Zhdanov, Andrei (1896–1948)

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ZHDANOV, ANDREI (1896–1948)


Soviet Communist Party ideology chief during the late 1930s and 1940s.

Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov was born into the family of a well-educated school inspector and raised in Tver province. He moved to Moscow in 1915 to pursue postsecondary education, only to be drafted into the tsarist army during the following year. A member of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) since 1915, he gravitated toward the Bolsheviks in mid-1917 and performed party, state, and military duties in the Urals and Tver until 1922, when he was transferred to Nizhny Novgorod. It was in this latter province—renamed Gorky in 1929—that Zhdanov made a name for himself as an administrator during the chaos of industrialization and collectivization.

Promoted to Moscow in 1934 to serve in the secretariat of the party's Central Committee (CC), Zhdanov worked as a troubleshooter in agriculture, education, and cultural affairs. Adept at interpreting and implementing Joseph Stalin's orders, Zhdanov was appointed Leningrad party secretary after Sergei Kirov's assassination in December 1934. Between 1934 and 1936 he purged Leningrad ruthlessly, determined to root out the city's "anti-Soviet elements," following this up with another round of purges during the Great Terror (1936–1938). Zhdanov also played a prominent role in All-Union Party affairs in Moscow during these years, focusing on the Stakhanovite labor movement, the 1936 Stalin constitution, and the Comintern's "popular front" policies abroad. He also worked on propaganda and mass mobilization, developing a Russocentric, statist, ideological line, for mass consumption, and a new party catechism for the rank and file centered around Stalin's cult of personality and the Short Course on the History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), a notoriously close-minded and dogmatic textbook. Zhdanov was rewarded for his efforts in 1939 with promotion to full membership in the Politburo. After the conclusion of the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939, Zhdanov supervised the ideological dimensions of eastern Poland's incorporation into the USSR. He also served as chief ideologist during the disastrous Soviet-Finnish war (1939–1940) and later coordinated the 1940 annexation of Estonia. These and other duties indicate that by the late 1930s, only Vyacheslav Molotov outranked Zhdanov in Stalin's inner circle.

After the Nazi invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941, Zhdanov answered for the defense of Leningrad, although illness frequently forced him to cede day-to-day command to his deputy, Alexei Kuznetsov. Still, Zhdanov remained in the embattled city during its epic nine-hundred-day siege, stubbornly refusing to relinquish ultimate responsibility for the birthplace of the revolution. In mid-1944 Zhdanov returned to Moscow to resume his leading role in the All-Union Party and in early 1945 passed his position as Leningrad party secretary to Kuznetsov. Although Georgy Malenkov and Lavrenty Beria had firmly ensconced themselves in the state bureaucracy and security services during the war, Zhdanov took advantage of his rivals' involvement in a series of early postwar scandals to transfer Kuznetsov to the CC secretariat in March 1946. Zhdanov then reasserted control over ideological affairs and assigned Kuznetsov to Malenkov's former position supervising party cadres. Soon Zhdanov was in de facto control of the secretariat and moved to promote other allies from Gorky and Leningrad into powerful central positions, including Mikhail Rodionov (chair of the Russian Republic's Council of Ministers) and Nikolai Voznesensky (chair of the All-Union State Planning Agency and deputy chair of the USSR Council of Ministers). Kuznetsov reinforced this group's prominence by using his influence over cadres policy to appoint other allies to major posts. The latter's assumption of control over Beria's old fiefdom—state security—in September 1947 confirmed the primacy of Zhdanov's Leningrad faction, and rumors hinted that Stalin was beginning to regard Kuznetsov and Voznesensky as his potential heirs.

These developments led Malenkov and Beria to covertly attack the ascendant Zhdanov faction. Their strategy centered on undermining Stalin's confidence in Zhdanov by exploiting errors committed by the Leningrad group. Their first victory came in the fall of 1946, when, with the help of a former Zhdanov ally, Georgy Alexandrov, they drew Stalin's attention to a number of ideologically ambiguous pieces in two literary journals published by the Leningrad party organization. Although Zhdanov quickly took the lead in the ideological campaign precipitated by this scandal—ironically known as the Zhdanovshchina (literally, "the pernicious times of Zhdanov")—he was embarrassed by the need to denounce his longtime Leningrad allies. Put on the defensive, Zhdanov became infamous for his ideological dogmatism, jingoistic Russocentrism and shrill condemnation of Anna Akhmatova, Mikhail Zoshchenko, and other members of the creative intelligentsia on account of their supposed disloyalty, pessimism, and "kowtowing before the West."

Although the Zhdanovshchina successfully reinforced the party's primacy during the early postwar years through its crude blend of ideological orthodoxy and nativist xenophobia, stress took its toll on the ailing Zhdanov. His condition worsened in May 1948, when Stalin rebuked him at a Politburo meeting for his son's outspoken criticism of Trofim Lysenko while serving as a party propagandist. More bad news came in June, when souring relations with Josip Broz Tito forced Zhdanov to expel Yugoslavia from the recently created Cominform—an oblique admission of failure on Zhdanov's part, insofar as he was the CC secretary in charge of supervising relations with the USSR's Eastern European allies. His reputation sullied and health failing, Zhdanov was sent on medical furlough to a party sanitarium at Valdai in mid-July 1948, just as Malenkov was returning to the fore. Although not a formal demotion, this leave of absence hinted to Zhdanov that he was being sidelined by his rivals. Attempting to stay abreast of developments in Moscow, Zhdanov suffered a series of heart attacks and died on 31 August 1948, apparently after an upsetting conversation with Voznesensky.

If Zhdanov was venerated in the press and honored with a full state funeral, his sudden death spelled disaster for his allies, who were quickly consumed in the Leningrad affair (1949–1953). Orchestrated by Malenkov, this purge stemmed from allegations of improprieties surrounding recent elections and a trade fair in Leningrad which undermined Stalin's confidence in Kuznetsov, Voznesensky, and other former Zhdanov loyalists. Rumors of other heresies—factional activity, corruption, Russian nationalism, and espionage—accelerated their fall. Although the Leningrad affair did not affect Zhdanov's immediate family or his reputation, it did claim the lives of scores of other party members and their relatives, hobbling the once-mighty Leningrad party organization.

See alsoCommunism; Popular Front; Soviet Union; Stakhanovites; Stalin, Joseph.


Boterbloem, Kees. The Life and Times of Andrei Zhdanov, 1896–1948. Montreal, 2004.

Brandenberger, David. "Stalin, the Leningrad Affair, and the Limits of Postwar Russocentrism." Russian Review 63, no. 2 (2004): 241–255.

Gorlizky, Yoram, and Oleg Khlevniuk. Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Ruling Circle, 1945–1953. New York, 2004.

David Brandenberger