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World: On the Other Hand

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TIME

Nikita Khrushchev’s speech started off like just one more of his exhaustive exhortations for harder work by party bosses and factory hands. But by the time he was through, three hours later, his rambling remarks in the Kremlin’s Palace of the Co gresses had touched off a fresh torrent of speculation about the future leadership of the Soviet Union. And all because of a few vague sentences about old age. Mused the Kremlin commissar: “Here am I, a man of the older generation . . . I am already 69, and everyone knows that I cannot hold forever the positions I now hold in the party and the state.”

Crystal Balls. What on earth did Khrushchev mean? Was he about to resign as Premier of the nation, First Secretary of the Communist Party, or both? Had he lost out in a back-room power struggle? Or was he merely trying to smooth the way for a possible successor? If the public was baffled, so were the free world’s Kremlinologists, that tight little band of experts who spend half their time reading between Pravda’s lines and half peering into their crystal balls.

For weeks, the experts had been feverishly speculating over Khrushchev’s possible heir. The favorite was handsome, hard-boiled Frol Kozlov, 54, No. 2 man in the party, whom Nikita had quietly singled out as his choice almost four years ago (TIME cover, July 13, 1959 ). But other experts excitedly pointed out that Kozlov was the only Kremlin leader absent from a major Moscow blowout last week marking the 93rd anniversary of Lenin’s birth, thus concluded that Kozlov might be on the skids.

On the basis of such barely visible clues, weary Kremlinologists stake their reputations. One of the best of the bunch, Britain’s Edward Crankshaw, inspired one theory of Nikita’s future with a frontpage story in London’s Observer declaring that aging Khrushchev might announce his retirement “within two years” at the coming May 28 meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee. Who told him? “Well-informed Soviet sources,” of course.

All Guesswork. It is not easy to say who should be believed. From Jeremy Wolfenden, London Daily Telegraph correspondent in Moscow, came word that “Russian sources decisively reject the idea that Mr. Khrushchev will retire either from the premiership or the secretaryship of the party.” Merle Fainsod, director of Harvard’s Russian Research Center, said Crankshaw “is spinning things out rather thin.” William Griffith, research associate on Communist affairs at M.I.T.’s Center for International Studies, declared, “I would not say that the weight of evidence is on Crankshaw’s side.” But just in case it was, Griffith added: “You can argue either way; either Khrushchev is in trouble, or he’s so secure in power that he can perfectly well afford to mention retiring.” One daring Demonologist even suggested that Nikita himself gaily was spreading the rumors in order to rally more support.

On the other hand, Wolfgang Leonhard, the ex-Communist who now analyzes Red affairs for West Germany’s Die Zeit, thought it was “very possible that Khrushchev will give up one of his posts, more likely the government job.” The free-for-all was clearly getting out of hand; somewhat unprofessionally the Guardian’s Polish-born Soviet expert, Victor Zorza, shrugged, “it’s all guesswork,” then plunged back into the fray.

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