Courtesy Reuters

Generalissimo Stalin and the Art of Government

WE are living in an age when the social sciences claim to be able to predict more and more accurately the behavior of groups and individuals, rulers and ruled. It is strange, then, to find that one of the political processes which still causes the greatest perplexity is to be found not in some unexplored realm of nature, nor in the obscure depths of the individual soul intractable to psychological analysis, but in a sphere apparently dominated by iron laws of reason, from which, supposedly, the influence of random factors, human whims, unpredictable waves of emotion, spontaneity, irresponsibility, anything tending to loosen the rigorously logical nexus, has been remorselessly eliminated. The process to which I refer is the "general line" of the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Its abrupt and violent changes of direction puzzle not merely the outside world, but Soviet citizens; and not merely Soviet citizens, but members of the Communist Party itself at home and abroad--to whom, as often as not, it occasions disconcerting, violent and even fatal surprise.

Inability to predict the curious movements of the line is a crucial failure in a Communist. At best it upsets all his personal calculations; at worst, it brings total ruin upon him. Thus the history of Communist Parties outside Russia--and notably of the German Party--provides many instances where sudden switches of the Moscow "line" have involved these Parties in major disasters. The spate of books by such well informed ex-Communists as Barmine, Ciliga, Rossi and Ruth Fischer, as well as the romans à clef by gifted authors who have turned against the Soviet régime like Arthur Koestler, Humphrey Slater and Victor Serge, deal vividly with this phenomenon. Both in the ideological realm, and in the concrete economic and political aspects of Communist foreign policy, much of this uncertainty can doubtless be put down to the predominance of Russia's national interest over the interests of world Communism in general or of the local Parties in particular.

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