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From Communism to Anti-Communism

Andre Liebich
Svetlana Yakimovich

The Death of Stalin

“Staline Mourant”, France Soir, 5 March 1953

Alexey Antoshin

Texte intégral

The headings read in French : “Staline mourant” ; “Hémorragie célébrale”; “Le maréchal, qui a perdu connaisance dans la nuit du 1er au 2 mars, est paralysé de la jambe et du bras droits. Il a perdu l’usage de la parole. Son état s’est considérablement aggravé au cours de la nuit dernière”; “Le communiqué du gouvernement”; “Un homme – Molotov ou Malenkov – ou bien un triumvirat succédera à Staline”  – [“Stalin dying”; “Cerebral Bleeding”; “The marshal, who lost consciousness on the night of March 1 to 2, is paralyzed in the right leg and the right arm. He has lost the use of speech. His condition has worsened considerably during last night”; “The government statement”; “A man – Molotov or Malenkov – or a triumvirate will succeed Stalin”].

1Stalin’s death was unexpected even for his entourage. One of Stalin’s perennial associates, the head of the construction of the Moscow Metro Lazar Kaganovich later recalled: “Though some of us rarely visited him at home in the last period of his life, nevertheless at conferences or official meetings we were pleased to see that despite war weariness Stalin looked good. He was active, cheerful and still led the discussion in a lively and informative manner.”

2On 2 March 1953 Stalin suffered a stroke at his residence near Moscow; he was paralyzed and speechless. The agony of the Soviet leader lasted two days as doctors fought for his life. Members of the Politburo - the highest organ of the party in the USSR – were summoned for a tour of duty around the clock organized at Stalin’s bedside.

3Only on 4 March at 6:30 AM was the first official report on the state of Stalin's health transmitted by Moscow radio. USSR citizens learned that the leader was gravely ill. Authorities announced that Stalin’s illness would entail “a more or less long period of his non-participation in managing governmental activities.”

4On 5 March at 8.00 PM a joint meeting, chaired by Nikita Khrushchev began of the USSR’s senior party and government bodies. Present at that meeting the well-known Soviet writer and poet Konstantin Simonov later recalled the impression of relief in the expressions of the party and government leaders: “It was shown involuntarily on their faces” – he recollected – “perhaps with the exception of Molotov’s countenance – motionless, as if petrified.” Georgii Malenkov and Lavrenti Beria appeared to be people “freed from something pressing upon them, binding them.”

5The news about Stalin's demise broke an hour after the end of the meeting.


Sheila Fitzpatrick, On Stalin’s Team: The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.

Lazar’ Kaganovich, Pamyatnye Zapiski rabochego, kommunista-bol’shevika, profsoiuznogo, partiinogo i sovetsko-gosudarstvennogo rabotnika, Moscow: Vagrius, 1996 (quotation p. 492).

Konstantin Simonov, Glazami cheloveka moego pokoleniya. Razmyshleniya o Staline, Moscow: Pravda, 1990 (quotations, p. 228).


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