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adventurist policy. And he still has the gall to cite Vladimir Il'ich Lenin, teaching us Leninist foreign policy. He is an empty dogmatist (nachetchik) detached from [real) life...
What is the position of the Soviet Union now in the international arena? On all the core issues of international politics, including issues such as the problem of disarmament and the banning of atomic and hydrogen weapons, the initiative is in the Soviet Union's hands. With our peace-loving policy we have put the imperialist states on the defensive.
Khrushchev. A little while ago when we were in Finland, I criticized Bulganin for his incorrect statements. We came to a peasant's farm, went out onto a hillock; the farmer is showing us his lands, and everything is going well. Suddenly Bulganin says: here is an excellent observation point (laughter in the hall). I almost gasped [chut' ne akhnul]. Listen to what you're saying, I say. And he answers me: you are a civilian, and I am a military man. Well, what sort of military man are you! You should think before speaking. There is a saying: in the house of a hanged man you don't talk about rope.
Just imagine what it must have been for the Finns to hear such words. We fought against Finland, and then restored good relations; we came to visit as guests, they met us in a cordial manner, and it turns out that we have come to pick out command points. Is that friendship? It is obvious that that offends, insults them. The minister of foreign affairs and other Finnish officials were with us, and I don't know how they took that statement...
In my rejoinder I already spoke about the worrying case when Shepilov, as editor of Pravda, committed an outright forgery, having published a falsified photograph depicting Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Malenkov in the interests of servility toward Malenkov. In reality, there was no such photograph. There was a group photograph in which many persons were photographed. But Shepilov removed all of these people from the photograph and left only three people, wishing by this to aggrandize Malenkov and serve him. For that the Central Committee gave Shepilov a stern reprimand.... [Ed. Note: The Stalin-MaoMalenkov faked photo and copy of original from which it was made can be found facing p. 128 in Martin Ebon, Malenkov: Stalin's Successor (McGraw Hill: NY, 1953).)
(Source: Istoricheskii arkhiv 3-6(1993) and 1-2(1994) Translated by Benjamin Aldrich-Moodie]
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Khrushchev. Molotov said that allegedly we are not using the contradictions between the imperialist states in the interests of strengthening the countries of the socialist camp. But that is a slander. Remember our government's appeal to the United States with a proposal to speak out jointly against the aggression of England, France, and Israel in Egypt. Was that really not an example of our active policy of unmasking the imperialists? Having proposed joint action against England, France, and Israel to Eisenhower in order to avoid war in Egypt, comrades, we tore the veil (pokryvalo] off the aggressors. We also got a big trump for exposing the USA's policy. Before this, the Egyptians said that the Soviet Union was leaving them to the whims of fate, that only the USA was defending them in the Security Council. And suddenly we propose joint action. The Egyptian people rejoiced and thanked the Soviet Union.
Or remember our letters to Guy Mollet, Eden, and Ben Gurion. In those countries, one could determine the meaning of those letters even by the smell of the air (laughter in the hall), because within 24 hours the war was halted. And they tell us about an inability to use contradictions. Is that really not using contradictions?
Voice: At that moment Eden came down with a fever.
Khrushchev. Some wits at one of the receptions said: Eden came down with an inflammation of the surethral] canal... The Suez canal, because at that moment he resigned and lay down in bed. (Laughter in the hall).
The foreign-policy steps of our party's CC during the Anglo-Franco-Israeli aggression and the counter-revolutionary putsch in Hungary averted the danger of the outbreak of a new world war.
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“This Is Not A Politburo, But A Madhouse”1
” The Post-Stalin Succession Struggle,
Soviet Deutschlandpolitik and the SED: New Evidence from Russian, German, and Hungarian Archives
ince the opening of the former Communist bloc archives it has become evident that the crisis in East
Germany in the spring and summer of 1953 was one of the key moments in the history of the Cold War. The East German Communist regime was much closer to the brink of collapse, the popular revolt much more widespread and prolonged, the resentment of SED leader Walter Ulbricht by the East German population much more intense than many in the West had come to believe.2 The uprising also had profound, long-term effects on the internal and international development of the GDR. By renouncing the industrial norm increase that had sparked the demonstrations and riots, regime and labor had found an uneasy, implicit compromise that production could rise only as long as norms remained low and wages high compromise that posed a severe restraint for Ulbricht when, in the early 1960s, he sought to reform the GDR economy through his “New Economic System."3 Moreover, instead of allowing for greater political liberalization, as the Soviet-decreed New Course had envisioned at least to a certain degree, the eventual triumph of the hardliners headed by Ulbricht resulted in a dramatic expansion of the apparatus of repression and in the encrustation of an
4 essentially Stalinist system in the ensuing months.
Even more surprising, important and controversial are the international repercussions of the crisis. How did it intersect with the power struggle that was taking place in the Kremlin in the weeks following Stalin's death on 5 March 1953? Recently, this question has received impetus by the publication of new materials on the activities of KGB chief and Minister of the Interior, Lavrentii Berija. A number of formerly secret internal party documents and memoirs seem to suggest that Beriia was ready to abandon socialism in the GDR, in fact to give up the
very existence of the East German regime, which had been set up with Soviet support in the Soviet occupation zone in Germany in October 1949.5 Did Berija's alleged plan — the reunification of Germany as a democratic and neutral country — represent a missed opportunity for an early end to Germany's division and perhaps the Cold War? Some historians have questioned the new evidence and the existence of a serious policy alternative, arguing that the disagreement on German policy among the Soviet leader
1,6 ship was “not as serious as it looked."
1953 also looms large as a defining moment in Soviet
East German relations as Ulbricht seemed to have used the uprising to turn weakness into strength. On the height of the crisis in East Berlin, for reasons that are not yet entirely clear, the Soviet leadership committed itself to the political survival of Ulbricht and his East German state. Unlike his fellow Stalinist leader, Hungary's Matyas Rakosi, who was quickly demoted when he embraced the New Course less enthusiastically than expected, Ulbricht, equally unenthusiastic and stubborn - and with one foot over the brink —somehow managed to regain support in Moscow. The commitment to his survival would in due course become costly for the Soviets who were faced with Ulbricht's ever increasing, ever more aggressive demands for economic and political support.
Curiously, the 1953 East German uprising also turned out to be crucially significant for Western, in particular American, policy. The uprising did not only undermine British premier Winston Churchill's grand scheme for a East-West deal on Germany and help West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer win a sweeping victory at the federal elections later that fall.' The uprising also jolted the U.S. administration, first into believing that the dawn of “liberation” had arrived, and then, after a US-sponsored food-aid-program evoked much more of a response among East Berliners and East Germans than the Americans had expected, into reassessing the feasibility of a “rollback"
Perhaps the most fascinating meaning of 1953 lies in the impact of these events on the mindset of the SED and Soviet leaders. Much like the discourse among dissidents and the population at large, in which 1953 became an almost mythological, though ambiguous, point of reference, the crisis became deeply embedded in the collective memory of a generation of East German leaders and a powerful symbol within the “discourse” among East bloc leaders. 1953 came to stand for a hardline repressive resolution of internal unrest and the ultima ratio of Soviet military intervention, and as such was central Ulbricht's (and later Erich Honecker's) hardline approach to crises in Eastern Europe in 1956, 1968 and 1980/81. “This is our experience from the year 1953," Honecker reminded Polish party chief Stanislaw Kania and his colleagues during the December 1980 East bloc summit at the height of the Polish crisis, urging a crackdown on the oppositional “Solidarity” movement and holding out the possibility of Warsaw Pact intervention. 9
Given the importance of the 1953 East German crisis, it is little surprising that Soviet policy towards Germany and the East German uprising in the spring and summer of 1953 have come under intense scholarly scrutiny since the opening of the Russian and East German archives in 19901992.10 Yet key aspects of this episode of the Cold War remain controversial. Historians, in particular Germans, still fiercely debate the essential character of the crisis: was it basically labor unrest against industrial norm increases or a failed popular rebellion?ll Even more controversial are the international ramifications of the East German crisis in the spring and summer of 1953. What were the intentions of Stalin's successors with regard to Germany? Did Beria favor “a grand bargain that would reunify Germany as a capitalist, neutral government?":12 What role did the German question play in the post-Stalin succession struggle. What effect did the East German uprising have on the policy-making process in Moscow?
The documents edited below, obtained in preparation or as a result of the November 1996 conference on “The Crisis Year 1953 and the Cold War in Europe," cosponsored by the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Studien (Potsdam), the National Security Archive (Washington), and the Cold War International History Project, shed new light on these questions and contribute in important ways to our understanding of the 1953 crisis. 13 The following essay will briefly introduce the documents, highlighting the significance of the new evidence.
Soviet policy toward Germany after 1945 has been a hotly contested field of research. Recent studies on the Soviet occupation zone in Germany have revealed that Stalin's policy was deeply conflicted and inherently contradictory. Soviet policy options in postwar Germany
the Sovietization of the Eastern occupation zone, the creation of a unified, socialist Germany, or the establishment of a demilitarized “neutral” Germany — remained essentially unresolved during the early years of the Cold
Even after the establishment of the German Democratic Republic, run by the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands = SED), Stalin's policy remained, by all indications, torn between the full satellization of the new state and all-German aspirations. Stalin's hopes for gaining influence over all of Germany notwithstanding, by early 1953 his policies had driven East Germany's economy into the ground, and socio-economic conditions had become critical.
Reparations and occupation costs had taken a heavy toll on East Germany's economic resources since the end of the war.15 In early April 1952, Stalin had told visiting East German leaders that "you must organize your own state," demanding that they turn the relatively open demarcation line between East and West Germany into a "frontier” and that everything be done to “strengthen the protection of this frontier.”:16 Stalin apparently also decreed the creation of an East German army — “Every
thing without clamor but persistently" — and announced
” that the “pacifist period” was over. He also sanctioned the socialization of GDR agriculture and industry, again “without much clamor.”:17 That summer, at its Second Party Conference (July 9-12), the SED announced the policy of “the forced construction of socialism,” following final approval by Moscow on July 8. The crash socialization and collectivization course quickly aggravated economic dislocations and popular discontent. Extraordinarily harsh regimentation and persecution, massive arrests and trials accompanying the new policy added to the strains on the social and economic fabric of the GDR. By early 1953, East Germans were fleeing their homeland by the thousands.
The mounting crisis in the GDR coincided with a change of leadership in Moscow: Stalin died on 5 March 1953. Even as the dictator was still dying at his dacha in the Moscow suburb of Kuntsevo, Beriia and Georgii Malenkov plotted to seize the reins of power. The two quickly coopted Nikita Khrushchev, Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, into the leading "troika," and secured the state and party apparatus under their control. Lacking both stature and legitimacy, they put Viacheslav Molotov in charge of foreign affairs, leaving the defense ministry to Nikolai Bulganin. Breaking with the hard-line and paranoid policies that had put Soviet policy on the defensive worldwide, the new leadership immediately moved to put Soviet foreign policy on a more calm and flexible track. Shortly after Stalin's death, Malenkov announced a “peace initiative," arguing that there were “no contested issues in U.S.-Soviet relations that could not be resolved by peaceful means." Within weeks, the Soviet leadership indicated its desire to end the Korean War, and deal with lingering disputes such as those over Austria, Iran, and Turkey. While terrified to let any internal dissension leak out to the West, Malenkov and Beriia soon began to press the more conservative “Stalinist” Molotov to reconsider Soviet policy on these critical issues. Slowly but persistently, Malenkov and Beriia sought to limit Molotov's prerogative over foreign affairs.
Germany loomed large in the minds of the Soviet leaders in those days. In March, the Deutsche Bundestag, the West German parliament, had sanctioned the Bonn Treaty (General Treaty) which provided the Federal Republic with a broad degree of sovereignty, and it had passed the government's decision to join the European Defense Community (Paris Treaty). Brainstorming within the Soviet Foreign Ministry, therefore, was initially concerned with finding a response to the Bonn and Paris Treaties, with regaining the initiative on the German question, rather than with solving the East German crisis per se. Initial memoranda were drafted in the Foreign Ministry by German specialists Georgii Pushkin and Jakob Malik on April 18 and 21 for the Presidium meeting on April 22. They suggested a nation-wide plebiscite on the "immediate establishment of a provisional all-German Government appointed by the parliaments of the GDR and
West Germany, while preserving Germany's two existing governments." Expecting that the measure would be opposed by the Western powers, the memoranda suggested as an alternative option a GDR government appeal to the Soviet government for the conclusion of a treaty of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance. Wary of the possibility, as remote as it may have seemed, that the West might take the Soviets up on their proposals, Molotov remained skeptical of the exercise, reminding his subordinates at one point that they “failed to understand the essence of the policy of the three (Western powers] to pull Germany to the bourgeois rails.":18
Significantly, the proposal for a separate treaty with East Germany did not contain any references to the crisis in the GDR, but rather assumed the continued existence, even strengthening, of the East German regime until the conclusion of a peace treaty. As early as the beginning of April, Moscow had apparently hinted at a relaxation of the harsh socialization measures (only to be ignored by Ulbricht), and on April 18, the Soviet government promised aid in copper, steel and other raw materials to the GDR.19 Only after Vladimir Semenov, the Political Adviser to the Soviet Control Commission in Germany, had been recalled to Moscow on April 22 to head the Third European Division within the Foreign Ministry, did further concerns about the GDR enter the policy-making process. The April 28 version of the memorandum on Germany, entitled “Further Soviet Measures on the German Ques
»20 continued to call for the formation of a provisional all-German government by the East and West German parliaments "while preserving the existing governments of the GDR and West Germany" for an interim period. The provisional German government would draft an all-German electoral law, carry out free allGerman elections and represent Germany in the quadripartite peace treaty negotiations. Once a provisional German government had been formed, the occupation powers would be obliged to withdraw their troops simultaneously. To raise the GDR's international prestige, however, the draft memorandum also called for the elimination of the Soviet Control Commission, the establishment of a Soviet embassy in its place and the return of German prisoners of war. It also suggested reducing reparation payments by 50%, returning all Soviet-owned enterprises in Germany to the GDR, and inviting a GDR government delegation to Moscow.
MID officials believed that such a proposal would not only “represent a new concrete step by the Soviet Government" on the issue of reunification and evoke a "broad positive response among the German people," but also “expose" the Western opposition to German unification on a “peaceful and democratic basis." Since it was likely that the Western powers would reject a troop withdrawal which, as the MID planners clearly recognized, would effectively upset the aggressive plans of the North Atlantic bloc in Europe," the Soviet Union would gain considerable propaganda advantages.
Semenov continued to draft memoranda which sought to conceptualize the ministry's approach to the German question.21 Thus, in line with earlier planning papers on May 2, he suggested the elimination of the Soviet Control Commission, the domineering presence of which "emphasiz(ed) the inequality in relations between the USSR and the GDR," and reflected a degree of political mistrust" in the SED regime, impeding the development of qualified East German cadres. Semenov also argued in his May 2 memorandum, in a statement that in retrospect turned out to be a gross miscalculation, that the SED had "strengthened and matured enough to manage on their own the leadership of the country.”
Semenov's insistence on reducing reparations apparently proved successful. On May 4, Molotov forwarded to Malenkov another draft of the proposals on Germany for discussion at the May 5 Presidium meeting, according to which reparations from the GDR for the 1953/55 period would be limited to the "sum of payment set for 1953" and terminated altogether by 1956. The document also suggested June as the date for the official state visit by an East German delegation, headed by Grotewohl and Ulbricht, to Moscow.23
Sometime after mid-May 1953, the Soviet Foreign Ministry altered — or was forced to alter its position, now taking a more critical attitude towards Ulbricht's policy of the "forced construction of socialism." Historians have long wondered what might have caused this change. 24 In light of the documents presented below, one very probable explanation is the growing number of reports critical of the deteriorating situation in the GDR and the SED's handling of crisis. The crucial point is that these reports emanated not only, and perhaps not even primarily, from the MID representatives in Germany, many of whom were ideologically committed to the GDR and inclined to underestimate the problems, but from the Soviet intelligence community. As early as March 9, Soviet intelligence officials in Berlin sent a pessimistic report to Berlin pointing to the "worsening class conflict in the GDR."25 On May 6, Beria circulated an intelligence report among senior members of the CPSU presidium that argued that the dramatic rise in the number of refugees 26 could not only be explained by the hostile propaganda directed by West German organs at the population of the GDR." Rather, it was the “unwillingness of individual groups of peasants to enter the agricultural production cooperatives now being organized, the fear on the part of small and middle-level businessmen of the abolition of private property and the confiscation of their goods, the desire of the youth to avoid military service, and the difficulties experienced in the GDR in supplying the population with foodstuffs and consumer goods" that caused the mass exodus. The Beria report blamed the SED and GDR government of not conducting “a sufficiently active fight against the demoralizing work carried out by the West German authorities,” and charged that the SED "falsely assume(d) that as long as free circulation exists between West Berlin and the GDR, such flights are
inevitable.” Beria hence proposed to ask the SCC to submit proposals on ways to gain control over the mass flight "in order to make the necessary recommendations to our German friends."27
Given the later accusations against Beria, it is interesting that Beria apparently managed to receive the Presidium's approval for his initiative on Germany. Very likely in response to the May 6 report, the head of the Soviet Control Commission (SCC), Vladimir Chuikov, Deputy Political Adviser to the SCC, Pavel Iudin, and USSR mission chief Ivan Il’ichev sent a memorandum to Moscow that criticized the SED's handling of the implementation of “accelerated construction of socialism.":28 Significantly, the memorandum was not addressed to Molotov but to Premier Malenkov, perhaps reflecting the impatience and annoyance of the Soviet representatives in Germany with the staunchly orthodox position of the Soviet Foreign Ministry on the German question (and Semenov's key role in shaping that position).29 Chuikov's, Iudin's and Il’ichev's lengthy report on developments in the GDR gave an in-depth analysis of the mounting crisis and was highly critical of the SED, particularly its indifference to the mass flight of East Germans to the West. Foreshadowing the new course adopted in early June, Chuikov, ludin and Il’ichev recommended an increase in consumer goods production, support of private artisanal production and individual farmers, a decrease in agricultural requisitions and a termination of the ration card system on basic foodstuffs. Nevertheless, the three Soviet officials eschewed more radical recommendations, and instead sought to suggest ways which would improve the efficiency and success of the socialization program.
On political administrative issues, the May 18 report similarly recommended changes while avoiding a call for more drastic steps. Thus, Chuikov, Iudin and Il’ichev wanted the SED to acknowledge the serious problem posed by the mass exodus of East Germans, reduce the massive number of those arrested as a result of excessive and arbitrary criminal codes, and reinstall some sense of reason, moderation and lawfulness in judicial and criminal procedures. At the same time, however, they emphasized increased and improved propaganda efforts as adequate ways to deal with the mass flight and opposition sentiment within the population. Chuikov, Iudin and Il'ichev hence seemed to have embraced Ulbricht's witch hunt policies which blamed foreign propaganda, especially the UScontrolled radio station in West Berlin, RIAS,30 and internal subversion for the problems in the GDR.
31 The discussion of the German problem among the Soviet leadership reached a climax in late May, at a meeting of the Presidium of the USSR Council of Ministers, which, chaired by Malenkov, had for a short time surpassed the CPSU Presidium as the main collective decision-making body.32 At the May 27 session, called to "analyze the causes which had led to the mass exodus of Germans from the GDR to West Germany and to discuss measures for correcting the unfavorable political and
economic situation in the GDR,” the Presidium members apparently agreed that the policy of the "forced construction of socialism" had to be terminated in order to avert a full-blown crisis. 33
According to the testimony by Malenkov, Molotov, Bulganin and Khrushchev at the July 1953 CPSU plenum as well as later accounts by Khrushchev, Molotov, and Gromyko, Beriia was not satisfied with solely adjusting the pace of socialization in East Germany. Instead of terminating the forced construction of socialism, he allegedly shocked his colleagues with a proposal to abandon socialism in the GDR altogether in favor of the creation of a united, neutral and non-socialist Germany. “We asked, “Why?,'” Molotov later recounted: “And he replied, “Because all we want is a peaceful Germany, and it makes no difference whether or not it is socialist.”:34 According to Molotov, Beriia kept insisting that "it made no difference whether Germany was socialist or otherwise, that the most important concern was that Germany be peaceful.” Beriia's proposal was reminiscent of Stalin's earlier musings on Germany, but since then had been superseded by Soviet — indeed Stalin's own commitment to the build-up of the Communist German state. The proposal, moreover, ran counter to the German initiative that Molotov's foreign ministry had been carefully and stubbornly drafting. Molotov, therefore, raised strong objections to Beriia's proposal. A special committee consisting of Beriia, Malenkov and Molotov was created to consider the matter, and, following several discussions and a late evening phone conversation, Berica finally gave in: “To hell with you! Let's not go to another meeting. I agree with your stand.”
Beriia's alleged zigzags on policy towards the GDR conform to what we know about his views. Much less ideologically committed than Molotov, or, as Molotov put it himself, “lacking deeper interest in fundamental policy decisions,” Beriia would not shy away from unorthodox, “heretical” solutions. 36 With a wide-ranging intelligence apparatus at his command, Beriia was better informed about the growing crisis in the GDR than many of his rivals, even Molotov, and he used his unmatched sources to challenge Molotov in the field of foreign policy.3) His
37 unique knowledge of the recent strides in the Soviet nuclear weapons development (later that year the USSR successfully tested a thermonuclear bomb) might have caused him to experience less concern about the wider repercussions of any radical solution in Germany.38 It was also fully in line with what we know about his personality to withdraw proposals as soon as he faced fierce opposition, such as Molotov and Khrushchev seem to have mounted within the Presidium.
Declassified documents and more recent recollections seem to confirm the existence of divisions within the Soviet leadership on Germany. In his letters from prison,39 Beriia acknowledged having displayed “inadmissible rudeness and insolence on my part toward comrade N.S. Khrushchev and N.A. Bulganin during the