Isaac Deutscher 1960

Khrushchev Plays The Waiting Game

Source: The Reporter, 21 January 1960. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

‘We too like Ike’, the Italian Communists chanted when President Eisenhower arrived in Rome early in December. Their leader, Palmiro Togliatti, told them to forget their old slogan ‘Yankee go home!’ and turn out en masse to welcome the President along his route. In this incident were highlighted, somewhat ironically, Khrushchev’s efforts to align all Communist parties behind his summit diplomacy. The Italian Communists accomplished their change of front just after a long-prepared conference of seventeen Western European Communist parties had been held in Rome, the first such conference to be held since the dissolution of the Cominform; and so it was with the blessing of the conference that Togliatti instructed his party to ‘like Ike’.

This need not have come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the curious twists and turns that have recently been introduced into the tactics of various Communist parties in various parts of the world. In Asia and Africa as well as in Europe the Communist parties have had to adjust themselves to the consequences of Khrushchev’s American journey and to the abatement of the Cold War. Moscow has made it clear to them that henceforth ‘peaceful coexistence’ must be treated as something more than a propagandist shibboleth, and that its requirements must govern the conduct of every Communist party. True, even Khrushchev seems a little afraid that in an atmosphere of détente the Communist parties might get too soft; and so he has reminded them that peaceful coexistence, no matter what compromises and conciliatory policies it might entail, should cause no break in the Communist ‘struggle against bourgeois ideology’. The reminder was needed partly as a face-saving device and partly to shield Khrushchev’s policy from the criticisms to which it is exposed within the Communist camp.

The fact is that as under Stalin so under Khrushchev, the Communist parties are called upon to subordinate their policies to the requirements of Soviet diplomacy. If in 1956, in the aftermath of the Twentieth Congress, some Communist leaders outside the Communist bloc hoped that de-Stalinisation would enable them to frame their own tactics without constant reference to Moscow’s foreign policy, they must now be somewhat disappointed. No one had expressed that hope more sanguinely than Togliatti, who proclaimed that the time when the Communist parties took their cue exclusively from Moscow was over and that a new era, the ‘era of polycentrism’, had opened for Communism. There was therefore a touch of the grotesque in the eagerness with which he now once again saw to it that his party’s policy should so spectacularly suit Moscow’s diplomatic convenience.

‘We are fighting for the preservation of the international status quo’ is the cue that now comes from Moscow; and so Communists everywhere must stand for the status quo. They have been told that they must not ‘provoke’ the Western governments and the Western bourgeoisie, nor must they indulge in or threaten any action that might possibly upset that status quo. They must not make themselves guilty of ‘ultra-left extremism’, for if they did, they would play into the hands of those Western reactionaries who seek to continue the Cold War and to obstruct President Eisenhower’s benevolent policy. In a word, Communists must now be sensible, moderate, well-mannered. These instructions (which were brought to Paris by Maurice Thorez, the leader of the French party, after his recent stay in Moscow) were unlikely to cause any grave shock to Western European Communism. Having for years been either on the defensive or reduced to political impotence, the Western European Communist parties have had no chance to upset the status quo anyhow. Whatever the party line, the Italian Communist leaders were not preparing to seize power in the near future; and the French have been only too glad and even pleasantly surprised to see that de Gaulle has so far allowed them to carry on under the Fifth Republic as a tolerated opposition. Yet there has been some heartache among Communists in Paris who seem to like Ike somewhat less than their Roman comrades do.

Surrender in Iraq: In other parts of the world, for instance in the Middle East, where the status quo is far more fragile and where the Communists could undermine it, the impact of Khrushchev’s policy has been far more dramatic. This is especially true of Iraq, where conditions are still highly unstable and from where the Communists might well be able to upset the whole precarious balance of the Middle East.

The Baghdad revolution of July 1958 had given the Communists there an extraordinary opportunity. They were at the head of the insurgent crowds that rose against the monarchy and brought General Abdul Karim Kassem to power. In the following months, up to May-June 1959, their influence grew by leaps and bounds. They led the trade unions, they captured the student organisations, and they entrenched themselves in the armed forces. They demanded their share of power, and when Kassem refused to offer them seats in his government, it looked as if they were preparing to carry the revolution a stage further and overthrow him. Ittihad al Shaab, the Communist newspaper of Baghdad, openly accused the general of treason to the revolution, and Communist speakers at turbulent mass meetings echoed the accusation. Most Western observers on the spot agreed that Kassem could hardly hold his ground against an all-out Communist offensive. His own following was small, and he refused to try to rally the anti-Communist forces, which were intimidated and disorganised and for whose support Nasser made a bid when he attacked Kassem as a ‘Communist stooge’.

Then, in the summer, the Communist offensive was suddenly called off – on urgent demands from Moscow, where reports about the rising revolutionary temperature of Iraq had caused alarm. Khrushchev refused to countenance a Communist upheaval in Baghdad – he feared that this would provoke renewed Western intervention in the Eastern Mediterranean, set the Middle East aflame, and wreck his policy of peaceful coexistence. He was already reckoning with the prospect of his visit to Washington and was anxious to produce evidence of Soviet ‘good will’ in the Middle East.

A bill of indictment against the Iraqi Communist leaders was drawn up in Moscow and the party was ordered not merely to make its peace with Kassem but to surrender to him unconditionally with only a minimum of face-saving. These were the main counts in the indictment.

* The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Iraq was wrong in turning against Kassem and denouncing him as a traitor. It was a mistake on its part to raise a clamour for Communist participation in Kassem’s government and to call turbulent mass demonstrations in support of that demand.

* The party had overplayed its hand in forming the so-called National Front; and in the months of its ascendancy it had allowed its own ranks to become swamped by ultra-left extremists.

* The party was ‘dizzy with success'; it tolerated and even encouraged mob violence in the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere, and thereby it played into the hands of the counter-revolution.

In conclusion, Moscow ‘advised’ the Central Committee to demote those of its leaders who were guilty of these ‘deviations’, to purge the ranks and expel the ultra-left extremists, to come out openly with a mea culpa, to ‘dissociate itself from mob violence and mob hysteria’, and to acknowledge General Kassem as the ‘national revolutionary leader’.

These instructions have been carried out to the letter; and the Iraqi Central Committee has published a cringing recantation in Ittihad al Shaab, which Moscow’s Kommunist has eagerly publicised. Since the far-off days in the middle 1920s when Stalin ordered the Chinese Communists to serve as the ‘Kuomintang’s coolies’, no Communist party has ever been exposed to quite as abject an humiliation.

Algerian Sidestep: At the same time, Khrushchev also called a halt to the incipient Communist campaign against President Nasser, in which he had been accused of selling out to Western imperialism. Khrushchev silenced these accusations, partly ‘not to drive Nasser further into Western arms’ and partly to demonstrate to the West that Moscow had no intention of obstructing the improvement in relations between Egypt and the Western powers.

The repercussions of this policy have also been felt in North Africa. Moscow has never given more than tepid verbal support to the struggle of the Algerian insurgents; and since de Gaulle has invited Khrushchev to France, the lukewarmness has turned to chilliness. Moscow has openly endorsed de Gaulle’s scheme for an Algerian settlement. The French Communists at first denounced the scheme as a fraud, only to be told by Thorez after his return from Moscow that they were wrong and that they must accept de Gaulle’s scheme and merely insist on its proper implementation. Such an attitude differs little, if at all, from that adopted by the ‘Gaullist Left’, and it is no mean embarrassment for the Communists to become almost indistinguishable from the latter. For the moment Thorez seems to be out of step even with his own Politburo, while the Politburo has trouble with the rank and file, who feel that the moral credit Moscow has given de Gaulle has strengthened his hand vis-à-vis the Communists even in domestic affairs.

In the Far East, too, Khrushchev has demonstratively assumed the role of guardian of the status quo. This is the sense of his refusal to take sides in the frontier dispute between India and China and of his ‘impartial appeal’ to both for an amicable settlement of the conflict. This gesture of Soviet neutrality in a conflict between a Communist government and a bourgeois one must have shocked not only Peking but even some people in Moscow who hold that the frontier dispute has been artificially concocted not by Mao but by India’s Congress Party. It is, they claim, part of a drive against the Indian Communist Party designed to justify Nehru’s ousting of the Communist government of Kerala and to discredit Indian Communism. Khrushchev has evidently refused to endorse this view and to some extent has deliberately strengthened Nehru’s position vis-à-vis both Chinese and Indian Communists. Uncommitted opinion in Asia is bound to conclude that if even the Soviet leader refuses to declare his solidarity with Mao on this occasion, then Mao must be in the wrong. Khrushchev has not spared Mao this embarrassment, because he has been out to demonstrate once again that he ‘means business’ when he speaks of the preservation of the status quo, and that in the interest of the status quo he is prepared to curb his great and sensitive ally.

Finally, official Moscow has watched with the utmost discretion President Eisenhower’s triumphant progress through the countries of the Middle East and India. If the President had gone on such a tour in different circumstances or, say, a year earlier, Moscow would have denounced it as an attempt to bring the former colonial and semi-colonial countries ‘under the domination of American imperialism’ and to align them militarily with SEATO and NATO. Even now Moscow is uneasy about the implications of the journey, and many Russian leaders suspect that Eisenhower has egged on Nehru to exacerbate the conflict with China and has virtually drawn India into the system of Western alliances. So far, however, no official voice in Moscow has been allowed to vent the suspicion and no unfriendly remark has been permitted to disturb in public the atmosphere of good will that should prevail in the months preceding the summit meeting.

The international Communist movement appears to have accepted the new zigzag in the party line without demur. But this unanimity is not unruffled, for not all Communist leaders are as eager to accept the consequences of Khrushchev’s summitry as Togliatti has been. The French, as we have seen, have their misgivings. They are hoping to make propaganda capital out of Khrushchev’s visit to France, but they know that de Gaulle is likely to make far greater capital. In any case, when Khrushchev seeks to befriend de Gaulle, French Communism finds the edge of its own anti-Gaullism uncomfortably blunted. Worse still, one of the incidental results of the new party line is to hold up to ridicule the campaign against revisionism and Titoism, a campaign in which the French Communist leaders have participated with great zeal. One of their chief charges against Tito has been his ‘hobnobbing with the West’. Yet the Yugoslavs have never come out with the cry ‘We too like Ike'; and compared with the crudities of the Khrushchevite ‘friendship with the West’, Tito’s attitude must now appear to many Communists as one of dignified reserve and discretion. The Yugoslavs themselves are not at all eager to make much of this difference, because on the whole they approve the latest trend in Soviet policy and have no intention of interfering with the French and Italian Communist Parties as they adjust their tactics to that trend. But the Yugoslavs feel that the anti-revisionist campaign has suffered a setback and that in due time this should have repercussions in Eastern Europe.

Betrayal of Asia? Much more important than these ripples of agitation in European Communism is Peking’s disapproval of Khrushchev’s ‘rightist’ tactics. Perhaps motives are mixed. There is still too much revolutionary fervour in Communist China for its rulers to be able to swallow easily Khrushchev’s diplomatic opportunism, and Mao has no reason to be enthusiastic about summit meetings from which his government is excluded. He has more than once intimated to Khrushchev that he will not consider himself bound by any East-West settlement to which he has not been a party. Khrushchev appears to pay little heed to the warning, and he has certainly done less than he might have done to associate China and other members of the Soviet bloc with his diplomacy. While the ministers of the Western powers assembled in Paris for their pre-summit meetings and President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Herter went to great length to reconcile divergences and dissensions within NATO, Mao and other Communist leaders must have reflected on the fact that Khrushchev had not even bothered to call them together in a similar way and to thrash out with them his line of conduct at the summit. True enough, since his return from Washington, Khrushchev has paid visits to Peking and various other Communist capitals. But he has evidently preferred such ‘bilateral contacts’ to a full-scale pre-summit conference of Communist governments, perhaps because such a conference might provide too large a sounding board for their discords.

The Chinese not only resent the rebuke to them that was implied in Khrushchev’s declaration of Soviet neutrality over their border conflict with India; they are, generally speaking, not inclined to accept ‘the preservation of the status quo’ as the present objective of Communist policy. They do not agree that the Communist parties should act, if only temporarily, as the guardians of the status quo. Unlike the Russians, the Chinese have recognised the Algerian rebel government and demonstrated thereby that they are going much further than the Russians in backing anti-imperialist movements in colonial countries. Being themselves the outlaws of Western diplomacy, they had no inhibition in recognising another ‘outlaw’ government. Nor do they approve the Moscow-ordered retreat of the Iraqi Communist Party and its virtual surrender to General Kassem. This has reminded them of the policies of submission to the Kuomintang and to Chiang Kai-shek that Stalin had once imposed on them. And so the Maoists have more than once suggested, though they have not shouted this view from their housetops, that in pursuing his summit diplomacy Khrushchev has been needlessly sacrificing revolution in Asia and has come close to betraying proletarian internationalism.

It was in reply to such voices that Khrushchev in one of his recent speeches suddenly declared that those Communists who doubted the correctness of his policy and would seek to obstruct the détente were behaving in a Trotskyist manner; for it was Trotsky, he alleged, who had held that there could be ‘neither war nor peace’ between Communist and capitalist countries. The reference to Trotsky was taken out of context. He used the famous phrase in exceptional circumstances, in February 1918 at Brest Litovsk, during his peace negotiations with Germany. Trotsky refused to accept the German terms and broke off the negotiations, declaring that there would be neither peace nor war. But soon thereafter he himself voted for the Brest Litovsk peace; and presently he became the earliest advocate of ‘peaceful coexistence’. Khrushchev was, of course, concerned not with the subtleties of historical truth but with his current inner-party controversy. Even in post-Stalinist Communism, Trotskyism has remained the heresy of heresies; and Khrushchev would not have hinted that some of his critics might be contaminated with Trotskyism if the inner-party controversy had not become acute.

The argument in the Communist camp has centred on two issues. First (to put it in the terms in which the argument is conducted), is peaceful coexistence not a mirage? Can the conflict between capitalism and Communism be resolved peacefully? Cannot capitalism resort to war if and when it finds that peaceful competition spells ruin for it? Secondly, what price should Communism be prepared to pay for peaceful coexistence? Should it agree to self-containment? And should it agree to contain revolution in colonial and semi-colonial countries?

Khrushchev’s answer is that, contrary to the traditional Marxist and Leninist assumptions, capitalism may well refrain from war even if it finds itself to be the loser in peaceful competition, because in the nuclear age, and in view of the growing Soviet military superiority, capitalism cannot even hope to improve its chances through war. This being so, there is no reason why the Communist bloc should not accept a policy of self-containment until the time when the Soviet Union will have overtaken the United States industrially and when its higher standards of living and of social efficiency and organisation will make the appeal of Communism irresistible to peoples outside the Soviet bloc. In the meantime, no Communist upheaval in, say, Iraq and no frontier dispute between India and China should be allowed to disturb the peaceful progress of the Soviet Union and of the entire Soviet bloc. To those who reproach him with subordinating the fate of revolution in Asia to his diplomacy, Khrushchev replies: ‘Would you rather see us subordinate the progress and the security of the Soviet Union and of its allies to the supposed interests of Communism in Baghdad?’

The Recalcitrant Dragon: Peking continues to doubt the reality of the détente and to hold that Western imperialism is not disposed to accept the prospect of peaceful coexistence and competition. At the same time, the Maoists speak much more emphatically than the Russians do about ‘the invincible might of the countries of socialism’ and about the ‘irresistible wind from the East’.

They argue, in effect, that if, as Khrushchev claims, the Western powers are so overawed by the destructiveness of nuclear weapons and by Soviet military superiority that they will accept peaceful coexistence even if this brings them to defeat, then this is one more reason why Moscow should not curb revolutionary movements abroad. Would Soviet progress and security really be endangered, Peking asks, if the Communists of Iraq were to take a more aggressive line and even seize power? And how far is Khrushchev prepared to go in containing revolution? The Maoists view India as the next great battlefield of the class struggle; and recent developments in India, with which they are more closely concerned than the Russians, give them no ground for satisfaction. They contrast the meekness with which their Indian comrades have allowed Nehru to destroy the Communist base in Kerala with the determination and stubbornness with which Mao and his men had defended their Yenan base against Chiang Kai-shek in the course of many years. They see the surrender of their Indian comrades as part of Moscow’s design to appease Nehru in the interest of peaceful coexistence – as part of the same design for which Khrushchev has flaunted his neutrality in the boundary conflict.

In all these differences there is stuff for grave controversy in which one may see reproduced, in a new context, some of the motifs of the Trotsky – Stalin controversy of the 1920s. But it is farfetched to suggest that these differences must lead to a definite breach. Khrushchev is no Stalin; he has none of Stalin’s furor teologicus; and Mao is far more of a pragmatist and opportunist than Trotsky was. And – who knows – even Trotsky and Stalin, if they had stood at the head of two different and powerful Communist states, might have maintained a united front before the non-Communist world.

To me at least, the expectation, expressed recently by leading Western statesmen, of a fundamental conflict between Russia and China, in which Russia might even seek to align itself with the West against China, is sheer fantasy. The bonds between the two Communist states are so manifold and strong and the advantages each of the two powers derives from the alliance are so great that neither can allow the alliance to break down. Both will do all they can to keep the Soviet bloc in being. But it is true that within the bloc resentments and tensions are mounting which may strain its unity, may affect Khrushchev’s policy, and may in their turn be affected by the success or the failure of Khrushchev’s diplomatic initiatives.