On the Question of Lavrentiy Beria – I

(2nd July 1953)

V.M. Molotov

Here we give the first part of the contribution of Molotov at the July Plenum of the CPSU of1953. The role of Beria in Soviet history has been the subject of considerable discussion and opinions of the Marxists on Beria have been divided. In this context the views of Molotov are of interest.

Bulganin: Comrade Molotov has the word.

Molotov: Comrades, we are discussing such an issue, in relation to which both the special circumstances, in which we have lived in recent period, in recent months, and the special position, in which Beria had found himself as the manager of the Ministry of Interior Affairs and one of the members of the core of the leadership, must be taken into consideration. The special nature of the circumstances, as the comrades here have told already, was that in the aftermath of Stalin’s death we had to demonstrate unity. It was necessary from both the internal and the international perspective.

The special nature of the circumstances, in which Beria had found himself, the stakes he took upon himself after Stalin’s demise – all this shows clearly that he was making his way through to the position of the Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, and he had recommended exactly this path. What was done in the beginning – in the days of March – for him was, of course, only a stage of transition.

But the essence of the matter is that we have in front of us, as a result of the 3.5 months, the fact that a traitor in the leadership core of our party and government has been exposed.

Before I start talking about some bigger issues, I will share several of my personal observations with the comrades. Here is one little fact. You, the members of the Plenum of the Central Committee, know who recommended the Prime Minister at the Plenum of the Central Committee. It was Beria. The Supreme Soviet was about to meet. Who assigned Beria with the task of recommending a Prime Minister? He assigned himself. None of us objected. When the Supreme Soviet met on March 9, I called Beria on the phone in a comradely manner. We were still comrades at that time. Before that, a conversation within our leading group was held as to his desire again to be the one who recommends a Prime Minister at the Supreme Soviet session. I called him on the phone and told him: we had agreed so, but was that really good? Why, indeed, the Prime Minister offered by the Party was not being recommended by the Secretary of the Central Committee, Khrushchev. The three of us spoke on the Mausoleum – Malenkov, Beria, and myself. A session was scheduled. The Plenum decided to recommend a Prime minister. Why not Khrushchev? “No, I will”.

Unity of the Party, Unity of the leadership core – and the thing was silenced. That was one thing.

Now, I am asking you – you must have read the minutes from the Presidium – why is there no signature of the Secretary of the Central Committee? There is a no-name signature – “Presidium of the Central Committee”. It had not happened this way, never. Such practice only came when too many signatures by comrade Stalin started to appear on all the documents. But the old rule was – under Lenin or Stalin – the chairman of the Council of Ministers presided, and the secretary of the Central Committee was responsible for the minutes. So, we also needed the signature of the Secretary of the Central Committee. I called comrade Khrushchev at the end of May, because I viewed this as a disorder and understood that it was not accidental. I asked comrade Khrushchev – why was there no signature by the Secretary of the Central Committee under the minutes of Presidium – look, this was not normal, as there had been no such rule in the Party? “Yes”, – he agreed, – “this is not normal, and what we need is the proper order”. I called Malenkov – he agreed. I called Beria and asked – “Why do not we have a signature under the minutes of the Presidium?” And he answered: if this issue was to be decided, other issues had to be decided, too. And what those issues were – he never answered. Again, it was unclear. And it turns out that he called Khrushchev and told him: “Why is there no signature of the secretary of the Central Committee under the minutes of the Secretariat? Sign your name”. And from that time, the signature under the minutes of the Secretariat appeared.

His statement about the necessity of solving some other core issues together with the issue of the signature under the minutes of the Presidium was unclear to me. When on the 26th of June the whole Presidium sat and scolded Beria for two and a half hours for the numerous sins of his, we asked him to explain, what “other core issues” he had meant. And he said: “Maybe, putting together the agenda”. A core issue? Really? Lying like a worst by-passer, and unable to answer anything.

There were further deviations from the rule. An old, established tradition was that all the questions of international politics, related to the Ministry of International Affairs, were to be decided in the Politbureau. Now, this had been transferred to the Presidium of the Council of Ministers, including comrades Voroshilov, Saburov, Pervukhin – the closer circle.

At that time, there was no desire to dispute all those issues with him. I was myself talking, and then making a retreat, thinking that time was needed to clarify things. But this could no longer continue. If we valued the Party and understood what our Party of Bolsheviks was, the Leninist party of which Lenin and Stalin would always remain spiritual leaders, we could not go along such path for a long time.

To fully paint the picture, I need to touch upon the question which, as it seems to me, ultimately uncovers Beria’s face. It was the discussion of the German question. In two years and three months, more than half a million people ran from East Germany away to the West – that is, from the socialist part to the capitalist one. Clearly, this was an indicator of big disorder in East Germany. The disorders were most obvious, and they have been revealed thanks to our help. An excessively high rate of industrialization had been taken up – excessively huge construction plan. Plus, the costs of occupation by our army that they had to bear, plus the reparation payments... And there were only 18 million Germans – next to them, there is a decaying capitalist environment of West Germany. Plus, the significant impact of the Hitlerite upbringing.

And one has to understand on his or her own that the issue of how to correct this clearly ultra-left path was standing there, mature and immediate. We did correct it. But I have to say – when we were correcting it, we discussed the whole German question. And here it was for the first time that Beria’s speech could be heard – “of what use is this socialism in Germany to us, what socialism could we possibly talk about”, – “were it to be a bourgeois Germany, and just only the one that would be peace-loving”. Our eyes were bulging upon that: there could be a peace-loving bourgeois Germany? Could the eyes of a member of the Politbureau of our party envisage a bourgeois Germany that had imposed two World wars? Could there be, under current conditions of further development of Imperialism, a peace-loving bourgeois Germany? Who, among the Marxists who stand on positions close to Socialism or the Power of Soviets, could, at all, consciously judge, think of some bourgeois Germany that would be peace- loving and under the control of the Four powers? Well, we disputed over this for a while, and then time came to formulate [a statement]. It seemed to me that it could just be a slip of the tongue, a blooper; maybe, an inexact expression, polemic exaggeration, or the man just did not count properly what he was saying in a temper. But after some time, I got the draft of the decision upon this question – as a result of the discussion. This draft of the decision was then formalized as Protocol No. 27 from May 27, 1953. It was formalised correctly. But here is what was written there, the main guideline. I have written about how Beria’s decision on this problem was made. To work out a proposal, we had to elaborate a detailed statement on the German question – on the basis of a short proposal. The basic guidelines for working out the proposals had to proceed from the fact that the main cause of the unfavourable state of affairs in the German Democratic Republic was the erroneous – under present day’s circumstances – course upon the construction of Socialism that was being followed in the GDR. I called Beria: if the course upon the construction of socialism is erroneous, then the course is upon what? And he says: “it has been stated – “in present day’s conditions”. And what did this mean, in present day’s conditions – in present day’s conditions, the initial course is upon capitalism, and then upon socialism? I told him that I proposed to correct this whole phrase, but to say – “the erroneous in present conditions” was the course upon acceleration of the socialist construction. I would agree. And so it has been written now. It was the course upon the construction of Socialism that was wrong, erroneous – and now it turned out to be that the course upon the acceleration of the socialist construction was erroneous, wrong. Such an amendment was approved after some talks.

It means that those talks that took place at the meeting of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers – “what Socialist Germany could be talked about, what does the Socialism in Germany have to do with all this, let there be a bourgeois, but peace-loving Germany” – this is precisely what has to be stressed. It was not a simple talk. It was the talk of a man who has nothing in common with our party – a man from the bourgeois camp, an anti-Soviet man. This is his meaning, the meaning of everything that Beria is.

A Soviet man cannot talk against having a course upon construction of Socialism in the GDR. The 18 million Germans conquered by our blood should then be given up to the bourgeoisie, to capitalism. And who could give up, where such a man could be found – a traitor in our ranks, after whom our party or whoever of the honest communists and honest workers could go. It was an attempt to impose a new course, but it failed.

And then – it was already 27th May – the preliminary clash already took place on a principled and deep issue. He had stepped close to this question, but this is a fact, and not a small thing – not some kind of quibbling at our side.

Here is why, when we talk about the political portrait of Beria, let us say: we understood this business poorly, we did not have good competence on the issue of who Beria was, and he was an alien man, he was not of our camp, he was from the anti-Soviet camp.

Voices: That is correct.

Molotov: And here I say: how could this come out in the end, that he would be sitting – this man. See, 3.5 months passed – I reckon, it is to the merit of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Party, that in these three months – when he got unleashed – when he showed himself more openly, when he came to the outside with all of his guts – we exposed him, arrested him, and jailed him. I think, such a decision of the Plenum of the Central Committee should be approved. (Stormy ovation).

Voices: That is correct.

Molotov: Comrades, now we are trying to clarify, to make ourselves familiar with this man’s biography, and we see that there is much dirt we have to rub off our hands and off our body. The extent to which he is a dirty type, a morally corrupt, alien and rotten man. You will yet get to know these facts.

And this man set up his goal – to put the Internal Ministry above the Government and the Party. All the misdeeds he conducted through his staff come down to creation of such a state of affairs that the real power was in his hands, and that he controlled the Central Committee and the Government, that he was watching every step of ours, that he was listening upon us. Those were his tools – the tools on which he counted.

I have to add that the whole thing would be unclear, had he not adhered to the course away from the socialism, and towards capitalism. For what did he need all this? Whoever wants to build Socialism together with us, why aren’t we comrades to this man, and where would he find better comrades? And if one went not on this path, then one would to have a different support, a different staff, – then one would need to do what he planned, but could not yet tell about this openly. This is how I understand this business.

I think, comrades, that this fact – comrade Malenkov has read the draft of the letter to “Comrade Rankovich”, for “Comrade Tito”, – by this fact the traitor gave himself up red-handed. The thing is handwritten by him, and he never wanted the Presidium of the Central Committee to discuss this issue. So, what kind of man is that?

It is true, however, that we have exchanged the ambassadors. Malenkov: We also wanted to normalize the relationships.

Molotov: We want to normalize the relationships, and we in the Central Committee formulated in written form our current attitude towards Yugoslavia. It is clear that as the head-on attempt failed, then we decided to conquer it by other means – we decided that the same relations as with the other bourgeois states have to be established: ambassadors, telegrams exchange, business meetings, and so on.

And what is this? “Taking the opportunity, in order to pass to you, Comrade Rankovich, kind greetings from Comrade Beria, and to inform Comrade Tito, that if comrade Tito agrees to this point of view, then it would be expedients” – and so on, and so forth.

What kind of thing is this?

Voice: Without the Government’s decision.

Molotov: He did not want a government’s decision. He was whirling, but he got caught.

Bulganin: It is the same camp’s hand.

Voice from Presidium: In the hands of the same camp.

Molotov: It is, unconditionally, of the same camp. The first thing that we have to say for ourselves: Beria is an agent, a class enemy.

Voices: That is right.

Molotov: He crawled inside our camp, and, hiding in here, tried – upon comrade Stalin’s death – to make use of the conditions – as though the Party has been weakened, caught in dismay, and does not know how things should be done. He crawled ahead and conquered the staff – as though it could be useful to him. I will honestly say: the staff of the Internal Ministry would not follow him: it is also made up of communists.

Voices: That is so true.

Molotov: It is made up of people who are devoted to the Party. It could be that scoundrels alone would follow. Then, what did he orient upon? What forces could support a stinky bug – Beria? What inside forces – the class of workers, of peasants, of intellectuals could support this scum – in  our Soviet Union? Who could support? He had no forces on the inside. He could find support from foreign capitalists – titos-rankoviches – he is an agent of the capitalists, and he was learning from them. He jumped out of there, and found his way to us. We studied his biography too little – now we will occupy ourselves better with it. How could this happen, that a man like Beria could get into our ranks? Out of insufficient vigilance of the Central Committee, of course, including comrade Stalin. He found certain human weaknesses in comrade Stalin – who does not have them? And comrade Lenin, and comrade Stalin, and each and every one of us has them. He skillfully adapted to them, skillfully exploited them. It is not my first year of working. Since the time when Beria came to Moscow, the climate got bad: plenums ceased to be called, the Congress had to wait for 13 years. It all started after the 18th Congress – exactly up to the moment of Beria’s arrival to Moscow. A coup-d’etat was not done by him, but everything that could be done was done by him. He spoiled the air, he intrigued. It was not always that comrade Stalin trusted him, especially recently he has had little trust in him, but weakness has been shown by all of us without exception. How could this happen? Because there is one party in the Soviet Union; because we, in the Soviet Union, were having one Communist party, our party. We talk a lot that, as we do not have antagonistic classes, this is at the root of the issue. The international circumstances should not be forgotten. We, in our country, cannot have a second party; being in the capitalist encirclement, we could let no single hole that could rot our country, our state. Capitalists would give any sum of money – not millions, but billions – to breed a little camp, organization that would have a left-wing face – centrist, pink, whatever you want – only not a communist one, only that it would differ in some way from the VKP(b), from the CPSU. For this, they would embark upon anything. In our country, any other party could be nothing but an agent of foreign capital, an agent of the imperialists.

And then, comrades, when the new organization for us is plotted, planned and so on – then these people would be dreaming of either the way that Tito and his gang went, or they would dream to create something similar to that, because Tito up until now is considered a communist. Why could not Beria be considered a communist, and at the same time do things differently from the Party? Any such agent would be showered with gold by the bourgeoisie, by the capitalism, only if one could be found.

And the significance of this international moment, at which our struggle reaches special heights, is that the capitalism, which is worried for its fate, is searching – where to find such a rotten place, such a man that could be a provocateur, a traitor – whatever you want – a venal self-skin-interest, but only to fulfill this order, only to have such a little hole in the Soviet Union.

And this was the job that provocateur Beria was doing – to create such a fissure, and on such basis to undermine our Soviet Union.

Merits are something that we talk about: personalities are very often judged by us according to their merit, according to their work etc., or according to their so-called dogmatic loyalty. We find it very often that instead of genuine partisan approach, instead of genuine partisan work, one restricts him or herself to considering someone who says alleluia, or knows citations, to be an ideologue who can express our party’s opinion.

We have to struggle against these features of dogmatism, which in essence creates a showcase of partisanship, while it is fake and out of accord with genuine partisanship.

This part, of course, was exploited by Beria quite well. He wrote a brochure on Comrade Stalin. Some say, it was written not by him, but by a chief assistant of his – someone like Sharia, who is an alien man. It was mainly a correct brochure, although a series of things had been let in it that unusually flatter to a certain kind of man – to make the attitude towards the author as beneficial as possible, in terms of attention. Here the dogmatic side was kept quite skillfully. Imitation of partisanship is quite good, citations are good, facts are good – because what is related to the history of Comrade Stalin’s work in the Trans-Caucasian region is something that not only the Trans-Caucasian region was brought up upon, but our whole party. But to think that this work reflects a genuine partisanship would be – from our side – naive.

Another side: We often get caught when someone has merits: when someone works, implements huge tasks. Beria belongs to this kind of persons. He implemented huge work, he was doing talented work organising a series of national economy undertakings; but look, even wreckers are being used and forced to work when needed; we make useful humans out of former wreckers, saboteurs, when they see the impossibility of following the former path.

Khrushchev: Ramzin got awarded with a Lenin Order.

Molotov: Tupolev was jailed as a wrecker for a while, and now makes airplanes for us. When he saw how things were going – that working together with this regime [literally “power” – VP.] was needed – then he started to work, and may he be blessed with health, let him work.

Now he is already a different man, a new man. But a man who is not simply interested in narrow fields and wants to be amongst the leading statesmen – must necessarily be a communist. He necessarily must win trust by something, bring himself up. There is no other way. We have only one party, which puts people forward, assigns them, popularizes them, gives them jobs. This is the path that Beria made himself absolutely clear about, and he followed this path tenaciously. And now, when we look upon him, and upon how he hid everything inside himself, and moved forward tenaciously, to finally get on top – we have seen what kind of man he was. This man is breathing with an alien spirit, he is alien to our party, he is of a different root, he is an alien man. He is an alien and anti-Soviet man. From the facts that we have now, we have to conclude that our partisan work is weak in many aspects, and it is not at the level at which it has to be. And this is not only about Beria, but also about Sharia finding himself as Beria’s ideologist. I will read the statement by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia, issued in 1948 and approved by the Central Committee of the Party. Up to the last day, some Sharia was Beria’s ideological aid. Who is this Sharia?

Here is the decision by the Georgian Central Committee from 1948:

“The Bureau of the Georgian Central Committee considers this as a verified fact that in 1943, Sharia wrote an ideologically harmful product of poetry, full of deep pessimism and the mood of religious mysticism, in relation to his son’s death. Having retreated from the main principles of the bolshevist materialist world view, Sharia writes in it that he does not see a better worlds His life upon his son’s death (of tuberculosis) became torture only... And closer towards end, he goes as far as to acknowledge the immortality of the soul and the reality of life after death”.

We restored this man in the Party due to misunderstanding; due to misunderstanding, we approved an incorrect decision by the Georgian Central Committee. It turns out that up until Beria’s arrest, Sharia was his aide on ideological questions. Here is what he [Beria] was breathing with.

Attention must be also paid to the fact that we have written hasty decisions on Lithuania and Ukraine, which instigated anti-Russian mood among Ukrainian and Lithuanian nationalists. We approved Beria’s decision to remove Patolichev, the secretary of the Belorussian Central Committee, and replace him with another person. That decision was also taken in a rush, and corrected only later on, on the way, when Patolichev himself asked not to send him to the Plenum because the Plenum would support him, and one could get caught in an awkward situation. And indeed, the Plenum decided to leave Patolichev as the Secretary with great unity; and the one whom we marked as the First Secretary – the former Second Secretary, a good comrade, comrade Zimyanin – was made the Chairman of the Council of Ministers by us. This corresponded to the common thinking of all the comrades at the Plenum of the Belorussian Central Committee.

This “hero” Beria, who decided to replace the Ukrainian first secretary, the Belorussian first secretary, then to produce fundamental changes of the cadres in Lithuania, and so on – what has he done? Thanks to our hasty decisions, he caused a lot of trouble, and strengthened the hostility between nationalities in these republics.

Molotov: and we, comrades, have to admit – this is another indicator of how weak our partisan work is. One new, hasty, and not completely correct decision saw the world – and the nationalists already found themselves in a great mood, and everyone turned into motion. And where did we and our partisan work go? To which extent our partisan work must be behind, if our partisan work could be spoiled so easily by just a few separate decisions.

Malenkov: True.

Molotov: I think, we need to look carefully at what we have been doing, to really talk about self-criticism, and not to forget that we are responsible for certain things that need to be corrected carefully and without rush, which we have still practiced in very recent times on a series of issues; and without this, we cannot correct the business in earnest.

And now – what could this man count upon in the Soviet Union? I think, comrades, on our internal forces’ side, our country is at such a bloom that anyone would envy how we get stronger economically year after year, growing fast, going up, strengthening up, creating top-notch things technically, breeding immense quantity of new trained qualified people. But, comrades, let us not forget that we have such amount of drawbacks and disorders in our work that we will have to work on this strongly and seriously.

In a rush, we have taken a series of decisions in recent years which have to be corrected. For example, we were forced to decisively correct and cancel the decision to build the Turkmen canal. It started with the fact that the canal cost several billion rubles. This is a useful thing, but it turns out that if we build it, it will cost us thirty billion rubles without direct benefits in the coming period. Is this really the most urgent of all tasks for the Turkmen and everyone else in the Soviet Union? It had to be corrected. We corrected this business. And concerning the series of other construction works. Take what comrades Malenkov and Khrushchev sais about agriculture, for instance. We have an intolerable state of affairs in agriculture – especially animal farming, vegetable farming -concerning most necessary things. Here comrades were correct in saying that a person like Beria not only was not helpful in correcting and improving the economic work – he hampered, pushed the brakes, created obstacles to the straightening out of this business in every possible way. In the meantime, we have every opportunity to provide ourselves within short period of time with vegetables, and potatoes, and cabbage, and bring animal farming to really high levels. If only we could occupy ourselves with this without postponement, and not be scared to correct something in our work.

Voice from the audience: That is correct.

Molotov: Because we did not occupy ourselves seriously with this business, and we were too satisfied with decision-making and thinking that everything would be done by itself, but things do not work in this way.

Now, on the international situation. The fact is that it is now that we have such period in which the capitalist states, including major ones, are fearing for their existence, for their state of affairs, for what will happen to them tomorrow.

<> Indeed, an unprecedented historical event happened after the World War II – 800 million people find themselves united in the Soviet Union and around the Soviet Union. Two world markets have been formed, as comrade Stalin defined so spectacularly and exceptionally scientifically in his “Economic Problems”. It is not simply the market of the Soviet Union and the market of the capitalist states, but two world markets. It means that those states that have been united around the Soviet Union with the above­mentioned 800 million people – the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Poland, GDR, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania – these states make up such mighty, unseen power that capitalism in this very period fears for its own tomorrow.

And it in this very period that new and new adventurisms are being prepared against the Soviet Union. See, how the Korean ceasefire is being held back, delayed – nothing can be done. Our policy went such way – they are faced with the fact, they are forced to go to peace. The Chinese and Koreans went such way to provide for peace in the East. And at this very moment, all kinds of obstacles are being created on this way. It is such a period when the opportunities that have not been used at our side – the opportunities we had at our hands and used very poorly in certain ways – we now use them more actively, use the reserves that have been lying idle, change the tactics and create a series of new difficulties for them.

By this time we have created a gigantic economic base, which is represented not only by the Soviet Union, but also by the 500 millions of Chinese and 100 millions of other peoples. This is indeed a colossal base for Socialism, on which Socialism is undefeatable and moves forward irresistibly. At this time, someone who would step forward as a disorganizer of our work was needed. Here the class agent of our class enemy was sent to our country to bring the elements of disorganization into our work at this important time.

I think that Beria grew too insolent and started to hurry too much – he hurried too much, and this is how he gave himself up. Now we make use of having discerned in three and a half months what we could not discern in him for 15 years – because someone rushed him too much, and he started to get too insolent, to reveal too many claws – and we saw that he was a predator, an alien man, who had to be grabbed by his hand and put to the place where he belongs.

This was done by us, comrades, and I think that no weakening of the leadership of the Party and the country can be talked about: we have cleaned ourselves of agents of our class enemy, and made the Party stronger [Stormy ovation.]

We now stand on our feet as firmly as never before. In our environment, in our leadership core, at last we have honest relationships: we are not scared to talk to each other, unlike one and a half weeks ago – and it was precisely that. Maybe, you did not notice anything, but it could also be that you did notice something.

In my opinion, a simple conclusion follows from all this: we have to be firm, principled and unshakable in relation to our partisanship. In addition to that, we have to be vigilant in all our work – more vigilance in all our work.


To be continued.

Lavrentiy Beriya. 1953, Stenogramma iyul’kovo plenuma TsK KPSS i drugie dokumenty, sosaviteli V. Naumov, Yu Sigachev, Moskva, Mezhdunarodnyye fond ‘Demokratiya’, 1999, pages 100-109.

Translated from the Russian by Vitaly Pershin.

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