About a year ago the local school library gave away a bunch of old books. I toted a goodly collection of them home. Of course there was not a glamourous or impressive title in the bunch–no best sellers, and only one dog-eared classic, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I hastily set them on a bookshelf in our home.
For a year or more, Khruschev Remembers (1970, Little, Brown &Co, and Bantam) sat humbly on my shelf without comment or protest, even though Nikita was quite a colorful guy who had a quite insistent attitude, back in his day. He’s the one who took off his shoe and began pounding the podium with it while making a speech somewhere (was it the UN?) in which he proclaimed to America that “we will bury you.”
This Saturday afternoon, I picked the old yellowed paperback up and started reading it.
You have to remember that when someone writes an autobiography, especially if that person is an insider witness to historic events, the cover of that little ole worn-out book is certainly not , as the saying goes, any basis whatsoever for judging the book, or its contents.
Earth-shaking testimonies can lie dormant between tattered covers for years and years. Here’s one example:
“In essence the New Economic Policy ( Lenin’s revisionist reform of the early 1920s) meant the restoration of private property and the revival of the middle class…The commercial element in our society was put firmly back on its feet. Naturally this was, to some extent, a retreat on the ideological front, but it helped us to recover from the effects of the Civil War. As soon as the NEP was instituted, the confusion and famine began to subside. The cities came back to life. Produce started to reappear in the market stalls, and prices fell.”
This policy, Lenin’s pragmatic response to dire economic circumstances soon after the Bolsheviks assumed power, was controversial among the party faithful. It was essentially an early revision of communist ideology–a reform, displaying resemblance to that of…Deng Xiaoping?
How different might history have been if Lenin had not died in 1924, only seven years after the revolution? How different might history have been if Stalin had not supplanted Lenin’s pragmatic leadership with his own murderous regime?
In Khruschev’s many critical assessments of Stalin’s legacy, he offers this comparison with another ruthless revolutionary:
“There was unquestionably something sick about Stalin. I think there’s a similar case of this sickness in the present day (Khruschev was writing this in 1970) which should be mentioned. People of my generation remember how the glorification of Stalin grew and grew, and everyone knows where it led. I often see films about China on television, and it seems to me that Mao Tse-tung is copying Stalin’s personality cult.”
So we notice that Nikita Khruschev includes this observation: …”every one knows where it (cultification of Stalin’s leadership) led.”
Yes, most everyone knows it led to harsh, murderous imprisonment of good Russian citizens, and millions of deaths. Read Solzhenitsyn on this.
So anyway I’m reading this today about Russia; but it’s China I’ve been thinking about ever since last summer when I visited there.
A brief look at recent Chinese history reveals a similar situation in the passing of the mantle from one regime (from Mao to Deng in the late 70s) to the next. But the Chinese outcome was, thank God, quite different from the Russian. Perhaps the Chinese had learned a lesson or two from the brutal mistakes of their Soviet predecessors.
One might almost say that it was a miracle that Deng Xiaoping, the reformist of Maoist China, was able to assume the reins of power after Mao’s death, and lead China into more reasonable directions than those that imposed barbarous punishments in Stalinist Russian. Deng’s careful transition delivered China’s emerging Marxist society from a tyranny that had been uncannily similar, until it was interrupted, to the abuses that had been forcefully thrust upon the USSR by Stalin’s thuggish legions.
Meanwhile, here in the good ole USA, and back in the day…before Letterman, Leno and those other jokers came crackin’ along, I remember that Johnny Carson occasionally would quip:
“Leon Trotsky lives!”
In my youth, I didn’t understand the comedian’s nuance, but now that I am old, I understand.
Maybe if Trotsky or some other Lenin protege had maneuvered into power after Lenin’s death (as Deng did after Mao’s death), Russia’s history might have been decidedly less bloody.
And actually, Johnny Carson was right, loosely speaking. Trotsky does live. He lives, one might say, in China, and anywhere in the world where planned economies favor progressive reform instead of repressive violence.
That’s something to think about on a Saturday evening as we move inextricably closer to a planned economy, and possibly some hard times ahead.