Beria's Moves towards Democratic Reform

     32. Officially, Beria was arrested by his fellow Politburo members plus some generals on June 26, 1953. But the details of this supposed arrest are murky, and contradictory versions exist.12 In any event, during the July 1953 CC Plenum devoted to accusing Beria of various crimes, Mikoyan said:

When he [Beria] made his presentation on Red Square over the grave of Comrade Stalin, after his speech I said: 'In your speech there is a place in which you guarantee each citizen the rights and freedoms foreseen in the Constitution. Even in the speech of a simple orator that is no empty phrase, and in the speech of a minister of internal affairs -- that is a program of action, you must fulfill it.' He answered me: 'And I will fulfill it.' (Beria 308-9; Mukhin 178)

     33. Beria had said something that had alarmed Mikoyan. Apparently it was the fact that, at this crucial place in his Red Square speech and with reference to the Constitution, Beria omitted any reference to the Communist Party, and spoke only about the Soviet government. Beria spoke second after Malenkov, a public sign that he was now the second-ranking person in the Soviet state. He had said:

     The workers, the kolkhoz peasants, the intelligentsia of our country can work peacefully and with confidence, knowing that the Soviet Government will diligently and untiringly guarantee their rights as written in the Stalin Constitution. . . . And henceforth the foreign policy of the Soviet Government will be that of the Leninist-Stalinist policy of the retention and strengthening of peace . . . (Beria, Speech).

     34. Mukhin suggests the following plausible understanding of this passage:

The simple people hardly understood the meaning of what Beria said, but for the Party nomenklatura this was a sharp blow. Beria intended to lead the country ahead without the Party, i.e. without them; he promised the people to guard their rights, which were not given them by the Party, but by some Constitution! (Mukhin, 179)

     35. At this same June 1953 Plenum, Khrushchev said

Remember, then Rakosi [Hungarian Communist leader] said: I'd like to know what is decided in the Council of Ministers and what in the Central Committee, what kind of division there should be. . . . Beria then carelessly said: What Central Committee? Let the Council of Ministers decide, and let the Central Committee concern itself with cadre and propaganda. (Beria 91)

     36. Later at this same Plenum Lazar Kaganovich expanded on Khrushchev's point:

The Party for us is the highest thing. No one is permitted to speak as that scoundrel [Beria] said: the Central Committee [for] cadres and propaganda, not political leadership, not the leadership of all life as we, Bolsheviks, understand it. (Beria 138)

     37. These men seem to have believed that Beria intended to get the Party out of the process of directly running the country. This was very similar to what Stalin and his associates had struggled for during the Constitutional discussions of 1935-37. One can discern it again in the 1947 draft Party program and in Stalin's restructuring of the Bolshevik Party during the 19th Party Congress and succeeding Central Committee Plenum only a few months before.

     38. Beria's son Sergo asserts that his father and Stalin agreed about the need to get the Party out of direct management of Soviet society.

     My father's relations with the Party organs were complicated.  . . . [H]e never hid his relations with the Party apparatus. For example, he told Khrushchev and Malenkov directly that the Party apparatus corrupts people. It was all appropriate for earlier times, when the Soviet state had just been formed. But, my father asked them, who needs these controllers today?

     He had the same kind of frank talks with directors of industries and factories who, naturally, did not care at all for the do-nothings from the Central Committee.

     Father was just as frank to Stalin too. Joseph Vissarionovich agreed that the Party apparatus had removed itself from responsibility for concrete matters and had nothing to do but talk. I know that a year before his death, when Stalin presented the new makeup of the Presidium of the Central Committee, he gave a speech in which the main point was that it was necessary to find new forms of running the country, that the old ways were not the best. A serious discussion took place at that time about the Party's activity. (Sergo Beria, Moy Otets Lavrentii Beria)

     39. Beria's planned restructuring of the State-Party relationship would have probably been very popular with rank-and-file communists, to say nothing of the majority of non-party Soviet citizens. But to the nomenklatura it was very threatening.

     40. Mukhin puts it this way:

Beria did not hold back in putting into people's minds the idea that the country ought to be ruled, in the center and in the localities, by the Soviets, as the Constitution provided, and the party ought to be an ideological organ that would, through propaganda, guarantee that by its aid the deputies of the Soviets at all levels would be communists. Beria proposed to resurrect the functioning of the Constitution in its full sense, its slogan -- "All Power to the Soviets!" While Beria was operating exclusively in the sphere of ideas, this might have been unpleasant for the nomenklatura, but hardly frightening. Since they had power, they would have selected delegates to the Supreme Soviet and instruct them in such a way that Beria's ideas could not be put into effect. But, if Beria did not permit the secretaries and the Central Committee to direct the elections and the session of the Supreme Soviet, then what kind of decisions would the deputies reach? (Ubiystvo 363-4)

     41. Logically this would have seriously alienated Beria from most of the Party nomenklatura. (Ubiystvo 380) Khrushchev led, and represented the interests of, this group or, at the very least, of a large and activist part of it. And Khrushchev had quite a different concept of "democracy." Famous film director Mikhail Romm recorded Khrushchev's words at a meeting with intellectuals:

Of course all of us here have listened to you, spoken with you. But who will decide? In our country the people must decide. And the people -- who is that? That is the Party. And who is the Party? That is us. We are the Party. That means that we will decide. I will decide. Understand? (Alikhanov)

     42. As Mukhin puts it: "The Party, as an organization of millions of communists, was at an end. The group of people at its summit became the Party." (Mukhin, Ubiystvo 494)

Deaths of Stalin and Beria . . . and Others?