Microfilm telegram files, “Moscow FY 53”: Telegram

No. 547
The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Beam) to the Department of State1

confidential
priority

1245. Immediately preceding telegram contains text communiqués regarding Stalin’s illness issued by Pravda and Moscow Radio March 4. Embassy desires call attention particularly to following points.

[Page 1084]

Original attack occurred night of March 1–2. First medical bulletin is dated 2 a.m. March 4.2 In other words illness has been concealed for at least two full days. Great confusion created ruling circles by sudden attack and Soviet perfectly natural tendency to secrecy could easily explain such delay. More interesting question, perhaps, is why news now released. Presume one or both of two possibilities.

(1) Stalin end approaching fast (Embassy doctor on basis medical details released considers it probable Stalin will not live long) so that it has become necessary to prepare people for news which could not be concealed indefinitely and indeed may have already started to leak in this rumor-ridden country; (2) struggle for position has already begun in high command and one or more individuals or groups feel safer with news given out (possibility Stalin already dead cannot be entirely excluded).

Seems reasonable suppose attack was actually unexpected and quite possibly unprepared for. Stalin was seen as recently as February 17 by presumably impartial observers Indian Ambassador and Saffrudin Kitchlew (Embassy does not consider feasible that any of Stalin’s long-rumored doubles, even if they actually exist, could have taken his place and concealed his death for substantial time).

Remarks in communiqué text to effect that Central Committee and Council of Ministers “recognize whole significance” Stalin’s illness and “are taking into consideration with all seriousness all circumstances” connected with it show that ruling group itself fully realized that this event will shake USSR to its foundations. Their “certainty that party and people will show greatest unity and solidarity” sounds remarkably like whistling in dark.

It is noteworthy too that Central Committee and Council of Ministers speak as group and no individual names singled out. If one man or one clique is already achieving dominance, nature of Soviet power system makes it likely that he would have attempted to show his primacy in this public record. This Embassy inclined to see picture as one of confusion, uncertainty, and temporary restraint in ruling group.

Embassy facilities for gathering reactions from Soviet citizens are extremely limited. Nevertheless all observations seem to confirm that there is little public excitement or turmoil over this event. Streets of central Moscow appear exactly as on any other day. All newspapers containing the communiqués are surrounded [Page 1085]by only small groups. People in the central market seemed concerned only with their usual shopping problems; two observers did not even hear the name of Stalin mentioned.

Only visible departure from normal was the longer lines which attended each newspaper sales kiosk. However, people in these lines and before bulletin boards showed themselves either unwilling or uninterested in discussing event. Among Embassy household employees, reaction has varied from tears on part of two or three women to indifferent acceptance on the part of several persons.

One final point seems worth mentioning. If this attack has been approaching for some time, it seems possible that its development has affected Stalin’s already abnormally suspicious mind and possibly have provided the underlying cause of the alleged doctors plot against the lives of the top Soviet leaders.

Beam
  1. Repeated for information to Paris, London, Bonn, and Rome.
  2. For text of the statement by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union, Mar. 3, and broadcast and circulated by Soviet news media on Mar. 4, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. V, No. 6, Mar. 21, 1953, p. 4. Telegram 1244 from Moscow, Mar. 4, is not printed.