Twenty-eighth Chapter in a Series Chronicling the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962
Fifty years ago this month Soviet preparations for its deployment of nuclear missiles to Cuba—Operation ANADYR— were proceeding full blast but in complete secrecy.
While these secret preparations proceed, we will look at other developments in the Cold War which had a direct bearing on the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Economic Crisis in the USSR
On June 1, 1962 The New York Times reported that the USSR had increased the prices of meat and other agricultural products “to spur farming.” According to this article, meat prices would rise by 30 percent and butter by 25 percent.
The price rise caused social unrest throughout the USSR. When open rebellion broke out in the Caucasus city of Novocherkassk, Khrushchev ordered tanks, artillery, and infantry into the city to keep order. According to Fursenko and Naftali, the military operation in Novocherkassk lasted “three days,” during which “at least 23 citizens” were killed. Soviet troops suppressing the uprising “used live ammunition to disperse demonstrators [and] dislodge protesters occupying major buildings in the city.”
Economic Crisis in Cuba
The Soviet Union was not the only Communist nation failing to feed its people. In early May, barely two years after Castro’s government nationalized Cuba’s farms, The New York Times reported that “Premier Fidel Castro of Cuba has promised to return medium-size farms to thousands of peasants to try to restore morale and combat serious food shortages throughout the island.”
By mid-June hunger throughout Cuba was severe enough to produce social unrest. According to The New York Times on June 17, 1962, when President Osvaldo Dorticos spoke to the citizens of Cardenas at a mass meeting designed to calm them, “The Government paraded tanks, troops and artillery through the streets…following ‘provocations’ in the city a few days ago.” This demonstration of military might was a thinly veiled warning to hungry protesters to behave—or else.
As always under Communism, domestic unrest could not possibly be a spontaneous expression of the people’s unhappiness with their government. It was always “provoked” by imperialist enemies.
The USSR’s Hard Choice: Guns or Butter?
For the USSR, domestic economic woes were a significant drag on its foreign policy ambitions.
On June 24, 1962, New York Times reporter Max Frankel wrote (emphasis added),
Almost daily there come from the West—just as there must come from the Kremlin’s own military establishment—reminders of [the] United States’ progress in a bitter and costly arms race…And daily there come reminders that the Kennedy administration…intends to spend and spend and spend for arms, for space, for aid and for the moon…
The race is already straining Soviet capital reserves and forcing the Kremlin to choose between guns and butter, moon missiles and meat, but it promises to become more dizzy still. Joining the Western effort will be [a] revitalized Western Europe while the Soviet Union appears confronted by serious economic troubles within the Communist bloc.
As for the USSR’s supreme leader, Frankel wrote that Khrushchev had “gone to great lengths to rationalize agricultural failures and to keep alive his vision that his nation will soon outstrip United States production and surpass its standard of living.”
Calling Khrushchev’s Bluff
As we saw in the fourth chapter in this series (), the Soviet emperor could pretend only so long that he was wearing beautiful clothes. Sooner or later, someone would call his bluff.
In 1962, that someone was the United States.
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The interview with Kennedy was written by Stewart Alsop and published in the 31 March 1962 Saturday Evening Post. See Chapter Nine in this series ()
The unrest in Novocherkassk is described by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, in their “One Hell of a Gamble.” Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-1964. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997, 186, 193.