September 01, 2006

1956



If Soviet newspapers from the fall of 1956 were to wind up in the hands of creatures from another planet, the aliens would learn many interesting things. It would be clear that what most preoccupied the Soviet people in 1956 was what was happening in China. Soviet and Chinese leaders were exchanging ambassadors and a congress of the Chinese Communist Party was being convened. Soviet readers were treated to momentous speeches by Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, and Hu Yaobang. All proclaimed their love for the Soviet Union. Back then, who could have predicted that, two years later in China, Soviet Communists would be branded as traitors who had renounced the teachings of Marx? 

Then another few years would pass, and Zhou Enlai and Liu Shaoqi would join the ranks of the traitors. Later still, Hu Yaobang would do absolutely astonishing things, the same Hu Yaobang who in the fall of 1956 had announced with fanfare, “The education of a new people, a socialist people, and the development of a new, socialist economy, are the primary objectives of our Party.” After the turmoil of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the death of Mao, the Great Helmsman, Hu was the first to talk about the need for political liberalization in China – something that got him removed from his posts. His death in 1989 served as a catalyst for student unrest that ended in the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square. 

In 1956, nobody could have imagined such things. After the 20th Soviet Party Congress that year, the song “Stalin and Mao are Brothers Forever” was no longer sung, but the achievements of China were still being acclaimed in Soviet newspapers: “There is much good news reaching Beijing. The Yellow River is submitting to the will of man, work on construction of a gigantic bridge across the Yangtze is going full swing. A talented and hard-working people is building a socialist China.”


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