17. Intelligence Memorandum1

[document number not declassified]

THE COMING STRUGGLE FOR POWER IN THE USSR

Introduction and Conclusions

Neither the nature of the Soviet system nor the record of Soviet history suggests that the USSR can undergo orderly dynastic change. There is no statute, no article in the Constitution, which provides for the selection of a single leader of the Soviet party and state. More important, there is no tradition in Soviet politics of a systematic and harmonious succession; there is, rather, a record on conflict over power and—as Stalin and Khrushchev would testify—a pattern of the survival of the fittest. Thus, when the supreme ruler dies, his heirs are likely to fall out, and the USSR may then enter upon an extended period of policy debate and political contention.

It is not possible, of course, to predict with precision or certainty the outcome of the next succession crisis in the USSR. But, while neither we nor the Soviets themselves can name the man who will someday succeed Khrushchev, that man is probably at this moment sitting on the Presidium of the CPSU. And, while we cannot identify the policies that this successor will follow after his advent to power, the outline of these policies may already be at least faintly visible in the murk of current Soviet political controversy and in the changing form of Soviet society as a whole. Thus it is possible to speculate about the political climate at the time of Khrushchev’s departure and to consider the nature of those who will seek to succeed him.

We have surmised in the essay which follows that, while there are pronounced individual differences between the men now at the top of the Soviet hierarchy, most of them tend to look at the world through the eyes of the party apparatchiki and represent collectively a fairly conservative body of opinion. Some, although loyal followers of Khrushchev, seem to have a hard time keeping up with him, and others, less devoted to Khrushchev, seem at times to resist both his specific reforms and the general direction of his policies. In the aftermath of Khrushchev’s death, there may be a tendency for the various contenders to divide into two groups, those who would to one degree or another advocate a continuation of the Khrushchevian status quo, and [Page 44]those who would perhaps disavow Khrushchev’s reformism and propose a return to more traditional ways of doing things, both at home and abroad. Such a cleavage is already apparent in Soviet politics and could become of much greater significance during the policy debates likely to occur during a succession crisis.

As was the case after the death of Stalin, the battle for the top probably will be centered on and conducted within the top echelons of the party during its initial stages. The various contenders, however, will have to take account of the interests of other groups in Soviet society (the government apparatus, the military establishment, etc.) and, in time and under certain circumstances, the role of these groups could come to have an important, if indirect, bearing on the outcome of the struggle. Should, for example, the voice of protest of the liberal intellectuals continue to mount in intensity, and should the temper of the people become increasingly receptive to such protest, one or another leader might deem it profitable to champion the popular cause. Other “outside” pressures on the contenders will almost certainly include the policies of the US and Communist China. Although there is probably little that either country can do to determine the course of the succession struggle, the attitudes and intentions of both countries will be a major ingredient of debate, and the political fortunes of the individual leaders and their factions will in part rise and fall on the basis of the successes and failures of their policies, including their foreign policies.

The struggle for succession is discussed in some detail in the paper which follows and is considered under the following headings:

  • The “Primacy” of Politics over Economics
  • The Next Succession Crisis—The Men
  • Party Politics
  • Non-Party Elements
  • Policy Issues2

At Tab are biographic data on some of the outstanding figures who may be involved in the struggle for power.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, Vol. II. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. Prepared by the Directorate of Intelligence of the Central Intelligence Agency.
  2. None of these sections, comprising 14 pages, nor the 23 pages of biographic data, is printed.