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Khrushchev--The Soviet Public Image

Despite Khrushchev's clear-cut victory over a potent combination of enemies in 1957, when he carried out a sharp reorganization of the Soviet Union's top political command, there have been persistent doubts about the essential strength of his authority. During the past year in particular, there was widespread speculation--touched off by a number of developments in Soviet domestic and external policy--that Khrushchev's power had been weakened or had at least become subject to a collective "restraint" imposed by other leaders. Even exponents of the belief that Khrushchev has taken firm title to first place in the Soviet hierarchy concede, in the words of one of them, that his authority "is not yet independent of continuous, ever-renewed successes."

Certainly, 1960 was not a year of unqualified success for Soviet foreign and domestic policy or of unbroken calm in Kremlin politics. The juggling of the Kremlin hierarchy and the summit collapse last spring, the stresses in Sino-Soviet relations, the Soviet premier's tumultuous behavior at the UN General Assembly, and the ailments of Soviet agriculture may well have provided the material for political controversy within the ruling command. Nevertheless, the sum of the evidence indicates that the question of Khrushchev's ultimate authority is not now at issue within the Soviet Union.

The Khrushchev Cult

One element in this evidence is the public image of Khrushchev as the uniquely gifted and natural leader--an image persistently developed by his subordinates at all levels and by the hacks of Soviet propaganda. The prestige conferred on Khrushchev is in part an outgrowth of the totalitarian mechanism itself, which inexorably funnels authority to a single point. This imbedded tendency, with its roots in the Russian past, has probably been consciously abetted as a means of furthering the Soviet Union's drive to expand its authority on the international scene and its competition with the Chinese Communists.

Moreover, even in the face of Khrushchev's expressed disapproval of adulation of leaders--possibly genuinely intended--there is probably an irresistible urge on the part of subordinates to ensure themselves a place on the leader's bandwagon.

The end product, a new version of the leader cult replacing the discarded Stalin cult, must not only reflect to a fair degree the actualities of Kremlin politics but also have become by now a political factor in itself. The overwhelming impression that Khrushchev is the focal point of the Soviet state and singularly endowed to prosecute its aims is not likely to encourage attempts to limit his authority or to increase his tolerance of political obstacles.

Shape of the Khrushchev Image

The central committee session just completed provided a new, vivid demonstration for the Soviet audience of the breadth of Khrushchev's authority. The meeting opened with the announcement that a party congress, nominally the Soviet Union's highest tribune, had been called for next October and that Khrushchev would present two major reports there, thus guaranteeing not only that he will be the dominant figure at the meeting itself but also that his name will be prominently featured in the massive pre-congress build-up.

Published reports of the proceedings at the central committee plenum were themselves a considerable addition to the leader image. They pictured Khrushchev denouncing with almost Jovian ire the managerial sins of top party figures, brushing aside their excuses but accepting their fawning compliments, and repeatedly interrupting speakers to give his own detailed prescriptions for agricultural ills. All of this earned Pravda's praise as a model of the "Leninist approach" but scarcely conveyed a picture of "collective leadership" to the Soviet public.

Despite occasional semantic variations in the propaganda formulas applied to the Soviet hierarchy and reiteration of the "collective leadership" theme, the vast majority of party and government officials as well as ordinary Soviet citizens cannot but be heavily influenced by the cumulative impact of the Khrushchev cult. They are exposed to a steady daily dosage comprised of the deference paid him publicly by his lieutenants, the precedence given him on public occasions, the attention devoted to him by Soviet communications media, and by the kinds of ritualistic formulas by which he is conventionally described.

It is difficult to find a speech by an important figure in the regime without sycophantic passages or an editorial in the central press which does not cite Khrushchev as authority for one or another aspect of Soviet policy. On days when such organs as Pravda and Izvestia do not feature the text of a Khrushchev speech, their front pages are weighted down with pictures of the leader at some public function and, more and more, with the texts of mutual exchanges of praise between him and Soviet organizations or individuals who have distinguished themselves in some area of production.

The general outlines of this cult present Khrushchev to the Soviet public in several aspects: as a pre-eminent international statesman whose grasp of the common man's aspirations is either admired or feared by other world leaders, as the true spiritual successor of the revered Lenin, and as the dynamic but flexible architect of party and government policy. Presidium member Dmitry Polyansky attempted to span this whole spectrum at the recent central committee meeting:

In the successes of the international Communist movement we must note the leading role of the Leninist central committee of our party, headed by the outstanding fighter for peace, democracy, and socialism--Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev. (Stormy applause) He has won the respect of working people all over the world by his profound knowledge of life, his bold and keen posing of problems, his ability to orient himself quickly and correctly under difficult circumstances, his wisdom, and his presence of mind.

Outstanding World Figure

The Soviet premier's numerous foreign excursions may not have been unmixed successes and their results have probably been discussed and assessed soberly in the Kremlin's inner councils, but the Soviet propaganda mill has concealed any misgivings and has invariably pictured them as resounding personal triumphs for Khrushchev and his policy of "peaceful coexistence." Only one speech by Khrushchev in the previous four and one-half years was given greater treatment by Radio Moscow than the one he made following his return to Moscow from the summit failure. The US Embassy in Moscow reported for the same period an "extremely high volume of Soviet materials quoting, praising, or otherwise calling positive attention to Khrushchev."

Khrushchev's excursion into the UN last fall was accompanied by an unprecedented outpouring of propaganda support. Before, during, and after the General Assembly session, Soviet media were inundated with reports of nationwide meetings which invariably expressed enthusiasm for Khrushchev's conduct, with the texts of his speeches at the UN, and with TASS dispatches picturing Khrushchev's dominance of the proceedings and the favorable worldwide "echo."

This episode in Soviet diplomacy has, in the aftermath, been unremittingly described, in typical examples, as a further demonstration of "the impassioned and seething activity of N.S. Khrushchev," of "the indefatigable herald of peace, the true Leninist, N.S. Khrushchev," and, more broadly, as proof of "the consistent peaceful policy of the Soviet Government and the purposeful and tireless activity of the outstanding champion of peace and friendship between nations, Comrade Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev."

On the Home Front

Although he may feel and act as though the USSR's world position is his primary concern, Khrushchev has at the same time given away no part of his claim to a special grasp of domestic problems. At the January central committee plenum he played to the limit the role of the stern, broadly informed overseer of agricultural affairs, and the Soviet image-makers have labored constantly to portray him as a leader of wide-ranging interests and knowledge, both profound and imaginative, but still humble and solicitous for the public welfare. The phrases "as N.S. Khrushchev has said" and "on the initiative of N.S. Khrushchev" are staples of Soviet propaganda and appear in contexts of all kinds.

The first party conference held in the newly organized virgin lands administrative territory, for example, dispatched a message of greetings to "Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, the initiator of virgin lands reclamation who daily displays solicitude for the development of the Kazakh virgin land."

Such tributes to Khrushchev for his part in the virgin lands and corn-planting programs, with which he is closely identified, are commonplace, but the gamut is much wider. Among other things, Khrushchev can take credit, according to presidium candidate member Korotchenko, for exercising "an enormous, beneficial influence" on Soviet literature and, according to the chairman of the State Planning Committee, for "indefatigable attention to a fuller satisfaction of the growing demand of the population for consumer goods." Podgorny, a member of the presidium and head of the Ukrainian party, carried the matter close to its most absurd level at the opening of the Kiev subway last November:

The inhabitants of Kiev know very well that Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev was the initiator of the construction of the Kiev subway, and as its construction proceeded, we always felt his attention and the assistance of the CPSU central committee and the Soviet Government.

Leninist Leadership

Khrushchev's carefully constructed association with the image of Lenin has become imbedded in the formulas of Soviet propaganda. References to Khrushchev as "the faithful Leninist" or as "head of the Leninist central committee" are standard. Placing the Lenin hagiology at the service of the present leadership, Soviet propaganda incessantly reiterates that this leadership exemplifies a genuinely "Leninist style," that the "Leninist norms of party life" and "collective leadership," ignored by Stalin, have been restored, and that the party has overcome the "cult of the leader, alien to Lenin."

The commemoration of Lenin's 90th anniversary in 1960 produced a flood of literature describing both his accomplishments and his personal excellence--his modesty, distaste for sycophancy, and respect for the opinions of others. The adulation heaped on Lenin had, of course, the effect of increasing what he allegedly most detested, the "cult of the leader," and of strengthening, by association, the Khrushchev cult.

Soviet propagandists seem to feel no embarrassment in affirming the existence of "collective leadership" at the very moment when their output is increasingly focused on one man, Khrushchev, nor in setting criticism of the leader cult side by side with phrases such as "the central committee headed by N.S. Khrushchev," "the Presidium headed by N.S. Khrushchev," or "the central committee, the Council of Ministers, and N.S. Khrushchev personally."

If, however, any of the party faithful should detect a contradiction, they can refer to the "dialectical" reconciliation provided by the authoritative text Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism. The masses are the levers of history, this document declares, and "the cult of personality contradicts Marxism-Leninsm." At the same time, it is pointed out, "the overwhelming majority of the masses of the workers are well aware that the authority and popularity of the outstanding leaders of the working class have nothing in common with the personality cult . . . . Without leaders who enjoy authority and who are linked up with the masses and are popular among them, there is no organized socialist movement . . . . The first-rate leaders of the working class, who are intimately linked with the people and who successfully conduct the struggle of the workers for their vital interests and ideals, play an outstanding role in history and deserve the people's love."

Khrushchev no doubt considers that this description fits him very well.


For the past two years, Khrushchev, evidently considering the domestic front relatively secure, has been deeply immersed in pressing the USSR's international ambitions. Atop an underlying movement of social and ideological change, whose long-term political effects are probably only vaguely sensed in the Kremlin as elsewhere, the regime's internal actions have remained centered mainly on pragmatic, economic objectives.

The failure of Soviet agriculture to measure up to expectations appears to have forced Khrushchev once again to concern himself directly with an area of policy which was once his major interest. In the interim, however, his involvement in foreign affairs and lengthy periods of rest, dictated by the state of his health, have necessarily given many of the other members of the party presidium a good share of the responsibility for the conduct of political and economic affairs at home.

With the question of the succession always in the background, these circumstances have created the ground for conflicts of ambition within the hierarchy and for more or less sudden shifts in the fortunes of key figures. Moreover there is still within the presidium, according to the best available information, some room for "give and take" on important issues and therefore an area in which Khrushchev is, to a degree, subject to influence and restraint. However, the shape of Khrushchev's present public image, while only part of the evidence, provides some measure of his position and suggests that his authority is neither threatened nor diminished.


FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES - 1961-1963 - Volume V - Soviet Union P 7

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