PSB files, lot 62 D 333

No. 532
Document Approved by the Psychological Strategy Board1

top secret
PSB D–24

Program of Psychological Preparation for Stalin’s Passing From Power

National policy calls for placing “maximum strain on the Soviet structure of power,” reducing Soviet power, and bringing about “a basic change in the conduct of international relations by the government in power in Russia” (NSC 20/4,2…).
One of the most favorable occasions for furthering these objectives may be Stalin’s passing from power. This event, however, has important relations to practically every aspect of the Soviet problem. It may touch off a split in the top leadership. It may also lead to the crystallization of present dissatisfactions among various groups in the Soviet population which feel themselves discriminated against.
This paper is also relevant to strains that may emerge before Stalin has fully passed from power. For example, since rivalries must be presumed to exist already in the top leadership and Stalin’s [Page 1060] control may be relaxing as he grows older, it is conceivable that the death of one of the principal aspirants to the succession might upset some delicate equilibrium and precipitate a crisis, arising perhaps out of Stalin’s efforts to restore balance. It is also conceivable, though unlikely, that Stalin’s death may be concealed, both from us and from the people, for some time after the event.
There is only a chance, not a certainty, that conflicts related to Stalin’s passing from power will bring major changes, and if they do the changes need not be favorable to U.S. interests. The successor regime may be worse than Stalin’s, and among remoter possibilities lies general war as well as general collapse. In any case, those conflicts have such weighty potentialities that they call for active preparation on our part. It may also be possible to pave the way, to a modest extent, for their eruption in desirable forms.
There are many uncertainties in this field, but three points stand out as landmarks: (1) Stalin must die sometime; (2) strains must be presumed to exist between individuals and groups closely connected with the problem of succession, even if the problem as such is never mentioned; (3) apart from strains now directly connected with the problem of succession, there is evidence of group dissatisfaction throughout the population of the Soviet Union.



In the psychological field, preparatory work should be five-fold:

. . . . . . .

In the light of such insight and within the context of the more probable patterns of future events in general, the principal ways in which important conflicts might develop should be analyzed and corresponding psychological courses of action sketched, as a repeated staff exercise designed to make possible prompt and judicious decisions when the time comes. Since Stalin may die any time, this task should not be delayed for the completion of further work under 6 a above.

To avoid uncoordinated action in case of sudden death, an agreed Government position should be prepared at once, as a basis for standby instructions for the period immediately following this contingency.

. . . . . . .

Each Member Agency and the Director of PSB is requested to name one staff member as principal point of contact concerning the work outlined in paragraph 6.
  1. Transmitted to the Secretary of State under cover of a brief letter indicating that this document had been approved by the Psychological Strategy Board at its 16th meeting, Oct. 30, 1952.

    A briefing memorandum of Oct. 29 by Deputy Assistant Secretary Phillips to Acting Secretary Bruce explained that the conclusions of the paper printed here were similar to those reached by a working group studying the same problem in early 1951. Phillips further explained that the original working group was organized in 1951 by the P area of the Department of State at the request of the inter-Departmental Psychological Operations Coordinating Committee (POC). The work was subsequently turned over to PSB working group at the end of 1951. Phillips identified George Morgan as the chief architect of the paper printed here.

  2. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. I, Part 2, p. 662.