Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DBTL 64: Everybody Wang Ch'ung Tonight

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The death of Josef Stalin in 1946 while the Soviet Union is at war with the Japanese Empire results in the rise to power of General Vasili Gordov, the Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army, with the Politburo and the rest of the Communist apparatchiks relegated to a junior role -- something the members of the Politburo are not happy about . . .

Nanking, China
9 March 1954

"So who is this Wang Ch'ung whose life you choose to celebrate today?" wondered Lazar Kaganovich.

Chiang Kai-shek answered him in fluent Russian. "Ah. Wang Ch'ung was a Confucian reformer who lived nineteen centuries ago. Confucianism was then entering a period of decline, when the original doctrines were being contaminated with a superstitious belief in omens and portents. Wang insisted that natural things occured spontaneously, and that any theory must be supported by concrete evidence and experimental proof. He thus represents an early harbinger of our modern scientific rationalist age."

Nanking was brightly decked out with banners and posters, celebrating both Wang's publication of his Disquisitions and the visit of the chief of state of China's friend and ally the Soviet Union. The blue-and-white sun of China alternated everywhere with the yellow-and-red sickle-and-hammer of the USSR. Quotes from Wang hung side by side with quotes from Marx, Lenin, and Stalin.

The evening's lavish dinner was over, and the Soviet delegation were busy drinking themselves insensible. Kaganovich, although not a practising Jew, still retained the abstemious habits that caused his people to be regarded with such suspicion by their no-longer-Christian countrymen. It was the perfect opportunity for Chiang to have a quiet discussion with his erstwhile counterpart.

"Wang Ch'ung was not highly regarded for most of our history," Chiang continued. "However, with the advent of the Republic, with its commitment to the principles of science and rationalism, we have found Wang to be a fitting symbol of our nation's aspirations in the new age. We wish to be a modern, technological state like your own."

Kaganovich said, "There are some aspects of the Soviet Union which, alas, you may not wish to emulate."

"Do you perchance speak of the reforms which Marshal Gordov has recently begun to implement?" Chiang asked slyly.

"Mind you," Kaganovich cautioned, "I say nothing against our illustrious and victorious leader. Nevertheless, certain of his advisors have suggested policies which may not be in the best interests of our Union, and the Marshal, burdened as he is with the responsibilities of his position, may not be aware of the popular discontent to which they are giving rise."

Chiang knew that Kaganovich was referring to Gordov's recent policy of making membership in the Central Committee elective. Each Committee member would now be chosen by the Party members of a particular regional or economic sector by way of a secret ballot. Personally, Chiang was filled with admiration for Gordov's ploy. By making the Committee an elective body, Gordov had removed it from the control of the Party leadership. Chiang wasn't quite certain how Gordov intended to establish his own control over the election process, and hence over the Central Committee, but he was sure that Gordov had already worked out a way to do so. Were he in the Marshal's place, he would have.

Nevertheless, he did not let his admiration distract him from the important work of turning the situation to his own advantage. The Red Army had been instrumental in driving the Japanese from China, and in bringing the remaining warlords under his control. Now Red Army "advisors" remained in key positions throughout Chiang's military organization. Marshal Gordov showed no sign of withdrawing his advisors from China, despite Chiang's repeated requests. Chiang was currently making use of his erstwhile enemies among the outlawed Chinese Communists to pick them off one by one. Eliminating them all would be costly, though, and might well leave China facing the wrath of the small but growing Soviet atomic arsenal.

The only other plausible course of action would be for China to appeal for protection from the League of Nations. This would almost certainly gain him immunity from Soviet counterattacks, but it would mean publicly renouncing his claims to Tibet and Formosa, both now League members, and in practical terms would also involve giving up all hope of recovering the Manchurian Soviet Socialist Republic, as it was now styled.

If the members of the Politburo could be persuaded to overthrow Gordov, though, and resume their own uncontested control over the USSR, Chiang would be in a position to take advantage of the resulting chaos and regain China's full independence, and perhaps even detach the USSR's newly-conquered eastern Republics into the bargain.

To Kaganovich he said, "I agree, the current policies being promulgated by the Marshal's subordinates are ill-advised, and will almost certainly lead to great harm for your country. If it were in my power to persuade the Marshal to reverse these policies, I would gladly do so. Unfortunately, I fear the Marshal does not count me among his closest advisors."

"Do not worry yourself on that account, my friend," Kaganovich assured him. "There are already many on the Politburo who feel as I do. Simply knowing that you stand beside us will do much good, and persuade many who now waver of the strength of our position."

"President Kaganovich," said Chiang, his features composed in a confident smile, "you may count on me to the bitter end."

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