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From Communism to Anti-Communism

Andre Liebich
Svetlana Yakimovich

The Death of Stalin

V Kolonnom zale Doma soiuzov, Pravda, 9 March 1953

Alexey Antoshin

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"V Kolonnom zale Doma soiuzov", Pravda, 9 March 1953. The headlines read in Russian : “Сегодня советский народ, все прогрессивное человечество провожают в последний путь своего великого вождя и учителя Иосифа Виссарионовича Сталина”; ”Бессмертное имя Сталина будет жить вечно!”; ”Великое  прощание”; ”Прибытие в Москву иностранных правительственных делегаций для присутствия на похоронах Председателя Совета Министров Союза ССР Иосифа Виссарионовича Сталина” - [”Today the Soviet people and all progressive mankind see off to the last journey their great leader and teacher Joseph Stalin "; "The immortal name of Stalin will live forever!"; "A great farewell"; "Arrival in Moscow of foreign government delegations to attend the funeral of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR Joseph Stalin"]. The sign under the photograph reads in Russian: "В Колонном зале Дома союзов 9 марта 1953 г. На снимке (слева направо) товарищи В.М.Молотов, К.Е.Ворошилов, Л.П.Берия, Г.М.Маленков, И.А.Булганин, Н.С.Хрущев, Л.М.Каганович, А.И.Микоян у гроба товарища И.В.Сталина" – ["In the Hall of Columns on 9 March 1953. In the photo (left to right) comrades Molotov, Voroshilov, Beria, Malenkov, Bulganin, Khrushchev, Kaganovich, Mikoyan at the coffin of Comrade Stalin."

1The struggle for power and consultations on the new structure of the political system started on 2-5 March at the bedside of the dying Stalin.

2Of course, already on 3 March Viacheslav Molotov was included into the leadership structure troika [three] that had existed during the last years of Stalin's life, along with Georgii Malenkov and Lavrenti Beria. Soon the "troika" was extended to the "pyaterka” [five] that also included Nikolai Bulganin and a long-term Stalin associate, Lazar Kaganovich. This structure was supposed to symbolize the continuity of the new government with the Stalinist era. Gradually, through the inclusion into the pyaterka of some other leaders in particular, Nikita Khrushchev, the phenomenon of "collective leadership" arose. Its members were neither united by common goals nor like-minded. This structure allowed the creation of a balance of contradictions due to the diverse interests of Stalin's successors. All of them, however, lacked Stalin’s charisma.

3The various members of the "collective leadership" had varying potentials of personal power. Molotov had been Stalin's long-term ally, the only implacable rival of Beria at that time, and quite popular throughout the country; he had often been heard on the radio during the war; it was he who addressed the nation about the German attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Many considered Molotov to be the second person after Stalin among the country's leaders in terms of political influence. However, he was largely discredited in the eyes of the party apparatus by Stalin himself, who had removed him from the circle of his closest advisers in recent years. Khrushchev initially did not reveal his own ambition of attaining sole power.

4Malenkov and Beria exerted decisive influence on the formation of the new power structure. Generally it was they who made decisions that were approved later by the other representatives of the political elite. Malenkov was promoted to Head of Government, and Beria became his First Deputy. At the same time, Beria gained control of the combined Ministry of the Interior, which consisted of a variety of special services, in particular, the Ministry of State Security. This was a cause for concern among Stalin’s other successors, who feared Beria’s attainment of sole power. According to Khrushchev, he said to Bulganin still at the bedside of a dying Stalin: "If Beria receives the State Security Services, it will be the beginning of our end. He will take the position in order to destroy us all." At the initiative of Beria, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, a general famous from the Civil War period, became the head of the Soviet "Parliament" - the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. According to Khrushchev, with the help of this maneuver Beria wanted to have a man "who will issue decrees formatting what Beria will do when his ’meat grinder’ begins to work."


Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers, with an introduction, commentary and notes by Edward Crankshaw, translated and edited by Strobe Talbott, London: A. Deutsch, 1971, (quotation from Russian edition, 1997, p, 265).

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

Roy Medvedev, All Stalin’s Men, Garden City: Doubleday, 1984.


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