17. Paper Prepared by the Division of Research for USSR and Eastern Europe, Office of Intelligence Research1

THE SOVIET LEADERSHIP SITUATION AND THE CIA PAPER OF 12/30/55 ENTITLED “SPECULATIONS ON SOVIET LEADERSHIP SITUATION”2

Most recent evidence supports the view that Khrushchev is the dominant figure in the Soviet hierarchy. He has become the most important spokesman of the Soviet regime on both domestic and foreign questions. It is likely that the hand of Khrushchev is behind a number of the shifts of local Party officials which have occurred since the July announcement of the forthcoming Party Congress, but not all officials affected can be directly linked to him. It is possible that these local changes are designed to achieve two related objectives: (1) they may serve to strengthen Khrushchev’s influence throughout the system of territorial Party organs and effect a “packing” of delegations to the congress with his adherents, and (2) the shifts also raise a number of Party officials to positions where they would be logical nominees for membership in the Central Committee or other bodies to be elected at the congress. The rise of Khrushchevism influence does not mean, however, that “collective leadership” has lost all significance. “Collective leadership” never involved, and of course does not now involve, the equal sharing of power at the top level. Appreciation of Khrushchev’s superior position should not lead, therefore, to the conclusion that he has secured, or is about to secure, a STALIN-type prominence.

1. The CIA paper Speculations on the Soviet Leadership Situation presents arguments for a series of three hypotheses. The first, the approaching impregnability of Khrushchev, is the most convincing of the three, but appears, nevertheless, to be overdrawn. The other two, positing a coalescence of anti-Khrushchev forces or arguing for a continued effectiveness of collective leadership, are weakly supported; in the case of the latter, over-weakly.

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2. The conclusion that Khrushchev’s position “will become practically impregnable” after the 20th Party Congress (February 1956) is supported by some dubious arguments. Leadership changes are not as uniformly indicative of Khrushchev’s sway as the paper implies. The authors seem to have overlooked the appointment to the Party’s Presidium last July of Suslov, whose ties to Khrushchev are very tenuous. Likewise, Khrushchev’s influence is not too evident in the appointment in 1955 of new deputy chairmen of the Council of Ministers/Two of the new deputy chairmen cannot be directly linked with Khrushchev, nor can Mikoyan, Pervukhin, and Saburov, who were elevated to First Deputy Chairmen. Even some of the recently-appointed Secretaries of the CPSU, Khrushchev’s immediate lieutenants, cannot be classified in any definite way as Khrushchev protégés. The fact that Malenkov still holds a position in the government and that there was a long delay in the appointment of Matskevich as Minister of Agriculture could also be interpreted as indicating resistance to Khrushchev’s influence.

Much of the argumentation on this topic is based on very capricious speculation. Thus, the authors describe Yegorov and Konstantinov as Malenkov men, although the evidence for the proposition is most inconclusive. Molotov is hastily dismissed as a deviationist. The formulation used by Molotov for which he was forced to admit his error was an incidental reference buried in a full dress foreign affairs speech.3 If it was considered at all serious ideologically it seems that some attempt would have been made before October to correct it, yet the speech was still being published in pamphlet form in minority languages as late as September. The main reasons for the rebuff to Molotov seems to be suggested by the timing of the letter just prior to the Geneva Foreign Minister’s Conference. It appears that Khrushchev and Bulganin wished to emphasize their final authority in the field of foreign policy. Soviet comment at the time suggested that the censure was also related to the rapprochement with Yugoslavia, which Molotov reportedly opposed.

3. Reasoning and evidence buttressing the second and third hypotheses are extremely weak. The proposition on anti-Khrushchev moves is introduced by three most doubtful points: the so-called Malenkov promotion to First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, the so-called Pravda-Izvestiya conflict over the corn program, and the appointment of a “Malenkov man,” i.e. Konstantinov, [Page 40]as agit-prop chief. The paper refers to five possibly dissatisfied groups in the population. There is very little evidence of this dissatisfaction, and in some cases even of the group’s existence. The argument for dissatisfaction within the army element seems to oppose the argument given earlier suggesting that the army will be faithful to Khrushchev.

The arguments presented to support the collective leadership hypothesis, the third, do not stand up very well and in some cases might be used to prove the opposite point. What is called “the best ammunition” is Khrushchev’s and Bulganin’s willingness to travel abroad for five weeks. Their willingness to travel abroad so long could also be interpreted as reflecting Khrushchev’s complete confidence in the security of his position. The contention that Mikoyan and Bulganin are friends or “cronies” of Khrushchev does not necessarily have anything to do with the existence of collective leadership.

4. The authors show a certain naivete and amateurishness in their handling of evidence on the leadership question. This is exemplified in the reference to Kaganovich speaking “as one fully in accord with current policies” at the October anniversary celebration, to Mikoyan acting “as if he fully approves the current state of affairs,” to Bulganin as “content to play a supporting role,” and to Zhukov as “prominently associated with policies of the regime.” These postures and declarations are perfectly standard and prove nothing about leadership struggles or harmony.

The treatment of the military in the first part seems to be an especially bad example of misuse of fact. The contention is made that the officer corps is probably in a better position under Khrushchev and Bulganin than it was under Malenkov. Apparently this is based on the elevation of a number of general officers and marshals to higher ranks in 1955. The authors seem to forget that there were a number of promotions when Malenkov was Chairman of the Council of Ministers; that the call-up and discharge procedure was put on a more regular basis in 1953; and that other privileges were granted and efforts made to raise the prestige of the military before Malenkov was ousted. It should be recalled, also, that Marshal Zhukov was promoted to a top military position and subsequently elected to the Party Central Committee in the period of Malenkov ascendancy. The purported satisfaction of the military in 1955 over their budget is unconvincing. Although the publicly-announced amount increased in 1955 over 1954, there is great uncertainty as to the actual total.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 761.00/1–156. Secret. Attached to the source text was a brief memorandum of transmittal from Klessen to Howe, January 11.
  2. A copy of the paper, sent to Klessen under cover of a memorandum of January 5 from Howe requesting his division’s comments, is ibid. In the memorandum Howe noted that the CIA paper seemed “to present three different hypotheses and marshalls the arguments behind each without making a selection.” Attached to the CIA paper was a note dated December 30 from Amory to Howe, in which Amory said he was “sticking with the third hypothesis for the time being.”
  3. The party journal Kommunist on October 8, 1955, published a letter of September 16 from Molotov, in which he recanted comments he had made in his February 8, 1955, report to the Supreme Soviet about the foundations of a socialist society having already been built in the Soviet Union.