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Georgy Maksimilianovich Malenkov

Georgy Maksimilianovich Malenkov

Georgy Maksimilianovich Malenkov (1902-1988) emerged briefly after the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953 as the head of the Soviet government and leader of its Communist Party. A quintessential apparatchik whose claim to power rested largely on his devoted service to Stalin, Malenkov was soon outmaneuvered by Nikita Khrushchev and forced to resign his positions. Some historians have credited him with proposing initiatives which were later adopted by Soviet leaders, including the last head of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Malenkov was born on January 8, 1902, in the town of Orenburg in the Southern Urals. Although much of his biography is obscure, it is believed he grew up in a reasonably well-off white collar family which found itself dislocated during the revolution and civil war at a time when Georgy Maksimilianovich was an impressionable teenager. In 1918, at the age of 16, he joined the Red Army. He apparently served as a political commissar of some sort in Turkestan. Like others of his generation, he was rewarded after demobilization by being sent to the Bauman Higher Technical School in Moscow, from which he graduated in 1925. His first position thereafter was as a clerk or secretary in the Communist Party's Central Committee apparatus in Moscow.

In this minor but centrally located post Malenkov soon distinguished himself as an able administrator and loyal, even slavish, Stalinist. He is reported to have imitated the increasingly powerful dictator in dress and appearance and in any event became closely identified in Central Committee bureaucracy with Stalin's policies, as opposed to those of others in the party leadership. Largely for these reasons, in all likelihood, Stalin made him his personal secretary in 1934, on the eve of the Great Purges. From this position, Malenkov himself soon amassed enormous power, directing the appointment and removal of personnel and becoming deeply involved in the purge process. Many regarded him as one of Stalin's principal "triggermen." From 1939 until 1953 he served as secretary of the Central Committee. He was also deputy chairman, under Stalin, of the Council of Ministers and made the leading speech at the 19th Party Congress in 1952, shortly before Stalin's death.

Malenkov was not unintelligent. He understood the need for reform as he came to power after Stalin's death in March 1953 and quickly promised an improvement in material conditions. He also took a leading role in arresting Lavrenti Beria, head of the dreaded secret police. The "thaw" of 1954-1955 is largely associated with his name. For all his experience in the party machinery, however, Malenkov could not prevent himself from being edged aside by Nikita Khrushchev. Within weeks of Stalin's death he "requested" to be relieved of the "heavy burden" of first secretary in favor of Khrushchev, retaining his less powerful post as Council of Ministers' chairman, but he had difficulty holding this position as well. In 1955, confessing his "insufficient experience" and his "guilt and responsibility" for administrative failures, particularly in the area of Soviet agriculture, he was demoted to the minor post of minister of hydroelectric stations.

It was Malenkov's close identification with Stalin and the purges which made him a real liability for the Khrushchev regime. After the famous "Secret Speech" in February 1956 in which Khrushchev publicly exposed the "crimes of the Stalin era" for the first time, Malenkov knew his days in office were numbered. In the summer of 1957, consequently, he joined with Molotov, Kaganovich, and others in an abortive effort to drive Khrushchev from power. Denounced as a ringleader of the "anti-Soviet bloc," he was stripped of all important positions and sent to Kazakhstan as head of the Ust-Kamenogorsk hydroelectric station. His plaintive "apologies" for "incorrect thinking" hardly earned him respect. The Soviet Union was liberalizing, and he was a relic of a past many hated or wanted to forget. His heavy-set, pudgy visage (which some regarded at the time of his leadership as the West's most effective anti-Communist propaganda) quickly faded from popular consciousness. His orders as plant director were apparently ignored, leading him to resign his post in humiliation and disgrace. In April 1964 he was ousted from the party. From then on he lived in obscurity, spending time at his Moscow apartment until his death on February 1st, 1988. Some of Malenkov's proposals—such as his statement that war between the Soviet Union and America was not inevitable and that greater emphasis should be placed on increasing production of food and consumer goods, rather than heavy industry—were accepted by Krushchev and Gorbachev

Further Reading

There is no biography of Georgy Maksimilianovich Malenkov in English. Students might consult one of several general texts, however, to follow his career in the party apparatus, including Leonard Schapiro, History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1960); and Wolfgang Leonard, The Kremlin Since Stalin (1962); see also R. W. Petybridge, A History of Postwar Russia (London, 1966), especially chapter 4; and the excellent collection of essays edited by Stephen Cohen, Alexander Rabinowitch, and Robert Sharlet, The Soviet Union Since Stalin (1980). As with other Soviet leaders, the best source for Malenkov's public speeches and other writings during his years in power is the Current Digest of the Soviet Press, issued weekly since 1949 and with quarterly and cumulative indexes; Malenkov's obituary was in the February 2nd edition of New York Times.

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