Russia: Khrushchev & After
The test-ban treaty and the Sino-Soviet rift have given rise to much speculation on the degree to which the Soviet Union has actually changed under the rule of Nikita Khrushchev and on the further transformations which may reasonably be anticipated in the next years. It is to these questions that OSCAR GASS addresses himself in the series that begins with the present article, and that will continue in future issues with his analyses of the Soviet economy and of Russian foreign policy. Mr. Gass is a consulting economist in private practice in Washington, D.C. and a frequent contributor both to COMMENTARY and to the New Republic. His essay, “China and the United States” in our November 1962 issue, was widely discussed.
OF THE PLAY of political forces and the contest of personalities which culminated in the ascendancy of Khrushchev, we know little. Before we reach the events which are decisive, our information ceases. We have but victors’ accounts, the silence of the dead, and cringing apologies from a few of the defeated.
Mr. Robert Conquest*-here perhaps our best guide, though we all stumble in darkness–sees the first post-Stalin settlement, in the early days of March 1953, as primarily a deal between Beria and Malenkov. All other persons are pushed into lesser roles, if they do not, like Poskrebyshev (presumably Beria’s bitterest rival), entirely disappear. Yet Beria was out of the government administration when Stalin died. He headed neither of the two security ministries. It is possible that, in Stalin’s direct administration of the security services, Pos- krebyshev occupied the inner line. But, in the crucial first week of March, Stalin lay dead or dying. In those days, the successors met in the Kremlin, issued warnings to the public against “disarray and panic,” and then took in hand the decisive task of chopping down Stalin’s amorphous twenty-five-man Presidium to what emerged as their own ten-man Presidial ruling group. At that time, the streets of Moscow became solidly occupied by M.V.D. troops who took Beria’s orders. Mr. Conquest particularizes: “. . . Beria had thus obtained control of the machine which could give him at least Moscow and the persons of most of his opponents….” The new government formalized Beria’s position, in a decree announced March 7, by consolidating both security ministries under Comrade Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria as USSR Minister of Internal Affairs. Mr. Conquest concludes that Beria had already “. . . regained control of the Police Ministries by what amounted to a coup.” By this coup, he became kingpin in the new government. How then did he accomplish such a coup? We do not know.
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