Mythology and Mechanics of a Coup

Mythology and Mechanics of a Coup

Having found rather poor enlightenment in the hour-by hour thrillers of Khrushchev’s coup d’etat, we must admit that we prefer historical novelists to Russia experts when it comes to relating who did whom in. But we have been fascinated by the experts nevertheless. Unwillingly, and unwittingly, they have provided an amazing story of their own —the story of their gyrations in evaluating and interpreting Russian history since Stalin’s death. Their heroes have changed as often as the Kremlin’s “line.” In the beginning Beria was touted as the “reasonable man” who might agree even to give up the Russian post-war conquests; the hope sheets let him come as close to being a benefactor of mankind as any Russian will ever be, but, alas(, he fell from grace, not only in Moscow but in Western capitals, too.

Fortunately, a new hero was revealed: Malenkov was the man to watch. He wished to give the Russian people a pause, to provide them with consumer goods after the Western fashion, and hence could not afford to be aggressive in foreign affairs. Of course, it did not turn out that way. The next Four Year Plan again was a Five Year Plan to be fulfilled in four years, and consumer goods again constituted a disappointingly small percentage of total output. Malenkov himself publicly admitted that he did not quite understand the job, and went to the rear of the collective-leadership coach.

Undismayed, the Russia experts trusted that Malenkovism would survive Malenkov. There was Kollektivnost in the Kremlin; they were even taking votes in Presidium meetings! It was encouraging; surely not government by the people yet, but the beginning of democracy at the top. Where, after all, should it begin if not at the top? At the bottom perhaps? Hungary showed where such fooling around was likely to end. Better trust the “thaw” among the intelligentsia. A critic actually could say in Moscow that socialist realism was not the only possible form of art. It even was possible to write a novel in which a Party secretary was shown up for inefficiency and loose morals. To be sure, at the end he was properly rebuked and repentant; nevertheless—these intellectual stirrings were presumed to show that other groups were raising their heads and their sights: not the Party alone but the army, the cultural elite, and above all the industrial managers were running the country. They were not of one mind, but they all were united against the police and personal dictatorship. A return to Stalin, so we were told, would be particularly obnoxious to the Army and to the managers; and these were the people that counted. Russia was on its way to democratization. If the “proletarian” state was not yet withering away, the dictatorship was. Marx himself had proved it: the growing economic substructure would force changes in Russia’s political superstructure. The managers could not help doing away with th...


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