Michel Pablo

The Post-Stalin “New Course”

(July 1953)

Originally published in Quatrième Internationale.
This translation is from Fourth International, Vol. XIV No. 2, March–April 1953, pp. 35–39.

In the space of the few months since Stalin’s death, the scope of the “new course” being inaugurated by his successors has become such that even the most incredulous of the doubting Thomases have now been obliged to recognize the reality of the “sharp change” occurring in traditional Stalinist policy. This is true internally as well as on the foreign field. A new policy is gradually shaping in more precise form in the USSR itself, in its European satellite countries, in relations with the capitalist. world as well as with Yugoslavia.

Naturally there is an interdependence and interaction between these various spheres where the “new course” is now undeniably developing. In contrast with the almost total surprise caused by these “new” facts in all thinking political circles in the working-class or capitalist camp, our movement sees in them the most striking confirmation of its general views on Stalinism, and particularly of the analysis it has made over a number of years on the consequences that “expansion,” the world revolutionary upsurge, the technical and cultural advances in the USSR would have on Stalinism.

On the other hand, the significance which Stalin’s death could have in the processes long germinating in the USSR was immediately and thoroughly grasped by our movement. We underscored the fact that in reality Stalin died at a time when the objective bases of Stalinism had already been irreparably undermined and its decline begun; that there could not be a second Stalin, that is, a successor playing the same historic role; that Malenkov faced the prospect of remaining only a candidate for the Stalin succession, and no more; that the internal situation in the USSR and its evolution could prove a factor of great importance for the turn of post-Stalinist policy.

Events have confirmed our prognoses and justified our optimism.

Weeping over the sad fate of the workers’ movement and of socialism, depressed by the perspective of a long world reign of an immutable Stalinism extending over an entire historic period, the Cassandras are now distressed and worried. Have we not seen some of them find consolation in the service of the western “democratic bourgeoisie” and even of American imperialism, the “lesser evil” to “Soviet totalitarianism”?

But let us return instead to the facts of the “new course” and establish its real scope, its meaning, its perspectives.

It is not difficult to derive from the welter of political actions, events and writings which have occurred since Stalin’s death the lines indicating the direction of the “turn.”

In recent years, the Stalinist political structure had accentuated the preponderance of the Great Russian bureaucracy at the expense of the Soviet working masses as a whole, of the other nationalities in the USSR and at the expense of the satellite countries of Eastern Europe. The high-tension areas, which also constituted the weak points of the regime, where a break could occur were the relations with the working masses, the nationalities and the buffer-zone countries.

Stalin’s successors are now acting in a way to give the impression that they want to ease the tension in these three spheres, and in a certain sense they are acting with effectiveness.

Take the question of relations with the working masses. What causes the discontent of the working masses in the USSR? While their material conditions have been improving absolutely in conjunction, with the economic progress of the USSR, they have remained relatively poor as regards their needs as well as regards the share received by the bureaucracy, especially its upper strata; it arises also from their political conditions which are subjected to an excess of bureaucratism and police control despite bureaucratic declarations that the Workers constitute the ruling class of the nation. Working conditions in the factories and on the collective farms, the pressure of Stakhanovism, piece work and the statutes of the penal code have been especially onerous. The contradictions between the social, proletarian and socialist character of the USSR, its economic and social foundations, the economic and social progress attained on this foundation and the bureaucratic and police regime instituted by Stalin became more and more glaring and intolerable.

Not less important was the tension which prevailed and still prevails between the various nationalities which make up the USSR and the Great Russian bureaucracy which has been a particular bulwark of the Kremlin’s power. Some of these national groupings, like the Ukrainians and those of the Baltic countries still preserve old and powerful cultural and revolutionary traditions. They have always constituted active arenas of propaganda and agitation against the central Great Russian power which wanted to dominate them, denationalize and Russify them.

Following the second world war a new element of disintegration entered the Stalinist regime: the step-by-step incorporation of “the buffer zone” into the Soviet orbit. Some of these countries, like Czechoslovakia, certain parts of Hungary. Eastern Germany, boast a high cultural level, and especially a very advanced proletariat politically’ and technologically. Others like Poland have been noted for their deep-rooted nationalism which conducted long revolutionary struggles against Czarist rule. The Kremlin’s attempt at the beginning to plunder these countries purely and simply so as to fill urgent and specifically Soviet needs, and then to impose on them its own methods of “socialization” and to Russify them has met with steadily growing resistance.

Stalin’s Method Less Effective

Taken in the complex of all these difficulties, centrifugal forces, contradictions, tensions, the Kremlin apparatus directed by Stalin tried to cope with them until his death mainly by force, by the rigidity and monolithism of the system. Any relaxation, any faltering threatened to blow up the entire system. But at the same time the relationship of forces between the apparatus; ruling by sheer force, terror, monolithism, and the masses became more and more unfavorable to the apparatus. Two main reasons joined together here the world revolutionary upsurge in process since the Second World War, the economic and cultural progress of the Soviet masses themselves.

It became extraordinarily risky to attempt to persist with the same rigidity’ as in the past in the reign of terror and monolithism represented by Stalin’s regime. Even during his lifetime, as was observable most clearly at the 19th Congress of the Russian CP and in the preoccupations revealed in his last work Problems of Socialism, there were attempts to slightly alleviate the tension and adumbrations of much more important changes in an early future.

His death catalyzed the development.

Those who say that everything that is now happening is in reality merely the execution of Stalin’s testament by his successors are obviously wrong. For the general impression which emerges from the “new course” is that of the liquidation of Stalinist tradition in a number of important spheres, including, as we shall see, in that of his own “cult” and even his name.

It is much more probable that long before his death his successors were conscious of the need of a whole range of radical measures; that they had exercised a certain pressure on Stalin so that he himself initiated some of these measures; and that when he died – naturally or otherwise [1] – they hastened to put them into effect. They are, afraid of being overtaken by an explosion of the masses who had been encouraged by the death of the man embodying the despotic and bureaucratic regime in their eyes.

Concessions to the Workers

The following measures have been taken to date by Stalin’s successors for the purpose of improving the relations of the working masses and the regime: A new reduction of prices, the most important since 1947, in articles in common consumer-goods merchandise; this price reduction. was supplemented by placing essential goods for sale on the market for the first time, and by the speeding up of the production of the means of consumption as well as new and old housing construction.

The theme of the “welfare” of the Soviet masses, as a permanent concern of the State and the Plan, has assumed an importance in the Soviet papers it never had under the old Stalinist regime. The Soviet papers devote an important place to describing of difficulties Soviet families encounter in finding lodging, in comfortably furnishing their apartments, in obtaining cheap good-quality utensils and other articles. They provide great detail on all these problems and conclude that “this cannot go on.” (Liturnaya Gazeta, June 26, 1953.)

It’s the tone and the theme of these feature stories which mark a break with the Stalinist area.

In addition, the new state loan of 15 billion rubles; which under the conditions of the regime resembles forced taxation, was reduced by half this year and is supposed to contribute particularly to the development of “consumers’ goods industries.”

Other measures have been taken affecting the improvement of working conditions as well as the democratic rights of the masses. The amnesty along with tile promise to liberalize the penal code which were announced simultaneously with the sensational exoneration of the doctors, “the white-coated assassins,” in reality is intended; to affect the victims of the coercive regime which prevails in the factories and on the collective farms and has been used to “discipline” labor and to extort the maximum work possible; that is, it covers the broad masses, of ordinary workers.

The exact number of those released from concentration camps is not known but even conservative bourgeois journals like The Economist (June 13, 1953) estimate it at “several hundreds of thousands.” The first official reference to the liberated prisoners was made by Vice-Minister of Justice who requested local officials and trade unions to find work for persons benefiting from the amnesty.

The theme of “the constitutional rights of Soviet citizens” now replaces in Soviet papers that of “revolutionary vigilance” of the Stalinist era. Formerly the writers of these features provided a certain type of assistance to the agencies of repression, to the judges and police by calling attention to and often by accusing state officials of the lack of “revolutionary vigilance.” The change now consists in the fact that the writer becomes the attorney for the unjustly accused. During the doctors’ affair and later of the Georgian leaders the party and the government openly attacked “criminal activities” of the judicial and police apparatus. Now there are frequent attacks in newspaper reporting and features directed against sub-ordinate personnel of these agencies.

New Attitude on National Question

In the sphere of relations with the national minorities, Stalin’s successors while adhering to the “Leninist-Stalinist” doctrine in this sphere have already taken a series of measures which are squarely and palpably opposite to those applied during Stalin’s lifetime. A first indication of this change was the vehement denunciation of all racist, chauvinist propaganda at the time of the exoneration of the Jewish doctors.

The new leadership yielded to the pressure brought to bear by the various national minorities on the central Great Russian regime of the Kremlin so as to lessen the tension in this sphere and to avert serious explosions. It started a purge of the party and government apparatus in many of the Federal Republics, replacing Great Russian officials appointed by Stalin himself with native cadres. This is the general meaning of the measures taken in such sensitive spots as the Ukraine, the Baltic countries the Far Eastern Republics bordering on China, Georgia and Bielo-Russia.

The most significant of these measures were those involving the Ukraine and Lithuania. First in the Ukraine, there was the sudden unexpected reappearance in the political scene of I.G. Petrovsky, old Bolshevik, the First Peoples’ Commissar for Internal Affairs and former, President of the Ukraine who was disgraced during the great purge of 1936–1938. He had escaped death but was relieved of all functions and probably arrested. Stalin’s death was necessary for Pravda to again mention his name in connection with the award of “The Order of the Red Flag of Labor” bestowed on him on his 75th anniversary!

This event heralded other changes in the upper circles of the Ukrainian apparatus. Soon after, in fact, came the announcement of the replacement of G.L. Melnikov, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party, and of his elimination from the Politburo of the party principally for his erroneous national policy. A very important figure in the Soviet hierarchy, Melnikov was accused of having tried to “Russify” the Ukraine and especially the western areas (belonging to Poland) for one thing, by the compulsory introduction of the Russian language into the schools. He was also censured for his excessive zeal in imposing collectivization of agriculture in these areas. [2]

To understand the full importance of this measure, both the rank of the censured person who had been appointed by Stalin himself should be kept in mind as well as the policy followed in the Ukraine during Stalin’s lifetime when the emphasis was placed on “the nationalist deviations” of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. Similarly with the events in Lithuania where the policy of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party was criticized for like extremes of “Russification” and where several Great Russian officials were replaced by native cadres

Moreover there now appears more and more frequently in the Soviet press articles which carry a refrain denouncing “nationalism” and “chauvinism” which is far different from that of Stalin’s lifetime. The most striking example in this sphere was undoubtedly the article by P.N. Fedoseev, which appeared in The Communist, June 25, 1953, principal theoretical organ of the Russian CP. Fedoseev had been removed from his position as editor of The Communist last December after a bitter criticism by M. Suslov, a Stalinist flunkey, who had accused him of having at one time propagated the ideas of N. Voznossensky. [3]

Now rehabilitated, Fedoseev writes in his article that it is now necessary in the USSR to struggle “against the survivals of chauvinism and nationalism” which poison “friendship between peoples.” He denounces the way some Soviet historians “attempt to prettify the reactionary policies of Czarism.” Further on he protests against any attempt to “fence off the Soviet people from the culture of foreign lands” and adds that “the culture of any people, great or small, is viewed by us as a contribution to world culture ... Contemptible adventurers have repeatedly attempted to touch off the flames of national hatred in the Soviet Union, which is thoroughly foreign to Socialist ideology.”

Still, the time when “Soviet culture” and especially “Great Russian” culture outclassed all others and when all the inventions of modern times were credited to “the Russian genius is not so far behind!

Relations With Eastern Europe

Finally, there is the sphere of relations with the satellite countries of Eastern and Central Europe. One after another, although undoubtedly lagging behind the tempo of events in the USSR itself, these countries are aligning themselves with the “new course,

In Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Eastern Germany, an amnesty on the Russian model has just been granted. Little by little the press of all these countries is beginning to pick up the new emphasis of the Soviet press on the “welfare” of the people and on “the rights of citizens,” on the same “laws” and the same “discipline” for leaders and masses.

The extremes of industrialization and collectivization are beginning to be recognized and the term “NEP,” as a necessary policy of retreat in some cases, is now becoming fashionable with others besides Walter Ulbricht (German Stalinist leader). It is now clear that all the “NEP” measures taken in Eastern Germany last June 10th, several days before the big events, were initiated by Semyenov (Soviet Commissioner for Germany) under the instructions of the Kremlin and contrary to the policy followed until then by the leadership of the SED (Stalinist Socialist Unity Party). There is no doubt also that the very substantial concessions given the Eastern German masses after the June 17th events were also initiated by the Russians, this time probably in agreement with the leadership of the SED.

The idea of revising the plans in the direction of expansion of the production of the means of consumption, which is apparent in the USSR itself, is also gaining ground in the satellite countries. The time has came everywhere for a “reconsideration” of the policies followed in the economic as well as in the political and cultural spheres.

Attacks on the Leader Cult

Changes of such scope naturally cannot remain limited and in reality they affect the very nature of the regime as it was shaped during Stalin’s lifetime and personified by him. By entering on the “new course,” his successors could not avoid the need of calling into question the character as well as the personnel of the regime, the cult and the name of the “Chief” himself. And that is how it has happened also.

Malenkov was obliged to relinquish the post of party secretary and to content himself with being President of the government so as not to monopolize positions and to emphasize the team and not the personal character of the new leadership. Repeated articles in Pravda and The Communist have attacked the “leader cult,” the impossibility of “infallibility,” its consequences of “servility” and “corruption,” and praised the collective character of the leadership.

The method of teaching history has also been called into question. It is no longer required that such teaching begin with or be based on the biography of “great men” but rather on an understanding of objective conditions and the role of the masses. Those who always refer to “appropriate quotations” and utilize them indiscriminately, even to explain the Five Year Plan, are becoming the butt of ridicule.

The spheres are numerous in which there are scarcely concealed attacks against the cult, against the extravagant praise and the ossified byzantine mode of thought of Stalin and his era. But just his name alone is actually less and less mentioned in the public proclamations of the new leaders as well as in the press. It would he difficult to attribute such a plunge into oblivion to chance It speaks too much of repudiation which for the moment, it is true, still remains an indirect one.

Changes in Foreign Policy

The changes in Russian foreign policy have been in large measure determined by the turn internally in a twofold sense: a) as genuine changes which extend to the foreign sphere the new outlook internally on the relations with the masses and the national minorities; b) as a means of attenuating the tension with imperialism even if only temporarily, to avert an early war with imperialism so as to normalize the internal situation in the USSR and the buffer-zone countries on the basis of the “new course”

The first meaning is indicated in the more “democratic,” more “socialist” way of viewing relations with countries like Turkey and Yugoslavia, by abandoning nationalist, annexationist demands toward the former, by normalizing diplomatic relations with the latter and by removing the quarantine placed upon it. [4]

The second meaning is manifested in the concessions made on Korea, Austria, Eastern Germany, in the many cordial and appeasing gestures, in the new tone of the diplomatic notes addressed to the capitalist countries and in the articles in the Soviet press concerning them.

The Dynamic of the New Turn

Thus, we believe that these various manifestations of the post-Stalinist turn, even set down in this summary way, cannot fail to be impressive and to clearly indicate its meaning. Naturally it would be fundamentally and dangerously erroneous to conclude that the new leaders have reformed themselves and that they are successfully undertaking a “cold democratization” of Stalin’s bureaucratic and police regime. It is the pressure of the masses which constrains them to act this way and it is the constantly changing relationship between the masses and their own rule which will determine the subsequent development of the “new course.”

Stalin’s successors, because of their special position as subordinates of the Despots and free of the chief responsibility, have the merit only of having better sensed than he the enormous pressure, the subterranean explosive forces in Soviet society as well as in Eastern Europe. To survive as the Bonapartist leadership of the privileged Soviet bureaucracy, they are now trying to ease the tension and to thus consolidate their own rule by a series of important concessions. They are proceeding in this not directly, frankly, democratically but bureaucratically. Their aim is to avoid by these methods new serious explosions and if possible to “peacefully” build a new floor for an equilibrium favorable for the bureaucracy. However it is more difficult for them than ever to control the entire process and to dominate it at each step in the present global relationship between the revolutionary forces within and without the USSR and the “buffer zone” and the conservative forces of the bureaucracy.

The dynamic of their concessions is in reality liquidatory of the entire Stalinist heritage in the USSR itself as well as in its relations with its satellite countries, with China and the Communist Parties. It will no longer be easy to turn back.

In reality events will oblige them as is being demonstrated in Eastern Germany, and partly in Czechoslovakia to quicken and extend the concessions to keep the impatient masses in the other buffer-zone countries and in the USSR itself from taking the road of action. But once the concessions are broadened, the march forward toward a real liquidation of the Stalinist regime threatens to become irresistible.

What form will it then take? Will it be that of an acute crisis and of violent interbureaucratic struggles between the elements who will fight for the status quo, if not for turning back, and the more and more numerous elements drawn by the powerful pressure of the masses?

The timetables of the war will play an important and perhaps decisive role in the entire first period in one direction or the other. In any case what is now clear is that the decline of Stalinism in the form of the iron grip of the Soviet bureaucracy over the Soviet masses, the buffer-zone countries, the Communist Parties, is henceforth speeded up, and that the renovation of socialist democracy in all these countries, as in China, as well as the renaissance of the international workers’ movement, is now on the order of the day.

In the years visible ahead, the junction of the ideas and the forces of the Fourth International with the revolutionary elements until now organized or influenced by Stalinism will realize in part this first stage of this renovation. It is toward this that we should work now with the greatest determination and the most robust optimism.

July 1, 1953


1. The allusion here is to persistent reports that Stalin met a violent death in a kind of palace revolt in the Kremlin against an impending purge which was linked to the arrest of the doctors. One such report was publicized by the Alsop brothers who draw upon a Pravda announcement of the “untimely death” of a Major-General Kosynkin, commander of the Kremlin guard which appeared two weeks before the news of Stalin’s illness. Stalin was supposed to have been assassinated after the Kremlin guard was overpowered. The plot is laid to Beria.

2. It should be noted that all those now removed from their positions or censure have not been arrested or brought to trial nor even characterized as “imperialist agents” or “criminals.” They are merely replaced by others in their positions and accused of more or less “serious”, or “gross” “errors.”

3. Voznossensky was the economic brain of the Politburo until 1949 when he fell into disgrace. Fedoseev’s rehabilitation may signify an early rehabilitation of Voznossensky himself.

4. It should be noted regarding the turn of attitude toward Yugoslavia that since May 1, 1953, the Cominform paper has not published any article against Yugoslavia. During Stalin’s lifetime, there was practically not a single issue of the paper which appeared without the customary and ferociously anti-Titoist article.

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Michel Pablo
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Updated on: 10 April 2015