The Khrushchev Ouster

First Published: ANTITHESIS, November-December, 1964
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The sudden ouster of Premier Khrushchev was an event, almost wholly unanticipated. The press reaction, especially on the Left, was mainly limited to expressions of surprise and cautious comment. For some elements of the Left, those which had identified themselves with Khrushchev’s view of peaceful coexistence, it was a cruel blow. They could take comfort only in the early statements of Brezhnev and Kosygin who insisted that there would be no change in Soviet foreign policy. Other sections of the Left, including ANTITHESIS, which had held Khrushchev to be a dangerous renegade from the path of Socialist unity, were pleased with the ouster although hardly overcome with optimism that this would bring about an immediate return to Marxism-Leninism in the U.S.S.R. The bourgeois press in the U. S. generally viewed the events in Moscow with “apprehension.” They, like the CP Left, tried to find solace in the early statements from the CPUSSR. Syndicated columnist Murry Kempton was moved to write that Khrushchev was the “best premier of the Soviet Union the United States ever had.”

Marxist-Leninists throughout the world were hardly overwhelmed by the sudden change of seats. We, unlike the revisionists (especially the CPUSA, friends and followers), have long been aware of the deteriorating position of the Khrushchev line. We were aware of the difficulties within the Soviet Union, especially in agriculture, as a result of backsliding toward capitalism. We were aware of the growing influence of Marxism-Leninism and, conversely, the declining influence of revisionism throughout the world. Nonetheless, in all honesty, we must say that the ouster of Khrushchev came as a pleasant surprise. It was a dramatic indication of the failure of revisionism, and it undoubtedly was a valuable assist to the Marxist-Leninist forces both inside and outside the USSR.

Gus Hall, the spokesman for the CPUSA, managed to stumble through a series of press conferences on the subject of K’s ouster. No doubt he was delighted at the attention given his views, and a chance to step into the spotlight as a Kremlinologist. Nonetheless he had little to say except to indicate that he alone put credence in the “official reason” as put forth by Moscow – that Khrushchev was removed for reasons of poor health. The People’s World reported the San Francisco Press conference (in part) as follows:

“Qualifying his remarks with the observation that he could only offer ’a good Communist guess’, Hall expressed the opinion that undoubtedly problems had accumulated in the Soviet government and party leadership because of Khrushchev’s methods of work and certain personality traits.

“He said that no doubt Khrushchev was criticized by his colleagues, that he did not accept the censure, and resigned instead.

“It is in this area,” Hall added, “that the question of ill health and advancing age played a role. As you know, the older a man gets the more set in one’s way he becomes. I believe this is what happened to Khrushchev. ”

Thus with such Pollyanna-like gibberish, the United States spokesman for revisionism gave comment on one of the major political events of the past few years.


As our Chinese comrades have pointed out, the failures of Khrushchev are too voluminous for any definitive cataloging. Wilfred G. Burchett, the Moscow correspondent of the National Guardian, wrote in the November 7 issue of that publication of the main areas of dissatisfaction toward Khrushchev among workers and Party rank and file. It is an excellent account of the vainglorious bunglings of a Tammany-like politician, a man who attempted to rewrite Soviet history with himself as chief protagonist.

“A fundamental (dissatisfaction) was Khrushchev’s drive to get the Soviet people to spit upon their own past; to turn their backs on their great revolutionary achievements – even including their world-shaking victory over German fascism – because these were accomplished during the Stalin era... Such tendencies, plus the depiction of Khrushchev as the real victor of the Battle of Stalingrad, and the erroneous statement that he was one of the founders of the Red Army, contributed greatly to a decrease in his prestige in recent years.”

Burchett’s sober analysis gives valuable insights into the mood of the Soviet people as they reacted to some of K’s whims.

It would be a serious error to consider Khrushchev’s failures as being merely mistakes. It would also be folly to label every failure as being solely the result of K’s efforts. Khrushchev war the major spokesman for a clique of renegades which has come to dominate the CPUSSR. Most of these politicians are still in power and there is no evidence that such men as Suslov, Brezhnev, Kosygin, Mikoyan, and friends will soon be removed. They have developed a corrupt bourgeois ideology and have tried to affix it to Marxism-Leninism.

The critical failure of the Khrushchev clique was their attempt to accommodate Socialism to U.S. imperialism. They did not accept the fact that the fundamental contradiction in the world today is between Socialism and Imperialism. And the wars of national liberation in Asia, Africa, and South America have become the focal point of this contradiction. The CPUSSR has viewed each of these conflicts as a potential danger to themselves inasmuch as they feared that each of these conflicts could escalate into a world war. They did not wish to recognize that the only guarantee against world war is the success of such wars of liberation. As we shall point out further, the CPUSSR gave lip service to the struggles of the people trying to free themselves from imperialistic domination, and at the same time sought to influence some agreement with the U.S. for the “cessation of hostilities.”

The bloody fighting in the Congo today is largely a result of the fact that the Soviet Union did not exercise its veto right in the UN thus permitting the UN forces to topple the Lumumba government at the behest of U, S. imperialism. In India the Soviet Union became the chief supporter of the corrupt Congress Party, long after it had lost any pretence of being neutral or Socialist. The CPUSSR continued to support the Indian ruling class even during the conflict with China, a conflict provoked by the Indian bourgeoisie to consolidate their own power in the face of growing mass unrest. And in Brazil, the CP leader, Carlos Prestes, returned from Moscow with dreams of structural reform only to see the structure reformed by the fascists. There are many other examples of the folly of attempting to compromise Socialism with imperialism, a compromise that is now being spurned by revolutionaries in the exploited countries.

In their attempt to accommodate Socialism to imperialism, the Khrushchev clique distorted the meaning of peaceful co-existence. To them peaceful co-existence meant bargaining away revolutionary potential in an effort to appease the imperialists. They did not believe that imperialism must be defeated whereever it attempted to strangle the destinies of nations and peoples. True peaceful co-existence would eliminate the possibility of the major nations from warring against each other. But it would not seek to negate the class struggle nor would it confine that struggle to the bourgeois ballot box.

The Khrushchev clique, then, in order to establish its precedent for revisionism was obliged to rewrite the revolutionary past of the USSR. The Twentieth Congress set the stage for this intrigue. The clique, in order to buttress its own power, found it necessary to debunk Leninism without debunking Lenin. Stalin was the natural target in this effort, and all the difficulties of building a Socialist nation during an era of conflict and world disaster provided the rationalization. Stalin was Lenin’s heir; he saw the realization of Lenin’s early work and theory. To destroy the image of the Leninist Stalin was to enable the clique to abandon many of Lenin’s theories, most notable the dictatorship of the proletariat. Stalin was certainly not exempt from criticism but the Twentieth Congress was not concerned with a critical evaluation, rather it was bent upon setting the basis for a radical departure from Leninism.

This debunking of Stalin along with many of Lenin’s teachings and practices wrought havoc throughout the Socialist world. This was the necessary initial price of revisionism. But the game became costlier. As Albania and China moved to counter this opportunism, economic and political pressures were exerted and the ideological, dispute was on.

The revisionists had one initial asset in their struggle against Marxism-Leninism. That was the personality of Nikita Khrushchev. He was a colorful character who could match any revolutionary in phraseology, and compete with any capitalist in duplicity. The Chinese have used an appropriate metaphor to describe this Russian version of Sen. Snort: “a buffoon on the contemporary political stage” And like all slapstick, the finale for the joker was comic humiliation. He didn’t leave the stage; it was pulled out from under him.

It is a sad fact, however, that even buffoons have their followers and even they leave their mark. The road back to Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet Union will not be an even one. There is no firm indication that the present leadership is even considering this course. And the Khrushchev legacy, as the Peking Review notes, “has made the Communist Parties in a number of capitalist countries lifeless social-democratic parties of a new type and caused them to degenerate into servile tools of the bourgeoisie.” Thus the leadership of the CPUSA stands as evidence of the fact that even buffoons have their mimics and imitators.


The Peking Review of November 27, 1964 makes the following observation concerning Khrushchev:

“Under the signboard of the ’state of the whole people’, he abolished the dictatorship of the proletariat; under the signboard of the ’party of the entire people’, he altered the proletarian character of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and divided that Party into an ’industrial’ and ’agricultural’ party in contravention of the Marxist-Leninist principle of Party organization.”

This observation, we believe, lends some insight into the contradictions within the USSR that provided both the base of support and the source of opposition to the Khrushchev clique.

The Soviet Union has never completed the job of socializing agriculture. This is a problem that Khrushchev inherited, but instead of trying to resolve it he took many steps backward. The concept of private plots was expanded and all attempts to progress beyond the collectives was stopped. He unleashed a propaganda barrage against the Chinese but a couple of years later was forced to make foreign wheat purchases. Burchett, in the aforementioned article, writes:

“One aspect of Khrushchev’s personal way of handling affairs that brought his closest supporters to despair at times were his unpredictable jumps from one position to another. A typical example concerns the question of corn. For years, Khrushchev stumped the country, calling on farmers to switch to maize production. The wheat lands of the Ukraine were turned over to maize; the pastures of the Baltic countries were turned over to maize; the agricultural structure of the country was turned upside down. And in the last two years, Soviet gold reserves have been drastically reduced while huge wheat purchases were made in the U.S. and Canada. ”

Despite, or more correctly, because of gross departures from Socialist practice, Khrushchev was able to build a base of support among some elements of the peasantry. They were increasingly allowed some of the advantages of capitalist production, that is, private production and market speculation, without the disadvantages of the farmers in a capitalist country. They were safeguarded from price fluctuation and the dangers inherent in competitive distribution.

If some of the peasants felt themselves well off under the “liberal” regime of the Khrushchev clique, the intellectuals and technicians had it even better. For many reasons, some of them quite sound, they have always been a privileged group in the Soviet Union. The danger inherent is obvious and criticism of this situation must go back beyond the Khrushchev clique. But it is during the past few years that this “new Soviet man”, far removed from the popularized “wise old worker”, came into his own.

This intellectual elite no doubt was enthusiastic about Khrushchev so long as he was successful. But when difficulties developed, when revisionism ran counter to the logic of a revolutionary world, then new methods were obviously necessary. Nonetheless the freewheeling liberalism of Khrushchev was a factor that guaranteed their support even after revisionism began to fall apart.

As Burchett notes, the main opposition to the Khrushchev clique came from the working class. Khrushchev’s policies ran up against the logic of three decades of Soviet construction under Lenin and Stalin. The strongly revolutionary and highly organized Soviet workers were not long taken in by the revolutionary phrasemongering of the clique.

The military were also a factor in the ouster of Khrushchev. The test ban treaty was costly to them, as Khrushchev once predicted it would be. As we shall point out further, the test ban treaty worked to the advantage of the West and in turn compromised Soviet security.

We are only trying to indicate that the very class struggle which Khrushchev claimed had ended in the Soviet Union was that which finally buried him. And the Party reflecting this struggle became the instrument of his removal. But in doing so the leadership of the CPUSSR reserved their criticism solely for K, as if he alone had brought about their difficulties. Self criticism has not been the order of the day in the Soviet Union. Perhaps this is just another Leninist principle that they thought was buried with Stalin.


Attention has been focused on the new leaders of the USSR and many attempts have been made to speculate what policies they will follow. All indications seem to point to the fact that, as close associates of Khrushchev, they will tend to follow many of the same policies. The New York Times, October 16, 1964, prophesied that “they would carry out Khrushchev’s policies of ’peaceful co-existence’ with the U.S.” and that “the party would continue to carry out policies of de-Stalinization and economic improvements under the new leadership.”

The following biographies are excerpted from the New York Times, October 16, 1964:

Leonid L Brezhnev, who was considered the logical successor to Khrushchev, was born in the Ukraine on December 16, 1906, the son of a steelworker. He was trained as a metallurgical engineer, but two years after graduation he was drawn into full-time party work, having at that time been elected vice chairman of the executive committee of the Dneprodzerzhinsk City Soviet of Working Peoples’ Deputies. He then rose rapidly through the Party hierarchy. During World War II he was a major general and directed work of political commissars in the Ukraine.

Khrushchev did similar work in this area. Brezhnev endeared himself to Khrushchev for his supervision of huge Virgin Lands farm areas of Kazakhstan (1954-6). In 1960 Brezhnev was elected President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet or Chief of State. In 1961 he was elected a member of the Central Committee and in 1963 he was elected Secretary of the Central Committee. He has received two Orders of Lenin and two Red Banner of Labor orders.

Throughout his long career in the Party, the Times reports that “he has said so little in public about basic Soviet policies that it is difficult to define his position on the ideological questions. ” However, he has often echoed Khrushchev’s views and had loyally supported him.

Brezhnev is an able administrator and has served in three regions of the USSR. He appeared to have had some control over police and may have support from influential military figures. Except for Khrushchev, he is the only politician in the USSR to hold the rank of lieutenant general.

Aleksei N. Kosygin, the new Head of State in the Soviet Union, was born in 1904, the son of a lathe operator. Fifteen years later he became a part of the Revolution by enlisting in the Red Army. After three years of service he left the army and began his education in a co-operative school in Leningrad and later attended the Leningrad Textile Institute.

“Within a short period of time, Kosygin climbed from the director of a factory to the following positions: Mayor of Leningrad, Commissar of the Soviet Textile Industry, Commissar of All Consumer Industries, Premier of the Council of People’s Commissars, the Premier of the Russian Republic (largest of the sixteen Soviet Republics). The AP dispatch points out that Kosygin is “probably more familiar with Soviet industry than any other single person”.

“Kosygin’s ability as an administrator and economist brought him higher in the hierarchy of the political structure of the Soviet Union. After becoming a member of the Presidium he was appointed Finance Minister by Stalin in 1948. Four years later he was reduced to an alternate member of the Politburo and then removed from the Presidium the following year. He was later renamed to the Presidium and in 1960 became the First Vice-Chairman of the Council of Ministers, First Deputy Premier. In addition to these achievements, he has received the two highest decorations in the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin and the Hero of Socialist Labor.

“Kosygin, who is credited as being more pro-Western than other high officials, and who has often been seen at parties in the U.S. Embassy and other Western Chanceries, was the first member of the Presidium to defend withdrawal of Russian missies from Cuba during the 1962 crisis.” (NYT dispatch, Oct. 18, 1964.)

Although Brezhnev and Kosygin have rarely made public statements, the above mentioned facts would seem indicative of their political outlook.


What do the new leaders of the USSR, Brezhnev and Kosygin represent? From a look at their backgrounds and (revisionist) political outlook, what can be said about trends in the Soviet Union? Nearly all of Kosygin’s adult life has been connected with industrial production and economic planning. But the point here is that Kosygin is one of the leaders of what the AP dispatch calls, “The new managerial class”; more important is that men such as Brezhnev and Kosygin have “Through the years and especially since the death of Stalin replaced the Old Bolsheviks in important posts.” (NYT AP dispatch). This is not the place for an extended treatment of how far such a development in the USSR goes to explain the revisionism that is characteristic of the present Soviet leadership. But we can say that the rapid industrialization of the USSR beginning with the first Five-Year Plans and the attempt to lay the industrial basis for socialism and communism created the need for engineers, technicians, planners, economists, etc. – a need which the USSR has met. Such people including Brezhnev and Kosygin performed valuable functions for socialist construction and served their country well during the War against the Nazis. However, two important questions must be asked. Are the prestige and privileges accorded to those in the intelligentsia and in high administrative positions responsible for their revisionism? Was there a failure in the years of Stalin’s leadership to develop a revolutionary leadership that would carry on in the Marxist-Leninist tradition of the Old Bolsheviks who are now being replaced?

These questions will long be outstanding. They are fundamental to the Russian experience. But also fundamental to the Russian experience, and in the long run more decisive, is the revolutionary character of the Russian people. Socialism has freed them from economic exploitation; it has also liberated them from intellectual strangulation. We are confident that they will once again provide the Soviet Union with revolutionary leadership. But this will not be accomplished overnight nor will the process be free of vacillations. In the short run therefore, we are not optimistic; in the long run we have no doubt that revisionism will be cast aside and its supporters like Nikita Khrushchev – relegated to the footnotes of history.