Isaac Deutscher 1955

The Great Flight From Stalinism

Source: The Reporter, 16 June 1955. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

The visit of the Soviet leaders to Belgrade aroused world-wide attention because of its possible implications for Soviet foreign policy. It was generally assumed that after the signing of the peace treaty with Austria Moscow was eager to encourage, with an eye on Germany, those governments which might be inclined to favour the formation of a neutral buffer zone in Europe.

This looked to be the purpose of the Soviet pilgrimage to Belgrade; but it was probably not its sole or even its main objective. If the Soviet leaders were interested only in gaining a diplomatic advantage, a visit by the Soviet Prime Minister alone would have been more than enough. The fact that the First Secretary of the party, Khrushchev, was among Marshal Tito’s guests indicated that Moscow wanted above all to settle the ‘ideological’ and political differences between the Soviet and the Yugoslav Communist Parties. Khrushchev certainly intended to speak to Tito the party head rather than to Tito the head of state. The Muscovite Pope went to apologise to the heretic; and he did so without being sure that the heretic was willing to accept the apology. At least since last October, Moscow has gone out of its way to demonstrate its desire to rehabilitate Tito as a good Communist. His revolutionary merits as leader of the Partisans, denied in Stalin’s last years, were publicly and generously recalled by the chiefs of the party and the army – indeed by almost every personality who mattered in Moscow with the exception of Molotov, whose signature had figured next to Stalin’s under the act of the 1948 excommunication. Khrushchev himself has ostentatiously drunk the health of Comrade (not of ‘Mr’ or ‘Marshal’) Tito.

Retrieving Stalin’s Blunders: Marshal Tito, however, has accepted all this meed of praise rather gingerly. He has paid a few reserved compliments to the ‘courage of Stalin’s successors’, and has been wary of further military entanglements with the West. But he has been equally wary of any spectacular rapprochement with the East. He did not, in his turn, drink to the health of Comrade Khrushchev. And he emphatically stated that he would negotiate with his Soviet guests only about the affairs of their respective governments, not about the relationship between their respective parties.

After this snub, what still impelled the Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party to pay this unprecedented homage to Tito?

The answer may be found only in that slow, confused, yet unmistakable breakdown of the Stalinist orthodoxy that has been going on in the USSR despite all the shifts in the ruling groups and despite Khrushchev’s own embarrassed attempts to call a halt to the process. The Belgrade visit seemed to throw more light on Russia’s internal situation than on its foreign policy. There is evidently a sense of guilt and shame abroad in Moscow, even in the highest ruling circles, for Stalin’s worst blunders and follies; and there is a desire to make amends for some of these. Khrushchev and Marshal Bulganin may have overthrown Malenkov with the intention of bringing the party back to its old Stalinist ways. But the recoil against Stalinism was still strong enough to send both of them off to Belgrade.

Perhaps even unawares, Khrushchev dealt a new blow at the monolithic outlook of his party. When Pravda recently discussed the close affinity between the Soviet and the Yugoslav social systems, saying that both were based on public ownership and the political predominance of workers and toiling peasants, and when it emphasised that this ‘basic’ affinity was not diminished by still existing ‘substantial differences of views’, Pravda was in fact injecting a huge dose of ‘heresy’ into the minds of its own readers. The Stalinist canon of the monolithic party consisted precisely in that no ‘substantial differences of views’ could be allowed to develop among Communists, because only one view – the official one – represented the real interest of socialism, whereas the heretical view inevitably led to the restoration of capitalism. In accordance with this canon the whole Soviet press until recently depicted Titoist Yugoslavia as a country in which capitalism had been or was being restored. Without this the 1948 excommunication would not have been ideologically justified.

There is some evidence to show that the story about the restoration of capitalism was accepted at its face value not only by the uninformed Soviet public but even in party circles that might have been expected to know better. Pravda has now gone further and declared that where there are disagreements among Communists, the ‘heretical’ view does not necessarily amount to a betrayal of Communism or socialism. Yet if this is true about differences of views between two parties, may it not also be true about disagreements within one Communist Party? This question must have occurred to some of Pravda’s readers who may have wondered whether Pravda’s words were not an indirect and implicit legalisation of inner controversy in the Soviet party as well.

Rehabilitation’ in Poland: That this is not a conclusion drawn over-hastily from a few vague sentences in Pravda is shown by other developments in the Soviet bloc. From the inner Communist angle, these are perhaps even more significant than Khrushchev’s visit to Belgrade, although they have attracted little attention in the outside world. A rehabilitation more strange and startling than that of Tito has just taken place in Poland. Those familiar with the history of the old Comintern remember that in the late 1930s, in the period of the great purges, Stalin disbanded the Communist Party of Poland as one which was ‘riddled with spies, PiƂsudski-ists, Trotskyites’, etc. The Polish party had always worked underground and had been severely persecuted. By the time of its disbandment at least seven thousand members crowded the Polish prisons. Most of its leaders, virtually its whole Central Committee, had found refuge in Moscow. During the Yezhov terror nearly all of them were imprisoned there and executed as traitors and spies. Among them were men and women who had fought for thirty and even forty years without a break in Poland’s underground movement. The best known was Adolf Warski, Rosa Luxemburg’s close associate, who had represented the Polish Social-Democratic Party in the Second International before 1914 and who later led the Communist parliamentary group in the Warsaw Diet. Warski had indeed stood close to Bukharin and Rykov, at least in his political views. But Warski’s chief opponent and rival, Julian Lenski-Leszczynski, who had for many years represented the Polish party at the Executive of the Comintern and had been known for his Stalinist zeal – it was he who expelled the writer of this article from the party – was also executed.

All these victims of the Stalinist terror, all these traitors, spies, Trotskyists and Bukharinists, have now been suddenly rehabilitated. The act was carried out in rather odd fashion. The party newspapers have published long historical accounts of the Polish Communist movement, extolling the ‘heroic’ roles which the men executed in Moscow had played as ‘leaders and inspirers of the Polish working class’. Tribuna Ludu, the organ of the Central Committee, has filled its columns with the pictures of Stalin’s victims. Not a word has been said, however, about the circumstances under which they met death.

In this rehabilitation, the Polish President and his associates have hardly acted only on their own initiative. They have evidently had Moscow’s blessing for the act. This Polish rehabilitation, like the Yugoslav one, is only the beginning of a much wider historic revision of Stalin’s great purges, a revision which may take years to accomplish, but which is inseparable from the breaking up of Stalinist orthodoxy.