(June 2, 1976)
This Friday, June 4, is the twentieth anniversary of Khrushchev’s report denouncing Stalin. Actually the report was delivered in late February 1956 to the 20th Congress of the Soviet CP, but it was then secret. In a move calculated to deal a blow to the USSR and to damage the international communist movement as much as possible, the CIA, which had obtained the report, released it to the world on June 4. That’s how the world movement learned about it.
It is hard to recall a comparable event which has caused as much confusion, as much demoralisation, and as many desertions as did the Khrushchev report. More than anything else the most energetic, most devoted and most loyal Communist Party members, especially in the West, not only wanted to disbelieve the contents of the report but even that the report was ever delivered or that it had been unanimously adopted by the Central Committee of the CPSU.
Khrushchev’s report placed Stalin in the dock of history as a mass murderer, as one who had exterminated hundreds of thousands of loyal communists, leading cadres of the party and of the military, and had resorted, through his agents, to physical torture, mass deportations, and the destruction of inner-party democracy, among many other crimes.
What was China’s reaction?
It is a popular misconception that the Chinese leadership immediately opened an offensive against Khrushchev’s revisionism or denounced his report to the 20th Congress. It is true that at the time of the CIA release of the report, the bewilderment in the movement caused many to turn to those in the international communist movement who had attained a pre-eminent position and prestige as a result of their revolutionary struggle. Invariably those who felt that Khrushchev’s report was not merely an effort to put Stalin’s role in its proper place in history, but was in reality a far-flung and sweeping effort to shift to the right, turned towards the Chinese leadership, which more than any other would seem to have the capability to challenge Khrushchev.
Of course much, in fact most, of what Khrushchev had reported on had long been known in the West and certainly in the Soviet Union. But the 20th Congress offered an opportunity to re-evaluate the entire previous historic epoch in the international communist movement, and in the USSR in particular, which had been under the political domination and leadership of Stalin ever since Lenin’s death.
The Chinese CP leaders had three choices. They could avoid the issue entirely and say nothing about it, which in itself, of course, would be saying a lot. They could approve the 20th Congress report on Stalin. Or, they could open a truly classic, revolutionary, Marxist-Leninist polemic against Khrushchev revisionism and at the same time utilise the opportunity to re-evaluate the entire Stalin era from the vantage point of Leninist principles.
This would not have been an intrusion into the internal affairs of the USSR. The question of Stalin obviously was, and still is, an international question affecting all working class and Marxist-Leninist parties. The Chinese CP leadership, without opening a sudden assault, could have called for the establishment of a commission of fraternal parties to investigate, not only the validity of the report, its contents, and its factual material, but also its significance for the international movement. (Did not the Comintern set up a commission to investigate the defeat of the Chinese Revolution in the late 1920s?).
What did the Chinese CP leadership in fact do at that great historical moment in 1956?
It approved the 20th Congress report.
This is a matter of record and cannot be denied. During the month of June, after the CIA release of the report, practically all the leading CPs in the world were in turmoil, forced in one way or another into taking a position. The French, the Italians, the U.S., others – did so, and so did China.
CCP endorsed the report
The organ of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, Jen Min Jih Pao, in an editorial ‘On the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ said:
‘The CPSU, following Lenin’s behest, treats seriously some of the grave errors made by Stalin in directing socialist construction and the consequences they have provoked. Because of the gravity of these consequences the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, while admitting the great services of J.V. Stalin, is faced with the necessity to reveal with all sharpness the essence of the mistakes Stalin made.... We communists of China profoundly believe that after the sharp criticism which developed at the XXth Communist Party of the Soviet Union Congress all those active factors which were strongly restrained in the past because of certain political mistakes undoubtedly will be set in motion everywhere, that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet people will be united and made one as never before in the struggle for the building of a great Communist society never yet seen in history, in the struggle for a stable peace in the entire world.’ (Our emphasis.)
As anyone can see, the CCP not only approved the report but also made a prognosis that the CPSU ‘will be reunited and made one as never before in the building of a great Communist society,’ a prognosis which proved utterly false. Rather than challenging Khrushchev, the approval of the Chinese leadership strengthened his hand and strengthened revisionism at the moment when revisionism needed it most.
Printed Togliatti’s assessment
The impact of Khrushchev’s report was to push all of the world CPs far to the right, particularly those in Western Europe and the U.S., and most of all the key Italian CP, then under the leadership of Togliatti. It is to be noted that on July 6, when the Peking newspapers carried the CPSU resolution of June 30 on the 20th Congress, which amplified the Khrushchev report, they also carried a lengthy assessment of the 20th Congress and the Stalin question by Togliatti.
The Togliatti article (contained in a collection) is important because of the inferences which he drew from the 20th Congress. Togliatti’s party, although long on the road of reformism, was now taking a head-long leap in that direction. Moreover, Togliatti drew the conclusion that it was not merely the mistakes of Stalin and his repressions that were involved, but the whole Soviet system. Implied in Togliatti’s conclusions was that the class nature of the Soviet state itself was in doubt.
The evolution of the USSR under Stalin certainly could give one grounds for questioning the class character of the USSR, but such a step would have to be bolstered by Marxist analysis and factual data. What Togliatti did, however, was to draw the inference, which Khrushchev’s report clearly lent itself to, that the Soviet state was undergoing a bourgeois degeneration. Hence — what ultimate conclusion by Togliatti? Since the Soviet Union was undergoing a bourgeois degeneration, and might in fact be a bourgeois state, an imperialist bourgeois democracy was preferable! The so-called ‘Italian road’ to socialism began to take on a new momentum. Abandonment of class struggle and the renunciation along with it of the perspective of proletarian revolution was on the order of the day.
When the Chinese leadership finally decided to open the offensive against Khrushchev revisionism the historical moment for a giant shift in a revolutionary direction, and away from Khrushchev revisionism, had in fact evaporated.
Thus, the brilliant revolutionary polemics of the Chinese CP leadership, such as ‘The Differences Between Comrade Togliatti and Us,’ etc., only influenced a small current in the communist movement.
Not only, however, did the Chinese leadership fail to grasp the historical moment during the period when Khrushchev’s report was receiving worldwide attention and agitating the international communist movement.
Two very important events occurred which the CCP leadership also failed to take advantage of or to raise to the level of a public polemic.
The ‘Anti-Party group’
The first was the expulsion of Molotov, Kaganovich, and Malenkov from the Central Committee of the Soviet CP, when they were indicted politically on such charges as ‘conspiring against the peaceful coexistence’ theories of Khrushchev and on a whole series of other charges which, whatever their validity, certainly merited a public hearing, especially in the light of Khrushchev’s ostentatious and hypocritical demagogy concerning collective leadership and a renewal of inner-party democracy.
Also, two of the three leaders of the so-called ‘Anti-Party group’ were the last of the Old Guard in the Bolshevik party. Aside from the fact that they may have degenerated along with the other leaders, arraigning them under an indictment in which they were supposed to have conspired against the theory of peaceful coexistence in and of itself made it an international question. The CCP leadership, however, evaded the issue. Instead the Chinese press merely reprinted Pravda’s indictment, which was taken to mean complete approval.
Finally, Khrushchev had embarked in 1957 on a dangerous economic course with a vast and complicated scheme of economic decentralisation, which had dangerous implications for the fate of the planned, socialised economy of the USSR, one of the fundamental pillars of a workers’ state. Dangerous though Khrushchev’s initial adventurous thrust into the reorganisation of the Soviet economy was, it by no means became fatal, as the Maoist economists, using latter-day wisdom, are now saying. For a whole lot of political as well as economic reasons, Khrushchev had to back off to a considerable degree in practice. The significance attached to Khrushchev’s decentralisation plan by those who are now promoting the theory that a capitalist restoration has taken place in the Soviet Union is not at all warranted, as bourgeois economists soon realised to their chagrin.
Gave no hint of bourgeois restoration
The important point, however, about the decentralisation plan is that the Chinese CP leadership did not attack it. In fact, if a transition from a planned and centralised economy to bourgeois restoration had taken place in the USSR the focal point or so-called qualitative change should have been somewhere between 1956 and 1958. One of the exponents of the theory of capitalist restoration, Martin Nicolaus, places the time of the transition in that period. But the Chinese leadership certainly gave no hint of it then at all, nor did this presumed counter-revolution attract the attention of revolutionary Marxist-Leninists within the communist movement sufficiently to raise it as a political or theoretical problem. As a matter of fact, Mao Tse-tung, in a speech at the Sixth Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee, on Dec. 19, 1958, said, ‘The seven-year plan proposed by Khrushchev is a preparation to enter communism.’
By in fact first supporting the Khrushchev report, then whitewashing the expulsion of the so-called Anti-Party group headed by Malenkov, Kaganovich, and Molotov, and closing their eyes to the decentralisation danger inherent in Khrushchev’s adventure in the field of economics, the Chinese leadership pursued a revisionist position and strengthened revisionism on an international scale.Source: http://www.workers.org/marcy/cd/samclass/class/pcnvrt02.htm
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