511.00/3–553: Circular telegram

The Secretary of State to Certain Diplomatic Posts1


925. Following is InfoGuide Bulletin 285:

Stalin: This is supplement to Infoguide Bulletin 283 of March 4, 1953.2 (FYI begins: Stalin’s illness has naturally caused enormous interest in free world mainly on question who will control Soviet Communist world. Little doubt this uncertainty paralleled among Soviet orbit peoples (including bulk party activists) who have never been permitted speculate openly about this eventuality; this state of mind will become more acute when Stalin dies. Among Kremlin clique, we may assume feelings may be classified into one of two general categories: confusion and anxiety—in case problem “succession” has not already been adequately settled; or rivalries—in case regime has already prescribed solution. Seems unlikely that regime has been able to evolve clear-cut succession plan which both eliminates uncertainty and satisfies all potential aspirants.

In output to Soviet orbit, it is within our psychological objectives to capitalize on emotions which may be presumed exist among these various classes. Regarding uninitiated Soviet masses we seek isolate them further from regime. With regard to initiated elite we seek exacerbate their confusion and rivalries in order complicate delicate succession question and thus weaken regime.

In regard to Soviet popular masses, our actions must not appear offend their sensibilities or exceed bounds good taste, thereby confirming Soviet propaganda image of Americans as crude barbarians, and tending unite popular opposition to US. Specifically, we [Page 1682] must take into account fact that for generation Stalin has been only leader people have known; he has been carefully sheltered from popular resentment against bureaucratic, dictatorial regime; moreover, he has been systematically built up as symbol of power and prestige acquired by Soviet state in war and peace.

While same considerations apply to ruling clique, more important is fact we know little about intricacies of succession problem. There is no evidence that succession has not already been settled, at least temporarily. Even if it has not we do not know that it cannot be settled without bloodshed. Accordingly, we must confine ourselves to questions and hypotheses, without committing ourselves to any one solution, creating doubt, suspicion, distrust, and jealousy. Ends FYI)

Treatment: In order assure maximum psychological advantage, and permit sustained psychological exploitation of situation as it may develop over coming critical period—possibly of considerable duration—output should: (a) maintain tone of controlled, deliberate restraint, taking cue from White House statement March 4th,3 avoiding stridency or vituperation; (b) keep such balance in our attention to subject that it does not give impression of constant, predominant preoccupation on part of free world with issues arising from Stalin illness.

Care should be taken not to make positive assertions re probable course events. Intent should be to raise questions and cause doubts, but strictly to avoid direct forecasts which will prevent or complicate exploitation of situation as it unfolds in USSR.

Following list of themes should be developed where possible through selected comment, with full attribution to source, and, where such selected comment is unavailable, may be developed sparingly in restrained factual original material which does not repeat not commit US information output to any single or overriding interpretation:

To Soviet Orbit and China:
General review of Stalin’s own coming into power including accurate historical detail and review of internal dissensions at that time.
Balanced presentation of alternative possibilities for succession including:
Impracticability of “committee directorate”.
Possibilities of triumvirate rule.
Balanced comment re relative merits and deficiencies individuals within Soviet system and their claims to succession.
Careful balanced comment upon various protagonists’ “right to succession”.
Sympathy for Soviet peoples who placed in their present uncertain position by secretive and dictatorial nature of regime.
Doubt as to ability of any of known aspirants to fill adequately position which Stalin consolidated under his personal direction over years.
Questions as to why regime had to wait 48 hours before informing people of event which so gravely concerned them.
Suggestion it is not endurable demand more sacrifices from Soviet people to build up power of successor inevitably weaker than Stalin.
Doubts as to whether system would survive were it submitted to vote of Soviet people.
Questions as to ability, good faith, trustworthiness of any and all would-be successor or successors.
Intimations, based on history, concerning possibility of overt or covert purges of any actual or potential rivals or non-supporters of successor or successors.
Questions as to competence and prudence of possible successors.
Statement that even elaborate ritual of detailed medical examination and report may not save certain party leaders from possibility of second Moscow “doctor’s plot”.
Only recent guide to action left by Stalin for his successors is verbose “Bolshevik” article, whose reactionary tone and confused reasoning have caused it be treated gingerly by Soviet theoreticians.
Speculation as to whether Mao Tse-tung may now become ideological theoretician and spokesman for world Communism.
Specifically to European Satellites:
Suggestions to satellite leaders that their ties to Moscow are likely be loosened by trouble there
Suggestions that tenure of satellite leaders is now even more uncertain since they cannot know definitely whom to back.
Hints that satellite leaders, whose performance record so far is not good, will be among first to feel new broom of successor Moscow.
Caution: Output to Soviet satellites must endeavor restrain and moderate any excessive hopes of immediate Soviet collapse and liberation.
Specifically to China:
Doubts as to ability of any new Soviet leader to understand and cope with Asian problems.
Questions as to ability of USSR to pursue actively an Asian policy while faced with such huge problems at home.
Doubts as to claims of any would-be successors who are inferior to Mao Tse-tung in experience, ability and perhaps age.
Specifically to free world:
Output to free world, in giving balanced picture of US and free world reaction, should place strongest emphasis on following points:
Fact that Stalin’s passing does not indicate any lessening of tensions or Soviet pressures.
Particularly in output to Europe, pick up selected official and unofficial comment with full attribution to source, emphasizing fact that prompt effective ratification EDC and support NATO objectives no less imperative at this time.
Caution: Avoid any comment suggesting possibility that Stalin’s passing increases likelihood of actual warfare.

  1. Drafted by Lewis Revey of IIA, James Pratt of EE, and Huyler of P; cleared by Bohlen, Nitze, Harris, Boughton of NEA/P, Cox, Barbour, Pratt, Phillips, Connors, and Godel of Defense; approved by Montgomery; telegraphed to 11 posts, with a copy to the Department of Defense, and pouched to 64 other posts.
  2. Not printed; it was transmitted in circular telegram 919 of Mar. 4 and contained “interim guidance pending detailed governmental consideration and determination re important and complex issues created by Stalin illness”. (511.00/3–453) For a summary and guide to further documentation concerning the response of the U.S. Government to the illness and death of Stalin, see the editorial note, p. 290.
  3. “Statement by the President Concerning the Illness of Joseph Stalin, March 4, 1953” in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953, p. 75.