ISSUE 1-2008
Jakub Kulhanek
Павел Витек Petr Vagner
Мацей Фалковски
Отар Довженко
Ярослав Шимов
Лубош Веселы

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles and/or discussions are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of the publisher.

By Petr Vagner | Historian, the Czech Republic | Issue 1, 2008

     Publishing the article about power struggle in top Soviet leadership, after death of J.V. Stalin in 1953, we want to recall 55th anniversary of the beginning of the end of Stalin´s regime, one of the most cruel regime which the world has known. Stalin´s epoch was changed by a new period in Soviet history which was called Khrushchev´s thaw.
     Just by coincidence the article is published in time when in Russia the change of power is in progress. President Putin is leaving Kremlin under absolutely different circumstances than Stalin or Beria but certain common moments we could find. For example, in hope that Medvedev´s regime will be more liberal than Putin´s “managed democracy”.
     Medvedev´s position is more difficult than Khrushchev´s was because his ascendant is still very powerful, but even the example of result of infighting in 1953 shows us that the situation can be changed very quickly in an unexpected way. However, we do not expect so dramatic development of upcoming events like 55 years ago so let us be ready for interesting surprises.

The memoirs and their context
            Despite Gorbachev's once famous dictum on the necessity of filling in the blank spaces in Soviet history, our picture of developments in post-war Russia is still somewhat sketchy and considerable effort is still required to obtain a complete idea of most recent Soviet and Russian history. Even though some progress can be seen in research into post-war Soviet history, the once popular ironic quip that the Soviet Union is a country with an unpredictable past still very much applies and this unpredictable past still addresses the present in its various forms and contexts. For example, attention has been aroused by the attempts of several Russian authors to substantially redraw the picture of Lavrentii Pavlovich Beria, generally considered to be one of the darkest figures in modern Russian history. These efforts went to such extremes that an application was even submitted for Beria's legal rehabilitation. An attempt at his out-of-court rehabilitation is mentioned in the memoirs of his son, Sergo, and in the declarations of radical Communist groups1 and these are echoed by certain Russian historians and journalists. Beria as reformer is a subject which has attracted the attention of quite respectable scholarly research for several years.
            Sergo Beria's recollections of his father are not out of character with the majority of children's memories of „problem“ parents.2 Beria is depicted as a decent family man, an educated technocrat who tried in all manner of ways to moderate Stalin's excesses, and while practically the entire party leadership had a hand in the 1930s repressions together with Stalin, only his father stood to one side.3 This account is particularly rich in view of the fact that as S. Beria says, for example in the case of Khrushchev, executions could not be carried out without the approval of the appropriate secretary, so how were executions carried out in Georgia, where his father was First Secretary?4 This description places Sergo Beria in considerable isolation in relation to the memoirs of a similar type. Stalin's daughter Svetlana has very different memories of Beria's behaviour: "He was a unique case of a man of his times, a sly toady, the very personification of oriental perfidy and hypocrisy, captivating my father, who was not normally easy to deceive. A lot of what this hydra did fell like a shadow on my father, and both are guilty of a great deal..."5 A Mikoyan's son, Sergo, also comes out against the idealisation of Beria: "To consider Khrushchev as a hangman (he has over 200,000 people to his account) and Beria as a fighter against NKVD despotism is blasphemy and contempt of history.”6 Beria is also described quite differently in the memoirs of his comrades and he is especially harshly criticized in N. Khrushchev's memoirs.7
            However Beria's son sweeps all this criticism from the table with the assertion that a scapegoat was required primarily for the Communist dignitaries of the time to cast out all their own sins, and this viewpoint is corroborated to a certain extent by Khrushchev himself: "Beria stood before the court of the nation as a criminal. At that time we were still captivated by the recently deceased Stalin and even after we learnt much from Beria's trial, we provided the party and the people with incorrect information when we placed all the blame on Beria. He struck us as a suitable type. We did everything to defend Stalin even though we were protecting criminals and murderers, because we had not yet freed ourselves from our reverence towards him.”8
            Khrushchev's statement does not help Beria very much, however, because it simply describes a principle used in Soviet politics both before and since that time. This involves the defence of one dignitary by highlighting the sins of another. Beria was meant to protect Stalin9 but if further errors needed to be admitted, Stalin was to be cast out for public opinion to pull to pieces in order for the party and his own position to remain untouched. This actually happened twice if we ignore the first partial critique just after his death at a session of the highest party figures; first in the exclusive criticism at the 20th CPSU Congress and again during Gorbachev's perestroika. Stalin was then ruthlessly placed at the mercy of Volkogonov10, to protect Lenin and the purity of Communist ideas, which Stalin was supposed to have distorted.
            S. Beria clearly does not succeed in making his father into a humanist and/or Stalin's victim. The vanity of such attempts is something that historians and journalists are well aware of and so they develop other „rehabilitation“ motifs which Beria's son presents. This time the matter is disproportionately more complicated because it involves various initiatives which Beria presented and prepared after Stalin's death. Beria as the predecessor of perestroika is presented in a study by a Russian historian, N. Zenkovich11, who in an interview for Komsomolskaya Pravda described attempts at rehabilitating Beria as entirely justified, because in his trial "political accusations were used instead of evidence: he released criminals from prison, he instigated a weakening in the role of the party and so forth. In reality, Beria was a precursor of Gorbachev's perestroika."12 In this respect Zenkovich is quite right. The accusations against Beria were entirely fabricated and it is not without interest that in later purges in the highest Soviet leadership in 1957, during which L. Kaganovich, G. Malenkov and V. Molotov were removed, the same „reversed polarity“ accusations which were so fateful for Beria were also used against Khrushchev's opponents.
            While Beria was accused of attempts to diminish the significance of J. Stalin, Kaganovich, Malenkov and Molotov were blamed for preventing rectification of the consequences of the cult of personality.13 Beria was charged with wanting more independence for the republics of the union, while an anti-party group “discovered” in 1957 was accused of being “against the broadening of rights for the republics of the union in economic, cultural and legislative spheres and also against the strengthening of the role of local soviets in the fulfilment of these tasks."14 Beria was charged with wishing to renew friendly relations with Yugoslavia, while the „conspirator“ Molotov was charged with preventing the improvement of relations with a sovereign state.15
            Beria definitely belonged in front of a court but he could not be accused of crimes he had actually committed because his accusers and judges had a hand in them too. The faithful functionaries and frequent initiators of the repressions together with him were Khrushchev, Kaganovich, Malenkov, Molotov and others.16 Let us only recall the activities of the prime mover behind the anti-Beria actions, Khrushchev, in the 1930s. At the time he held office as Secretary of the Moscow Party Organization, 55,741 people fell victim to the repressions in 1936-1937 and in the Ukraine where he was subsequently First Secretary of the CP USSR the statistics are no less shocking: 1938 - 106,119, 1939 - 12,000, 1940 - 50,000.17 Hence the final document from the meeting of the July plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU from 1953 does not contain a single accusation relating to Beria's actual crimes even though they were mentioned in the court hearings with him and in the investigations into the illegal repressions particularly in Georgia. An accusation of collaboration with British intelligence had to be used, as was responsibility for the poor situation in the agricultural sector and other figments of the Communist sense of justice.18 It is quite clear that nobody believed any of the charges raised at the plenum even though they had to listen to them or indeed deliver them. This was not a problem for the experienced party fighters and intriguers gathered in the hall. They had dealt out new cards and their only concern was to avoid receiving the ace of spades, in some cases indeed it was a question of life and death (for example the First Secretary of the CP Central Committee in Azerbaijan, M. Bagirov had to fight for his life - in vain).
            One significant indication of the post-Stalinist leadership's distaste and to some extent even its incapacity for dealing with the real crimes was the commotion around what came to be known as the Leningrad Trial. Everything points to the fact that one of its initiators was Beria, but this fact was not and indeed could not be utilized. Everybody in the highest leadership took part in some of the fabricated trials and one of Beria's partners in this case was probably Malenkov, one of the key figures in the anti-Beria plot. A disinclination to return to this trial was evident even before Beria's arrest, when after Stalin's death some of the trials were identified as trumped up but the Leningrad trial was not amongst them. However, this did not mean that this trial could not be used in the behind-the-scenes political struggle - and this again is very telling as regards the relations between the Communist bosses. Beria was clearly very aware of this because shortly before his arrest he tried to place the responsibility for the Leningrad purge on M. Ryumin - head of the Special Interrogation Division of the Interior Ministry. In information which he addressed to Malenkov on 25th June 1953, he states that the trial was fabricated in one brief sentence.19
            The victims of the Leningrad purges were not rehabilitated until 1954 (30th April) and the trial again began to acquire political significance because it became a means for applying pressure on Malenkov and was one of the key themes at the July plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU in 1957. A number of participants at the plenum who were also present at the similar „Beria“ plenum performance in 1953 suddenly „remembered“ after four years how Malenkov and Beria had liquidated the Leningrad comrades. But the final word came from Khrushchev, who acted as if he had not been living in the USSR until that time: “Stalin was against the imprisonment of Voznesensky and Kuznetsov. He was against it but those Jesuit beasts Beria and Malenkov made Stalin imprison them and execute them. They deceived Voznesensky, Kuznetsov and Popkov. There is blood on your hands, Malenkov, your conscience is not clean. You are a cur.”20
            Nor did the fact that the court21 condemned Beria to death on the basis of false charges or charges which can hardly be considered to involve criminal acts allow Beria's supporters to bring his rehabilitation to a successful conclusion. The media dispute which took place in the Russian media in 1998,22 was a prologue to the ruling of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of 29th October 1999, which rejected Beria's rehabilitation.23
            Some additional light was cast on the Beria debate by the opening of the Soviet archives and particularly by the release of two crucial documents on the history of the Soviet Union at that time, the stenographic records of the CPSU Central Committee plenary sessions of 1953 and 1957.24 In addition to new information, these also involve a fundamental methodological debate on what can and cannot be believed. These are indeed official documents recording very important discussions negotiations among the highest state leadership but for a number of reasons there is no lack of fabrication either. The positions of those individuals who appeared could be and often were far removed from the positions they had assumed just a few days before the meeting. Positions and lives were at stake and everything was permitted in a struggle of this kind.
            It should be pointed out at this stage just how difficult it is to interpret the stenographic records from the CPSU Central Committee plenary sessions;25 these were indeed official documents but they were often quite remote from any true-to-life description of reality. What had to be said was said and what had to be heard was heard. This makes research into the period complicated, and this can be seen in a number of otherwise high quality materials discovered in the last decade. In addition to the excessive trust which has been placed in the text of declassified documents, an effort can also be detected to give the dealings of the highest Soviet functionaries a certain order, to arrange them and to explain them in accordance with politological models. This effort is often in vain, however, because logic and politological formulae only work in the history of the Communist bloc in a very distorted manner, which often eludes any rational explanation. Although there is no need for total gnoseological scepticism, it should be appreciated that the behaviour of the Communist leaders and their hangers-on is best explained in terms of their dark and sanguine internal stirrings rather than by any effort at logical comprehension of their conduct. Hence in many cases a critical analysis of their memoirs has greater significance than any interpretation of the minutes of meetings. In many cases, an analysis of the struggle for power in the post-Stalin USSR frequently has more to do with psychopathology than with historiography.

Guilty before the party and the comrades
            If we are to analyse the real reasons why Beria had to be removed, we will have to turn away from the marasmatic state of legality in the Communist bloc in the 1950s and we will also find it pointless to seek any rationality behind the charges, which did not have to be, and in most cases were not, based on any factual grounds. We should focus our attention on the struggle for power among the Communist leaders in 1953 and the strength of Beria's standing during Stalin's life and immediately after his death. There are certainly times in Beria's career when - along with A. Knight - we might call him „Stalin's First Lieutenant“ and it is these periods when he inspired dread amongst his party comrades which rather paradoxically contributed to his violent end.
            Beria managed to make use of the positions he attained to build up considerable influence, which he did not lose in the course of the war but on the contrary he was entrusted with highly responsible tasks after the war, particularly the supervision of the development of atomic weapons. Although his position amongst those closest to Stalin was no longer as secure and it cannot be ruled out that he was next in line.26 The threat of a grim end hung particularly close over Beria at the time the "Mingrelian Nationalist Group" affair blew up at the end of 1951-1952. He himself spoke of the threat at the last session of the Central Committee Presidium before his arrest. "Beria was forced to admit...that Comrade Stalin did not trust him and that the Mingrelian affair had been concocted to give Stalin a reason to have Beria arrested and that he did not have time to implement his plan."27 He was clearly very much helped at the time by Malenkov's intervention with Stalin as he himself recalls in a letter to the CPSU Communist Party: "I shall never forget your role in a number of cases especially when they wanted to associate me with the events in Georgia."28 Khrushchev29 also expresses the opinion that Stalin planned the Mingrelian affair against Beria and his statement is confirmed by Mikoyan's son Sergo: "When Ignatiev, the Secretary of the Yaroslav District Committee, was sent to the KGB, the authorities began to work on the "Mingrelian Affair", which was initiated directly by Stalin. During the investigations, Beria's key subordinates were arrested and removed. Stalin said: "Look out for the Big Mingrelian"30 In addition to the Mingrelian affair, Beria's words on the poor vigilance of the security forces in the „white coats“ affair must have appeared ominous for him because as Deputy Premier he was the one who was responsible for these units. However, not only Beria suffered from problems.
            Towards the end of Stalin's life, the storm began to rage again at the highest levels. At the CPSU Central Committee plenum of 16.10.1952, Stalin subjected Molotov and Mikoyan to sharp criticism. When they made their speeches both attempted to justify themselves but at the same time they were aware that their fate hung in the proverbial balance: "They made their speeches and to me they no longer seemed to be the people whom I had quite often seen from close up in the past - but just white masks. Very similar to real faces - and yet at the same time somehow totally dissimilar - no longer alive."31
            By this time Stalin was most probably psychologically isolated and consumed by paranoia, which even prevented him from taking the medicines he needed for his deteriorating mental functions and also perhaps by fear of a violent end32: "It is difficult to say whom he trusted. Apparently nobody. Khrushchev? He couldn't trust him at all. Bulganin was no good for him either. It's simply not true that Malenkov was close to Stalin. There were no prominent youngsters - he had obliterated the Leningraders."33 From time to time the Leader certainly tried to form an alliance with one of the highest strength nor the courage to get rid of him entirely. "It seemed sometimes that Stalin was afraid of Beria and would have been glad to get rid of him but didn’t know how to do it."35
            Stalin might indeed have feared Beria but the fear was a two-way thing and his death came as a relief to Beria as it did to most of the Soviet leadership because danger had been in the offing. "In the last years of his life, Stalin had been cooking up plans for radical changes in the top leadership of the country. He had got rid of the odious and now redundant staff of the security forces. They had been arrested and the high functionaries of the Ministry of State Security led by Minister V. Abakumov were awaiting trial. During the last years of Stalin's life, a kind of ‘encirclement’ of Beria had been initiated. The positions of the ‘old party guard’ of Molotov, Voroshilov, Kaganovich, Mikoyan had weakened. The radical broadening of the ranks of the Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee immediately after the 19th CPSU Congress had enabled Stalin to create a kind of team of ‘stand-ins’ who could replace the old leadership at any time."36 It was this measure of Stalin's more than any other which inspired real fear in the old party veterans: "The broad composition of the Presidium enabled Stalin at times of need to get rid of inconvenient members whose disappearance would not be that noticeable. For example if five or six people disappeared from one congress to the next, this would appear to be an insignificant change."37
            But the Leader of the World Proletariat had run out of time for any more bloody cadre reshuffles. After his end was announced, Russia was awash with tears. Some grieved sincerely and worried over the desperate fate of the nation, which had lost a wise and solicitous father. Others cried with happiness and hope that they might again see their loved ones lost in the maelstrom of never-ending purges that came with the rhetoric on the intensifying class struggle. The nation stood in great lines before the Hall of Columns to see the Leader's face for the last time. And the feelings were evidently similar to those felt at the news of Stalin's death. Some went to pay their last respects to an unprecedented genius, others went to satisfy themselves that the monster was really dead and that this was not just another monstrous game to test the nation again. In this context, the tone of Komsomolskaya Pravda sounds rather sarcastic 47 years on: "It is as if Stalin has gone to sleep. At any moment he will open his good eyes and gaze paternally at the people around..."38
            One group after another asked the same question - what would happen next? At the time just after Stalin's death, the Soviet citizens' state of mind, which might even be described as schizophrenic, is caught by the Academician Sakharov in his memoirs: "It was an astonishing event. Everybody understood that something would change soon but nobody knew in which respect. They were afraid that things would be worse (though what could actually be worse?). People who had no illusions about Stalin and the establishment were afraid of disintegration, internal disorders, new waves of mass repression and even civil war."39 While the people on the gloomy streets of Russian cities were just gradually getting used to the new reality and were now just allowing what had until recently been heretical thoughts to pass through their minds, the country's leadership was preparing for another power struggle. The fatal question of who and with whom had been asked upon the death of the dictator and was now waiting for an answer. Stalin had died unexpectedly and without a political will to designate his successor, which made the situation all the more vexed.40 There were several candidates for the vacant highest position (Malenkov, Beria and Khrushchev) but the position of Interior Minister seemed most advantageous - and he could and did live in the greatest hope. However, the plot was resolved in a different manner. After a certain period of hesitation and probing into the situation, the apparently untouchable and all-powerful Beria was very suddenly liquidated.
            The first weeks after Stalin's death did not give much indication of such developments. Beria was highly active as witnessed by the proposals in the form of „minutes“ which he presented to the Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee (PCPSUCC). These proposals submitted from March to June 1953 aimed at rectifying some of the repressions carried out during Stalin's reign41 and also involved several other issues. The adoption of some of these proposals as PCPSUCC resolutions demonstrate the strength of Beria's position but his removal was still being prepared behind the scenes. Why did an attempt at a certain democratization of life in the Soviet Union have to start with the liquidation of Beria?
            A key role was played by the fear that people had of Beria's power and their experience of his conduct alongside Stalin. Fear of Beria was not purely a matter for those party members closest to him, the entire country was afraid of him: "In the eyes of most citizens of the Soviet Union, Beria symbolized the ever-present danger that one might disappear into a camp at any moment."42 His immediate rivals also had unpleasant experience of the NKVD from the time they held party posts during the Great Terror and the NKVD followed their every step. Beria's activity after Stalin's death gave a clear indication that he was aiming for higher things than the Interior Ministry and that there was a possible threat he would carry on Stalin's practices. "Beria began to build up support in the republics, using his special nationalist touch, and he strengthened the KGB forces. At that time he took it into his head to free some prisoners but then he wanted to accuse his colleagues of this and that, imprison them, start a new period of purges and cruelty as in Stalin's day... Father said that he knew Beria. He knew that nothing would stop him from attempting to gain more power. Father was really afraid of this and thought that the lives of most members of the leadership were in danger."43
            Beria was aware of his power and managed to spin his webs almost everywhere he needed them and it seems there was no place he did not consider to be important.44 Hence he could give the impression that he had things under control. The tremendous fear that people had of Beria's power and of any confrontation with him are clearly reflected even in the memoirs written many years later by Khrushchev, where a detailed description is given of how conspiratorially the anti-Beria group was formed and the problems that it faced - they did not entirely believe in the success of their enterprise until the very end: "How are we going to arrest him? Our guard is directly subordinate to him....As soon as we ask our question, Beria will order the guard to arrest us. Then we agreed to call the generals..."45 
            Beria's closest comrades were paralysed by fear of him. The passages in Khrushchev's memoirs dealing with this subject are strongly suggestive of an unfortunate rabbit staring into the eyes of an enormous python. A record of a conversation between Khrushchev and Malenkov is all too typical: "Don't you see where things are leading? We're heading for disaster. Beria is sharpening his knife for us. Malenkov answered ‘Yes and what can we do about it? I see it coming but how can we protect ourselves?’"46 Ultimately, however, it was fear itself which drove Khrushchev, Malenkov, Molotov and others to action.47 Beria had shown them his power and they knew that he was gathering evidence against them and consolidating his position in the Union Republics. The day before his arrest he made it more or less clear to Malenkov that he could associate him within the foreseeable future with the "Leningrad" trial investigation.48 All these potential and open threats ultimately brought all the frightened leadership together in one more or less determined mass.
            Moreover, Beria evidently underestimated them all and did not consider any of them to be a real opponent. "Strange as it may seem, Beria's defeat was to a considerable extent brought about by his own naivete. He overestimated his own options and abilities. He disparaged his colleagues, whom he considered to be idiots, forgetting that even an idiot can be dangerous."49 Above all, he very much underestimated Khrushchev, who yearned for power just as he did and who had excellent prospects as a result of his position within the party apparatus. "Both of them were well aware that Stalin's death had not somehow done away with the mechanism for acquiring individual power - it had not been stowed away in some museum of ancient history. The mechanism had been preserved intact and all that was needed was to gain control of it and to set it in motion. Like two beasts of prey devouring each other with their stares, they circled one other and sniffed each other out in an effort to determine if the other could make the winning thrust to destroy his rival and tear out his throat."50 Because of his conviction of his own superiority and of the others' inability, Beria actually found himself in a very disadvantageous initial position. He considered Khrushchev to be a "harmless round-faced simpleton whom he, the master of intrigues, could easily bend round his little finger."51 On the other hand, Khrushchev was aware of Beria's strengths and weaknesses and could add all the necessary components to his plan, which eventually decided in his favour. None of his closest colleagues denies his key role in the liquidation of Beria even though he later parted company with a number of them on bad terms.
            Malenkov's son is an exception. He refers to the main tension being between Beria and Malenkov and characterizes his father as the prime mover behind the anti-Beria campaign.52 Rather than the statements of Malenkov's son, however, some attention should be paid to the work of the Russian historian, J. Zhukov, who also develops the theme of the rivalry between Malenkov and Beria as the main plot in the post-Stalin leadership struggle.53 Zhukov bases his assertions on several personnel changes in the CPSU apparatus and states that Malenkov turned the balance of power round in his own favour while Beria was away in East Germany.54 If Malenkov was Beria's chief rival, however, a number of questions arise as to why he actually put Malenkov forward as Stalin's successor. If he was a key figure in the plot, why did Malenkov lose all initiative and support in the Central Committee? Why did he relinquish his position so quickly and straightforwardly to Khrushchev? Moreover at the "Beria Plenum" the chief protagonist is quite evidently Khrushchev again. It clearly makes more sense to believe Molotov, who was very critical towards Khrushchev and yet, who on the question of the removal of Beria, simply says that Khrushchev was the leading figure.55 
            The arrest came as a shock to Beria and he did not recover from it during the first few days of his imprisonment when he was overcome by panic made all the worse, of course, by the fact that he could reasonably well imagine what awaited him. His letters from prison to the CPSU Central Committee are a mixture of terror and servility. They speak with cruel candour of the conditions obtaining among the Communist verkhushka at the time, where these two phenomena were all-present.56
            The arrest took place at a session of the Central Committee plenum of 26th June 1953 even though there were as yet no specific charges against him.57 His opponents were well aware of this and at first Khrushchev too spoke only of „detention“ in the interests of further investigations: "I said 'detain' rather than 'arrest' because there were still no criminal charges against Beria, I could easily have believed that he had been an agent of the Mussavatists, as Kaminsky had said, but Kaminsky's charge had never been verified, there had never been an investigation of Beria's role in Baku... As far as Beria's provocative behaviour was concerned, we had only our intuition - and you cannot arrest a man solely on the basis of intuition. That is why I said we would have to 'detain' him for an investigation."58
            They even considered just relieving him of the positions he held but Molotov was evidently against this, fearing to let Beria go free: "Beria is very dangerous. I think we will have to resort to the most extreme measures."59 The action against Beria was primarily a preventative measure. Paradoxically, his growing power became the cause of his demise. Beria's opponents intervened at a time when he evidently had not yet managed to bring the Interior Ministry staff round to his side and under his control. "Beria went over to the Interior Ministry after eight years...The people had changed, the situation had changed, there wasn't the same control mechanism that there had previously been. Moreover he had combined the Interior Ministry with the Ministry of State Security. In formal terms, this strengthened both ministries but it also brought out all the antagonisms which had been building up over the years of their separate existence. Both institutions had existed independently for ten years, their relations had been complex and on some occasions they simply came out in open confrontation against each other. In other words, Beria's trench, the Interior Ministry, was not that deep and not that well defended."60 He also had a very weak position in the party apparatus and his relations with the army were not simple either.61 Hence the rapidity of the move against Beria paralysed those points of support which he had created and which were clearly not strong enough to provide him with any real backing. The calm following Beria's arrest allowed the conspirators to contemplate his total liquidation, which they indeed accomplished without any particular difficulties.
            The absence of specific charges against Beria was soon „rectified“ and at the July session of the Central Committee plenum, they could charge Beria without his being able to defend himself since he was not released from prison for this session.
            He was accused of trying to "raise the Interior Ministry above the party and the government of the Soviet Union, wishing thereby to seize power, liquidate the Soviet worker-peasant establishment, restore capitalism and revive the rule of the bourgeoisie."62 With this plan in mind he was going to install his cohorts, V. Merkulov, V. Dekanozov, B. Kobulov, S. Goglidze, P. Meshik and L. Vlodzimersky, who had helped him to remove primarily honest workers from the Interior Ministry, who might have stood in the way of his base plans.
            He was found to be a spy at least three times over. First allegedly in 1919, he worked as a counter-intelligence agent for the Mussavatist government in Azerbaijan63 and a year later he collaborated with Georgian Menshevik government security, which was supposed to be a branch of British intelligence. In subsequent years he supposedly maintained contacts with foreign intelligence and his activity was said to have culminated after Stalin's death, when "it was planned to reactivate reactionary imperialist forces against the Soviet Union."64 The court hearings supposedly revealed the depths of his moral corruption. Together with his accomplices he also allegedly sought to "to reactivate the remnants of bourgeois nationalist elements in the Union Republics, to sow hatred and discord among the nations of the USSR and primarily to undermine the friendship between the nations of the USSR and the great Russian nation."65 With the aim of creating problems in supplies to the population, he allegedly sabotaged the implementation of party body measures in this area. 
            Beria was found guilty of "high treason, organization of an anti-Soviet conspiratorial group with the aim of seizing power and restoring the rule of the bourgeoisie and carrying out terrorist acts against political functionaries devoted to the Communist Party and the peoples of the Soviet Union."66 The verdict covered all conceivable sins but although it gave the relevant sections of the Soviet Criminal Code, it did not include a single specific charge, e.g. as to which of the honest and devoted comrades Beria had removed (with one exception, nothing is mentioned of this by Khrushchev, who otherwise does not leave a stone unturned when it comes to Beria), or in which republics the remnants of the bourgeoisie had been reactivated, and so forth. When it delivered its verdict at least, the court saw no need for specifics. The famous theoretical prowess of Communist law had gained another glorious victory in that the confession of the accused, whether pre-fabricated or beaten out of him, is the best of all evidence.  
            On the basis of these accusations, the heretic was excommunicated from the church and given over to temporal justice. "For traitorous activity aimed at the subversion of the Soviet state the plenum passed a resolution to expel L. P. Beria as an enemy of the party and the Soviet people from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to send him for trial.“67 The plenum resolution was in the form of a confidential letter sent to party organizations while the public was informed in a brief article in Pravda (10.VII.), which indeed mentioned that Beria had been expelled from the CPSU but did not mention that he would be arrested and sent for trial.
            The resolution adopted „on the criminal anti-party and anti-state actions of Beria“ did not give the former Interior Minister much chance of surviving. This was confirmed by the subsequent trial on 18th-23rd December 1953, which simply repeated certain charges raised at the plenum and which condemned him to the highest penalty, carried out 23rd December.
            Beria was shot and his family and relatives were subjected to persecutions. This ill-treatment of Beria's relatives bears witness to the fact that Stalinism was still alive in the Politburo members even after the Leader's death. In prison, Beria was well aware of the fact that his family was in danger because he had not treated his victims any differently, so he appealed to Malenkov, should anything happen to him, to look after his family. And that is what he did. His wife, son, pregnant daughter-in-law and their two children were arrested, while relatives living in Georgia were sent into exile. In the interests of the struggle against a relapse into Stalinism, even though at that time none of Beria's accusers called things by their true names, Beria was liquidated in a purely Stalinist fashion - based on fabricated charges and a trial without witnesses while his fate had an unfortunate effect upon his family and relatives.
            Apart from the accusation of collaboration with foreign intelligence services and the unspecified attempts to hoodwink Comrade Stalin, there are no critical objections against Beria's activities in plenum conclusions up until 1953. This represents a thick dividing line because clearly nobody wished to look into Beria's past crimes, even if there were anything to find, because unpleasant associations might be made for a large number if not the majority of the Central Committee members. Moreover, an investigation into Beria's participation in the repressions would inevitably have led, if not to criticism of Stalin, then at least to doubts on his style of managing the party and the government when he unleashed such terror. There are some hints at the plenum meetings that Stalin was not above making mistakes but it was still too soon for any real criticism. Hence the repressions were not on the plenum agenda.
            If a shadow was not to fall upon Stalin or Beria's judges in 1953, his activities in the 1930s had to remain outside the plenum agenda and they could not, of course, appear in materials sent to party organizations. Their leaders, if any of them had survived those times at all, still remembered the „forays“ made by members of the Central Committee into the regions, when arrests were made at party body meetings themselves. Hence it was not appropriate for existing leaderships to get onto the same level as Beria in this case. Charges of participation in the repressions were used in the next round of the power struggle when Khrushchev came up against so called “anti-party group” composed by Molotov, Malenkov and Kaganovich. During his defence against charges of participation in the repressions made by G. Zhukov, Kaganovich actually used the argument that the entire leadership took part in the repressions: "Kaganovich: The situation was clear-cut. We acted quickly. Comrade Zhukov only came up with two or three names, those who had signed documents and he does not remember the others - that is a fractional manoeuvre. This is fractionalism. You only touch on the ones that suit you and you keep quiet about the others. The entire Politburo. And the regional troikas. In all areas the troikas were led by the Secretary of the Regional Committee. Khrushchev: And who confirmed this criminal order involving the creation of troikas? All those who were members were shot. Kaganovich: Not all of them. Khrushchev: The absolute majority. Kaganovich: Didn't you sign documents about executions in Ukraine? And what about you, Comrade Zhukov, when you were a division head? Didn't you sign? Zhukov: I didn't have a single person shot. Kaganovich: That is difficult to believe. Zhukov: Do please believe me. Kaganovich: And what about you? Didn't you agree with the Central Committee policy and with the policy of struggle with the enemy?"68 Kaganovich's defence, justifiably pointing out their joint guilt, did not have the least chance of success, as was the custom at these „unmasking“ plenums, the guilty party was always the weakest even though they all had about the same number of skeletons in the cupboard.
            Accusations of participation in the repressions were discussed at the plenum dealing with the activity of the „antiparty group“ in a very detailed and stormy manner. G. Zhukov provided the main tone but the subject of the repressions did not at that time get into the final resolution on the plenum proceedings. This was still a taboo subject because any admission of errors provoked activities in Soviet society which sooner or later turned against the CPSU. Hence criticism of the Stalinist period was only permitted to selected party leaders. Lower party cadres, not to mention non-party members, were severely punished for the same criticism. "A report went around Moscow that one of the party organizations at the Academy Institute had been dissolved in connection with demands heard during the proceedings of a secret meeting to call all those responsible for the mass repressions to justice. The dissolution of this organization, which was supposed to have taken place upon the order of M. Suslov, showed the limits which the party leadership allowed for criticism of Stalinism."69

            From the various documents available it can be demonstrated quite convincingly that the basic reason behind Beria's liquidation was the fear that his close cohorts had of him. Justified fears did have a role to play as did a certain demonization of Beria. He did make a suitable scapegoat - and these were by no means just political charges. Clearly, we shall have to pay greater attention to the apparently irrelevant allegation that Beria was to blame for the difficult situation in Soviet agriculture. In contrast to the other charges which were certainly more applicable to Beria, this one actually got into the final resolution before all the other charges except for the one on the situation at the Interior Ministry. Our attention is drawn by the conspicuously inorganic arrangement of the resolution.
            The preamble to the resolution refers at some length to the successes in the construction of socialism and to the growth in the economy but it is in the passages on Beria that a false note is struck, from which we might deduce that not all was as it should have been with agriculture. "While Stalin was still alive and then especially after his death, Beria used all kinds of fabricated excuses to hinder the solutions to urgent questions involving the consolidation and development of agriculture. Now it is clear that this base enemy of the people aimed to destabilize the kolkhozes and to create difficulties in supplies of foodstuffs to the country."70
            This subject is repeated several times at the plenum proceedings and Khrushchev and Mikoyan in particular devote considerable attention to it in their speeches.71 This should come as no great surprise. Russia was not far from a food crisis and given the proverbial Russian passion for seeking out culprits, it was clear that if the situation came to a final conclusion, then heads would fall. As far as agriculture was concerned, Khrushchev and Mikoyan had no small share of the responsibility. On 11th December 1952, Khrushchev was appointed chairman of the committee that was to implement the Central Committee Presidium bureau resolution „On the make-up of the committee for drawing up specific measures to ensure further development of livestock production“ and Mikoyan was responsible for the work of the Economic Council.
            At the session both explained what they wanted to do and how Beria prevented them from doing so. He was indeed also a member of Khrushchev's committee (he was appointed to it in February 1953 together with Malenkov), but when all was said and done it would be necessary to look for culprits elsewhere. The head of the Minister of Agriculture, Benediktov, would most probably not be enough if the situation became acute and it had to be used in an in-party struggle. And as for the economy of the Soviet Union as it strode from success to success, Beria doubtless had precise figures to hand on what the real picture was. Besides, the plenum had convicted him several times for acquiring information through the Interior Ministry structures, outside the party apparatus. Hence the apparently irrelevant charge of agricultural sabotage was actually of considerable significance especially in the event that the situation really came to the edge and it could be used in the power struggle for the Soviet leadership.
            From 1953 to 1954 a number of CPSU Central Committee edicts and resolutions dealt with the agricultural situation but this did not improve at all.72 Malenkov spoke of the very grave situation and Khrushchev even stated at the September 1953 Central Committee plenum that in some branches (e.g. livestock production) agriculture was worse than before the revolution: "The needs of the people are not being satisfied; people are eating little and badly."73 The plenums debated plans to improve the situation but this remained substantially unchanged. The September plenum put forward the plan for 1954 for livestock production and some parameters were successfully met but it was stated that despite certain improvements, livestock production did not satisfy the growing demand on the part of the population.74

Livestock production in the USSR 1941-1955 (in millions)75

             After the poor crops of 1953, the plant production situation was also very serious and villagers were actually travelling into the towns to buy bread. The USSR had practically exhausted its supplies and, in Khrushchev's words, hunger threatened the land. Khrushchev's criticism of the basic foodstuffs supply situation at the September plenum of the CPSU Central Committee also had a purely political aim in view because it was directed against the Premier, Malenkov, who at the 19th CPSU Congress had described the grain problem as resolved once and for all.  

Crop output in the USSR 1941-1955 (millions of tons)76

 103.7* *

* Before the outbreak of the First World War, cereal output in Tsarist Russia in 1913 came to 86 million tons. The difference in cereal supplies to the country also involved the fact that at the end of 1913 Tsarist Russia had 159.2 million inhabitants while in 1950 when the crop was practicallythe same, there were 178.5 million inhabitants.77
** The sharp increase in the production of cereal was the result of extensive measures - e.g. the farming of virgin land.

             Somewhat paradoxically, the situation after Stalin's death was made even more acute by a certain liberalization in the system which led Soviet citizens to raise their heads and claim what was theirs: "You might ask, how come two billion puds of grain, i.e. approx. 33 million tons was enough with Stalin while three billion was insufficient only a few years later after Stalin's death? The explanation is simple. Once Stalin was dead, people's mouths were unlocked. They began to state their needs more openly without glancing nervously over their shoulders to see if someone was going to throw them in jail."78 People no longer intended to acquiesce to suffering want and, as things became more relaxed, they simply wanted to eat more and better. Under Stalin they would have been afraid to come out openly with their needs. Now this fear had receded and paradoxically this could have deplorable consequences for a new more liberal government.
            In this situation, Beria made a very good prime culprit. The CPSU leadership, as can be seen from Khrushchev's speech at the plenum dealing with Beria, was even afraid of the possibility that an uprising of the disaffected population might break out. This could again be credited to Beria's account: "He is a provocateur. I even believe he thought that if there was an uprising, things would actually get better." This was not only an accusation but also an expression of fear that such a thing could happen. When individual participants were amending their speeches for the official minutes, which were distributed to party organizations, Khrushchev changed the formulation of his words about an uprising to "if ever complications should arise anywhere based on the disaffection of the population."79 Clearly it would do no good at this time to go looking for trouble because the situation really was serious: "Economic problems were getting more and more complicated. The country was informed of the 1951-1955 five-year plan almost two years late. The great decline in the villages raised fears among the people that a new famine was on the way. Provisions were insufficient."80 The critical situation in the villages is borne out by letters from villagers addressed to the central authorities. The dire situation had caused people to lose their fear and warn openly of the unbearable conditions in which they had to live in the rural areas. The fact that they even did so in some cases during Stalin's life only bears witness to the impossible plight of the Soviet villages. The country had come close to the critical point of social unrest.81
            The fact that the new leadership was aware of the gravity of the situation is shown by some of the measures taken in the economic sphere, which were primarily an attempt to mollify the people's disaffection. As early as 1st April, a reduction in the price of foodstuffs and consumer goods was announced and on 8th August a plan was approved at a government meeting for the development of consumer industry and the new economic course was set primarily in favour of agriculture. The Agricultural Tax Law reduced the tax almost twofold, arrears in its payment were waived, purchase prices increased ("the increase in purchase prices led to an enormous increase in agricultural production and supplies to the state. Suddenly we had everything.")82 and the permitted area of private farms was increased. The government was fighting for time and it managed to gain some by using the new economic course. It was also useful to have a personification of the problems faced, very much in the spirit of the long Russian tradition which cannot do without finding a culprit. The fundamental question of Russian history: "who is responsible for it?" had again been satisfactorily answered to the relief of the leadership.
            Even if the allegations against Beria for the problems faced by Soviet agriculture were convenient to say the least, it has to be said that others could have been found in their place - and his judges did have a number of others to hand - and used them. And even if these hadn't existed, he could still have been arraigned for the lack of oxygen on the Moon or for the improper conduct of praying mantises towards their partners. This enemy of the people had certainly been the „beloved“ son of the nation only a month before but this did not stop him from now being reviled by that same nation. Whatever the nation was given to believe, it mostly believed or at least pretended to believe. In those conditions the contents of the allegation were not so important. The important thing was something different - to eliminate the problem; and Beria without doubt presented a big problem for his closest comrades.

            After Stalin's death, not only was there a certain relief among the old-new Soviet leadership but there was also an awareness that some relatively fundamental changes had to be undertaken. "The country was not capable of feeding itself. There weren't even enough potatoes in Moscow. The peasants impoverished by taxation tried to leave the villages. There were two enormous armies in the country. The first still at its wartime size and the great army of prisoners. Following ‘Stalin's commandments’ meant living under the imagined economic rules of socialism, which preferred the renunciation of monetary relations. Hence Stalin had to be buried. Very gradually, the wave of adulation had to be stemmed and his 'legacy' had to be neutralized."83
            This was understood to be a necessity by at least some of the leadership, doubtless including Beria, who had ambitions of becoming the engine of such changes. A number of his iniciatives were sooner or later actually implemented but his sudden end could not have been averted by these initiatives because he was too dangerous for those around him.84 Whether or not he wished to seize power, and we do not have sufficient evidence for either contention, he had to be liquidated. His past and his growing power so frightened his comrades that they decided to take action which from the very outset even they thought was insane and yet necessary. They, and Khrushchev in particular, set in motion a game aimed at removing Beria. The outcome was by no means assured and they were surprised at how from the technical standpoint everything went a lot more easily than might have anticipated. Neither ideological disputes nor other differences of opinion on the subsequent development of the Soviet Union or on foreign policy were the motivation for this game - the decisive role was played by fear of Beria and the secret police that he controlled. Khrushchev and his allies managed to avert the impending ascendancy of the all-powerful Interior Minister over the party bodies. The American ambassador at the time in Russia, C. Bohlen, also gives this as the prime motive behind Beria's fall: "The aim was to do away with government by a single man who knew his comrades inside out because he controlled the secret police."85
            If we are to discuss Beria's plans for reform, we find ourselves on rather thin ice. No document has yet been discovered to provide persuasive proof of any comprehensive plan for reforms that Beria may have had. The identifiable individual initiatives which he had after Stalin's death indicate recognition to a certain degree that something had to be done with the situation at that time. Nothing more, nothing less. However, this certain degree of recognition was also present in the thinking of Malenkov and Khrushchev. This was a phenomenon that was very much determined by the situation in which the Soviet Union found itself after eight years of post-war Stalinist rule, i.e. the main reason for the gradual thaw after Stalin's death was not the enlightened reason of the Soviet bosses, but the absolute necessity of preventing the worst outcome. As soon as the Soviet Union was out of the worst, both at home and abroad the freeze set in again under Brezhnev. 
            The Soviet Union had arrived at a crossroad, or perhaps rather before an abyss, and reform measures had to be taken. Their gradual implementation, beginning while Beria was still alive and in some cases even on his initiative, were later called the "Khrushchev Thaw". This certainly bore fruit but in the ultimate analysis it only prolonged the Communist experiment, which was heading up a blind alley in any case. In this respect the most convincing symbol is the virgin lands (tselina), which were the pride of Khrushchev and later Brezhnev. At first they saved the Soviet Union from serious difficulties with food shortages but after some time they themselves became a problem that was difficult to resolve.
            Based on a few separate measures that Beria proposed or implemented, any attempt to make him into all but an apostle of perestroika is without historical foundation. What he managed to implement after Stalin's death is a ragbag of measures to alleviate some of the worst crimes from the past: partial attempts that may have aimed at removing the worst burdens on the Soviet economy and attempts to somewhat alter the balance of power in the administration of the country in favour of non-party structures. This mixture of motives also involved his awareness that certain reform measures needed to be taken in order to enhance his own position prior to the decisive battle for power. It is from this viewpoint that we can best interpret his attempt to bolster the power of the state institutions at the expense of the party apparatus. On the other hand, if he had controlled the party apparatus, he would not have tried to reduce its strength. Moreover, if he had a tendency to duplicate certain functions of the party apparatus using Interior Ministry bodies, these can hardly be described as positive changes but quite the reverse in fact.
            It certainly cannot be denied that Beria had a broad knowledge of the facts and was kept informed of the real situation in the country to a high degree. To this should be added a certain pragmatism which enabled him to overcome the dogmatism characteristic of a number of his colleagues. These facts allowed him to look at certain matters in a substantially more realistic light than in the case of certain other members of the Politburo, e.g. Molotov. This pragmatism particularly showed itself in negotiations over certain foreign policy matters and had its impact in his approach to internal policy matters too (the change in the regulations on free movement and possibly some of the thinking behind the new kolkhoz economic management methods). However, this pragmatic view of certain problems was not characteristic of Beria alone and a similar view on a number of questions was held by Malenkov, who together with Beria can be grouped in the pragmatic wing of the Politburo. Not even these pragmatists, however, had anything to do with deeper system changes in the Communist establishment. However, they did understand that they could not base their acquired power on their authority alone as Stalin had been able to do and that they had to support it by at least some success in improving the living standards of the people to ensure peace in the country. In a somewhat more ideologized position, Khrushchev shortly went in the same direction, successfully playing the role of an „Ivan Durachok“, able to hit at the right time in the right place.
            Beria's liquidation did not end the struggle in the post-Stalin leadership. The atmosphere of distrust, the conspiracies and the plots did continue. It is sufficient just to get into the memoirs of the Soviet leaders of the time - and yet a new disposition did subsequently emerge. A defeated opponent no longer ended up in the vaults of the Lyublanka or the Lefortovo cells or on the scaffold, he was merely shunted onto a siding. He became minister of a not really important ministry, an ambassador in a not really significant country or a functionary of some remote Union Republic or region, or he was entrusted with some less important factory or power plant. The spiritus agens of more than one party in-fight, Khrushchev, who was also eventually removed from power, went into retirement and as his black and white memorial in Novodevich Cemetery indicates, things began to improve somewhat even as regards official appreciation of the activities of the once powerful. However, Russia had to wait till the very end of the twentieth century for the first almost natural transfer of power (not counting General Secretaries who died in office) i.e. by means of almost democratic elections.   

The published article is based on book Vágner, P., Smečka (The Pack), Brno, Publishing House Jota, 2002, 250 pages. The text was edited and added by Lubos Vesely.

1 Narodnoye kommunisticheskoye dvizheniye.  This and the following eight pages consider in the style of an if-history what would have happened if Beria had not been defeated. The author comes to the conclusion that the USSR would have developed much more successfully.
2 Beria S., Moy otec - Lavrentii Beria, Moscow 1994. The text of this book can also be found on: A similar attempt to rehabilitate his father, if not so elaborate, was undertaken by the son of G Malenkov in Malenkov, A., O moyem otce Georgii Malenkove, Moscow 1992.
3 Ibid, pp. 52-62. S. Beria identifies A. Zhdanov as the prime force behind the repressions on p. 56.
4 Beria's rampage in Georgia is described for example in a work by Knight, A., Beria Stalinuv prvni pobocnik, Prague 1995, pp. 91-100. Also Rogovin, V., Partiya rasstrelyannych, Moscow 1997, pp. 174-177. Beria's activities during the 1930s purges in Georgia are described in more detail in Beria by A. Antonov-Ovseyenko (written 1979-1988) (Chapter: Pogrom on Culture). Ovseyenko recalls Beria's speech at the 10th Congress of the Georgian Communist Party (1937) where he declared proscription lists. Ovseyenko does not doubt that "the history of the pogrom in Georgian literature will always be associated with the name of Lavrentii Beria. The liquidation of honest writers, the persecution of those who wanted to at least retain something of an honourable appearance - Beria had his hand in all of this“. Even in this case we have various standpoints but the scales are again tipped against Beria. And it is entirely irrelevant whether he took part in the purges against his will or at the instigation of Stalin because he did take part in them and attempts to clear him of guilt for these actions are unreliable and have no backing in history and the devil's hoof of contemporary political interests can be seen in most of them. Besides, Russia was a witness of similar events in 1999, the 85th anniversary of the birth of J. Andropov, who was depicted as a highly educated politician, a convinced reformer and a liberal in connection with the highest political ambitions of another secret-service member, V. Putin, although the reality of Andropov's USSR and the character of the General Secretary himself were rather different.
5 Alliluyeva, S. Dvacat pisem drugu, Moscow 1989, pp 7-8.
6 Moy otec, bezuslovno, otvetstvenen za politicheskuyu obstanovku v strane. Interview with S. Mikoyan. In: Vestnik, 1997, No.
7 Khrushchev N. S., Vospominaniya, Izbrannye fragmenty, Moscow 1997. Khrushchev Remembers, London 1971. This work makes use of both versions of Khrushchev's memoirs. The English version is essentially more comprehensive although several elements in the Russian edition are missing from it. 
8 Khrushchev, Vospominaniya, p. 296, Remembers, p. 343.
9 Beria became a kind of trash can of party history, the originator of anything that did not agree with the canonical notions of the role of the party. Stalin himself came to receive a more evasive assessment with its "on the one hand" and "on the other hand". Moreover this evaluation is still held by official CPSU historiography." Pikhoya, R., Sovetsky Soyuz" Istoria vlasti. 1945-1991, Moscow 1998, pp. 120. Substantial parts of Pikhoya's work dealing with the 1945-1956 period can also be found on where Mezhdunarodnyi istoricheskiy zhurnal is located. 
10 Volkogonov, D., Triumf i tragedia. Politicheski portret I. V. Stalina, Moscow 1989.
11 Zenkovich, N., Sto dney i vsya zhizn Lavrentiia Berii. Marshaly i genseki, Moscow 1997, p. 164-310. This is nothing new, however. Beria's reform plans were also referred to, for example, as early as the 1970s by T. Wittlin in Commissar: The Life and Death of Lavrentii Pavlovich Beria, New York 1972. Wittlin mentions Beria's plans to privatize businesses engaged in light industry, to reform the kolkhoz system, to return to the Communist Party policy at the time of the NEP and to change the policy of russification of non-Russian nations in the USSR. As for foreign policy, mention is also made of Beria's attempts to improve relations with the West and Yugoslavia. Wittlin, T., q.w. pp. 363-365. A very positive picture of Beria is also painted in the work of Rubin, N., using methods of doubtful quality: Lavrentii Berija: mif i realnost, Moscow 1998. It is even stated on the book cover that "the facts allow him to be called the most humane functionary in the inhumane Stalinist verkhushka."
12 Genii represii mozhet byt reabilitirovan. In: Komsomolskaya Pravda, 5.5. 1998
13 Postanovlenie plenuma CS KPSS Ob antipartiynoy gruppe Malenkova G. M., Kaganovicha L. M., Molotova V. M. In: Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich. 1957, p. 563-564.
14 Ibid, p. 564.
15 Ibid, p. 565.
16 "It is true that those who execrate him (Beria) do not have much cleaner hands themselves but such acts allow us yet to hope that the same will happen to them." Quaroni, P., Croquis d'ambassade, Paris 1955, p.95.
17 Litvin, A. Rossiiskaya istoriografia bolshogo terrora.
18 A legal analysis of the charges against Beria is carried out in Stolyarov, K., Palachi i zhertvy, Moscow 1997, pp. 242 to 249. Major General A. Katusev comes to the conclusion that the charges against Beria presented at the trial were based on very weak factual grounds.
19 Lavrentii Beria, 1953 p. 65. The question does arise whether or not Beria wished to draw Malenkov's attention to recent sins and joint guilt, which might have consolidated their alliance.
20 Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich. 1957, p. 201.
21 In the literature we sometimes find doubts as to whether the trial went ahead at all; for example, S. Beria comes up with the opinion that his father had a double who stood in front of the court. This assertion was subjected to an investigation by the daily Trud, which had the court protocol signatures verified. Handwriting analysis determined that this was indeed Beria's authentic signature. For details see Yego smert perestala byt tainoy. Trud, 30.12.1998. The arguments of Beria's son are also refuted by N. Petrov (a Memorial staff-member, who had the opportunity to acquaint himself with Beria's trial documents in 1992) in an interview with V. Voronov. Novoye vremya, 23/2000, p. 32-34. The letters which Beria wrote in his own hand to members of the Central Committee after his arrest on 1st and 2nd July 1953 have also been preserved so that again his son's speculations do not match up to reality. The fact that the trial really did take place with the real Beria is also confirmed by a member of the tribunal that judged Beria, M. Kuchava. In: Beria: Konets kariery, Moscow 1991, pp. 296-300.
22 In addition to the articles already mentioned, we should also remember article Beria - tainyi i yavnyi, Moskovskiye Novosti, 17-24.5.1998; Mog li Berija stat Khrushchovym? Vechernij klub, 25.6.1998. At the same time Russian NTV broadcast a two-part documentary film on Beria.
23 For details see
24 Lavrentii Beria. 1953. Stenograma iyulskogo plenuma CK KPSS i drugiye dokumenty., Moscow 1999 and Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich, 1957. Stenogramma iyulskogo plenuma CK KPSS i drugiye dokumenty, Moscow 1998.
25 The necessity of dealing carefully with Soviet sources was indicated by M. Kramer in his study: Declassified Materials from CPSU Central Committee Plenums: Sources, Context, Highlights.
26 Major General N. Vlasik, who was Stalin's aid, stated that Stalin "when staying in the south after the war, expressed great disappointment with Beria in my presence". Volkogonov, D., q.w., part 2, p. 189. Molotov also affirms Stalin's intention to get rid of Beria. Chuyev, q.w., p. 326.
27 Lavrentii Beria 1953, p. 307.
28 Letter of L. Beria to the CPSU Central Committee of 1.7.1953. Ibid p. 76.
29 "I think that this was the place for an action which Stalin planned against Beria because Beria was a Mingrel. In this way Stalin prepared a blow against Beria." Khrushchev, N., Vospominaniya, p. 266.
30 Moj otec, bezuslovno, byl otvetstven za politicheskuju obstanovku v strane. Interview with       S. Mikoyan In: Vestnik No. 14.
31 Simonov, K., Glazami cheloveka moyego pokoleniya, Moscow 1990, p. 238.
32 Maybe, Stalin´s concerns were justified. Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda (December 18-19, 2007) brought an article by Nikolay Dobryukha about new documents which should confirm a version that Stalin was poisoned. The same author had developed the same history in his articles published by Argumenty i Fakty 51-52/2005).
33 Simonov, K., p. 326.
34 "When I returned to Yugoslavia I wrote an article about my meeting with Stalin, which he liked a lot. The Soviet leader only asked that in subsequent publications I omit the sentence on his too long legs and place more emphasis on his closeness to Molotov." Djilas, M. Besedy so Stalinym. In: Lico totalitarisma, Moscow 1992, p. 72.
35 Khrushchev, N., Remembers, p. 250.
36 Pikhoya, R., Sovetsky Soyuz: Istoria vlasti. 1945-1991, Moscow 1998, p. 96.
37 Mikoyan, A., Tak bylo, Moscow 1999, p. 573.
38 Komsomolskaya Pravda, 7.3.1953.
39 Sakharov, A., Vospominaniya. In: Znamya, No. 12/1990, p. 34.
40 The possibility that there was a political will made by Stalin cannot be entirely ruled out although nothing was found in his Kremlin safe. In this respect, D. Volkogonov suspects Beria of removing all the documents which might have compromised him from Stalin's safe at the onset of his fatal illness. Volkogonov, D., q.w., part 2, p. 45. In this connection he also remembers Beria's hurried departure from Stalin's deathbed immediately after the Leader's death. Alliluyeva, S., q.w. p. 7. The fact that Beria really was looking for a will might be borne out by his order to take everything from Stalin's garden residence in Kuntsev to Interior Ministry stores. Ibid. p. 22. His behaviour may have been motivated by Stalin's unpleasant experience with the political will left behind by V. Lenin.
More complete information on Stalin's archive may be found in the study by Ilizarov, B. S., Stalin. Shtrichi k portretu na fone yego biblioteki i archiva. Novaya i noveishaya istoriya, 3-3/2000.

41 The „White Coats" plot was designated as fabricated, a proposal was submitted to bring the murderers of S. M. Michoels to justice and a proposal was submitted to investigate the case of the "Mingrelian Nationalist Group" and so forth. Lavrentii Beria, 1953, section 1.
43 Pikhoya, R., q.w. p. 112. A . Gromyko describes the scene when Beria was talking on the telephone to A. Vyshinsky, the sad hero of the political trials of the 1930s and the Foreign Minister from 1949-1953, hence a veteran who was all too worldly wise: "As soon as he heard Beria's voice he respectfully jumped out of his chair. He provided the same image throughout their conversation: Vyshinsky fawned like a servant before his master." Gromyko, A., Errinnerungen, Düsseldord; Wien, New York 1989, p. 444.
43 Interview with Sergei Khrushchev,
44 A letter by T. Pomazniev (Government Office Chief) addressed to the CPSU Central Committee tells of Beria's activities finding positions for his supporters and his efforts to control the activities of members of the highest party and state leadership, Lavrentii Beria. 1953, pp. 80-82. 
45 Khrushchev, N., Vospominaniya, p. 279 (335-336).
46 Ibid, p. 274. (330).
47 In Khrushchev's case it is evidently sometimes difficult to determine precisely which of the fears he presented were real and which were only feigned. To a certain extent he made use of his colleagues' fear in order to win them over to his plans which would culminate in an assumption of power. The possible motives for the fears of individual members of the highest leadership are clearly elaborated in detail in a paper by Kramer, M., The Post-Stalin Succession Struggle and Upheavals in East-Central Europe: Internal-External Linkages in Soviet Policy-Making. In: Journal of Cold War Studies, 2/1999, pp. 12-19. 
48 For details see Pikhoya, R., q.w., p. 112-113.
49 "Sto dney Berii" - zagadka dlya istorikov. In: Ruskaya mysl, 8.6.2000. Interview with a French historian F. Thom, who was involved in the French edition of the memoirs of S. Beria (Béria, S., Béria, mon pere, chronique des années sanglantes de Staline, Pion 1999).
50 Shepilov, D., Vospominaniya. In: Voprosy istorii, 8/1998, pp. 11-12.
51 Simonov, K., q.w., p. 277.
52 Malenkov, A., q.w. p. 60.
53 Zhukov, J., Borba za vlast v partiyno-gosudarstvennych verchach SSSR vesnoy 1953 goda. In: Voprosy istorii 1996/5-6, pp. 39-57.
54 Ibid, p. 56.
55 Chuyev, F., Sto sorok besed s Molotovym: Iz dnevnika F. Chuyeva, Moscow 1991, p. 343.
56 Lavrentii Beria, 1953, pp. 71-72; pp. 72-78; p. 79.
57 "The comrades at the Central Committee imprisoned him as a precautionary measure. They feared him that much. There was no Beria plot spoken of later. The plot was invented to justify the fact to the masses that Stalin's most devoted pupil had been imprisoned." Interview with S. Smirtyuk. Kommersant. Vlast, 8.2.2000. Kaganovich describes the situation in a similar manner: "I asked Molotov...did you have any documents that he Beria was an imperialist agent? He said he didn't. They didn't give us any such documents and no such documents existed". Chuyev, F., Tak govoril Kaganovich, Ispoved stalinskogo apostola, Moscow 1992, p. 66. The absence of proof did not prevent Molotov at the "Beria Plenum" from stating that when the Communist movement and the Soviet Union were prospering, it was necessary for "somebody to play the role of disorganizer of our work. So a class agent from our class enemy was sent to our country to introduce disorganizational elements into our work." Lavrentii Beria. 1953, p. 108.
58 Khrushchev, N., q.w., p. 277.
59 Ibid.
60 Interview with R. Pikhoya at the Svoboda Radio Station. S. Mikoyan adds to this initially paradoxical-sounding statement: "The last three or four years before Stalin's death and now an even longer time is suggested, Beria was not in charge of the Interior bodies. The kings of the castle there were Merkulov and Abakumov, who were directly subordinate to Stalin." Interview with S. Mikoyan. In: Vestnik, No. 14.  
61 Beria was a dangerous adversary for the army command. The generals hated him because of the repressions in the late 1930s and the early 1950s. Not without reason he was identified with the persecution of the high command in the post-war period and his „osobistas“ were a constant threat to any commander. It was clear what could be expected of them and they were hated for this reason. I would venture to express my opinion by way of conjecture that Beria's personal interest in the development of rocket and nuclear weapons and the associated changes in the structure and role of individual types of military forces within the Soviet Army did not inspire enthusiasm amongst the generals either." Pikhoya, R., Sovetsky Soyuz: Istoriya vlasti. 1945-1991. Moscow 1998, p. 111.
62 Lavrentii Beria. 1953, p. 388.
63 Beria admitted to collaboration with Mussavatist counter-intelligence before the court. Berija: konets kariery, p. 411. Apart from the previous similar charge made by G. Kaminsky at the Central Committee plenum in 1937, we have no evidence available that this was indeed the case. A confession before a Communist court does not exactly constitute conclusive evidence. Beria might have been forced to confess or this might have been a kind of self-protective strategy: it was better to divert attention to old sins than to be judged for deeds from the recent past.
64 Ibid.
65 Ibid.
66 Ibid, 389-390.
67 Ibid, p. 370. The entire resolution is on pp. 365-373.
68 Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich. 1957, pp. 68-69.
69 Burlacky, F. Glotok svobody, I. Moscow 1997, p. 87.
70 Lavrentii Beria. 1953, p. 369.
71 Ibid, pp. 169-172; 236-237.
72 The significance of agriculture for the Soviet type of economy is pithily and tellingly described by Gaidar, J., Ekonomicheskiye reformy i iyerarchicheskiye struktury: In: Sochineniya v dvuch tomach, II, Moscow 1997, pp. 114-120.
73 Boffa, G., Istoriya Sovetskogo Soyuza: V dvuch tomach, Moscow 1990, Volume 2, p. 409.
74 Postanovlenije plenuma CK KPSS 31 yanvaria 1955g. Ob uvelichenii proizvodstva produktov zhivotnovodstva. In: Direktivy KPSS i sovetskogo pravitelstva po choziaistvennym voprosam, Moscow 1958, p. 331.
75 Narodnoye choziaistvo SSSR 1922-1972gg. Moscow 1972, p. 256.
76 Ibid, p. 216.
77 Ibid, p. 9.
78 Khrushchev remembers, The Last Testament, London 1974, p. 118-119.
79 Lavrentii Beria. 1953, p. 96, 237.
80 Khrushchev, N., Stroyitelstvo kommunizma v SSSR i razvitiye selskogo choziaistva, Volume 4, Moscow 1963, p. 115.
81 For details see Zubkova, E., Obshchestvo i reformy 1945-1964, Moscow 1993, p. 100 where the author refers amongst other things to the standpoint of A. Suchanova, Malenkov's assistant, that "the villages were on the brink of an explosion." Osokina, E., Krizis snabzheniya 1939-1941 gg. v pismach sovetskich ludey. In: Voprosy istorii 1/1996, pp. 3-23.
82 Mikoyan, A., q.w., p. 518. Mikoyan's appraisal is surely somewhat grandiose but the fact remains that the alleviation of the policy of repression against the peasants brought results.
83 Pikhoya, R., Stalin ot smerti do pochoron. Moskovskiye Novosti 1999/No. 50.
84 Stalin was no more, but Beria might yet have been," as Khrushchev pithily summed up the situation three years later in his speech before the Communist leaders in Warsaw. Speech by Comrade Khrushchev at the 6th PUWP CC Plenum (Excerpt), 20th March 1956, Warsaw. In: Cold War International History Project Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
85 Bohlen, C., Witness to History, New York 1973, p. 357.

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