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The Stalinist system was concentrated in the person of Stalin. With his death commenced the agony of the system. A team of four took over the leading role temporarily. Its members formed Stalin's most immediate environment: Georgy Malenkov, who was appointed Prime Minister after Stalin's death and appeared, for a time, to be "the" successor; Nikita Khrushchev, who soon became Secretary General of the party and thereby gained control of the party; Lavrenty Beriya, the feared controller of Stalin's terror machinery, who was appointed to the post of Minister of the Interior; and Viacheslav Molotov, who was restored to his position of Foreign Minister.

The team of four.

The struggle for power statretd immediately. Three members of the successor team decided to dispose first the most feared man, Beriya. He was arrested a few months after Stalin's death, was convicted on the basis of trumped-up charges and was executed by firing squad.

 

"As we had arranged in advance, I proposed that the Central Committee Presidium should release Beria from his duties as Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Internal Affairs and from all the other government positions he held. Malenkov was still in a state of panic. As I recall, he didn't even put my motion to a vote. He pressed a secret button which gave the signal to the generals who were waiting in the next room. Zhukov was the first to appear. Then Moskalenko and the others came in. Malenkov said in a faint voice to Comrade Zhukov, "As Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, I request that you take Beria into custody pending investigation of charges made against him"
Khruschev Remembers, p. 337.

Lavrenty Beria, chief of the Soviet state-security forces. He was arrested and sentenced to death in a show-trial after Stalin's death.
Reports in Pravda about the trial and execution of L. Beria.

Pravda informed on the arrest of Beria on 10 July, 1953. The official charge against him was espionage and high treason, the usual accuses of the show-trials of the previous Stalinist purges. The official announcement of the verdict and the execution of the "traitor" was made public in 25 December, 1953. Many believes that in reality the execution took place secretly much earlier, already a couple of days after his arrest.

 

Malenkov was forced by Khrushchev in the summer of 1955 to resign his post as prime minister. Malenkov first appointed to Minister of Energy for a time, but still remained member of the Politburo. In December, 1956 as a special envoy, he had a crucial role in consolidating Janos Kadar's new puppet government after the crush of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. He was pushed off the political scene by 1961.

Pravda, 10 February, 1955, report on the appointment of G. Malenkov to the post of Minister of Energetics.

In February 1956, at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, Khrushchev exposed Stalin's "anti-party" crimes and personal cult in his so-called "secret speech". His revelations made no mention of the genocide of the Stalin era, the mass deportations and the gulag; it was almost solely confined to legal proceedings brought against communists on alleged political grounds.
His speech created a major shock, nonetheless. Khrushchev used this tactic to step out of the shadow of Stalin and to become the leader of the party with unquestionable authority.

Kruschev`s secret speech at the Xxthe Congress of Soviet Communist Party. That was the first time within the Soviet party when Stalin's crimes were openly discussed.

In Tbilisi, Georgia Kruschev's secret speech, the first gesture of de-stalinisation was not celebrated with enthusiasm. On the third anniversary of Stalin's death popular unrest broke out in order to defend the memory of the great leader. Here are some archival documents and a picture about the events in Georgia.

Morning meeting beside Stalin's statue in Tbilisi in connection with the third anniversary Stalin's death. March, 1956.
About the events of March 8, 1956.

About public security measures related to the extraordinary situation: The Tbilisi City and District Party Committees must be ordered to:

  • Starting at 7 p.m. on March 10, 1956, party meetings must be held at all workplaces and at all educational institutions. The behavior of provocateurs, anti-Soviet elements and hooligans must be condemned, and the appeal of the Georgian Communist Party and the Georgian Komsomol's Central Committee must be read aloud.
  • In every district, at least 2000 communists must be kept on alert, for purposes of maintaining public order.
  • The Minister of Education is to ensure that all are fired who are absent from institutions of higher education without justification.

Arrest Warrant - July 19, 1959.

On July 12, 1959, G. E. Bolkvadze ran drunkenly amok in the library of the collective. He removed Stalin's portrait from the wall, started kissing it, and then tried to put it back. Instead, he shattered it and defiled it with his bloody hands. He also smashed the portraits of other Party leaders while cursing them. He must be arrested and his house must be searched.
On March 9, 1956, S.D. Beruasvili, during the strike organized on the third anniversary of Stalin's death, delivered a speech in which he made anti-Soviet provocations and offensive remarks against the leaders of the Soviet Party and Government. He must be indicted.

The declaration of J.A. Bibilejsvili, History Student at the Batumi Pedagological College ("more precisely" his request).

The 10th Congress of my country's party, which rightly tried to put an end to the personality cult, at first caused an extreme disturbance within me; in fact, it drove me to despair. For this reason, I crossed out pictures of the two Soviet party leaders and made so-called critical comments about the Pravda articles. ...I thought that by doing this I did not offend the party's prestige, but in no way do I want to justify my mistake (and not my crime!) .but this was my conviction. For me, Stalin's name is the heartbeat of communism's greatest triumphs.

In June, 1956 Khrushchev believed that the time had come to get rid of his last rival, Molotov. Molotov was relieved of his office, was sent to Mongolia as ambassador for a while, and finally became the representative of the Soviet Government at the Vienna headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency. In 1961, he was recalled even from that post and was made to retire.

 

Stalin`s body was taken out of the Mausoleum, and his name was removed from the fašade on 31 October, 1961. The XXIIIth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party passed unanimous resolution on it. The removal of his body was much facilitated by the fact that Lenin's body remained in the mausoleum as the symbol of the continuity of the system.

Pravda reported on the front page of on the speech of Lasurkina who was an "authentic" old Bolshevik, memebr of the party since 1902. Lasurkina said that she spiritually talked to Lenin last night: "Ilich is always in my heart. Yesterday I talked to Ilich, who appeared to me as if he was alive and told me: "It is difficult for me to rest together with Stalin, who caused such grave harms to the party." Lenin asked Lasurkina to tell the Congress to have Stalin's removed from the mausoleum.
New Tork Times, 1 November, 1961. Report on the removal of Stalin's body. The photo of 30 October still show Stalin's name engraved into the fašade of the Mausoleum.
Pravda, 1 November, 1961. Stalin's name was already removed overnight.
Stalin's tomb in the Kremlin "garden" after his body was removed from the Mausoleum in October, 1961.

At the Congress, the party reached a unanimous decision on the expulsion of the "Malenkov-Molotov-Kaganovich anti-party faction". Khrushchev appeared to remain on his own.

On 10 October, 1964, due to or on the pretext of the deteriorating economic situation, the Brezhnev-Kosigin-Suslov faction forced Khrushchev out of office. Leonid Brezhnev was elected as the number one man in the party, who retained this office until his death in November 1982. This marked the beginning of almost two decades of stagnation.

 
Leonid Brezhnev, first secretary of CPSU, who replaced Nikita Khrushchev in October, 1964.
Pravda's front page informing on the removal of N. Khruschev.
Cautious steps of reintroducing Stalin into the pantheon.

Events gathered speed after Brezhnev's death. Yuri Andropov, former head of the political police, the KGB, came to succeed him. His ambition was to "reinforce the authority of the party and its revolutionary leading role", that is, to partially restore the Stalinist structure in a modernised form. Andropov had less than a year and a half; he died in the spring of 1984. The terminally ill Konstantin Chernenko was elected for the transitional period, and following his death in February 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev was elected to head the party. He was the last Secretary General of the Soviet Union.

Successors between Khruschev and Gorbachov together: Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov Ús Konstantin Chernenko at a brunch sometimes in 1981. Photo from the weekly, Itogi, 11 February.
Catafalques an funerals of Leonid Brezhnev(1982), Yuri Andropov (1984) amnd Konstantin Chernenko (1985).
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