861.00/3–2046: Telegram

The Chargé in the Soviet Union ( Kennan ) to the Secretary of State


876. Personally attended last night’s final session of Supreme Soviet at which new Govt and Presidium of USSR were elected.

It was interesting commentary on Soviet system that Kalinin, oldest and most venerable member of Politburo, who had functioned for some two decades in what was nominally highest position in Soviet state, was dropped from this position without single speech of tribute and without any highlighting of his past services and achievements. While proposal for his retirement from position as President of Supreme Soviet was read off and dutifully approved, he sat as usual among his colleagues of Politburo and nothing in his behavior or expression even indicated that he was aware that his name was under discussion. He was not asked to make any remarks or even to stand for an ovation and Stalin remained during entire procedure engrossed in some papers he was examining and did not even join in perfunctory applause with which audience greeted first mention of Kalinin’s name.

It should not be thought that Kalinin’s failure to react to proceeding was due to senility or ill health. Although he has recently suffered from spells of ill health, he remains a wiry and active old man with a brisk nervous energy, and he spent a good deal of time at these recent Supreme Soviet sessions in animated conversation with Politburo colleagues who, incidentally, yielded nothing to the other delegates in their manifestations of boredom with the spiritless and mechanical proceedings.

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Routine and ungrateful manner of Kalinin’s retirement merely reflects fact that Soviet system permits no rival constellations in the firmament where Stalin’s light appears. It does not even have room for the mellow aura of an elderly retired statesman, and Dept will note that during period of Stalin’s ascendency no Soviet figure has ever retired in honor and dignity except by process of discreet and timely death. Some people might cite Litvinov as example to contrary; but if the humble seat which he occupied among servile ranks of Deputies at this Supreme Soviet session be compared with photo officially publicized 10 years ago of him crossing Kremlin courtyard in company with Molotov and Stalin, it will be clear that his present status also bears with it no genuine recognition for past service.57 In this country fame and popular affection, like automobiles and country homes, are the temporary prerequisites of office and are transferred no less rapidly than seal and title when office is relinquished.

This last session of Supreme Soviet was probably most stereotyped and formalistic of any such meeting Moscow has seen. That is saying a good deal. In contrast to prewar Supreme Soviet meetings there was not even any pretense of spontaneous sentiment or action on part of Deputies. No proposal advanced to either chamber from beginning to end was ever questioned or failed to find unanimous support. Despite unfailing query of chairman as to whether anyone dissented or wished to refrain from voting, no one ever dissented or refrained. Session was marked by no single speech by any of prominent leaders, except report on 5-year plan by Voznesenski,58 last and least of Politburo alternates.

Behind this state of affairs lies a continued total concealment of Soviet internal life and a strange reticence of Soviet leaders even toward their own people. We will see whether there will not soon be a party congress and whether Soviet leaders will not find it possible before that relatively esoteric and authoritative audience to be more communicative about their plans and thoughts. If not, one must indeed wonder whether they are not preoccupied with plans too delicate to be revealed and are not waiting changes which would alter radically whatever they might have to say to their people at this time.

  1. Litvinov had been the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union from 1930 until May 3, 1939, and Ambassador to the United States, 1941–1943. After his recall he had served as an Assistant Commissar (from March 15, 1946, a Deputy Minister) for Foreign Affairs until his retirement on August 24, 1946; see telegram 3306, August 25, 1946, from Moscow, p. 776.
  2. Nikolay Alexeyevich Voznesensky, Chairman (President) of Gosplan, the State Planning Commission.