JOSEPH STALIN was dead six hours and ten minutes before the Kremlin flag was lowered and the radio announced that the Dictator was no more. In an age of split-second announcements of death, there is something strange in this delay. No less strange were the official communiqués on his last illness. "The best medical personnel has been called in to treat Comrade Stalin. . . . The treatment is under the direction of the Minister of Health. . . . The treatment is under the continuous supervision of the Central Committee and the Soviet Government. . . ." Nine doctors watching each other; the Minister of Health watching the Doctors; the Central Committee and the Government watching the Minister. And all of this, by an inner compulsion, announced to the world. Who can fail to sense that the laws of life and death are somehow different behind the Kremlin walls?

Early on the morning of March 6, with all the morning papers missing from the streets, the radio announced that the Vozhd had died at 9:50 the night before. The communiqué included a call to maintain "the steel-like unity and monolithic unity of the ranks of the Party . . . to guard the unity of the Party as the apple of the eye . . . to educate all Communists and working people in high political vigilance, intolerance and firmness in the struggle against internal and external enemies." This call was repeated hourly all through the day.

Shortly before midnight the Party chiefs, in continuous session since their leader's death, announced that a joint session of the Central Committee, the Council of Ministers, and the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet had come to the conclusion that "the most important task of the Party and the Government is to ensure uninterrupted and correct leadership of the entire life of the country which demands the greatest unity of leadership and the prevention of any kind of disorder and panic."[i] "In view of the above," the Communiqué continued, it was necessary to make at once a sweeping series of changes in the personnel and organizational structure of the leading Party and Government bodies. The changes completely undid all the personnel and structural arrangements made less than five months earlier by the Nineteenth Congress under the personal direction of the man who was not yet dead 24 hours.

The "call to steel-like unity and monolithic unity" and to increased "vigilance and intolerance in the struggle with internal and external enemies" continued to reappear in editorials and articles. It was repeated textually in Malenkov's funeral oration three days later. The warning against "disorder and panic" was paraphrased by Beria in his funeral oration and repeated verbatim in the leading Pravda editorial of March 11.

Disorder and panic! When Franklin Roosevelt died during his fourth term in office, could it occur to the Vice President who automatically succeeded him, or to the leaders of either political party, or to "the Government," to warn against disorder and panic? When George VI of England or Gustav V of Sweden died while still in royal office, could such words creep into the communiqués or the funeral addresses of those who knew and loved them?

Not even in young states just being born in turmoil and conflict, not in Israel when its first president, Chaim Weizmann, died, not in Turkey when Kemal Pasha died, not in Pakistan when Liaquat Ali Khan died, not in India when her unique political-religious leader Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, not in China when Sun Yat-sen breathed his last, could anyone think of pronouncing the ominous words "disorder and panic." Those strange words bring us close to the heart of the mystery of the nature of the total state, of the nature of the men who rule over it, of their relationship with each other, with the people they rule, and with the rest of the world.


One searches history in vain for a case of a peaceful and bloodless succession to a dictator who has climbed to power by force and based his rule upon force without troubling to restore the ruptured fabric of legitimacy. When Caesar was assassinated, the triumvirate that followed tore the Roman Empire apart. The Directory that succeeded the terror of Robespierre was dislodged by Napoleon, who wrestled all his days with the problem of restoring legitimacy, only to end them on St. Helena. Hitler's Tausendjähriges Reich perished in a flaming bunker in Berlin and Mussolini's Imperium Romanum did not outlast his hanging. There had been "disorder and panic" when Hitler and Mussolini died, for the lack of a procedure for the succession to a dictator was reinforced by the invading armies closing in on the rubble of their cities. But the "disorder and panic" which Stalin's comrades speak of springs not from such external events but from their hearts and the essence of their system. A system that is based upon an unending war "on all existing conditions and institutions," an unending war upon their own people and upon all other peoples, cannot develop a legitimacy. The word "panic" escaping the lips of the rulers of the world's most powerful government betrays a fear that is ineradicably in their hearts: they fear the prostrate people over whom they rule, they fear the outside world which they plan to conquer, and they fear each other.

The Soviet Government is not a government by Soviets. The people have long ceased to elect or recall "Deputies." The Soviets have long ceased to elect their leaders or decide anything. Nor is the Soviet Government a party government either. Parties need each other as the sexes need each other, and party life ceases as soon as there is only one party and no opposition, just as sex life would cease if there were only one sex, i.e. no sex.

As the Soviets have long ceased to decide anything or select their leaders and officials, so the Party has long ceased to decide anything or select its leaders. What was once a party has become a "transmission belt" (the words are Stalin's) to convey and enforce the will of the leaders upon the masses. Both decision and personnel selection are from the top downward; a military-ideological-organizational apparatus, a pyramidal power structure culminating in what Max Weber has called a charismatic leader.

On the surface everything seems designed to last forever and to insure a simple, quiet, peaceful succession. Was ever such monopoly of power wielded by so perfectly organized a mechanism? Thirty-six years of continuity in government (is it not still called "Soviet?"). Thirty years of continuity of personal leadership in the person of the all-wise, all-powerful Vozhd. Over a third of a century of uninterrupted happiness of the people, of nonexistence of opposition. More than two decades of unanimous decisions on everything. Not the unity of human beings, but the unity of a monolith. Where is there a crevice in which might sprout the seedcorn of doubt, much less of disorder and panic? The Leader controlled the Politburo so long that at the Nineteenth Congress (October 1952) he could abolish it altogether in favor of a diffuse body so large and scattered that it could not be called upon to make day-to-day decisions.[ii] The Central Committee had long before been made into such a body.

The chain of command was so clear: the Leader controlling the Politburo, the Politburo controlling the Central Committee, the Central Committee controlling the Party. And the Party, in turn, controls an imposing apparatus of police, army, bureaucracy, press, radio, meeting halls, streets, schools, buildings, churches, factories, farms, unions, arts, sciences, everything. All the power levers seem to function so smoothly. What it had cost Lenin and his associates so much travail and struggle to build, and Stalin so much struggle and bloodshed to perfect into the all-embracing power apparatus of the total state, seems now so perfected, so smoothly functioning. A ready-made machine, the greatest power machine in all history. Yet the first words of the orphaned heirs on the death of the Dictator are not human words of sorrow but ominous words about "disorder and panic" and "vigilance and uncompromising struggle against the inner and outer foe."

In all this mighty machine there is oppressive quiet, but no peace to insure a peaceful succession. There is a multitude of laws, but no legality to provide a legal and legitimate succession. The democratic revolution of March 1917 ruptured the legitimacy of Tsarism, but it set to work at once to develop a new, democratic legitimacy, out of the State Duma or Parliament, out of the City Dumas, the rural Zemstvos and the Soviets. It looked forward to convening a Constituent Assembly which would adopt a new democratic constitution and provide a fresh fabric of consensus, consent, acceptance, collective and democratic determination of policy, a multi-party system, a parliament, to secure the habits of willing consent which are the tissues of all normal governments and which make the death of a particular head of state a cause for grief but not an occasion of fear of disorder or panic. To use the terminology of the historian Ferrero, the Provisional Government set up by the first revolution of 1917 was a "pre-legitimate government," moving as quickly as the troubled times permitted from the ruptured legitimacy of the monarchy to democratic legitimacy. That is what it meant when it called itself "provisional."

But the Bolshevik Party, in November 1917, overthrew this "pre-legitimate" Provisional Government by a violent coup d'état, and then dispersed the Constituent Assembly which alone could have laid a foundation of democratic legitimacy. When they outlawed all other parties, including the working-class and peasant parties, they thereby drained the Soviets of all power as a "workers' parliament" or "workers' and peasants' parliament," and the Party began to rule in the name of the Soviets. Next Lenin outlawed all factions within the Party, thereby draining it, too, of all political life. Always excessively centralist and hierarchical, it now became a transmission belt for the will of the Central Committee. When the "servant" of the Central Committee, its General Secretary, executed the majority of the members of the Central Committee which he was supposed to serve, that, too, ceased to be a decisive organ.

Even as Stalin purged all dissenters and all he had reason to suspect because they were injured or aggrieved or because they found it hard to sing the praise of his perfections, the whole machine of power and force and propaganda got into high gear to make of this unpopular, colorless and unloved man a synthetic charismatic leader. The Leader who possesses charisma ("divine" grace) acquires one by one the attributes of divinity: omniscience, omnicompetence, omnipotence. In him all power is concentrated. Whom he touches with his spirit partakes of his grace. Whom he denounces shrivels into nothingness. He decides everything: linguistics, genetics, the transformation of nature, the disposition of artillery on every front, the quota and technique of every factory. Others get power only by emanation and delegation, and even then must be prepared to give him the credit for all successes and take upon themselves the blame and punishment for all failures.

So at the death of the Dictator, there are no parties to establish a legal succession by electoral contest. There is no Soviet constitutional provision for a successor to the post of self-appointed genius. There is no party which any longer decides anything, debates anything, selects anybody. There is not even a provision for a dictator, much less for a successor, in the Constitution or in a Party statute.

There is no moral code, either, to restrain the aspirants to the succession from framing each other up and killing each other off. In so far as they follow the precedents bequeathed to them, and in so far as they follow the real inner laws of the total state, that is precisely what they will have to do. It is to themselves that they are speaking when they call to an awed populace for "steel-like unity and monolithic unity of party and of leadership." It is from their own hearts that the words escaped concerning "disorder and panic."


Why not, asks the reasonable man trying to project himself into the irrational atmosphere of totalitarian dynamics, why not then a collective leadership? A triumvirate? A heptarchy? A decemvirate? The Presidium, maybe? The Central Committee? The Council of Ministers? The Secretariat?

Even in Lenin's day, before the Central Committee and Politburo had been drained of all political life and power, it proved impossible to arrange a succession by purely peaceful means, or by means which, at least within the party purview, might be regarded as lawful and legitimate. Lenin got three solemn warnings from the Angel of Death in the form of three partial cerebral hemorrhages. Only after the second did this man, bursting with vitality and a will to power over the entire world, begin to believe in his heart that death was approaching. Then at last he tried to prepare a "legal" and "peaceful" succession. Recognizing that he had acquired enormous personal authority, that perhaps without willing it consciously, he had dwarfed the Party and its leading bodies and become a personal dictator, Lenin began to fear that his lieutenants would tear each other to pieces if any one of them tried to become a Vladimir Ilyich the Second. With no clear understanding of the dynamics of the totalitarian process he had set in motion, he sought to reëstablish the moribund authority of at least one "collegial" body, the Politburo. His Testament proposed a collective leadership in which all his close lieutenants, working together, would replace him and together rule. For this purpose the Testament was carefully constructed, with a warning of the "danger of a split in the Party," with an adverse judgment on each of his associates to keep him from thinking that he was big enough to rule alone, and a word of praise for each of them, to indicate that none should be eliminated.

Collective leadership is difficult at best, but without democracy it is impossible. Where there are no constitutional rules for collective procedure, where in all fields there is dictatorship, where force settles all things, where opposition is not part of the game of politics but something to be eliminated and crushed, the whole momentum of the state and the system drives relentlessly towards personal dictatorship. So it was with Lenin; so it was with Mussolini; so it was with Hitler; and so it was with Stalin.

Even before Lenin was dead, Stalin began "disloyally" to gather into his hands the reins of power. The dying Dictator, speechless now from his third stroke, yet managed to add a codicil to his will: "Stalin is too rude, and this fault becomes insupportable in the office of General Secretary. Therefore, I propose to the comrades to find a way to remove Stalin from that position. . . ." But Lenin's Will could not prevail against Stalin's will, and the innate dynamics of the machine which Lenin himself had set in motion. Stalin did not even permit it to be published in the Soviet Union.

Precisely because Stalin did not possess Lenin's moral authority over his associates, he found it necessary to use more physical power. The cult of Lenin's person among his disciples was spontaneous, and personally distasteful to him. Lenin had frequently used his authority and prestige to get his own way in disputed matters, but he opposed the development of a cult of his person. The cult grew up only around his embalmed corpse, fostered above all by the very man who was undoing his Last Will. For Stalin could claim infallibility only by first developing the cult of infallibility around Lenin and then making himself into the "best disciple" and apostolic successor. Thus the last repositories of some kind of legality and legitimacy, the Party Congress, the Central Committee and the Politburo, were deprived of their right to say yea or nay to anything. Unanimity, monolithic conformity and synthetic infallibility prevailed.

Lenin had defeated his opponents inside the Party by debate, sometimes tempered with a touch of organizational manœuvre and frame-up; but once they were worsted, he was careful to salvage the person and the dignity of the defeated opponent. But Stalin could not win by debate. His method was to enlarge the organizational manœuvres and frame-ups which were already a part of Lenin's techniques, to compel his opponents to besmirch themselves and to liquidate themselves morally by repeated "confessions." Then he killed them.

There is a fearful dynamic to totalitarianism that drives it to rupture the entire fabric of consent and consensus. From thence springs its fear that men will not believe and not obey. But once fear is present, it drives to the use of further terror. And terror exercised against one's people or associates begets greater fear.

The free political process needs opposition as the lungs need air. Once opposition is outlawed, there are no limits to terror and fear. The thermometer measuring opposition having been broken, the quicksilver of opposition is instinctively felt to be everywhere. Everywhere there is fear, therefore everywhere there must be terror. Terror cannot be used against other parties and public bodies without invading one's own party and its leading bodies; until even one's cronies, one's palace guards, and one's doctors are suspect. The more inert the body politic, the more suspect it is and the more cause to fear it.

Stalin exacted a cult of his person that was the more extravagant because all who knew him knew his personal limitations. He was keenly sensitive to his inferiority as a theoretician and a popular leader. He knew that the men around him were his equals, in some way his superiors. This drove him to kill off all of Lenin's associates, to kill off all his "successors," and to surround himself by only lesser men, courtiers, sycophants, faction lieutenants, executants of his will. He exacted a cult of his person even from those he was about to destroy, and from the entire nation even as he tormented it. If Lenin's prestige was unable to bind his closest associates, who loved and revered him, to carry out his Will after he was dead, how much less likely is the enforced, repugnant, humiliating Stalin cult to bring his associates or his party to execute his Will?

Besides, this time there seems to be no Will. "In his unconscious," Freud has written, "no man believes in his own death." It is this which enables the soldier to hold on the shell-swept field, where a third or two-thirds must die, yet cling to the conviction that "my number isn't up." In the case of a dictator who aspires to absolute rule over all things and all men there is an exceptionally strong will to disbelieve in ordinary mortal limitations, so far as he is concerned. Lenin got three warnings from the Angel of Death, but Stalin, though aging, was rugged, and interviews with foreigners held only a few weeks before his stroke testified to his apparent good health. The stroke came suddenly; he immediately lost consciousness; within three days was dead.

Moreover, Joseph Jugashvili Stalin, as all who knew him can testify, was jealous, resentful, envious, capricious and suspicious by nature. No one dared bid him prepare for death; none dared to try on the crown in his presence. As American presidents realize, it is unwise even in a democracy to announce too early in your term of office that you do not intend to run again. The very men of your own party begin to abandon you for the bandwagon of your anticipated successor, and power and leadership slip from your hands. But in a dictatorship, which tolerates only a single power center, it would be fatal to let anyone else openly try on the crown. A rival power center would begin to polarize, and the whole totalitarian régime would be called in question. His very benefactor and heir would become a danger to the Dictator if he began this unnatural abdication or renunciation of part of his total power.

As soon as anyone around him began to shine, however faintly, by the light of his own deeds, Stalin was swift to remove him from the stage. Sometimes the removal by the law of fear-and-terror led to purge. At other times, it led to mere rustication, a shift to a minor provincial post, as in the cases of Marshals Timoshenko and Zhukov. Sometimes, rumors grew that some one man was the "heir apparent;" then, mysteriously, an assassin's bullet or a sudden illness, or if we are to believe Stalin's last frame-up, "poison-doctors" brought the heir to his end. When shall we really know how Kirov died, and how Zhdanov died?

Thus the nature of the total state and the personal psychology of the particular Leader combined in Stalin's case to make it ever harder for anyone to grow big enough or acquire the prestige to fill his shoes, or don the mantle of the apostolic succession. The cult of his person grew until it filled the horizon and overarched the sky. Those around him, many of them very capable in their own right, were systematically reduced to dwarfs around a giant. Each fresh extravagance exacted from them in this cult of the master-of-everything, each blasphemous phrase in the litany of worship of a living god, diminished further the stature of the men around him, and made harder the process of building up a new charismatic leader after his death.

The only men who have a chance to try for the leadership are those who are in possession of the power levers which constitute the actual organs of government of the Soviet state. Molotov and Voroshilov, and to a lesser degree Kaganovich and Mikoyan, represent "Old Bolshevism." In so far as any new Vozhd may want to preserve an air of continuity with Lenin and the "Men of October," such "Old Bolsheviks" are useful as symbols. But they do not represent a real power lever. Stalin killed off virtually all the "Men of October" during the blood purges of 1934 to 1938. In 1947, on the thirtieth anniversary of the coup d'état of November 7, 1917, only 438 Old Bolsheviks who had joined the Party prior to the seizure of power were still alive and in good standing to sign a letter of thanks to Comrade Stalin for what he had done to the Party. The most important of these is now Molotov. Lenin pronounced him an "incurable dumbbell" and "the best file-clerk in all Russia." He is obstinate as a mule. Kamennii zad, Stone Behind, his own associates call him, and every diplomat who has tried to negotiate with him will agree. Unless he backs the wrong horse, he will undoubtedly be included in any entourage as a symbol of continuity, and someone like him or Voroshilov is likely to be vested with the title of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet or some other such honorary badge. But Stalin was boss before he had any state titles, and Molotov and Voroshilov could not be boss if a score of titles were showered upon them. For the "Men of October," of which they are the enfeebled, diminishing shadow, are no more.

The new men, from whom the new Vozhd will emerge if the process is not interrupted before its completion, are the epigoni, the "sons," or perhaps the "grandsons." Lenin's Marxism was so different from that of Marx that one of his own admirers called it marxisme à la tartare. Stalin, killing off the Men of October, became the spokesman of the "sons," his Leninism became different from Lenin's as Lenin's Marxism was from Marx. The Malenkovs and Berias, and men still younger, who aspire to power, are men who never knew the great dreams and humane ideals of the nineteenth century Russian intelligentsia, never knew the excitement, the fervor and the misery of the Tsarist underground and exile, scarcely know except by hearsay the "heroic days" of the storming of the Winter Palace and the Kremlin. The world will watch with interest what these men, wholly formed and brought up not as underground revolutionaries but under the new régime of bureaucratic and totalitarian absolutism, will make of the heritage of Marxism and Leninism and Stalinism in the course of their struggle with each other.


The real power levers in this struggle are three: the party machine; the secret police; the armed forces. Potentially, other power groupings may be in process of formation: an esprit de corps among the state bureaucracy, for example, or among the industrialists and technicians. But these are only embryonic forces and not real power levers at present.

Who is in control of the party machine? While Stalin was alive, he controlled it. Whether he was General Secretary, or Premier, or simply Vozhd, all power and all decision emanated downwards from him and in his name. Because he had designated Malenkov in recent years as Secretary of the Party, or as first of a battery of three or five or ten secretaries (the number has fluctuated) it was assumed by the outside world, and by some in the Soviet Union, perhaps even by Malenkov himself, that he had his hand on the lever that moves that mighty machine. But often there is some central mechanism that is the key to the functioning of a machine, and, when that is removed, the levers no longer work. Stalin was such a central mechanism. All power concentrated in him, all cohesion. When he died, it soon became clear that no one was any longer in complete possession of the party machine.

For a few days, Malenkov acted as if he were, and the Party seemed to act as if he were. On the day of Stalin's death, Pravda quoted some lifeless utterance of his in bold type in the lead editorial, as formerly it had quoted Stalin. It did the same on March 7, 8 and 9. On the 9th Izvestia printed a photo of Stalin with Malenkov and a little girl. On the 10th Pravda published a photograph, retouched by montage, showing Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and Malenkov as a "big three," standing alone at the signing of the Sino-Soviet Treaty. Examination of the original photograph shows that Beria and Molotov were cut off in the "retouching," as well as Vyshinsky, who was actually signing the treaty, and many others. Sovfoto released a photograph of Malenkov with two of his three chins missing. Operation retouch had begun.

Greetings began to come from provincial congresses and gatherings to "the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. and Secretary of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U., G. M. Malenkov." The press began to use the phrase "headed by Comrade Malenkov." Then suddenly, the number of quotes diminished. The "fat type" gave way to ordinary print. Quotes from Molotov and Beria began to appear along with quotes from Malenkov.[iii] On March 13-15, Pravda ceased to use a dual title for Malenkov. From then on, in place of stress on his person, there was stress on "the Central Committee, consisting of people taught by Comrade Stalin, into whose hands Stalin gave the great Lenin banner."

The Supreme Soviet which was called to meet on March 14 to "ratify" the changes made on the day of Stalin's death, was postponed for a day without explanation. When it met, the list of cabinet ministers presented to it differed from the list that had been broadcast on March 6. Again no explanation. Secretly, the "Central Committee of the Party" had met on March 14, and come to significant decisions which were kept secret for a full week. The Soviet met only for one hour, one of the shortest sessions on record. It applauded the reports of the changes made on the day of Stalin's death, as mysteriously changed again by the secret meeting of March 14, but it did not go through the formality of voting its approval on anything. Malenkov told the Deputies: "The strength of the government will consist in its collective nature." Only on March 21, a full week later, was it announced that on March 14, Malenkov, "at his own request," had been removed as Secretary of the Party, and thereby deprived of the dual leading post which seemed to mark him for the succession.

Neither the editors of the regional and provincial press nor the Supreme Soviet had been informed of the decisions of the secret top party meeting of March 14. It is inconceivable that it was a full Central Committee meeting as stated, for that is so large (216 persons) that the news would have reached the editors and secretaries of the Constituent Republics. As late as March 21 and 22, provincial papers continued to carry greetings to Malenkov in place of the column headed "News of the Day," and references to his dual titles and his position as "head of the Party" or "the Government" or both. Then suddenly this ceased. Most papers skipped one full day without publication--in many cases not the usual off day--and a surprising number of them reappeared next day with the name of a new editor at the masthead. At this writing (with provincial papers available in the United States only through the first week in April), a few provinces are holding out for bold-type quotes and greetings to Malenkov, while in Georgia Beria's name has been advanced at Malenkov's expense and he is being given sweeping credit for things previously associated with the name of that other Georgian, Joseph Stalin. Thus the situation remains tense and unsettled, but the great "operation build-up" has clearly broken down, or been visibly reversed.

When Malenkov first reported to the Supreme Soviet on the changes being made in the "Stalinist" Party and Government, he presented them as having been "contemplated and approved" by Stalin. Actually, they reversed in significant ways things that Stalin had done at the Nineteenth Congress. The Congress had abolished the Politburo in favor of a large and formless Presidium of 25. Now the Presidium was reduced to ten, in most cases the old Politburo members. Never before has a deliberative body in the Soviet Union thus contained an even number of persons, because of the danger of a tie vote. This suggests a state of deadlock and of bargaining over a precarious equilibrium.

The Secretariat, raised by the Nineteenth Congress to ten Secretaries, was now reduced to five, with Malenkov as First Secretary. On March 14, when Malenkov lost his secretarial post, he was replaced by Khrushchov. A few weeks later, Ignatiev, who had been elevated to the place of a Party Secretary only on the death of Stalin, was peremptorily dismissed in connection with the "doctors' frame-up." Thus the Secretariat would now appear to be reduced from ten to four.

No less startling were the changes in Stalin's governmental arrangements. The inner cabinet of 14 Deputy Premiers was reduced to five or six. Malenkov was made Premier, but he was surrounded by, and put under the obvious control of, members of the "Old Guard." To emphasize their importance, the Party performed the miracle of appointing four "First Deputy Premiers" to work with him. Though all four are called "Firsts" their names had to be mentioned in some order, therefore Beria was named as first "First," Molotov second, Bulganin third, and Kaganovich fourth First Deputy Premier. In addition, one more member of Stalin's old guard, Mikoyan, was named a Deputy Premier, the only one with no "First" before his title.

The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of State Security were combined into one single body, and Lavrenti Beria, whom Stalin had "kicked upstairs," was restored to his old post as head of the combined secret police forces. The Ministry of War and the Ministry of the Navy were combined into one, and Bulganin was made Minister, with two "First" deputies, Generals Zhukov and Vasilevsky. Thus the Army was brought back into the structure of carefully counterbalanced forces, and General Zhukov, whom Stalin had jealously exiled to a remote secondary post, reappeared as a kind of "representative" of the General Staff. Voroshilov, now aged 72, was made Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. This might seem to be merely an honorary office, but in the delicate balance of forces, it too proved to have power implications, for on March 28, when Malenkov's recession had begun, it was Voroshilov, Chairman of the Presidium, rather than Malenkov, Premier and Chairman of the Council of Ministers, whose name was signed to the popularity-seeking decree on amnesty. If Stalin had chosen to issue an amnesty, he would never have let the chairman of a purely honorary body sign in place of him.


Lavrenti Beria seemed to be on his way out at the moment of Stalin's death. For more than a decade a favorite of Stalin's, he had first run Georgia as head of the Georgian police, and then risen to All-Union Security Chief. In 1946, after the post had been divided into two, a Minister of State Security and a Minister of the Interior, Beria was relieved of direct responsibility for either, and elevated to Deputy Premier "to devote full time to his main work." People assumed that the main work was either atomic energy and atomic espionage, or over-all supervision of both security forces. Beria's men were put in charge of both, as earlier his men had been put in charge of Georgia when he left for Moscow.

The first visible sign of Beria's decline was a large scale purge of his appointees in his native Georgia during 1952. Mgeladze, an anti-Beria man, became First Secretary of the Georgian Party, and with the assistance of police chief Rukhadze "crushed in a Stalinist manner" many lesser leaders. Stalin, as was his fashion, forced Beria to discredit himself with his own followers by sanctioning these purges. At the Nineteenth Congress in October 1952, Stalin eliminated Beria's man, Abakumov, Minister of State Security of the U.S.S.R., from his party and government posts. And on January 13, 1953, the lightning struck again. After patient preparation by Stalin and Malenkov, it was announced that the top Kremlin doctors were "poisoners," and that the deaths of Shcherbakov and Zhdanov, which had occurred while Beria was still a power in the Secret Police, were brought on by the doctor-poisoners. All this had happened because the Security Forces were guilty of "lack of vigilance." Things began to look ominous for Beria.

As a cerebral hemorrhage saved Stalin when Lenin was about to remove him as General Secretary in 1923, so death intervened to save Beria on March 5, 1953. The very next day, the Ministries of State Security and the Interior were recombined into one, and Lavrenti Beria's hand closed firmly on the mighty power lever. Beria was one of the three speakers at Stalin's funeral. It was he who made the nomination of Malenkov as Premier. On March 21, Malenkov resigned the post of Secretary through which Stalin had paved his way to power. But Beria had two serious handicaps to overcome. First of these was the unpopularity that has always clung to the head of the Secret Police. Beria's speeches began to include vows to protect the civil rights of the Soviet citizen and uphold the Constitution. On March 28, a sweeping amnesty of petty offenders was proclaimed, and the Penal Code was ordered revised "within 60 days."

On April 3, the "doctors' plot" was declared a frame-up, the anti-Beria police leaders held responsible, and placed under arrest. In the name of undoing an injustice, a counter purge thus got under way. On April 6, Semyon D. Ignatiev, whom Stalin and Malenkov had put into the post of Minister of State Security when Beria was losing his grip, and whom Malenkov had just made a Party Secretary, was accused of "political blindness and gullibility." On April 7, his ousting was announced.

Exactly one week later, on April 14, Beria struck back in Georgia. Secretary Mgeladze, Security Minister Rukhadze and "their accomplices" were charged with having framed up innocent Georgian leaders, "trampled down the rights of Soviet citizens," extracted "false confessions by impermissible means" (torture), "cooked up charges of nonexistent nationalism," and shown themselves to be "enemies of the people." The accused were rehabilitated and restored to their posts. That same day, new police chiefs were appointed in virtually all the Republics of the Soviet Union. All published names seemed to be Russian, regardless of the nationality involved, and many of them were known Beria men.

The other obstacle to Beria's rise to absolute power is a more insurmountable because more intangible one. Like Stalin, he is a Georgian. The once internationalistic Communist Party has long been playing with the fire of Great Russian nationalism and chauvinism. Now, if a second Georgian from an obscure conquered province succeeds the first, the Great Russians will ask: "Are there no Russians left to rule over the Russian land?" It is impossible for a man laboring under the double handicap of Police Chief and Georgian immediately to lay open claim to the apostolic succession. More than any other of the aspirants, Beria needs for a time the protective shield of "collective leadership" and anonymous "collegial bodies"--to rule, in so far as he can, in the name of the Party, the Central Committee, the Presidium, the cause of Lenin and Stalin. Thus his personal predicaments and the precarious equilibrium that marks the first phase of what will doubtless be a prolonged struggle combine to make an emphasis upon anonymity and collective leadership necessary for the present in a total state which cannot, in the long run, tolerate either collectivity or anonymity in its Leader.


The Secret Police has its tentacles everywhere, in every factory, in every kolkhoz, in every Party organization. But the Party, too, has its cells everywhere, even in the Secret Police. The Army is riddled with Party agents and Secret Police agents and has been the most jealously watched power instrument of all. It was built by Trotsky who died in exile with a pickaxe blow in the back of his head. It was mechanized by Tukhachevsky who fell in the blood purges along with virtually the entire General Staff. Thereafter it bore a deep grudge against the Secret Police, which Stalin was apparently trying to mollify with his talk of "lack of vigilance of the Security organs" in the "doctors' plot against leading military figures." Generals Zhukov, Timoshenko, Vasilevsky, Konev, Sokolovsky, have been moved about by Stalin and Malenkov like musical chairs to prevent their popularity from growing too great, and watched over by a political "General, Marshal, and War Minister," Bulganin. Yet it has a strong esprit de corps, and if it can unite on a candidate it may well in a long struggle become the most powerful contender.

Moreover, in this totalitarian land, the Army is the only potentially democratic power instrument. The Russian and Soviet peoples cannot possibly identify themselves with the Party Machine that has enslaved and driven them and waged upon them an unending war of nerves. Still less with the Secret Police that has tortured, enslaved, purged. But the Army did serve them in defending their frontiers and homes against the invader. And the Army is a part of them and they of it, since all able-bodied males serve in it, and in it are better fed, clothed and housed than at any other time in their lives. Finally, the Army is thought of as for defense rather than for a deeply-feared aggressive war. The people trust the Army more than they do the Party or the Police, and around it they could most readily be rallied.

All three power levers, moreover, are not mechanical things, but living organisms with hundreds of thousands, even millions, of members. Such power levers can be used symbolically in manœuvring for position in a muted struggle. But they cannot be brought into actual play surreptitiously and behind the scenes. If the contenders do not manage to finish each other off, by some combination of subordination and purge, behind the scenes, then three great power machines, each embracing their millions of members and their families, may be brought into action in one or another combination.

Then whoever appeals to the Party must appeal to some traditions, some program, something in the past and present and something proposed for the future. Whoever appeals to the Army likewise. And to the Secret Police the same. If the struggle is prolonged and enlarged, there are other reserves of power to be tapped: the moribund trade unions, the regions and nationalities, the local party members, the nascent esprit de corps of officials and technicians, the kolkhozes, the factories. In any case the struggle to replace the charismatic leader with another of the same type is inseparable from the total state. And, overt or covert, the struggle is bound to smolder for a long time.

If ever these power levers are to be used not merely as make-weights but brought into play as actual levers of power, then anything might happen. Then the Empire, which cannot take orders from an upstart as easily as it could from Stalin, may regain its independent life. The Soviet peoples, so long in chains, may then recover their freedom, while the outside world, safe only when Russia is democratic once more, may regain its lost hope of a genuine, just and enduring peace.

But the current "peace talk" must not be confused with such genuine peace. The men in the Kremlin are moving from weakness and the uncertainties of their internal struggle. As during the famine of the early twenties, they made their strategic retreats of the NEP and offered "concessions" to foreigners; as during the Anti-Comintern Axis they talked "Stalinist Constitution" plus "Popular Front;" as during the first onslaught of Hitler's invasion they "abolished" the Comintern; so once more they are moving from weakness and talking "peace." But during the NEP Lenin completed the political foundations of the total state. The Stalinist Constitution was translated into life by the blood purges. The abolition of the Comintern was accompanied by the dispatch of its agents into the "liberated" countries to turn them into "People's Democracies." And once more, the very decrees of amnesty, and of justice to the doctors, contain menacing phrases about renewed "vigilance" and are accompanied by a fresh wave of purges, while the "peace talk" on Korea is given its real meaning in a fresh "limited global war" in Laos, and the setting up of a "Thai Autonomous Government" in Yunan, China, with irredenta claims in Laos, Burma and Thailand. The very Pravda of April 25 which printed President Eisenhower's appeal for peace declared that the Kremlin will not "halt the liberating movement of Asia's colonial and semi-colonial peoples" and that the forces driving into Laos are "the People's Liberating Army of Patet-Lao."

Still totalitarianism's difficulty, whether writ large or small, is freedom's opportunity. The world, in this writer's judgment, except for the dangers which may spring from its own failures to understand what it is watching, is safer for the moment while a régime based on total force and total dictatorship goes through its convulsive struggles to solve the insoluble problem of a "legal" and "peaceful" succession in a system that knows neither law nor peace.

[i] The words were "razbrod i panika." Razbrod means disarray or disorder. It is stronger and has a wider sweep than our word, confusion. Panic has the same meaning in both languages.

[ii] He doubtless set up a smaller, extra-legal body of men on the spot to consult with, not unlike the old Politburo.

[iii] The satellite and foreign Communist press also took it for granted that Malenkov was being made into a new Stalin. Typical is the American Communist journal, Political Affairs, carrying material prepared in early March for its April issue. Of the three funeral orations, Political Affairs found room only for Malenkov's. And William Z. Foster wrote the lead article under the title: "Malenkov at the Helm." In it eight separate passages indicated that Malenkov was regarded as the successor. A few quotes will show the spirit of the article: "The prompt election of Georgi Malenkov to Stalin's post. . . . This (Marxist-Leninist) training constitutes the best possible preparation for the heavy tasks of leadership that have now come to Malenkov. . . . His superb Marxist-Leninist training and his high natural ability will make him a giant. . . . Today as Malenkov becomes the outstanding leader of the Party and the Government . . . Malenkov at the head of the Government . . ."

By the May issue, prepared in early April, Mr. Foster had repented of his rashness to the extent that in an article on "Stalin and the Co-existence of the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A.," he does not even bring in the appropriate quotation from Malenkov's statement on Stalin's policy of "coexistence" in the funeral oration.

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