How Russians Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the War
The Pliant Majority Sustaining Putin’s Rule
WHEN Samuel Butler wanted to write an "Apology for the Devil" he bade us remember: "We have heard only one side; God has written all the books." It is doubtful that there are no servants of the Devil among scribes, but the absolute ruler of a totalitarian state is less ambivalent about the Antagonist and more attentive to his monopoly over books. In Russia one can indeed read only one side. If the man at the top is too busy to "write all the books," he is not too busy to prescribe how they shall be written. To a French delegation in 1956, Khrushchev said: "Historians are dangerous people. They are capable of upsetting everything. They must be directed."
Others may question History, puzzling over her dark answers. But where there is foreknowledge of History's duty and path, where there is an infallible doctrine expounded and applied by an infallible interpreter, what questions shall we ask? History is to obey the "science of society," not alter it nor mock it by waywardness. History is to be fulfilled, not puzzled over; made, not learned. One does not ask her; one tells her. Marxism, says the new "History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union" (Moscow, 1959), "enables us to know the present and foresee the future." If the present is so clear, the future foreknown, shall we permit ourselves to be puzzled by what is already past? To banish doubt, past events must be arranged to show that this or that mistake was never made by the Infallible Ones, or that it was made by the Antagonist, only to be uncovered and overcome by the Infallible Ones. Or that what look to the blind like errors were really strokes of genius. In short, the past must be so written as to show that it was pregnant with the present and the future, certain with the future's certainties. Nor is this to be limited to Russia's past, for the new history proclaims "the inevitability of the repetition of the basic features of the Russian Revolution on an international scale."
To be sure, some of these liberties with the past may be taken by historians in any land, but it can be done thoroughly, systematically, persistently and completely only where there is no free competition in the market place of ideas, where there is but one permissible version at any given moment. That is one of the manifest advantages of totalitarianism.
On the face of it, this monopoly of historiography seems to make everything very simple. Only one right and wrong, only one black and one white with no shades of gray, only one hero, assisted by his faithful band, only one villain, with his aides, abettors, accomplices and paymasters, only one possible outcome. No conflicting testimony to consider. No archives to hunt for, decipher, weigh, puzzle over. That sort of thing, said Stalin ominously to the editors of one of his journals in 1931, that is for "archive rats."
Since there is only one permissible text to publish and to con by rote, this would also seem very economical. Yet the mortality among these official, single and certain texts has proved frightfully high. Party histories have succeeded each other as if they were being consumed by a giant chain smoker who lights the first page of the new work with the last of the old. To mention only those that, having been in their moment official, were printed in huge editions and translated into many tongues, there was Zinoviev's "History" (1923); Yaroslavsky's various efforts at intervals between 1926 and 1937; Volosevich's (published in 1927, condemned by Stalin in 1931); Bubnov's (1931); Popov's (1930, at least 16 editions before it was scrapped in 1935).
In despair at the transitoriness of all these individual efforts to celebrate the power and glory of the party and its leaders, Stalin ordered his lieutenant, W. Knorin, to assemble a "collective" of Red Professors to write the definitive party history. Written by five of these with Ponamarev as their "group leader" (rukovoditel) and Knorin as political and editorial overseer, it appeared in 1935--and proved as mortal as its predecessors. Though all these histories except Zinoviev's were written by Stalinists to serve his purposes and celebrate his deeds while they execrated his rivals, each was short-lived because with every change of line and every change in the magnitude of the colossus, the past had to be retroactively altered once more.
Finally, after the blood purges had reëdited the age of Lenin by turning all his close associates into traitors, save only one, the survivor determined to fix the past himself, as he fixed music, linguistics, genetics, philosophy, legal theory, economics, Marxism, Leninism and all else besides--especially his own place in history.
Thus was born the first party history that lived long enough to grow up and circumnavigate the globe, "the book that," according to Pravda, "has sold more copies than any other in modern times, the work of a genius, 'The Short History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,' by Joseph Stalin."[i]
At this point, party history was "stabilized." No new history appeared for 15 years. All works in the field, and in many other fields of political, economic and philosophical writing, became glosses and exegeses derived in whole or part from the "Short Course." There was even a secret Politburo decision that no one was to be permitted to remember anything new about Lenin or publish any memoir concerning him, and countless already published memoirs were burned or pulped.[ii]
Stalin's "Short Course," though virtually unreadable, could be memorized by the faithful, and indeed, as a life insurance policy, had to be. As Leonard Schapiro has written in his own not so official history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Stalin's book performed the function of insuring that no Communist "need ever be at a loss for the official answer to every problem. No one understood better than Stalin that the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade, but to produce a uniform pattern of public utterance in which the first trace of unorthodox thought immediately reveals itself as a jarring dissonance."[iii]
Now the savings involved in having only a single version of the past seemed to make themselves felt. The dullest of all best sellers became the greatest of all best sellers--with the exception of the Bible. By 1953, 15 years after its publication, it was still the definitive "work of genius" and had been printed in editions of more than 50,000,000 copies in the Soviet Union, and in all the important languages of the Empire and the world.
But 15 years is a long time for eternal truths to endure. In March 1953, the author died. In July, some still duller writers calling themselves Agitprop issued 7,500 leaden words of "Theses on Fifty Years of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union." They were published in Pravda on July 26, 1953. Now the millions who had toiled to learn by heart every formulation in the dull and mendacious pages of the "Short Course" realized with a pang of fear that their "insurance policy" had been cancelled. For, in the "Theses," they perceived that Stalin, who for 15 years had been up in front at the right hand of Lenin--the two of them alone remaking the world--was now no longer Vozhd (Leader), no longer co-founder of the party, nor mastermind of the seizure of power, nor creator of the Red Army, nor winner of the civil war.
Indeed, where was he? Lenin was mentioned 83 times in the 7,500 words, Stalin only four. Still worse, the "Theses" gave no clue as to whom it was now necessary to cheer. In its 7,500 words there were only three names: those of Lenin and Stalin aforesaid, and one mention of Plekhanov. All safely dead. To the initiated, this was a sign that a new time of uncertainty had begun and that no living name was mentioned because no successor had yet emerged.[iv]
The only thing that was certain in this new time of uncertainty was that the "Short Course," all 50,000,000 copies of it, had to be scrapped, and with it all the works of gloss and exegesis. The greatest book burning or book pulping in history! The system of a single, unitary, official history was not proving so economical after all.
From the summer of 1953 to the summer of 1959, the much chronicled Communist Party was without any history, except the 7,500 words of depersonalized, historyless history of the Department of Agitation and Propaganda.
Before a new history could be published, Stalin's ghost had to be wrestled with and its size determined. The dictatorship had to beget its new dictator; infallible doctrine its infallible expounder; authoritarianism its authority; a totally militarized society its supreme commander. The "collective leadership," so unnatural to a dictatorial society where there are no checks on the flow of power to the top, had to be disposed of, one by one or in batches, until one should emerge as the embodiment of the party, and the others disappear as "anti-party."
Further, where power is knowledge and power over everything equivalent to knowledge concerning everything, the emergent authority on all things must have time to lay down the line on all problems, persons and events likely to find their way into history. Only then could a new official history emerge. For the present to be projected into the past, the present has constantly and authoritatively to be determined in all wayward and moot things.
So it was that from July 26, 1953, to June 17, 1959, there was literally no history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union except the 7,500 words of the "Theses" of Agitprop. On June 17, 1959, a new manuscript was given to the press, with instructions to print a first edition of 750,000 copies. Thus was born the Gospel according to Khrushchev.
Not that he claims personal authorship. Khrushchev is free from that pathological greed of credit that made Stalin claim credit for everything. The new history was "prepared," like Knorin's history of 1935, by an "authors' collective"--11 academicians, doctors or masters of "the historical, economic and philosophical sciences."
Where so many histories have perished so swiftly, it was pleasant to find that the rukovoditel or leader for the Knorin history, B. N. Ponamarev, has survived the death of his earlier work, and appears as rukovoditel once more. And I. I. Mintz, who has written so many legendary pages (legend is to be taken in its literal not its poetic sense) in histories of the civil war, is alive and present, too, though Stalin once denounced his work. Most of the other historians whose works were once official and translated into many tongues, are gone: Zinoviev, Volosevich, Bubnov, Popov, Yaroslavsky, Knorin. Historiography is one of the more hazardous occupations, where natural death is not so natural, for only Yaroslavsky seems to have died without special assistance from party and state.[v]
If Ponamarev is once more rukovoditel, there is no longer a general editor to replace Knorin. Rather, there are signs on many pages that Khrushchev and his Agitprop Secretary, Suslov, took personal care of the political overseer's task. For what we now have is quite manifestly intended to be the official history for the age of Khrushchev.
In its day, it had seemed to me that Stalin's "Short Course" was the nec plus ultra of dullness. Surely, the history of Russia in the twentieth century has been a turbulent one: conspiracy, party strife, general strike and uprising in 1905, world war, fall of the Tsar, seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, civil war and intervention, Kronstadt and N.E.P., liquidation of the private peasant as a class, purge of all Lenin's closest lieutenants by one of them, Stalin-Hitler Pact, Second World War, forced Communization of so many occupied countries, struggle for the succession, emergence of Khrushchev. What material for the historian! But if the "Short Course" seemed dull and devoid of actual personages, motives and events, it at least had a kind of fascination by virtue of the malevolence, the pathological boasting, envy, and vengeance, the touch of the demonic on every page. Though in Khrushchev's History, as we shall now call it for short, whole pages are lifted from the "Short Course," what was demonic in Stalin's history is only ruthless and formularized in the latest work.
The Khrushchev history calls itself a "concise account." "Concise" must be more extensive than "short," for it is over twice as long; nor is the additional flood of words altogether accounted for by the fact that an additional 20 years have had to be chronicled. Where formulas of boasting or denigration have not been copied verbatim, the new book is likely to use many more words to recount an episode than the old. Yet its pages seem strangely empty--empty of men, empty of events. In the place of men, there are the Party, the government, the masses and Lenin. In the place of events, there are theses and bureaucratic formulas.
No need to be surprised if the great Bolshevik holdups of 1905-1907 are missing; no party historian has spoken of them. But where are the Moscow Trials which formed the closing section of the "Short Course" like the baleful hellfire which lights up the last scene of Mozart's Don Juan? All of Lenin's close associates save only one was tried, confessed, liquidated--surely a chapter in party history by almost any test. But not one word. Twice the party purges of the thirties, in which Nikita Khrushchev played a substantial role, are obscurely hinted at, obscurely justified, and as obscurely called in question. On page 463 we learn that the party was strengthened by purge but "mistakes were made in the unfounded expulsion of so-called passive elements." Yet, after the purges, "two-faced and enemy elements remained in the party" and Kirov's murder "showed that a party card may be used as the cover for abominable antisoviet acts." Twenty-one pages later we learn that "many honest Communists and non-party people underwent repressions, being guilty of nothing." But the villains now are Beria and Yezhov. Inexplicably, Yagoda, their predecessor as "flaming sword of the revolution," is missing, both as the first great purger and as the trial victim and confessed traitor. Just as inexplicably, for time is slippery in this history without a fixed chronological framework, Beria, whom Stalin appointed to call off the fury of the Yezhov purges, here precedes Yezhov.[vi]
It is the disappearance of such large events and so many persons which makes the pages of this thick history seem so interminable and so empty. A standard feature of earlier histories was a list of Central Committee members elected by each congress, a list of reporters at each congress, and many other such accounts of persons and their posts or their proposals or their deeds. Too bureaucratic to be exciting, yet it peopled the pages of the text. But with each successive history, the lists became shorter. More and more men were silently dropped into a special opening to the Memory Hole which bears the label "and others." Now many of those who still found a place in Stalin's "Short Course," if only to be denounced, have been dissolved in oblivion.
Besides, Khrushchev has names to eliminate from honorific lists whom Stalin delighted to honor as extensions of himself. The indestructible-seeming Molotov has faded like the Cheshire cat leaving behind him only an "anti-party" frown. Kaganovich, able and ruthless lieutenant of Stalin who saw to Khrushchev's advancement by taking him along as assistant on each of his promotions, has ended up the same way. The rotund Malenkov, once Stalin's chief of cadres, a party secretary, a member of the high military council that ran the Great Patriotic War, main reporter at the Nineteenth Congress, after Stalin's death both General Secretary and Premier--at least for nine days--has also ended up without a past, a bit of rubbish for the "anti-party" dustbin. A historian cannot help but feel that each of these is entitled to more space, if not a better fate.
In such a bureaucratic history, a party congress is an epoch-making event. At the Nineteenth Congress, held when the aging Stalin was three months from death, Molotov made the opening address, Malenkov delivered the main political report, Beria the report on the nationalities problem, Saburov on the Fifth Five Year Plan, Khrushchev, Bulganin and Mikoyan on the revision of the party statutes, and Kaganovich on the revision of its program. Mysteriously now the Congress discusses reports but there are no reporters and no contents. Only N. S. Khrushchev remains as the sole reporter on the party statutes, from which statutes a seven-line quotation constitutes the only words immortal enough to get into the pages of history.
Even those that Stalin execrated have suffered further diminution. He still had need of Trotsky as the Antagonist in the drama of good and evil. And he had to paint Trotsky as saboteur of each of Trotsky's chief actions, since one of the aims of the "Short Course" was to replace in men's minds that unity in duality, Lenin-Trotsky, by a new unity in duality, Lenin-Stalin. Thus Trotsky's name was still bound to large events, if only by a minus sign.
Though Khrushchev's history copies some of these pages from the "Short Course," Nikita Sergeevich does not have the same need of Trotsky to play anti-Christ to his Savior; hence the baleful glare that lengthened his shadow through the "Short Course" is subdued to the dingy light that is common to these pages. The October Revolution takes place without the Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet and Military Revolutionary Committee, who directed the operations of the seizure of power and conceived its strategy. The Civil War is fought and the Red Army built without him. The Kronstadt mutiny is gloriously crushed without either his or Tukhashevsky's intervention. Voroshilov has retroactively been appointed director of the attack on Kronstadt, while Marshal Tukhashevsky, who seemed on the way to rehabilitation until Zhukov fell, has simply disappeared from history.
If the climax of Stalin's "Short Course" was the "Liquidation of the Remnants of the Bukharin-Trotsky Gang of Spies, Wreckers and Traitors to the Country" with which its last chapter closes, the new history has no climax. It just stops, because the Twenty-First Congress is over and the Twenty-Second has not yet been convened, nor the Paris Summit Conference been held. It is less likely to last its 15 years because history will keep adding to its bureaucratic sum, and has already subtracted two of the leaders designated by the Twenty-First Congress (Belyaev and Kirichenko).
The indictment of the "anti-party group" is stern and ruthless, indeed inexorable, but it has the formularistic and bureaucratic flavor with which the readers of newspaper accounts are familiar. The charges that Khrushchev first levelled against Malenkov, Molotov and Kaganovich are repeated unchanged. Shepilov is still fixed forever as "inclining to them," and Bulganin is still a year late in being "factually" in their camp, while Zhukov, as the cult of a new personality in the Soviet Union grows, is still charged with encouraging "the cult of the personality of himself."
We cannot close our examination of the Khrushchev history without some consideration of this "cult of the personality," the coining of which formula seems to have been the biggest event in party history since the publication and scrapping of the "Short Course." Around this formula was fought the struggle with Stalin's ghost to determine afresh his place in history. And the extent to which the formula shall be a self-denying ordinance for Stalin's successor determines the content and color of the closing chapters of the new history.
On the one hand, there was need to write Stalin smaller than in the "Short Course," lest all his successors remain too dwarfed for any of them to succeed him. Moreover, his lieutenants, not without cause, so feared each other, and the party so feared the inevitable struggle among them, that it was necessary to give assurance "that henceforth such occurrences should never again take place in the party and the country." This was promised by a resolution of the Twentieth Congress and is repeated in the new history. In so far as it implies the rejection of the pathological extremes of Stalin's vengeful reign, it may be taken seriously.
On the other hand, Stalin's successor could not destroy the link which puts him in the line of apostolic succession. For what else but the apostolic succession from Lenin, who seized power, to Stalin, who usurped it by taking over and perfecting Lenin's machine, what other "legitimacy" and claim to rule over a great empire has the present First Secretary?
The inheritance includes many things for which this history gives Stalin great credit:
1. The annihilation of all rival parties, such as Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries and Kadets. (Hence the history repeats the absurdities of the frameup trials of the Mensheviks, the Industrial Party, the Toiling Peasant Party).
2. The annihilation of all anti-Stalinist Communist groups (Trotskyites, Zinovievites, Bukharinites, for whom there can be no rehabilitation).
3. Forced industrialization and the primacy of heavy industry over production for consumption.
4. The annihilation of the peasantry and the forced collectivization of agriculture.
5. The party penetration and control of all organizations and the atomization of the individual. (This is a heritage from Lenin perfected by Stalin and is inseparable from totalitarianism.)
6. Stalin's conquests of the Baltic Republics, half of Poland, part of East Prussia, Finland and Rumania, and Tannu Tuva.
7. The "liberation" of the rest of Poland, of Hungary (two "liberations"), of East Germany and Berlin, of the Balkan lands including Jugoslavia, of China, North Korea and Vietnam.
8. The "struggle for peace" and the enlargement of the "peace camp" which permits of, nay requires, the "liberation" of further parts of the non-Communist world but not the "reënslavement" of any part that has been liberated. (The book makes clear that "peaceful coexistence" is as old as Lenin and Stalin and not to be interpreted any differently than it was by them.)
This is a large balance sheet. In it Stalin's crimes against the Russian people, against the Russian peasantry, against allies and neighbors and occupied countries, are all transformed into virtues listed on the credit side of the ledger. His crimes against other socialist and democratic parties and opposition Communists are listed as virtues, too, with only the reservation that he dealt too harshly with "good Communists" (which seems to mean Stalinists) when he liquidated them. Even then, when the vengeful guillotine is turned on loyal Stalinists, the history does not cry "Crime!" but mumbles "Error" or "harmful consequence of the cult of the personality."
The final verdict reads: "Under the leadership of the Communist Party and its Central Committee, in which J. V. Stalin played a leading role, the Soviet Union has achieved enormous, world-wide successes. J. V. Stalin did much that was beneficial to the Soviet Union, to the C.P.S.U., and to the whole international workers movement."
Thus Khrushchev's tremendous indictment of Stalin's cruelty and paranoia in his secret speech dwindles into a bureaucratic formula for much praise and a little halting blame, now that Khrushchev is secure in the possession of his heritage.
What, then, is happening to the size of the "personality" of Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev?
To get a perspective, we must bear in mind that this is not the final masterpiece of Khrushchev historiography but only a first attempt, analogous rather to the early efforts of a Yaroslavsky than to the final chef d'oeuvre--the "Short Course." Moreover, Khrushchev has difficulties that Stalin did not have. It is not possible for a man who joined the party only after it had won power to picture himself as one of the party's co-founders. Hence the book's only living hero (the dead heroes being Lenin and Stalin) does not enter into its 745 pages until page 314, then modestly enough as one of an alphabetical list of Lenin's "comrades-in-arms and disciples hardened in the civil war . . . on whose backs lay the burden of liquidating the consequences of the war and constructing a socialist society." The list contains 23 names, in discreet alphabetical order, Stalinists all, and the impartial alphabet put Khrushchev (in Russian it begins with an X) in the twentieth place and Stalin himself in the eighteenth.
Not until page 608, with the Nineteenth Congress, does Khrushchev begin seriously to employ the technique of self-enlargement learned from the master. Here, as we have seen, Molotov who delivered the opening address, Malenkov who delivered the main report, Beria, Kaganovich and Saburov who reported too, all become unpersons, while Khrushchev holds the vast stage alone.
By the Twentieth Congress, Khrushchev had gotten such a hold of the party machine that he did in actual fact hold the stage alone and make all the reports. The proceedings left no doubt that the First Secretary was more equal than the others, who were permitted to share in but not equal his applause. The order of business was: opening address, Khrushchev; report of the Presidium and Central Committee (covering everything), Khrushchev; chairman of the committee to draw up a resolution on the report, Khrushchev; chairman of the new Bureau on Party Affairs of the Russian Republic, Khrushchev; secret report on the cult of personality, Khrushchev. Only Bulganin was permitted a sub-report, a gloss on the First Secretary's remarks on the Sixth Five Year Plan.
As for the Twenty-First Congress, which makes up the final chapter of this book, it had only one order of business: a report on the control figures for the Seven Year Plan, by Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev. Such is the fitting bureaucratic climax, or anti-climax, to the strange transformation of so many clashes of arms and deeds of blood into bureaucratic formulas.
In the closing chapter, Khrushchev is cited and his "ideas" as expressed in reports are summarized 14 times in a scant 26 pages. Actually, this is a little higher score than the citations from Stalin in the closing chapter of the "Short Course." Stalin's closing chapter ends with a quote from Stalin; Khrushchev's with a quote from Khrushchev. The First Secretary and once "best disciple of Joseph Stalin" has learned his trade.
In each case the closing chapter is followed by a brief coda called "Conclusion." In the "Short Course," Stalin jostles Lenin here for first place. Whether it be good sense or greater need, in the conclusion to the new history Lenin and the party are given first place. Yet even here, Khrushchev is quoted four times. In the "Short Course," the last words are a quote from Stalin. In the new history, Khrushchev bows out three pages before the end, while the last two sentences are eight words from Lenin on the party as "the intelligence, honor and conscience of our party" followed by 12 from Marx on Communism's promise: "From each according to his means, to each according to his needs."
Such is the nature of the party history in which the two new features, which were lacking in the "Short Course," are the "liquidation of the harmful consequences of the cult of personality," and . . . the recording of the substantial beginnings of a new cult.
[i] The book was published in 1938. The Pravda quote was published 12 years later on the occasion of its anniversary. Whether Stalin wrote it, or wrote only parts of it, making emendations on every page, it bears the unmistakable imprint of his unique temperament. It will hereafter be referred to as Stalin's "Short Course."
[ii] The Politburo decision was adopted on August 5, 1938, but kept secret for 20 years. See Spravochnik partiinogo rabotnika (The Party Worker's Handbook), 1957, p. 364.
[iii] "The Communist Party of the Soviet Union." New York: Random House, 1960, p. 471-2.
[iv] Three days after the Pravda "Theses" appeared, the present writer prepared a paper for the State Department which said: "No living name is mentioned because a struggle goes on for the succession. He who yesterday praised Beria is a dead duck. He who today praises Malenkov or Molotov or Zhukov may be doomed tomorrow. Thus the ultimate in the depersonalization of history is the blank space, the anonymous 'party and government,' the standardized replaceable parts."
[v] The fate of Knorin was clarified in the latest (April-June 1960) issue of Soviet Survey. This old Bolshevik Lett, who joined Lenin's party around 1912 or a little earlier, was arrested in 1937, accused of nationalist deviation, horribly tortured and forced to confess that he had been a Tsarist agent and then an agent of the Gestapo. He was shot within a year of his "confession."
[vi] Even the delicate allusions and sporadic rehabilitations permitted to serious historians ("archive rats") during the "thaw" after 1956 are not for this book. As archives were published and memoirs, long suppressed, were republished with excisions, footnotes were permitted concerning the dates of birth and bureaucratic posts of some of the purged. The climax of refinement came in the formula used in the biographical notes on 12 purged memorialists in Volume II of "Memories of Lenin" (1957), of whom it was said: "In 1937, he became a victim of enemy slander; later rehabilitated." But such refinements are not for this history textbook.