Reassessing Nikita Khrushchev

Barry Stoller bstoller at
Tue May 8 11:34:29 MDT 2001

'When it is a question of fighting against imperialism, we can state
with conviction that we are all Stalinists. We can take pride that we
have taken part in the fight for the advance of our great cause against
our enemies. From that point of view, I am proud that we are
Stalinists.' —Khrushchev, December 1956.

In my debates with [various 'Marxist-Leninists'] on the topic of Stalin,
Khrushchev's name appears peripherally, always drawing from them a great
deal of ire. My debates on the topic of Stalin originated with a
question to one of them---namely, if you support China as a socialist
nation (something I would hesitate to do), thus pay some form of respect
to Deng and Jiang, why such animosity towards Khrushchev who is
unfailingly portrayed by 'Marxist-Leninists' as a dupe of the
bourgeoisie? Unlike Deng and Jiang, Khrushchev certainly never
instituted a stock market.

Let me outline some of the outstanding criticisms of Khrushchev.

1. According to Molotov, Khrushchev deserves scorn for implementing
'material incentives' (i.e. higher pay for certain individuals and
sectors), saying that doing so proves that Khrushchev 'th[ought] in a
bourgeois way' (Chuev, Molotov Remembers, Ivan R. Dee 1993, p. 371).
This charge is also adopted by the Trotskyists. Yet it was Stalin who
raised the wage gap from double in Lenin's time to quadruple in
Stalin's. As Deutscher noted: 'At the 17th Congress, in 1934, [Stalin]
decried the equalization of wages and salaries as a "reactionary,
petty-bourgeois absurdity worthy of a primitive sect of ascetics but not
of a socialist society organized on Marxian lines"' (Stalin: A Political
Biography, Oxford 1967, p. 338). Furthermore, it was Stalin who codified
the abandonment of the Marxist (and Leninist) goal of job rotation, the
most logical basis for wage and salary equalization.* All Khrushchev did
was follow a precedent already in place.

* Stalin: 'Everyone is familiar with the gulf which under capitalism
divided the physical workers of enterprises from the managerial
personnel. We know that this gulf gave rise to a hostile attitude on the
part of the workers towards managers, foremen, engineers and other
members of the technical staff, whom the workers regarded as their
enemies. Naturally, with the abolition of capitalism and the exploiting
system, the antagonism of interests between physical and mental labor
was also bound to disappear. And it really has disappeared in our
present socialist system. Today, the physical workers and the managerial
personnel are not enemies, but comrades and friends, members of a single
collective body of producers who are vitally interested in the progress
and improvement of production... But some distinction, if unessential,
will remain, if only because the conditions of labor of the managerial
staffs and those of the workers are not identical' (Economic Problems of
Socialism in the U.S.S.R., International 1952, pp. 24-25).

2. Another criticism, also aired by Molotov, is that Khrushchev was too
willing to concede U.S. military hegemony ('peaceful co-existence').
Indeed, Molotov castigated Khrushchev for backing down during the
Caribbean Crisis. Again,a charge adopted by the Trotskyists. Yet, how
tough was Stalin? Many would say the infamous Molotov-Ribbontrop pact
was a sure sign of Stalin's weakness. Molotov himself defended not
fortifying the border against the Germans because, according to him, to
do so, would have provoked the Germans. Then, there's Korea; Volkogonov
asserts that '[f]rom indirect sources, I have been able to establish
that Stalin took an extremely cautious view of events in Korea and from
the outset made every attempt to avoid direct confrontation between the
U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A.' (Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy, Grove Weidenfeld
1988, p. 540).

3. Then, there's the exclusively Trotskyist criticism of Khrushchev,
whom Trotskyists call a 'Stalinist' because he failed to instigate the
worker's democracy (liberalization) promised by Trotsky (and the Left
Opposition of 1927). In other words: Khrushchev was more of the
same---dictatorship; bureaucratic degeneration; socialism from above;
etc. This criticism is leveled from a nihilist position, of course,
since Trotsky cannot be judged in the role of supreme Soviet. What we
know from Trotsky's days leading the Red Army, not to mention his
opinions of the trade unions, we may wonder just how much 'workers
democracy' he would have provided (i.e. been capable of providing),
however. There is also reason to believe that intraparty purges would
have occurred under Trotsky as well.* The 'Marxist-Leninists' often make
the same accusation---that is, they assert Khrushchev concentrated too
much power in his hands. While it true that Khrushchev grew to abuse his
authority in his final years in power (his son has confirmed this openly
in memoirs), one of the primary reasons for his dismissal from
authority, it it ludicrous to compare Khrushchev's abuse of authority
with Stalin's. After all, Khrushchev nurtured a system in which the
supreme leader could be removed (peacefully). One might even agree with
Khrushchev that that was his greatest accomplishment.

* Trotsky in 1927, addressing the Central Committee: 'We [The Left
Opposition], in addition, will shoot this band of contemptible
bureaucrats [Stalin, Bukharin, etc.] who have betrayed the revolution.
Yes, we'll do it. You, too, you'd like to shoot us, but you dare not. We
dare to do it because it will be an absolutely indispensable condition
for winning' (quoted in Bazhanov, Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin,
Ohio University Press 1990, p. 115).

4. 'The party of the whole people.' The harshest criticism of
Khrushchev, of course, is, in 1961, he pronounced the class struggle
over in the U.S.S.R. As the story goes, 'the  proletarian party was
turned into a "party of the whole people", i.e., into a bourgeois party
by the Khrushchevites. In order to accomplish this, the system of
Stalinist party cadre was liquidated and in their place arose bourgeois
cadre: Trotskyites, Bukharinites and similar enemies of the Soviet
people' (Organizing Committee for International Council of Friendship
and Solidarity with Soviet People, Northstar Compass, June/July, 1998,
Vol. 6, No. 11-12,
<>). Yet: 'In his
speech on November 25, 1936, on the draft of the Constitution of the
USSR, comrade Stalin said: "Our Soviet society has already, in the main,
succeeded in achieving socialism; it has created a socialist system,
i.e., it has brought about what Marxists in other words call the first,
or lower, phase of communism. Hence, in the main, we have already
achieved the first phase of communism, socialism"' (ibid.) If that's so,
then where did all those Khrushchevite Trotskyites, Bukharinites 'and
similar enemies of the Soviet people' come from? Did Stalin really miss
anyone after the 22 million people executed or exiled in the purges? Or
is the criticism that Khrushchev, believing, erroneously as it turned
out, that SINCE socialism had succeeded in the U.S.S.R., the time had
come to stop terrorizing the entire population and let them participate
in running the state that claimed to represent them?*

* 'Public involvement was fostered by a campaign to elect more workers
and peasants to bureaus of primary party organizations... [T]here began
in 1957 a vast and sudden expansion in the size of the party, in the
size of party and nonparty aktivs [activists], and in the role of social
organizations in the discussion and implementation of policy...
Simultaneous with all these efforts was the initiation of a movement for
the transfer of some administrative functions of the state to public
corporations or mass organizations that would have independent
jurisdiction over the performance of these functions... Elected
production committees were set up in the factories as a means of
broadening worker participation in decision-making... In the same
spirit, rule changes made it easier for the party masses to reject
nominees for the position of secretary of the primary party
organization' (Breslauer, Khrushchev and Brezhnev as Leaders: Building
Authority in Soviet Politics, Allen & Unwin 1984, pp. 127, 129, 130 &

Why might it be worthwhile to reassess Khrushchev? Why might
'Marxist-Leninists' stop, if only momentarily, the practice of
demonizing him as if he was the antithesis of the great man of history
(Stalin)? Why might Trotskyists desist, if only for an instant, in their
practice of labeling Khrushchev a 'Stalinist'?

Several reasons.

The most important, however, is that he symbolizes gradual
liberalization within the dictatorship of the proletariat. While
Khrushchev certainly ruled with strength (Hungary) on primary issues of
necessity, he also loosened press restrictions, travel restrictions and,
above all, ended the violence within the party. He also made tentative
steps towards bringing the party closer to the rank and file (see
Breslauer quote above) and, in some instances, making the party more
responsive to the people.*

* 'Khrushchev emerged as a champion of local leaders against the mighty
Moscow ministries... He emphasize[d] regional planning, the devolution
of economic authority and the role of local and republican party organs
in the guidance of enterprises. A series of decrees issued in 1955
expanded the rights of the U.S.S.R.'s constituent republics over
economic planning and budgetary policy... He constantly urged local
party officials to visit farms, to master the technical aspects of
agricultural issues and to become involved in the resolution of specific
problems' (Tompson, Khrushchev: A Political Life, St. Martin's Griffin
1997, pp. 137, 150 &152).

As I see it, these are important considerations in our propaganda
efforts amongst a skeptical working class. If we take Stalin's
intensification of the class struggle thesis and eternalize it, as
certain parties do (M.I.M. comes to mind), then all communists who take
that position can offer the working class is an eternal 1937. That,
suffice to say, is not the route to winning the hearts and trust of the
working class!

On the other hand, if communists point to Khrushchev and his era, and
say: society liberalizes as productivity increases---then we might have
a historical precedent, grounded firmly in historical materialism, to
use as a positive, popular example in our agitation for a renewed
revolution and a renewed dictatorship of the proletariat.


Barry Stoller

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