Union today without wrecking an elaborate and highly articulated society geared to an economic machine infinitely more powerful and complex than the economic machine of the first Five Year Plans. The most he can do is to remove those who argue and work most powerfully against his policies: a comparative handful, that is to say; because if they were more than this, then Khrushchev himself would go. Society is now stronger than the leader, who is thus, in a sense, the chosen and tolerated leader. Terror, if used at all, can only be used for the purpose of making examples.

Khrushchev is not and cannot be the absolute autocrat in the sense that Stalin was the absolute autocrat. To achieve this position he would have to kill off the key figures in a society which, unlike the society which Stalin inherited, is an organic whole. Even if his colleagues would allow him to do this, the process would take time — more time than Khrushchev can spare.

Stalin was forty-four and healthy when Lenin died. He had achieved effective supremacy by the time he was forty-eight. He moved from the very beginning, and without a backward glance or the least loosening of the reins, toward a total rigidity of control, which he maintained until his death twenty-five years later. Khrushchev, fifty-nine when Stalin died, is now sixty-five. There has been a hardening in many attitudes since 1956; but so far there has not been the slightest attempt to return to the old Stalinist rigidity, and Khrushchev is working all the time with men of his own generation or a little younger who could form an alternative government immediately if the master were suddenly to die. Within four years of Lenin’s death Stalin had embarked on the fearful operation of the collectivization. Still six years after Stalin’s death, Khrushchev, while making a great outcry about “revisionism,”is continuously groping his way toward a freer and more flexible society.

It is necessary to make this point because there is much confusion about it. The victory of Khrushchov over Malenkov and Molotov, the dismissal of Zhukov, the shooting of Nagy, the recent tightening of Party control over literature highlighted by the Pasternak affair have all combined to give a hazy impression of a new autocrat following in Stalin’s footsteps. I think this impression is false.

Khrushchev is Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Prime Minister, and, as such, master of the constitutional administration. He is also First Secretary of the Communist Party, and, as such, master of the policy-making force. He has publicly condemned the “personality cult,”but he is nevertheless presented as the leader; and anybody who has read the proceedings of last year’s Plenum of the Central Committee will know that he is spoken of with sycophancy and adulation by many — but not all — of his senior colleagues.

Quite recently a Western visitor of some eminence was engaged with Khrushchev in one of those marathon interviews which go on half the night. At a certain stage in the conversation Khrushchev decided that Mikoyan should be brought in. He said so, and pressed a button on his desk. Nothing happened. He pressed another button, and Mikoyan almost immediately appeared. This showed that Khrushchev, as Prime Minister and First Secretary, was in a position to summon a senior colleague to his own room. Prime Ministers normally enjoy this privilege.

But after more conversation, with Khrushchev still going strong, Mikoyan announced that he was tired, had a busy day ahead, and proposed to turn in. He said good night and went. Khrushchev went on talking.

This strikes me as an illuminating anecdote. Under Stalin no single colleague would have been able to drift away from the Presence. He would have had to wait until he was dismissed. It would have been the same under Churchill, for that matter. The reason Mikoyan felt free to go to bed was that he, with others, had made Khrushchev Prime Minister and First Secretary of the Party. I have no doubt at all that he, with others, could unmake him should the need arise.

Stalin was not made by anybody. He himself transformed the office of First Secretary of the Party into the most important in the land; he made himself Prime Minister when the time seemed to call for it. But Khrushchev was appointed (we know there was no coup d’état) to the two highest offices in the land by men who knew what they were doing. These men still exist around him. This is no place to speculate on the reasons for their choice — the reasons why in 1953 they took the first secretaryship away from Malenkov and gave it to Khrushchev, why in 1955 they took the premiership away from Malenkov and gave it to Bulganin, why they sided with Khrushchev against the Malenkov-Molotov-Kaganovich alliance in 1957, why they agreed to Khrushchev’s assumption of the premiership in 1958. The only point to be made is that since Khrushchev did not seize these offices by force (and we know he did not) he received them at the hands of his colleagues and that these colleagues still exist.

We must assume that the men who chose Khrushchev had no intention of allowing him to tyrannize over them as Stalin had tyrannized in his day. We must assume that at least some of them have insisted that Khrushchev pay attention to their views in return for their support.

THE story is that, having been outvoted in the Party Presidium, which in the spring of 1957 contained eleven full members and seven nonvoting members, Khrushchev appealed to the much larger Central Committee, which gave him a vote of confidence. Fortified by this victory, Khrushchev had Malenkov, Kaganovich, Molotov, and Shepilov (until recently his protégé) dismissed and degraded. An enlarged Presidium was set up, consisting of fifteen full members and nine nonvoting members. And we have to assume that, apart from Bulganin and perhaps Voroshilov, the surviving and newly promoted lull members of the enlarged Presidium were the ones to whom Khrushchev owed the most. The survivors were Kirichenko, Khrushchev’s successor as boss of the Ukraine; Mikoyan; Bulganin (for a short time); Voroshilov, who was too old and venerable to count either way; and M. A. Suslov. The promoted ones were A. B. Aristov, N. I. Belyayev, L. I. Brezhnev, Madame Burtseva, N. G. Ignatov, F. R. Kozlov — all believed to be Khrushchev nominees; N. M. Shvernik, the old trade unionist; Otto Kuusinen, the venerable Finnish quisling; and Marshal Zhukov. It is interesting in this connection to note that Aristov, Brezhnev, Shvernik, Ignatov, and Kuusinen had all been members of Stalin’s enlarged Presidium, which was immediately cut down after his death. The nine nonvoting members included several who had been very closely associated with Khrushchev for a long time.

It has not yet been publicly demonstrated that any one of these individuals has an original idea in his head, with the exception of Mikoyan and, possibly, Kirichenko and Madame Furtseva. All have spent their lives in the Party apparatus and all have proved themselves capable of governing large areas or important industrial centers on behalf of the Kremlin. But to judge by the conversation of men as disparate as Suslov. the veteran Stalinist ideologue and manager of the satellites, and Kozlov, the able and good-looking Party functionary lifted up by Khrushchev to hold Leningrad against Malenkov, though good and tough administrators they are not in any way dynamic. There is good reason for this. All these men in their fifties, and many more besides in the Party apparatus throughout the country, are the survivors of the Stalinist purges. These purges picked off nearly all the most active-minded men who would be in their fifties today. Those who survived did so by virtue of outstanding ability and cunning and luck! — men such as Mikoyan, Malenkov, and Khrushchev himself; or because they were gifted trimmers. This, to judge by the individuals I have met, generally applies to the whole age group from, say, forty-five to sixty. In this age group almost everyone of any integrity, character, initiative, and decency avoided the Party apparatus as a career and shunted himself into industry, science, or the armed forces.

It is an interesting paradox that Khrushchev, the great empiricist and man of action, bursting with ideas, had to look for support in his drive to the top from the professional Party functionaries of precisely this age group, who can be described only as a generation of dead beats or Communist stuffed shirts, so conditioned and corrupted by Stalin that they have long lost any capacity for original thought.

But I have always been inclined to see in Khrushchev’s apparent predilection for the Party functionary more than met the eye, and my recent visit to the Soviet Union has strengthened certain tentatively held ideas.

MALENKOY had to be beaten — and Malenkov in active alliance with the old Stalinists Molotov and Kaganovich on the one hand and with the new technocrats on the other was a formidable proposition. Khrushchev could hope to win only if he could get on his side the professional Party functionaries who, once the police had been brought to heel, formed the only coherent network of power. These functionaries, as a class, almost certainly thought they could use Khrushchev in their incessant struggle with all the most activeminded elements in the country. They were right in this up to a point. But it would not surprise me in the least if it turns out that Khrushchev has in fact been using them.

He needs them. They provide the discipline. Without strong administrative discipline the ferment throughout the Soviet Union would all too quickly get out of control. But I am inclined to think that in Khrushchev’s eyes their main function was to hoist him to power and that their own standing will be steadily undermined from now on.

Among the highest-ranking functionaries there are undoubtedly some who work hand in glove with Khrushchev, advising him usefully or carrying out his ideas obediently and intelligently. Plainly the country could not be run without such as these; for Khrushchev himself spends more time away from his desk than at it. And undoubtedly Khrushchev and his closest collaborators are getting advice and ideas from others, a thing which Stalin never did.

The amount of time Khrushchev spends traveling and speaking, inside the country and out, the amount of time he spends conducting long conversations with visiting politicians and journalists and attending receptions add up to a formidable total. For a great part of every month of the year the Soviet Union is being governed in Khrushchev’s absence. This is not to say that major policy decisions, are made without his knowledge or consent: obviously Macmillan was right in concluding that Khrushchev himself is the only man who can make a major decision right off the bat — though even then there are indications that he may be required to modify such decisions later in the light of criticism from his colleagues. No less obviously, on the other hand, he has people close to him on whom he can rely to make his decisions their own, and who are sufficiently in sympathy with those decisions to ensure that a general directive is translated into practical terms and carried out in the spirit in which it is laid down.

It was confidently forecast by most Western “Kremlinologists” that one of the first things Khrushchev would do, during and after the 21st Party Congress held in January and February of this year, would be to consolidate his grip on the Party apparatus through a new purge, filling still more key posts with his own nominees. There has been a purge, certainly; but not the kind that was generally expected. A fair number of important figures and a large number of minor figures have gone. The important ones come almost exclusively from the ranks of Khrushchev’s nominees.

There is no need to run through the whole catalogue. Two men may be instanced as characteristic: I. G. Kapitonov, the Moscow Party Secretary, and I. I. Kuzmin, the head of Gosplan. Both owed their positions to Khrushchev. Both distinguished themselves, one at the celebrated December Plenum (1958) of the Central Committee, the other at the 21st Party Congress, by eulogizing Khrushchev in terms strongly reminiscent of the forbidden “personality cult.”Both looked safe, but both were sacked within weeks of the Congress. Kapitonov’s dismissal is a particularly interesting ease because he had gone to very great lengths in his flattery of Khrushchey:

It is well known to us all, Comrades, that the initiator, the soul of this enormous work for the development of agriculture, as in all other important matters, is Nikita Sergeivich Khrushchev. It is he who laught us to deal correctly and concretely with, farming matters. This, Comrades, is a model of Leninist leadership.

The case of Kuzmin, elevated suddenly to be head of Gosplan in 1957, is even more interesting. In his speech to the 21st Party Congress he made one of the most violent and vindictive attacks on Pervukhin for his association with the “anti-Party group.” When Malenkov, Molotov, and Company were overthrown in 1957, Pervukhin, one of the most gifted of the industrially-minded leaders, was dropped from the Party Presidium, along with Saburov, then head of Gosplan. Saburov was sent oH into the wilds to run a factory. Pervukhin, however, was treated more gently. He was demoted to candidate membership of the Presidium and made ambassador to the East German Republic. At the December Plenum in 1958 he was attacked by a number ol speakers, who said it was time he confessed. The cry was renewed at the Congress in February, above all by Kuzmin and Spiridonov, the Leningrad Party Secretary. Pervukhin did in fact make a partial confession, but tfiis was dismissed as being totally inadequate by other speakers, It looked as though he would go.

But he has not gone. Instead, one of his main accusers, Khrushchev’s faithful nominee, Kuzmin, lias gone — and has been replaced as head of Gosplan by A. N. Kosygin, one of Stalin’s younger generation of big shots, who had been under a cloud since Stalin’s death and was, in fact, Kuzmin’s deputy.

And so? Wc have to assume either that Khrushchev is not at all master and is being kept under firm control by rival voices—which could only mean the equivocal Stalinist figure of Mikhail Suslov, now strong enough to undo some of Khrushchev’s appointments — or that Khrushchev himself is playing a very interesting hand.

The speech of Kirichenko at the 21st Party Congress on January 31 of this year may be read as having a direct bearing on this. Kirichenko is unequivocally a Khrushchev man. He was Khrushchev’s right hand in the Ukraine, and, Mikoyan apart, he remains his right hand in the Party to this day. His speech was one of the few Congress orations to make a genuine and constructive contribution. He did not crawl to Khrushchev, but he did take up and elaborate one ol the most interesting points made in Khrushchev’s own report: the problem of how to arrange swifter promotion for the new entry, how to get the most competent individuals into the key Party appointments, how to retire gracefully not only the old faithfuls but also those who had been proved incompetent:

At present life demands that there should be more specialists and experts in different branches of the economy among the leading Party, Soviet, business, and trade cadres.

It is desirable for a rural district, for example, to be managed by people who possess agricultural training or are good and experienced practical men and experts in their jobs and who also know how to organize, ft is important, for example, that the secretary of a Party committee in a town largely concerned with machine building should be a specialist in that branch or an experienced practical engineer who knows his job backwards. It is necessary for a scientific establishment to be directed by a man in full command of the branch of science in question, and so on.

We have many outstanding, politically mature, and experienced men on the spot — teachers, doctors, and specialists of other branches of knowledge — who can and must he advanced to leading posts. Thus what wc have to do is to open the doors wide for the nomination to leading Party, state, and business appointments ol individuals possessing higher education, practical men who have deep experience of life and have authorm among workers.

Kirichenko also went for to stress the necessity for developing and promoting local talent in the provinces, instead of regularly sending Moscow men out to the key jobs.

Now one of the interesting things about this line of thought is that, to all appearances, it represents a reversion to Malenkov’s ideas. Malenkov was the man who staked his future on the growing power of the technocrats and the managers — and lost. Malenkov sought to strengthen the state organs and the industrial bureaucracy in face of the Party apparatus — and failed. Khrushchev used the Party apparatus to break him.

FROM the very beginning of Khrushchev’s visible rise —from 1953, that is—I have consistently dissented from the idea, propagated by Khrushchev himself and accepted by almost all Western commentators on the Soviet Union — that Khrushchev was interested in the Party as such. In spite of all the talk, first about Leninist dynamism, then about revisionism, it has seemed to me that the whole man, in his nature and in his special talents, is at odds with the Party approach, both doctrinally (except insofar as he shares the Leninist view of history and the global development of Communism) and practically.

Having watched this man closely for very many years, I find it impossible to think of him as anything but an experimentalist and an empiricist, using all means that might come to hand. He might have risen to power on the backs of the managers, of the army, of the police; but in fact the most convenient vehicle was the one closest to hand: the apparatus of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which penetrated everywhere, held so many strings, and inside which he had already risen to a dominant position. The Communist Party, however, was discredited; to make it serviceable in the struggle with Malenkov, it had to be rehabilitated. And this was the task which Khrushchev set about even before Stalin was dead. But to fit it for the future it had to be transformed. And this, I believe, is what Khrushchev is doing now.

Only in this sense can his technique be compared with Stalin’s. Stalin also seized hold of the Party apparatus and made it the vehicle of his own advancement. Having mastered it, he proceeded to transform it. What Stalin did, by violence and terror, was to transform a Party of idealists into a Party of yes men. What Khrushchev is doing, or so it seems to me, is to transform a Party of yes men into a Party of practical leaders; and he is doing it with the minimum of violence.

I may be wrong about this, but I don’t think I am: there are so many signs. Having at first exalted the role of the Party, Khrushchev is now (as is Kirichenko, his right hand) placing more

and more emphasis on the organs of state; recently he has been shuffling state and Party offices in a most interesting way. More than this, he is talking increasingly about the substitution of official state organizations by what can only be called layman’s organizations; for example, he seems to be intent on supplementing the official police with a layman’s militia. He is also tolerating, if not encouraging. spontaneous associations among the young for artistic and charitable purposes.

Furthermore, he is commonly supposed in his great and bold reorganization of industry in the summer of 1957 to have antagonized, to have mortally hurt, the great industrial bureaucrats, whose ministries he abolished and whose individual members he scattered throughout the length and breadth of the Union, while exhorting the provincial Party secretaries to take a more active part in the running of local industries through the Economic Councils. But did he in fact permanently antagonize anybody who was any good (apart from Malenkov’s particular supporters)? I doubt it.

When the reorganization was in full swing, two years ago, I suggested three things: (a) that a great number of the most able industrial bureaucrats would in fact never leave Moscow, but would find for themselves key jobs in Gosplan or as liaison officers between the Sovnarkozy and the center; (b) that the reorganization was going to give a wonderful opportunity for frustrated managers in the provinces to prove themselves; and (c) that the provincial Party secretaries, told to engage themselves more actively in industry, would inevitably find themselves drawn into the world of the managers and that those who were good would soon find themselves adopting the viewpoint of the local industrialists toward the center — and thus grow away from Party abstractions and into practical affairs.

It seems to me that these suggestions were not baseless. Certainly on my last visit I found Moscow to be full of able men from the ministries who had found themselves other jobs — called by different names, but very like their old ones — and who were happy in their work. Certainly the more able managers in the provinces have had new opportunities and made the most of them: in no time at all they were saying that they did not need the throwouts from the Moscow ministries, being perfectly capable of managing for themselves (Kirichenko now officially supports them). And now, with Khrushchev’s gentle purge, it looks as though the Party career men are being quietly and slowly weeded out to make way for the practical leaders — who, of course, also belong by courtesy to the Party.