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Malenkov's Downfall - 1955

Malenkov retained the office of premier for two years. During these years, he was vocal about his opposition to nuclear armament, declaring "a nuclear war could lead to global destruction." He also advocated refocusing the economy on the production of consumer goods and away from heavy industry, something his successor Nikita Khrushchev (1955 – 1964) would escalate.

He was forced to resign, in February 1955, after he came under attack for his closeness to Beria (who was executed as a traitor in December 1953) and for the slow pace of reforms, particularly when it came to rehabilitating political prisoners. Malenkov remained in the Politburo's successor, the Presidium.

In the 23 months since Stalin's death, Khrushchev moved from fifth position in the listings of the all-powerful Party Presidium to a position of top influence in the USSR. The stage for his rapid rise was set in March of 1953, when Malenkov resigned from the Party Secretariat, leaving Khrushchev as senior man on the body that exercises immediate supervision over the-powerful Party apparatus and controls most personnel appointments. It was the vehicle for Stalin's rise to power in the 1920's.

Following the purge of Beria in July of 1953, Khrushchev moved up to number three position in the listing of the Party Presidium, Then, in September of that year, a plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee made him First Secretary of the Party and heard his report detailing the important new agricultural program.

The "resignation" of G.M.Malenkov as Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers on 08 February 1955 climaxed a long period witnessing the rise of N.S.Khrushchev to pre-eminence among the Soviet leaders, and more immediately, a period manifesting signs of controversy among the top leaders of the Soviet Union. There may have been an element of resentment, and perhaps even revenge, on the part of the older members of the Presidium, several of whom were "old Bolsheviks" against the younger "upstart" Malenkov.

The month preceding Malenkov's demotion was marked by authoritative Party attacks against "perversions" of the Party line, allegedly favoring equal or higher rates of growth in light industry as compared with heavy industry. References were made to "rightist deviation" in this connection. A "Stalinist" tone had developed in the political atmosphere of the Party line - there was the emphasis on heavy industry; the references to "right deviation"; numerous references to a foreign danger to the USSR and the Soviet bloc; and justification of the heavy industry line on the grounds of increasing the military might of the USSR. Also, late in January a Plenary Session of the Central Committee was held, and it was announced that the Supreme Soviet was to convene on 03 February 1955. The date set for the Supreme Soviet was a month earlier than usual, and this fact, conjoint with the other indications noted, created an expectation that important decisions would be announced.

The Supreme Soviet session itself first witnessed important revisions of the USSR budget, as compared with the 1953 and 1954 budgets. Significant changes were a substantial increase in overt defense expenditures, a leveling-off of capital investment, and a substantial retrenchment in allocation for light industry.

In this setting, the world was electrified on 08 February 1955 by the presentation to the Supreme Soviet of a letter of "resignation" from Malenkov. This letter is of considerable interest in itself, and the text invites certain commentary. Malenkov based his "request" on "the necessity of strengthening the leadership" of the Council of Ministers and "the expediency of having in this ... post .. another comrade who has greater experience." Further, Malenkov admitted that his performance was "negatively affected" by "insufficient experience in local work" and by the fact that he did not earlier "effect direct guidance of individual branches of the national economy."

These remarks, while not exactly false, are not fully true. Malenkov, although he never possessed the formal title of Minister, did in fact direct "individual branches" of the national economy: during the war he was responsible for aircraft production; from 1943 until at least 1946 he was responsible for reconstruction in war-devastated areas; from 1947 to 1953 he held high-level responsibility for agriculture. Also, from 1948 to March 1953, he was the top Secretary, under Stalin that is, of the Central Committee.

A number of differing interpretations were advanced in the West to explain the demotion of Malenkov in February 1955 from his position as Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers.

At one end of the spectrum of interpretation is the view that Malenkov's demotion represented his defeat in a struggle for personal power, with little or no conflict over matters of domestic or foreign policy involved, At the other extreme is the view that sharp conflict existed or developed over policy problems, that in some manner the conflict on these, problems came to a crisis, and Malenkov's ouster represented the resolution of this crisis. A third interpretation involves a "scapegoat" theory, according to which continued failures in Soviet agriculture or consumer goods production required that someone be "served up" as responsible for the failures.

There are numerous variants of these basic hypotheses. Variants of the power struggle theory range from rivalry of the individuals to rivalry of cliques and groups; from development of rivalry for heritage of Stalin's mantle to the working out of long-standing enmities rooted deep in the past.

Of the policy conflict hypothesis, different versions attribute primary significance to foreign policy issues - Germany, Communist China, over-all assessment of the contemporary situation; to domestic issues - agricultural problems and policies, light versus heavy industry, short-term military requirements versus longer-run strengthening of the economy; and so on. Under the "scape goat" theory, one version is that the regime failed in its "new course" program for the consumer; another is that continued failure radically to improve agriculture required that someone be blamed.

Some analysts have attempted to avoid attributing undue significance to any one factor or several factors, and instead view the ouster of Malenkov as resulting from the interaction of all of the various factors. The problem, in this view, is to attempt to trace out the pattern and mutually reciprocal interactions of the various causal factors.

It is interesting to recall that several sources averred that Malenkov's political decline in 1946 resulted from charges by his political enemies of inefficiency and lack of foresight in Soviet aircraft manufacture, planning and development. Also, Malenkov's leadership in reconstruction of war damage is believed to have involved him in serious conflicts with other top Soviet leaders in 1945 and 1946 and to have been one of the political issues connected with his decline in 1946.

It is also interesting to compare Malenkov's experience in directing "branches" of the economy with Bulganin's succeeded him as Premier. Although Bulganin had been a director of Gosbank and was Minister of Defense from 1947 to 1949, he had no more experience at the USSR Council of Ministers level than Malenkov.

Malenkov added that only this course can result in a real "upsurge" in production of "all commodities essential for popular consumption." Interestingly, this reference to heavy industry is the only reflection, in the whole official public documentation of Malenkov's demotion, of a presumed inner-Party controversy concerning the respective rates of growth of light and heavy industry. There is no real reason not to believe that Malenkov personally espoused the so-called-"consumer goods" program. Yet Khrushchev had tagged advocates of preferential development of light industry as "right deviationists."

The actual circumstances of Malenkov's ouster are unknown. It seems almost certain, however, that the matter was decided at the Central Committee plenum. held from 25 through 31 January 1955.

According to one account, Foreign Minister Molotov attacked Malenkov at the Central Committee; Khrushchev was allegedly absent that day. Molotov charged that Malenkov as Prime Minister had brought confusion in the Soviet economy by overemphasis on consumer goods production. The important matters were apportionment of vital raw materials and of skilled technical workers. Molotov asserted that Malenkov was disregarding or exceeding the instructions of the Central Committee. Furthermore, according to this story, Molotov said that Malenkov had encouraged government workers in various economic ministries to disregard the Party representatives. Malenkov's policies, at which point Malenkov lost his temper and walked out.

A 31 January 1955 Central Committee Resolution, signed by "all of the members of the Presidium" (including Malenkov?) was reported to have contained the following accusations:

" a. Malenkov lacked decisiveness and experience to direct the government. He had handled a number of important foreign and domestic policy matters incompetently.

b. Malenkov had been politically "near-sighted." He had been under the influence of Beria, supported him, and had been blind to the significance of Beria's proposal to halt efforts to socialize East Germany and to permit reunification of Germany as a "bourgeois" buffer state. Malenkov permitted Beria's "adventuristic" schemes to take place: specifically the "Leningrad Affair" and the "Yakovlev Affair." He likewise permitted Beria's rural program to be carried out.

c. Malenkov's emphasis on light industry implied a retardation of the tempo of heavy industrial production. This was a "rightist deviation".

d. Malenkov attempted to seize complete control of the Party and government. "

The Leningrad Affair (1949-53) was the most destructive purge of the Soviet elite in the last decade of Stalin's rule. Stalin was always suspicious of Russia's former capital. His suspicions were fed by two of the main contenders for power, Lavrentii Beria and Georgii Malenkov. In 1946 Stalin gave Zhdanov the task of denouncing two of Leningrad's leading writers, Anna Akhmatova and Mikhail Zoshchenko, as part of a vicious campaign against 'bourgeois formalism' in Soviet culture known to history as the Zhdanovshchina. In August Zhdanov died, and deprived of Zhdanov's protection, Kuznetsov, Voznesensky, Leningrad's current leaders, PS Popkov and YF Lazutin, and former Leningrad officials including MI Rodionov, prime minister of the Russian Republic, were arrested on trumped-up charges in 1949. After long interrogations and brief secret trials, they were shot in October 1950. The Leningrad party organisation was purged, and some 2,000 people imprisoned or exiled.

Aleksandr Yakovlev was one of the few aircraft designers who survived the times of Stalin’s Great Purge of 1936-1938. He had a close relationship with Joseph Stalin. His close relationship with Stalin was behind the heavy criticism faced by Yakovlev. Some say Yakovlev was involved in the case of Andrey Tupolev. The most active source of information about the 'questionable' aspects of Tupolev’s work was Yakovlev.

Subandrio, the Indonesian ambassador to the USSR, reported a polemic that was startling and practically unprecedented, in that one Soviet leader discussed another Soviet leader with a foreign representative.

Khrushchev was quite critical of Malenkov's administration. He apparently accused Malenkov of "bureaucratic methods," and also of placing reliance on the state apparatus, rather than upon the Party and Party channels. Khrushchev reportedly stated that a wrong course had been adopted in dealing with the problem of demand. Malenkov had created demands in the Soviet people without having created the capacity for satisfying them. It was now clear that the only proper method of raising the standard of living was through continued emphasis on the development of heavy industry.

On foreign matters, so it is reported, Khrushchev stated that Malenkov had not been sufficiently "strong." He did not know exactly what he wanted; he was uncertain, weak and confused. Khrushchev asserted that the firmer tone of the Soviet attitude in foreign affairs, as compared with the "previous government," should not be taken to reflect aggressive intentions, but was designed to "sober" aggressive circles abroad, . especially in the United States. Khrushchev reportedly added in this connection that the Soviet Union was not afraid of US bases, since the US must be aware that the USSR could destroy these bases with "a blow."

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Page last modified: 02-05-2016 14:27:16 ZULU