The Soviet Union after the Treaty of Kirovograd IV:
In Stalins Wake
"When our actions do not,
Our fears do make us traitors."
Macbeth, 4. 2
During the first days of January, Soviet Union seemed to be on the brink of a new war. Major recalling of Red Army reservists had taken place in December, and currently ongoing large military exercises in western parts of the country were closely followed. And although the official media was still silent about the situation in "lost territories", the rumors of wide uprisings in occupied parts of Russia spread like wildfire among the common citizens. Therefore the early news of Stalin´s death had a huge impact to the whole country. The first signs of something being wrong appeared to the streets of the new capitol Kuibyshev in the morning hours on 5th of January. In the postwar period, Stalin had operated through two committees: The Politburo, over which he almost always presided, and the main Bureau of the Council of Ministers, which nearly always converged without him.
Now armed patrols of "Beria´s army", the men who made up the MVD and the MGB filled the streets Kuibyshev. With special orders they sealed off the capitol with roadblocks. In the city itself the commander of the Volga Military Disctrict, offivers of the city´s army garrison and the Guards were all put under arrest. Meanwhile the Politburo and Sovmin Bureau were summoned to an emenergy meeting.
The Exclusive Committee - Sovmin Bureau was a postwar creation of Stalin himself. This new organization was the most dramatic postwar reform Stalin had made to the Soviet top-level leadership. In nature it was a new, tight decision-making unit bound by a common expertise of regular and exclusive meetings. Within the organization, each deputy received individual assignments, normally relating to the sectoral bureau under their command or to commissions they headed. They were usually accompanied by deadlines, and the Bureau´s secretariats saw to it that members received reminders if a deadline had been breached. None of the deputy premiers was exempt from these schedules, and even the most senior figures, such as Beria and Voznesenskii were held to them. Far from being an inchoate and loosely organized body as the Politburo had become at this time, the main Sovmin bureau became a tight and disciplined ship. Following Stalin´s reorganization, no one person or faction controlled the activities of main Sovmin Bureau. Initially the chairmanship went to the "rotating leadership" between Beria, Voznesenskii and Malenkov. With no clear head to turn on, emerging conflict among Bureau members were addressed simply to the Bureau for consideration. Rather than one individual coming to dominate the body, the power to set the agenda and determine decisions was spread equally among Bureau members, thus elevating the significance of meetings of the committee itself. It was therefore understandable that the most dramatic decisions regarding the new leadership of the Soviet Union were made in the emergency session of Sovmin Bureau, and not in the Politburo that was currently firmly in hand of supporters of Malenkov and Beria (after many notable politicians were temporarily under arrest by Beria´s orders) After this meeting the Council of Ministers and the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet publicly declared a form of collective leadership.
After Politburo had confirmed the changes in leadership, Malenkov became the new Prime Minister of USSR and the First Secretary of the CPSU, Andrei Gromyko became the new Foreign Minister and Nikolai Bulganin was appointed as the new Minister of Defense. When Beria was then named as one of Malenkov´s four first Deputy Prime Ministers, rumors whispering that Stalin had been murdered and Beria and Malenkov had a hand in it" began to circle among the Soviet leaders. The election of Malenkov himself wasn´t that surprising, since despite this poor standing among some of his fellow politicians, he had been Stalin´s most trusted subordinates. He became a full member of Politburo in 1946, and after that it had been rather clear that Stalin was grooming Malenkov to succeed him. Malenkov begun his new career by one of the most dramatic decisions of his whole political career. He called off the top-secret pre-planned attack against German-held Russian territory. Commanders of the Red Army already hated his guts because of the active role Malenkov had played in Stalin´s purges. But these orders of stopping the offensive preparations and leaving the popular uprising in occupied territories to it´s fate were a decision that made him a traitor in the eyes of the Red Army leadership. The generals could not forgive this nuclear policy turnabout of Malenkov in which he stated that Our attack would only lead into atomic war, and it would mean the end of Soviet Union and whole civilization.
As the looming war was thus narrowly avoided for now, Malenkov continued in his new role by offering hope to the peasant farmers who made up the majority of Soviet population. Without consulting any of the leaders of the Communist party, he broke with a twenty-five year Soviet policy of developing heavy industry while a short-changing agricultural development and production of consumer goods. He proposed to raise sharply in two or three years the population´s supply of foodstuffs and manufactured goods, meat and meat produce, fish and fish products, butter, sugar, eggs, confectionery, textiles, clothes, footwear, crockery, furniture and other cultural and household goods. This could only be done by cutting back on armaments production and military appropriations. Subsequently Malenkov announced that production of food was on the rise and the threat of famine had disappeared. Malenkov was now playing an extremely dangerous game.
Beria´s protection enabled Malenkov to initiate ambitious reform programs - but these changes gained them many enemies.
The entire Soviet establishment, and particularly the Communist party had been previously committed to maintaining a large military force and gaining on the Reich on the armaments race. Even as Malenkov´s popularity surged with the public, the resistance of the Soviet establishment to his policies stiffened. Malenkov´s optimism regarding food production was also unrealistic. There were, for example, almost nine million fewer head of cattle in the USSR than there had been twenty-five years earlier. Therefore a special emergency conference of agricultural experts met in Moscow in March 1953. They had found out that Soviet food production was even lower than estimated, and now the question was what to do about it.
First Secretary Malenkov answered by initiating the previously planned economic reform program in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. This ambitious project aimed to turn 32 million acres of uncultivated land in the West Siberian Plain of Kazakhstan and southwestern Siberia into new agricultural region. The targeted territory was larger than the combined agricultural lands of Great Britain, France and Spain put together. A new "worker´s army" of 250 000 volunteers recruited by Communist party and the Young Communist League were dispatched to the steppes. There they build huts, farm building, outhouses, villages and ultimately whole new towns. Enthusiastically these pioneers plowed up the fields, planted them with spring wheat and harvested it later on. And since tragic suicide of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (he hanged himself few days after the Treaty of Kirovograd in 1943) had created much new discussion among the Soviet biology experts, the remaining opponents of Lysenkoism were also allowed to once again test their agricultural theories as a secret part of this new agricultural project. The results of their work would lead into the quiet abandonment of all previous VASKhNIL theories and agricultural "research" during late 1950´s.
By making fundamental changes to the basis of Soviet agricultural methods and taking wide new areas into cultivation the Soviet economy was able to slowly recover from the losses of WWII.
In August 1953 the spectacular first results of the program were announced as a part of the New Course - a revision of the Fifth Five-Year Plan that reduced expenditures for heavy industry and the military somewhat in order to satisfy consumer demands of consumer goods, housing, and services. Priorities were set to consumer goods and light industry, food production and a more permissive policy towards private plots and animals of collective farm members. While the official policy praised the new successes of Stalinist collectivization of agriculture, in reality the new farming communities of "Virgin Lands" were silently becoming a modern equivalent of people that the Soviet system had called "kulaks" just few decades ago. Despite the later problems with soil erosion, the Virgin Lands-program and subtle changes in agricultural policy improved the productivity of Soviet agriculture and allowed the Soviet Union to reach self-sustenance. Malenkov expanded his reforms into Soviet administration as well. In March 1953, four of the eight existing engineering Ministries were amalgamated into one grossly inflated Ministry of Machine Building. In 1953 the Ministry of Medium Machine Building was established to develop nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and the Ministry of Radio Industry was established with responsibility for developing air defense radars and related electronic systems. Both ministries became closely controlled by Beria´s MVD.
As a substitute to Stalin´s will and and whimsy, the postwar administration now promoted committee systems, administrative procedures and high degree of technocratic rationality. Soviet party and state institutions gained greatly from as the previous pattern of constant crises, emergencies and upheavals spurred on by purges and terror was replaced by routinism, professionalization and growing bureaucracy. Middle stratum of technicians, managers and state officials continued to expand and establish itself within the Soviet system, providing a vital source of support and stability to the new regime. Whereas Stalins´s personal priorities had been keeping an eye to the military and international situation, all new priorities were set on reconstruction. As a result decree of normality to social and economic life returned after decades of upheaval and the devastating war.
Deprivations of early postwar period had paradoxically strengthened the stability of Stalin´s regime. Population had been too exhausted by the daily survival struggle to organize social protest and had lived on in passive acceptance with dashed hopes of a healthier, wealthier and freer future. Now when conditions finally were actually improving, the new regime received credit for the improvement and there was a widespread popular relief. Yet the good mood of the common people was not shared by the Soviet politicians who were fiercely opposing Malenkov´s reforms.
Beria and the Bomb
The atomic bomb had occupied a central place in Soviet postwar military policy. Stalin had given the highest priority to defense against atomic attacks and to the development of Soviet nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles for them. He did not, however, regard the bomb as a decisive weapon. He saw the bomb as an important and destructive strategic weapon to be used against targets in the rear, but did not regard it as an effective counterweight to ground forces or sea power. Since Stalin did not think that the atomic bomb had ushered a revolution in military affairs, he did not allow German monopoly on the the bomb to affect his foreign policy. Bomb was very important addition to his military arsenal, but it did not define the Soviet Union´s postwar military posture. Staling sought to create the capacity to launch a successful counter-offensive in the form of a land invasion of Western Russia, and Soviet nuclear weapons had to be developed mainly to act as a way to avenge possible German nuclear strikes and act as a deterrent against them once the new war in the East would begin.
But the Soviet dictator had died before the Soviet nuclear program had gained concrete results. Now this project, closely controlled by henchmen of Beria gained a different political meaning. Unlike Stalin, Beria was firmly aware of the revolutionary new role of atomic bombs in postwar politics. By taking control of the development of Soviet nuclear weapons he had sought to gain more influence over the Soviet military policy. In addition he was most likely seriously concerned about the future of Soviet Union - while Stalin ultimately considered nuclear weapons to be just new, extremely efficient way of conducting strategic bombing campaigns, Beria realized that the destructive power of these new weapons had changed the nature of warfare between great powers for good. And while the scandal of Soviet nuclear espionage severely damaged the Soviet relations to US and Britain.
Attempts of detente with West - Postwar Soviet diplomacy
The appointment of Andrei Gromyko, an expert of Western diplomacy, was the first sign that the Soviet leadership wanted to reconsider it´s previous foreign policy. This was understandable, since the last years of Stalin´s rule had practically isolated the USSR in the international stage. His mistrust and bitterness towards his former Allies had formed a fatal combination with the Allied viewpoint that considered the Soviet separate armistice as one of the key reasons for the survival of Hitler´s regime. It its therefore not surprising that one of the first foreign policy initiatives of Malenkov´s administration was the launching of a new diplomatic campaign that aimed to restore the damaged US-Soviet relations. The first signals of the changed attitude of Soviet administration were rather subtle. Soviet citizens married to foreigners were again allowed to leave the country, diplomatic relations were established with Republics of Italy and Japan, and the promotion of revolution of the international proletariat in Western countries was downgraded.
The Taft Administration reacted suspiciously to "new line" of Soviet foreign policy. The trials of the Rosenberg case made the timing of Soviet policy change extremely bad for publicity, and many influential American newspapers expressed views that suspected the Soviet goodwill. Claims that the "Soviets were nothing but a bunch of tricksters" did not help the efforts of Mr. Gromyko one bit, and the news of the severe illness of President Taft made the early Soviet attempts of improving their relations with US rather difficult.
Friends and foes of Malenkov
Despite their many similarities there were also key differences in the characters of Beria and Malenkov. Both had known how to curry favor with Stalin. Both had a talent of fawning and manipulating, and both had siphoned off new power for themselves while increasing it for Stalin. Both were unscrupulous. But while Beria was hard and unyielding, Malenkov knew how to compromise when it was to his advantage. Malenkov would go along to get along. He did what he had to do to ensure Beria´s support. Beria saw Malenkov as weak and malleable, and though that he would have no trouble controlling him. However, Beria miscalculated.
Malenkov might have been weak, but he was astute when it came to Soviet politics. He saw that there was a choice to be made between being Beria´s puppet and compromising with those who wanted to share the power of government. Beria had many enemies. They were powerful and dangerous, and Malenkov did not want them to be his enemies as well. He recognized that those who had been forced out of government could not be restrained permanently. If he did not deal with with them, he would always have to be watching his back. Despite Beria´s show of force in his favor, Malenkov was not secure enough as a leader to get away with staging a Stalinist-type purge to rid himself of adversaries. To him it made more sense to negotiate with powerful rivals. Thus in order to ensure his own safety, Malenkov quietly begun to create counterbalance for Beria´s growing power.
Marshal Bulganin was a strong figure in the new internal situation in the Soviet Union, and Malenkov began to further increase his influence to create a counter-balance for Beria´s power. Bulganin was a former Chekist, and he had been a full member of the Central Committee since 1939. The war had improved his position and ensured his rise to State Defense Committee. Now he held a respectable array of different posts and titles. He was a Soviet Marshal and a full member of Politburo. He was also one of the four new Deputy Premiers and a Minister of Defense in the government of Malenkov. His contact and influence to the Red Army had so far kept the army hardliners from taking direct actions against Malenkov and Beria, thus allowing the reforms to continue. Bulganin shared Malenkov´s fear of Beria, but he also understood that deposing Beria would most likely lead to his own political demise as well. Yet he was following Malenkov´s actions with increasing criticism, and the nature of their alliance was dubious at best.
Alexei Kosygin was one of the few relatively influential Party politicians who managed to maintain his position after Stalin´s death, when Beria forced many old Party members to resign from their earlier positions of power. As a former Premier of Russian SFSR, Alexei Kosygin had used his former contacts from Siberia to improve his status after the war. By becoming a strong supporter of Malenkov´s reforms on the earliest possible phase Kosygin was ultimately also allowed to keep his post as the Minister of Light Industry.
Colonel-General Konev was the leader of Siberian Military District and the leader of the hawkish element of Red Army leadership. He had vigorously opposed the signing of Treaty of Kirovograd and protested Malenkov´s decision to cancel the planned attack across the Volga in spring 1953. While the more moderate part of the Soviet officers (bitterly disappointed to Stalin´s new officer purges after the war) formed a less extreme faction led by Timoshenko and were more willing to wait and see how Malenkov´s reforms would work out, Konev and his supporters were becoming increasingly frustrated to their new political leadership during the first year of Malenkov´s rule.
The positions of Secretariat of Central Committee and his earlier reputation as a prominent political ideologist of Stalinism made Mikhail Suslov an influential figure in Soviet politics. He was the main voice of opposition to Malenkov´s reforms among political leadership, and even Beria was afraid to move against him in the volatile situation after Stalin´s death. Suslov had excellent contacts, and from the very beginning his uncompromising resistance to economic reforms and cuts to military spending gained him the support of conservative Army circles.
Deputy Commissar of the NKVD and one of the most influential leaders of SMERSH, Ivan Serov was one of the trusted supporters of Beria, and after the reforms of Soviet security organizations he was the second-in-command in MVD. Unknown to his boss, Serov was also an ambitious and calculative figure who kept in secret contact with Marshal Bulganin.
Stalin is dead, long live Stalinism!
When Stalin was found dead from his bunker in the afternoon of 3rd of January 1953, the Soviet leadership ended in pretty similar solution than Stalin himself after the death of Lenin. Stalin´s body was embalmed, and at first put on a public display for huge crowds of mourning citizens of the Soviet state. The faith to Stalin´s wisdom and leadership had been the cornerstone of Soviet propaganda through the war. Now the Soviet leaders realized that just as Stalin praised the memory of Lenin, they could now in turn utilize Stalin´s powerful personality cult to support their own leadership. Instead of publicly condemning the policies of their former leader, they placed his body into a place of honor next to the body of Lenin himself. Politically the Soviet Union reformed only little, while Malenkov´s economic policy improved the economic status of average citizens the all-seeing eyes of Beria´s secret police continued to keenly monitor the everyday life of the Soviet nation.
But while the reconstruction continued and Soviet Union finally became a nuclear power on August 14th, 1953, the internal struggle among "the troika" of the top political leadership of the Soviet Union was in a tense stalemate. Beria controlled the security organizations but was feared and hated by the political leadership and the army. Malenkov had solid public support, but his populist economic policy and decision to avoid war with Germany had turned the Soviet officer corps and conservative Stalinist politicians against him. Bulganin was the sole politician who enjoyed the support of Soviet military, but so far he had decided to hold on to his extremely powerful position and not to risk it by openly challenging Beria. In 1953 the future course of the Soviet Union was still unclear.