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The Drama of the Plenums : A Call to Arms

Khrushchev. You want to turn everything back in order then to take up the axe yourself. Molotov. No, this is not so, com. Khrushchev. I hope that that is not what you want, and moreover,

that is not what I want.
CC CPSU Plenum, Kremlin, 24 June 1957

by David Wolff



n the third week of June 1957, a series of meetings of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the

Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CC CPSU) found N.S. Khrushchev, the First Secretary, in the minority. With a Kremlin coup in the offing, Khrushchev managed to convoke a CC plenary session, whose outcome was not at all certain prior to the meeting's opening. But by the third day, when the epigraph above was spoken, it was clear that the Army and security organs, together with the CC, would support Khrushchev. Thus, Molotov had no axe at hand and Khrushchev's concern was purely rhetorical, a reminder of the true correlation of forces on the plenum floor. This kind of showmanship is illustrative of the theatrical qualities of the plenum transcripts, excerpts from which are presented here for the first time in English translation. Additional materials can be found on the CWIHP website.

For the most part, the CC CPSU Presidium/Politburo members staged and took leading roles in the drama.

2 Under Stalin, and later under Brezhnev, autocratic rule produced unanimously-approved speeches and decisions to be rubber-stamped by the plenum. But during the Khrushchev years, especially between 1953 and 1957, "collective leadership" produced multiple Presidium scripts to compete on the plenum floor, with the winning narrative to be determined by the audience. With this in mind, the selection of cadres for the plenum (to paraphrase Stalin) would decide all.” Of course, the structure of

3 CPSU work and promotion was such that all Presidium members had chaired innumerable meetings of the aktiv and knew all the organizational tricks. But Khrushchev was best of all, both at garnering loyalty and placing the trustworthy onto the CC. This is not to say, as Mark Kramer points out in his essay, that the plenum decisions were made in the course of the session. Nonetheless, the plenum discussions provide us with a window into the Presidium-level discussions that did lead to the key decisions, just prior to the plenums themselves.

Aside from the sharp dialogue generated by clashing scripts, another theatrical plenum element is the role of the "voices" rising up from the plenum floor to interrupt the speaker. Although one can not tell from the transcripts, one suspects that these are generated by loyalists handpicked for their eloquence to play a role somewhere between claque and Greek chorus. Their functions are

multiple, serving sometimes as echo (Mikoian: That is why Nikita Sergeevich (Khrushchev] blew up. I also almost blew up. Voices: Blew up.), sometimes as a prompt (Pospelov: The July 1955 plenum recorded this. Voice: On Yugoslavia.), and sometimes for emphasis (Khrushchev: How much gold did we spend then, com. Malenkov, 200250 tons? Voice. If not more.). Heckling was also part of the job, as was laughing at the right jokes and myriad other planned impromptus.

4 The three essays that begin this section each cover different ground. Vladislav Zubok's piece most closely captures the core problematic of this Bulletin issue. As each of Khrushchev's competitors is expelled from the inner circles of power, Zubok chronicles the key foreign policy decisions linked to the demotion. Beriia, Malenkov, Molotov, and Zhukoy followed each other down in dizzying succession. Gael Moullec reminds us that foreign policy and leadership struggle were just a small part of the issues touched on by the plenums. The social and cultural history of the Cold War can also draw from this invaluable source. Mark Kramer's article will be essential reading on this topic and for all those planning work in fond 2 at the former Central Committee archives in Moscow (now known as the Center for the Storage of Contemporary Documentation, or TsKhSD) for many years to come.

The plenum excerpts themselves help tie together the various sections of this Bulletin. (Excerpts from the July 1953 plenum, at which Beriia was denounced, have already appeared in English and are summarized in CWIHP Bulletin 1, and are therefore omitted here.) In January 1955, the role of Malenkov and Beriia during the 1953 German events took center stage, complementing Christian Ostermann's essay and accompanying documents. By July 1955 Molotov and Khrushchev clashed over the normalization of relations with Yugoslavia. These discussions supplement the Yugoslavia section. Khrushchev's “second secret speech” at the Sixth Plenum of the Polish United Workers' Party in March 1956 adds context to Stalin's conversations with Yugoslav leaders. In the part of the Bulletin devoted to Deng Xiaoping and Sino-Soviet relations, we often see Deng eager for information about plenum results. Chinese matters, as well as wide-ranging foreign policy disagreements, appear in the June 1957 transcripts. 5 Mark Kramer's essay also makes clear how extensively the plenum sessions treated

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China in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Although the “second secret speech” comes from the Polish archives and the June 1957 plenum materials have been published in Russian and Chinese, the remaining excerpts, including extensive citations in the Kramer, Moullec and Zubok essays, come directly from TsKhSD's fond 2.6 In the spring of 1996, with the preliminary polls for Russia's presidential election suggesting that the Communists might take back power and reclaim their archives, CWIHP's former director James G. Hershberg launched a special initiative to study and copy these documents while available. Although the alarm proved

7 premature, the happy result is that CWIHP was able to gather a substantial collection of plenum records, now on deposit and available for general use in the reading room of the National Security Archive at The George Washington University as part of READ, the Russian and East European Archival Database. We hope that the brief excerpts and expert commentary assembled here will whet appetites for more systematic exploration, both in Washington and Moscow, of this important Cold War source.

from power in late 1964, the older name, Politburo, was
3 This is known in the political science literature by a term
coined by Robert Daniels, the “circular flow of power.”

An example where the hecklers clearly found their way through the thick skin to a soft spot follows: Molotov: (quoting Pravda, citing Khrushchev) “If, for instance—N.S. Khrushchev adds as a joke-our [foreign) minister Gromyko and your secretary (of state] Dulles met, in a hundred years they wouldn't agree on anything, and, perhaps, only our grandsons would wait long enough to get any results from these negotiations.” Voice: Read on. Molotov: Read on yourself. Voice. It is being said as a joke there. Molotov: One does not play with the authority of the MID of the USSR in front of bourgeois governments. (All examples are drawn from June 1957 plenum extracts published here or on the CWIHP website.) 5

This helps to explain why the transcripts of the June 1957 plenum sessions, first printed in Istoricheskii arkhiv 3-6 (1993) and 1-2 (1994) have already appeared in a two-volume set in Chinese. See Sugong gongchandang zuihou yige "fandangjituan (The CPSU Final “Antiparty" Group) (Beijing, 1997). The introduction by one of Mao's Russian translators (who is also often present at Deng's meetings with the Soviets), Yan Mingfu, has since been reprinted twice in the popular press. See Wenhui dushu zhoubao 4 October 1997 and Zuojia wenzhai 24 October 1997. 6

TsKhSD (Tsentr khraneniia sovremennoi dokumentatsii) = Center for Storage of Contemporary Documentation. This is the former CC CPSU working archive. 7

CWIHP associates participating in this initiative included Ray Garthoff, Hope Harrison, James G. Hershberg, Mark Kramer and Vladislav Zubok.

| The following morning, on June 25, Khrushchev staged a similar reminder with a reference to Molotov's wanting “to return to some of Stalin's bad methods.” Other comments by Khrushchev on Stalin's methods can be found in the Warsaw “Second Secret Speech” introduced in this Bulletin by Leo Gluchowski. 2 Starting from the 19th

Party Congress in October 1952, the Politburo was renamed the Presidium. With Khrushchev's fall

More Evidence on Korean War Origins from the

July 1955 CPSU Plenum

[Ed. Note: During the past five years the CWIHP Bulletin has hosted important new findings on the origins of the Korean War. This excerpt from the plenums, though present in the verbatim record, was later expunged from the internal-circulation print version, since it so clearly contradicts the Soviet Union's official pronouncements. Further East-bloc documentation on the Korean War can be found in Bulletin 3, pp.1, 14-18; Bulletin 4, p. 21; Bulletin 5, pp. 1-9; Bulletin 6-7, pp. 30-125; and Bulletin 8-9, pp. 237-242.]

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Khrushchev. Viacheslav Mikhailovich (Molotov), this smells a bit hostile to us (nemnozhko ot vrazhdebnogo nam v etom otnoshenii popakhivaet). Viacheslav Mikhailovich, if you, as minister of foreign affairs, analyzed a whole series of our steps, (you would see that] we mobilized people against us. We started the Korean War. And what does this mean? Everyone knows this.

[Anastas) Mikoian. Aside from our people, in our country.

Khrushchev. Here, Viacheslav Mikhailovich, this must be borne in mind; everything must be understood, everything analyzed, [and] only then can one come to the correct conclusion. We started the war. Now we cannot in any way disentangle ourselves. For two years there has been no war. Who needed the war?...

(Source: TsKhSD f.2, op. 1, d. 173, Il. 76 ff. Translated by Benjamin Aldrich-Moodie.)

Declassified Materials from CPSU Central Committee

Plenums: Sources, Context, Highlights

by Mark Kramer


'n October 1995 the Center for Storage of Contemporary Documentation (TsKhSD) in Moscow, which

houses the former archive of the Central Committee (CC) of the Soviet Communist Party (CPSU), received materials from the Russian Presidential Archive for a newly opened section known as Fond 2. The new fond (an archival term roughly translated in English as “collection") includes different versions of CPSU Central Committee plenum transcripts from 1918 to 1990 as well as secret documents that were used at the plenums. Some 845 voluminous files (dela) of declassified plenum materials from 1918 to 1941 had been available since the early 1990s at another repository in Moscow, the former Central Party Archive (now known as the Russian Center for Storage and Study of Documents of Recent History, or RTsKhIDNI); but the newly-opened Fond 2 at TsKhSD is many times larger and much more comprehensive. Not

1 only does Fond 2 add to the RTsKhIDNI collection of pre1941 materials; it also provides full documentary coverage for the dozens of Central Committee plenums after 1941.

This article will briefly discuss the structure of Fond 2, the problems that arise when using the documents, and a few highlights from plenary sessions held in the 1950s and 1960s.

adding to the RTsKhIDNI materials. Opis 3 includes documents from Central Committee plenums ranging from 1966 to 1986. Opis' 4 includes protocols from Central Committee plenums held between 1966 and 1990. Opis’ 5 comprises documents from plenums held between 1986 and 1990, the core of the period when Mikhail Gorbachev was CPSU General Secretary.

Opis' 1 of Fond 2 consists of 822 separate dela, with materials arranged in the order in which they were produced. The files include transcripts and other documents from Central Committee plenums held between 1941 and 1966. In principle, the plenum materials from before 1953 should be housed at RTsKhIDNI rather than at TsKhSD. However, to maintain the integrity of the fond, the earlier materials will be kept together with the more recent documents. All told, Opis’ I covers 51 plenums.

5 In many cases, two or more versions of the same plenum exist. The closest thing to a verbatim transcript, known as an "uncorrected stenogram" (nepravlennaya stenogramma), was compiled by a team of stenographers during the plenum. Excerpts from this raw text were sent by the head of the CPSU CC General Department to all those who spoke at the plenum. The speakers were permitted to see and edit only their own remarks. The

6 full text then underwent further editing by one or two senior party officials. The corrected version, known as the “author's copy” (avtorskii ekzemplyar), contains the full verbatim text marked up in handwriting as well as newly drafted pages and paragraphs to be inserted into the transcript. (Often the insertions were in handwriting, too.) The revised version was then retyped to produce a "corrected copy" (korrektorskii ekzemplyar), which was given to a few senior Presidium/Politburo members to review.7 Usually, one of the officials (e.g., Mikhail Suslov) would approve the corrected copy as the final version, but in a few cases each official would make additional changes, resulting in an “edited copy" (redaktsionnyi ekzemplyar). A few last-minute revisions might then be made in the edited copy before a final “stenographic account” (stenograficheskii otchet) was typeset. The whole process of editing and revision could sometimes take several months or longer. 8 The final stenographic account was disseminated to all members of the CPSU Presidium/Politburo, CPSU Secretariat, and CPSU Central Committee, to other senior employees of the central party apparatus, to leading officials in the fourteen union-republic Communist parties, and to the first secretaries of the CPSU's territorial, regional, provincial, municipal, and local committees.

Structure Of Fond 2

Fond 2 of TsKhSD is divided among five opisi (roughly translated as “inventories” or, in this context, “record groups”). Initially, only Opis’ 1 of Fond 2 was

2 released. In early 1996 the Russian government's "Commission on Declassification of Documents Created by the CPSU” announced that the other four opisi of Fond 2 had been declassified in 1995 and would be transferred to TsKhSD.3 Unfortunately, this announcement turned out to be misleading. As of late 1997, none of the other four opisi had yet been transferred from the Presidential Archive. Thus, even though Opisi 2, 3, 4, and 5 were nominally “declassified,” researchers had no access to them. In response to complaints from visiting scholars, the director of TsKhSD conceded that the commission's announcement had been “premature.'

The four additional opisi of Fond 2 are due to be transferred to TsKhSD in the first half of 1998. However, officials at TsKhSD have no direct say in the Presidential Archive's actions and therefore can offer no guarantees. Once the transfer is completed, these new opisi will provide an invaluable complement to the existing Opis' 1. Opis 2 includes the protocols and stenograms from Central Committee plenums held between 1918 and 1966,


The different versions of the proceedings were preserved for most, but not all, of the 51 plenums. The status of each version is specified clearly both in the opis' and on the cover of each delo. The dela for a particular version are grouped consecutively, which makes it relatively easy to distinguish them from other versions.

In addition to the transcripts of plenum proceedings, Opis’ 1 includes many files of documents that were used or distributed at the plenums. These documents in some cases were publicly available after the plenums, but in other cases they were classified “secret” or “top secret” and issued on a highly restricted basis. For certain plenums, a separate delo contains the resolutions and theses (or drafts) approved by the Central Committee as well as any final comments by senior party officials.

Although Opis' 1, like all the other opisi of Fond 2, is officially described as “declassified,” selected materials in Opis’ 1 (and in the other four opisi of Fond 2) are in fact still classified and are marked as such (ne rassekrecheno) in the opis'. The fact that some materials in Fond 2 have not yet been declassified is one of the reasons that TsKhSD has been allowing researchers to use the original, bound transcripts and documents, rather than microfilms of them. The listing of sequential numbers for microfilm reels in the opisi leaves no doubt that all the dela in Fond 2 have been filmed, but the reels mix classified with declassified materials. Hence, only the hard copies are being loaned out. Although the continued classification of some

9 materials in Fond 2 is vexing and unwarranted, the opportunity for scholars to use the original documents (rather than the more cumbersome and, in certain cases, barely legible microfilms) is a welcome, if perverse, benefit of this obsessive secretiveness.


successors, Yurii Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko (and even during the first few years of the Gorbachev era), were brief announcements (informatsionnye soobshcheniya) that Central Committee plenums had been held, lists of those who had spoken, and the resolutions (postanovleniya) and theses (tezisy) adopted by the plenums, which revealed nothing about the tenor of the meetings. 10 The opening of Fond 2 thus fills an important gap in the historical record.

Nevertheless, scholars who use the newly declassified plenum materials should bear in mind a number of caveats. First, it is important to recognize that the Central Committee was not a decision-making body. Il The list of plenums in Opis' 1, provided in Note 5 below, underscores just how limited the Central Committee's role was in Soviet policy-making, especially during the Stalin era, when the Central Committee almost never met. During the final twelve years of Stalin's life, the Central Committee convened only six times, for a total of ten days. The extremely infrequent and perfunctory nature of Central Committee plenums was part of Stalin's general policy of weakening subordinate structures that might in some way infringe on his immense personal power. Under Khrushchev, the frequency of plenums increased, but the Central Committee still convened no more than a total of fifteen days in a given year, and usually far less. Moreover, the timing of plenums did not settle into a particular pattern. All members of the Central Committee had fulltime jobs elsewhere, which consumed the vast bulk of their energies and attention.

Even on the rare occasions when the Central Committee met, it usually functioned as little more than a rubber

a stamp for the Presidium/Politburo's decisions. As interesting and valuable as the plenum documents are, they clearly show that, with the exception of the June 1957 plenum, all key decisions had been arranged in advance by the Presidium/Politburo, which met shortly before the plenums to iron out any differences and approve the plenum agenda and resolutions. It is telling that in some instances the drafts of resolutions, prepared several days before the Central Committee convened, would already say that the resolutions had been “adopted unanimously”—a result that clearly was not in doubt. 12

The June 1957 plenum was a special case because Khrushchev had been outvoted on the Presidium by what became known as the "Anti-Party Group." During a session of the Presidium from 18 to 21 June 1957, only three of the ten other full Presidium members—Anastas Mikoyan, Mikhail Suslov, and Aleksei Kirichenko—had supported Khrushchev. Through last-ditch maneuvers, Khrushchev was able to stave off his dismissal by forcing the convocation on June 22 of a Central Committee plenum, which he knew would take his side in the dispute. That session marked the only time from the mid-1920s onward when the top leaders had failed to reach a consensus beforehand about the results they hoped to achieve at the plenum.

The Context of the Plenum Materials

Through almost the whole of the Soviet era, very little information about CPSU Central Committee plenums was released to the public. During the long reign of Josif Stalin (1929-1953), virtually nothing about Central Committee plenums was disclosed. That pattern continued for several years after Stalin's death. Transcripts of key plenums during Nikita Khrushchev's consolidation of power (e.g., the sessions in July 1953, January 1955, July 1955, February 1956, June 1957, and October 1957) were not publicly disseminated at all. This policy of strict secrecy was eased during the final years of Khrushchev's tenure, when edited stenographic accounts" of some plenums were published. Although the appearance of these transcripts was a major step forward, the accounts did not always enable readers to determine precisely what went on at the plenums. Moreover, the publication of stenographic accounts ceased in March 1965, five months after Leonid Brezhnev displaced Khrushchev; and from that point until the end of the 1980s information about Central Committee plenums was as exiguous as it had been in Stalin's time. The only materials released during the two decades under Brezhnev and his immediate

The fact that the general outcomes of the plenums Verbatim transcripts were kept for Politburo meetings were arranged in advance does not mean that the discus- during the Brezhnev era and afterwards, but only a sions were dull and lacking in substance. On the contrary, minuscule portion of these have been released so far. In in many cases the debates were very lively and the top late 1991 and 1992, some Politburo transcripts (or portions leaders provided important information to the rank-and- of transcripts) were declassified for a short-lived trial of file Central Committee members about salient issues and the Soviet Communist Party at the Russian Constitutional controversies. Even so, it is clear from the transcripts and Court.


The bulk of the selected transcripts were from other materials that the Presidium/Politburo carefully the Gorbachev era (mainly because Russian president stage-managed and orchestrated the plenums to produce a Boris Yeltsin hoped they would embarrass Gorbachev), but desired result. The plenums were extremely useful for the even these materials represented only a small fraction of top leaders in many ways—by giving ordinary Central the sessions held between 1985 and 1991. Although a few Committee members a sense of involvement in the policy- additional Politburo transcripts from the Gorbachev era making process, by ensuring wide support within the party have been published since the early 1990s—some were put for the top leaders' policies and objectives, and by confer- out by the Gorbachev Foundation to offset the impact of ring a formal stamp of legitimacy on the Presidium/ the materials released by the Yeltsin administration, and Politburo's actions—but this does not change the basic fact others were featured in the Russian archival service's that key decisions were actually made by the Presidium/ journal Istochnikthese scattered documents are no Politburo, not by the Central Committee.

substitute for access to the full collection. 17 Moreover, The highly circumscribed nature of the Central

only a handful of transcripts have been released for Committee's role was broadly understood even before any Politburo meetings from the Brezhnev, Andropov, and of the plenum materials were declassified. It is not at all Chernenko periods (though a few well-placed Russian surprising that the plenum transcripts would confirm that officials have been given access to the full collection of the Central Committee routinely complied with the

transcripts). The unavailability of most of the Politburo Presidium/Politburo's wishes. The notion of a “circular notes and transcripts may create at least some temptation flow of power"-whereby the top party leader and his to ascribe too large a role to the Central Committee and allies chose (and had the power to dismiss) lower-ranking other agencies whose records are now available. personnel, who in turn were empowered to vote for

The dominance of the CPSU Presidium/Politburo in delegates to the party congress, who in turn elected the the Soviet policymaking process was necessarily reflected members of the Central Committee, who in turn were in the Central Committee plenums. The context of each responsible for electing the highest party organs—had long plenum can be understood only by answering several enabled Western scholars to understand why the Central questions: What was the Presidium/Politburo hoping to Committee, despite nominally being empowered to derive from the plenum? Why did the Presidium/Politburo countermand the Presidium/Politburo, instead was

decide to convene the Central Committee? What steps staunchly supportive of the top leaders' preferences. 13 were taken to ensure that the plenum bolstered the The members of the Central Committee had an in-built Presidium/Politburo's aims? So long as the Politburo's incentive to be loyal, resting on self-interest.

records remain largely sealed, definitive answers to these The thing that researchers need to bear in mind, then, questions may not always be possible; but the transcripts is that the sudden availability of the plenum materials of the plenums and other documents often permit wellshould not lead to an exaggeration of the Central

founded conclusions. For example, it is now clear that the Committee's role. The documents must be seen in context. plenum in early July 1953 which denounced the “criminal Some of the plenum transcripts and supplementary

anti-party and anti-state activities of [Lavrentii] Beria” was materials contain valuable information that is not readily convened by Beria's rivals to reassure the Central Comavailable from other declassified documents, and this will mittee that Beria's arrest had been a matter of high be of great benefit. But unless the plenums are evaluated principle, and not simply part of a power struggle. The against the wider backdrop of Soviet politics (in which the Presidium members who had ordered Beria's arrest outdid Presidium/Politburo was the dominant organ), there is a one another at the plenum in recounting the alleged danger that some scholars will end up “looking for their iniquities of their deposed colleague, accusing him of keys where the streetlight is.":14

actions that they themselves had initiated (or at least This temptation may be particularly strong because strongly backed) during the previous few months. the vast majority of records of Presidium/Politburo

Khrushchev, Vyacheslav Molotov, Georgii Malenkov, meetings from the post-Stalin era have not yet been Nikolai Bulganin, and their allies orchestrated the plenum released. Detailed notes from Presidium meetings during to cover up their own roles in promoting policies for which the Khrushchev era, compiled by the head of the CPSU they were now holding Beria solely accountable. So CC General Department, Vladimir Malin, exist in Fond 3 egregious was their abrupt disavowal of their own actions at TsKhSD, but only a tiny fraction of these had been and views that the plenum often took on a surreal qualreleased as of late 1997, despite earlier promises that the ity. 18 The rank-and-file members of the Central Commitfull collection would be declassified by the end of 1996.15 tee, having long been accustomed to accept whatever they


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