761.00/1–1453: Telegram

No. 539
The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Beam) to the Department of State 1

confidential
priority

1036. Reversions to techniques of 1930’s in charges of terroristic activities on part group Soviet doctors evokes several interesting considerations.2

It cannot be completely excluded, of course, that there was indeed some sort of conspiratorial movement. It also might be argued that the “plot” is a complete fabrication of the ruling group cold-bloodedly designed for the achievement of some political aim. It seems at any rate to corroborate belief held by many that Soviet ruling group lives in atmosphere of constant psychotic mistrust and suspicion. While it would seem unreasonable to assume that they believe the charges as made, it seems quite likely that the latter reflect the ruling circles dominant fear of uncontrolled thought and discussion. It has been often assumed that serious differences of opinion on policy matters exist in the Soviet hierarchy up to and including the Politburo. The present occurrence plus past economic controversies now being aired do not diminish such opinions. However, if this is not the case but the top leaders had reason to believe there had only been an increase in the number of small clandestine discussion circles (which have been a feature of Russian life since Czarist times), particularly among the intelligentsia the matter would probably appear serious enough to them to require the most severe repressive measures.

The patent lack of reality of the charges explainable perhaps by the following hypotheses:

1. Publicized plot must be exceedingly simple in order to be understood by the great masses of Soviet people, even though such simplicity impedes fabrication of logical chain of circumstances and/or (2) Soviets not interested in convincing their people but rather wish force down their throats obviously false allegations, particularly distasteful to intelligentsia, as overt easily recognizable further move toward thought control. (If a conspiratorial group has had within its power a half dozen leading military figures for nine years since the death of Shcherbakov in 1945, it is [Page 1070] surprising that some success had not been achieved and that after all this time plot near in fruition foiled only by means last minute intervention Security Police.)

Perhaps heavy play given Jewish bourgeoisie nationalist aspect should cause us re-evaluate Jewish element recent Czech trials. However, very identification of these groups as “Jewish Bourgeois nationalist” lessens to certain degree hypothesis which has been advanced that anti-Semitism as such is important and growing element Soviet and satellite policy.

Criticism of MGB for failure uncover plot earlier may be taken by some observers as further indication of lessened stature of Beriya. In absence further evidence of this however, it seems to Embassy MGB criticism and call for strengthened army and security forces, increased vigilance etc. may be warning to Soviet people to expect more intensive disciplinary measures plus stricter economic control mechanisms. This renewal of emphasis on discipline and threat of repressive measure quite consistent with new party statutes and subsequent comment thereon.

Re status Beriya, it should be noted he listed as being present with Stalin January 12 at Bolshoi Theater following Molotov and Malenkov. This might be considered usual position in hierarchy.

While basic motivation these charges probably arises from chronic mistrust of ruling circles, as in all similar cases, advantage is taken of opportunity gain other purposes including attack on “joint” organization (probably Joint Distribution Committee) with tie-in to US and UK, continued anti-US campaign, including bacteria warfare, atrocities, Kojedo, etc., probably had lost its momentum and present charges taken as means of providing vigorous shot in arm.

One of persons named as transmitting instruction is Dr. Schimeliovich the Director of Botkin Hospital where serious ailments foreign diplomats treated. Mikhoels who died January 1948 under strange circumstances known as President Soviet Jewish anti-Fascist Committee and reputed to have complained of anti-Jewish elements Soviet policy.

Tass announcement that investigation will be concluded shortly plus recent Praha precedent may foreshadow show trials here in reasonably near future.

Beam
  1. Repeated for information to London, Paris, Rome, and Bonn.
  2. The “doctors’ plot” was reported upon extensively by the Embassies in Moscow, London, Paris, and elsewhere in Europe. These reporting telegrams are included principally in file 761.00. Detailed (8 pages) comments on the “doctors’ plot” and anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union is in despatch 381 from Moscow, March 3, in file 761.00/3–353.