WHEN his Father Confessor asked Narvaez on his deathbed, "General, have you forgiven your enemies?" the General answered: "I have no enemies. I had them shot." So Josef Stalin might have answered, too, had he believed in deathbed confession for himself, as he did for his victims. Yet one cannot have all one's enemies shot, for they grow by a chain reaction: each gap filled by tens and hundreds who knew, loved, believed in or identified themselves with the executed. This was doubtless one of the reasons for the six hours and ten minutes of silence of Stalin's heirs before they announced his death.

What debates and deals went on in those terrifying six hours we can only conjecture. But the announcement, when it came, was not so much a lamentation as an anxious call to collective leadership, orderly succession, monolithic unity, the avoidance of razbrod i panika, "confusion and panic."

The earliest post-Stalin issue of the Party's leading organ of theory, Kommunist (No. 4, March 9, 1953), declared that the Party's greatest strength lay in "collective work, collective leadership and monolithic unity." And on April 16, Pravda invoked some of Stalin's own words to denounce leaders who "decide important questions individually, without consulting members of the bureaus." Thus, even before his corpse was cold, the orphaned sons of the Father of the Peoples began to wrestle with his ghost. But laying a ghost is not so simple, especially when the exorcists are his accomplices, and his heirs.


A Party Congress is supposed to be the "supreme body" of the Communist Party. It picks the Executive, lays down the line, exacts responsibilities. But even in Lenin's day, the Congress had been drained of its sovereign powers.

Though Lenin always kept up some consultation with others ("collective leadership"), he was possessed of a selfless egoism which enabled him at all times to identify his own views with the correct line and the truth. In the years of exile abroad, he personally selected a little group of followers, usually two, to form a troika. With them he laid down the line, edited the central organ, directed the groups abroad and the underground inside Russia. Whenever these triumvirs disagreed with him, he excommunicated them, or if need be seceded himself, to set up a new troika. Wherever two or three were gathered together with Lenin, there was Bolshevism.

His devotion to centralism and his theory of an élite party both precluded any real devolution of power. A leadership of classless professional revolutionaries was to set up a guardianship over the working class, then take power in its name. Since anything done by his "vanguard" party in the name of the workers was, according to his theory, done by the workers themselves, it became all-important to him that no other party be permitted to call itself "proletarian." That explains the fury with which he branded every other Socialist party as "bourgeois" or "petitbourgeois," as he did such factions in his own party as the Workers Opposition, which challenged his line and methods in the name of the working class itself.

Lenin's centralism led him to appoint the organizers who went to the localities; these returned in due course as delegates to a Congress to confirm the Center which had appointed them. Where this would lead was foreseen as early as 1904 by the then 23-year old Leon Trotsky: "The Organization of the Party will take the place of the Party itself; the Central Committee will take the place of the Organization; and finally, the Dictator will take the place of the Central Committee."

And so it came to pass . . . though when he joined fortunes with Lenin in 1917, Trotsky became himself an arch centralist. It is instructive to remember the order: Party . . . Central Committee. . . . Organization . . . Dictator. Stalin, Malenkov and Khrushchev each in turn has had his hands on the ultimate power lever--the Organization, or, as we would say, the party machine.

Once in power, Lenin drained the Central Committee of political life by settling important matters in the Politburo, or the Orgburo, or impromptu gatherings of whichever leaders happened to be at hand when a problem arose. At the Tenth Congress in 1921, he outlawed the Workers Opposition and other critical groups, pushed through a statute forbidding factions and the raising of platforms even during Congress discussion and election periods, and had a secret decision adopted permitting the expulsion of Central Committee members elected by a Congress, without recourse to a subsequent Congress. Thereby the Congress was drained of real political life and became a rubber stamp. When the new "collective leadership" proclaims that Lenin's greatest service "to Marxism and to mankind" was "the creation of a Party of a new type" (Pravda, April 22, 1956) and when they launch the slogan, "Back to Leninist norms of Party leadership," these are the type of party and the norms they have in mind.[i]

From the Eleventh Congress on, with Lenin's active approval of the first two purges, every Party Congress was prepared by a prior purge of dissidents, a procedure assuring a majority for the line and leadership of the Center. After Lenin's death, Congresses became more and more infrequent. One was delayed until Trotsky had been beaten; another until Zinoviev and Kamenev had been crushed; yet another until Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky had had their strongholds taken from them.

Even after he had secured 100 percent unanimity, Stalin prepared each Congress with a purge. Thus the Seventeenth (1934) was a unanimous celebration of his victory, at which he handpicked a "Stalinist Central Committee." Yet as the Congress adjourned the great purge was getting under way in which the "servant of the Central Committee," aided by a handful of natural deaths, was to eliminate all but 20 out of 124 Central Committee members and candidates. After the Eighteenth Congress in 1939 he did not trouble to hold a Congress for 13 years. The Nineteenth, often announced and always postponed, was held only in 1952, shortly before his death.


At Stalin's death, the "collective leadership" was headed by a troika: Malenkov, Beria, Molotov. An operation build-up began at once for Malenkov as "Head of the Party and the Government."

But nine days after Stalin's death, Malenkov was removed from control of the Party machine "at his own request." And in February 1955 he confessed to errors ("my guilt and responsibility for the unsatisfactory state of affairs in agriculture") which could only have been committed by Khrushchev, and to "insufficient experience in local work . . . and in the direct guidance of individual branches of the national economy." At "his own request" he was relieved of the Premiership, too, and made Minister of Electric Power Stations. This ended the succession claims of triumvir No. 1.

On June 26, 1953, Lavrenti Beria was arrested. He was "tried" according to "Socialist legality:" without definite charges (at least four different official versions have been published); without being present or represented by attorney; before a Supreme Court which illegally included only one Supreme Court Justice, the other "judges" being two generals, two trade union officials, a Party official, a Deputy Minister of the Interior and the President of the Moscow City Court. Although he was not present it was reported that he "confessed." Within 24 hours of the "trial" he was shot, made a retroactive imperialist agent, and then an unperson. Subscribers to the Encyclopedia received a letter instructing them to remove his picture and accompanying text and paste in their place an article on the Bering Sea. Thus ended triumvir No. 2.

In September 1955, Molotov confessed that he didn't know Socialism when he saw it. On June 1, 1956, "at his own request," he was relieved of the post of Foreign Minister. The third of the triumvirs was through.

When Malenkov "requested" his removal as General Secretary, Khrushchev became de facto the boss of the Party machine. In due course he was named First Secretary, and began reorganizing the powerful Secretariat by adding men of his own choosing.

The proverb "Knowledge is power" having been reversed by totalitarianism to read "Power is knowledge," Khrushchev now began to exhibit mastery of every field. He told architects how to design a building; constructors how to use concrete and prefabricated units; managers how to apply technology; urban youth where to invest their energy and enthusiasm; farmers where corn must, should and would have to grow and why the range must be ploughed up; cotton growers why they should eat rice instead of potatoes; milkmaids how many times a day they should milk a cow; artists what are the proper proportions of sincerity and Party spirit in the arts. At the same time he became the authority on foreign affairs. With Bulganin, and often with Milkoyan or Shepilov, he went to Warsaw and Prague, China, Jugoslavia, Geneva, East Germany, India, Burma and Afghanistan in his pre-Congress build-up. He has since been to England and has broadly hinted at his readiness to visit the United States. Thus during all this time Molotov was Foreign Minister in name only.

The humiliation of the troika and the execution of Beria were but the first stage of the purges that prepared the Twentieth Congress. In July 1955 the Congress was announced and its date set for February 14, 1956, at which time it actually convened. A whirlwind of activity prepared its monolithic unanimity.

Simultaneously with the call, two new members were introduced into the Presidium: Suslov of the Central Committee Secretariat, and Kirichenko, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Ukraine. These were added not by the "sovereign" Congress, but six months before; both were known as Khrushchev men. At the same time, three new Secretaries were added to Khrushchev's Secretariat: Aristov, Belyayev and Shepilov, also Khrushchev men. Then or later, Shatalin, a Malenkov follower, disappeared from the roster of Secretaries.

That same July began changes in Party Secretaries and other high officials in all republics, provinces, regions and industrial centers. In a few cases, Khrushchev personally superintended the change; more often he sent Aristov, Chief of Cadres of the Central Committee Administrative Apparatus. These purges have been mere demotions and transfers, without the shedding of blood, except among Security Police officials and in Georgia, where a continuous blood purge has been going on from that day to this. All the changes can be summed up in the general formula: key officials 100 percent faithful to the "collective leadership" have been replaced by others more than 100 percent faithful--that is, by Khrushchev's men. They in turn have been changing their subordinates so that the changeover has been filtering down and is still continuing. As late as February 1, Kruglov, Minister of the Interior, was replaced by the Khrushchev follower, Dudorov. This process was climaxed at the Congress itself, where the Central Committee was "renovated" in similar fashion. Out of 255 members and alternates of the incoming Central Committee, 113, or more than 44 percent, are new. Of the 44 percent that disappeared in the process, Khrushchev had this to say:

Bolshevik criticism, without regard to persons . . . included a number of members of the Central Committee. A number . . . not having justified the high confidence placed in them by the Party were dropped from the Central Committee. Is it necessary to prove that the unity of the Party did not lose by that but only gained?

No one thought it was necessary.

The Congress left no doubt that the First Secretary was "more equal than the others." Opening Address, Khrushchev; Report (on everything), Khrushchev; Chairman of the Resolutions Committee, Khrushchev; Chairman of the newly created bureau for coördinating Party affairs in the Russian Republic, Khrushchev; Closing Address, Khrushchev; secret report on Stalin's ghost, Khrushchev. The other addresses, even Bulganin's, were but glosses on the report made by Khrushchev. It took Josef Stalin three or four Congresses of "collective leadership" before he got to that point of complete domination of a Congress.

There are reasons for this haste. Khrushchev is 62, while Stalin got his hand on the main power lever while he was more than 15 years younger. Moreover, the later it is repeated in history, the faster a process, once learned, can go. It took Stalin more than a decade of experimentation before he could engineer his first trial, confession and execution such as was worked on Beria within less than a year after Stalin's demise. Nor is Khrushchev surrounded by a galaxy of stars such as surrounded Stalin. Finally, the new First Secretary had no "theoretical work" to his credit, his seven-hour report to the Congress constituting his first claim to the rôle of interpreter and infallible repository of sacred doctrine.

One has only to compare Stalin's last Congress with Khrushchev's first to become aware of the latter's sense of urgency. At the Nineteenth Congress, the Opening Address was by Molotov; the Report of the Central Committee, Malenkov; on the Nationality Question, Beria; on the Fifth Five-Year Plan, Saburov; on Party Statutes, Mikoyan, Khrushchev and Bulganin; on Program, Kaganovich; on Political Education, Suslov; Closing Address, Voroshilov. Stalin signed the basic document, "Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R." Published on the eve of the Congress, it was glossed and celebrated by every speaker. Stalin spoke for ten minutes to the foreign delegations, laying down some general policy lines. The aging Vozhd, secure in his patriarchal dominion over the dwarfed and terrorized sons, could allow far more semblance of "collective leadership" than could the parvenu leader on his anxious way up.


So long as a Congress was supposed to lay down the line, both its function and the statutes made it an annual affair. As soon as it was reduced to a "monolith," it became a matter of convenience whether it was summoned or not. Stalin delayed his last Congress for 13 years; then the statutory term was made four years. But the post-Stalin leadership needed a Congress to confirm it in office and to serve as a sounding board. They did not wait out the four years but held the Twentieth Congress three and one-half years after the Nineteenth. As a "sounding board" it must be pronounced the most successful of Congresses.

Collective leadership. Though Khrushchev has emerged as factotum, and has openly played that rôle since the resignation of Malenkov, the slogan of "collective leadership" got all the headlines. Few seemed to remember that under the same slogan Lenin had run his personal dictatorship. Or that Stalin posed as plain wheelhorse of the "collective leadership" during four Congresses, from 1923, when illness put Lenin out of action, to 1929, when the "cult of personality" began. Or that the new "collective leadership" with Khrushchev at its head has already announced at least 30 executions from Beria to Bagirov, whereas Stalin did not kill the first of his close comrades until he had held de facto power for a decade and sole power as Vozhd for a half decade more. Stalin had made people so used to bloodshed that observers could not get over the fact that, though Beria be dead, Malenkov is still alive. Yet it was Stalin who entered the lists against bloodshed of comrades at the Fourteenth Congress:

The Party cannot be led without Rykov, without Kalinin, without Tomsky, without Molotov, without Bukharin. . . . We did not agree with Comrades Zinoviev and Kamenev [on the expulsion of Trotsky]. . . . The method of lopping off, the method of bloodletting . . . is dangerous and contagious. Today you lop off one limb; tomorrow another, the day after a third--and what is left of the Party?

In the end Stalin was to verify the truth of his prophecy: bloodletting was to assume such vast, capricious and paranoiac proportions that it is hard to believe that purges on such a scale will ever be repeated by his successors. Still that is no reason for forgetting Stalin's long "collective leadership" period; nor the speed with which the new leadership has "confessed" and executed Beria and 29 others; nor the obvious fact that it was not Molotov or Mikoyan but Beria who was the main target of Stalin's charge of "lack of police vigilance" in the "doctors' plot." The present hue and cry about Beria is intended to cover up the fact that in this respect Khrushchev and Company have carried out Stalin's behest in a truly "Stalinist manner."

The New Men. Looked at closely, the new men turn out not to be so new. The Presidium of 11 contains seven of Stalin's old nine-man Politburo (all that are left now that Stalin and Beria are dead); plus two, Pervukhin and Saburov, added by Stalin at the Nineteenth Congress; plus two from Khrushchev's Secretariat, Suslov and Kirichenko, added not by a Congress but six months before that "sovereign body" met. In short, the Presidium consists of Stalin's men plus Khrushchev's men.

The Candidate Members (alternates), however, with the exception of Shvernik, are new. Most important of these is Zhukov. His rise, like so many of the events publicized by the Congress, did not begin there but immediately on Stalin's death. The first reshuffle found him returned from semi-rustication to a key post in the Defense Ministry. His programmatic speeches on military policy and on World War II, his place in Pravda pictures and high functions, his pointed toast "To Justice" made in the presence of Ambassador Bohlen, all told the observer that he had become part of the top leadership, even before the Congress gave him the title of "first" Candidate Member. His rise would appear to be due to the lack of any other popular figure among Stalin's heirs; to the importance of the armed forces in international "diplomacy;" to the dependence of Khrushchev and Company on the army when they seized and executed Beria. Marshal Zhukov has been a Party member since 1920, but he is a professional field general in whose Party loyalty there is undoubtedly some room for an army esprit de corps. He is regarded as a prime mover in the drive to rewrite the history of the war in a way which will downgrade Stalin and give the field generals their due, and in the drive to rehabilitate the 5,000 officers who disappeared in the Tukhachevsky purge. When he spoke at the Congress, he was one of the few prominent leaders who did not praise reporter Khrushchev or his report by name. The texture of his speech made it clear that one of his functions is to cover with the mantle of his popularity the new demands which the return to the Stalinist line of "priority of heavy industry" will make upon the people. Indeed, he gave a good working definition of that slogan when he declared: "The great achievements of heavy industry have made possible the rearming of our army, navy and air force with first-class military equipment."

In a régime based on absolute force, the army has become more important with the downgrading of the police. It is impossible to tell how many in the leading bodies are really Chekists (like Bulganin, for instance, who has been in the Cheka since 1918 and is an army Marshal only by virtue of being Chief of the Party's Special Section for watching and controlling the army); but the open practitioners of the profession have suffered diminution. Three who were in the Central Committee were shot with Beria; three failed of reëlection; and only three are on the new Committee. These include Dudorov, not a professional policeman but Khrushchev's appointee as Minister of the Interior; Lunev, Deputy Minister and one of Beria's "judges;" and Serov, Chairman of the Committee of State Security. For the first time in Party history there is no representative of the Security Forces on the Presidium. But Serov's name should reassure those who fear lack of "vigilance," for he acquired international renown when he took over the Baltic Republics and prepared lists of suspects, not by deeds, but--totalitarian fashion--by categories. His eleven suspect categories included Esperantists and philatelists. The man is thorough.

Khrushchev made sure that the need for strong security and "vigilance" would be understood. In his report to the Congress he set down the limits to the "rehabilitation" of corpses:

Our Party is more monolithic than ever . . . [its] unity has been built up over years and decades of struggle . . . with Trotskyites, Bukharinites, bourgeois nationalists, and others of the worst enemies of the people, champions of the restoration of capitalism. . . .

Great attention has been and is being given by the Central Committee to the strengthening of socialist legality. . . . It is necessary to say that in connection with the revision and cancellation of a number of verdicts some comrades have begun to exhibit a certain lack of confidence towards the workers in the organs of State Security. This is wrong and harmful. . . . Our Chekists in their overwhelming majority are honest workers devoted to our cause, and we have confidence in these cadres. . . .

Capitalist encirclement has sent in among us not a few spies and wreckers. It would be naïve to suppose that now the enemies will cease their efforts. . . . Therefore, we must in every way strengthen revolutionary vigilance . . . and the organs of State Security.

There is evidence of friction between the career generals and the political administration of the army, whose top figure is Bulganin. Brezhnev, added to the Presidium Candidates as a Khrushchev man (his last job was as Party overseer for ploughing up the range in Kazakhstan) is also a political general, and thus a counterweight to Zhukov. But there has been a clean sweep of political army officials from the Central Committee. This, too, suggests that, with the execution of Beria, Khrushchev and Bulganin became more dependent upon the army.

If Zhukov is no Khrushchev man, all the other new Presidium Candidates are: Brezhnev (already identified); Furtseva, who accompanied Khrushchev to Peking and comes from his Moscow apparatus; Mukhitdinov, whom he designated as First Secretary in Uzbekistan for the drives to plough up the range and increase the cotton yield; Shepilov, from the Central Committee Agitprop, a Secretary under Khrushchev since last July and now Foreign Minister.

For the first time there is no Georgian on the leading bodies. Historically, Georgia has furnished leaders to both wings of Russian Socialism: Jordania, Tseretelli, Chkheidze, to Menshevism; Stalin, Yenukidze, Ordjonikidze, Beria, to Bolshevism. The new boss of Georgia, Mzhavanadze, is a Chekist who served under Khrushchev in the Ukraine, a second-string figure. This downgrading of the proud Georgians was at the bottom of the recent Tiflis disorders. On the other hand, many Ukrainians from Khrushchev's old machine have been advanced to higher posts in Secretariat, Presidium, Central Committee and Army.

One aspect of the "new" leadership that has been little discussed is its age. Khrushchev is 62. His associates, except Malenkov, Pervukhin and Saburov, are in their sixties or seventies. The Party, too, thanks to a restriction on new admissions, has been permitted to grow older. Its growth between the Nineteenth and Twentieth Congresses has barely kept pace with the growth of the general population. And the Congresses have "aged" faster than the Party. At the Eighteenth Congress, 1.8 percent of the delegates were over 50; at the Nineteenth, 15.3 percent; and at the Twentieth, 24 percent were over 50 years of age.[ii] Though Stalin killed off almost the entire generation of Old Bolsheviks and of Civil War veterans, so that these two categories form only 6 percent of the Party, they have seven out of 11 members of the Presidium. Even if we assume that Khrushchev has won a secure hold on the top post, the problem of the succession is bound to arise again, and with it the problem of the aging Party, the aged leadership, the rising generation knocking on the door.

The Stalinist Economic Line. Although more than nine-tenths of all discussion at the Congress was on economic questions, the newspapers had almost nothing to say on this.

When the heirs were newly orphaned and less sure of themselves, they flirted with the idea of a "rapid increase in consumer goods" on the foundation of the "priority of heavy industry." This slight turn, which came to be identified with the name of Malenkov, was abandoned about the time of Malenkov's fall. The subsequent reversal overcompensated for the brief "softening" so that the priority given to heavy industry for the power and military might of the state is now more "Stalinist" than in Stalin's day.

The same is true of agriculture. During the entire postwar period, Stalin's chief overseer for agriculture was none other than Khrushchev. In 1948 Khrushchev wrote:

We must bear in mind that the "little worm" of individual property still sits in the mind of the kolkhoznik. Now as in the past, the most important vestigial residue of capitalism in the consciousness of the kolkhoz peasantry is the tendency to private property. This tendency . . . is a great hindrance to the rapid restoration and accumulation of capital by the communal economy . . . [it is] directed against the correct balance between the interests of the state, the kolkhoz and the kolkhoznik peasant.

The purposes of the Khrushchev drive are to destroy the "little worm" represented by the private parcel, to uproot the kolkhozes built around ancient village nests of solidarity and to combine them into larger and larger units--so few and so large that each can be policed by its own Machine-Tractor Station, have a Communist as chairman and be infiltrated by a Communist cell. On January 1, 1950, there were 254,000 kolkhozes; by the Nineteenth Congress (October 1952), they had been reduced to 97,000; by the Twentieth, to 87,371. With this drive came the growth of Party units in the amalgamated kolkhozes so that now only 8.4 percent of them are without such units. Within the past year alone 30,000 urban Communists were sent to kolkhozes to be "elected" their chairmen.

When the hand of Stalin was removed, Khrushchev added a fresh agricultural revolution from above--in ploughing up the new lands, sending city Communists to till the new areas and setting up sovkhozes (state farms) instead of kolkhozes (collective farms). To this he added the drive for corn.

But it was when the Twentieth Congress had adjourned that Khrushchev delivered the keenest thrust of all. In 1933, Stalin had softened the new state serfdom by providing the small private parcel and promising: "We Bolsheviks will see to it that every one of our collective farmers soon has a cow [of his own]." But on March 10, 1956, the Central Committee published a new decree on the collective farm in which they declared their intention to increase the number of obligatory workdays on the collective and to reduce the private plot to "truly subsidiary importance," mere "gardens . . . to provide fresh vegetables, fruits, and berries . . . as an embellishment of the peasants' way of life." Agriculture remains the Achilles heel of the Soviet economy, and the new drives in agriculture will but serve to expose the vulnerable tendon.


The theory back of totalitarianism is: given a complete enough monopoly of all the levers of force and persuasion, and sufficient firmness, there is nothing which cannot be planned and controlled. Yet the surprise of the Congress, in which everything was predetermined and "more monolithic than ever" (Khrushchev), was the inability to control the planned de-sanctification of Stalin.

For three and a half years, the heirs wrestled with the problem of reducing Stalin's size yet keeping his cruel "gains" in agriculture, industry, state power and foreign conquest. Eighteen days after his death, his name disappeared altogether from Pravda; then it reappeared again; was writ smaller, then larger, then smaller; some of his victims were amnestied, Tito was wooed, some of the losses cut that were occasioned by the increasing rigidity and paranoia of his closing years. Yet the problem remained unsolved, and the spirit would not stay in its tomb. When the Congress opened, it unexpectedly turned out that the most important delegate was Stalin's ghost.

For those who are attempting the operation are Stalin's men. Would any of them ever have become the rulers of a great nation except as his associates? Could the mediocre Molotov and Voroshilov have become symbols of "Old Bolshevism" if Stalin had not first killed Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin and the rest of Lenin's closest associates? Who raised Malenkov to the Secretariat? Who made Khrushchev the boss of agriculture and purger of the Ukraine?

In some ways the operation was well prepared by men trained in Stalin's school. It was he who first taught them to cast responsibility for shared misdeeds upon a corpse, when he blamed first Yagoda, then Yezhov, for the "excesses" of the blood purges. Why should they not "use" Beria's corpse, or even Stalin's, in the same fashion?

But the trouble is that these men were Stalin's creatures and accomplices. Malenkov ran the card index and dossiers of the purges. Khrushchev carried them out in the Ukraine, where they raged with unexampled fury. Bulganin was the eyes and ears of Stalin in the army. Mikoyan, Kaganovich and Khrushchev worked together to purge Moscow and each took his turn in the two-decade holocaust in the Ukraine.

In the secret session, even as Khrushchev was speaking to an audience so accustomed to listen in obedient silence, a cry escaped some one's lips: "But why didn't you kill him?" And Khrushchev, bursting into tears, blurted out: "What could we do? There was a reign of terror." Even the Daily Worker editor, Allen Max, has permitted himself to ask in print: "Where were the present leaders during the period of which they speak? How about their own errors?" That they were terrified does not exclude the fact that they rose into the circle of the Vozhd as active and willing accomplices, singing the glory of his name.

And what shall men think of a system in which not only a great people is terrified and tyrannized, but even the ruling party and the party bosses are terrified of the man they have raised to power, and powerless to restrain his fury?

Within a few weeks of Stalin's death, his heirs began a limited amnesty and "rehabilitation" of "enemies of the people" and "traitors." This operation, too, is difficult to control. Can it be limited to loyal Stalinists, while, as Khrushchev has decreed, it expressly excludes "Trotskyites, Bukharinites, bourgeois nationalists, and others of the worst enemies of the people?" Can it be limited to apologies to the corpses of Communists, without other corpses pushing their way into this strange dance of death--the millions of peasants of the forced collectivization and state-organized famine; the rightless lowest class of millions of workers in concentration camps; the extinguished nationalities?

And where shall be drawn the dividing line between the crimes of Stalin and the "great achievements?" Is it only "during his last few years" as was said at one point in the Congress? Or "during the last 20 years" as was said at another? Or when Lenin lay dying, as Khrushchev admitted at another point? Or when all of Lenin's closest comrades, like Trotsky, Zinoviev and Bukharin, were expelled by Stalin and the very lieutenants who are now his heirs? Was the conquest of the Baltic States and the Balkans one of Stalin's crimes or, as his heirs maintain, one of his great achievements? Shall the democrats who resisted be amnestied there? The corpses apologized to? The forced collectivization, still hated by every peasant and still resisted as every production figure testifies --was it one of the great achievements or one of Stalin's crimes? The attack on the rights of the Russian people as consumers, and on their standard of living ("the priority of heavy industry")--how shall it now be classified?

Nor is the confusion any less in the satellites. In every one of them Communists were framed as "Titoists" (apologies to the corpse!), as agents of foreign Powers (apologies to some, but not to others). Social Democrats, Democrats, loyal patriots were jailed and executed (still "reactionaries and enemies of the people," Khrushchev told Gaitskell and Eden). In every subjugated nation there are Stalin appointees at the helm, objects of a systematically fostered "cult of the personality"--like Mao in China and Rakosi in Hungary.

In Poland, the problem of "controlled exorcism" is even more unmanageable, for there Stalin outlawed the Polish Communist Party in the thirties, killing its entire Central Committee. Then came the killing of Ehrlich and Alter and other Polish Socialists, Jewish and non-Jewish; the murders in the Katyn Forest; the betrayal of the Warsaw uprising to Hitler's army. The apologies, rehabilitations and amnesties in Poland already run into the tens of thousands. Where can a line be drawn short of setting this unhappy people free to nurse their unmerited wounds?

In short, the Twentieth Congress, "more monolithic than ever before," prepared by a purge like the others, its spokesman established well in advance, its Six-Year Plan completed and adopted earlier, the enlargement of its Presidium completed six months in advance, its rôles allotted, its speeches prepared, its nearly 1,500 delegates dutifully cheering when the cue was given, asking no questions and voting yes on everything--has sprung its own great surprise. For three and a half years the heirs were wrestling with the problem of Stalin's ghost--alternately shrinking and enlarging it a little (the last enlargement being in December 1955). But at the Congress the ghost eluded control; the sounding board displayed monstrous powers of amplification; "operation cutdown" burst out of the bonds of the plan.

Is it an insoluble operation for Stalin's heirs and accomplices, an operation which has developed a dynamics of its own? In any case, it must by now be obvious that they have opened a new Pandora's box. Dark, terrifying shapes continue to escape from it, and the heirs are having trouble getting the lid securely nailed down once more.

Out of the strange shapes, hovering over them all, emerges a gigantic question mark--addressed to totalitarianism as a system. If a Hitler, cruel and paranoiac, can take power over and terrorize a great people; if a Stalin, cruel and paranoiac, can take power over and terrorize another great people, and nothing be done about it until violence and death befall--is there not something paranoid about the system itself? Is there not something fatal about the concentration of absolute power, the power of life and death, the monopoly of all the means of persuasion and force in irresponsible hands? Is there not something about the arduous and superhuman trade of absolute dictatorship that unhinges the mind? Will not a totalitarianism of any kind tend to engender ever afresh the absolute dictator, corrupting him by the concentration of absolute power in his hands? Is not this the realization in life of what Lord Acton obscurely sensed when he wrote: Absolute power corrupts absolutely?

[i] On March 8, 1956, Pravda published an article by the aged G. I. Petrovsky, associate of Lenin who was released from a concentration camp and "rehabilitated" shortly after Stalin died. It was devoted to the Tenth Congress and said: "Lenin stressed that Party unity should become Party law. . . . Lenin could be merciless to enemies. The Tenth Party Congress adopted the Leninist resolution 'On Party Unity,' which condemned all opposition groups and banned all factions and groupings in the Party. . . . The Tenth Party Congress was an example of Lenin's style of leadership, of Lenin's ability to work on a strictly collective leadership basis. . . ." (Emphasis added).

[ii] Solomon Schwarz: "Kompartiya na dvadtsatom sezde," Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik, April 1956, p. 60-2.

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  • BERTRAM D. WOLFE, former Chief of the Ideological Advisory Staff of the Voice of America; author of "Six Keys to the Soviet System," "Three Who Made a Revolution" and other works
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