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The Malenkov Regime

Stalin's death marked the end of an era in the history of Russia as well as in international relations. With the death of Stalin came a modicum of political relaxation, especially for the ranking strata of the Communist party. The Damocles sword that had hung over their heads so long was no more. The autocratic rule had to give way to another type of government which was, however, still an orthodox Communist one. Power, which had belonged to one man, aided by a "sextet" or "septet," was now to be vested in the Central Committee of the Communist party, a body of 125 members and 110 alternates, a total of 235 men and women.

The Central Committee was once more important and its decisions effective. This was viewed as a return to Leninist traditions. Members of the Central Committee were now free to utter their opinions and to vote in accord with their orientation; discussion and disputes, though strictly limited to this group, became possible.

At first it appeared natural and logical, at least to the party's rank and file, that the Malenkov-Molotov-Beria trio, who for a long time had been viewed as the outstanding leaders after Stalin, would assume the most important posts. In fact, Malenkov, for a long time a secretary of the Central Committee and the best-informed man on current affairs, was made premier; Molotov replaced the despised Vyshinsky in the Foreign Office; and Beria again concentrated in his hands the police ministries. Molotov, however, proved to be not sufficiently dynamic and for several months the most important roles were played by Malenkov and Beria.

Before Beria's fall a new grouping of leaders in the framework of the Central Committee had been taking place; the fight in the committee was to engender bitterness, hatred, and passion, and lead to the elimination of the best-known old leaders from the ruling bodies of the party and the government. One group, at first the stronger, headed by Malenkov, counted among its members Molotov and Kaganovich; in a way they were the "conservatives," the cautious and hesitating elements, not prepared to deviate too far from tradition in internal and foreign affairs.

To the other group, which was headed by the rising Khrushchev, belonged Mikoyan and Bulganin; more aggressive, they were inclined to make substantial changes in politics and economics and carry out the "de-Stalinization" in a more vigorous way.

In 1946, Malenkov reportedly came under fire, for ineptitude and lack of foresight in his wartime direction of the Soviet aircraft industry. Furthermore, the program for dismantling of industry in occupied areas which was under Malenkov's direction, was badly mismanaged and many losses, both industrial and political, were incurred as a result of this program. At the very least, there was evidence of confusion and lack of decisiveness in top government circles and of a strong and effective interplay of rival interests.

Since Malenkov's demotion Khrushchev seemed to have obtained a freer hand in guiding policy, although not to the point of independence from the other leaders, and to have become more firmly entrenched in the party apparatus. There is some reason to suppose, also, that he has managed to strengthen his ties within the police apparatus and the armed forces, and may be able to count on greater support from that direction than before.

However, there were almost certainly many men left in important positions who were indebted to Malenkov, and there was no sign that a full open season had been declared on them. The search for effective leadership of the agricultural and industrial program was the most plausible explanation of some of the personnel changes which had taken place and probably had some influence even in those cases where the political motive was most clear.

While Khrushchev became the spearhead of both domestic and foreign policy, he did not appear to have the power to make unilateral decisions either in respect to policy or to personnel appointments.

Malenkov's status resisted clear-cut definition. It is uncertain whether his immediate and complete elimination from the top ranks of the regime was considered impossible or merely undesirable. It may have been ruled out on the grounds that it would have disturbed a precarious political balance or because it would have presented an undesirable picture of division and instability, thus undermining Soviet prestige at home and abroad. Malenkov was still formally a member of the USSR's topmost ruling body and, as such, continued to take his place beside other Presidium members at public functions. He was, however, the only member of the Party Presidium who sat on the Council of Ministers without the rank of First Deputy Chairman.

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Page last modified: 02-05-2016 14:27:17 ZULU