Soviet Union Table of Contents
In the early 1950s, Stalin, now an old man, apparently permitted his subordinates in the Politburo (enlarged and called the Presidium by the Nineteenth Party Congress in October 1952) greater powers of action within their spheres. (Also at the Nineteenth Party Congress, the name of the party was changed from the All-Union Communist Party [Bolshevik] to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.) Indicative of the Soviet leader's waning strength, Secretary Georgii M. Malenkov delivered the political report to the Nineteenth Party Congress in place of Stalin (see Party Congress , ch. 7). Although the general secretary took a smaller part in the day-to-day administration of party affairs, he maintained his animosity toward potential enemies. In January 1953, the party newspaper announced that a group of predominantly Jewish doctors had murdered high Soviet officials, including Zhdanov. Western historians speculate that the disclosure of this "doctors' plot" may have been a prelude to an intended purge directed against Malenkov, Molotov, and secret police chief Lavrenty Beria. In any case, when Stalin died on March 5, 1953 (under circumstances that are still unclear), his inner circle, which had feared him for years, secretly rejoiced.
During his quarter-century of dictatorial control, Stalin had overseen impressive development in the Soviet Union. From a comparatively backward agricultural society, the country had been transformed into a powerful industrial state. But in the course of that transformation, millions of people had been killed, and Stalin's use of repressive controls had become an integral function of his regime. How Stalin's system would be maintained or altered would be a question of vital concern to Soviet leaders for years after him.
Data as of May 1989