The Communist Strategy of Deception and
Chapter 4: The Patterns of Disinformation: Transition
THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER BETWEEN STALIN'S SUCCESSORS lasted from
Stalin's death in 1953 to Khrushchev's final victory in June 1957. To an important extent, the struggle was not only between rival personalities, but between rival policies. In the absence of a settled and consistent policy, it is not surprising that there should have been no centralized disinformation department in Soviet intelligence during the period. Disinformation was practiced sporadically by heads of departments acting on the instructions of the head of the service.
The aims of disinformation at this time were to conceal from the West the dimensions of the internal crisis in the communist world, to blur the differences in policy of the contenders for the succession, to hide the savagery of the struggle, and to misrepresent the process of
The successful concealment of internal crisis can be illustrated by the handling of information on events in Georgia.
On March 5, 1956, the anniversary of Stalin's death, the first mass disturbance happened in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Large crowds of people, especially students, gathered spontaneously for an anti-Soviet meeting in the main square. The speakers demanded the
abolition of one-party rule, dissolution of the security service, freedom of speech, and the independence of Georgia from the Soviet Union. The students appealed to the crowds to join the revolt, and many Georgians responded to the appeal. On Khrushchev's order the
special troops were put on the streets, with orders to fire on the crowds. Many were killed and wounded. Many students were arrested. The national units of the Georgian and Armenian
troops in the local military district were disarmed and demobilized in one night.
What happened in Georgia in the spring of 1956 can be likened to "Bloody Sunday" (January 9, 1905), a day infamous in Russian history when, on the orders of the Czar, a people's demonstration was dispersed with bloodshed. In 1905 Bloody Sunday was headlined in
every newspaper in Russia, arousing mass indignation throughout the country. In 1956 the event was ignored. Not a newspaper mentioned it. It was as if it had never happened. It still remains a state secret that Khrushchev and Serov, the Chairman of the KGB, rushed to Georgia to direct the suppression of the disturbance. Georgia was completely isolated from the rest of the country. The area, which attracts holidaymakers from all over the Soviet Union to its famous resorts, was deserted throughout the summer of 1956. Rigid travel control was imposed. It was explained, semi officially, that the strong nationalist feelings of the Georgians had been upset by the condemnation of Stalin.
News of the disturbance in Georgia did later filter through to the West, but it was interpreted as a nationalist outburst of discontent with the treatment of Stalin, not as a spontaneous demonstration against the whole Soviet system.
The Misrepresentation of De-Stalinization
As for the struggle for power, the Central Committee, the KI under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the KGB were all involved by Khrushchev in a successful disinformation operation to misrepresent the reasons for the removal of his rivals and the real character of his
own position and policy. Since this operation involved misrepresentation of the issues involved in Stalinism and de- Stalinization and provided part of the basic technique for the program of strategic disinformation operations launched in 1959, it merits
To avoid misunderstanding, it is useful to begin by drawing a distinction between anticommunism and anti-Stalinism and by defining the extent to which de-Stalinization is a genuine process.
Anticommunism is not specifically linked with hostility to any individual communist leader. It means opposition to communist principles and practice; it is critical of communism in the broadest sense. It has existed in various forms inside and outside the Soviet Union since before 1917. It developed in Lenin's time, flourished under Stalin, and persisted, if less vigorously, under his successors.
Within it three trends can be distinguished: a conservative trend, which is more or less rigid and consistent in its opposition; a liberal trend, which from time to time favors a degree of accommodation with communism; and a neutralist trend, particularly among non communist
neighbors of the communist bloc who try to make practical arrangements with communist regimes to secure their own survival.
Anticommunism in the intelligentsia may spring from the rejection on intellectual grounds of the dogmatic pretensions of Marxism as a philosophy. At all levels of society it is nurtured by the belief that communism is an unnatural, intolerant, and inhuman system that
disregards the individual, maintains itself largely by force and terror, and pursues an aggressive ideological policy aimed at eventual domination of the world. In the past, communist theory and practice in such matters as the seizure of power, the abuse and destruction of democratic institutions, the suppression of personal liberty, and the
use of terror provoked a militant response from social democrats, which led to a deepening gulf between socialist and communist parties and a split in the international labor movement.
The strength of international anticommunism has waxed and waned. The two high peaks were the Anglo-French effort to create a European anti-Soviet coalition during the civil war in Russia from 1918 to 1921, and the creation of NATO after the Second World War.
Inside and outside the Soviet Union, anticommunism has expressed itself in various forms from 1917 onward. Typical examples are found in the civil war in Russia, 1918-21; the separatist movements in the non-Russian republics; the revolts in the Caucasus and Central Asia in
the 1920s; the later underground resistance movements in the Ukraine and Baltic republics; and in the activities of emigre organizations, political refugees, and those who broke with
the Western communist parties.
Opposition of this kind would have existed whether or not Stalin had ever been in power, though it was strengthened and hardened by his repressive influence. In fact, so personal and despotic was Stalin's rule that, for a while, Stalinism became almost synonymous with
communism, and opposition to the one became confused with opposition to the other, particularly since Stalin repressed both kinds of opposition with equal ruthlessness and severity. In the 1930s he crushed actual and imaginary opposition to himself by mass
repressions, even of party members. Some of the leaders of the Third International, like Zinovyev, Bukharin, and Bela Kun, were shot.
Trotskiy, who along with social democratic leaders was regarded by Stalin as being among the most dangerous enemies of the Soviet Union, was assassinated in 1940 by secret agents acting on Stalin's orders. Social democratic leaders in Eastern Europe after the Second
World War were physically eliminated.
All anticommunists are anti-Stalinists. But the important point to note is that anti-Stalinism has traditionally been embraced by many communists who have sought not to abolish the communist system, but to strengthen and purify it by eliminating certain elements in
Stalin's policy and practice. Anti-Stalinism of this type is critical of communism only in a narrow sense. It has existed in the communist movement since 1922. After Stalin's death it became an element in official party life and policy and gave rise to the genuine process of
In many respects Stalin's policy followed classical Leninist doctrine: for example, in the dictatorship of the proletariat and the communist party, industrialization, the collectivization of agriculture, the elimination of the capitalist classes, the construction of "socialism" in the Soviet Union, and in support for "socialist" revolutions abroad. But there were also departures from Leninist principles and practice in Stalin's establishment of his personal
dictatorship, in his ruthless physical elimination of opposition and repression of loyal elements within the party, in the widening gulf he created between the ruling class and the underprivileged workers and collective farmers, and in the manipulation and discrediting of communist ideology.
Communist opposition to Stalin was expressed over the years:
• By Lenin, who in his testament criticized Stalin's rudeness and intolerance and suggested that he should be removed from the post of general secretary of the party.
• Publicly, in the 1920s and 1930s, by Trotskiy and his followers, who distinguished between the Leninist and Stalinist elements in Stalin's policies.
• Publicly by Tito and the Yugoslav Communist party, during and after the split with Stalin in 1948.
• Secretly by Zhdanov and his Leningrad group in 1948.
• Secretly by the Chinese Communist leaders from 1950 to 1953 and openly in 1956.
• In deeds rather than words from 1953 to 1956, and openly from 1956 onward, by the leaders of the CPSU and other communist parties.
The criticisms of these individuals and groups varied in intensity and outspokenness, but all of them remained communists in their different ways and, in particular, they all retained their loyalty to Leninism. Theirs was a true expression of de-Stalinization; that is to say, they believed in the restoration of Leninist communism without Stalinist deviations.
The dangers of Stalinism to the communist movement were ignored or overlooked in the 1930s and 1940s because of the threat of fascism and the opportunities that it provided for the formation of popular fronts with socialist parties in the 1930s and for the forging of the wartime alliance with the Western powers. But by 1953-56, the damage Stalinism had done to the communist cause was apparent. It could be seen in the following:
• The distortion, degradation, and discrediting of communist ideology. The image
of Marxism as a philosophy had been tarnished in the eyes of Western intellectuals.
• Deepening discontent in the Soviet Union and its satellites, leading to explosive revolutionary situations in East Germany, Poland, and Hungary.
• The decline of communist influence and the isolation of communist parties and regimes.
• The revulsion against Stalinist communism of Western liberals who had earlier been sympathetic.
• The increased influence and prestige of anticommunism.
• Strong opposition from various religious movements, including Catholicism and Islam.
• The formation of Western military alliances, such as NATO, SEATO, and the Bagdad pact (later CENTO).
• Hostility from moderate, genuinely nonaligned national leaders of the developing countries, such as Nehru.
• Cooperation between Western democratic governments and anticommunist emigre organizations.
• Collaboration between social democratic and conservative governments and parties against the Soviet threat.
• Yugoslavia's break with the communist bloc and rapprochement with the West in the period 1948-55.
• The serious tensions between the Soviet Union and Communist China, which threatened to create a split between them in 1950-53.
• Zhdanov's opposition to Stalin.
• The major power struggle in the Soviet leadership that followed Stalin's death.
In some areas Stalinism brought together the two kinds of opposition: anticommunism and anti-Stalinism. In the case of Yugoslavia, which found itself closer to the West than to the communist bloc after 1948, they almost fused. In the present context, the most significant episode in the history of unsuccessful opposition to Stalin during his lifetime was the attempt to form a group around Zhdanov in 1948. Although it was a failure, it was known to
Stalin's immediate heirs in the Soviet leadership. It was part of their accumulated store of knowledge of the various forms of opposition to communism and Stalinism and an important argument in compelling them to face the need to correct Stalinist distortions in the system if they were to avoid disaster. De-Stalinization was the obvious course, and an account must
now be given of how it was put into effect after Stalin's death.
De-Stalinization in Practice
Three different phases of de-Stalinization can be distinguished: first, an initial, unrehearsed, and ill-considered but genuine de-Stalinization, carried out from 1953 to 1956 by a confused, divided, and competing leadership under pressure from the populace and in the absence of any long-range policy for the bloc; second, a setback to de- Stalinization in 1956-57, when Khrushchev was resorting to Stalinist methods to suppress revolt in Hungary and opposition to himself in order to secure his own personal preeminence; third, a cautious revival
from 1958 onward of some genuine elements of de-Stalinization (for instance, the gradual release and rehabilitation of some of Stalin's victims) coupled with a calculated political exploitation of the process in which some of its elements were deliberately misrepresented.
Improvised De-Stalinization from 1953 to 1956 De-Stalinization began not, as is often assumed, with Khrushchev's secret report to the Twentieth CPSU Congress in February 1956, but immediately after Stalin's death in March 1953. Each one of the pretenders to the succession, Beriya, Malenkov, Molotov, Bulganin, and Khrushchev, was in his different way an anti-Stalinist. All of them without exception knew of the crisis in the communist system and all
of them agreed on the urgent necessity of abandoning Stalinist policies. On the other hand, there was disagreement on the nature and extent of the changes needed. None of the pretenders was preeminent, none of them had worked out the details of his own policies, and— living as they had done under Stalin's shadow— no agreements on policy had been worked out among them.
The different personalities and policies of the pretenders affected the course of de-Stalinization. Beriya had in mind the deepest and most heterodox forms of change, including the abolition of collective farms. Malenkov, the most confident of the leaders in his own
position, went further than the others in open condemnation of secret police methods and advocacy of concessions to popular demands. De-Stalinization was initiated not by Khrushchev, but by Malenkov, Beriya, and Molotov, who dominated the Presidium after Stalin's death.
Several steps were taken more or less immediately. The cases of certain leading personalities who had been tried and imprisoned under Stalin were reviewed. The Kremlin doctors were released. A ban on mass arrests was issued. International tension was eased by the settlement of the Korean War. Stalin's instruction of December 1952 on the reactivation of Soviet intelligence abroad was canceled, lest it should compromise the impact of the new moderation in Soviet foreign policy.
The first hint of the downgrading of Stalin's role and the admission of his mistakes was given in July 1953 in a secret party letter to the party membership informing them of Beriya's dismissal and the reasons for it. It referred to Stalin not as an outstanding leader, but
simply as "Stalin, I. V.," and bracketed his name with that of Beriya, stating that Stalin's favoritism had prevented Beriya's exposure. It was the first tacit admission to the party membership of the fallibility of Stalin.
Later it became known in party circles that a discussion took place in the Presidium on Malenkov's initiative in July 1953 after Beriya's arrest. It was unanimously decided to make changes in Stalinist practices in the party and administration, although without public
criticism of Stalin. In particular the Presidium recommended a reexamination and reform of the practices of the security service with the idea that, at a future date when the situation in the party and in the country had settled down, a reasonable explanation should be found
for Stalin's deviations from communist principles, such as his unjustified repressions of personnel, including party members. All members of the Presidium, including Khrushchev, agreed that only Stalin and Beriya should be criticized and that there should be no
admission of mistakes by other members of the Presidium.
Thus the secret report on Stalin's crimes, delivered by Khrushchev in February 1956 at the Twentieth Party Congress, which later found its way to the West but which has never been published in the Soviet Union, was in fact the consequence of a Presidium decision. The
report was prepared by Pospelov, the head of the Marx-Engels-Lenin- Stalin Party Research Institute. The facts were taken from secret security service archives, and many of the ideas from accounts of Stalin's repression of the Leninist "Old Guard" found in the memoirs
of former communist leaders published in the West in the 1930s, especially in those of Trotskiy. The draft of Pospelov's report was discussed and approved by the Presidium on the
eve of the party congress.1 While delivering the report, Khrushchev added some personal touches of his own.
The most important point about the report was that it prevented de-Stalinization from developing into an attack on communist principles as a whole. The changes that Beriya and Malenkov had in mind in their revisionist version of de-Stalinization might have altered the
regime in principle. Furthermore, given the depth of the crisis in the communist world and the intensity of the struggle for power in the Soviet leadership, if those changes had been pursued, they might have developed a momentum of their own and brought about a radical transformation of Soviet society regardless of the wishes of their initiators and with incalculable consequences for the Soviet Union and the rest of the communist and noncom-munist world. It was not without reason that Beriya was shot for being an "agent of world
imperialism," and that Malenkov was dismissed as Prime Minister in 1955 for "departing from Lenin's and Stalin's theories." Their ideas had indeed threatened the regime and could have led to a situation that they would have been unable to control. By pinning the blame for all past mistakes on the misdeeds—not the theories—of one single individual, Stalin, the party leadership was able, while introducing some tactical changes, to preserve the essence of the communist regime.
The exposure of Stalin's mistakes gave a substantial boost to anticommunism in general and to anti-Stalinist feeling in both the bloc and nonbloc communist parties. Revolts occurred in Georgia, Poland, and Hungary. The crisis in many other communist parties deepened.
Khrushchev's response was to revert to Stalinist methods. The security service was strengthened; armed force was used to crush revolt in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Khrushchev's progress toward his own form of personal dictatorship alarmed his colleagues in the leadership. Molotov and Malenkov emerged as the leaders of the opposition. At this time Molotov was forming his own attitude and policy on de-Stalinization. He and
his supporters made it clear that they wanted to remove Khrushchev in order to secure a continuation of the de-Stalinization process that Khrushchev had arrested. As communists they wanted to stabilize the system, and they viewed with dismay Khrushchev's establishment of his own cult of personality. It threatened their own position. In their view his resort to a policy of repression might lead to an even bigger explosion than the Hungarian revolt, and it completely contradicted the course adopted after Stalin's death. Khrushchev, in their eyes, was a new Stalin who had to be removed.
The showdown came in June 1957. With the help of the army and the security service, Khrushchev defeated the "antiparty group" by the narrowest of margins. Had the opposition been successful, it would once more have opened up the possibility of a genuine and
uncontrolled process of de-Stalinization and liberalization of the regime. Public exposure of the Stalinist methods used by Khrushchev to gain personal power, coupled with renewed denunciations of secret police repression and a public trial of the KGB chairman, Serov,
would have led to popular demands for further changes. Being divided, the opposition group, had it come to power, would have been obliged to make concessions regardless of the wishes of the individual members. An intensified power struggle would have ensued and a
new, agreed-upon, long-range policy could not have been adopted.
Khrushchev's defeat of the opposition in June 1957 left him in an unchallengeable position, free to reconsider the situation in the Soviet Union and the bloc without interference from inside the leadership.
His first move was to turn the tables on the antiparty group by falsely, but successfully, pinning the Stalinist label on them. He managed to take for himself the credit for the exposure of Stalin's crimes, to conceal his own use of Stalinist methods in the pursuit of power, and
to distract attention from the nature of the opposition's charges against him. Misrepresented as a victory over the forces of Stalinism, his defeat of the opposition was made to look like a blessing for the Soviet public and the world at large. Although there was some initial
scepticism at home, even in a few party organizations, both domestic
and international pressures on the government were eased.
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