Russia: Tsarist and Communist

By Anatole G. Mazour | Go to book overview

38
The Soviet Union since the Death of Stalin

THE END OF THE STALIN ERA

HISTORICALLY SPEAKING, the period that has elapsed since the departure of Premier Stalin is a short one, yet long enough to enable one to draw certain conclusions from the changes that have taken place. There was much crystal gazing even in Stalin's lifetime as to what his removal from the helm of the powerful state he had built would mean to the Soviet Union and to the world. Predictions varied widely, from those who foresaw total collapse of the state, as an inevitable result of the fall of a dictator, to those who were less hopeful and who believed that no change would evolve except the rise of another dictator. Thus far one thing is certain: the Soviet regime has proved to be rooted in much deeper soil than some forecasters had believed. Those who prognosticated the disappearance of the entire order along with the symbolic figure of Stalin miscalculated the strength of the state. The general social order was little affected by the impact of the dictator's death, remaining fundamentally the same. Moreover, predictions that the event would result in the collapse of the entire structure of eastern Europe, ending with the desertion of all satellite states from the Soviet orbit, proved equally false. To be sure, there was a revolt against the 'cult of the individual' and the rehabilitation of former heretics and victims of Stalinist oppression; there came the revolt in Poland followed by the more violent events in Hungary, but these altered little the status of the general order in eastern Europe. In domestic affairs the planned economy with its emphasis on heavy industry, often at the expense of the consumer, and farm collectivization continued at the same tempo.

There were other forecasters who envisioned the impact of Stalin's death in a somewhat different light. The regime, these said, would not collapse suddenly in some cataclysmic crash, but by degrees. They predicted first bitter feuding within the higher ranks of Party members in a struggle for power. The rivalry, they believed, would inevitably lead to an ever wider area, gradually extending to the rank and file of Party members. Eventually the strife would be bound to weaken the entire Soviet system. This interpretation, too, proved fallacious.

There were still others who ventured more cautiously to foretell profound changes of a more peaceful nature. Their theory ran thus: The imposed austerity had taxed the patience of the masses for too long. The occa

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