Full Citation

  • Title Fission in Moscow
  • Publication Title The Economist
  • Collection The Economist
  • Date Saturday,  Nov. 4, 1961
  • Volume 201
  • Issue Number 6167
  • Page Number 411
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Editorial
  • Publication Section Opinion and Editorial
  • Source Library The Economist Newspaper Limited
  • Copyright Statement © The Economist Newspaper Limited.
Fission in Moscow IN NOVAYA ZEMLYA. the biggest-ever hydrogen bomb was exploded t by Russia on Monday in cold disregard of the appeal of 87 governments through the United Nations. In Berlin. the chain reaction set off by the building of the communist wall in August reached a critical-looking stage on October 27th. when Soviet and American tanks confronted each other through the night- but it did not reach flashpoint. It is from Moscow that the biggest shock waves of all have gone out to rattle the political seismographs. The blast of the Communist party congress there blew Stalin's corpse out of the granite mausoleum beneath the Kremlin wall. flung Chou En-lai back to Peking. and left the whole socialist camp quivering. Is it all according to plan- One of the difficulties for a westerner. peering at the -other side of the hill -to try to make out what is really going on. is to distinguish what was intended to happen from what was not. He has to peer through the murk of a system designed to obscure everything that has not been officially approved for revelation. He has to discount the buoyant dexterity of a Soviet leader who can never afford to admit defeat or error. and who is uncommonly good at representing either as a triumph. No doubt Mr Khrushchev's renewed lifting of his Berlin deadline was as deliberate as his denunciation of his Albanian comrades or his new squeeze play in Finland. But under what pressures did he feel impelled to explode his monstrous bombs in the face of worldwide remonstrances. and to pursue his demolition of Stalin. regardless of the impact on China and other parts of the communist world- And did the explosions in both cases exceed his precise-. intentions- The present Soviet leader is a bolder gambler than Stalin was. But did he consciously arrange his congress so that the attention of his own people. as well as of the outside world. was diverted from his gleaming vision of 1981 to the chilling reality of pre-1953 tyranny- The launching of the programme for achieving full communism within a generation has been synchronised both with a trial of nerve with the West. and with a public split in the world communist movement. Was this timing deliberate- Even after Chou En-lai's demonstrative departure. Mr Khrushchev assured the congress that -the socialist camp has again shown the monolithic unity of its ranks.o An eyebrow or two must have twitched even among his well-drilled audience. According to Moscow's versions of the speeches. his charges against Albania were dutifully repeated by most of the European and Latin American delegates and by those from Mongolia. Ceylon. Iraq. Persia. Syria and the United States. in disregard of the Chinese protest against any such airing of quarrels. But 25 foreign representatives-including those from North Korea and North Vietnam. from India. Indonesia. Japan. Malaya. Burma. and North Africa. and from Britain. Australia. Canada. and Scandinavia-failed to pronounce the required anathema. (The delegates from the friendly. but not quite fraternal. ruling parties of Ghana. Guinea and Mali were also silent on the point- but this scarcely indicated their alignment. as neither of the disputing big brothers is exactly a blood relation of theirs.) The absent Albanians themselves have now got to the point of accusing -Khrushchev and his faction -of preparing a Putsch against them. The Chinese have followed up Mr Chou's public rebuke to Russia in the congress hall by devoting whole pages of their press to praise of Albania. while almost suppressing the Moscow speeches. If Mr Khrushchev had planned it all the way it came out. he did not give his comrades fair warning. In the darkness of Monday night a clean sweep had to be made of the wreaths honouring Stalin. the great Marxist-Leninist.o that had been freshly placed in and around the mausoleum not only by Mr Chou but also by many other foreign delegates to the congress. In his opening addresses. the present Soviet leader had referred to his predecessor's offences with judicious restraint. But when he wound up the main debate on October 27th. he joined full-throatedly in the swelling chorus of damning accounts of mass murder and torture Shelepin did not tell you anything like all that has now been revealed. Thousands of absolutely innocent people perished.... Here among the delegates are comrades who were many years in prison. They were -persuaded -by certain methods-that they were German or British spies. and some confessed. Even when told that charges of spying against them were being dropped. they themselves thought it better to stand by their false evidence. so that the torture might end sooner. and death come sooner. That is the meaning of the personality cult- His famous -secret speech -in 1956. which reached the Soviet public only through the party's discreet filters. had contained only a short list of guilty men. Now the congress speeches. as reported in the Moscow press. name virtually the whole of Russia's past leadership (except for the new leader himself. and a few secondary figures who have climbed to sanctuary on his careering bandwaggon) as either executioners or victims during what Mr Khrushchev now calls -the times. hard for our party and our country. when nobody was safe.o And there are hints of further revelations still to come. Bold as always. the Soviet leader took the calculated risk of letting his congress whip itself up into wrath over crimes in which he himself played no small part. With his char- acteristic skill. he contrived to show as much indignation as anybody. yet applied a well-timed brake in his winding up speech by recalling Lenin's clemency to traitors to the party.o Today's fallen idols ought. indeed. to be able to count on more clemency than they deserve. To put them on trial might lead some of them to inculpate their conqueror- but drastic punishment without trial would be an embarrassing breach of the new regime's claim to have restored -revolu- tionary legality.o The whole bizarre affair has freshly exposed the profound schizophrenia of the system and society over which Mr Khrushchev now presides. He felt it necessary to begin with a lengthy defence of the decision to reveal facts that -might arouse bitterness and discontent in the party and people.o Even eight years after Stalin's death. his revelations remain very selective. and do not justify his claim that the party has honestly and frankly told the people the whole truth.o Still less convincing are the present claims that all risk of any reversion to tyranny has now been removed by constitutionzl reforms. and that collective leadership has been so far extended that. in Mr Brczhncv's words. -nowadays no important decision is taken without consulting the people.o (The resumption of nuclear explosions was summarily decided at the top and kept a secret from the Soviet people for seven weeks.) The alarm among the apparatchiki at each sign of movement in a democratic direction is still. as has often been pointed.-out. one of the factors that Mr Khrushchev must reckon with. But what the congress showed most ckaij was his awareness of the need to go along as far as he darii with the angry pressure from below for a clear break wij the absolutist past. Trimming his sails to the wind of change. he has mat his bid for popularity and outmanoeuvred the diehards loox007C -branding his defeated rivals as men who would have restore Stalinist tyranny if they had won power-a charge that wr. not brought against them either when he overthrew themi i 1957. or during the later campaigns of defamation. The fan that the charge is made now gives some indication of tl strong undertow in Russia. with which Mr Khrushchev k to go along even at the cost of a public dispute with tfc Chinese. a dispute in which the Chinese must enjoy suppu in quarters much nearer to the Kremlin than Albania. The Soviet undertow is in favour of an unadventuroi foreign policy as well as of liberalisation at home. The matv. ing Russian society is naturally attracted by Mr Khrushchev gospel of the inevitable victory of communism in peacefi competition. and correspondingly repelled by Peking's blel vision of desperate conflict. As a long-term trend. this offs nothing but encouragement to the democratic world. Bo what of the short term- It is not easy for western eyes i identify the man who insists on showering the globe n fallout. and who puts the squeeze now on Berlin. now a Finland. now on some other vulnerable area. as -the ta Soviet prime minister we have.o the essential figure in ih transformation of the communist world into something is neighbours may be able to live with more comfortably. What one can say is that the motives for Mr Khrushchev rocket-rattling are clearly mixed- the difficulty is tt assess the proportions in which they are mixed. Howem exaggerated the official Soviet caricature of Germany may k there lies behind it a real fear of German reunion and milmr revival. Moreover. this is one issue on which Mr Khruskfe can count on evoking genuine popular support both in Rusii and in eastern Europe. A Russian who insists that-there is no incompatibility between his leader's sometimes violent pressure for a settlement in Germany and the general doctrk of peaceful co-existence is not necessarily a blinkered morou. And Soviet impatience for a German settlement is obviouslj one of the major reasons for the breaking off of negotiation on disarmament and nuclear testing. for the testing of it megaton monsters. and for the new pressure on Finland. To what extent the hydrogen bomb blasts and other sto of toughness are directed towards Peking is a more speculativ question. But it is on public record that the Chinese govern- ment officially approves of a wider dissemination of nuclei arms. while Russia has gone along with most other nation in officially deploring such a trend. If the big Soviet bang have a message for Peking. it is not only -don't accuse u of showing weakness to the enemy-o - it is also -shed your illusions about emerging from a nuclear war in good shape-o - and. incidentally. remember we've got the things. and you haven't yet.o Finally. it must be remembered that Mr Khrushchev's expressed preference for victory without war rests on the massive foundation of the world's most heavily militarized state. Marshal Malinovsky's speech to the congress was s proud claim that -the might of the armed forces has grow immeasurably thanks to unceasing efforts made ever since the 1956 congress- and that. as the West was-o making mad plans for armed attack on the Soviet Union.o both rockets and conventional forces were -in constant combat readiness.o The defence minister insisted that. while any conflict involving -nuclear powers -will inevitably become a universal nuclear rocket war.o nevertheless -any future world war will be fought by mass armed forces in all their millions.o - The Soviet marshals insistence on having their old armies as well as their new arms is another factor Mr Khrushchev must allow for. He himself. in a revealing juxtaposition. coupled the usual claim that the communist world would soon outstrip the capitalist in peaceful production with the claim that it had already outstripped it in the military field. Such an order of priorities may appal an idealistic socialist- but the Soviet leader went on to argue that. precisely because Russia was militarily superior and the imperialists knew it. war could be avoided. The outside world may feel that he could walk a good deal more softly while carrying his big stick than he is doing at present. But at least the internal Soviet evolution that now seems to be carrying him along is of a kind that could. in time. enforce a whittling down of the stick that must otherwise remain a colossal burden on the shoulder of both leader and people.