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the Soviet Union, the circuitous route that a non-conformist manuscript had to follow to be published, and the resistance of certain sectors to all forms of change.

documents would permit us, to borrow the apt expression that Nicolas Werth applied to the 1930s, “to scrape off the many layers of vagueness, of factual error, and of hypotheses based on second-hand accounts, (the very source] on which the history of the USSR had been founded."10

Gael Moullec is Assistant Professor at the Institute of
Political Studies of Paris (IEP-Paris) and Associate
Researcher at the Institute of Contemporary History

[Translated from French by Christa Sheehan Matthew]


Khrushchev: A number of you have most certainly read the novel by Solzhenitsyn, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, published in the last issue of Novyi Mirs...

[A few months ago) Comrade Tvardovskii, the editor in chief of Novyi Mir, sent me a letter and the manuscript of this new author, and asked me to read it. I read it, and it seemed to me that it was worth publishing the manuscript. I gave the manuscript to other comrades and asked them to read it. A little while later, I met these comrades and asked them their opinion: they were quiet (movement in the room)

They didn't say that they were against it—no, nobody said anything openly—they simply said nothing. But me, the First Secretary, I realized what this really means and I convened them to review the situation.

One discussant said to me, “We should be able to publish it, but there are certain passages ...."

I said to him: “We ban books precisely because they have this type of passage. And if it didn't have such passages, the editor in chief wouldn't have asked our opinion. Which passages bother you?”

-Yes, he said, the (security] organ officials are presented in a bad light.

-What do you want, it was exactly these people who were the executors of the orders and the wishes of Stalin. Ivan Denisovich dealt with them and why would you want him not to talk about it? Moreover, Ivan Denisovich does not have the same sentiment towards all of these people. In this novel, there is also the moment where the captain of the ship, the second rank captain, this Soviet sailor, who finds himself in a camp just because an English admiral sent him a watch as a souvenir, says to the head of the camp, Beria's henchman: “You don't have the right, you're not a real Soviet, you are not a communist.”

Buinovskii, this communist sailor, speaks on behalf of the prisoners, to a soulless being and calls for justice in calling to mind the high standards of communism. What has to be softened here? If we have to make it milder, and take this away, then nothing will remain of this novel.

Following that, I asked the members of the Presidium to read A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and we reached a consensus: we had the same positive opinion of this work as Comrade Tvardovskii ...Why did certain of our comrades fail to understand the positive contribution of Solzhenitsyn's book? Because once more we have before us some people branded by the period of the personality cult, and they haven't yet freed themselves from it, and that's all ...

| See, e.g., Stalin's Letters to Molotov (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1995); Stalinskoe Politbiuro v 30-e gody (Stalin's Politburo During the 1930s) (Moscow, AJRO-XX, 1995); The Special Filesfor 1. V. Stalin, (Moscow, Blagovest, 1994); N. Werth, G. Moullec, Rapports secrets soviétiques (1921-1991) (Secret Soviet Reports], La société russe dans les documents confidentiels [Russian Society Revealed in Confidential Documents) (Paris: Gallimard, 1994); Neizvestnaia Rossiia XX vek, Arkhivi, Pis 'ma, Memuary, Istoricheskoe nasledie, (The Unknown Russia in the 20th Century: Archives, Letters, Memoirs, Historical Heritage] (Moscow, vol. 1: 1992, vol. 2: 1992, vol. 3: 1993); also the reviews of Istoricheskii arkhiv [Historical Archives) and Istochnik [Sources). 2 See, e.g., Postanovleniia Soveta Ministrov SSSR za okriabr' 1981, No. 957-1051. Dlia sluzhebnogo pol’zovaniia (The Decisions of the Soviet Council of Ministers in October 1981] (for official use). Also decisions No. 961 (On Obligatory Insurance) and No. 964 (Nomination of the Vice-Minister of Energy) are in this collection; decisions 962 and 963 are not included. 3 We review here the definitions given by Soviet works: “The Central Committee of the CPSU: supreme organ of the Party in the interval between two congresses. It is elected by the congress. It elects the Politburo of the Central Committee, the Secretariat of the Central Committee, and the Secretary General of the Central Committee." [Sovetskii Entsiklopeditcheskii Slovar', p. 1483) “Plenum of the Central Committee: plenary meeting of the Central Committee. It meets at least once a semester to resolve the political questions that are of the utmost importance for the Party” (Sovetskii Entsiklopeditcheskii Slovar, p. 1025).

See essay by Mark Kramer in this issue for full list of plenums and fond numbers. 5 "Poslednaia antipartiinaia gruppa” [The Last Antiparty Group), Istoricheskii arkhiv 2-3-4-5-6 (1993).

TsKhSD, f. 2, op. 1, d. 180, 11. 132-202. A Soviet delegation led by Khrushchev, Bulganin, and Mikoian went to Yugoslavia from 26 May to 3 June 1955. This was the first visit of Soviet leaders since the 1948 rupture of relations between the two countries. On the rupture, see, The Cominform, Minutes of the Three Conferences 1947/1948/1949 (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1994).

TsKhSD, f. 2, op. 1, d. 469.

The novel was published in the journal Novyi mir 11 (November 1962).

CC Plenum 19-23 November 1962, TsKhSD, f. 2, op. 1, d. 623, 1. 99ob. 10 See the preface of N. Werth in O. Khlevniuk, The Kremlin's Circle, Stalin and the Politburo in the 1930s.







This brief overview of the broad range of questions raised by these transcripts testifies to their importance for a better understanding of the last four decades of the Soviet Union. Publication and a complete study of this body of

CPSU Plenums, Leadership Struggles,

and Soviet Cold War Politics

by Vladislav M. Zubok


The transcripts of plenums of the Central Committee

of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is

perhaps the most valuable collection released during the second (after 1991-92) declassification campaign in the Russian archives. Pressure from central media and his approaching re-election campaign made Russian President Boris Yeltsin deliver on his promise to transfer documents of "historical” value from the closed Kremlin archive (now the Archive of the President of the Russian Federation) to the open state archives for public scrutiny and publication. In fulfillment of Yeltsin's decree of September 1994, no less than 20,000 files arrived at the Russian Center for the Study and Preservation of Documents of Contemporary History (RTsKhIDNI) and the Storage Center for Contemporary Documentation (TsKhSD). Among them are the files of CPSU plenary meetings (plenums) declassified in February 1995, organized as “Fond 2,” and made available in the fall of 1995 in the TsKhSD reading room. This event brought surprisingly little attention in the press, so several months passed before researchers took notice of it.

The significance and role of CPSU plenums varied dramatically in the early years of the Bolshevik regime they were reminiscent of the Jacobean club with its lively and sometimes vituperative debates. The Stalin plenums, along with Party congresses, became stages for the orchestrated character assassination of "deviationists," yet only at the February March 1937 plenum, the last of any political significance, did Stalin manage to crush the lingering resistance of the Bolshevik political elite to his absolute tyranny and continuing purges. The next

1 plenum known for its political drama took place only in October 1952, when Stalin feigned an attempt to resign, then before the stunned audience he denounced his staunchest, most senior lieutenants, Viacheslav Molotov and Anastas Mikoian, and excluded them from a proposed new political structure, the Bureau of the Presidium.2

In the years after Stalin's death the plenum's importance increased. Stalin's former lieutenants, the oligarchs of the regime, mauled and bruised each other, seeking to change the power balance by appealing to the party and state elites, heads of the central CPSU apparatus, secretaries of regional party committees, leaders of powerful branches of the economic, military and security structures. Khrushchev's son Sergei concluded that in June 1957 [as a result of the plenum on the “anti-party group”) a totally new correlation of forces emerged. For the first time after many years the apparatus...from passive onlooker became an active participant that defined the balance of power.”3

»3 In fact, this happened not just in June 1957, but gradually,

as the CC members recognized the importance of their role in demystifying, dislodging, and dismissing formidable oligarchs to the political profit of the half-baffoon N.S. Khrushchev. After Khrushchev's ouster there was yet another period of "collective leadership" during which Kremlin infighting continued into the late 1960s, ending only with the victory of Leonid Brezhnev.

The "thirty-year rule” embedded in Russian legislation on secrecy allowed the release of plenum files up to 1966. Most of the documents contain copies of stenographic minutes of discussions that had been sent by the CC General Department to all members of the Secretariat and Politburo as well as other plenum speakers so that they could insert their corrections. After that, additional editing was done by professional editors and the copies were published in bound volumes for internal consumption. It is therefore possible to see to what extent the initial "unvarnished" discussion changed in the process of editing. In general, there was no deliberate policy to distort or excise texts (with a few important exceptions to which I will return later). In quite a few cases some speakers objected to cuts and editorial remarks and reinserted the passages from the verbatim transcripts. The guiding principle in this editorial game was, no doubt, political opportunism and (for some) ideological correct



The first important plenum reflecting the power struggle after Stalin's death is the one devoted to the “Beria affair" in July 1953. It was published in 1991 in "Vestnik TSK KPSS” (CC CPSU News) and then translated into English and published in the United States by Nova Science Publishers, Inc. 4

After Beria's removal the next to fall was Georgii Malenkov who had first slipped in March 1954 when he made a controversial statement in his “electoral” speech that nuclear war might bring about the end of civilization. He was roundly criticized for this by Molotov and Khrushchev. However, this criticism did not leave the narrow confines of the CC Presidium. Only when the fate of Malenkov had been decided by political intrigues and coalition-building, his "sins” became a subject for discussion at the plenum on 31 January 1955. The scenario, like that of the “Beria affair” is easily recognizable: in fact, its prototype had been honed to perfection by Stalin and his assistants during the “party deviations” struggle in the second half of the 1920s. The victorious group, that is Khrushchev and Molotov, revealed, with well-rehearsed indignation, facts and judgments that led them to believe that Malenkov was unfit to occupy the leadership position.

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a peace treaty with Austria and, to a real showdown over Khrushchev's decision to reconcile with Tito's Yugoslavia. Molotov had since 1953 given lip service to the idea of “normalizing state relations” with Yugoslavia, while treating the Tito clique" there as renegades of the communist movement. Khrushchev, however, insisted that there should be an attempt to bring Yugoslavia back into the communist camp. Molotov finally agreed to a trip of the Soviet party-state delegation to Yugoslavia in April 1955, but refused to support the resolution on the results of the visit and, according to his accusers, threatened “to go to the plenum" to explain his dissent, but Khrushchev and

5 his growing camp of supporters pilloried Molotov. Again, in the best traditions of Stalinist politics, everyone had to spit on the fallen leader, only Klement Voroshilov among the Presidium members attempted to protect his old friend Molotov from the pack of party wolves. 6

The July 1955 plenum was a remarkable discussion, for such a large forum, of underlying principles, aims, and tactics of Soviet foreign policy. Perhaps it was the most extensive airing of such topics for the entire period of the Cold War. Khrushchev defended his initiative on Yugoslavia from two angles-geo-strategic and political: “The United States of America has in mind for a future world war, as in the past war, to let others fight for them (chuzhimi rukami), let others spill blood for them, with the help of equipment supplied to future ‘allies.' Knowing the combative mood of the Yugoslav people...American top brass considered that the Yugoslavs, along with the Germans, could be a serious force that could be used against the Soviet Union. It is known that in an emergency Yugoslavia is capable of mobilizing from 30 to 40 divi


I viewed this question at that time from a tactical side. I fully understand that defending this view essentially is politically harmful, politically dangerous, incorrect. And I did not adopt such a position. The decision that was passed at that time at the suggestion of comrade Molotov I consider to be the correct one. Bulganin: At that time you thought it was incorrect. Malenkov: In the course of discussion I considered it to be incorrect. Bulganin: You then said: For how long will we feed ourselves with the cud from Molotov's mouth, why do you read Molotov's lips. Malenkov: You must have confused my words with Beriia's. Khrushchev: You simply lack courage even now to admit it, and Bulganin told me about (your words) exactly at that time. Malenkov: Today I admit that I essentially took a wrong position on the German question.

sions.” 7

Most remarkably, the Plenum transcript confirms that two leaders of the ruling triumvirate, and not only Beria, proposed to renounce the slogan of “socialist" Germany. This could hardly be “a confession” of the kind elicited by torture and terror in Stalin's times, although Malenkov must have been filled with dread when placed in the same category with the spy and traitor" Beria, who wanted, according to the verdicts of the July 1953 plenum, to sell the GDR to the imperialists. Hence, his lame explanation that his support of Beria's proposal was dictated only by tactical expediency. [Ed. Note: After all, Malenkov would be the first top leader to be demoted in a non-fatal manner. But there was no way to know of this distinction in advance.]

Besides this concern about the Yugoslavs as a factor in the future, Khrushchev evoked memories of World War II, so important for the vast majority of the people in the audience: he indignantly reminded them that the Yugoslav communists were the only force that fought the Nazis right until 1944, only to be rewarded with excommunication from the communist camp in 1948.8

Although Khrushchev had won the power game against Molotov even before the plenum began, it was not enough. The man had been a member of Lenin's Secre

a tariat and Politburo, the second most respected and visible politician in the Soviet Union for at least two decadestherefore it was necessary to destroy his political authority in the eyes of the elite gathering. The Khrushchev group was prepared to do it by all means, including ideological polemics. Their goal was to prove that Molotov became hopelessly dogmatic and lost touch with the “everevolving and live" ideology of Marxism-Leninism. But the old party horse Molotov was unusually well prepared for this kind of battle and delivered a broadside of Lenin quotations.

In the political discussion about Titoism, Molotov also held strong cards. His main thesis was about the political danger of the Yugoslav version of “nationally-oriented


After just six months of relative peace, infighting within the Presidium spilt over again onto the plenum floor. Khrushchev's growing annoyance with Molotov's seniority and the fact that Molotov was the permanent critic of Khrushchev's foreign and domestic initiatives led to frictions in February-April 1955 over the conclusion of

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socialism” for the Soviet empire in the past and the future. However, the following arguments followed in defense He made it clear that Stalin's reaction against Tito was not of the given explanation of the reasons for the rupture: a costly mistake, as Khrushchev maintained, but an

that if we did not say that the main reason was Beriia's absolutely rational preemptive measure against the

and Abakumov's intrigues, then the responsibility for the growing threat of nationalist deviations in the communist rupture would fall on Stalin, and that was camp, led by the Soviet Union. “Nationalist vacillations impermissable. took place in other communist parties. For instance, in

These arguments should not be accepted. Poland-Gomulko (sic), then the First Secretary of the

Khrushchev. On Stalin and Molotov. Polish United Workers Party. It is easy for all of us to

Molotov. That's new. understand how dangerous and negative such a nationalist Khrushchev. Why is it new? deviation (uklon) can be, if it contaminated the leadership Molotov. We signed the letter on behalf of the party of the Polish United Workers Party. As we know, the

CC. Polish population is one and a half times as large as

Khrushchev. Without asking the CC...

11 Yugoslavia's population. One should keep in mind other Molotov. Com. Khrushchev is speaking imprecisely countries as well.

(netochno). Ultimately the most effective weapon of Khrushchev Khrushchev. I want once again to repeat: I was not against Molotov proved to be neither ideological, nor

asked, although I (was a member of the Politburo. political theses, but something else. First, he made revelations of Molotov's "errors" in the past and thereby Only eight months later, in February 1956 Khrushchev demystified his aura as a world statesman. If Stalin's aura attacked Stalin for his mistakes and crimes, but then he had to be damaged in the process, so much the better. At spared Molotov. (Ed. note: For Khrushchev's second one point, irked by the cold logic of Molotov's presenta- secret speech given in Warsaw in March 1956, see below tion on the dangers of Yugoslav-style national-commu- in this Bulletin section.) De-Stalinization was a turning nism, Khrushchev burst out:

point in the history of international communism and the

Soviet Union itself. Yet, plenums did not play any Khrushchev: Viacheslav Mikhailovich, if you, as noticeable role in this revolutionary development. minister of foreign affairs, analyzed a whole series of Khrushchev chose a larger forum, the party congress, to our steps, (you would see that we mobilized people deliver his speech against Stalin. Growing reaction to against us. We started the Korean War. And what does Khrushchev's political radicalism and growing ambitions this mean? Everyone knows this.

reflected itself, for a time, in heated discussions within the (Anastas] Mikoian. Aside from our people, in our CC Presidium which, with the exception of the debates on country.

the 1956 Polish and Hungarian crises, are still hidden from Khrushchev. Here, Viacheslav Mikhailovich, this must historians' eyes. [Ed. Note: For “Malin notes” on 1956 be borne in mind; everything must be understood, Presidium meetings regarding Poland and Hungary, see everything analyzed, (and) only then can one come to CWIHP Bulletin 8-9 (Winter 96-97)] the correct conclusion. We started the war. Now we

Khrushchev's rivals correctly feared that his combinacannot in any way disentangle ourselves. For two years tion of populist style, control over the KGB, military there has been no war. Who needed the war?... 10

support from Marshal Georgii Zhukov, and the pivotal

position as head of the party machinery would soon reduce This exchange appeared in the final version of the all adversaries. Materials from the June 1957 plenum stenographic report distributed among the party elite, but published in the Russian journal Istoricheskii archiv the passage about “who started the Korean War” disap- (Historical Archive] in 1993-94, offer a remarkable insight peared. Presumably, somebody reminded Khrushchev of into the final stage of the post-Stalin power struggle and the complications this revelation might cause for relations reveal the nature of Khrushchev's victory. with North Korea and the People's Republic of China. tion, particularly Molotov blamed Khrushchev for destroy

In another exchange, Khrushchev, in the heat of ing the “collective leadership" and monopolizing decisiondebate, blurted out what was beginning to dawn on him making on all issues, from economy to diplomacy. regarding the role of Stalin in Soviet foreign policy. In Molotov attempted to direct Khrushchev's denunciation of April 1955 during his visit to Yugoslavia, Khrushchev still Stalin against its author by warning about a new cult of professed to believe that the Soviet-Yugoslav split had personality and wondering out loud where the radical debeen caused by the machinations of the “Beria-Abakumov Stalinization could lead. 13 Molotov disparaged gang." The transcript of the plenum discussion reveals Khrushchev’s new doctrine that an agreement between the what really was on the mind of the Soviet leadership. two nuclear powers, the Soviet Union and the United

States, could be a solid foundation for an international Molotov: In a discussion of this issue in the CC Pre- détente. 14 He stated his belief that a next world war could sidium, some doubt was expressed in relation to the be "postponed and prevented," even while there still awkwardness and incorrectness of the given explanation. existed war-spawning “imperialism.” Besides, said

12 The opposi



Molotov, “this formula of com. Khrushchev ignores all other socialist countries, besides the USSR. However, one should not ignore the People's Republic of China, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and other communist coun

tries." 15

Khrushchev on a number of occasions to make drastic, if only momentary, detours from his preferred policies. One was during the Hungarian crisis on 19-30 October 1956, when Khrushchev had to cave in, at first, to Beijing's insistence that Soviet troops should be withdrawn from Hungary and the practice of great power chauvinism” with regard to Eastern Europe in general should be renounced in words, if not in deeds. Molotov reminded the plenum of another episode, when Khrushchev had to

In one instance Molotov was right on the mark: radical de-Stalinization and the new doctrine of “peaceful coexistence" did annoy the Chinese leadership and the pressure from within the communist camp forced

Eisenhower, “Open Skies” and Khrushchev's Global “Peace Offensive”:

New Evidence from the 6th Polish Party Plenum (20 March 1956)

(Ed. Note: Although Khrushchev's speech to the 6th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party was, in largest part, devoted to Stalin, the First Secretary of the CC CPSU also found time to discuss the international situation in a frank manner with the Polish comrades. A longer excerpt regarding Stalin is elsewhere in this section. One can only speculate about the relationship between Eisenhower's request to Ask Zhukov" and the role of Open Skies" in Zhukov's dismissal 19 months later. On this, see next page.]

"Concerning the propositions of Mr. (US President Dwight D.) Eisenhower and “open skies," among us I tell you, that we tell the Americans that this proposition deserves some attention. But (strictly) among us, I tell you, it deserves attention so that it can be thrown into the garbage. What does it mean to fly? What do you think-nothing else better to do......this is nonsense. Its only advantage is to avoid concrete propositions about the reduction of arms. They gave us nonsense and they are trying to confuse us.

I'm not letting you in on a secret. I said it to Eisenhower as soon as he finished his presentation, when we met at the buffet which he organized for the meeting. We had a glass of cognac and he asks me: "So?" And I told him: “In my opinion, your proposition is no good.” “Why?” “Because it does nothing good. All you are proposing is nonsense.” He replied: "Well, maybe the military judge it differently. Let's ask Marshal (and Minister of Defense Georgii] Zhukov. What will he say?" And I said: “Ask Zhukov, let him judge. If such things were done during the war, right before the attack......Comrade (Marshal Konstantin] Rokossowski...... then you have to know where......during the war and for sometime since.....then we already cannot imagine, because the enemy can always re-group his troops or use camouflage and then totally confuse us. But, what do you think, if we want to show you a factory then we can show you some kind of dummy; different lighting and you'll photograph it all, and what will you get? It will be an empty place. But, we can do it, and you can do it, so why should we do such nonsense. Someone can ask, then why did we write that this proposition deserves attention? Because this capitalist language is such that you cannot just say, to hell with it. You have to say that this problem demands deep investigation, and will be discussed......follow the rule, and it was written like this......

I think we have very good prospects on this matter (dealing with the capitalists) and we will, with pleasure, conduct the discussion with (Nikolai) Bulganin in London, with (British Prime Minister Anthony] Eden, and other friends. We are placing great hopes on the arrival of [French President Guy] Mollet and (Foreign Minister Christian] Pineau, and the delegation from the (French) Socialist Party, which shows that we have achieved so many contacts.

Of course, comrades, I have to tell you that we correctly understand our position and our responsibility. We have to smartly lead this policy and move toward disarmament. But, we should never cross the line, which would endanger the survival of our conquests. We have to do everything to strengthen defense, to strengthen the army. Without these things, nobody will talk to us. They are not hiding the fact that they have the hydrogen bomb, nuclear arms, and jet-propulsion technology. They know that we have all these things, and therefore, they have to talk to us, fight with us; but not be afraid......this is a game, in which nobody will be a winner. If Lenin would arise he would have been pleased to see his cause become so strong, that the capitalistic world admits being unable to win the war against the socialist countries.

Comrades, this is the power of Marxist-Leninist teaching. We did not work for nothing; not for nothing used the strength of this form of government. Therefore, we must continue working. We must work, work, work to reduce the troops and increase defense, Comrade Rokossowski. It is difficult to agree with marshals on this matter, they're rather hot-tempered.

Right now, we have to work on the demoralization of their camp. The demoralization of NATO, the Baghdad pact, SEATO. I think we have a great opportunity to carry it out. And the stop of Comrade (Anastas] Mikoian stirred up everybody, his trip to Karachi. Yesterday morning, he flew out to Pakistan.”


(Source: AAN (Archiwum Akt Nowych, Archive of Modern Records), PZPR 2631 Materialy do stosunkow partyjnych polskoradzieckich z lat 1956-1958, Przemowienie tow. Chruszczowa na VI Plenum K.C.,k. 14-87 Translated from Russian by L.W. Gluchowski.)

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