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Communism, claimed Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, would change not simply the history of Europe and the West but the history of the world. Their Communist Manifesto of 1848, though chiefly directed to industrialized Europe, ended with a clarion call to global revolution: 'The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!' (Working women, it was assumed, would follow in the train of male revolutionaries.) After the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin hailed not only the triumph of the Russian Revolution but the beginning of 'world revolution': 'Our cause is an international cause, and so long as a revolution does not take place in all countries ... our victory is only half a victory, or perhaps less.' Though world revolution had become a distant dream for most Bolsheviks by the time Lenin died seven years later, he never lost his conviction that the inevitable collapse of the colonial empires would one day bring global revolution in its wake:
Millions and hundreds of millions - actually the overwhelming majority of the world's population - are now coming out as an independent and active revolutionary factor. And it should be perfectly clear that, in the coming decisive battles of the world revolution, this movement of the majority of the world's population, originally aimed at national liberation, will turn against capitalism and imperialism and will, perhaps, play a much more revolutionary role than we have been led to expect.
The Third Communist International (Comintern), founded in Moscowin March 1919, set itself 'the goal of fighting, by every means, even by force of arms, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and the creation of an international Soviet republic'. For the next year or more, Comintern's Chairman, Grigori Yevseyevich Zinoviev, lived in a revolutionary dream-world in which Bolshevism was about to conquer Europe and sweep across the planet. On the second anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, he declared his hope that, within a year, 'the Communist International will triumph in the entire world'. At the Congress of the Peoples of the East, convened at Baku in 1920 to promote colonial revolution, delegates excitedly waved swords, daggers and revolvers in the air when Zinoviev called on them to wage a jihad against imperialism and capitalism. Except in Mongolia, however, where the Bolsheviks installed a puppet regime, all attempts to spread their revolution beyond Soviet borders foundered either because of lack of popular support or because of successful resistance by counter-revolutionary governments.
By the mid-1920s Moscow's main hopes were pinned on China, where the Soviet Politburo had pushed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) into alliance with the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT). The KMT leader, Chiang Kai-shek, declared in public: 'If Russia aids the Chinese revolution, does that mean that she wants China to apply Communism? No, she wants us to carry out the national revolution.' Privately, he believed the opposite, convinced that 'What the Russians call "Internationalism" and "World Revolution" are nothing but old-fashioned imperialism.' The Soviet leadership, however, believed that it could get the better of Chiang. He should, said Stalin, 'be squeezed like a lemon and then thrown away'. In the event, it was the CCP which became the lemon. Having gained control of Shanghai in April 1927 thanks to a Communist-led rising, Chiang began a systematic massacre of the Communists who had captured it for him. The CCP, on Stalin's instructions, replied with a series of armed risings. All were disastrous failures. Moscow's humiliation was compounded by a police raid on the Soviet consulate in Beijing which uncovered a mass of documents on Soviet espionage.
In an attempt to generate new support for Lenin's vision of a liberated post-colonial world, the League Against Imperialism was founded early in 1927, shortly before the Chinese debacles, by the great virtuoso of Soviet front organizations, Willi Munzenberg, affectionately described by his 'life partner', Babette Gross, as 'the patron saint of fellow travellers' with a remarkable gift for uniting broad sections of the left under inconspicuous Communist leadership. Those present at the inaugural congress in Brussels included Jawaharlal Nehru, later the first Prime Minister of independent India, and Josiah Gumede, President of the African National Congress and head of the League's South African section. One of the British delegates, Fenner Brockway of the British Independent Labour Party, wrote afterwards: 'From the platform the conference hall was a remarkable sight. Every race seemed to be there. As one looked on the sea of black, brown, yellow and white faces, one felt that here at last was something approaching a Parliament of Mankind.'
The League, Brockway believed, 'may easily prove to be one of the most significant movements for equality and freedom in world history'. But it was not to be. Within a few years the League had faded into oblivion, and Comintern, though it survived until 1943 as an obedient, though drastically purged, auxiliary of Soviet foreign policy and Soviet intelligence, achieved nothing of importance in the Third World. The colonial empires remained intact until the Second World War, and neither the foreign policy nor the intelligence agencies of Joseph Stalin made any serious attempt to hasten their demise. Under his brutal dictatorship, the dream of world revolution quickly gave way to the reality of 'Socialism in one country', a Soviet Union surrounded by hostile 'imperialist' states and deeply conscious of its own vulnerability.
During the xenophobic paranoia of Stalin's Terror, Comintern representatives in Moscow from around the world lived in constant fear of denunciation and execution. Many were at even greater risk than their Soviet colleagues. By early 1937, following investigations by the NKVD (predecessor of the KGB), Stalin had convinced himself that Comintern was a hotbed of subversion and foreign espionage. He told Georgi Dmitrov, who had become its General Secretary three years earlier, 'All of you there in the Comintern are working in the hands of the enemy.' Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the NKVD whose sadism and diminutive stature combined to give him the nickname 'Poison Dwarf', echoed his master's voice. 'The biggest spies', he told Dmitrov, 'were working in the Communist International.' Each night, unable to sleep, the foreign Communists and Comintern officials who had been given rooms at the Hotel Lux in the centre of Moscow waited for the sound of a car drawing up at the hotel entrance in the early hours, then heard the heavy footsteps of NKVD men echo along the corridors, praying that they would stop at someone else's door. Those who escaped arrest listened with a mixture of relief and horror as the night's victims were taken from their rooms and driven away, never to return. Some, for whom the nightly suspense became too much, shot themselves or jumped to their deaths in the inner courtyard. Only a minority of the hotel's foreign guests escaped the knock on the door. Many of their death warrants were signed personally by Stalin. Mao's ferocious security chief, Kang Sheng, who had been sent to Moscow to learn his trade, enthusiastically co-operated with the NKVD in the hunt for mostly imaginary traitors among Chinese emigres.
The most enduring impact of Soviet intelligence on the Third World before the Second World War was thus the liquidation of potential leaders of post-war independence movements. Ho Chi-Minh, Deng Xiaoping, Jomo Kenyatta and other future Third World leaders who studied in Moscow at the Comintern-run Communist University of the Toilers of the East between the wars were fortunate to leave before the Terror began. Kenyatta, in particular, would have been an obvious target. His lecturers complained that 'his attitude to the Soviet Union verges on cynicism'. When his fellow student, the South African Communist Edwin Mofutsanyana, accused him of being 'a petty bourgeois', Kenyatta replied, 'I don't like this "petty" thing. Why don't you say I'm a big bourgeois?' During the Terror such outrageously politically incorrect humour would have been promptly reported (if only because those who failed to report it would themselves be suspect), and the career of the future first Prime Minister and President of an independent Kenya would probably have ended prematurely in an NKVD execution cellar.
After victory in the Second World War, the Soviet Union, newly strengthened by the acquisition of an obedient Soviet bloc in eastern and central Europe, initially showed less interest in the Third World than after the Bolshevik Revolution. During the early years of the Cold War Soviet intelligence priorities were overwhelmingly concentrated on the struggle against what the KGB called 'the Main Adversary', the United States, and its principal allies. Stalin saw the world as divided into two irreconcilable camps - capitalist and Communist - with no room for compromise between the two. Non-Communist national liberation movements in the Third World were, like capitalists, class enemies. The decolonization of the great European overseas empires, which had begun in 1947 with the end of British rule in India, persuaded Stalin's ebullient successor, Nikita Khrushchev, to revive the Leninist dream. At the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, as well as secretly denouncing Stalin's 'cult of personality', he publicly abandoned the two-camp theory, setting out to win support from former Western colonies which had won their independence:
The new period in world history which Lenin predicted has arrived, and the peoples of the East are playing an active part in deciding the destinies of the whole world, are becoming a new mighty factor in international relations.
Though one of the few major world leaders of peasant origins, Khrushchev had no doubt that the Soviet Union's break-neck industrialization in the 1930s provided a model for the newly independent former colonies to modernize their economies. 'Today', he declared, 'they need not go begging for up-to-date equipment to their former oppressors. They can get it in the socialist countries, without assuming any political or military commitments.' Many of the first generation of post-colonial leaders in the 1950s and 1960s, who blamed all their economic ills on their former colonial rulers, were happy to accept Khrushchev's offer.
'In retrospect', writes the economic historian David Fieldhouse, 'it is one of the most astonishing features of post-1950 African history that there should have been so general an expectation that independence would lead to very rapid economic growth and affluence.' Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of the first black African colony to gain its independence, claimed that Africa's hitherto slow industrial development was entirely the fault of colonial powers which had deliberately held back 'local economic initiative' in order to 'enrich alien investors': 'We have here, in Africa, everything necessary to become a powerful, modern, industrialized continent ... Africa, far from having inadequate resources, is probably better equipped for industrialization than almost any other region in the world.'
In the euphoria of liberation from colonial rule there were many who, like Nkrumah, were seduced by anti-imperialist fantasy economics. Convinced that heavy industry was the key to rapid economic development, they welcomed inefficient Soviet steel mills and other heavy plant as symbols of modernity rather than potential industrial white elephants. In the small African state of Guinea alone during the Khrushchev era, the Soviet Union constructed an airport, a cannery, a sawmill, a refrigeration plant, a hospital, a polytechnic and a hotel as well as carrying out geological surveys and a series of research projects. The report presented to the Central Committee plenum which ousted Khrushchev in 1964 stated that during his decade in power the Soviet Union had undertaken about 6,000 projects in the Third World. Khrushchev, the report implied, had allowed his enthusiasm for strengthening Soviet influence in developing countries to run away with him - at enormous cost to the Soviet economy.
Khrushchev, however, was supremely confident that the Soviet command economy, despite the scale of its investment in the Third World, was rapidly overhauling capitalism. 'It is true that you are richer than we are at present', he told Americans during his flamboyant coast-to-coast tour of the United States in 1959. 'But tomorrow we will be as rich as you. The next day? Even richer! But is there anything wrong with that?' Khrushchev's optimism seemed less absurd at the time than it does now. The deputy leader of the British Labour Party, Aneurin Bevan, told the 1959 party conference that the triumph of nationalization and state planning in the Soviet Union proved that they were vastly superior to capitalism as a means of economic modernization: 'The [economic] challenge is going to come from Russia. The challenge is not going to come from the United States.' The early achievements of the Soviet space programme encouraged wildly exaggerated expectations in the West as well as in the East of the ability of the Soviet economy to pioneer new technology. In 1957 the Soviet success in putting into orbit Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite, had created a global sensation. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was taken aback by the 'wave of near hysteria' which swept the United States. Amid claims that America had suffered a scientific Pearl Harbor, the Governor of Michigan, G. Mennen Williams, expressed his inner anguish in verse:
Oh Little Sputnik, flying high With made-in Moscow beep You tell the world it's a Commie sky And Uncle Sam's asleep.
'How can we not rejoice, comrades,' asked Khrushchev in 1958, 'at the gigantic achievements of our industry? ... What other state has ever built on such a scale? There never has been such a country!'
Khrushchev was also enthused by the fiery rhetoric of the new generation of Third World leaders against both their former colonial masters and American imperialism. During his visit to the United States in 1959, he gave a speech to the General Assembly in New York, basking in the applause after his 'warm greetings from the bottom of my heart' to the independent states which had freed themselves from colonial rule:
Coming generations will highly appreciate the heroism of those who led the struggle for the independence of India and Indonesia, the United Arab Republic and Iraq, Ghana, Guinea and other states, just as the people of the United States today revere the memory of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who led the American people in their struggle for independence.
Khrushchev went on to denounce the imperialist exploitation which continued after the formal end of colonial rule:
The peoples of many of these countries have won political independence, but they are cruelly exploited by foreigners economically. Their oil and other natural wealth is plundered, it is taken out of the country for next to nothing, yielding huge profits to foreign exploiters.
Khrushchev's call for the plundered wealth to be returned as economic aid was music to the ears of many of his Third World listeners.
The fact that neither the United States nor the European colonial powers yet took seriously the problems of racism within their own societies increased the popularity of anti-imperialist rhetoric. It now almost passes belief that, during the decade when most African colonies gained their independence, it was still legal for British landlords to put 'No Coloured' notices in their windows and illegal for African delegates to the United Nations in New York to travel on seats reserved for whites on the segregated buses of the Deep South. Because of Russia's lack of either African colonies or a black immigrant community, the racism of Russian society was far better concealed.
Excerpted from The World Was Going Our Way by CHRISTOPHER ANDREW VASILI MITROKHIN Copyright © 2005 by Christopher Andrew and the Estate of Vasili Mitrokhin. Excerpted by permission.
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|The evolution of the KGB, 1917-91|
|Foreword : Vasili Mitrokhin and his archive|
|1||Introduction : 'the world was going our way : the Soviet Union, the Cold War and the Third World||1|
|2||Latin America : introduction||27|
|3||'The Bridgehead', 1959-1969||33|
|4||'Progressive' regimes and 'socialism with red wine'||58|
|5||Intelligence priorities after Allende||89|
|6||Revolution in Central America||115|
|7||The Middle East : introduction||139|
|8||The rise and fall of Soviet influence in Egypt||146|
|9||Iran and Iraq||169|
|10||The making of the Syrian alliance||195|
|11||The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen||214|
|12||Israel and Zionism||222|
|13||Middle Eastern terrorism and the Palestinians||246|
|14||Asia : introduction||263|
|15||The People's Republic of China : from 'eternal friendship' to 'eternal enmity'||270|
|17||The special relationship with India : part 1 : the supremacy of the Indian National Congress||312|
|18||The special relationship with India : part 2 : the decline and fall of congress||331|
|19||Pakistan and Bangladesh||341|
|20||Islam in the Soviet Union||369|
|21||Afghanistan : part 1 : from the 'great April revolution' to the Soviet invasion||386|
|22||Afghanistan : part 2 : war and defeat||403|
|23||Africa : introduction||423|
|24||The Cold War comes to Africa||431|
|25||From optimism to disillusion||450|
|26||Conclusion : the KGB in Russia and the world||471|
|App. A||KGB chairmen, 1917-91||495|
|App. B||Heads of foreign intelligence, 1920-2005||497|
|App. C||The organization of the KGB||499|
|App. D||The organization of the KGB First Chief Directorate (foreign intelligence)||500|
|App. E||The organization of a KGB residency||501|
Posted June 14, 2014
Posted October 24, 2012