Daily Archives: 21 April 2005

China’s Connection to De-Stalinization

THE YEARS 1956 and 1957 marked the first serious crisis in global communism during the Cold War with many significant events. Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in February 1956 revealing Stalin’s crimes shocked the communist world and initiated a course of de-Stalinization, which soon led to challenges to the communist system itself, as the revolts in Poland and Hungary in October and November 1956 demonstrated. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, although violent eruption of political protest was largely absent, inner party debates and intellectual dissent were common, accompanied by sporadic strikes of workers and students. In Asian communist countries, the intellectual dissent and criticism of the party became conspicuous in China, especially in the spring of 1957, during the Double-Hundred movement and the Rectification period, with a few cases of workers’ strikes and student protests. In North Vietnam the intellectuals directly challenged the party during the so-called Nhan Van/Giai Pham (the names of two journals critical of the party) period in the fall of 1956, coupled with the peasant rebellion in Nghe-An Province and turbulence in the cities. The Hungarian revolution was suppressed in November 1956, and the entire atmosphere of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe underwent dramatic change. As Chinese intellectuals were still encouraged to criticize the party in the spring of 1957, Vietnamese intellectuals resumed their criticism of the regime as well. In June 1957, however, China launched the anti-Rightist campaign and ended the so-called “liberalization,” and so did Vietnam after the new year of 1958. Thus a cross-communist world crisis was overcome….

This article examines the process of de-Stalinization, or liberalization, from a perspective based on the China connection in Eastern Europe and Vietnam, which has been either underestimated or left out in many Moscow-centric narratives. The term “China connection” means either a direct Chinese influence or parallels between these countries and China. The article presents and connects two cases. The first is the Chinese influence in some Eastern European countries, and even the Soviet Union as well, from 1955 to 1958. The second is Vietnamese intellectuals’ challenge to the regime and the regime’s response, both of which show interesting parallels between the two countries. The China connection in both the Eastern European and the Vietnamese cases clearly indicates a different source contributing to de-Stalinization and even suggests an expanded time frame of such turbulence from as early as 1955 (before Khrushchev’s secret report) to as late as 1958 (one year after the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising), thus enriching our understanding of the global communist crisis with broader sources and longer duration.

SOURCE: Yinghong Cheng, “Beyond Moscow-Centric Interpretation: An Examination of the China Connection in Eastern Europe and North Vietnam during the Era of De-Stalinization,” Journal of World History 15:487-518 (Project Muse subscription required).

This is the kind of article that just makes you keep slapping your forehead in recognition of suddenly obvious connections among so many things you never tied together before. It’s the best kind of historical revisionism and a wonderful illustration of the value of taking a global view of the diffusion of ideas across national boundaries.

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Gulag Guards

In recent years, it has become fashionable to point out that, contrary to their postwar protestations, few Germans were ever forced to work in concentration camps or killing squads. One scholar recently claimed that most had done so voluntarily–a view which has caused some controversy. In the case of Russia and the other post-Soviet states, the issue has to be examined differently. Very often, camp employees–like most other Soviet citizens–had few options. A labor committee simply assigned them a place of work, and they had to go there. Lack of choice was built right into the Soviet economic system.

Nevertheless, it is not quite right to describe the NKVD officers and armed guards as “no better off than the prisoners they commanded,” or as victims of the same system, as some have tried to do. For although they might have preferred to work elsewhere, once they were inside the system, the employees of the Gulag did have choices, far more than their Nazi counterparts, whose work was more rigidly defined. They could choose to behave brutally, or they could choose to be kind. They could choose to work their prisoners to death, or they could choose to keep as many alive as possible. They could choose to sympathize with the prisoners whose fate they might have once shared, and might share again, or they could choose to take advantage of their temporary stretch of luck, and lord it over their former and future comrades in suffering.

Nothing in their past history necessarily indicated what path they would take, for both Gulag administrators and ordinary camp guards came from as many different ethnic and social backgrounds as did the prisoners. Indeed, when asked to describe the character of their guards, Gulag survivors almost always reply that they varied enormously. I put that question to Galina Smirnova, who remembered that “they were, like everyone, all different.” Anna Andreeva told me that “there were sick sadists, and there were completely normal, good people.” Andreeva also recalled the day, soon after Stalin’s death, when the chief accountant in her camp suddenly rushed into the accounting office where prisoners were working, cheered, hugged them, and shouted, “Take off your numbers, girls, they’re giving you back your own clothes!”

SOURCE: Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum (Anchor Books, 2003), pp. 269-270

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