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(Molotov conveniently neglected to mention that this was precisely the position he himself had long supported.) To be on the safe side, the words “and under the control of the four powers” were omitted from the stenographic account, thus implying that Beria had wanted the Soviet Union simply to abandon East Germany. Numerous other changes of this sort were made, including some of much greater length. All of them were designed to bring even greater discredit upon Beria.
For most of the other plenums as well, extensive changes were made in the transcripts before stenographic accounts were issued. In some cases lengthy portions were rewritten, and several new paragraphs or even new pages were added. On occasion, entirely new speeches were inserted.23 The finished product is valuable, indeed essential, for scholars to consult, but it can be highly misleading unless it is compared with the verbatim transcript. Only the author's copy" permits researchers to examine simultaneously the original proceedings and the subsequent editing 24 if that version is not available, it is important to look at both the "uncorrected stenogram" and the “stenographic account.” In a few cases (e.g., the December 1959 plenum) these two versions do not differ markedly, but in the large majority of cases the differences can be of great importance.
were told by the highest party authorities, went along obediently this time as well.
The stenographic account of the July 1953 plenum was declassified and published in early 1991, and it has been cited by many Western and Russian scholars since then. 19 Unfortunately, most of these scholars have failed to take due account of the context of the plenum. Rather than seeing the plenum for what it was—namely, an attempt by Beria's rivals to rationalize their actions by blaming the ousted security chief for a host of purported "crimes”— many researchers have taken at face value the allegations made against Beria. This has been especially true of the claims about Beria's supposed effort to destroy the people's democratic regime in [East Germany]." Beria's real views about Germany in the spring of 1953 bore little resemblance to the accusations lodged against him. It was Molotov, not Beria, who had taken the lead in forging the new Soviet policy toward Germany after Stalin's death, and all the other top Soviet officials, including Beria, had supported him.20 The views attributed to Beria were contrived by Molotov to gloss over his own responsibility for having drastically reshaped Soviet Deutschlandpolitik just before the June 1953 uprising in East Germany. Numerous Western and Russian scholars who have used the published stenographic account of the July 1953 plenum have been far too accepting of Molotov's tendentious portrayal of Beria and Germany.21
The misunderstandings that have arisen from the declassified account of the July 1953 Central Committee plenum underscore the need for circumspection when drawing on the materials in Fond 2. Unless scholars constantly bear in mind the purpose and context of each plenum, they risk going astray in their interpretations of substantive issues as well as of the dynamics of Soviet policy-making.
One additional problem that researchers may encounter when using the new plenum materials is the distortions that sometimes crept in during the editing of the Central Committee transcripts. As noted above, Fond 2 contains two or more versions of most of the plenums. For research purposes, the most useful version is the “author's copy," which contains a verbatim transcript with handwritten changes and handwritten or typed insertions. This version of the transcript enables scholars to see both the original proceedings and the changes that senior officials wanted to make. If scholars consult only the "corrected copy" or the "stenographic account," they are likely to miss some important nuances in the original proceedings. For example, by the time a stenographic account was issued for the July 1953 plenum, numerous modifications had been made to cast as sinister a light as possible on Beria's actions. A comparison with the verbatim transcript shows that, among other things, Beria's views about Germany were depicted in far more extreme terms in the edited account. At one point in the verbatim transcript, Molotov claimed that Beria had supported a united Germany "which will be peaceloving and under the control of the
Selected Plenum Highlights
Most of the Central Committee plenums between 1941 and 1966 had no direct bearing on foreign policy. Instead they focused on agricultural policy, economic problems, local party management, and the like. A number of the plenums, however, dealt at length with foreign policy issues. Some plenums covered two or more topics, both external and internal, whereas other plenums focused exclusively on important foreign developments. Plenums that approved changes (or impending changes) in the leadership, as in March 1953, July 1953, January 1955, June 1957, October 1957, and October 1964, also are of great importance for studies of the Cold War. In a brief article of this sort it would be impossible to give an exhaustive overview of the many issues covered by the plenums, but a few highlights will suffice to indicate how rich some of the material is.
Intensity of the Post-Stalin Leadership Struggle
One of the most intriguing aspects of the plenums from 1953 through 1957 is what they reveal about the leadership struggle. Western observers had long surmised that a fierce struggle was under way behind the scenes, but the only direct evidence for this at the time was the occasional announcement that a senior official had been dismissed or demoted. The declassified transcripts of Central Committee plenums, as well as other new documents and first-hand accounts, reveal that the leadership struggle was even more intense than most analysts had suspected. At some plenums, notably those in July 1953, when the Central Committee denounced Beria, in January
1955, when Malenkov came under sharp criticism prior to his dismissal as prime minister, in February 1956, when preparations were under way for Khrushchev's “secret speech” condemning Stalin, in June 1957, when Khrushchev ousted the Anti-Party Group, and in October 1957, when Khrushchev removed his erstwhile ally and defense minister, Marshal Georgii Zhukov, the leadership struggle dominated the sessions. Yet even at plenums that were ostensibly convened for other reasons, the ferocity of the leadership struggle often affected the entire proceedings.
One of the best examples came at the lengthy plenum in July 1955, which focused on several topics, including the recent rapprochement with Yugoslavia. [Ed. Note: For extensive excerpts, see below in this Bulletin.] During the debate about Yugoslavia, one of Khrushchev's chief rivals, Vyacheslav Molotov, came under fierce attack. At this juncture, barely a year-and-a-half after Beria had been executed, the prospect of losing out in the power struggle still implied potentially grave risks. Even so, Molotov largely held his ground and only grudgingly, at the very end of the plenum, sought to propitiate his attackers. The segment of the plenum that dealt with Yugoslavia featured a lengthy (138-page) opening speech by Khrushchev, which provided a detailed, highly informative (albeit selective and tendentious) overview of the reasons for the Soviet-Yugoslav split under Stalin.25 (Much of the blame was laid on the provocative role of Beria and Abakumov.”) Toward the end of the speech, Khrushchev revealed to the Central Committee that the Presidium had “unanimously” decided to report that Molotov had “consistently adopted an incorrect position" on the Yugoslav question and had “refused to disavow his incorrect views.”26 Khrushchev read aloud the Presidium's conclusion that “Com. Molotov's position on the Yugoslav matter does not serve the interests of the Soviet state and the socialist camp and does not conform with the principles of Leninist policy."
Khrushchev's comments touched off a spate of denunciations of Molotov's views on Yugoslavia. One such attack came from Georgii Malenkov, who, despite having lost his post as prime minister four months earlier, was still a key figure on the CPSU Presidium:
played a huge and decisive role in bringing about the split with Yugoslavia.” Malenkov noted that Molotov had “blatantly disregarded the instructions of the CC Presidium” during the preparations for the rapprochement with Yugoslavia, adding that “this is typical of him.” Molotov's views, according to Malenkov, were "weakening the forces of the camp of socialism and strengthening the forces of the imperialist camp.” Malenkov "demanded from (Molotov) a full-fledged explanation and a statement about his obligation to rectify his behavior and to disavow his erroneous views in an unequivocal manner.”
"28 Some of the other condemnations of Molotov during the sessions on Yugoslavia extended far beyond the Yugoslav question alone. Maksim Saburov argued that Molotov's “ridiculous” position on Yugoslavia was “one in a long series of issues on which Com. Molotov does not agree with the CC Presidium.” Saburov cited the virgin lands scheme (which, he said, Molotov believed would be a “largely ineffective and dubious pursuit"), the new planning system for agriculture, the negotiations on the Austrian State Treaty, and the appointment of a new prime minister as issues “on which Com. Molotov disagreed with the principled and correct stance adopted by the CC Presidium.'
Saburov claimed that Molotov's "deviations” on these matters were far from innocent, being "directed against Com. Khrushchev. . . . I personally believe that Com. Molotov regards Com. Khrushchev as an unsuitable official.” Saburov then likened Molotov to Beria and implied that Khrushchev should deal with Molotov in the same way they had treated Beria:
I don't want to say that Com. Molotov is simply repeating what Beria said; I'm not equating him with Beria, but this is indeed like what we heard from Beria. Com. Molotov, by the logic of his struggle, objected to any question considered by the CC that had been proposed—coincidentally or not so coincidentally—by Com. Khrushchev. I believe that one might draw the conclusion that Com. Molotov would not be objecting to these proposals if Com. Khrushchev did not enjoy the level of trust and support that everyone has in him.
If we speak about Com. Molotov's main mistake, I would
it is that, contrary to new facts and contrary to everything that has happened over the past two years—and contrary to the overwhelmingly positive results that the CC Presidium has achieved from the steps it has taken to develop friendly relations with Yugoslavia-contrary to all this, he persists in embracing the position laid out by him and by Comrade Stalin in 1948-1949 in their letters to the Yugoslav leadership.
Coming so soon after the execution of Beria, Saburov's statements clearly were intended as a threat, which may well have been coordinated with Khrushchev. On some matters, Saburov certainly was acting at Khrushchev's behest, and the whole speech was designed not only to deprecate Molotov, but to bolster Khrushchev's standing. Saburov insisted that he was not trying to give undue glory to Com. Khrushchev; he doesn't need that sort of glorification. We know that he commands trust not only in the Presidium, but in our whole party," a line that drew sustained applause.
By the end of the plenum, when sharp exchanges ensued between Khrushchev and Molotov just before Khrushchev's closing speech (which “condemned the line
Malenkov emphasized that “Com. Molotov still does not acknowledge that his errors in the tactics of struggle
advanced by Com. Molotov as inimical to our party and a non-Leninist and sectarian position"), it was clear that Molotov had experienced a major setback. But what is perhaps most striking, in view of the intense criticism Molotov encountered, is that he was able to hold onto his position for another two years and that he very nearly won out over Khrushchev in June 1957. The transcript of the July 1955 plenum thus provides crucial evidence that Khrushchev, despite having consolidated his position a good deal, had by no means overcome his most formidable challenger. Anyone who could withstand and recover from the attacks that Molotov endured during the July 1955 plenum was obviously well-suited to be a constant threat.
Fissures in the Communist World (1): Yugoslavia and
Quite apart from what the plenum documents reveal about the post-Stalin leadership struggle, they shed intriguing light on the priorities of Soviet foreign policy. One thing that quickly becomes evident from the 822 files in Opis' I is the importance that CPSU officials attached to ideological relations with other Communist countries. Although no plenums dealt at length with the crises in East Germany in 1953 and Poland and Hungary in 1956 (in contrast to the much more prolonged crisis with Czechoslovakia in 1968-69, which was the main subject of three separate plenums), numerous plenums during the Khrushchev and early Brezhnev periods focused exclusively, or at least extensively, on the nettlesome problem of relations with Yugoslavia, China, and the world Communist movement. The momentous decision to seek a rapprochement with Yugoslavia in May 1955 was regarded as such an abrupt and, from the ideological standpoint, potentially disorienting change of course that Soviet leaders believed they should explain the move to the full Central Committee. 31 At a plenum in July 1955, Khrushchev and numerous other Presidium members laid out the basic rationale—that “because of serious mistakes we lost Yugoslavia (my poteryali Yugoslaviyu) and the enemy camp has begun to lure that country over to its side"--and emphasized the "enormous importance of winning back our former loyal ally.” Not surprisingly, the Central Committee voted unanimously in support of the Presidium's actions.
Similarly, in later years when tensions reemerged with Yugoslavia (in large part because of the crises in 1956), Khrushchev and his colleagues again believed it wise to explain these tensions to the Central Committee. One such occasion came in December 1957, when a plenum was convened to inform Central Committee members about a two-part conference held in Moscow the previous month to mark the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik takeover. The leaders of the thirteen ruling Communist parties had been invited to the first part of the conference on 14-16 November, but Yugoslav officials had declined to take part. When the other twelve parties met and issued a statement reaffirming the CPSU's preeminent role in the
world Communist movement, Yugoslav leaders refused to endorse it.32 At the CPSU Central Committee plenum a few weeks after the conference, one of the highest-ranking party officials, Mikhail Suslov, who was broadly responsible for ideology and intra-bloc relations, explained to the members that “Yugoslavia's failure to participate ... attests to the continuing ideological disagreements between the League of Communists of Yugoslavia [LCY] and the other Communist parties of the socialist countries. -33
He cited several areas in which “ideological disagreements remain:” the “unwillingness of the Yugoslav comrades to speak about a socialist camp, especially a socialist camp headed by the Soviet Union”; the desire of the Yugoslav authorities to “play their own special and exalted role between West and East”; and the “unduly close relationship” Yugoslavia had established with the United States, a country that was “applying pressure" on the Yugoslavs to serve as a counterweight to the Soviet Union.” Although he insisted that “we have not retreated, and will not retreat, one step from our fundamental positions,” he assured the Central Committee that “Yugoslavia's failure to sign the Declaration does not mean that our relations have deteriorated. ... There is no need to stir up new tensions. "34
When the matter came up again five months later, at a plenum on 7 May 1958, Soviet officials were less accommodating. Although the plenum dealt mostly with other matters, Khrushchev initiated a discussion about Yugoslavia toward the end of the third session.35 He argued that the recent LCY congress had been a “step back toward revisionist, anti-party, and anti-Marxist positions, and he condemned Yugoslavia's close ties with Imre Nagy, the Hungarian leader who had been removed during the Soviet invasion of Hungary in November 1956 and who was put to death in Hungary in June 1958, a few weeks after the CPSU Central Committee plenum. Khrushchev also denounced statements by the Yugoslav leader, Josip Broz Tito, particularly a speech Tito had given in Pula on 11 November 1956, which raised serious concerns about the Soviet intervention in Hungary. Khrushchev informed the Central Committee that the CPSU Presidium had decided not to send a delegation to the LCY congress after the Yugoslavs had changed the agenda at the last minute. He received lengthy applause from the Central Committee when he affirmed that the Soviet Union would continue to offer "principled and constructive criticism" of Yugoslav policy whenever necessary.
It may seem peculiar that Khrushchev would have included these detailed comments about Yugoslavia after a plenum that had dealt with agricultural policy, but his remarks are indicative of the efforts that Soviet leaders made to ensure strong, unwavering support within the CPSU for the latest ideological twists and turns in relations with Yugoslavia. This is one of many instances in which documents from the former Soviet archives reveal that Yugoslavia was a more important factor for Soviet leaders during the Cold War than most Western observers had
The plenum documents also reveal that Yugoslavia was not the only East European country that complicated Moscow's efforts in the late 1950s to unite the world Communist movement under explicit Soviet leadership. The standoff with Poland in October 1956 had induced Khrushchev to reach a modus vivendi with the Polish leader, Wladyslaw Gomulka, which provided for Poland's continued status as a loyal member of the Soviet political and military bloc.37 This arrangement was briefly strained in late October and early November 1956 when Gomulka insisted on the withdrawal of Marshal Konstantin Rokossowski, the Soviet officer who had been serving as Polish defense minister for the previous seven years; but Khrushchev eventually acceded to Gomulka's demand. Despite this breakthrough, the plenum materials confirm that Soviet-Polish relations were still marred by occasional frictions. Suslov's report at the December 1957 plenum indicated that the Polish representatives at the world conference of Communist parties in Moscow had been at odds with the Soviet Union on several key issues:
ments, both Suslov and Khrushchev acknowledged that “the important thing is that the Polish comrades in the end signed the Declaration, which undoubtedly will have an enormous impact in Poland.”
In subsequent years, especially after the emergence of the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s, Gomulka came more closely into line with the Soviet point of view. Even so, the plenum materials indicate that Khrushchev remained concerned that the defiance Gomulka displayed in 1956 and the unorthodox positions he adopted in 1957 might someday resurface.
During the preparation of the documents-the Declaration and the Peace Manifesto—the Polish comrades tried to introduce their own slant by ensuring there was no reference to the leading role of the Soviet Union and by avoiding harsh attacks against imperialism, especially against American imperialism. They steadfastly objected to the passage in the Declaration that said American imperialism has become the center of international reaction. The Polish comrades argued that the peculiar circumstances they face in Poland do not yet enable them to embrace the formula "under the leadership of the Soviet Union.” They claimed that the Declaration is supposedly too bellicose a document and that it could damage relations with the imperialists. 38
Fissures in the Communist World (II): China and Albania
As important as the ideological challenge posed by Yugoslavia may have been, it was nothing compared to the rift that emerged with China at the end of the 1950s. From December 1959 on, an inordinately large number of Central Committee plenums were devoted to the subject of China and the world Communist movement. At a plenum on 22-26 December 1959, Suslov presented a detailed report on the trip by a Soviet party-state delegation to the People's Republic of China" in October 1959.40 This report, which had been commissioned by the CPSU Presidium on 15 October (shortly after Khrushchev and the other members of the delegation had returned to Moscow) and was approved in a draft version by the Presidium on 18 December, gave many Central Committee members the first direct inkling they had received of how serious the incipient problems with China were. Although Suslov's report did not feature the strident rhetoric and harsh polemics that would soon characterize Sino-Soviet relations, he spoke at length about the “dangerously foolish ideas of the Chinese comrades," the "egregious economic and intra-party mistakes committed by the Chinese comrades," and the “acute disagreements” between Moscow and Beijing on “basic matters of socialist construction."
In addition to highlighting ideological differences, Suslov enumerated many “foreign policy issues on which major disagreements have surfaced between us and the Chinese comrades," including Mao Zedong's rhetorical dismissal of nuclear weapons as “a paper tiger” (a claim that, in Suslov's view, was "leading the Chinese people to believe that a nuclear war would be an easy matter and that no preparations were needed"); China's aversion to peaceful coexistence with the United States (a policy that, according to Suslov, Chinese leaders “regard as merely a convenient tactical maneuver” rather than a “profound Leninist principle”); China's clumsy handling of negotiations with Japan; the recent exacerbation of tensions between China and India despite Moscow's efforts to mediate (efforts which, Suslov complained, had “not been matched by the requisite understanding on the part of Chinese leaders” because “the Chinese comrades cannot properly evaluate their own mistakes”); and the deterioration of China's relations with Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, and other East Asian countries (a trend that, in Suslov's
Suslov also complained that the Polish delegation's draft of the so-called Peace Manifesto, the document that was due to be approved by the 64 Communist parties attending the second phase of the conference (on 16-19 November), was "seriously deficient" because it made no mention of where the threat of war originated." He emphasized that the “document prepared by the Polish comrades had to be drastically revised" because “the representatives of the other fraternal parties (including the CPSU) did not support the Polish comrades on even a single point that they raised.”
Suslov did not directly impugn the motives of the Polish authorities, but he maintained that “these allusions to some sort of special circumstances in their country don't seem particularly convincing." Khrushchev, for his part, implied that the main reason Polish officials did not want to antagonize the United States is that they were uncertain whether U.S. banks would still give credits" to Poland if relations deteriorated. 39 Despite these skeptical com
view, had left China “isolated in the international arena"). Of particular interest were Suslov's comments about Mao's “completely incomprehensible” retreat during the Sino-American crisis that erupted in August 1958 when China began bombarding the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu in the Taiwan Straits:
report may have left some Central Committee members wondering whether relations with China could really be mended, at least while Mao Zedong remained in power:
We [in Moscow) regarded it as our internationalist duty to come out decisively in support of the fraternal Chinese people, with whom our country is bound by alliance obligations. According to secret documents that we had intercepted, it had become clear that the ruling circles in America were already psychologically prepared to relinquish the offshore islands to the PRC. However, after precipitating an extreme situation in the vicinity of the offshore islands and making farreaching statements, the Chinese comrades backed down at the critical moment. ... It is obvious that in backing down, the Chinese comrades squandered things. The perception abroad was that they had caved in 41
It has to be said that all the mistakes and shortcomings in the internal and foreign policies of the Chinese Communist Party can be explained in large part by the cult of personality surrounding Com. Mao Zedong. Formally, the CC of the Chinese Communist Party abides by the norms of collective leadership, but in reality the most important decisions are made by one man and therefore are often plagued by subjectivism and, in some instances, are simply ill-conceived. By all appearances, the glorification of Mao Zedong in China has been growing inexorably. More and more often, statements appear in the party press that “we Chinese live in the great era of Mao Zedong." Comrade Mao Zedong is depicted as a great leader and a genius. They call him the beacon, who is shining the way to Communism and is the embodiment of the ideas of Communism. The name of Mao Zedong is equated with the party, and vice versa. The works of Com. Mao Zedong are presented in China as the final word of creative Marxism and are placed on a par with the classic works of Marxism-Leninism.... All of this, unfortunately, impresses Com. Mao Zedong, who, judging from everything, is himself convinced of his own infallibility. This is reminiscent of the situation that existed in our country during the final years of J. V. Stalin. We, of course, weren't able to speak with the Chinese comrades about this, but the (CPSU] plenum must be aware of these aspects of life in the Chinese Communist Party. 44
In all these respects, Suslov argued, "the Chinese comrades are at odds with the common foreign policy line of the socialist camp. The lack of needed coordination between the two most powerful Communist parties on questions of foreign policy is abnormal.":42
After recounting this litany of “serious disagreements," Suslov emphasized that long-standing efforts to increase the appearance and reality of unity within the socialist camp made it imperative to curtail China's deviations in foreign policy:
The incorrect actions of one of the socialist countries affects the international situation of the entire socialist camp. We must bear in mind that imperialist propaganda directly links the actions of the Chinese comrades with the policy of the USSR and other socialist countries. And indeed, our Communist parties, too, always emphasize that the socialist camp has only one foreign policy course.
Suslov declared that the Soviet Union would try to restore "complete unity" by continuing to express our candid opinions about the most important questions affecting our common interests when our views do not coincide." Although the aim would be to bring China back into line with the USSR, Suslov argued that if these efforts failed, the CPSU Presidium would “stick by the positions that our party believes are correct.”
Throughout the report, Suslov insisted that the disagreements were not yet irreparable. He noted several measures that could rapidly improve Sino-Soviet ties, and he pledged that the CPSU Presidium would do all it could to “strengthen and develop Soviet-Chinese friendship and unity” on the basis of “Leninist principles of equality and mutual cooperation." Nevertheless, a key passage in his
This part of Suslov's report went well beyond any previous statements that Soviet leaders had made in forums larger than the CPSU Presidium. Up to this point, Soviet officials had said nothing in public about the problems with China, and even in private Moscow's criticism of Mao had been subdued. Despite Suslov's willingness to voice much stronger complaints at the Central Committee plenum, he indicated that a low-key policy should be maintained in public. Although he acknowledged that the Soviet Union would not praise or overlook what it believed to be "profound mistakes," he averred that “we shouldn't engage in direct criticism, since this would lead to an unnecessary public discussion which might be construed as interference in the internal affairs of the Chinese Communist Party and would induce our enemies to gloat over the discord between the CPSU and the Chinese Communist Party." Suslov argued that, at least for the time being, the CPSU must “avoid public discussions and rely instead on private meetings and other contacts between the two parties to explain our position to the Chinese comrades.”
Despite Suslov's hopes that the situation could be rectified and that public polemics could be avoided, the