29. Intelligence Report Prepared by the Division of Research for USSR and Eastern Europe, Office of Intelligence Research1

IR–7205

THE TWENTIETH CONGRESS OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF THE SOVIET UNION

Abstract

The first public criticism of STALIN by his successors stands out as the highlight and main innovation of the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (February 14 to 25). Otherwise, the conclave served largely as an authoritative occasion for the Soviet rulers to confirm and formalize their current policies.

Criticism of STALIN. In the nearly three years since his death, STALIN’s stature has been progressively reduced. The new regime shrank the symbol of STALIN largely by withholding adulation from him and concentrating it entirely on Lenin. The Congress has now marked a further distinctive step as the rulers took to open attack. Their criticism centered chiefly on the ill-effects of one-man rule, with its glorification of an all-wise leader. Beyond this, however, while they neither completely buried STALIN nor brought into question his basic state policies, they ranged critically over many fields, including economic development, ideology, law and foreign affairs.

The Soviet rulers are rewriting history and rehabilitating some of STALIN’s victims; how much further they will go remains to be seen. Clearly to find clay feet on the infallible demi-god whose rule for three decades encompassed all facets of Soviet life will have widespread effects—but effects whose manifestations will depend upon a whole complex of related factors.

Collective Rule. The attack on one-man rule served to underscore the virtue claimed for collective leadership which, formally enshrined as a guiding principle, has thus become an obstacle to concentration of overwhelming power in the hands of one individual. That the present ruling group is stable appears from the absence of changes among full members of the Party Presidium. New and younger blood has been brought to the top circle by the candidate members, expanded to six.

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Inclusion in the latter group of Marshal Zhukov, the first professional military chief to reach Presidium level, appears to represent both recognition of him personally and appreciation of the military ingredient in policy-making rather than an indication that the armed forces are growing to be a distinct political force.

Khrushchev received no special build-up at the Congress, but his leadership within the ruling group was strengthened by the number of new Presidium candidate members and new members of the Central Committee who have had past links with him.

Foreign Affairs. In foreign affairs the Soviet rulers claimed major successes for their current policy and announced they would pursue it with greater vigor. They set forth as the underlying basis of their policy the thesis that peaceful coexistence is “the only alternative” to nuclear war, and they indicated that the USSR will energetically champion coexistence as an activist program aimed at undermining Western defense efforts. They called for the development of friendly relations throughout the world, and especially with the underdeveloped countries. Although this policy was to apply also to the major Western powers, it was not meant to imply concessions on major East-West issues. Their goal was evidently to remove apprehensions of a Soviet threat and instead to imbue the USSR with an air of respectability, normalcy, and tolerance.

To further this impression, the Soviet rulers readjusted their ideological stance: they stressed the preventability rather than the inevitability of war and, without renouncing violence, they sanctioned for foreign Communists a “non-violent” acquisition of power by parliamentary means. They sought both to assure non-Communists that the USSR is not wedded to violence and to reassure Communists that a period of coexistence would not undercut their struggle for the promised ultimate victory of Communism nor jeopardize the prospect of winning it.

Any improvement in state-to-state relations between Communists and non-Communists would involve no ideological reconciliation. The speakers confidently predicted the inevitable world triumph of Communism on the grounds that Soviet military power would protect the Soviet base; that continuing Soviet economic successes would inspire others to take the Communist path; and that a majority of mankind, although representing different views, was already joining together in “one mighty stream” that would wash out the underpinnings of historically-doomed capitalism.

Domestic Innovations. Traditional emphasis on enforced industrialization and on the maintenance of high level armaments continued at the Congress. It approved the Sixth Five-Year Plan, announced in January, adding a provision for shortening the work-week to 40–41 hours before 1960. A breakdown of investment figures for 1956–60 [Page 65]showed a marked similarity, with some deviation in favor of agriculture, to the pattern implemented in 1951–55.

The leaders showed some concern over living standards and promised to bring up the level of the lowest-paid workers and pensioners while retaining the present policy of a sharply differentiated income structure. Another innovation was the proposal to establish fee-charging boarding schools. Although justified in part as a way of meeting the problem of children who lack adequate parental supervision, these schools will probably be select elitetraining institutions.

The importance of these developments on the internal scene was less than the implications of the attack on STALIN, which opens the way to a re-evaluation of all sectors of Soviet life. In this sense the Congress could turn out to be, in Mikoyan’s words, “the most important Congress” in Soviet Communist Party history since Lenin’s time.

  1. Source: Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 66 D 487, USSR. Confidential. Attached to the source text was a memorandum of transmittal from Armstrong to the Acting Secretary of State, March 14, in which Armstrong wrote that the 49-page report, “while fairly long, is interesting reading and covers many points of significance to US policy makers.” A note on the source text indicates that the report was based on information available through March 5.