The Nineteenth Party Congress

     16. It appears that the Stalin leadership made one last effort at separating the Party from direct control over the State at the 19th Party Congress in 1952 and the Central Committee Plenum immediately following it. Beginning with Khrushchev, the Party nomenklatura tried to destroy any memory of this Congress, and moved immediately to eradicate what was done at it. Under Brezhnev the transcripts of all the Party Congresses up through the 18th were published. That of the 19th Congress has never been published to this day. Stalin gave only a short speech at the Congress -- which was published. But he gave a 90-minute speech at the Central Committee Plenum that followed it immediately. That speech has never been published, except for very short extracts, and neither has the transcript of this Plenum.4

     17. Stalin called the Congress to change the status of the Party and its organizational structure. Among those changes:

     The Party's name was officially changed from "All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) to "Communist Party of the Soviet Union." This mirrored the names of most other communist parties in the world, tying the Party to the state.5
     A "Presidium" replaced the Politburo of the Central Committee. This name denoted the representatives of another representative organ (the C.C.) -- like, for example, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. It also got the "political" out of the name -- after all, the whole Party was political, not just the leading body.

     18. No doubt it also better suggested a body that rules the Party only, not party and state. The Politburo had been a body of mixed membership. It had included the Chairman of the Council of Ministers (the head of the executive body of the state -- that is, head of state); the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (head of the legislative body); the General Secretary of the Party (Stalin); one or two more Party secretaries; and one or two government ministers. Decisions of the Politburo were effective for both government and party.4

     19. Therefore, in comparison to the Politburo's virtually supreme position in the country, the role of the Presidium was greatly reduced. Since the head of state and head of the Supreme Soviet did not have reserved seats in it, the Presidium was to be the leading body of the Communist Party only.

20. Other changes were made:

     The post of General Secretary -- Stalin's own post -- was abolished. Now Stalin was only one of 10 Party secretaries,6 all of whom were in the new Presidium, which now contained 25 members and 11 candidate-members. This was much larger than 9-11 members of the former Politburo. Its large size would make it more of a deliberative, interim body, rather than one in which many executive decisions could be routinely and swiftly made.
     Most of these Presidium members seem to have been government officials, not top Party leaders. Khrushchev and Malenkov later wondered how Stalin could even have heard of the people whom he suggested for the first Presidium, since they were not well-known Party leaders (i.e. not First Secretaries). Presumably, Stalin nominated them because of their positions in the State -- as opposed to the Party -- leadership.7

     21. Stalin followed up his resignation as General Secretary of the Party, which took place at the 19th Congress, with his proposal, at the CC Plenum right after it, to resign from the Central Committee altogether, remaining only as Head of State (Chairman of the Council of Ministers).

     22. If Stalin were not in the Central Committee, but were only Head of State, government officials would no longer feel they had to report to the Presidium, the Party's highest body. Stalin's act would remove authority from the Party's officials, whose "oversight" role in the State was unnecessary, in terms of production. Without Stalin as the head of the Party the Party leadership, the nomenklatura, would have less prestige. Rank-and-file Party members would no longer feel compelled to "elect" -- that is, to merely confirm -- the candidates recommended by the First Secretaries and the Central Committee.

     23. Viewed in this light Stalin's resignation from the Central Committee might be a disaster for the nomenklatura. They might have felt that they were protected from merciless criticism by rank-and-file communists only by "Stalin's shadow." It would mean that, in future, only intelligent and capable people would survive in the Party nomenklatura, as in the State apparatus (Mukhin, Ubiystvo 618-23).

     24. The lack of a published transcript suggests that things occurred at this Plenum, and Stalin said things in his speech, that the nomenklatura did not wish to make public. It also indicates -- and it's important to stress this -- that Stalin was not "all-powerful. For example, Stalin's serious criticism of Molotov and Mikoian at this Plenum was not published till long after his death.8

     25. The famous Soviet writer Konstantin Simonov was present as a C.C. member. He recorded Malenkov's shocked and panicked reaction when Stalin proposed a vote on freeing him from the post of secretary of the Central Committee. (Simonov, 244-5) Faced with vociferous opposition, Stalin didn't insist.9

     26. As soon as they possibly could do so the Party leadership took steps to annul the decisions of the 19th Party Congress. At its meeting of March 2, with Stalin still alive though unconscious, an abbreviated Presidium -- essentially, the old Politburo members -- met at Stalin's dacha. There they made the decision to reduce the Presidium back to 10 members, instead of 25. This was, basically, the old Politburo again. The number of Party secretaries was reduced once again to five. Khrushchev was made the "coordinator" of the secretariat, and then, five months later, "first secretary." Finally in 1966 the name Presidium was changed back to Politburo.

     27. During the rest of the history of the USSR the Party continued to rule Soviet society, its upper ranks becoming a corrupt, self-selected, self-aggrandizing stratum of privileged elitists. Under Gorbachev this ruling group abolished the USSR, giving itself the economic wealth and political leadership of the new capitalist society. At the same time it destroyed the savings of, and stole the social benefits from, the Soviet working class and peasants, whose labor had built everything, while it appropriated the immense publicly-created wealth of the USSR. This same former nomenklatura continues to run the post-Soviet states today.

 Lavrentii Beria