Stalin's Biography (2)
1945 - 1953

The image that Stalin liked to project abroad of himself was that of "Good Old Joe" or "Uncle Joe," a benevolent, paternalistic figure who protected his children from internal and external foes and punished them when necessary for their various misdemeanors. The image (left) was one of his favorites. He could claim, at the end of the Terror in 1939, that the Soviet Union was 100% collectivized, 100% industrialized. He bragged about full employment and his nation's escape from the Depression. At the XVIII Party Congress of that year (the first since 1934 [Congress of Victors]) Stalin chastized the Western nations for their appeasement of Japanese, German, Italian aggressions. The West, however, still in the grips of the Depression, as well, was united in their anti-communism. After the war, Stalin could, with some justification, claim that it was the Red Army that defeated Nazi Germany.

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Internally, after the war, Stalin surrounded himself with cronies (survivors?) from the days
of the Terror: notably Beria, Voroshilov, Zhdanov, Molotov
, Khrushchev, Malenkov.
They comprised the cast of characters that lined up atop Lenin's tomb (except for Zhdanov)
on the occasion of Stalin's funeral in 1953.
As Bolshevik leaders had readied themselves for a post-Lenin
Party and nation after 1922, the Stalin coterie did the same. The Great Leader's health declined: he suffered a mild stroke in
1945 and a "severe heart attack in October, 1945" (
"Josef Stalin"). The vultures circled.

Molotov ("hammer" to Stalin's "steel") replaced Maxim Litvinov, of the failed "collective security"/"peace is indivisible" policy in 1939. To review Molotov and foreign policy after the Terror and during the war, go to [ The Great Patriotic War ] Molotov remained an intimate of Stalin, though his influence seemed to be waning in the 1950s. By the time of the XIX Party Congress (1952,) Molotov had fallen out of favor. Indeed, he apparently was not at the dinner party on the night of Stalin's fatal heart attack in March, 1953 (stories differ); and his wife was on her way to the Gulag.

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Kliment ("Klim") Yefremovich Voroshilov, the "Red Marshal," lacked the energy, dynasmism, charisma, ruthlessness, and even the ability of many of the Stalinist cohort. He was certainly no Zhukov. His traits perhaps explain his survivial: he posed no threat to Stalin, was a "toady" and a "yes man." Amazingly, he held the post of Defense Minister for fifteen years, even though he was a disastrous commander during the Winter War and was replaced by Zhukov for the defense of Leningrad. For most of the war, he served in diplomatic rather than military arenas. He died of natural causes in 1969 (Dmietriev).

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Like Voroshilov, Zhdanov was a toady-ish yes-man who always did Stalin's bidding. After 1934, he was one of the lucky delegates to the XVII Party Congress who did not die in the Terror. He was in charge of Leningrad during the seige, the only fat Leningrader (as thousands/millions literally starved to death.) As one of Stalin's perennial favorites, some thought he had a shot at the succession. Like Stalin, he was a vicious anti-Semite. However, Malenkov out-maneuvered him; Zhdanov (presumably) died of natural causes in 1948 (Dmetriev. "Andrey Zhdanov"). His death, some think, was the signal for a renewal of the Terror State. Obviously, he was not in on the power struggle of 1953, and his (timely? untimely?) death, 1948, created opportunities for other opportunists (pardon the pun.)

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Georgy Malenkov spent his career ingratiating himself with Stalin. A skilled political infighter, he was "Stalin's instrument" and "cold-bloodedly sent to their deaths and torment tens of thousands..." (Medvedev 140). He accrued enormous power and credibility with Stalin by opposing Trotsky and presenting himself as Lenin's pupil (though he never actually met Lenin) and Stalin's "comrade-in-arms" (141). Like Zhdanov, he survived the XVII Party Congress, collaborated in the Yezhovchina, but then jumped to Beria and participated in Yezhov's downfall in 1938. As Soviet troops advanced on Berlin, Malenkov supported Stalin's renewed approach to "the Jewish Question"--code for exclusion of Jews from high office--which might have triggered Kaganovich's fading from the centers of power. He manipulated possible rivals (Molotov, Zhdanov) out of Stalin's inner circle to position himself for the succession, especially as Stalin's health deteriorated.

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The terrifying Lavrenty Beria remained close to Stalin in the post-war years. One of his early tasks, in addition to heading up the NKVD, was to oversee the crash development of atomic and nuclear weaponry. Zeks in the Gulag mined for uranium and processed it (hastening their erarly deaths.) He and Malenkov collaborated after the war, as they positioned themselves for a post-Stalin USSR; they possibly played a role in Stalin's death. The troika of Bulganin, Molotov, and Malenkov, with Khrushchev's collusion, determined that Beria had to go. He was arrested on preposterous charges, convicted, executed (possibly just murdered) in 1953.

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Nikita Khrushschev was also a Stalin intimate and frequenter of the weird dinner party/movie screenings of those last years. Although known in the West for his colorful antics (of which, more later) and in the Soviet Union for his "harebrained schemes," he was a tough guy, an early protégé of Kaganovich, a loyalist, and a survivor. Stalin sent him to re-sovietize Ukraine after the war. A skilled infighter, he possibly conspired in the death of Stalin and definitely in the ouster of Malenkov from the corridors of power after Stalin's death.

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In the aftermath of The Great Patriotic War, internal policies reverted to
the grim realities of the 1930s, perhaps not to the full extent of of the Terror.

The Fourth Five Year Plan, announced in August, 1945, demanded more sacrifice and more emphasis on heavy industry: huge, monumental projects (the Don-Volga Canal, built with convict labor,) military strength, including atomic and nuclear weapons were its goals. That said, rebuilding proceeded. Wesson termed the 5 years after 1945 as a "golden age of the Stalinist dictatorship" (172).

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"The Fourth Five Year Plan and the Crisis in the Soviet Economy" 1946
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Zhdanov, during his heyday and before his eclipse, presided over a renewed ideological rigidity marked by attacks on writers and artists who deviated from the anti-American, anti-foreign Party line--they must not "kowtow" to the West. Conformity extended to science where Lysenko's odd genetic theories took hold. Propaganda decreed that Russians had invented everything from the steam engine to penicillin (Wesson 174). Anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist, anti-Israel anti-capitalist rhetoric characterized the media.

"This is how US and Uncle Sam put their legs on Europe."

anti-American poster/image source < >

The development of Stalin's "Cult of the Personality" reached
its apogee after the war; see
Blood on the Snow documentary that describes it,
beginning with a postscript on the war.

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Soviet citizens, as well as those in the satellites, outdid themselves in expressions of over-the-top adulation of Stalin, especially on the occasion of his 70th birthday celebration in 1949. Image (right) shows Chinese young people and workers marching to wish Stalin (then a supporter of the PRC and Mao) a happy birthday.

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And...the Cold War Began!

[ CNN Cold War ]
[ CNN Cold War--2 ]
[ Humorous Cold War clip ]

After 1945, relations between Stalin and his former Allies--USA and Britain--
deteriorated into the Cold War. Stalin dominated Eastern Europe and leveraged his power
by lowering the "Iron Curtain"; he tried to drive the Allies out of Berlin with the Blockade;
he gained a foothold in Manchuria and gave titular support for Mao's People's Republic
of China and Kim Il Sung's People's Republic of North Korea.

In February, 1946, Stalin delivered his "two hostile camps," which defined a fundamental
incompatibility between socialism (as he often referred to communism) and capitalism (or imperialist capitalism, as he called it.) The two systems were "irreconcilable"; peace "was impossible until capitalism was vanquished and replaced by communism" (Gottfried, The Cold War 16). A month later, Churchill warned the world about the communist threat/Red Menace in his "Iron Curtain Speech."
See below.

In March, 1946, at Fulton, Missouri, he delived his famous "Iron Curtain Speech"
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text of the speech < >

The jockeying for power and position between the global superpowers commenced before the end of the war. Stalin was determined to protect his Western flank through the absorption of the SSRs and the establishment of satellite states in Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Poland. When he tried to expand Soviet control over Greece and Turkey (the Straits,) the West responded in the first real confrontation of the Cold War. In 1947, President Truman called upon Congress to endorse the Truman Doctrine and enact the Marshall Plan to rebuild the economies of war-torn Europe...a breeding ground for communism.

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text of Truman's request for financial support of Truman Doctrine < >
excerpts/newsreel footage of Truman < >
illustrated audio of George Marshall's remarks at Harvard, June, 1947,
outlining the European Recovery Act, aka Marshall Plan
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Stalin quickly retaliated, forming the 4th Communist International, the Cominform
to unite the global communist parties under Soviet discipline and control--
a kind of post-World War II version of Lenin's Comintern (which, of course, you remember.)

In a way, history repeated itself as Czechoslovakia moved to center stage in 1948, as it had in 1938. In February and March, 1948, its coalition government of communists and non-communists fell; its leading, pro-West figure, Jan Masaryk, either committed suicide or was murdered in the event known as the "Third Defenestration of Prague." Stalin guessed, correctly, that the West would not fight to defend Czechoslovakia in 1948 as they had not done so in 1938 at Munich. Masaryk had hoped to receive Marshall Plan aid, which Stalin did not allow!

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Fresh from his victory in Czechoslovakia, Stalin & Co. upped the ante in Germany. According to agreements hammered out at Yalta and Potsdam, Germany and Berlin were divided into four and then two zones of occupation: the British/French/American v. the Soviet. In 1948, Stalin tried to bully the Western powers into evacuating Berlin, isolated as it was in the Soviet zone. The Soviets cut off West Berlin from all ground transportation with the West. The Berlin Blockade comprised the first/second major confrontation of the Cold War. President Truman and his staff, aided by the British, determined to supply the beleaguered city. The Berlin Blockade and subsequent Berlin Airlift lasted from June, 1948 - May, 1949.

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In addition to food and fuel, American pilots tossed out chocolate and Wrigley's chewing gum in what was called "Operation Little Vittles." American children donated their candy and gum to the program; manufacturers joined in. It turned out to be a tremendously important good will gesture, propaganda coup, and helped to heal some of the wounds of the war ("Berlin Blockade").

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The Blockade and its background < >
Airlift from the British perspective < >
"The Berlin Airlift" American Experience series < >

A major defeat for Stalin's creation of a monolithic soviet/socialist empire subservient to Moscow and the Cominform came shortly after his triumph in Czechoslovakia. President Tito defected from the bloc in 1948 to take Yugoslavia down its own "road to socialism" (Sixsmith 383). Embroiled as he was in Berlin and consolidating his hold in Czechoslovakia, Stalin did not send troops to discipline Tito, but he did tighten the Soviet grip on the rest of the satellites and intensify controls at home.

image source/Tito in 1948 < >
documentaries on Tito and Yugoslavia < >
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The nations of Western Europe viewed with some alarm the "jockying" between the United States and the Soviet Union, fearing that World War III (like its predecessors) would be fought on their turf. The 1948 coup in Czechoslovakia and the Berlin Blockade led Western leaders to join with the Americans in the Treaty of Brussels, which formed the genesis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO,) originally composed of the US, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. The first five signatories were quickly joined by France, UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxumbourg in 1949.

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Not immediately, but soon after Stalin's death in 1953, Soviet leaders formed the Warsaw Pact as a counter move against NATO.

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Although the Berlin Airlift, Tito's defection, and the formation of NATO comprised setbacks for Stalin, he scored signal victories in 1949 with the detonation of the Soviet Union's first atomic device and the establishment of Mao Zedong's People's Republic of China. Mao (pictured left) actually came to Moscow for Stalin's 70th birthday party. These events were viewed as catastropic by the United States and contributed to heightening of tensions between the global super powers and the Red Scare of the 1950s.

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When the Korean War erupted in the summer of 1950, the United States and NATO forces
supported Syngman Rhee in South Korea, and Stalin gave titular and financial support to
Kim Il Sung in the North. This story is central to the Cold War and US History, but perhaps
not as crucial to Stalin and the Soviets (my judgment call.) Soviet leadership, according
to Gottfried was focused on the "death watch" (

From 1950 or so on, Stalin's paranoia grew as his health declined. Having raised up Malenkov, Beria, and Molotov, he now distrusted them, especially Beria (who knew everything about everyone.) He saw his cronies begin to die off, one by one, some by natural causes. He commented, to the effect, "We need some new doctors." He also conflated his anti-Americanism with his anti-Semitism, claiming Soviet Jews were American agents or potential agents. Many doctors were Jews. Put all that together and come up with the Doctor's Plot and a wave of arrests in 1952-1953. (See right for Krokodil cartoon making the connections.) In January, 1953, the Party organ, Pravda, accused intellectuals, Jews, and Jewish doctors of being "wreckers" and of plotting with American intelligence sources (Wesson 181).

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text of Stalin's speech to the XIX Party Congress, October, 1952
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In these days, Stalin only occasionally appeared in publlic and delivered his last major speech at the XIX Party Congress in 1952. He hinted at a new purge and the need to "purify" the Party, the Doctor's Plot being only one example of ubiquitous enemies, wreckers, and saboteurs. His closest associates feared him, prepared for the worst, and got ready for the future, some more successfully than others. Although details are murky, Stalin had already suffered more than one stroke and heart attack. He had a major stroke on March 1, 1953; his death was announced on March 5. His own doctors were either in the Gulag or on their way there.

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BBC Timewatch--"Who Killed Stalin?" < >
The death of Stalin < >
advance to 6:00; proceed to part vii
death of Stalin < > movie/dramatization
commercial movie places Molotov at the scene.
documentary on death of Stalin < >

Eight of the "inner circle" enjoyed the honor of being pall bearers at Stalin's funeral: Malenkov, Beria, Molotov, Voroshilov, Kaganovich, Mikoyan, Bulganin, and Khrushchev. Although Khrushchev won the power struggle and demoted the others, only Mikoyan had an honorable retirement (Wesson 184).

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Stalin lay in state for three days before he was (temporarily) laid to rest beside Lenin in the mausoleum just outside the Kremlin walls in Red Square. Speculation began to circulate that the quintessential murderer had been murdered. Beria boasted, "I took him out." ("Joseph Stalin") The jury is still out on Stalin's death.

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Stalin's body remained in the Mausoleum until Khrushchev's "de-Stalinization" policies, 1961. The cyrillic writing reads "Lenin" "Stalin."

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the funeral < >
more funeral < >

Stalin had allowed no discussion of a Soviet Union or world without Stalin.
Despite the various alliances the cronies had made between, among, and against each other,
it seemed that all feared Beria. Khrushchev detached Malenkov from Beria, commenting,
"Beria is getting his knives ready for us" (
Sixsmith 396). As other dictators had done
and would do again, the conspirators reached out to the army, enlisting Zhukov to their
cause. In June, 1953, as noted above, Beria was accused, etc., etc. For the moment,
it was Khrushchev's moment.

Proceed to [ After Stalin ]

BIBLIOGRAPHY--this page (apologies for insufficient citation/acknowledgement)

Dmietriev, Oleg. "Prominent Russians: Kliment Voroshilov." Russiapedia. Online available.
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Dmetriev, Oleg. "Prominent Russians: Andrey Zhdanov" Russiapedia. Online available.
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Gottfried, Ted. The Cold War. Brookfield: Twenty-First Century Book, 2002.

Gottfried, Ted. The Stalinist Empire. Brookfield: Twenty-First Century Book, 2002.

Medvedev, Roy. All Stalin's Men, Tr. by Harold Shukman. Garden City: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984.

Riasanovsky, Nicholas and Mark Steinberg. A History of Russia, 7th edition. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Sixsmith, Martin. Russia. New York: The Overlook Press, 2011.

U. S. Department of State: Office of the Historian. "Milestones: 1945-1952."
Online available. < >

Wesson, Robert. Lenin's Legacy. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1978.

Wikipedia contributors. "Andrei Zhdanov." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
Online available. < >

Wikipedia contributors. "Berlin Blockade." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
Online available. < >

Wikipedia contributors. "Josef Stalin. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
Online available. < >

Wikipedia contributors. "NATO." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
Online available < >

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