Bohlen files, lot 74 D 349, “PSB Meetings”

No. 556
Memorandum by the Counselor of the Department of State (Bohlen) 1

top secret
There is no sign at the present of any lack of control on the part of the Kremlin.
It can be confidently predicted that the first reaction of the Kremlin will be to pull itself together tightly and show no sign of [Page 1101] weakness to the outside world—which may very well mean that the Soviet Union will be harder rather than softer in its relations with other states, for a while at least.
At this stage at any rate the Russian people are not involved, i.e., they are playing no part in the transfer of power.
Although it is true, of course, that millions of Russians may be rejoicing over Stalin’s death, it is also true that millions are weeping. It is a traditional Russian reaction to cry for the death of the Czar, regardless of what kind of ruler he may have been. Stalin, like his Czarist predecessors, has been given a special place in the minds of the Russian people as the all-wise and kindly “father” whose ministers are responsible for the evil deeds of the rulers.
If any group (the Army, for example) were planning anything, our interference at this stage would have the effect of causing their elimination more quickly than might otherwise be the case. In any event, all that any such group would want from us would be assurances of material and not moral support. If we are not prepared to give such support it is better to say nothing.
In China the situation may develop as the result of Stalin’s death which would be to our advantage. In spite of some pretense of originality in the field of Communist theory, Mao has been willing to acknowledge Stalin as the master and to permit Stalin a special place in China’s internal propaganda. It is highly doubtful if Mao would be willing to accord any successor, or successors, to Stalin such a position.
To a lesser extent, for obvious reasons, there is some of the above element in the internal political situation in the Eastern European satellite states.
All of the above are pertinent for the first phase of the post-Stalin era. This means that, with certain possible exceptions, our plans should be directed for exploiting “an emerging situation” which, of course, we must watch from day to day, e.g., helping to stir up some of the developments in China and the satellite states if and as we see them taking form but keeping in mind that we cannot instigate them in the first instance if there is not an original basis for their development in those countries themselves.
Perhaps later on we will find it profitable to offer to meet with the Russians on some of the subjects on which we have made no progress in the past—to test out the attitude of the new rulers if for no other reason. In this connection, however, we must keep in mind the likelihood that for some period the new group, or man, will try to carry on what they or he considered Uncle Joe’s ideas were. This is something to be watched very carefully, but of course we have very few indications of what Stalin’s ideas were. There is a [Page 1102] possibility, however, for example, that he attached some seriousness to the “Reston exchange”.2
Hanging over all of our plans and actions in regard to this developing situation is the question as to whether this nation has now or will find itself shortly committed to the overthrow of the Kremlin regime as contrasted with a willingness to reach even a temporary modus vivendi which would be more satisfactory than the present situation.
In the circumstances, a direct frontal political or psychological assault on the Soviet structure or leadership would only have the effect of consolidating their position and postponing the possibility of dissension in the top leadership. The possibility to be explored would be some suggestion or proposal of the Western Powers which would present the new leadership with a new diplomatic or political situation not before the Soviet Government during the latter phases of Stalin’s life and therefore on which his views would not be known. A suggestion of this nature might be the one for a meeting of the four Foreign Ministers for general discussion without an agenda and for a strictly limited period of time to exchange views.
Charles E. Bohlen
  1. There is no indication on the source text that this memorandum was directed to or seen by anyone. A copy appears to have been circulated to Paul Nitze and Phillip Watts of the Policy Planning Staff. (PPS files, lot 64 D 563) According to the copy of this memorandum in the PPS files, this memorandum was also attached to an otherwise unidentified memorandum of Mar. 7 regarding the proposal advanced by Charles E. Wilson in Document 542.
  2. For text, see New York Times, Dec. 25, 1952, or Documents on American Foreign Relations, 1952, pp. 137–138.