When Stalin suffered a fatal brain injury that led to his death in early March of 1953, it set off a bloody struggle of control that would drastically shift attitudes in a new direction for both the government and the country. Stalin’s death is extremely ironic when Stalin needed help the most, the complicated bureaucracy that he created prevented him from getting any, and the purges that he had carried out stopped the proper doctors from providing the necessary care. Once the glorious leader finally died that’s when the real struggle began. The death created a tremendous vacuum in Soviet leadership. Stalin had ruled the Soviet Union since the 1920s. With his passing, the heir was Georgi Malenkov, who was named premier and first secretary of the Communist Party the day after Stalin died. His position mainly held control of the party, but he happened to share power with two other people Lavrentii Beria and Nikita Khrushchev However, it wouldn’t be long before Malenkov resigned due to PR scandal, and Nikita Khrushchev assumed his role. You can actually see three men carrying Stalin’s casket during the funeral procession (Pictured Below).
(Stalin’s Funeral from The Manhoff Archives)
Out of the remaining competitors, Khrushchev’s biggest threat was Beria who was the Head of the Interior and the secret police, which held a lot of power. To gain the favor of the people, Beria very cunningly, took on the role of Liberal reformer. He spoke about protecting civil rights, he even released political prisoners and challenged many of Stalin’s acts, including the doctors’ plot.
Feeling threatened by Beria’s rising popularity amount the people, and fearing for his own life, Khrushchev began to engineer his downfall. Khrushchev conspired with Malenkov and several other presidium members to arrange for Beria’s arrest at the hands of the military. The plot was sprung on Beria on June 26, 1953. Khrushchev first launched a blistering attack on Beria, accusing him of being a cynical careerist, and no real Communist believer. The veteran Molotov and others chimed in against Beria, and Khrushchev put a motion for his instant dismissal. Before a vote could be taken, the panicky Malenkov pressed a button on his desk as the pre-arranged signal to Marshal Zhukov and a group of armed officers in a nearby room. They immediately burst in, seized Beria and manhandled him away. Pravda announced Beria’s fall on July 10th, crediting it to the initiative of Comrade Malenkov and referring to Beria’s ‘ criminal activities against the Party and the State.’ A special tribunal was set up. The accused were allowed no representation and no appeal. “When the death sentence was passed, according to General Moskalenko, Beria fell to the floor and begged on his knees for mercy. It was not a quality he had shown to others, and it was not now shown to him. He and his confederates were taken away and promptly shot.” ( *WARNING!* The video contains vulgar language and violence but gives a dramatized view of what the trial may have looked like, from “The Death of Stalin.”)
(Khrushchev happily looking at corn)
However, while Beria was being trialed and overthrown, Malenkov as head of the state apparatus launched what he called a “New Course.” Which stressed consumer goods production, a shift in policy that was considerably more radical than what Khrushchev was proposing Malenkov also pushed through an important initiative in collective farm policy which resulted in reduced tax payments by peasants of up to fifty percent. Now even though Malenkov had lost the critical position of First Secretary, these changes still presented a threat, so Khrushchev had to get rid of him once and for all. In the end, Khrushchev forged alliances with important party figures such as Anastas Mikoian and Nikolai Bulganin as well as Marshal Georgii Zhukov, the new Defense Minister, strengthened his position to the point where Malenkov became isolated and was forced to resign as prime minister on February 8, 1955. They replaced him with a Khrushchev puppet, Nikolai Bulganin. In March 1958, Khrushchev consolidated his power by taking the office of premier himself. Khrushchev won the battle over Stalin’s succession by reviving the party apparatus and reasserting its control over the government.
Freeze, Gregory L. “From Stalinism to Stagnation 1953-1985.” Russia a History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 409-416. Print.
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Succession to Stalin.” Soviet history, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/succession-to-stalin/. Accessed 31 March 2018