Reading recent interpretations of the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, one is inclined to feel that they reveal far less about the character of the changes in Russian politics and society than about the moods and desires of those who do the interpreting. Thus, when Aneurin Bevan writes that the Communist parties of the West are henceforth going to accept the parliamentary game and strive for limited objectives within the framework of Western democracy; or when the inimitable John Foster Dulles declares that the Twentieth Congress signifies a defeat for previous Communist strategies (presumably as the result of his superior diplomatic moves) , one is inclined to feel that we are dealing here with projections of the political illiteracy that characterizes both the “progressives” and reactionaries of our time—and let it go at that. Yet the recent Russian events, for all that it is much too early to attempt any definitive or detailed analysis, are clearly of the highest significance and they must be taken seriously in their own right as portents of possible major changes in Russian society.
“Oh, thank God that the old days are past,” exclaimed one high Communist leader to former President Auriol of France when the latter asked his Russian hosts about the meaning of the Party Congress. Even if one allows for possible guile, it would seem that the Congress speeches and resolutions gave expression to similar feelings among the widest strata of Russian society, and that they were, in turn, deliberately designed to elicit precisely such responses. Partly they were a calculated attempt to bring about a stabilization, normalization and “regularization” of the regime; partly, a skilled response by the party leadership to these very desires. The whole population, for obvious reasons, must have felt both terror-weary and war-weary; and those elements in the population to which the Khrushchev regime may be assumed to be particularly sensitive—the new strata of ambitious managers, bureaucrats, state and party functionaries who had grown up during the post-revolutionary and terrorist decades, who care little about ideology and want most of all the opportunity to exercise their positions of power without having to fear that they will wake up in Siberia the next morning—these must have been particularly eager for some sort of stabilization.