The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Smith) to the Secretary of State

No. 271

Sir: I have the honor to report that rumors of Stalin’s ill health and even imminent death have been gradually increasing, in the long-term view, during the past three years. Despite these rumors, or perhaps because of them, Stalin has continued to make infrequent but regular public appearances, during which he always gives the impression of reasonably good health. The most recent of these appearances took place on February 23, Soviet Armed Forces Day, on which occasion I saw him personally, and thought that he look about as well as he did during the Moscow Conference.…

The most recent and probably the most credible report regarding Stalin’s ill health which has reached the Embassy purports to cover the subject in some detail. This account, which I am inclined to think is fairly accurate but cannot of course authenticate, runs as follows:

Stalin has had two slight strokes since 1945, the first one having occurred not long before Ambassador Harriman saw him at his Black Sea home late in 1945, and the second one having occurred in 1947. As is natural for a man who has already had two strokes, his health remains poor and there is a doctor in attendance on him at all times. His left arm is almost completely paralyzed. He does not eat with anything like his former great gusto, and he must be careful of his blood pressure at all times. Nevertheless, his mind appears to have retained all its erstwhile clarity. Presumably to conserve his health, he now spends little time at the Kremlin, remaining mostly at his dacha. He has also abandoned his old habit of doing a great deal of work at night; in the Kremlin, at least, he now does very little work during the night hours. He has also delegated a larger amount of his work to others, although he still manages to supervise to a great extent. For example, he planned to make a speech on derationing and the monetary reform but felt so poorly when the moment arrived that he did not go through with it. His insistence on staying at the helm of state, on haying reports brought directly to him, and on making all important decisions himself worries his physicians. Those around him express great concern over his health and feel that the Moscow climate is bad for him. They report he is planning to go south again this coming spring, a departure from his usual practice of spending only the autumn months on the Black Sea.

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In addition to the relative reliability of the source, I am inclined to give some credit to the above story because it is comparatively restrained in tone and because it agrees in general with those bits and pieces of information on this subject which have come to the Embassy’s knowledge. However, it is not to be expected that any man should be in full vigor after as many years of hard work and extreme tension as Stalin has had, and there is no reason to assume that he will not live for a number of years, or that during the remainder of his life he will not retain sufficient strength to hold the reins of power. It would be a serious mistake to base any policies touching the USSR on the assumption of Stalin’s imminently approaching death and a consequent derangement of the Soviet governmental machine.1

Respectfully yours,

W. B. Smith
  1. An attached slip dated May 5, 1948, by George F. Kennan, the director of the Policy Planning Staff, for the Secretary of State reads: “I agree with Ambassador Smith’s evaluation of this report on Stalin’s health and feel that it warrants your attention.” Secretary Marshall initialled the comment.