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9-08-2015, 22:29

THE SOVIET UNION AND THE WEST

Stalin never trusted the West, though he did not anticipate any immediate Western aggression. The orthodoxy still persisted in his day that capitalism would never tolerate communism and that a clash between the two worlds was historically inevitable. The deplorable state of the Soviet Union after the Second World War, however, made a postponement of any new conflict the highest priority of Soviet policy. This meant avoiding extreme provocations of the West, maintaining as long as possible the cooperation of the wartime alliance. It involved resisting Western moves dangerous to the security of the Soviet Union, above all the reviving and rearming of Germany. It was equally essential, Stalin believed, that despite the need for reconstruction and the poverty of the Russian people the armed forces should be kept strong and that nuclear and missile developments should be continued. The Soviet Union had to avoid appearing vulnerable and the Red Army had to maintain its grip on Eastern and central Europe, where uncertain allies acted as buffers. Given this pessimistic global outlook the prospects of building up confidence and allaying Soviet suspicions were never very good. There seemed to be a glimmer of hope in 1945 and 1946 after the defeat of Nazi Germany, but Western demands that the Soviet Union pull back to its redrawn frontiers and permit the countries of central and Eastern Europe a free choice of government – demands justified from a Western point of view by the agreements reached at Yalta, and by Western values – alarmed Stalin. Soviet security rested now, in his view, on Soviet military dominance in Eastern and central Europe: Western demands, if fully acted on, would only recreate a line of hostile states along Soviet borders. Stalin did attempt to compromise initially by holding a loose rein (according to Soviet, not Western, standards) in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, where he did not insist on the establishment of one-party communist governments and permitted freedoms unthinkable in the Soviet Union at the time. He kept out of the Greek Civil War, and provided no encouragement to communist parties in Western Europe, though they were especially strong in Italy and France. According to Soviet perceptions, this moderation had not paid any dividends. The West showed no appreciation of Russia’s losses and sacrifices during the Second World War, even going so far as to halt reparations from the Western zones of Germany. The reconstruction of the Western zones of Germany was viewed by Stalin with the deepest suspicion. The failure of an East–West agreement over the future of Germany was a crucially important reason for the start of the Cold War. The nightmare of new German armies in a capitalist coalition haunted Stalin. The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Aid were seen as further evidence of implacable Western hostility, of a grand design to revivify former enemies and to undermine the hold an economically weakened Soviet Union held over its satellites. Finally, Britain and the US would not share their nuclear secrets with the Russians except on terms that were totally unacceptable, and they maintained a stockpile of atomic bombs as a threat to the Soviet Union. American and British secret services were indeed planning clandestinely to roll back the Soviet control of Eastern Europe. From 1949 until the early 1950s there was, for instance, a bizarre scheme to restore King Zog to the throne of Albania; this, it was hoped, might start a wave of hostility against pro-Russian governments in the Balkans. Albanian exiles were actually landed, but they were quickly rounded up and shot. Several operations were nevertheless conducted over a period of some years, but none had any chance of success. This was not surprising, since British spies in high places in the Foreign Office and the Secret Intelligence Services (MI6) were passing information about these operations to Moscow. They had been recruited by the KGB as far back as the 1930s for just such a role. In the Baltic too in the 1950s, there was guerrilla resistance in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, whose independence had been snuffed out by the Soviet Union in 1940. After the war, MI6 organised the return of Latvian and Lithuanian émigrés to encourage uprisings. They were betrayed, met by the KGB and executed or imprisoned. It was in any event unlikely that any nationalist uprisings, even if they could have been organised by these missions, would have provoked any other Soviet reaction but bloody suppression. Stalin blundered when he tried to intimidate the West to give way in Germany during the Berlin crisis and the blockade in 1948. His overall German policy, as well as Soviet harshness in Eastern Europe, was even more calamitously counter-productive, for it led to the formation of a firm Western alliance, NATO, and eventually to the rearmament of West Germany. Any chance of establishing Soviet–Western relations on a fresh basis had certainly, if ever possible, been lost by 1948. From the Kremlin’s point of view, Russia faced three overriding challenges in the post-war world. There was the perceived external threat from Western capitalist hostility to communism; there was the unwillingness of the majority of the people of Eastern and central Europe to accept, unless imposed by Soviet-backed force, the communist transformation of their society and economy; and finally there was the danger that a greater awareness of Western standards of life would create dissatisfaction among the Russian people, who had been conditioned into believing that they were building up a better and more just society. Stalin, moreover, realised that in the aftermath of the war the Soviet Union, with its Western territories devastated, was in an appallingly weak state and that to provide for security and reconstruction would demand once more heavy sacrifices from the Russian people. In Eastern and central Europe the Soviets imposed a communist minority on the majority, and this minority then faced strong popular opposition to its social and economic policies, as well as the opposition of the Catholic Church, which retained the adherence of the majority of Poles and Hungarians. To this opposition was added the fierce nationalism of these peoples – the one characteristic they shared, whether Poles, Yugoslavs or Albanians. Only the Yugoslavs and Albanians had escaped direct Soviet control. Elsewhere the leaders of the satellite communist regimes soon set up by Stalin, the ‘little Stalins’, were not only hated but were regarded by their own people as puppets of their Soviet masters. All this discontent within the Soviet sphere of power was a source of instability. It would need little to transform it into open revolt, even without Western assistance. The very existence of the West on the borders of the extended Soviet empire was a provocation, irrespective of Western policies. The inherent problems of ruling over the Soviet Union itself presented the gravest problems to the isolated communist elite. The war against the Germans had revealed strong nationalist feelings in the Ukraine and elsewhere and much disaffection in the face of Stalinist rule. On the other hand, the horrors of German occupation and national fervour had also helped to unite the peoples of the USSR. Significantly, the war came to be known not as the great communist struggle against capitalism in its fascist manifestation, but as the Great Patriotic War, thus emphasising the nationalism and patriotism which transcended the revolution and the Soviet state. With the war over, how could the harshness of communist rule from above continue to be justified? The hostile West was painted in the blackest colours. While Stalin lived he ensured that no one else had a power base to rival his. Even so, the Soviet Union was not a monolithic society. Stalin could intervene arbitrarily, but control lower down the scale had to be left to others, to Beria’s secret police and to the tens of thousands of functionaries in the police, party and governmental apparatus who administered the Soviet republics. By changing his top henchmen, killing suspects and those who showed any signs of independence, by filling the prison camps of the Gulag and by promoting for a time those he trusted, Stalin’s hold remained unshakeable to his dying day. As Stalin’s health deteriorated after the war, political repression became more fierce. Newspapers and magazines parroted the party view. In science, drama, history, literature, art, even in music, the party line had to be followed. Stalin shortly before his death was preparing another great purge to safeguard his power and to maintain the system. The Doctor’s Plot was unveiled in January 1953. It had strong (and popular) anti- Semitic overtones. The startling public announcement was made that nine doctors, all but two Jewish, who had looked after top Soviet leaders, had been arrested a few weeks earlier and had confessed to murdering Zhdanov and other members of the Soviet elite; they were accused of having acted on orders from Israeli Zionists and the American and British secret services. Jews in prominent positions were particular targets of the thousands of arrests that followed. How little decades of loyalty to Stalin counted was evidenced by the arrest of Foreign Minister Molotov’s wife, who was Jewish. Fortunately for many, Stalin suffered a stroke and died in his dacha on 5 March 1953, the scared Politburo members tiptoeing to his room, when they heard, to make sure he was really dead. The leader who had shaped Russia’s destinies for good and evil had unexpectedly gone. Despite his crimes, Stalin was widely admired as one of the Soviet Union’s greatest men, second only to Lenin – Lenin’s ‘comrade-in-arms’, ‘the standard bearer of his genius and his cause’, as the eulogies after his death declared. He had ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist, responsible for the deaths of millions but also for gigantic material achievements. Men and women in their prime of life, indeed everyone under the age of forty-five, had known no adult life except under Stalin. The Soviet Union had become powerful and respected in the world and, during the Great Patriotic War, which was the central event of their lives, Stalin had saved his country from defeat and had then presided over the victory of the Red Army and its final entry into Berlin. There followed an unprecedented expansion of Soviet power, and even a small but steady improvement in living standards from 1948 to his death. He dwarfed those Soviet political leaders who survived him. And even they, as Khrushchev recalls, dreaded what seemed an uncertain future without him, although the shadow of his terror was lifted from their lives. The Russia Stalin had helped to shape and had now left behind was a state stifled by bureaucracy without the safeguards of civil liberties, where all apparatchiks, whether in politics or industry, uncritically obeyed the orders of superiors. The system made each individual play for safety, sheltering under the decision of the man above rather than risking personal initiative. What mattered was who would cover you, look after you and provide you with the advantages and bribes earned by performing a service for the system. Corruption was endemic. The command economy was firmly established with all its inefficiencies, which became glaringly obvious thirty years after Stalin’s death. Stalin shamelessly exploited the vested interests he had created. In the Kremlin those who served him had to pander to his whims and adapt to his erratic lifestyle of working into the small hours, drinking or watching his favourite films. His popular image was that of the benevolent father of his people, the fount of all wisdom, whose actions, like those of a demi-god, could not always be comprehended by ordinary mortals. Stalin never officially designated a successor. In his lifetime he had to appear irreplaceable. In this respect, history seemed to be repeating itself. Lenin, the father of the Soviet Union, had had mixed feelings about his possible successor and appeared to leave an unfillable vacuum, but the leadership was nevertheless replaced by three Bolshevik leaders before Stalin emerged as dictator and eliminated his rivals. After Stalin’s death a collective leadership again emerged; not one of these once loyal henchmen of Stalin’s day was powerful enough to oust his rivals immediately. Power depended on the support of the other leading Bolsheviks, as well as on the backing of a constituency, the will not of the people of course, but of the government in terms of the administration and economic and industrial management of the state, or of the party which had once constituted the supreme constituency, or of the separately organised secret police, its armed units and prison regimes which controlled a labour force of several millions. Finally there existed the constituency of the Red Army command; though its broader political ambitions were carefully controlled by the party its support was important to any aspirant to power. Stalin had dominated Russia without using any one channel of control exclusively, so that at the time of his death it was uncertain where power lay, or rather how it was distributed in the absence of an autocratic final arbiter. Georgi Malenkov had presented the main report to the party Congress in October 1952, which was possibly Stalin’s way of indicating that he was his choice as successor. Beria, as secret police chief, had served Stalin faithfully and ruthlessly, too ruthlessly for the other claimants not to fear him. Molotov had seen long service since the revolution of 1917 and had held important offices, including that of an unsmiling unbending foreign minister. Finally Nikita Khrushchev had served Stalin loyally in the party during and after the war, accommodating himself to Stalin’s purges. Malenkov was unable to establish himself as sole leader. But the struggle for power was hidden from the outside world. The premiership, or leadership of the government, was assumed by Malenkov. Khrushchev became secretary of the Central Committee of the party. Other leading communists gained control of the different ministries which their Stalinist experience appeared to entitle them to: Molotov foreign affairs, Bulganin defence and Beria interior and security. These three were members of the Politburo, which also included Khrushchev, Kaganovich, Mikoyan, Voroshilov and two others, and was presided over by Malenkov. The first outcome of the power struggle was that Beria was isolated. Only a few weeks after being accorded an honoured place as a pallbearer of Stalin’s coffin, Beria was secretly arrested, tried and shot. The first public awareness of his fall was his omission from a news report about leading communists attending a performance at the Bolshoi Theatre. This became the stuff on which a new political science came to be built, Kremlinology. The inner workings of the Politburo remained shrouded in secrecy before the Gorbachev era, so Kremlinologists had to make do with more oblique indications of conflict and changes in the distribution of power: the line-up of leaders at the May Day parade, the priorities evident at receptions, disappearances from view, an absence due to a ‘cold’. During the months that followed Stalin’s death several important changes occurred. The party recovered step by step its former preeminence. Stalin’s personal dictatorship, it was now claimed, had distorted the correct line laid down by Lenin. What was being affirmed was the eternal validity of communist ideology. The condemnation of Stalin’s rule, by Khrushchev, did not indicate at this stage a loss of faith in communism itself. In the spring and summer of 1953 the collective leadership’s first priority was to maintain control. The army had been a powerful ally against Beria and, if the terror machine was not to be relied on to the same extent as before, control might better be established by concessions. A cautious beginning was made of releasing some of the tens of thousands who had been falsely imprisoned. Malenkov lowered prices and allowed more resources to be devoted to consumer goods. To ease food shortages, the peasants were promised a better deal, prices paid by the state for agricultural produce were increased and taxes reduced. Khrushchev took charge of the agriculture – the key to better living standards – and launched the development of the ‘virgin lands’, a vast scheme to grow grain on lands in the remoter regions of the Soviet Union not previously cultivated because they were subject to droughts or other unfavourable conditions. It was a crash programme that produced spectacular results between 1953 and 1956. Later results proved disappointing. As always the Soviet leadership faced the problem of how to stretch inadequate resources to provide for policies each of which was highly desirable in itself: more investment in agriculture, a switch, even if a modest one, from heavy to consumer industries, and full support for the military establishment and defence. One conclusion reached was that an openly aggressive policy towards the US and its allies, such as Stalin had followed in 1948 and 1949, would only cement the anti-Soviet alliances and lead to increased Western rearmament, so widening the gap between the West and the Soviet Union even if Soviet defence expenditure were greatly increased. Soviet relations with the rest of the world therefore followed a calmer course. But the West must not be left with the impression that the opportunity now existed to undermine Soviet control of Eastern and central Europe, which was fundamental to the Soviet Union’s perception of its continued security. So a tightrope had to be walked between concession and firmness. Despite debate on each issue of policy, and political rivalries, a surprisingly consistent line of policy emerged from 1953 until 1956. In April 1953, only a month after Stalin’s death, the Soviet Union used its influence to help bring the Korean War to a conclusion. Next, it was indicated that a peace treaty might be possible for Austria. But, to hold the balance, emphasis was placed on the continuity of Soviet policy: there would be no withdrawal from Eastern Europe. The point was underlined when Soviet tanks suppressed disorders in Berlin which threatened to turn into a general uprising against an unpopular Stalinist regime. But in the summer of 1953 further friendly signals were sent. An American journalist in Prague who had been imprisoned as a spy two years previously was released, and Malenkov delivered a speech in which he declared that there were no problems that could not be settled by negotiation. To satisfy the hardliners these ‘new’ views were interspersed with classic Stalinist declarations as well. Actions, however, indicated the new approach more clearly: the resumption of diplomatic relations with Greece, with Israel and even with Stalin’s sworn enemy, Tito’s Yugoslavia. Conciliatory statements were made to improve relations in the Middle East with Turkey and Iran. In the spring of 1954, the Soviet Union and China participated with Britain and France in the Geneva Conference, which reached a settlement relating to the French Indo-China War. The largest and most unexpected concession the Russians made was to conclude the long-drawn-out negotiations over Austria by agreeing to withdraw from the Soviet zone and from Vienna, which they did tactfully to the strains of the Radetzky March. The Austrian Treaty was signed on 15 May 1955. A new epoch in East–West relations appeared to have been achieved two months later at a conference of the Big Four (the US, the Soviet Union, Britain and France), also held in Geneva. Although far-reaching disarmament proposals by both sides got nowhere and no real progress was made on any substantive issue, the friendly human contact between the Soviet leaders – Khrushchev clearly emerging as Russia’s decisive voice in foreign affairs – and President Eisenhower created an illusory feeling that a new era was about to start. The Cold War looked like being liquidated. Even so, Soviet policy failed in one of its main objectives: to prevent the rearming of Western Europe in general and of Western Germany in particular. Nor did the relaxation of tension sufficiently encourage the West to abandon NATO and to dissolve the Western European–North American military lifeline. Suspicions of the Soviet Union ran too deep, Soviet military power in Europe was too overwhelming to tempt France, Britain and the Federal Republic of Germany to exchange the American alliance for Soviet promises of peaceful coexistence and some form of German reunification. The decision to withdraw from Austria coincided with the fall of Malenkov in February 1955. Foreign relations were one of the issues in the internal power struggle among the Soviet leadership in the Politburo (or rather in the Praesidium, as the Politburo was renamed from 1952 to 1966). Khrushchev was prepared to go further than Malenkov and Molotov in improving relations with the West, with China and with Yugoslavia. Malenkov also proved himself indecisive and slow-witted in the face of Khrushchev’s ruthless manoeuvring. Khrushchev had progressed since Stalin’s death from being the most senior secretary to first secretary of the party. Unlike Beria, who was executed, Malenkov was bloodlessly demoted and remained a member of the Praesidium. Khrushchev nevertheless continued to be fettered by the collective leadership of the Praesidium, where hardliners like Molotov had only been temporarily eclipsed. On no one would Stalin’s mantle of absolute power fall. Khrushchev was not yet strong enough to combine the position of head of the government with that of party chief, so Bulganin replaced Malenkov as premier. But Khrushchev was riding high. A man of great energy, he displayed a down-to-earth bluffness, despising formality and protocol; what he lacked in consistency and steady application of carefully prepared policies, he made up for in boldness. He tried to cut through the stultifying dead weight of state bureaucracy by making a personal and human impact, quite unlike the aloofness and austerity of the Stalinist period, and by pragmatism, trying first one way and then another. He was convinced that the governing leadership had to win more popular consent, to persuade and cajole, and to minimise the use of state force. With Russia’s backward agriculture lacking incentives, Khrushchev again raised prices of agricultural products, increased investments in farm machinery and fertilisers and extended the virgin lands. More state farms, run like industrial enterprises, were established as the virgin lands were opened up. An impressive rise in agricultural output was achieved, though at a high cost in resources, and agricultural productivity remained low by comparison with advanced countries like the US, even if a more favourable comparison could be made with the less efficient small French or southern German farms. As in Soviet industry, over-centralisation of planning led to much waste and inefficiency. Less hidebound by ideology in the narrow sense, Khrushchev was ready to try new remedies. He nevertheless held to the central tenet of Stalinist ideology that ultimately the Soviet Union had to be ruled from above not only politically but with regard to the determination of economic priorities and paths of development. The difference between the Stalinist and the post-Stalinist period lies in Khrushchev’s genuine effort to make communism work for the people to give them a better quality of life. That was the purpose of economic and social reform: attempts were made to alleviate the extreme shortage of housing and to provide minimum wages; workers were free to change their jobs; at least some basic legal rights for the ordinary citizen began to emerge; but the most remarkable change of all was the massive release of political prisoners from the Gulag, which began only after Malenkov’s fall. This was the most visible indication of the ending of Stalin’s mass terror regime, though the leadership would continue to protect the system against individuals who were thought to endanger it, by imposing sentences of imprisonment, exile or more subtly, in later years, detention in psychiatric hospitals. Rights were granted only to those ready to work within the system, not to those who were accused of actively propagating views against it. Thus censorship remained, though it was less stifling: criticisms of specific features of Soviet life were tolerated, writers and artists could breathe more freely, and foreign visitors to the Soviet Union were encouraged. But neither Khrushchev nor his communist successors ever granted anything like the freedoms ordinary people in the West enjoy. A Soviet citizen could not leave the country without the most careful scrutiny of their past, even when visiting a fraternal communist Easternbloc state; visits to the West were generally permitted only to members of official delegations accompanied by a KGB minder; other members of the family had to stay behind as hostages, and wives were not allowed to join husbands. The fate of Soviet Jews who wished to emigrate to Israel was particularly harsh, given that it was forbidden to make a declaration of allegiance to anything but the Communist Party and Soviet state. Nationalism continued to be suppressed. The Orthodox Church was one symbol of national consciousness and was kept under rigid control. Zionism was treated as ideologically hostile to the state – mere Jewish descent officially was not – and the teaching of Hebrew and of Jewish culture was prohibited. Punishments were harsh. Attempts to stamp out the corruption widespread in the system involved the imposition of death sentences for large-scale fraud or transgression against economic laws. Khrushchev’s first move after forcing Malenkov’s fall with the support of Bulganin and Voroshilov in February 1955 was to discredit his opponents in the Praesidium. In the winter of 1954–5 he had argued that in the dangerous international circumstances of the time Malenkov was wrong to espouse light consumer industries at the expense of the heavy industry needed for defence. Molotov could hardly dispute that. A few months later Khrushchev turned to attack Molotov’s inflexible stance on foreign relations. Yugoslavia became the touchstone of Soviet policy and the key to the making of a complete break with Stalinism, a repudiation that Molotov resisted. Molotov had been ready to re-establish formal diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia as between two nations, but he was not prepared to accept that the party could agree to a reconciliation with a nationalist Yugoslav Communist Party. Khrushchev prevailed and headed a Soviet delegation which visited Belgrade in May 1955. This public Soviet acceptance of Tito’s right to follow his own nationalist path to communism without having to accept Soviet leadership was like the mountain coming to Mohammed. At the plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow held in secret in July 1955, it came to a showdown between Khrushchev and Molotov. Khrushchev’s arguments were powerful. The Soviet Union had to avoid a conflict with the West, but opportunities existed in the uncommitted underdeveloped countries, which could be won over to the socialist camp. Khrushchev thus recognised that there were independent nations which, while not willing to accept Soviet leadership, could be encouraged to follow policies friendly to the Soviet Union. At the same time, the splits in the Soviet bloc, with Yugoslavia and China, should be healed as far as possible. Molotov argued for the more traditional line of policy that to condone Tito’s break away from the control of the Soviet party would only endanger the Soviet position in the other people’s democracies such as Poland. But before this crucial meeting had ended, Molotov had to admit to errors – for the time being he could not resist Khrushchev’s line of policy. But Khrushchev was not yet powerful enough to oust him, the most senior of Stalin’s lieutenants still surviving in power. Almost as sensational as Khrushchev’s visit to Belgrade was West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s visit to Moscow in September 1955. Adenauer had taken the German Federal Republic into NATO and had refused to recognise the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) as sovereign, claiming to speak for the whole of Germany. The two issues he raised in Moscow were German reunification and the return of German prisoners of war, and as a result of his visit the surviving German prisoners of war returned home. Relations between the Federal Republic and the Soviet Union were normalised as between two sovereign nations. Only a few weeks later in November and December 1955 Khrushchev and Bulganin visited India, Burma and Afghanistan, to be met everywhere with enthusiasm. To Afghanistan, in dispute with Pakistan, massive Soviet military aid was sent, and economic assistance was given to India and Burma; only Pakistan could not be wooed but remained loyal to the Western Baghdad Pact. On their return to Moscow it was clear that Khrushchev’s and Bulganin’s prestige had risen as a result of their foreign travels. Khrushchev could claim that Soviet influence and security had been enhanced by the policies he had followed: a rapprochement with Yugoslavia and China, good relations with the countries of south-east Asia, a relaxation of tension with Western Europe and, after the Geneva summit of July 1955, with the US as well. Soviet influence was on the increase in the neutral Third World, that is among the ex-colonies of Western European empires. Finally, the Soviet Union had leapt over the Baghdad Pact in arranging an arms deal with Egypt shortly after the Geneva summit. This showed that Khrushchev’s policies were not purely defensive but were 1 THE RISE OF KHRUSHCHEV 475 intended, rather, to create opportunities for the expansion of Soviet power and influence without risking war. Khrushchev was riding high in the winter of 1955. At the Twentieth Party Congress, which assembled in February 1956, he now made his boldest bid for leadership, seeking the support of the Soviet party and government elite in his famous ‘secret speech’. In it he launched what he believed were artful and hardly concealed attacks on Molotov, Malenkov and Kaganovich, his rivals in the Praesidium. The most sensational part of his speech was his denunciation of Stalin’s despotism, of the crimes Stalin and his close associates (by implication including Molotov and Malenkov) had committed, such as the murder in 1934 of Kirov, the first secretary of the Leningrad party. Khrushchev graphically spoke of the tortures and purges that followed; he demythologised Stalin’s image as all-wise, describing how he had miscalculated in June 1941 when the Germans attacked and how he had completely lost control for a time. He emphasised how loyal members of the party, the state and the armed forces had been wrongly arrested and shot. Stalin had usurped the party; it was not the system or the party that had been at fault, but Stalin’s lust for power and his insane suspicions, which became murderously manifest in 1934. Khrushchev was careful not to attack the way the state had evolved as such after Lenin’s death but placed all the blame on Stalin and his associates, such as Beria. The opposition to Khrushchev, led by Molotov, later dubbed the ‘anti-party’ group, nevertheless survived until June 1957, when its final concerted challenge failed. In the same sensational speech Khrushchev also fundamentally redefined the Soviet Union’s external relations. The world had changed since Lenin’s day, he declared. War was no longer inevitable. The capitalist imperialists could now be restrained by powerful social and political forces, and aggression would receive a smashing rebuff. The capitalist West would not rapidly decay, though Khrushchev had no doubts about the ultimate triumph of communism in the world. Meanwhile there could be ‘peaceful coexistence’ between countries with different social systems. Khrushchev was anxious to win over the socialist Third World, especially India with its democratic constitution, asserting that the socialist transformation of society need not be achieved by violent revolutions but could also be brought about by parliamentary institutions. He even hoped to allay the hostility to communism of the socialist parties of Western Europe and to help create a united front of the working class. The Western European nations were encouraged to dissolve their links with the US, whose only purpose was to exploit them. To further these aims B and K, as they became popularly known, continued their travels, visiting Britain in April 1956. They stayed with their entourage incongruously at the most aristocratic of London hotels, Claridge’s, and then laid a wreath on the tomb of Karl Marx. But the visit was not a success, either publicly or in ministerial meetings. The shadow of the Middle East hung over discussions with the prime minister, Anthony Eden, who blamed the Russians for encouraging Nasser and unbalancing the Middle East by supplying the Egyptians with arms via Czechoslovakia. Khrushchev’s sensational denunciation of Stalin meanwhile was read with astonishment and avid interest; the Western world hoped that Soviet policy would now break with the past altogether. In Soviet-dominated central and Eastern Europe the changes in Soviet policies since Stalin’s death had spectacular repercussions. Khrushchev’s efforts to make communism more acceptable to the people, to restrain the arbitrary abuse of power by the ‘little Stalins’ and by their subservient party machines, resulted in popular outbursts and demands for other freedoms the Kremlin would not lightly concede: more national independence and a loosening of the Soviet grip. Paradoxically, the communist leaders in East Germany, Bulgaria and Romania most disapproved of by Khrushchev for their rigid Stalinism were the ones best able to keep control against rising nationalism.

 

 

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