L. Turov

A Russian Socialist Asks

What Lies Behind
Malenkov’s Moves?

(May 1953)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 3 No. 2, May 1953 (Special May Edition), pp. 1–4.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Hardly had the immortal Stalin been embalmed when his will was flouted by his heirs. For nearly three years the war had raged in Korea. No sooner had he died than Malenkov showed himself to be more conciliatory than the peace-loving Stalin had ever been.

An even more drastic change came in domestic policy. Government orders were countermanded overnight. The Russia repressive apparatus was put into reverse gear. Typical of what happened was the case of the 15 doctors, mainly Jewish, who were charged in a Tass agency communiqué issued on January 13th. They were said to have been responsible for murdering Zhdanov, a former member of the Political Bureau, and Shcherbakov, a director of the Political Administration of the Soviet Army. The communiqué stated: “The documents and investigations, the opinion of medical experts, and the confessions of those arrested, prove that the criminals, secret enemies of the people, subjected their patients to harmful treatment, and undermined their health ...” thus causing their death. “They tried to disable Marshall Vasilievsky, Marshall Govorov, Marshall Koniev, General Shtemenko, Admiral Levenhenko and others, but arrest thwarted their villainous plans and the criminals failed to achieve their end..” Most of the participants in the terrorist plan were connected with “Joint, an international Jewish bourgeois nationalist organisation, under the guidance of the US Intelligence Service ...” (This communiqué was given a big splash in the Daily Worker of January 14th, 1953).

Soon after Stalin’s death Pravda declared:

“The doctors and professors involved in this case had been arrested by the former Ministry of State Security wrongfully and without any legal grounds whatsoever ... The verification ha shown that the accusations brought against these people were lies, and the documentary evidence which supported them was void. It was also established that the testimony of the arrested persons, allegedly confirming the charges brought against them, was obtained by officials of the investigations branch of the former Ministry of State Security by resorting to impermissible methods of investigation ...”

Dr Lydia Timashuk, who on January 20th was awarded the Order of Lenin “for assistance given to the government in uncovering the doctor-murderers,” has been arrested and the Order of Lenin taken from her. Riumen, Deputy Minister of the Interior and head of the Investigations Branch, is under arrest, and Ignatiev, Minister of State Security and Party Secretary, was removed (and in all probability arrested).

It seems that confessions are no longer proof of guilt and that documentary evidence collected by the GPU can also be portholes. Malenkov has exposed the methods of investigation used at all the framed-up trials throughout Stalin’s long reign of terror.

Purges’ Propaganda Purposes

It is probable that Stalin intended to carry out another large-scale purge. After the “doctors’ plot,” the security administration would have been the next target for attack. They had been negligent in allowing the doctors to enter the Kremlin. In the big trials of the thirties, the accusation that Dr Levin and his doctor friends killed Gorki led directly to the prosecution of Yagoda, GPU boss, for appointing these doctors.

In the case of the Jewish doctors, the man responsible for the appointment was Abukmov, Minister of State since 1946, one of the principal subordinates of Beria, and also a member of the Central committee. Abukmov was not present at the 19th Congress held last October. He was not re-elected to the Central Committee.

The hysterical campaign against the doctors was only propaganda for the rulers of the Kremlin. Its purpose was to create the illusion in the minds of the Russian people that the enemy was everywhere, and the totalitarian regime therefore necessary. To do this successfully, the “doctors’ plot” would have had to drag in more people in important positions – such as Vice-Premier Slansky in Czechoslovakia and Vice-Premier Beria in Russia.

The whole of Russian society is built in the form of a pyramid, with the principle of one-man management in every field. The factory is run by its manager, who appoints the departmental managers, who, in turn, appoint the foremen. The manager himself is appointed by the Minister. The Minister is actually, if not nominally, appointed by the Prime Minster and General Secretary. During his lifetime Stalin was responsible for making the most important appointments: he was the supreme bureaucrat.

In the case of a purge, in which, in the interests of solidifying the regime scapegoats are liquidated, it is up to the boss to decide who will be purged, and who will be elevated to take their place. Stalin was thus the arbiter between different sections of the bureaucracy in a system which is torn by great stresses and contradictions. With Stalin’s death, who knows where conflicts between the different sections of the bureaucracy might lead? Who knows where the mutual annihilation might stop? The new administrative set-up in the highest circles of the Russian Government and party clearly show that no section of the bureaucracy is ready to accept complete subordination. It is a group arrangement with balancing and counter-balancing forces. The political bureau is restored under a new name – the Presidium – with, instead of 36 members only 14 once more.

Important State Bodies

Malenkov who appears to be Stalin’s heir, is actually not the General Secretary. This job was given to Nikita S. Khrushchev, who therefore controls the party bureaucracy. Khruschev was one of the great benefactors from Stalin’s death. he had been put somewhat in the shade by the failure of what was called the “Khrushchev Plan” that aimed at liquidating the Kolkhoses and building giant agricultural farms instead. It was introduced in 1949, and administered by Khrushchev, but stopped at the end of 1951. Khrushchev now takes revenge. Benediktov, an opponent of the “Khrushchev Plan,” who was Minister of Agriculture for 12 years, was removed from his post. It seems that Khrushchev, like Beria, had reasons for being none too unhappy at Stalin’s death.

After Stalin’s death, the Ministry of Security and the Ministry of Internal Affairs were united. Beria at the head controls the tremendous administration of of the NKVD, and has used his power to purge Ignatiev, who replaced his protegé, Abukmov.

The third important state body is the army. It is headed by the Minister of War, Bulganin, who held the position under Stalin. Now, however, there is an addendum, in the persons of his deputies, Marshall Zhukov and Marshall Vasilievsky. This is interesting. Marshall Zhukov had come out of the war with great popularity. He had been the commander responsible for the fall of Berlin. Stalin to keep the balance in the bureaucracy and to show who was the boss, spitefully removed Zhukov from his position as Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Army in Germany and made him the head of the garrison in Odessa. No sooner was Stalin gone than Zhukov comes back – as Deputy Minister of War. Is it Beria’s idea to keep a finger in the Ministry of war, too?

The group administration at the top of the Russian regime to-day is in conflict with the set-up of the Russian economy, society and state. Such a conflict cannot exist for any length of time. A regime of bureaucratic state capitalism, with the terrific social strain it involves, needs the blood of a purge to make the wheels go round. The present set-up at the top is therefore temporary but, as long as it exists, it works against any mass purges. Hence the squashing of the “doctors’ plot.”

The new rulers also clearly need to increase their popularity with the people. With this in view, they granted an amnesty to millions of inmates of labour camps; cut the price of bread, sugar, vegetables, fruit, clothing, tobacco and vodka; reduced war hysteria and tried to assure the Russian people that they really aimed at peace.

Another means of popularising the new rulers was to stop excessive praise of Stalin. For the first two weeks after his death, the press continued to laud him as the God-like immortal. But it then ceased, and he is now mentioned coolly, though not critically. The Kremlin rulers had realised that the glorification of Stalin was not as popular as it had been made out out be when he was alive.

Will It Mean Peace?

The severe difficulties of Malenkov are most clearly illustrated by the steps he has taken to end the Korean War. Russia had previously been quite satisfied to let the war continue as it cost her very little and bound China to her. China, for her part, bore the main brunt of the war, and got very little out of it. And all the while it lasts, it impedes her industrialisation.

Since August 1952, a Chinese delegation had been in Moscow negotiating about economic aid from Russia. China had been getting tanks and aeroplanes from Russia to help fight the Korean War, but she did not get tractors, locomotives and other goods necessary to build the Chinese economy. For nearly seven months the wrangling went on with no positive results. But a mere four days after Stalin’s death, full agreement was reached to grant extensive material aid for the industrialisation of China. Furthermore an extremely important person, Vasili Kuznetsov, a former chairman of the Soviet trade unions and now Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, was appointed as ambassador to Peking to try and stop a split between Russia and China.

But the portents look ominous for Moscow. When Tito prepared his break with Russia, one of the first things he did was to oppose the forced collectivisation drive. He was afraid that such a drive, by causing a breach between the government and peasants would weaken the government’s struggle against Moscow. Now the Chinese government have taken a similar decision, broadcast on Peking Radio on March 28th. The Chinese government have entered the first year of their five-year plan of industrialisation, and wish to exert all possible pressure on Moscow to get material assistance. Tito’s main accusation against Russia was that they did not supply Yugoslavia with machinery.

China Wants Steel

With Stalin dead, the implications of Chinese pressure have become increasingly significant. First of all, with an unstable equilibrium at the top of the Kremlin administration should Mao Tse-Tung throw in his weight in support of one faction or another in a future struggle it would have tremendous, perhaps even decisive, moral and political importance. Secondly, for an international standpoint, the prestige of Mao Tse-Tung in the Communist movement is much higher than Malenkov or Beria. And therefore the defection of Peking would have very unwelcome repercussions on the international influence of Moscow.

The Chinese pressure not only influences immediately questions like the fate of the Korean War, but also the general foreign policy of Russia. China needs millions of tons of steel a year to carry out its industrial plan, and there are only two ways in which Russia can supply steel. One is by using its military power to conquer Western Europe so that she could supply the steel from the Ruhr, Belgium, France, etc., the other is by reducing the war production of Russia and diverting steel from this sphere to China. The same applies to other supplies needed for Chinese industrialisation. There is no doubt that if the bureaucracy in Russia were divided into different factions on the “Chinese problem,” i.e., to prevent Mao Tse-Tung from following Tito, Mao would bring his influence down on the side of the “peace” faction.

There is no doubt however that this international factor can exert only a temporary influence in Russia towards pacifism. The Russian bureaucracy are, after all, not philanthropists, and they will build China up into a giant over-shadowing Russia. They will not reduce the war preparations indefinitely. For, even now Western Europe produces far more steel than Russia does after a whole generation of tremendous industrial effort, accomplished by great sacrifices. The Russian bureaucracy, exploiting its own people, cannot but see in the possibilities of looting Western Europe an attractive, if risky, proposition.

Last updated on 16 February 2017