William Ash’s “Pickaxe and Rifle: The Story of the Albanian People” on Khrushchev’s Secret Speech

“At the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February, 1956, after three years of preparation, Khrushchev presented in the report of the Central Committee a number of ‘new’ theses described as ‘a creative development of Marxist-Leninist theory’ which were in fact a complete departure from Marxism-Leninism. Collaboration with imperialism which he labelled ‘peaceful co-existence’ was exalted as the general line of the foreign policy of all socialist countries… Khrushchev made it clear that he was prepared to give up international class struggle, renouncing on behalf of the colonial peoples any right to liberate themselves from oppression and reassuring capitalist governments by emphasising ‘peaceful transition to socialism’ or the Parliamentary road as the only correct line for communist parties everywhere. If only the United States imperialists were given to understand that their economic and military positions all over the world were not to be challenged then they would give up their aggressive designs against the socialist block.

What this really amounted to was an attempt to freeze the world situation just as it was, with all its injustices and inequalities, for the sake of a ‘peace’ which the two major world powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, would guarantee with their nuclear might. The ‘creative development of Marxism-Leninism’ which Khrushchev was advancing was simply the division of the world into Soviet and American spheres of influence… ‘Then’, Khrushchev was to say, ‘if any mad man wanted war, we, the two strongest countries in the world, would have but to shake our fingers to warn him off’ – and included among the ‘mad men’, of course, were any popular leaders wishing to take their countries out of imperialist bondage. Instead of challenging the policy of nuclear blackmail which the United States government had used ever since the war to keep the world safe for the operations of monopoly capitalism, Khrushchev was going to use the Soviet Union’s nuclear capacity to get in on the act. That this was the case was demonstrated later on when Albania’s opposition to the Khrushchev line prompted the threat from Kozlov, a member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Party, that ‘either the Albanians will accept peaceful co-existence or an atom bomb from the imperialists will turn Albania into a heap of ashes and leave no Albanian alive’….

The basic political question on which Khrushchev’s attempt to diverse the whole line of the Soviet Communist Party depended was whether or not class conflict had ceased to exist in the Soviet Union. Lenin always took an absolutely unequivocal stand on this issue, holding that during the entire historical period separating capitalism from the classless society of communism, that is the period designated as socialism, class conflict did continue and therefore the dictatorship of the proletariat remained a political necessity for the development of a socialist society. Indeed, after the assumption of state power by the working class, bourgeois elements would struggle even harder to re-establish themselves…

Furthermore, if class conflict had ceased to exist, the Party and state instead of being the political and governmental expressions of the dictatorship of the proletariat could be designed by Khrushchev as the Party and State of the ‘whole people’. But in this formation he departed altogether from anything remotely resembling Marxism. The Marxist view developed by Lenin in such works as ‘State and Revolution’ … was that the state always represented the interests of a particular class in a society in which there was still class conflict. Neither the state nor the communist party was above class struggle and they would cease to exist when classes ceased to exist, in ‘the withering away of the state’ which Marx had only predicated of the classless society of full communism. Therefore a party or a state of the ‘whole people’ was nonsense from a Marxist point of view; Stalin, in his last theoretical work, ‘Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR’, which attacked revisionist ideas in precisely the same terms the Chinese and Albanians were to use in the polemics following the 20th Congress, specifically criticised the ‘state of the whole people’ concept as an anti-Marxist attempt to undermine the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In fact, the denial of any further need for the leadership of the working class in a situation where other classes still existed merely prepared the way for those anti-working class elements to recapture political power and begin diverting the Soviet Union from a socialist course. That this was the intention of Khrushchev and the revisionist clique around him became apparent in the economic changes which accompanied these political manoeuvres The decentralisation of the economy was not a loosening of control from the centre but a change from control by organs responsible to the working people like the state and Party to control by experts, managers and bureaucrats. With this change went a shift in motivation from the socialist incentives of putting collective above personal interests to material incentives no different from those characteristic of capitalist society. The so-called economic liberalisation was simply a move from socialism to state capitalism and, as such, was naturally hailed as a break-through by bourgeois economists everywhere… But it was never intended that such a restoration would threaten the position of the revisionist party hacks and state officials who had brought it about – hence the continuing conflict between bourgeois writers and artists in the Soviet Union demanding the freedom of expression they might have expected in a bourgeois democratic society and the Soviet state apparatus with the same bourgeois values who were prepared to welcome works attacking Stalin and the dictatorship of the proletariat but were not prepared to countenance those criticizing themselves and the bureaucratic dictatorship they had imposed.”

 — William Ash. Pickaxe and Rifle: The Story of the Albanian People. London: Howard Baker Press Ltd. 1974. pp. 183-187.

One response to “William Ash’s “Pickaxe and Rifle: The Story of the Albanian People” on Khrushchev’s Secret Speech

  1. William Ash wrote a couple of mystery novels, too. In one of them some goons beat up the hero, who remarks, “I see you don’t believe in the peaceful transition to fascism.”

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