By Neil Harris
ANATOLY Chernyaev, as deputy head of the International Department of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and a candidate member of the Central Committee, was close to the centre of power for over two decades. During the last two years of the Soviet Union he became Mikhail Gorbachev’s foreign policy advisor. The diaries he kept, peppered with an insider’s gossip, have been donated to the George Washington University where they are slowly being translated and put on the web as part of their “National Security Archive”.
|John Gollan with Brezhnev in Moscow|
These diaries not only paint a picture of the Soviet Union, as seen through the eyes of a self-styled revisionist, they also shed new light on those from the “fraternal parties” and their discussions with the International department in Moscow. Some of those it exposes destroyed the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) from within, one example being John Gollan, general secretary of the British party from 1956 to 1976, who appears in an entry for 17th May 1973:
“On his way to Vietnam… in the evening I met him at the airport. At 5 in the morning I saw him off on the rest of his trip. Evening on Plotnikov Street. As they say, ‘besides harm, no good came of it’.t He was irritated at being met by an official of my level, while ‘in Romania he was met by Ceausescu, in Hungary by Kadar, in Yugoslavia by Tito’ and so on. (These are his own words! He is one of those people!) He was irritated that there was no reaction to his offer to meet with Brezhnev either on the way to Vietnam or on the way back. I felt tense and self-conscious because of his attitude, especially after all my attempts to start some kind of political conversation were met with contemptuous silence: he was not going to discuss these things at my level.”
There are other records of ill-tempered meetings with Gollan, who would only talk about anti-communist dissidents and Jewish emigration. Ironically, Chernyaev was no anti-semite and campaigned against prejudice until the end of the Soviet Union, unlike many dissidents pretending to be democrats.
The international department didn’t fare much better with Gollan’s successor Gordon McLennan. His first appearance is as part of a divided and hostile CPGB delegation in March 1973: “It was a difficult week. The British delegation returned to Moscow (Leningrad, Kiev, Vilnius, Lvov). They were a lot of work, but in the end it was interesting.” Chernyaev records how critical of the Soviet Union some on the delegation were, particularly after disruptive comments were made at a car plant. As a result:
“….the bearded guy, Ralph Pindor – a young, red-haired shop-steward from Scotland – asked the head of the delegation to gather the members together. ‘What did you come here for? To pick fights, like provincials? To spoil relations between the parties? Are you at a bar around the corner, or are you carrying out a political assignment?’ In the morning everyone was apologetic.”
There is no mention of McLennan playing any role until the end of the visit and then it wasn’t a positive one:
“Nevertheless, I had a serious conversation with Gordon McLennan when we were working out the communiqué. We discussed why we needed them to say that they ‘appreciate the building of communism;’ we talked about the Common Market, about our foreign policy, about why we needed the formula of ‘joint struggle for unity of the International Communist Movement ( ICM)’.”
McLennan and some of the others revealed their hand at the final reception:
On 1st March there was an official reception of the delegation by the CC CPSU. The delegation (its head) no longer made any claims and praised everything profusely. Gordon timidly noted that all questions have essentially been answered and left it up to BN [Ponomarev] to decide whether to go over the questions.”
Which would have been fine, except that at the official Central Committee reception, McLennan asked Ponomarev a hostile question about the harvest – in 1972 it had gone badly – and this must have been calculated to embarrass. The attitude of some of the group is also clear from this passage:
“Then Kapitonov spoke ….he talked excitedly about how today Leonid Ilyich [Brezhnev] signed Party Card Number 1 – to Lenin…..the Brits stared and could barely restrain the smirks on their faces.”
If McLennan and his group gave away hints of anti-sovietism in 1973, there was to be no doubt about it in the 1980’s; this was the period of vicious internal struggle in the CPGB which led to the creation of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and ultimately the collapse of the CPGB. McLennan visited the International Department on 14th March 1985 when he was in Moscow for the funeral of CPSU general secretary Konstantin Chernenko, no doubt secretly hoping to meet the newly elected general secretary and darling of the West – Gorbachev. He was going to be unlucky:
“Out of all the communist parties, Gorbachev met only with the Italians. And even though BN [Ponomarev] did not object, he grumbled to us: saying how is that—so many good (!) leaders have come, and we meet only with the Italians, the bad ones!”
In fact what McLennan got was a fairly lengthy telling off:
“I was at BN’s talks with McLennan (general secretary of Great Britain’s CP). BN agreed to berate him for Johnston’s article in Marxism Today.”
Monty Johnston, a leading CPGB revisionist had published an article in that month’s Marxism Today entitled: Back in the USSR; the past catches up. This was a piece of viciously anti-Soviet propaganda. It would have been more appropriate from a Trotskyite or a Reaganite than from an article in a “communist” magazine surviving on a Soviet subsidy. It’s clear that Chernyaev felt the same way about it:
“As a result, Gordon wanted to continue the talk with me. I stopped by his hotel in the evening. Conducted an edifying conversation about this “anti-Soviet” article: said that, since we are fraternal parties, we must observe some code of propriety. We are not against criticism, but not one-sided: what if we had written in the ‘Communist’ something similar about your party, what wouldyou say?! There was nothing he could say to that. And in general, he is no expert at debate, plus he has not completely parted (like the Italians have done) with the ‘principles of the International Communist Movement’ in the traditional interpretation.”
By now, the trip must have seemed less of a good idea:
“16th March 1985, from early in the morning yesterday I continued to ‘discipline’ McLennan, trying to get a clear response from him, as to how he understands fraternal relations — does he recognise at all, unlike the PCI [Communist Party of Italy], the specific character of the relationship between parties? He got confused, said that he thought about that all the time himself, and that I had now arranged all these problems in a systematic way. But I continued to press on him: how can fraternal relations be combined with an ideological war, which you are virtually waging against us (the CPSU)?”
Chernyaev may have been a revisionist, but he had a good grasp of the balance of forces in the British party:
“I am sure that this is all in vain: he is too weak a leader to make internationalist sentiments prevail at the CPGB; even though the basic sense of justice is on our side: the CPSU has, in fact, recognised most of its major flaws and omissions, and has undertaken their correction, begun work towards the ‘improvement of socialism’s image’. The new leader has clearly stated that he came from the Andropov camp and that he would continue the work with greater energy, and maybe even with the help of truly radical changes and reforms. And you, the Eurocommunists and others like them, continue to say that this is an impossible task unless we introduce a second party and altogether accept the British system of parliamentary democracy, in other words you ‘criticise constructively’ on the basis of dissidents’ gossip and the work of Sovietologists, without a real understanding of the reality.”
Chernyaev was realistic about prospects at the CPGB;
“With that I saw the general secretary of Great Britain’s CP off; he has an extraordinary congress in mid-May, where the minority of so-called ‘pro-Soviets’ will be dealt the final blow.”
That month, Chernyaev also had the unhappy chore of dealing with the CPGB full-timer, Dave Priscott, comparing him unfavourably with Labour’s Dennis Healey who had been in Moscow to report on the 40th anniversary celebrations of victory over the Nazis;
“17th March 1985, at the airport, where I came to see him [Healey] and Priscott (from the leadership of the Great Britain Communist Party) off, I found him writing an article for The Observer about the 40th anniversary in Moscow. I had to say goodbye to both of them at the same time and we sat in the guestroom with some cognac.”
Time was plainly dragging, at least until he got Healey going with the help of the entertainment allowance:
“I delivered all kinds of speeches, tried to joke, to egg them on. Healey spoke in response and towards the end suddenly remembered and blurted out, addressing Priscott, something like this: ‘I think, that comrade Priscott will not bear me a grudge for speaking for both of us and taking up all the time before the flight (the other nodded his head, with a pitiful and servile smile). Though, I beg your pardon, after the events in your party, which will soon end with the extraordinary Congress, perhaps I will not be able to call you comrade any more, I will have to use “gospodin” (mister!)’. Everybody laughed. But this was an excellent move against the CPGB’s descent into anti-sovietism.”
The result of the Congress came through as expected;
“20th May 1985, the CPGB Congress is over. The ’Eurocommunists’ won, ‘our guys’ were driven out. Either they are fools, or the [intelligence] agents really made an impact, or they are such vehement anti-Soviets that they have lost common sense. Because under the English conditions there is no space for a social-democratic (anti-Soviet) Communist Party, and especially now, when we’ve begun embracing with Kinnock and Healey. Their Congress virtually means a self-liquidation course. Formally, its substance is Eurocommunism, but the reality in their situation is something completely different... Particularly when Gorbachev is creating a different image of the Soviet Union as a world power and the fears of the Soviet threat are beginning to dissipate.”
For Chernyaev this was a source of despair, despite his revisionism. As a nationalist he was attempting to keep alive the international movement – but only as a pro-Russian force:
“22nd May 1985. Lagutin has returned from the extraordinary Congress in Great Britain. The Eurocommunists have absolutely defeated the faithful, i.e. the people faithful to us….. They do not need us, the CPSU; do not need us at all. They see in us neither a model, nor an example, ideal, brother, trusted friend, not even someone who would save them from a nuclear catastrophe. Alas! Many Communist Parties are on this path.”
The contradiction that faced Chernyaev was that it was his official duty to oppose the Eurocommunists because their position was anti-Soviet. At the same time he was unable to support the “pro-Soviet” elements, because he was a revisionist. As a result, he could not see beyond the appeal of transferring Soviet support to western social democracy instead of seeking out revolutionaries and rebuilding the communist parties around them.
Although he was the deputy head of the CPSU’s International Department responsible for relations with Foreign Communist parties, politically Chernyaev had given up on Communism years before. His plan for the International Communist Movement was to convert it into a pro-Russian social democracy.
By August 1985 the fallout from the British party’s extraordinary congress had reached Moscow and was dealt with in the International Department’s report for the XXVII Congress which included; “information for Gorbachev about Rotschtein’s letter to him, about the situation in the Communist Party of Great Britain and about our line”. This was a reference to Andrew Rothstein, a leading British Communist, a delegate to the Communist International in the 1930s, who was well known to Lenin and Stalin. He was the son of Theodore Rothstein, pre-revolutionary Bolshevik party member, theorist and Lenin’s representative in London after the revolution. Andrew Rothstein was later to become a founder member of the Communist Party of Britain; at this time he had written to Gorbachev for support against the eurocommunists – he wasn’t going to get it. Chernyaev would meet him in person on a party visit to Britain later that autumn, probably to explain why;
“1st November — after lunch I went to visit Rotshtein (he is a veteran of veterans of the Communist Party, a “Bolshevik,” the son of a Lenin’s friend, whom the latter sometimes rocked on his knee). This is living history, but history, another confirmation of the fact that there is, and cannot be, any place for the Communists in the political life of England.”
The mood of demoralisation was clearly the result of too many long meetings with the CPGB;
“On 28th October we spent five hours at the Communist Party CC. Pravda correspondent Maslennikov was with us. The general conclusion from our discussions is the following: they understand everything, but are also absolutely incapable of acting; there is a complete absence of any kind of perspective of being a political power in the country. Their attitude toward me: trust, agitation, they perceive me almost like Gorbachev’s alter ego. We had lunch in a nearby tavern. On 29thOctober, Tuesday, again at the CC, but the talk was with the CPGB London organisation. [We spoke] about the crisis in the party, about the minority opposition.”
As the group headed for Wales, the problems and divisions in the party became clear: “On 30thOctober, Wednesday, with Maslennikov behind the wheel we drove to Cardiff. We had a meeting in a cafe with secretary of the Party organisation of Wales. It was surprising: the party boss of an ultra-proletarian region is an artist who didn’t finish his studies, yesterday’s student.”
It got worse when he met miners’ representatives – the divisions were out in the open;
“In the management of the miners’ trade union is a trade union boss, quite drunk, who, looking directly at the party boss, met us with the words: “Who are you for, McLennan (the generalsecretary), or for the Morning Star (a party organ in opposition to the CPGB leadership)?
“Awkwardness. I had to separate them and to set the conversation going.”
By this time, Chernyaev who had written his 1949 university dissertation on the miners’ struggles in the Rhondda, was fairly demoralised;
“Very close to midnight, at the other end of Cardiff we met with veterans of the anti-war movement. There were many women, young leaders. I spoke about Gorbachev’s philosophy of international politics — for the present and the future. One girl, very pretty, wore me out with questions. Everyone is very concerned. It seems to be hopeless, but they continue to work, by the principle of ‘little steps’.”
A complex character, in public Chernyaev played the part of the loyal deputy to Ponomarev, his boss at the international department, in secret he was contemptuous of both the man and his politics.
As a Russian nationalist and a war hero, he represented the first generation that had not played a part in the Revolution, the Russian civil war against the Whites or the Spanish Civil War – the ideological as opposed to “patriotic” wars. As a generation it acted as a barrier between the Lenin and Stalin cohort and those, like Gorbachev, that Chernyaev referred to as the “Children of the Twentieth Congress”.
He was in fact an oppositionist all his life but only revealed this to his diary and close friends. In 1991 after the collapse of socialism he records a discussion with an old colleague from East Germany: “Bruno Malov visited me. The one who was the deputy head, and then the head of SED’s International Department [Socialist Unity Party, the ruling party in the German Democratic Republic], who flashed across our TV screens as Honecker’s interpreter……We discussed what we did, while we understood the absurdity of it all, and that it would lead to a dead end. We remembered how Ponomarev would gather officials at his level from five socialist countries and teach them how to rebut the French and Italians with their eurocommunism, or the Romanians (I remember in Poland, at night before Warsaw we were in some old castle from the Mickiewicz era, we met secretly from the Romanian delegation to conspire!)… Bruno understands everything and did not argue with me when I started to “justify” the inevitability of what happened… That it was natural for revisionism to be born in such units as the International Department… because we knew the world and we knew that nobody was going to attack us, we knew what the ICM (international communist movement0 was in reality, and that it was a lost cause… It was not without reason that in the SED and especially in the apparatus of the CC CPSU, the international affairs workers were considered revisionists from Trapeznikov’s days, and they were endured only because ’technically’ it was impossible without them to maintain relations with other Communist Parties, and to keep them on our bandwagon.”
In 1989, on a more personal level, Chernyaev was candid about his own political background;
“Probably, it was always so… I am glad that back then, in the 1930s, I was not into politics, and joined the Komsomol (Young Communist League) only right before the war….. Consequently, I was never charmed by Stalin, never considered him great because in my eyes he was not ’noble’ or an ‘aristocrat,’ not an intellectual, in other words. a person of culture.”
His own background as a snob is something he was unlikely to boast about except in his diary:
“My mother’s hopeless attempts to hold on to the impossible – to raise me in the traditions of Russian nobility, the canons of that pre-revolutionary era in which she grew up herself (with piano, French and German lessons with the governess Kseniya Petrovna), they did not pass in vain. Even though I cannot truly play the piano or speak these languages, I have always been internally free. The only period in my life when this freedom was called in question was when I worked in the CC CPSU Scientific Department, in the late 1950s. At that time I had to do some vile functions for work, even though I tried to resist and to somehow neutralise this department’s blows to the ‘children of the XX Congress’.”
Throughout the diaries, Chernyaev attacks the “Stalinist” generation of Central Committee members like Ponomarev, Suslov and Arvid Pelshe (who had also been a young Bolshevik in the Revolution), characterising them as stupid, out of touch and senile even though that generation’s private analysis of Brezhnev’s “Détente” and “real-politik” was fairly near the mark as this 24th June 1973 entry shows:
“The Brezhnev-Nixon agreement for the prevention of nuclear war has been signed……Here are the symptoms, in conversation with our consultant Kozlov, Professor Kovalyov, head of the Department of Scientific Communism at Moscow State University and a moron, so to speak, ex officio, lamented: ‘How can this be? Peace is good, of course. Lenin was also for peace. But we are concluding economic agreements with capitalism for 30-50 years… We are creating an economic structure for peaceful relations. At the same time we are tightly binding ourselves with the capitalists. We are helping them to emerge from crises, and so on. Hence, we believe that for another 30-50 years there will not be any revolution? Then how are we to teach scientific communism and talk about the death of capitalism?”
In the same 1973 entry Chernyaev goes on to set out his own philosophy, his generation’s secret plans to overturn the Soviet system. It is always expressed in Leninist terms – partly because people like him were educated into the works of Lenin and Marx – it was the language they were brought up to use, just as for Marx and Engels the Greek myths and the Bible were their common language.
Partly it was because it was a code they used to protect themselves from exposure and potential persecution. The “‘Leninism” that Chernyaev, Andropov, Gorbachev, their sympathisers and advisors referred to was only the Lenin of the New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1922. This was the brief policy reintroducing capitalism as championed by Bukharin and accepted reluctantly by Lenin, who saw it as a temporary, emergency measure. For the “Children of the twentieth congress” it was their permanent solution as the 1973 entry goes on to say:
“…A way out of this is to declare war on Trapeznikovism. The established peace necessitates it. The enormous difficulty of such a war is that we are not talking about just professors and a part of the apparatus; we are talking about a whole layer of society that spans several generations. It cannot be reformed, and most importantly – you cannot make it into smart and educated supporters of something new. You have to start with a strong-willed restructuring [perestroika] at the level of the general secretary of the main theoretical concept itself; a genuine revival of Leninism on a modern basis; the liberation of public life from ideological dogmas. In their day these dogmas had a real meaning for social development, especially in our country, and this lasted for a long time. But now they turned into ideological myths, into obstacles and dangers for our society, and the source of its moral corruption.”
It may seem remarkable that this was all set out in 1973, however this was not some master plan. There never was a timetable to seize power in 1985 and then to destroy socialism in 1991. What this (“Leninism on a modern basis”) represented was simply the common view amongst the educated, privileged elite that the only solution to the Soviet Union’s problems lay in the reintroduction of capitalism, a compromise with imperialism to allow for rapid disarmament and the conversion of the CPSU into a form of Scandinavian social democracy.
The revisionists never intended this to be a “popular” uprising – involving working people - their intention was to destroy the CPSU from within and from the top down. Such were the dreams of fools and, as these diaries go on to record the Soviet Union’s collapse from inside and from the top down, they go some way to expose the consequences of such foolishness. In the end, there was to be no third way, only gangster capitalism.