June 02, 2006
It is 50 years since the greatest misquotation of the cold war. At a Kremlin reception for western ambassadors in 1956, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced: "We will bury you." Those four words were seized on by American hawks as proof of aggressive Soviet intent.Doves who pointed out that the full quotation gave a less threatening message were drowned out. Khrushchev had actually said: "Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you." It was a harmless boast about socialism's eventual victory in the ideological competition with capitalism.
Yes, I remember, that inevitable triumph. Whatever happened to it?
The full quotation is not substantially different from the abbreviated one.
Posted by: The Pendant's Apprentice | Jun 2, 2006 8:54:01 AM
Of course Khrushchev was naively committed to the ascendancy of Socialism. It tends to be overlooked nowadays that in terms of its own constitution - as well as the approved approved Marxist-Leninist taxonomy - the Soviet Union only claimed to be a "socialist state". "Communism" was just the ultimate visionary aim of the Soviet Communist Party to be attained at some indefinite point in the distant future. But Khrushchev, with the single arguable exception of Gorbachev, was the best leader Russia had at least since the October Revolution of 1917.
In February, the BBC very properly celebrated the 50th anniversary of Khrushchev's speech on 25 February 1956, to a secret session of the Soviet Communist Party, in which he denounced Stalin:
John Rettie, formerly of Reuters and the BBC, relates how he brought this sensational news out to the west:
Some in the Soviet Union just couldn't bring themselves to believe Khrushchev and still can't:
Krushchev revealed that in 1937 and 1938, 98 out of the 139 members of the Central Committee were shot on Stalin's orders - and they were all dedicated Communist Party members by definition.
On 18 June 1957, the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party voted to dismiss Khrushchev as First Secretary (7 in favor, 4 against), but the decision is revoked on the same day and the issue is postponed until the June 1957 Central Committee Plenum which reaffirms Khrushchev.
Years later in 1964, Leonid Brezhnev, considered ordering the assassination of Khrushchev:
By the account of a Russian historian in the period during Yeltsin's presidency when access to Kremlin archives was biefly permitted, at Stalin's death in March 1953, on the initiative of Khrushchev and Marshall Zhukov (the outstanding Soviet battlefield commander in WW2), Beria and his henchmen in the NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB) were rounded up an shot with minimal process. [Volkogonov: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire - Political Leaders from Lenin to Gorbachev; HarperCollins (1999)]
Btw the last I saw, Khrushchev's son was a senior research fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University and is now a naturalised US citizen.
Posted by: Bob B | Jun 2, 2006 9:22:14 AM
>"It was a harmless boast about socialism's eventual victory in the ideological competition with capitalism."
Harmless boast, yes, from a bunch of nice guys who wouldn't hurt a fly. I'm sure I would have felt at ease at the time if only I had known the full quote.
And this from the paper that gave us the headlines about "Bush's God" speech, a speech that never happened.
Posted by: Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny | Jun 2, 2006 10:00:19 AM
Whenever I return to the UK I look around me and see the victory of socialism just about everywhere. That's why I don't live there.
Posted by: Peter Spence | Jun 2, 2006 1:29:35 PM
More of a mistranslation: even in English we use the phrase to mean "outlive", as in "she has buried three husbands" - doesn't mean she's actually shovelled the earth on. So in context, it means, as K himself said later, that socialism would eventually supplant capitalism.
Unfortunately, the mistranslation was used, along with other fictions like the non-existent missile and bomber gaps (see Rich & Janos, "Skunk Works", for example) to justify the 1950s military buildup by the US, and help create the climate of fear that almost got us all killed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Posted by: ajay | Jun 2, 2006 3:38:47 PM
Not that I don't agree that Khrushchev has been proved completely wrong.
But I think there is a vast difference between the Soviet Communist system and Socialism. After all Western Europe does quite well with a partially socialized system. And here in the US we have many aspects of a socialized state.
A socialized Democracy is not Communism.
Posted by: edhopper | Jun 2, 2006 3:44:26 PM
What happened is that the conservaties (in the worst sense of the word) replaced Kruschev with Brezhnev who had the desired advantage of not having an original thought in 20 years. Thus the USSR missed out on computerisation & almost all modern technology. They entered the 80s with a 1950s economy & the rest became history.
Posted by: Neil Craig | Jun 2, 2006 4:35:05 PM
Everyone should have the right to reject socialism. Noone should be foreced to be a slave to the state.
Posted by: AntiCitizenOne | Jun 2, 2006 4:56:22 PM
"After all Western Europe does quite well with a partially socialized system".
Yes, but one could argue that looking around the world, most of it is even more statist/fascist.
And if you break down Western Europe, how are individual countries doing? Do France or Sweden do better than the UK?
Posted by: Tim Almond | Jun 2, 2006 8:36:07 PM
>More of a mistranslation: even in English we use the phrase to mean "outlive", as in "she has buried three husbands" - doesn't mean she's actually shovelled the earth on. So in context, it means, as K himself said later, that socialism would eventually supplant capitalism.
Oh thank Christ! Thanks for clearing this up, ojay! Because otherwise I might have thought that this bunch of loveable mass-murdering fanatics might have been threatening something. Phew!
Posted by: Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny | Jun 3, 2006 12:18:56 AM
Unfortunately, the mistranslation was used, along with other fictions like the non-existent missile and bomber gaps (see Rich & Janos, "Skunk Works", for example) to justify the 1950s military buildup by the US
Your reading of history is rather wanting, ajay. If there was any event in the 1950s which strengthened the hand of hawks in the US, it was the Soviet-backed invasion of South Korea by North Korean and Chinese communists who were attempting to realise their oft-stated aim of installing communist governments throughout the region, an aim which they shared with Stalin.
Posted by: Tim Newman | Jun 3, 2006 5:50:45 AM