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Georgy Malenkov succeeds Stalin

Georgy Malenkov succeeds Stalin


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Just one day after the death of long-time Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, Georgy Malenkov is named premier and first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Malenkov’s tenure was extremely brief, and within a matter of weeks he was pushed aside by Nikita Khrushchev.

Malenkov was one of the few old-time Bolsheviks who had survived Stalin’s bloody purges of the 1930s. A quiet figure who seemed to prefer working in the background, Malenkov was not taken seriously by many of his peers in the Soviet government, but under Stalin’s watchful eye he proceeded up the Communist Party hierarchy throughout the 1930s and 1940s. By the late-1940s it was widely assumed that he would succeed Stalin. When Stalin died in March 1953, Malenkov took the position of premier and first secretary of the Communist Party. It appeared that he might have a reformist streak, as he called for cuts in military spending and eased up on political repression in the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc nations. These actions might have proved his undoing. In just two weeks, his main political opponent in the Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, had organized a coalition of political and military leaders against Malenkov and took over as first secretary.

In February 1955, this same group voted Malenkov out as premier and a Khrushchev puppet, Nikolai Bulganin, took over. Malenkov seethed at this action and in 1957 joined in a plot to overthrow Khrushchev. When the attempt failed, he was dismissed from his government positions and expelled from the Communist Party. Instead of imprisonment, Malenkov faced the disgrace of being sent to Kazakhstan to serve as the manager of a hydroelectric operation. He died in 1988.

Malenkov was a transition figure from the iron-fisted dictatorship of Joseph Stalin to the more moderate regime instituted by Nikita Khrushchev. In an ironic turn of affairs, Khrushchev eventually supported many of the reforms first put forward by Malenkov.


Georgy Maksimilianovich Malenkov

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Georgy Maksimilianovich Malenkov, (born Jan. 13 [Jan. 8, Old Style], 1902, Orenburg, Russia—died Jan. 14, 1988, near Moscow), prominent Soviet statesman and Communist Party official, a close collaborator of Joseph Stalin, and the prime minister (March 1953–February 1955) after Stalin’s death.

Having entered the Red Army (1919) during the civil war that followed the 1917 October Revolution, Malenkov joined the Communist Party in 1920 and rose swiftly through the ranks. He became closely associated with Stalin and was deeply involved in the great party purge of the late 1930s. Named a candidate member of the Politburo in 1941, he served during World War II on the State Defense Committee, the small group that directed the Soviet war effort. After the war Malenkov won full membership on the Politburo (1946) and was appointed second secretary of the Central Committee and deputy prime minister.


MALENKOV, GEORGY MAXIMILYANOVICH

(1902 – 1988), prominent Soviet party official.

Georgy Maximilyanovich Malenkov was born in Orenburg on January 13, 1902. In 1919 he joined the Red Army, where he worked in the political administration at various levels during the Russian civil war. In April 1920, he became a member of the Bolshevik Party, and during the following month he married Valentina Alexeyevna Golubtsova, a worker in the Central Committee (CC) apparatus.

Malenkov's career during the 1920s was typical of many during that period. He was a ruthless party official without any clear political views. He studied at the Moscow Higher Technical Institute between 1921 and 1925, during which time he was a member of a commission investigating "Trotskyism" among fellow students. In 1925 he became a technical secretary of the Organizational Bureau of the Central Committee.

During the early 1930s he worked in the Moscow party committee as the head of the section for mass agitation, conducting a purge of opposition members. Between 1934 and 1939 he ran the party organization for the Central Committee and reviewed party documents in preparation for the Great Purge beginning in 1936. Malenkov took an active role in various aspects of this purge, supervising particularly harsh actions in Belarus and Armenia in 1937.

In 1937 Malenkov was appointed a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (he was promoted to the Presidium in 1938), and in this same year became the deputy to Nikolai Yezhov, head of the NKVD. By 1939 Malenkov was also a member of the party Central Committee (CC), and shortly he became the head of the administration of party cadres and a CC secretary.

Before the outbreak of the war with Germany, Malenkov became a candidate member of the Politburo. During the war, he supplied planes to the Red Air Force, and he appears to have undertaken his tasks efficiently. Josef Stalin relied on Malenkov increasingly after 1943. In that year Malenkov headed a committee of the Soviet government for the restoration of farms in liberated areas, and after mid-May 1944, he was the deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR (second only to Stalin himself). From March 18, 1946, Malenkov was a member of the ruling Politburo.

During the ascendancy of Andrei Zhdanov after the war, Malenkov's career briefly declined. After the exposure of a scandal in the aviation industry, he lost both his deputy chairmanship of the government and his role as CC secretary controlling party personnel, in March and May 1946, respectively. Thanks to the intervention of Lavrenty Beria, however, he was able to recover both positions by August. In 1948 he took over the position of ideological secretary of the CC and was also given responsibility for Soviet agriculture, at that time the most backward sector of the Soviet economy.

During the late Stalin period, Malenkov once again played a leading role in new purges, including the Leningrad Affair and the exposure of the "Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee." The aging leader entrusted him to present the main report at the Nineteenth Party Congress (the first party congress in thirteen years). With Stalin's death on March 5, 1953, Malenkov became the chairman of the Council of Ministers (prime minister) and the main party secretary. On March 14, however, the latter position was given to Khrushchev.

Malenkov joined with Khrushchev to overcome a putsch by Beria in 1953, but then a power struggle between the two leaders developed. Malenkov eventually had to make a public confession regarding his failure to revive Soviet agriculture. By February 1955, he was demoted to a deputy chairman of the government and given responsibility over Soviet electric power stations. Malenkov and former old-guard Stalinists Lazar Kaganovich and Vyacheslav Molotov resented Khrushchev's de-Stalinization speech at the Twentieth Party Congress of February 1956. In 1957 the three engineered a majority vote within the Presidium for Khrushchev's removal. Khrushchev, however, was able to reverse the vote in a CC plenum, which saw the defeat of the so-called Antiparty Group. On June 29, Malenkov lost his positions in the Presidium and the Central Committee.

Though he was still relatively young, Malenkov's career was effectively over. He became the director of a hydroelectric power station in Ust-Kamengorsk, and subsequently of a thermal power station in Ekibastuz. In 1961, the Ekibastuz city party committee expelled him from membership, and Malenkov retired on a pension until his death in Moscow on January 14, 1988. He is remembered mainly as a loyal and unprincipled Stalinist with few notable achievements outside of party politics.

See also: anti-party group khrushchev, nikitasergeyevich leningrad affair purges, the great stalin, josef vissarionovich


‘State Funeral’ Review: Saying Goodbye to Stalin

Joseph Stalin died on March 5, 1953. &ldquoState Funeral,&rdquo the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa&rsquos fascinating and elusive new documentary, shows what happened in the next few days, as Stalin&rsquos body lay in state at the Hall of Unions in Moscow before being transferred to the Lenin mausoleum. (It was removed eight years later, but that&rsquos another story).

Composed entirely of footage shot at the time in various parts of the Soviet Union, the film is a haunting amalgam of official pomp and everyday experience, the double image of a totalitarian government and the people in whose name it ruled.

At the beginning, crowds gather to hear news of the dictator&rsquos death, read out in stately, somber tones over loudspeakers. Those broadcasts, which continue as the masses shuffle past Stalin&rsquos wreath-laden coffin, supply an abstract, rose-colored interpretation of his life amid frequent invocations of his immortality. His subjects &mdash his comrades, in the idiom of the time &mdash are reminded of his undying love for them, as well as of his &ldquoselflessness,&rdquo his courage and his monumental intelligence. He was, among other accomplishments, &ldquothe greatest genius in human history.&rdquo

This kind of rhetoric is evidence of the cult of personality that would be disavowed a few years later when Nikita Khrushchev came to power and undertook a program of de-Stalinization. &ldquoState Funeral&rdquo captures the official manifestations of that cult, including the gigantic portraits of Stalin hanging from public buildings and the arrival of delegations from other communist countries. Fulsome elegies are delivered by the distinctly uncharismatic men who &mdash briefly, as it turned out &mdash took Stalin&rsquos place: Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov and Lavrenti Beria. (Khrushchev, who would shortly kick them out, serves as master of ceremonies).

But Stalin&rsquos famous visage, with its bushy mustache and sweptback hair, is upstaged by the throngs of ordinary citizens who gather to bear witness and pay tribute. The anonymous camera operators, shooting in color and in black and white in far-flung shipyards, factories, oil fields and collective farms, are Loznitsa&rsquos vital collaborators. Intentionally or not, they gathered images that complicate and to some extent subvert the somber, emptied-out language of the regime, disclosing a complicated human reality beneath the ideological boilerplate.


06/03/1953: Georgy Malenkov lên kế nhiệm Stalin

Nguồn: “Georgi Malenkov succeeds Stalin,” History.com (truy cập ngày 05/03/2016).

Biên dịch: Nguyễn Huy Hoàng

Vào ngày này năm 1953, chỉ một ngày sau khi nhà độc tài Xô-viết lâu năm Joseph Stalin qua đời, Georgy Malenkov được chỉ định làm Thủ tướng và Tổng bí thư của Đảng Cộng sản Liên Xô. Nhiệm kỳ của Malenkov diễn ra hết sức ngắn ngủi, và chỉ trong một vài tuần ông đã bị Nikita Khrushchev gạt sang một bên.

Malenkov là một trong số ít đảng viên Bolshevik trước đây còn sống sót sau những cuộc thanh trừng đẫm máu của Stalin trong những năm 1930. Là một nhân vật trầm lặng dường như ưa làm việc trong hậu trường, Malenkov đã không được nhiều đồng nghiệp trong chính phủ Liên Xô coi trọng, nhưng dưới con mắt thận trọng của Stalin ông đã dần leo lên hàng ngũ của Đảng trong suốt những năm 1930 và 1940.

Đến cuối những năm 1940 nhiều người đã cho rằng ông sẽ kế nhiệm Stalin. Khi Stalin qua đời vào tháng 3 năm 1953, Malenkov lên nắm vị trí Thủ tướng và Tổng bí thư của Đảng Cộng sản. Có vẻ như ông có tư tưởng cải cách, do ông kêu gọi cắt giảm chi tiêu quân sự và nới lỏng sự đàn áp chính trị ở Liên Xô và các quốc gia thuộc khối phía Đông.

Những hành động này có thể đã chứng minh “sự biến chất” của ông. Chỉ trong hai tuần, đối thủ chính trị chính của ông trong Đảng Cộng sản, Nikita Khrushchev, đã tổ chức một liên minh gồm các nhà lãnh đạo chính trị và quân sự để chống lại Malenkov và lên làm Tổng bí thư.

Tháng 2 năm 1955, cũng nhóm này đưa Malenkov ra khỏi chức vụ thủ tướng và một nhân vật bù nhìn của Khrushchev, Nikolai Bulganin, lên thay. Malenkov tức giận với hành động này và đến năm 1957 ông tham gia vào một âm mưu lật đổ Khrushchev. Khi thất bại, ông bị sa thải khỏi các chức vụ chính phủ và bị khai trừ khỏi Đảng. Thay vì vào tù, Malenkov phải đối mặt với sự sỉ nhục vì bị gửi đến Kazakhstan làm quản lý một công trình thủy điện. Ông qua đời năm 1988.

Malenkov là một nhân vật chuyển tiếp từ chế độ độc tài tàn bạo của Joseph Stalin sang chế độ ôn hòa hơn do Nikita Khrushchev lập nên. Trong một cú xoay chuyển tình thế đầy trớ trêu, Khrushchev cuối cùng lại ủng hộ rất nhiều các cải cách do Malenkov đưa ra đầu tiên.

Ảnh: Nikolai Bulganin và Georgy Malenkov (phải) trò chuyện trong Hội nghị Geneva, tháng 7 năm 1954. Nguồn: Getty Images.


Georgy Malenkov led the USSR?

For a brief time after Stalin's death in 1953, Georgy Malenkov was the most powerful man in the Soviet Union, holding the positions of Premier and General Secretary of the CPSU at the same time. However, this much power concentrated in the hands of one man alarmed the Politburo, which forced him to resign from the latter position while allowing him to stay as Premier. In the next two years, he was locked and defeated in a power struggle against Nikita Khrushchev, the new General Secretary, who in time would hold both titles simultaneously.

Was there any way Malenkov could've held on to both positions or, if that wasn't possible, resign from the premiership but stay as General Secretary, a stronger position considering that party>state in the USSR?

What would've been his policies assuming he was able to enact them from a position of strength rather than being secondary to Khrushchev? I assume we'd still see a downsizing of the previous Stalinist tyranny, but to a smaller extent than Khrushchev did. Would things like the Hungarian Revolution and Gomulka Thaw in Poland still happen? Would he handle agriculture better? Could that awful pseudoscientist Trofim Lysenko, responsible for so many deaths from starvation, be sidelined earlier?

Also, Wikipedia (I know, I know) says he was in favor of investing in consumer goods rather than heavy industry and the military, as well as against the nuclear arms race. Could we see an earlier détente rise from this?

Vinization

Vinization

Alright, last question. What about the splits with China and Albania?

Alexmilman

Alright, last question. What about the splits with China and Albania?

Probably some kind of a split with China would happen as soon as it strong enough and does not want to remind “younger brother” forever.

Sorry, but simply can’t say anything meaningful about Malenkov besides that he probably had a better grasp on economy than Nikita who was by that point a strictly Party figure.

Marathag

Vinization

Probably some kind of a split with China would happen as soon as it strong enough and does not want to remind “younger brother” forever.

Sorry, but simply can’t say anything meaningful about Malenkov besides that he probably had a better grasp on economy than Nikita who was by that point a strictly Party figure.

Gaitskellitebevanite

The important factor was as the OP says, Malenkov resigned from the secretariat (and as de facto General/First Secretary) in order to retain the premiership, and he'd failed to appreciate that control of the party machinery was much more important that the state bureaucracy. The trouble is though the state bureaucracy was where Malenkov's power base was, he was the archetypal ruthless technocrat - the closest thing to a Soviet Albert Speer - but he wasn't a creature of the party like Khrushchev was. Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the three leaders for the overwhelming majority of the USSR's existence were all partycrats, ruthless backroom men who used their influence to take over much of the party apparatus and use that apparatus to further increase their influence and power. Malenkov never really did that, and so failed in his bid for the leadership (the same thing occurred with Kosygin in the 60s).

Had Malenkov risen to the leadership - lets assume he is able to outflank Khrushchev in March 1953 with Molotov becoming Premier and Malenkov General Secretary - the Soviet Union would have gone down a significantly different path. There would have been no explicit de-Stalinisation, much more likely the CPSU would eventually have dealt with Stalin the same way the CPC dealt with Mao's legacy, "70% good, 30% bad" or something along those lines, Stalin's statues remain, his body remains embalmed alongside Lenin's but the terror is eased. Beria is purged and executed and carries the can for Stalin's crimes, Stalin is associated with the five year plans and economic development. Malenkov would certainly have avoided Khrushchev's disastrous Virgin Lands Campaign and Khrushchev's obsession with the development of heavy industry and would have been much more focused on economic development mechanizing agriculture and a rise in living standards. Soviet economic policy would have been led by Malenkov protege's like Saburov and Perkukhin, and would have stuck more to centralized planning than Khrushchev's decentralizing approach, which is likely to present problems. Malenkov is probably dynamic enough to adopt economic reforms earlier though, he's unlikely to follow Brezhnev's approach and quash economic reforms to preserve party unity.
Theres the old quote (i forget who from) that dealing with Khrushchev was like playing draughts whilst dealing with Malenkov was like playing chess, Malenkov was much more complex, much less likely to commit major diplomatic blunders. Malenkov wouldn't have send missiles to Cuba, and he did float the idea of a unified, neutral Germany - something NATO would never have agreed to anyway. The Cold War would be a bit cooler as a consequence, and detente would allow the USA and USSR to reduce their military budgets as in OTL.
If Malenkov is able to remove Khrushchev then his rule is relatively stable. It took year of discontent for the plotters against Khrushchev to finally decide to remove him in OTL, and some of Khrushchev's greatest blunders - the Virgin Lands Campaign, Cuba, radical changes in economic policy - are going to be butterflied away. Malenkov's leadership style is much more stable, and over time he is able to establish himself as a much more powerful leader than OTL Khrushchev or Brezhnev were, no collective leadership. He might even be able to achieve the position of simultaneously serving as Chairman of the Soviet (Head of State), General Secretary (Head of the Party) and Premier (Head of Government), something not even Brezhnev managed to quite pull off in OTL. With steady economic reforms, a stable leadership and a well organised professional bureaucracy the stagnation of the Brezhnev years would be butterflied away, and while the USSR would not have been an economic powerhouse like China it would have been a stable superpower.

Gukpard

He was the main technocrat on the soviet government, so could we see him doing some technological megaprojects?

Vinization

The important factor was as the OP says, Malenkov resigned from the secretariat (and as de facto General/First Secretary) in order to retain the premiership, and he'd failed to appreciate that control of the party machinery was much more important that the state bureaucracy. The trouble is though the state bureaucracy was where Malenkov's power base was, he was the archetypal ruthless technocrat - the closest thing to a Soviet Albert Speer - but he wasn't a creature of the party like Khrushchev was. Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the three leaders for the overwhelming majority of the USSR's existence were all partycrats, ruthless backroom men who used their influence to take over much of the party apparatus and use that apparatus to further increase their influence and power. Malenkov never really did that, and so failed in his bid for the leadership (the same thing occurred with Kosygin in the 60s).

Had Malenkov risen to the leadership - lets assume he is able to outflank Khrushchev in March 1953 with Molotov becoming Premier and Malenkov General Secretary - the Soviet Union would have gone down a significantly different path. There would have been no explicit de-Stalinisation, much more likely the CPSU would eventually have dealt with Stalin the same way the CPC dealt with Mao's legacy, "70% good, 30% bad" or something along those lines, Stalin's statues remain, his body remains embalmed alongside Lenin's but the terror is eased. Beria is purged and executed and carries the can for Stalin's crimes, Stalin is associated with the five year plans and economic development. Malenkov would certainly have avoided Khrushchev's disastrous Virgin Lands Campaign and Khrushchev's obsession with the development of heavy industry and would have been much more focused on economic development mechanizing agriculture and a rise in living standards. Soviet economic policy would have been led by Malenkov protege's like Saburov and Perkukhin, and would have stuck more to centralized planning than Khrushchev's decentralizing approach, which is likely to present problems. Malenkov is probably dynamic enough to adopt economic reforms earlier though, he's unlikely to follow Brezhnev's approach and quash economic reforms to preserve party unity.
Theres the old quote (i forget who from) that dealing with Khrushchev was like playing draughts whilst dealing with Malenkov was like playing chess, Malenkov was much more complex, much less likely to commit major diplomatic blunders. Malenkov wouldn't have send missiles to Cuba, and he did float the idea of a unified, neutral Germany - something NATO would never have agreed to anyway. The Cold War would be a bit cooler as a consequence, and detente would allow the USA and USSR to reduce their military budgets as in OTL.
If Malenkov is able to remove Khrushchev then his rule is relatively stable. It took year of discontent for the plotters against Khrushchev to finally decide to remove him in OTL, and some of Khrushchev's greatest blunders - the Virgin Lands Campaign, Cuba, radical changes in economic policy - are going to be butterflied away. Malenkov's leadership style is much more stable, and over time he is able to establish himself as a much more powerful leader than OTL Khrushchev or Brezhnev were, no collective leadership. He might even be able to achieve the position of simultaneously serving as Chairman of the Soviet (Head of State), General Secretary (Head of the Party) and Premier (Head of Government), something not even Brezhnev managed to quite pull off in OTL. With steady economic reforms, a stable leadership and a well organised professional bureaucracy the stagnation of the Brezhnev years would be butterflied away, and while the USSR would not have been an economic powerhouse like China it would have been a stable superpower.


The True Story of the Death of Stalin

Near the end of his life, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin had taken to spending almost all of his free time at his dacha in the Moscow suburb of Kuntsevo. Easily depressed when left on his own, he regularly summoned four members of his inner circle to join him there for a movie and a meal.

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Stalin’s “comrades-in-arms” at that time included Georgy Malenkov, Stalin’s likely successor and deputy premier Lavrenti Beria, Stalin’s influential chief of secret police, who was also jockeying for power Nikita Khrushchev, whom Stalin had summoned to Moscow to balance the power dynamics of Malenkov and Beria and Nikolai Bulganin, Stalin’s defense minister.

“As soon as he woke up, he would ring us— the four of us—and either invite us to see a film or start some long conversation about a question that could have been resolved in two minutes,” Khrushchev later recounted.

The move was in part for company, in part to keep an eye on them.

In 1953, Stalin was 73. He suffered either a heart attack or a series of strokes in 1945, and his health hadn't been the same since. His paranoia, too, was at an all-time high.

When he had gone in for his regular check-up in 1951, his doctor told him to rest more and work less, words that Stalin did not take well, biographer Roman Brackman wrote in The Secret File of Joseph Stalin: A Hidden Life. “[T]hree decades earlier, plotting to hasten [Premier Vladimir] Lenin’s death and pretending to worry about his health, [Stalin] had insisted that Lenin be kept from his daily duties,” he explained.

The doctor was arrested and charged with working as a spy for British intelligence. But whether Stalin wanted to admit it or not, his health was indeed flagging. When he summoned a Communist Party Congress—the first in over a decade—in 1952, those attending expected it to outline the roadmap of party succession. Instead, New York Times correspondent Harrison Salisbury wrote, “If it had seemed for a short time that the great roles at the party congress were to go to Malenkov and Khruschev, such ideas were quickly dispelled. The great role, the only important one at the congress, was played by Stalin himself.”

Rather than chart a clear course forward, Stalin proceeded to shake up the Kremlin hierarchy, appointing in a host of young, relative unknowns in positions in ways that were “designed to conceal and confuse the lines of succession rather than clarify,” wrote Salisbury.

When it came to members of his inner circle, he especially wanted to remind them they were all disposable. “He liked to repeat to us, you are blind like kittens,” Khrushchev recalled. “Without me the imperialists will throttle you.”

But in the final months of his life, watchers of the Soviet Union could detect something more was going on with Stalin. As rumors swarmed about who held court in his chain of command, in the winter of 1953, Stalin turned his attention toward the Soviet Jews in a campaign that foreshadowed a new wave of purges and party upheaval reminiscent to the Great Terror of the 1930s that had the potential to shake the foundations of the Soviet Union and its leadership.

The situation was such that it’s possible it may have caused his “comrades-in-arms” to risk poisoning Stalin on the night of February 28, 1953.

Late that evening, Stalin summoned Malenkov, Beria, Khruschev and Bulganin like normal to watch a movie. After, they retired to Stalin’s Kuntesvo dacha, where they sat down to a meal, during which Stalin inquired whether confessions had been extracted for a trial he would soon oversee. That winter, Stalin had been waging a witch hunt against Kremlin physicians, many of whom were Jewish, claiming they murdered top Soviet officials in a “doctors' plot. The trial against the Kremlin doctors was to commence within weeks.

According to Khrushchev’s account of the night, they finished around 5 or 6 in the morning. “We said goodbye to Comrade Stalin and departed," he wrote. “I remember that when we were in the entrance hall Stalin came out as usual to see us off. He was in a jocular mood and joked a lot. He waved his index finger or his fist and prodded me in the stomach, calling me Mikola. He always used the Ukrainian form of my name when he was in good spirits. Well, we left in good spirits too, since nothing had happened during the dinner. Those dinners did not always end on a happy note.”

But perhaps all wasn’t so rosy the night of the 28th. “[H]ad some great row finally broken out?” Salisbury asked in his memoir. “Were they prepared to let events move forward and possibly engulf them all? Three of them — Malenkov, Beria and Khrushchev — were as crafty, as skilled, as tough as any figures to be found in Russia. Did those three march down the path to the precipice without making a move to save themselves?”

The next day, a Sunday, Khrushchev says he remained at home, expecting Stalin to call to extend an invitation for that evening. But Stalin did not call him, or anyone else for that matter. He didn’t ring for food, nor had the sensors installed in Stalin’s rooms detected movement.

According to later interviews, those working at the dacha claimed they were too scared to disturb Stalin. But in The Unknown Stalin, historians Zhores Medvedev and Roy Medvedev are suspicious of that narrative: “[I]t would not have been normal for the staff to be afraid of entering Stalin’s room or even to ring him on the house line,” they wrote.

It took until around 10:30 at night for someone to check on Stalin. According to one account, one of the guards, Peter Lozgachev was the one who finally entered Stalin’s quarters, ostensibly to drop off official mail from the Kremlin. Other accounts say it was the longtime maid.

Whoever entered the room found the dictator on the ground in his pajamas, the floor soaked with urine. An empty glass and mineral water were on the table, and it appeared as though Stalin had gotten out of bed to get water, but then had a stroke.

Members of the dacha staff carried him onto the dining room sofa, where they covered him with a rug. While the consensus among those present was to call a doctor, the officers on guard wanted to wait on instructions from the party leadership.  Eventually, they got Beria on the phone, who demanded they tell no one of Stalin’s illness. 

Beria and Malenkov arrived first at the dacha.  According to testimony  compiled by Miguel A. Faria in the journal  Surgical Neurology International , Lozgachev said that Beria, upon seeing Stalin snoring, asked, “Lozgachev, why are you in such a panic? Can’t you see, Comrade Stalin is sleeping soundly. Don’t disturb him and stop alarming us.”

Even if no one had poisoned Stalin the night before, Simon Sebag Montefiore in Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar suggested they could have observed the state he was in, and made a decision there to hasten his death. Signs pointed to Beria having  fallen out of Stalin's good graces—and thus he potentially stood to  gain the most from the leader's death . But Beria could have also believed what he was saying to an untrained eye, Stalin may very well have appeared to be sleeping. And with the doctors’ plot trial in the offing, no one wanted to have to be the one to call a doctor.   “[The inner circle was] so accustomed to his minute control that they could barely function on their own,”  Montefiore added.

Intentionally or not, it took until around 7 in the morning for the members to reach a decision to call the Minister of Health to select doctors for an initial look. When the doctors finally arrived, they found Stalin unresponsive, his right arm and leg, paralyzed, and his blood pressure at the alarmingly high rate of 190/110. “They had to examine him, but their hands were too shaky. To make it worse, the dentist took out his dentures, and dropped them by accident,” according to Lozgachev’s testimony. They ordered complete quiet, put leeches behind his ears, a cold compress on his head and recommended he not eat.

Two days after the doctors first saw him, Radio Moscow made the announcement, revealing Stalin had suffered a stroke on Sunday night.

The message said he was receiving suitable medical treatment under the close eye of party leaders, worded in such a way to reassure a public frenzied by the doctors' plot allegations that none of the doctors treating Stalin were in any way connected to the alleged conspiracy. (Ironically, those consulted actually did include several imprisoned Kremlin doctors, according to Joshua Rubenstein in The Last Days of Stalin. One, a pathologist named Aleksandr Myasnikov, said he was mid-interrogation when his captors suddenly started asking for medical advice instead.)

On March 5, Stalin vomited blood and his stomach started hemorrhaging, a detail cut from the final report issued to the Central Committee, until scholars Jonathan Brent and Vladimir Naumov unearthed the detail in 2013.

The long-buried evidence could suggest a cover up. It’s known that on the night of February the 28, Stalin drank "fruit juice" (diluted Georgian wine). Poison, perhaps in the form of  the poisonous, tasteless blood thinner warfarin, could have easily been slipped in Stalin’s drink and could have caused his stomach hemorrhaging, Faria writes. But whether that’s the case will likely forever remain a matter of speculation, Brent and Naumov concluded in Stalin's Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953.  That night, Stalin’s iron-fisted 30-year rule over the Soviet Union ended. His death was recorded at 9:50 p.m.

During his three decades in power, the Soviet Premier commanded not just the party leadership, but also the hearts and minds of the Russian public. His personality cult was such that in spite of his reign of terror that caused tens of millions to die, he remained “Uncle Joe,” the "father" of all Russians to his final days.

Upon Stalin’s death, Beria, with his network of spies and contacts, seemed poised to take over. But he fatally underestimated his opponents. As Khrushchev, the outsider, would soon show, the struggle for who would fill the power vacuum left in Stalin's absence was just beginning.

About Jackie Mansky

Jacqueline Mansky is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She was previously the assistant web editor, humanities, for Smithsonian magazine.


What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in The Death of Stalin

As anyone who’s seen Veep knows, it’s basically a documentary. Now, having tackled backroom politics in the U.S. with Veep and the U.K. with The Thick of It, Armando Iannucci turns his attention to Soviet Russia with The Death of Stalin, an account of the scheming and backstabbing among the Politburo (the Soviet equivalent of the presidential Cabinet) following the demise of the Soviet dictator in 1953.

Although the blackly comic tone is unchanged, the film is a departure from Iannucci’s earlier work in two ways: It’s his first adaptation (the project was originally a comic book by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin), and the characters are based on actual historical figures. But how much of the over-the-top machinations are based on real events and how much have been embellished for the purposes of satire? We break it all down below.

The film starts off with one of those events that is so absurd it can only be true. No sooner has a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 broadcast over the radio finished than the phone rings with a request direct from the top: Stalin would like a recording of the performance. The beleaguered Radio Moscow producer (Paddy Considine, channeling Victor Spinetti’s beleaguered BBC director in A Hard Day’s Night) immediately locks the doors to the concert hall before the orchestra or any more audience members can leave, drags a conductor out of bed (the previous one having been knocked unconscious), and ropes in more audience members off the street before having the whole concerto played again.

In fact, this all actually happened, although some of the details vary. In reality, everyone had already gone home when Stalin’s request came through. Pianist Maria Yudina was roused out of bed and transported to a studio where a small orchestra and conductor had been assembled. The conductor was not knocked unconscious, but he was so nervous he was incapable of leading the orchestra, as was his replacement. It wasn’t until the third conductor that they found someone able to do the job and a special recording was pressed for Stalin personally. The fictional story departs from real events in that the fateful concert is recorded right before Stalin’s death, while in real life his demise wasn’t until nine years later.

In the film, the incredibly brave Yudina, whose family was killed by the dictator, slips a note into the recording sleeve, telling Stalin just what she thinks of him. In reality, Stalin sent her a gift of 20,000 rubles after receiving the record, and she responded with a thank-you note saying, “I will pray for you day and night and ask the Lord to forgive your great sins before the people and the country.” Ordinarily such lèse-majesté would mean certain death, but Yudina was never arrested. Her courage has made her grave a place of pilgrimage for Russian dissidents since her death in 1970.

In the film, four Politburo members join Stalin for an evening of watching a Western, drinking, and bantering. After they leave, he suffers a stroke while on his own in his country dacha. The Politburo members rush to his side, ostensibly professing concern but really to fill the power vacuum that will be created by his demise. They summon Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, and his son, Vasily. All the best doctors having already been arrested and sent to gulags, a team of very young and very old doctors is hastily assembled, though not until after a considerable delay. They pronounce that Stalin has had a cerebral hemorrhage, is paralyzed on his right side, and will not recover. However, the dictator unnerves everyone by briefly waking up from his coma before finally dying three days later.

According to Harrison Salisbury, the New York Times correspondent in Moscow at the time, a bulletin signed by nine examining physicians was issued early on March 3, 1953, announcing that Stalin had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, was unconscious and partly paralyzed, and in critical condition. The attack occurred on the night of March 1.

It is also true that Stalin had had the nine doctors on his existing medical team, most of them Jewish, arrested as part of an officially announced “doctors’ plot” in the fall of 1952, when they were charged with the deaths of leading military and political figures. As a result, at the time of his fatal hemorrhage, he was in the hands of new and unfamiliar practitioners.

In his memoirs and in conversation, Nikita Khrushchev, then first secretary of the Moscow Regional Committee and later Stalin’s successor as first secretary of the Communist Party (i.e., head of government), recalled that he, Stalin’s deputy Georgy Malenkov, Lavrentiy Beria (the head of the NKVD, the feared secret police), and another politician (who was not, as the movie has it, Foreign Secretary Vyacheslav Molotov, disparagingly memorialized in the “cocktail” that bears his name) did watch a movie on Saturday night with Stalin and stayed up drinking till the early hours of Sunday.

Khrushchev writes that the four were summoned back to Stalin’s dacha by his guards around 1 a.m., when they were told the leader was unconscious. They went back home and then returned early Monday morning, at which point they called in the doctors. Salisbury found this delay in getting medical assistance puzzling and possibly sinister, but Iannucci offers the plausible explanation that, rather than foul play, the delay was the result of Soviet bureaucratic inertia that required every decision to be made by committee, with no one wanting to stick their neck out by suggesting a course of action that could go wrong and attract blame.

The suggestion that Stalin’s death was not entirely natural was given added weight by Stalin’s Last Crime, a 2003 book by Vladimir P. Naumov, a Russian historian, and Jonathan Brent, a Yale University Soviet scholar, that revealed information from a previously secret report written by the medical team assembled to attend to the dying leader. Their report originally contained references to extensive stomach hemorrhaging, references that were later excised from the final official medical record. The authors speculate that the stomach bleeding could be a symptom of a Warfarin overdose and note that Khrushchev’s 1970 memoirs recall Beria telling Molotov, “I did him in! I saved all of you,” though this may just be Khrushchev posthumously trashing his old rival.

Stalin’s love of movies is no invention. The dictator had home cinemas in all of his houses, and when historian Simon Sebag Montefiore delved into the dictator’s personal papers made available in 2004 in newly opened Politburo archives, he discovered that Stalin was not only a film buff who identified with lone hero John Wayne riding into town in John Ford Westerns but also “fancied himself a super-movie-producer/director/screenwriter … suggesting titles, ideas and stories, working on scripts and song lyrics, lecturing directors, coaching actors, ordering re-shoots and cuts and, finally, passing the movies for showing.” If Iannucci is ever tempted to do a prequel, surely Stalin, the Producer is rich with possibilities.

As depicted by a chillingly malevolent Simon Russell Beale, secret police chief Beria delights in torture both physical and psychological and regards the use of any young female prisoners as a perk of the job.

The movie does not exaggerate. In the 15 years Beria commanded the NKVD, millions of Russians were hauled off to their deaths, some in the notorious Lubyanka prison, others in the gulags. As Beria biographer Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, who spent 13 years in the camps, wrote:

The gulags existed before Beria, but he was the one who built them on a mass scale. He industrialized the gulag system. Human life had no value for him. … Sometimes he would have his henchmen bring five, six or seven girls to him. … He would walk around in his dressing gown inspecting them. Then he would pull one out by her leg and haul her off to rape her.

Beria was also a ruthless political tactician. The movie shows him ransacking Stalin’s desk before the other Politburo members arrive, retrieving documents that confirm his colleagues signed off on lists of people to be killed, thus giving him leverage. While this rummaging may be invention, the film is accurate in showing that Beria dismissed the army guarding Moscow, replacing them with his own NKVD units, and then canceled the trains carrying large numbers of mourners from the countryside to the city, so that Moscow was under his control.

Beria’s chief opponent is the wily Nikita Khrushchev, played by Steve Buscemi as a sort of combination exasperated small-business owner/cunning municipal politician. Khrushchev goes about winning over his fellow Politburo members, and, most importantly, war hero and military commander Georgy Zhukov (a bluff Jason Isaacs). Zhukov orders the army to get the NKVD to stand down, and, in collusion with Khrushchev, bundles Beria out of a Politburo meeting for a summary trial. Swift justice follows and Beria (spoiler alert) is shot and his body burned.

This is a sped-up version of what actually happened. Khrushchev and his allies did denounce Beria at a committee meeting (held three months after the funeral, not in the immediate aftermath), and Zhukov did storm in with a squad of special forces to arrest the terror chief. But Beria was not whisked off for instant summary justice and an execution. He was tried before a military tribunal at the end of 1953 (without defense representation and without the possibility of appeal) and was sentenced to death there. As in the movie, he begged for the mercy he had never shown to thousands of others.

The movie uses former Python Michael Palin’s innate affability to portray Molotov as a naïf, a man so devoted to the party he doesn’t resent Stalin for arresting his wife, Polina, instead serenely arguing she must have done something to deserve it. Khrushchev tries to use this arrest to ignite Molotov’s resentment of Beria and win his support, but then Beria, having anticipated this, turns up at the foreign minister’s apartment with a released Polina in tow, hoping this act of clemency will mean Molotov throws his support to him.

The truth lies somewhere in between. When Polina was arrested for treason (a trumped-up charge) in 1949, the entire Politburo voted for her arrest. Molotov abstained, but he didn’t defend her. An Israeli Communist Party official recalled asking Molotov about this, writing, “I went up to him and asked, ‘Why did you let them arrest Polina?’ Without moving a muscle in his steely face, he replied, ‘Because I am a member of the Politburo and I must obey Party discipline.’ ”

But then, according to historian Douglas Frantz, it happened that the day of Stalin’s funeral was also Molotov’s birthday and “as they were leaving the mausoleum, Khrushchev and Malenkov wished him a happy birthday … and asked what he would like as a present. ‘Give me back Polina,’ he replied coldly and moved on,” suggesting Molotov’s attitude wasn’t quite so blithe. A week later, Frantz reports, Beria released Polina.


Prominent Russians: Georgy Malenkov

Image from www.rusarchives.ru

A Soviet politician and close associate of Stalin, Malenkov was the virtual head of the USSR in 1953-1955.

Georgy Malenkov was born in Orenburg, in the Russian Empire. In 1919 he voluntarily joined the Red Army and was a political worker of the military forces. In a year Malenkov joined the Communist Party and soon became an active functionary. From 1920 Georgy Malenkov studied electrotechnics in the Bauman Moscow State Technical University and headed the commission for the exposure of students who supported the ideas of Leon Trotsky, whose politics sharply differed from Stalinism. Almost all of these students became victims of repressions and many were killed.

In 1925, having received an opportunity to become a clerk in one of the departments of the Communist Party, Georgy Malenkov quit his studies and focused on his political career. His diligent work was noticed by higher authorities and in 1930 Malenkov was appointed the head of the organizational department of the Moscow Committee of the Communist Party and took part in a purge of the corresponding committee of the opposition. In 1934 Georgy Malenkov was promoted by Stalin and under his command he took part in a mass campaign of inspection and repression of many communist officials. The infamous head of the Soviet Secret Police (NKVD), Nikolay Ezhov, recommended Malenkov for the post of his deputy. Together with Ezhov, Georgy Malenkov personally visited a number of regions (Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Tajikistan and others) to

Image from www.timeinc.net

expose and arrest “enemies of the people” and took part in interrogations. Later on, in 1938, he was involved in Ezhov’s dismissal from his post. The new NKVD head, Lavrenty Beria, was responsible for many of the millions of imprisonments and killings during the Great Purge. Malenkov established a good relationship with Beria, which saved him from arrest as a former supporter of Nikolay Ezhov.

During the Great Patriotic War (the period of the USSR’s participation in World War II), Georgy Malenkov was a member of the State Defense Committee. He visited many key sectors of the Soviet-German front (Leningrad, Moscow, Stalingrad). He also held the post of the Commissar of Aircraft Production and played an important role in providing the Soviet Army with combat aircraft. In 1943 Malenkov obtained the military rank of Lieutenant General.

In 1943-1945 Georgy Malenkov headed the committee for the restoration of the national economy in the regions that were liberated from German occupation. From 1944 he also held the post of Deputy Chairman of the Council of the People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom), which was the highest government authority of the USSR. That same year Malenkov, following Stalin’s directive, gave a speech regarding the necessity “to increase vigilance” of Jewish staff, following which Jewish nationals had difficulties in gaining high posts.

Image from www.tuvaonline.ru

In 1946 Josef Stalin started a new wave of purges of political and military staff. Georgy Malenkov was accused of inefficient work during the Great Patriotic War and the production of poor-quality aircraft. He was thus dismissed from his high posts. According to some sources, Stalin didn’t lose his trust in Malenkov, but only wanted to show “who was the master.” Though soon after this Lavrenty Beria started a campaign to reinstate Georgy Malenkov, and the latter received his posts back. He virtually became the second highest ranking person in the Communist Party, in charge of millions of party functionaries.

In 1949-1952 Georgy Malenkov played one of the main roles in the Leningrad Case, a series of criminal cases fabricated in order to accuse a number of prominent members of the

Communist Party of the USSR of treason and the intention to form an anti-Soviet organization. Malenkov personally led the investigations and took part in unlawful questionings that included torture and beatings. He was also actively involved in the case of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, when more than a hundred people were arrested, many of who were later killed. On the infamous “Night of the Murdered Poets” on 12 August 1952 at least thirteen prominent Yiddish writers were executed as part of the extensive anti-Jewish campaign.

During the last years of Josef Stalin’s life Malenkov was one of his closest supporters. After the death of Stalin in 1953, Georgy Malenkov became the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, which made him the ruler of the country. He held this post for two years and managed to implement a number of changes and reforms.

Image from www.wikimedia.org

Only a few weeks after Stalin’s death, during a closed session of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Malenkov announced the necessity to “put an end to the personality cult and start a collective leadership of the country.” He refused to receive support from Lavrenty Beria. Instead Beria was later arrested and executed by firing squad. Georgy Malenkov’s role in the removal of Lavrenty Beria is reported in different ways: he either initiated the execution or just allowed it to happen.

Malenkov’s short reign is remembered for his initiation of several reforms, one of which was the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners. He cancelled additional payments to high political officials and increased the wages of lower workers. This action put top politicians against him. Nikita Khrushchev, who Malenkov originally put in charge of the party apparatus, used the money of the Central Committee to pay back all subsidies, cut off by the head of the country. This action, apparently, gave Khrushchev strong support from high officials.

Georgy Malenkov made an attempt to improve agriculture by increasing purchasing prices and reducing taxes. Interestingly, a folk saying appeared during that time: “when Malenkov came – we ate some pancakes.” As the leader of the USSR, he also gave passports to villagers, who since 1932 had been prohibited from leaving their villages. Unfortunately, this reform was not completed.

Georgy Malenkov’s popularity among the people also grew because of his suggestion to increase the output of consumer goods at the expense of heavy production. He expressed his disapproval concerning nuclear armament, stating that it could lead to global destruction.

But, evidently, Malenkov could not prevent the strengthening of the party apparatus, which allowed Nikita Khrushchev to organize a “palace coup.” In February 1955 Georgy Malenkov was forced to resign. Khrushchev, who two years earlier created and took the post of First Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, became the head of the country.

Image from www.kommersant.ru

In 1957 Georgy Malenkov, together with Bulganin, Molotov and Kaganovich made a failed attempt to depose Khrushchev. Malenkov was exiled within the Soviet Union, becoming the head of a hydroelectric plant in Kazakhstan. A few years later he was expelled from the Communist Party. Despite several appeals to become a member of the party again, Georgy Malenkov was never reinstated.

Georgy Malenkov died in 1988. His death was not reported in the Soviet press. Malenkov was one of only a few important members from Stalin’s close circle who died from natural causes.


Primary Sources

(1) Milovan Djilas, Conversations With Stalin (1962)

Malenkov was even smaller and plumper, but a typical Russian with a Mongol admixture-dark, with prominent cheekbones, and slightly pock-marked. He gave one the impression of being a withdrawn, cautious, and not very personable man. It seemed as though under the layers and rolls of fat there moved about still another man, lively and adept, with intelligent and alert black eyes. He had been known for some time as Stalin's unofficial stand-in in Party matters. Practically all matters pertaining to Party organization and the promotion and demotion of officials were in his hands. He was the one who had invented 'cadre lists' - detailed biographies and autobiographies of all members and candidates of a Party of many millions - which were guarded and systematically maintained in Moscow. I took advantage of my meeting with him to ask for Stalin's work On the Opposition, which had been withdrawn from public circulation because of the numerous citations from Trotsky, Bukharin, and others it contained. The next day I received a used copy of the work, and it is now in my library.


Watch the video: Речь Маленкова на XIX съезде партии 1952. Malenkovs speech at the 19th Congress of the Party (July 2022).


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