Report Prepared by the Division of Research for Europe, Office of Intelligence Research, Department of State1

top secret

OIR Report No. 4998

Soviet Internal Situation

an analysis of the thesis that soviet internal weaknesses constitute the determining factor in current soviet foreign policy


The purpose of this study is to analyze, in the light of available information, the thesis that the Soviet Union is suffering from internal weaknesses of such dimension as to affect the stability of the regime, to imperil Soviet control over the satellites, or to force a radical weakening of Soviet foreign policy.

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The paper addresses itself to an examination of this thesis, and does not purport to be a definitive balance sheet of strengths and weaknesses in the Soviet system. At the same time it does not undertake to make a comparison between the Soviet Union and the non-Soviet world.

It should be borne in mind that the term “weakness” is by its nature relative to something else and that while the available evidence does not support the thesis that the current and even chronic weaknesses of the Soviet system are such as to force a radical alteration in Soviet foreign policy, the intrinsic weakness of the Soviet Union in relation to the Western world is unquestionably a factor influencing Soviet foreign policy.

The paper was prepared in the Intelligence Organization of the Department of State with the collaboration of other appropriate areas, especially the Eastern European Division of EUR. … It is believed that all pertinent materials available to the Government have been utilized.

It is important to note, however, that the total of information available to the Government is subject to serious limitations. Soviet leaders, whatever their other shortcomings, have proved most efficient in preventing leakage of information. Moreover, of the information that is released, some represents exaggeration and even fabrication. Over a period of years the intelligence agencies have developed special techniques for unearthing, piecing together, checking and counter-checking data and can thus reach reasonably comprehensive and accurate approximations. Nevertheless, there remain gaps in our information, and there is always the risk of error with respect to one or another particular point.

The lack of information regarding some sectors of Soviet life may prevent the disclosure of disaffection where it actually exists. Lack of information regarding disaffection would, however, indicate that it is insufficiently widespread to constitute a serious threat to the stability of the regime.


1. On the basis of a thorough examination of all available evidence, it can be concluded that no developments have recently taken place in the USSR, or its satellites, which have produced a sufficiently serious weakness to force the Soviet Government to offer substantial concessions to secure either an international settlement or otherwise to attempt to secure relief from immediate pressures.

The Soviet Union simultaneously faces (a) the inherent strains of any government that rules by repression and fails to provide its people a satisfactory standard of living, (b) the deficiencies inherent in an autarchic economy, (c) the problems that result from the rapid acquisition [Page 625] of control over foreign and basically hostile countries, and (d) historical difficulties intrinsic to the Russian and satellite area.

On balance, however, these strains are no more acute than at any other time during the postwar period. In point of fact, the current position is, generally speaking, better than at any time since the war. The Soviet Union at present is therefore faced with no crisis which would necessitate a change in its basic policy.

The Communist Party is more firmly entrenched in power than at any time in history. Its domestic prestige is at an all time high and it now has more roots in the people.
There is no evidence of dissension within the Party sufficient to threaten collapse or serious weakening from within, at least as long as Stalin remains a factor.
There is no evidence of instability in the Soviet governmental apparatus; with few exceptions, administrative reorganizations and personnel shifts in recent months have been designed to effect a much needed increase in efficiency.
There is no evidence of intention or capability on the part of the armed forces to challenge the mastery of present leaders.
There is no evidence that the morale of the people offers a threat or causes serious concern to the Communist regime, though there is evidence of continued indifference and lassitude on the part of many, and active discontent on the part of some.
Any threat to the present regime resulting from extensive contacts between Soviet forces and non-Soviet Europe during the war appears, on the basis of all available evidence, to have been eliminated.
Desertions from Soviet armed forces to Western zones of occupation have not been sufficiently numerous to indicate other than a minor problem for Soviet rulers.
No organized opposition groups, open or underground, capable of threatening the stability of, or seriously embarrassing, the Soviet regime are known to exist in the USSR.
The Communist Party has, through propaganda, thought control, enforcement of isolation from foreign contacts, and controlled education, succeeded in so conditioning the minds of the people as seemingly to preclude, except in a crisis, the development of an effective opposition movement.
Soviet military strength has shown no deterioration, but is slightly greater today than a year ago.
There is no evidence that the Soviet economy is subject to any immediate critical weaknesses. Reconstruction and rehabilitation has progressed to a point where by June 1949 the over-all level of economic activity is probably at least as high as in 1940.
Despite certain bottlenecks, production of key commodities—steel, power and fuels, machinery and equipment—is adequate to enable not only maintenance of the present level of activity but also some expansion, approximating demands of the Fourth Five-Year Plan (1946–1950).
Transportation facilities, a weak element in the Soviet economy, are adequate to meet essential needs.
Although production of consumers’ goods is behind Plan goals, and production of food under the 1940 level, output has been sufficient to permit a slow but steady rise in urban living standards during the past two years. Living standards, however, still do not equal the prewar level.
Curtailment of trade between the USSR and the West has been important qualitatively, intensifying certain bottleneck conditions, particularly with respect to tin, spare parts, bearings, precision instruments, and electrical equipment. This has not interfered greatly with Plan fulfillment, nor has it seriously affected the functioning of the Soviet economy.
Soviet domination of the satellites has resulted to date in benefits to the USSR far in excess of costs.
The economies of the satellites themselves have suffered from both Soviet exploitation and difficulties incident to a sweeping social revolution. They have also been handicapped by their forced orientation toward the East, especially with respect to requirements for machinery, key raw materials and technical assistance. Nevertheless, difficulties are not sufficiently serious (1) to prevent maintenance of approximately the present level of activity; (2) to force abandonment of the political-economic systems that have been established since the war; or (3) to precipitate a desperation move to break the hold of the USSR.
Control of the satellites by local Communist regimes is sufficiently firm to cope with local pressures. In turn, Soviet control of these regimes, Yugoslavia excepted, appears beyond successful challenge by internal forces.
The defection of Yugoslavia constituted a serious setback for the USSR strategically, economically, militarily, and ideologically. The resultant pressure has not caused the Soviet regime significant difficulties or jeopardized the Soviet hold on the orbit as a whole. With respect to the latter, in fact, Tito’s defiance has led Moscow and Moscow elements in local Parties to reexamine their positions, tighten lines of control, eliminate weak or insecure areas, and proceed with the political, economic, and military integration of the remaining orbit area.
In the international sphere, the triumphs of the Chinese Communists and the apparently growing influence of Communist groups in Southeast Asia constitute positive gains for the USSR. In contrast, the USSR has suffered reverses in Europe, including the growing economic, political, and military collaboration of the Western countries, the unification of Western Germany and its increasing orientation toward the Western system, the recent decline of the French and Italian Communist parties, and the failure of guerrilla efforts in Greece. It should be emphasized, however, that these reverses did not affect anything which the USSR already possessed, but rather contributed to the erection of barriers against further expansion. They should be looked upon less as sources of weakness than as failures to gain strength.
The Kremlin may consider, moreover, that the effect of these reverses will be short-lived. Soviet leaders profess to see in current economic trends in the West, particularly in the US, definite signs of [Page 627] an unfolding depression. In terms of their ideology, such a development would result in the replacement of laboriously built Western unity with rivalry and conflict, the increasing orientation of the depression-ridden Western state toward the “economically stable” Soviet sphere, and a rapid rise in the appeal of Communism to the masses.

2. The improved situation of the USSR should not obscure the fact that the Soviet system, domestically and in the satellites, has important intrinsic elements of weakness. These have the effect of making the system vulnerable either to outside pressures or to unfavorable internal developments. Within the Soviet Union, of great potential importance are the lack of any known line of succession after Stalin’s death; the nationalist feeling among most of the minority peoples; the irreconcilability between Soviet thought-control and human propensity for self-expression, particularly among the intelligentsia; the latent dissatisfaction of the peasantry; the limited supply of certain critical materials, such as oil, precision tools, various machinery, special purpose bearings, etc.; the shortage of skilled labor and technicians; and the wide discrepancy between claims and realities of Soviet life. Within the orbit, vulnerability is even greater, due to the traditional hostility of many of the people toward the Russians; cultural affinity for the West; traditional intra-orbit hostilities; strong church organizations in certain areas; a strong attachment of the peasantry to private land holding; non-complementary nature of the orbit and Soviet economies; acute need for Western materials; and numerous others.

3. Similarly, the absence of immediate weakness in the USSR does not mean that it possesses a preponderance of basic power as against the US, not to mention the Western world as a whole. Although the USSR possesses the greatest striking force on the Eurasian continent and a geographic position that enhances its defensive capabilities, Soviet war potential, including the orbit, is definitely inferior to that of the Western powers, even without taking account of the atom bomb. So long as this remains true, it appears unlikely that the Kremlin will deliberately precipitate a major conflict, or—barring the ever present possibility of miscalculation—undertake an adventure which would involve an obvious and real risk of precipitating a major conflict. Further, there is a strong possibility that if a dispute in an existing area of conflict should definitely threaten war, the USSR would, during the period of its inferior war potential, back down before permitting the matter [to] come to a test of arms, again barring the chance of miscalculation.

[The remaining 65 typewritten pages of this Report are not printed. The topics treated are arranged under these major headings: I. Internal Political Situation of the Soviet Union; II. Internal Economic [Page 628] Situation of the Soviet Union; III. The Economy of the Soviet Orbit and the Problem of the East-West Trade; IV. The Political Situation of the Soviet Orbit; V. Soviet Military Strength; VI. China as a Potential Satellite; VII. Present International Position of the USSR; and VIII. The International Prestige of the Soviet Union.]

  1. Information in the files of the Department of State appears to indicate that this study was prepared at the suggestion of Under Secretary of State James E. Webb. A copy of this report was sent to the Secretary of State on July 6 by W. Park Armstrong, Jr., Special Assistant for Research and Intelligence. A copy was also sent to the Embassy in the Soviet Union as an enclosure in instruction No. 80 on July 22, not printed. (861.00/7–2249)