The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
HAS the struggle for top place within the Soviet hierarchy come to a more or less orderly conclusion with the dramatic resignation, on February 8, of Premier Georgi Malenkov and his replacement, on nomination of Nikita Khrushchev, by Marshal Nikolai Bulganin? Is the Soviet Government scrapping its post-Stalin program, advertised with much fanfare, for relieving the harsh lot of the great bulk of its citizens? Has it come to the conclusion that it must go all-out in preparation for an early showdown with the growing strength of the free West? Has a "soft" line, both at home and abroad, widely attributed to Malenkov, succumbed to a "hard" line, promoted by Khrushchev and the military?
The startling events of February 8 provided only a small dose of hard facts and can be interpreted varyingly to support a rather wide range of projections and speculations. One firm fact is that Malenkov has been demoted from the position of Chairman of the Council of Ministers and assigned to the Ministry of Electric Power, an important but not decisive post. Its importance, incidentally, has been greatly diminished by the creation, by decree of November 22, 1954, of a separate Ministry of Electric Station Construction. However, if the Ministry of Electric Power is responsible for the atomic power industry, Malenkov will continue to occupy a key position in Soviet military programs, as well as remaining, so far, as Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
A more important question is whether Malenkov will remain a member of the Presidium of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the real center of power and decision. Meetings of this all-powerful body are rarely mentioned in print, and in the past members have been appointed and dismissed without any immediate announcement being made. Even the composition of the highest Party organ can remain concealed from public view for many months. For example, from the Nineteenth Party Congress, in October 1952, until after Stalin's death, in March 1953, real authority within the enlarged Party Presidium was actually exercised by a small "Bureau" of the Presidium. Even the existence of this "Bureau" was made known only after Stalin's death and after the Bureau had again been transformed into a small Presidium, patterned after the former Politburo! Under the rule of a conspiratorial dictatorship it is entirely possible for Malenkov to be dropped from the Party Presidium, or to be excluded from its meetings, without any indication reaching either the Soviet public or the outside world for many months.
The detailed work of the Party Presidium appears to be carried on by a network of active committees dealing with foreign affairs, the international Communist movement, defense, industry, agriculture, ideology and perhaps other topics. Some scanty and not very firm information about the interlocking memberships of these operating committees has occasionally become known retrospectively, but nothing can be said currently about their composition and assignments. Within the Presidium, Malenkov's rôle would be strongly affected by any changes in his position in the committee structure, but nothing is likely to be known of this except after the fact.
On balance, the evidence currently available points to a probable early elimination of Malenkov from the seat of power. The terms of his letter of resignation, read to an astonished Supreme Soviet on February 8, are without recent precedent in Soviet practice. "I see clearly," he wrote, "that the carrying out of the complicated and responsible duties of Chairman of the Council of Ministers is affected negatively by my insufficient experience in local [administrative] work and also by the fact that I have not had occasion, in a ministry or an economic organ, to exercise direct administration of individual branches of the national economy."
This admission of inadequacy deliberately writes off Malenkov's long experience in the work of central administration and decision-making. From March 1939 he served as a Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party, and as a member of its Organizational Bureau, which, until October 1952, exercised detailed authority over the entire range of executive appointments in the Party, in the governmental, military and economic structure and, though perhaps not at all times, in the secret police. During the Second World War, Malenkov was a member of the extremely powerful State Committee on Defense. From February 1941 an alternate member of the Politburo, he became a full-fledged member of it in March 1946, and he became Chairman of the Council of Ministers on March 7, 1953. The terms of Malenkov's self-excoriation hardly hold water, for the central bodies in which he has held high posts for almost 15 years make a tremendous number of detailed decisions and exercise a constant supervision over a vast range of "local" and "economic" activities. Sooner or later, no part of the Soviet system escapes their direct attention. The listing of Malenkov's Party and official posts, furthermore, leaves out of account his extensive experience, during the 1930's, as an increasingly powerful and experienced member of Stalin's own secretariat.
The wording of Malenkov's resignation resembles the "negotiated" self-flagellations and abject recantations by which Stalin gradually wore down and discredited those Old Bolsheviks whose early claims to authority were no less weighty than his own. How often did Rykov and Bukharin, Piatakov and Sokolnikov, and many others, confess their "mistakes," in agreed formulas, only to drift lower and lower in the hierarchy of power! In the Stalinist practice, in which both Malenkov and Khrushchev are past masters, the step from admitting "inadequacy" to confessing "sabotage" and "treason" is a short one.
If Malenkov thought to survive and save part of his influence by his letter of resignation, he accepted, in any case, extremely unfavorable terms of partial surrender. He has left the way open to make him the scapegoat for the poor showing of Soviet agriculture. ". . . I see especially clearly my guilt and responsibility for the unsatisfactory state of affairs that has developed in agriculture, since for several years prior to that I had been entrusted with the duty of supervising and directing the work of the central agricultural organs and the work of the local Party and Soviet organs in the sphere of agriculture." Will the world be told, within a few months, that this "guilt and responsibility" were inspired by Malenkov's rôle of a "restorer of capitalism" and a "hireling of the imperialist intelligence services?" The answer to this rests in the personal relations within the top Soviet leadership, the most secretive group of rulers in the world.
If Malenkov's resignation is, as it may be, but the first step toward discrediting and eliminating him completely, why was this not carried through at once? While an abrupt downfall might satisfy the human yearning for drama, a sudden shock would have many negative effects for the Soviet system of control, for it would raise havoc with higher personnel in all branches of the Soviet administration. Since 1939, Malenkov has had a leading part in appointing and promoting leading officials, and his complete removal would leave them exposed to the threat of a sweeping and highly disruptive purge. By receiving a clear indication of Malenkov's decline, the men whom he has appointed or favored are given time to shift their allegiance, to realign their loyalties with the new "boss," and thus to avoid "panic" and "wavering." Indeed, if the leadership turns the wheel toward the complete elimination of Malenkov, his former friends can be expected to supply the necessary incriminating evidence, thereby proving that they put "Party unity" above "personal relations."
A further step toward "amalgamating" his present rivals for power with the "traitors" of an earlier period of struggle may have been foreshadowed by Khrushchev's speech of January 25 (published on February 3). Arguing that the forced development of heavy industry must continue in order to provide the basis for building up both agriculture and consumer goods' production, Khrushchev attacked in strong terms the contrary argument that ". . . at some stage or other of Socialist construction the development of heavy industry, supposedly, ceases to be the main task, and light industry can and must overtake all other branches of industry. . . . This is a belching of the Right deviation, a belching of views which are hostile to Leninism and which, in their time, were preached by Rykov, Bukharin and their ilk." True, this revived "Right deviation" was attributed in Khrushchev's speech to obscure "would-be economists," not directly to his rivals for power. But, obviously, the question of the continued hegemony of heavy industry would not have been agitated so strenuously during the past few weeks unless it has been occupying the attention of the decision-makers at the top.
Khrushchev's speech of January 25 was preceded by a detailed attack on the proponents of a balanced development of both heavy and light industry. An article of January 24, on "The Party General Line and the Vulgarizers of Marxism," signed by D. Shepilov, Editor-in-Chief of Pravda, condemned the new "Right-wing" theory that "the policy, pursued by the Party, of forced development of the branches of heavy industry has allegedly entered into conflict with the basic economic law of Socialism, since the forced development of the branches of heavy industry retards public consumption."[i] Much has been made of the obscure status of the economists whom Shepilov attacked by name. This argument cannot be pressed very far. Persons named by Shepilov as "candidates for the Ph.D. in economics" may, in Soviet practice, actually be fairly influential experts and advisers in various planning and other economic bodies.
Is the struggle over heavy versus light industry also reflected in the dismissal of Anastas Mikoyan as Minister of Trade (by decree of January 22, published on January 25)? This is one of the four ministries most closely concerned with the flow of consumer goods. However, the probability of a drastic change may be lessened by the fact that Mikoyan's successor, Dimitri Pavlov, had been First Deputy Minister under Mikoyan. It is possible that Mikoyan has now joined a number of other "Deputy Chairmen without portfolio," including Kaganovich, Pervukhin, Tevosyan and Kosygin. If so, this emerging pattern would resemble in part the administrative structure which was applied during Stalin's last years.
As the operative ministries, mainly economic, grew in number to over 50, they were grouped under the supervision of Stalin's close subordinates, who served simultaneously as members of the Politburo and as Deputy Chairmen of the Council of Ministers. Immediately after Stalin's death the ministries were consolidated into one-half the previous number, and the senior Party people again took over direct responsibility for them. During the past year many ministries have again been subdivided, and coordination among their competing claims appears again to be vested in Deputy Chairmen of the Council of Ministers who are also members of the Party Presidium. Whether Mikoyan, who has served since the 1920's as an economic administrator and who has gained a high reputation for efficiency, has fallen prey to an inner dispute over basic economic policy, or whether he has been relieved of detailed administrative responsibility and given broader responsibility for policy-making, cannot be determined from the evidence now available.
Has there been a real fight at the top between the supporters of heavy industry and those who, allegedly, favor putting "butter" before "guns?" An examination of the public statements of Malenkov, Khrushchev and Mikoyan since Stalin's death shows that all Soviet spokesmen have continuously stressed the basic rôle of an expanding heavy industry, as the necessary foundation for the strengthening of both light industry and agriculture.
Has the decline of Malenkov been followed by a real change in emphasis between heavy industry and light industry? What evidence is now available gives some slender support to this interpretation. Among the few indices available are the relative rates of investment in heavy and light industry. For 1954, the planned investment in heavy industry from the state budget was just over 90 billion rubles; for 1955 it is 101 billions. Light industry, including food and local industry, received 7.6 billion rubles in 1953, and an estimated 14 billions in 1954, and is to receive 10.6 from the budget in 1955. However, light industry is expected to receive an additional 15.4 billions available from its profits for investment, making a planned total of 26 billions for both permanent and turnover capital. The figures given above are not exactly comparable, for the 1955 budget figures do not distinguish between permanent investment and turnover capital. The conclusion is, then, that in 1954 a modest extra effort to stimulate the development of light and food industry was carried out, and that a slightly smaller assignment of investment funds will be made in 1955. This is, however, a far cry from the widely held assumption of a sudden swing, in 1953, from heavy industry to light industry, and again, in February 1955, from light industry back to a stress on heavy industry. The fact is that the principal stress has been placed on the forced development of heavy and military industry and the major resources have been devoted to it. All that really happened in 1953 and 1954 is that a small marginal shift of resources was effected to strengthen light industry somewhat. Even in 1954, however, the rate of growth in heavy industry was far higher than that in light industry, as it has been ever since 1928.
What is more important is the new and urgent emphasis on raising agricultural production, and on the choice of programs to achieve that. Since September 1953 the new leadership has had two main programs, with conflicting claims on resources, in this field. One has called for raising production in the long-settled farming regions. To achieve this the government has simplified and reduced taxes on the personal household plots and the livestock of the collectivized peasants, has cut back deliveries by the collective farms, at low fixed prices, has promised improvements in farming techniques, equipment, seeds and supply of fertilizer, and has strengthened its apparatus of control over the peasantry. Most of these measures are aimed at providing stronger incentives for better production. But increasing the return to the peasants for their work creates an increased demand for most types of consumer goods.
The economic report claims that in 1954 the real income of the Soviet population, in comparable prices, increased by 11 percent over 1953, and that the turnover of goods increased by 18 percent, in comparable prices. Even if these figures must be discounted substantially, it is clear that, if the government expects to provide further incentives in the form of improved standards of living, it would have to step up the development of consumer goods even more than it has done in 1954.
While the Kremlin has been increasing slightly the size and attractiveness of the carrot held out to the hard-pressed collective farmers, it has also been increasing the size and weight of the stick. During 1953 and 1954 the number of "labor-days" required of the collective farmers was substantially increased. If the individual member fails to meet the "norm" set for his labor on the collective, the taxes on his privately owned market-garden and livestock are doubled, in effect confiscating the product of his private labor. In addition, the Party's decree of January 31, 1955, on raising the output of animal husbandry, places in the hands of the state-owned machine-tractor-stations close control over the work and deliveries of the collective farms.
The other half of the new program in agriculture is more spectacular, and more risky. The new leadership has embarked on a plan for plowing up from 67 to 72 million acres of virgin and long-fallow lands. In 1954 tens of thousands of tractors and several hundred thousand young workers were assigned to this program. In his report of January 25, Khrushchev claimed that the additional grain reaped in the new areas even in 1954 made up for the losses from drought in the Ukraine, North Caucasus and Volga regions. Significantly, no total figures for grain have been published for 1953 or 1954, and the assumption must stand that the crop for each of the last two years was at least no better than that of 1952.
Khrushchev's speech also contained the first admission that the Kremlin's concern for a larger grain supply is due, in part, to the growth of the population, estimated at 3 millions per year. Previously, Soviet leaders have boasted of the high Soviet rate of natural increase as a factor of strength, rather than of worry.
The "virgin lands" program is designed to increase the cultivated area by one-fourth and to increase the marketed grain supply by one-third. The Kremlin is making a big investment in this gamble. Total agricultural investment from the state budget amounted to 12 billion rubles in 1953 and 21 billions in 1954, and is to jump to 55 billions in 1955. This budget allocation can be compared with 101 billions for heavy industry and 10.6 billions for light, food and local industry. The major part of the investment in agriculture is being directed to the virgin-soil program.
Clearly, the new leadership has decided that it can make greater short-run gains by putting these large resources into the virgin-soil scheme rather than by concentrating the same effort and sacrifices on raising production in the older cultivated areas. If the newly plowed marginal lands of Southern Siberia, Kazakhstan and Altai receive adequate rainfall, and receive it at the right time of the year, the gamble may pay off handsomely. If the rainfall cycle swings against it, as it now has against dryland farming in many parts of Texas, Colorado, Kansas and other states, no amount of whipped up enthusiasm or mechanization of work will see the program through to success.[ii]
Increased farm production has become a vital issue for the Soviet leadership, and its plans to raise incentives for better work will stand and fall with it. Food represents about 70 percent of the average urban budget in the Soviet Union, and other farm products--cotton, wool, leather, linen, tobacco--supply the necessary raw materials for the most needed consumer goods. It is partly because of the failure to increase the supply of cotton and leather more rapidly that cotton cloth and footwear have shown increases of only between 3 and 6 percent in 1953 and 1954.
The rapid development, by the growing season of 1956, of a new grain area of 67,000,000 to 72,000,000 acres is now coupled with a new program, announced on February 2, for raising the output of livestock and animal products. As new lands are sowed to wheat, older lands, especially in the Ukraine, are to be turned over to raising corn and livestock. The acreage of corn, amounting to 8.3 million acres in 1953, is to be raised by 1960 to 67,000,000 acres, and the supply of meat products of all kinds, as well as milk and eggs, is to be doubled by 1960. Speaking enviously of the great advances made by American animal husbandry over the past 25 years, Khrushchev has called for the wholesale adoption of American techniques, including the use of hybrid corn, the extensive building of silos, and the ensilage of milk-corn. Khrushchev paid no attention to one of the most important aspects of the American revolution in animal husbandry--the specialization of each region in particular stages of breeding, raising and fattening cattle.
It is probable that the real conflict within Soviet policy-making has hinged on the choice between these two main programs of raising agricultural production. The victorious side must have argued that only the virgin-soil program for wheat would provide the necessary margin of food and allow a more intensive development of animal husbandry. The defeated side may have maintained that the "new lands" scheme was a gamble and that much more could be achieved by investing the same resources in the improvement of labor incentives by increasing the flow of consumer goods.
The clash has been over means, not ends. Is it more profitable to provide some slight relief for the Soviet consumer, some slight improvement in labor incentives? The primacy of heavy and military industry has never been questioned. The immediate issues, involving the use of marginal resources amounting to 2 or 3 percent of the Soviet budget, have become entangled in the personal struggle for control of the Soviet power-machine.
Has the Khrushchev-Malenkov rivalry involved basic issues of Soviet foreign policy, or, again, are only questions of tactics involved? In many parts of the world the post-Stalin actions of the Soviet Government inspired a belief, born of wishful thinking, that a new and moderate era of "coexistence" had begun. The abandonment of territorial claims which, if fulfilled, would destroy Turkey, the release of a few Russian wives of American citizens, the admission of a few foreign tourists--these unaccustomed gestures were blown up out of all proportion as harbingers of a coöperative, even friendly, approach to the non-Soviet world. During these two years, however, the Soviet government has not given up a single "position of strength." It has continued to denounce each defensive effort of the non-Soviet world as "preparation for aggression." It has fought hard and cleverly to delay the strengthening of Western Europe and the rearmament of Western Germany. Its position on the liberation of Austria has hardened. Molotov now declares openly that his government will agree to a treaty for Austria only if it first secures major concessions in Germany. By "persuading" the Chinese Communists to be satisfied at first with acquiring control over the northern half of Vietnam through negotiation, it has posed as a defender of peace.
In the two years since Stalin's death there has not been the slightest evidence of any substantial change in the objectives and methods of Soviet foreign policy. The recent cautious "normalization" of Soviet-Jugoslav relations, like other minor gestures, represents the removal of an irritating issue which, continually harped upon, brought only disadvantages to Soviet policy and prestige. The most significant recent change in Soviet tactics is the grudging recognition of India's rôle as the principal "uncommitted" power in Asia, after several years of denouncing the Nehru government as a "tool of the imperialists."
In his speech of February 8, Molotov boasted that one-half the population of Europe and Asia is now within the Soviet-led camp of "Socialism" and "people's democracy" and predicted that it is only a matter of time before the Americas, so far recalcitrant to the Soviet example, would begin to move in the same direction. He went on to speak flatteringly of India's rôle. "The fact that there is no longer a colonial India, but the Republic of India, has great historical significance. . . . The international authority of India as a new and important factor in the cause of strengthening peace and friendship among nations is growing more and more." Pravda, of February 5, published excerpts from a speech by Mr. Menon, Indian Ambassador to Moscow: "The Soviet Government, striving for peace, is fully conscious of its strength. . . . The government and people of the Soviet Union . . . value highly India's independent foreign policy and its rôle in the cause of preserving peace. Russia . . . understands that it is very essential to its own interests to assure a prolonged period of peace."
The absence of any real change in Soviet policy has been emphasized by the extensive and unusually frank interviews which Khrushchev, Molotov and Zhukov gave to prominent American journalists before and after Malenkov's dismissal. Totalling many columns of Pravda's limited space, these statements were longer and more detailed than the total interviews given by Stalin during his entire period of rule. Attacking the Marshall Plan, NATO, German rearmament, American bases abroad, SEATO, and the United States' defense of south Korea, Japan and Formosa, Khrushchev reaffirmed the Kremlin's view that any building of strength and unity in any part of the free world is equated to "preparation for unleashing a new war." He made clear the Soviet preference for making gains through "cold war" while avoiding the risks of a "hot war." "It is good that the war in Korea has been ended, that the fire has been put out there, and the Soviet Union would not want it to break out again anywhere."
Khrushchev was equally frank in reaffirming the Kremlin's long-range ambitions. Arguing that "capitalists" believe in the ultimate triumph of capitalism and that Communists believe in the ultimate triumph of "Communism," Khrushchev went on to urge the "capitalists" to abandon all thought of building "positions of force" (the Soviet translation renders "positions of strength" as "positions of force" and propagates this version through all available channels) and to open up "advantageous trade" with the Soviet bloc. "The future," he declared flatly, "is for the Communist system."
Pressed to explain how long "coexistence" would continue, Khrushchev replied with the traditional Bolshevist double-talk to the effect that this "depends on historical conditions, historical development." For Khrushchev, as for Malenkov, "coexistence" is a temporary tactic, an episode within an all-embracing, inescapable struggle between hostile and irreconcilable systems of power. Quarrels within the secretive circle of the Soviet dictatorship are concerned with persons and with tactics: at home, a little more butter or a few more guns, a slight relaxing or tightening of the girths on their hard-pressed people; abroad, a few forced smiles or a slightly fiercer brandishing of Soviet armed might.
[i] Cited from Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. VI, no. 52, p. 4, February 9, 1955.
[ii] Chauncy D. Harris, "Growing Food by Decree in Soviet Russia," Foreign Affairs, January 1955, p. 268-281.