An Address by WILLSON WOODSIDE, Foreign Editor, "Saturday Night"
Thursday, March 19th, 1953
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. John W. Griffin.
MR. GRIFFIN: Members and Guests of The Empire Club of Canada: In November, 1917, when the Armies of the West were locked in battle the liberal and so-called "Provisional" Russian government of Alexander Kerensky proved as politically bankrupt as the old regime and was swept aside by a proletarian rising. Thus was born the awful monster of Communist power. In 1924, by which time the nations of the West had given up their attempt to restore the Romanov monarchy, control of all the Russias passed into the hands of Joseph Djugashvili, whom the world knows as Stalin. In recent years the picture has been created of a genial, smiling, pipe-smoking father of the Russian people. How different is the true picture! This evil monster, this cynical murderer who is responsible for the death of literally millions of people is quoted as having said, "To choose one's victim, to prepare one's plan minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance, and then to go to bed-there is nothing sweeter in the world." Yet this is the man for whom a large memorial service was held in the City of Toronto in the Dominion of Canada just a few days ago. This is the man who even has a follower in the Ontario Legislature. We may ask ourselves the question, "After Stalin--what?"
Mr. Willson Woodside, our speaker of today, has been our guest on many occasions in the past and is one of Canada's best known news analysts. We invited him to be with us today confident that we would hear a thoughtful and well informed answer to this vital question.
MR. WILLSON WOODSIDE: Mr. Chairman, Guests and Friends of The Empire Club: The great question of the day is: "After Stalin, what?" One answer to that I heard the last time I was in Berlin. A story was going the rounds about an American sentry on the zone border, who remarked to the Russian sentry across the way: "Well, it's nearly midnight; thank God, I'll soon be relieved." The Russian sentry looked at his watch and said, "I'll soon be relieved, too, thank Stalin." To which the American sentry said: "That's a funny way to talk, Ivan, Thank Stalin. Now what would you say if Stalin were to die?" The Russian sentry said, "Then I would say, 'Thank God' ".
I think the silliest reaction to the passing of Stalin is that "it won't make any difference." It took thirty years to build a Stalin. I took the trouble of looking up an Encyclopaedia Britannica article which dealt with the Bolshevik revolution up to the death of Lenin, January, 1924. Stalin's name does not appear in it! I looked up the index. He was not indexed; he was not mentioned in January, 1924. By the time he died Pravda was calling him the "creator of the world and all its peoples"; and a speaker in one of the satellite countries recently referred to him as the "lighthouse of the planets." I don't think that Stalin believed this sort of thing--he was too cynical; but he found it useful to present himself to the Russian people as a new Tsar. They had always placed their Tsar close to God.
Stalin's cynicism is well portrayed in this little story, which I doubt you will have heard before. It was told me by Mr. Eden, sitting in his room in the Foreign Office in front of the fire, a year or so before the end of the war. He had been to Moscow not long before, with Cordell Hull, and they had spent some time there. One day, over tea Stalin had plied Eden with questions about the British Commonwealth and the relationship of its members to the mother country. When he had heard Eden out, Stalin said, "We might try something like that ourselves."
So he did. Within two months' time--and just a day or two before Eden told me the story--Stalin announced that the Ukraine and White Russia would have their own Ministers of Defence and of Foreign Affairs, and their own flags. These turned out, of course, to be faithful Russians, shipped in from Moscow. In other words, he set up all the trappings without any meaning behind them.
Stalin was cynical, but he became immensely arrogant. The best story illustrating this is, I think, told by the present Yugoslav Foreign Minister, Kardelj. He tells of being in the Kremlin when Stalin was speaking of Benelux, and referring to it as including only Belgium and Luxembourg. Kardelj said it also included the Netherlands. Stalin said, "It includes only Belgium and Luxembourg." Kardelj replied that the name "Benelux" was made up of "Be" for Belgium, "Ne" for Netherlands . . . He never got it finished, because Stalin thundered in his face, "When I say "No," I mean NO!" That was the degree of Stalin's arrogance two or three years ago.
A more genial story deals with the relationship between Stalin and Molotov. This comes from Eric Johnston. When he was President of the United States Chamber of Commerce, he had the opportunity of going all through Russia, in the difficult days of '43 and '44 when the Soviets badly needed U.S. support. So Johnston had the full treatment; he was to be the first American to be shown the new armaments cities of the Urals and Siberia. Naturally the reporters who had accompanied him to Russia clamoured to go along, to have a new story to write about. Eric Johnston wrote two notes to Molotov at the Foreign Office on the matter, but got no reply. On the eve of his departure for Siberia, being received by Stalin in the Kremlin, he took it up directly. Johnston made quite a little speech on how much the American people would be interested in hearing of this "far west" of the Russians, this pioneer country; it would develop a fellow feeling between the American and the Russian peoples. Could he not take a few correspondents along? Stalin said, "Sure, why not?" Johnston turned to Molotov, to be polite, and asked: "Does the Foreign Minister agree?" Stalin, at first mystified, slapped his thigh when this was interpreted and roared in laughter to Johnston: "Did you think he wouldn't agree with me?" This is a true story of the relationship of the Soviet No. 2 man to the boss.
As a final illustration, we have the stories told by Stalin's nephew, Budu Svandidze, who has produced a rather admiring book on his Uncle Josef. Svandidze tells how Malenkov and his rival Zhdanov, who is supposed to have been murdered in the "doctors' case," stood like school boys and ventured no contrary opinions in front of Stalin.
Well, now these lesser men have taken over control, not only of the party and of the Soviet State, but of the satellite world and of relations with China. Nobody knows their potential. It may be as great as Stalin's-which was similarly unknown in 1924. But none can tower over the Soviet world in Stalin's place for some years to come. Look, for instance, how Mao has refused, or failed, to go to Stalin's funeral. Why? Surely, because of Oriental concern over pride and face, surely because Mao would not be put in a position where he might have had to walk behind the Soviet second team. And notice that Mao sent his Number 2 to march with the Soviet No. 2 boys and march shoulder to shoulder with them, not behind them. These are not unimportant things in Communist protocol.
See what Beria, the second most powerful man in the new Directory, said in his funeral oration last week. It is a most interesting statement, more interesting than Malenkov's and much more interesting than Molotov's. Beria said: "We know how to conduct affairs. We have experience. We have been trained by Stalin." And then the head of the Secret Police said, very nicely: "We value the confidence of the people." "The people", he added, "must surely have confidence in us." Later on: "The people can have confidence in us." And towards the end: "The people should have confidence in us."
Then he went on to say, "We are solicitously guarding the interests of the people. We will give the maximum satisfaction to their material needs." Indeed, he admitted that the people's material needs are growing--"the growing material and cultural needs of all the people." Not just the Party favourites who have special stores and ration coupons. Not just the Stakhanovite workers. But all the people. No Soviet leader in my memory has referred to all the people. Beria went on to promise to seek peace and trade with the outside world.
I think the important thing here is that the man who has informers in every walk of Soviet life, the man who is best equipped to know what people are thinking, believes that these are the things that people want to be assured of. Both he and Malenkov also called over and over for "the unity of the Party", which they must guard like the apple of their eye; and an appeal for unity and for the avoidance of "panic and disarray" was broadcast every hour on the hour the day Stalin's death was announced.
And what did Malenkov say in his funeral oration? He didn't bluster, and say that he was the master now, and they had better listen! He rivalled Doug Abbott in his promises of peace and plenty! He promised "boundlessly loyal service to the interests of the people"; "we will be the true servants of the people." This reminds Russians, I am sure, of the day, the only day, when Stalin came to the microphone with his water glass clinking against his teeth, in July, 1941, when the German Army was sweeping into the Soviet Union, and called the people: "Dear brothers and sisters." So Malenkov says, "We are the true servants of the people; we will strive zealously to improve their welfare."
These, I contend, are men who are unsure of themselves, at least for the present. They have never been allowed to make the big decisions; now they have to. They know that the outside world has long speculated on a struggle for power in the Kremlin after the passing of Stalin. They know the lessons of history, how few empires have survived the fall of the conqueror who founded them. They are aware of Mao who towers over any of them as a "theologian" of the Communist "world church". Malenkov has never written anything that I have seen published, except the report of the Central Committee of the Party, which he read at the nineteenth Congress last October.
These men, I suggest, are worried about Tito's successful defiance and about his new Balkan Pact set up so timely, just a month ago, which offers release for Bulgaria and Albania from the Soviet grip, and a safe haven into which they can escape. Special military precautions were ordered in both these satellites when Stalin's illness was announced.
I think these Soviet leaders are worried about Czechoslovakia, where Gottwald had more personal power than any other satellite leader; where people have known a better standard of living than the other satellites; a country which is not occupied by the Red Army, and which is exposed to the build-up of Western power on its borders; a people susceptible to appeals coming from America, where Masaryk founded their free republic in 1918. It looks to me as if Malenkov and Beria had stepped in and given poison to Mr. Gottwald. It is hard to believe that Gottwald, with access to all the medical attention available in Czechoslovakia--would have died from pneumonia between Thursday and Saturady.
Speaking of medical attention, which the Soviets are always so eager to provide foreign Communist leaders, there is the story of the doctor sent by the Kremlin to help Tito in 1947; in that case the doctor died! And Mr. Churchill remarked in the Commons the other day, in answer to an enquiry as to whether he contemplated a trip to Moscow for a meeting of the Big Three, that it "scarcely seemed a propitious moment to go to Moscow, at a time when all the best doctors were engaged in killing all the best politicians", but, of course, if all other matters could be arranged, he could take his personal physician along!
I believe, too, that the incidents involving the shooting down of Allied planes in Germany show that the Soviets are worried about their hold over Eastern Germany and Czechoslovakia. It is along their borders that the plane incidents have taken place. Incidentally, I think that the present pull of West Germany on East Germany is exactly the opposite to what the Soviets must have expected at the end of the war. I don't think the plane incidents here show that the Soviets are about to start a war. The Soviets don't start wars that way. They have started two within our fresh memory, both by sudden overnight attack; against Poland on the 17th September, 1939, and against Finland November 30th, 1939. This is the way they go to war, and the way they will do it if they attack us. They are not going to start a war by dribbles, to alarm us, alert us, and give us time to move Sabre fighters over to Western Europe. I hope you realize the real significance for Canada of those incidents last week. In this case Canada was in the front line; we had the only fighters over there to meet the Migs last week, the R.C.A.F. Sabres.
So I suggest the meaning of these incidents is that these fellows are saying: "Don't start anything." They sent out fresh orders on Stalin's death, and these orders were to be tough, to shoot down anything that came near to the borders of the Soviet Empire.
I think, too, that they are worried about China. They have rushed a new ambassador there, a man so high in the Party that he was included in the Presidium last October, Vassili Kuznetsov. I had the pleasure, when he was the head of the so-called Soviet Trade Unions, at a conference held in Oakland during the San Francisco meeting of the U.N., of asking Kuznetsov if the Soviet Trade Unions were not in fact the largest company union in the world? At that time he had the job of dividing world labour, drawing as much as possible of it into the Communist-dominated World Federation of Trade Unions (which forced the formation of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions). After that, Kuznetsov was put in charge of the "peace" movement. Then he was very prominent in the so-called World Economic Conference staged in Moscow a year ago to try to draw European trade out of the American orbit and towards the East. So Kuznetsov, with his world-wide connections, was made Deputy Foreign Minister, and with this prestige, rushed a few days ago to China.
I think, too, that these men are worried about the Soviet Army. One of the most important names mentioned in the past fortnight is that of Marshall Zhukov. Zhukov is the favourite of the Soviet High Command. Surely the Soviet leaders must consider the Army to be dangerously strong for a period of transition of political power. They will remember all too well the last Bonapartist threat, the Tukhachevsky Case just before the war, which I think was a real threat from the Army. I think the politicians in the Kremlin today would consider the Army dangerously strong. They are appeasing it by bringing its favourite Zhukov back from virtual exile in the Urals to a post in the Defence Ministry; and it would not be surprising if they sought means of reducing the Army, which would mean reducing the temperature of the so-called "cold" war.
There is one "but" to that, however, which is worth keeping in mind. Stalin could retreat easier than Malenkov will be able to do. Stalin, with his immense prestige, could pull out of a situation like the Berlin Blockade. It won't be sb easy for the new man to accept loss of face.
However, I can't believe that the new Soviet leaders want war now. This would mean more power for the generals, and the Party men have not forgotten that in 1942 when the whole fate of Russia was in the hands of the generals, and with their backs to the wall of Stalingrad, the generals were able to force the removal of the hated political commissars from the Army. It was not until near the end of the war that Stalin felt strong enough to put the political commissars back into the Army.
Also, war would bring the risk of many soldiers deserting as soon as they got beyond the boundary of the U.S.S.R., as they did in droves at the end of the last war. It would mean the risk of smashing everything that has been built up in the past 25 years. So my interpretation is that Malenkov will play a careful game. His whole adult life has been spent in the centre of things in the Kremlin. He earned Stalin's personal secretariat when he left University, and he spent years in the Central Committee of the Party. He has made Stalin his model, he apes him in dress, and has built his own career closely along the lines of Stalin's. I think that, having so obviously moulded his career on Stalin's and his methods on Stalin's this is what he knows and the line he will follow. He knows all about Stalin's manoeuvres of twenty-five years ago, first with the Triumvirate, so reminiscent of the present set-up, and then the use of the "Right Opposition" to destroy the so-called "Left Opposition", headed by Trotsky, and finally the liquidation of the "Right", headed by Bukharin.
But the others know their Party history, too. I think that one must assume that if they are tough enough to have survived so far, they will try to some extent to check Malenkov. So we will listen in pleasant expectation for the sound of pistol shots within the Kremlin walls.
I don't think that Malenkov will upset the Triumvirate immediately. He needs Beria, who has headed the police for fifteen years, too much. For the present Beria is indispensable to maintain control of the people and the Army and the satellites. Malenkov also needs Bulganin and Zhukov to maintain control of the Army. He needs Molotov to show that he is continuing the Stalin tradition, because everything will be done in the name of Stalin for a while. He needs Molotov especially for his experience in dealing with the Western leaders, if only to advise what we really mean when we do certain things.
He needs Mikoyan, who for many years has been the great Soviet trade expert.
Let me conclude by pointing out the half dozen things which have most impressed me in the turn-over following Stalin's death.
One is the rise in importance of the State apparatus, alongside the Party apparatus. If you look at the communiques given out during Stalin's illness and the announcement of his death, you will see that they refer in one sentence to "the Central Committee of the Communist Party", and in the next to "the Council of Ministers". In other words protocol requires now that these be mentioned interchangeably. That is, the Council of Ministers has now become a body as important as the Central Committee. This is very different from the situation when Stalin took over. Since then great new hierarchies have been built up. One of them is the enormous industrial apparatus with its technocrats, some of whom have risen to great power. One of them even gave the oration in Red Square at the celebration of the Revolution last November.
Other great hierachies which have been built up in the last twenty-five years by the State, the Army and the Police challenge to a certain extent the hierarchy of the Party, which completely dominated the scene in the early 'twenties. Stalin built up his whole dictatorship from the position of Secretary-General of the Party. When he died he was referred to, first, as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and second, as General Secretary of the Communist Party in his death notice.
I was struck too by the undoing of much of Stalin's work of last October in creating a 36-man Presidium to replace the 14-man Politiburo, with an immediate return to the smaller body.
I was struck by the moving of General Zhukov into the Defence Ministry; and by the deference to China in all speeches. The people of China were in every case named ahead of the so-called People's Democracies, whose people went nameless.
And I was struck by the quick establishment of the new protocol. Malenkov's funeral oration was rebroadcast 54 times over the Soviet radio; Beria's only 35 times, and Molotov's only 22 times!
After Stalin what? We go out the door whereby we came in. It took many years to build a Stalin, and for Stalin to build an empire. He left a system which needs a dictator. There is no dictator today, and it is going to take some years for Malenkov to acquire Stalin's full power.
In the meantime there must be greater uncertainty throughout Soviet Russia and the Soviet World than there is in the Western world. Everybody who has to make a speech throughout the Soviet Empire today must be worried about how many leaders to refer to, how to refer to Malenkov, who else to include, who to leave out? After Stalin--Uncertainty! Ed Murrow had a story last night about an outbreak of illegible signatures in Hungary, with no one willing to take responsibility.
So I say; after Stalin, uncertainty for a while, surely less pressure from the Soviet Union on us, and more opportunity for us to press the liberation policy which General Eisenhower and Mr. Dulles have urged, aimed at freeing the satellite countries and getting Russia off the back of Europe.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Professor R. M. Saunders of the Department of History, University of Toronto.