The Doctors’ Plot – A presentation made by Paul Cannon to the Stalin Society in London in December 2019
The ‘Doctors’ Plot’ refers to allegations made against a group of doctors who worked in the Soviet Union and were accused of purposely providing poor treatment to notable leaders of the USSR. The plot became a popular piece of anti-communist propaganda for three chief reasons. Firstly, because the doctors were said to have plotted against some of the most well-known Soviet leaders including Shcherbakov (Note 1) and Zhdanov (Note 2), who died in the mid to late 1940s. Secondly, the case against the doctors, which was laid immediately prior to J V Stalin’s death, was dropped almost immediately afterwards, seemingly one of a number of tumultuous events around this time. Thirdly, some of those accused were Jewish. This final aspect has led to wild accusations that Stalin was anti-semitic and furthermore, that the Soviet Union was anti-semitic.
Good money still to be made denigrating Stalin
In recent years, virulent anti-communist bourgeois scholars like Vladimir P Naumov have published terrifying books which seek to link Soviet communism, and Stalin in particular, with anti-semitism. Stalin’s Last Crime (a partisan title if ever there was one) purports to use previously unseen Soviet records to reach its biased conclusions. Its author, Naumov, can hardly be considered an objective judge. This man, who was lucky enough to have access to so many ‘unseen’ records, was appointed under a state criminal and traitor, Mikhail Gorbachev, to the job of Executive Secretary of the Presidential Commission for the Rehabilitation of Repressed Persons (Note 3). It is from such men that the more recent books published in this area have been written. This is an individual charged with, and paid, to ‘find’ persons condemned for anti-Soviet activity to rehabilitate. His remit obviously did not extend to rehabilitating Marxist-Leninists who were brutally eliminated at Khrushchev’s hands.
Naumov has excellent links with the USA. He co-authored another equally unbalanced book bearing a similarly inflammatory title which compared the actions taken by the CPSU(b) against the exclusive leadership of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee as a ‘pogrom’ and an ‘inquisition’. He was aided in this by Joshua Rubenstein, who in his youth in the 1970s travelled to Russia, where he helped to smuggle anti-Soviet literature to the West before taking up employment for 37 years at Amnesty International. On his personal website Rubenstein talks about a more recent ‘pogrom’, that against Palestinian Arabs in occupied Palestine in relatively mild terms, saying “more could have been done” to have avoided killing 1,300 Palestinians, but that “Israel has every right to defend itself” (Note 4) – while clearly he thinks that a communist state has no right whatever to defend itself against hostile and murderous anti-communists, especially if they happen to be Jewish!
A very interesting and well-researched presentation on the Doctors’ Plot was given by Bill Bland to the Stalin Society in 1991. Some of this research has been utilised here, though I have not supported all of comrade Bill’s conclusions and inferences. Comrades who wish to reacquaint themselves with comrade Bill’s piece may be interested to know that it has been transcribed online and is available at the website known as the ‘espresso Stalinist’. In our archives a tape recording of Bill Bland’s presentation exists and it is hoped that in due course comrades of the CPGB-ML will make this available online.
Class struggle in the USSR after WW2
A number of events after the victory of the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War provide evidence that the class struggle in the USSR greatly intensified. Generally, the struggle waged was between a proletarian revolutionary line, and a Right deviation. The forces who participated in this struggle also varied, and the conflict took on many forms, with the clearest and most violent being the participation of the military in the removal of Marxist-Leninist leaders in leading government positions. Bourgeois scholars since then have traced various threads of this struggle in an attempt to understand it, but without understanding its class basis. Bourgeois historiography therefore leaves us with half a dozen ‘power struggles’ all of which are concerned with the individuals and all of which ignore class struggle, i.e., the very real political differences that had arisen between the participants reflecting very real class interests. Numerous books describe the struggle between the security apparatus and the Party, between the military and the political power, between the state and the Party, between Malenkov and Zhdanov, between Beria and Khrushchev, and even between Moscow and Leningrad. All of these have some basis in reality: there are reasons why Leningrad was the scene for Kirov’s grisly murder and was the city from which CPSU(b) propagandists gave support to the anti-Soviet literature of Akhmatova and Zoschenko. Leningrad had been, after all, the home of the Zinovievites.
After Khrushchev came to power the aims of this struggle were clearer for all to see and are charted in H Brar’s book Perestroika, the complete collapse of revisionism. Proletarian internationalism ceased to be the sole guiding principle of the foreign policy of the USSR, and Lenin’s thesis on peaceful coexistence with capitalism was distorted by Khrushchev to mean surrender to capitalism, while a strengthening of the forces of the market in economics was surreptitiously embarked upon, eventually being realised in Perestroika and Glasnost and the liquidation of the world’s first proletarian state. The ideological exponents of these forces existed during JV Stalin’s lifetime, and his entire lifetime was devoted to their defeat, always from the correct Marxist-Leninist revolutionary proletarian standpoint.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, fierce and public ideological struggle was waged in biology, philosophy, music, literature and art – indeed to varying degrees it gripped many other branches of social life. Powerful contributions to Marxism-Leninism are made by Andrei Zhdanov and Joseph Stalin in this period, not least Zhdanov’s speeches on the international situation made to the Cominform, his talk at the meeting of philosophical workers, and his attacks on bourgeois writers and their supporters in the Communist Party. In the field of economics, the revisionism which is tackled by J V Stalin in his Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR had been pursued by economists led by Voznesensky and which led to the ‘Leningrad Affair’ (a purge of important officials embracing ‘market socialism’ who were determined to introduce ‘reforms’ to substitute a market economy for the existing centrally planned economy). The last two public contributions in the struggle waged by Marxism-Leninism in the USSR known to this writer are made by Stalin in the Problems of Linguistics and the Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR published to coincide with the 19th Party Congress in 1952.
This struggle against counter-revolutionary ideas and forces was also expressed inside the organs of state power. The Leningrad Affair, the Mingrelian Affair (a purge of Georgian nationalists operating as ‘communists’) and the Doctors’ Plot are all parts of this struggle.
The Doctors’ Plot’
Some short time before the death of Andrei Zhdanov, a Kremlin doctor, Lydia Timashuk, wrote to Stalin. In her letter she expressed her opinion that doctors had incorrectly diagnosed Zhdanov, and had given him the wrong treatment. Andrei Zhdanov died in a Russian sanatorium in August 1948 from a heart attack.
The letter from Dr Timashuk, found its way to the Soviet security apparatus which began an investigation. This investigation became what is known as the Doctors’ Plot. From the very beginning, the course, direction and outcome of this investigation was tied up in the ideological struggle raging in the Soviet security apparatus and Communist Party. The investigation was handled by Marxist-Leninists as well as revisionists, numerous persons were arrested and punished in connection with their role in the Plot. The history of this affair available to western, English speaking audiences is largely the ‘history’ concocted by Robert Conquest, and a few lesser but equally anti-communist ‘historians’. A book by one of the surviving doctors, Y Rapoport, translated into English and published at the time of the collapse of the USSR, added to the noxious store. Nowhere is the account of the Marxist-Leninists to be read, for it is they who were the victims – shot, executed and imprisoned as a result of the general struggle which raged in these years and surrounded the Doctors’ Plot. It has only been in recent times that Russian historians have been able to look again at this period of Soviet history (Note 5).
The various names of the Soviet security apparatus conjure up very definite images and feelings in Westerners. Chekist, OGPU, NKVD, KGB are some of the acronyms understood by A-Level history students to mean secret police, torture, death. But the Soviet security services were far more diverse in their work than such stereotypes suggest, and the organisation of the service was constantly changing and evolving as life threw up new challenges for the Soviet state.
For the purposes of this enquiry it is instructive to look at changes to the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) after World War Two. Bill Bland believed that the various changes were detrimental to the socialist state.
The People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) was established in the early 1930s. It was a vast organisation with many departments not limited to combating crime but also running the Soviet prison system, managing vast construction works of national significance, policing the Soviet borders and in charge of foreign intelligence. The NKVD in these times included a Main Directorate of State Security (GUGB) and it was the GUGB which was responsible for fighting espionage, counter-revolution, sabotage and so on. Counter-revolutionaries operated inside the NKVD: Yagoda and Yezhov, the most prominent, were eventually replaced with the Georgian Marxist-Leninist, Lavrenty Beria, whom bourgeois history remembers with venom, although it must be said that an increasingly vocal number of Russian historians now appreciate him as a great architect of modern Russia and a man who has been unjustly treated by history.
The Second World War
In 1941 the NKVD (headed by Beria) was split into two. The People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs of the USSR (under Beria) was created alongside the People’s Commissariat of State Security of the USSR (NKGB) (under Vsevelod Merkulov, a Marxist-Leninist). Over the course of the next months there was a continuous reshuffling of responsibilities and departments: each branch of the security organs had multiple sub-branches for everything from transport, economics and politics to border forces, highways and a workers’ and peasants’ militia. By the end of the year, the two parts were once again brought together as the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs led by Beria with Merkulov his Deputy.
In 1943 a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR brought about the transfer of military counter-intelligence into the People’s Commissariat of Defence and the establishment of a number of counter-intelligence operations collectively known as SMERSH. At the head of SMERSH was the legendary Soviet intelligence operative Viktor Abakumov.
In comrade Bill Bland’s view, Abakumov, Merkulov and Beria were staunch Marxist-Leninists. Their service before, during and after the war, and their treatment at the hands of Khrushchev, would suggest that this is a correct view.
At the conclusion of the war a number of significant moves were made to reorganise the security apparatus. It was Bill Bland’s view that this reorganisation weakened the Soviet Security apparatus. The changes were that:
• SMERSH was abolished;
• The NKVD became the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) headed by Sergey Kruglov, whom Bill Bland refers to as a concealed revisionist;
• A Ministry of State Security (MGB) was formed headed by Viktor Abakumov whilst Lavrenty Beria headed the top secret Special Committee on the Use of Atomic Energy and publicly worked on the Operations Bureau of the USSR, responsible for industrial enterprises and transport in the period of reconstruction.
It is interesting to note that, in addition to these measures, a decree passed in 1945 recertified the special security ranks of security operatives to equivalent military ranks. In this way Lavrenty Beria became a Marshal of the Soviet Union, on a par with Georgi Zhukov (Note 6). In Pravda on 11 July 1945 prominence was given to the conferring of these new ranks on Beria and hundreds of other security workers. Beria and Merkulov were pictured on the front page, along with an announcement of the measure and messages from J V Stalin.
I have been unable to read the July Decree in full, but it is self-evident that one aspect of the move was to elevate the status of the MVD workers and place them at least on a par with those military men whose popularity at the end of the Great Patriotic War was so immense. The reasons for this are well understood by any student of history and should be carefully studied by socialists: state control over the armed forces continues to be a decisive factor in the survival of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela and was a crucial aspect in the counter-revolutionary coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia which we have all just witnessed.
A secret order published after the collapse of the USSR alleges that a counter-revolutionary plot in the army was uncovered and swiftly dealt with by the NKVD in 1946.
“Order number 009 on June 9, 1946, signed by Stalin, documented charges against Zhukov for ‘lack of modesty’, ‘overweening personal ambition’, and ‘ascribing to himself the sole role in the implementation of all major wartime operations including those in which he played no role at all’. Zhukov was demoted to commander of the Odessa military district. The order also stated that ‘Marshal Zhukov, feeling embittered, decided to group around himself failed, discontented commanders who had been relieved from their posts, thus putting himself into opposition to the government and to the High Command… Zhukov repented that he had awarded an Order of the Red Star to the famous singer Ruslanova… only the Supreme Soviet could award such a medal” (Sudoplatov, P and A, Special tasks, Little Brown & Co., New York, 1994, pp. 311-312). Zhukov’s KGB file was apparently named Gordetz – ‘Arrogant Man’.
Purges in the Security Apparatus – Abakumov
In 1951 Viktor Abakumov was dismissed as Minister of State Security and replaced with Semyon Ignatiev, an ally of Nikita Khrushchev.
Abakumov was accused by revisionists of having failed to spot enemies in Leningrad during the ‘Leningrad Affair’. It is telling that after Stalin was dead Khrushchev saw to it that Abakumov was shot. He was executed not for the ‘crimes’ for which he had been arrested, but their opposite. It seems quite incredible now that he was arrested for lack of vigilance in prosecuting the Leningrad Affair, and shot for fabricating the very same matter. It is likely that the real motivations of those who had had Abakumov removed from his post and arrested in the first place were fearful that he would uncover their plotting, just as he had uncovered similar plotting in Leningrad. The 1930s plotters had routinely escalated repressions so as to stoke tensions and bring about chaos. Yezhov’s role in this has been well documented in Grover Furr’s book Yezhov vs Stalin, and no doubt accusations that Abakumov had been lacking in vigilance were completely fabricated by back-stabbers in the Ministry.
At roughly the same time that Viktor Abakumov was arrested, a number of leading Georgian Marxist-Leninists were taken into custody. The Second Secretary of the CC of the Georgian Communist Party, Mikhail Baramiya, was arrested along with the Minister of Justice, Akvsenti Rapava, and Public Prosecutor, B Ya. Shoniya. They were accused of embezzlement.
Under Ignatiev’s leadership as Minister of State Security, in April 1952 the First Secretary Kandida Charkviani and Second Secretaries Rostom Shaduri and Mikhail Baramiya of the Georgian Communist Party were dismissed. During the course of 1952 the charges against many of these developed into allegations of bourgeois nationalism.
“In November 1951 the wholesale removal of leading Marxist-Leninists in Georgia began, the offenders being charged with ’embezzlement, car thefts and similar crimes’. The news was leaked to Western diplomats in February 1952 (Note 7):
“A major wave of embezzlements, automobile thefts and similar crimes in Soviet Georgia has resulted in a wholesale purge of top Communist Party and government officials in that area, diplomatic sources report … The removals began last November. The two most important officials purged were Mikhail Baramiya and Rostom Shaduri, secretaries of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party” (Harry Schwartz, ‘Crime wave hits Stalin’s old home’, New York Times, 6 February 1952).
“Kandida Charkviani . . . has been relieved, and a new leader, Akaki Mgeladze, former secretary of the important Abkhaz regional party committee, has been installed in his place” (‘Pravda cracks down on party in Georgia’, New York Times’, 8 June 1952.
“Mgeladze carried forward on a large scale the process of removing Marxist-Leninists from responsible positions in the Georgian Party:
“Mgeladze set to work to purge the Party and the governmental apparatus from top to bottom. In six months he replaced half the members of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party who had been returned in the election of 1949, and brought about a complete upheaval in the administrative hierarchy of the Republic… Several high officials removed by Mgeladze, notably Valerian Bakradze, Deputy Chairman of the Georgian Council of Ministers were personal nominees of Beria” (D M Lang, A modern history of Soviet Georgia, Grove Press Inc., New York, 1962, p. 261).
Investigation into Doctors’ Plot continues
Despite the removal and arrest of Abakumov, the intervention of Stalin’s personal secretariat ensured that investigation into the ‘Doctors’ Case’ continued. Bill Bland uses sources from Isaac Deutscher’ through to Rapoport to demonstrate the progress of the case:
“… Ignatiev, the Minister of State Security, was a reluctant executant of orders”, (I.Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography, Oxford University Press; 1968.; p. 605).
“Ignatiev, therefore, remained aloof from the investigation into the ‘doctors’ case’, leaving the conduct of this to his Deputy, the Marxist-Leninist Ryumin:
“Ryumin personally supervised the investigation [into the ‘Doctors’ Case’]”, (Y. Rapoport, The Doctors’ Plot: Stalin’s Last Crime, Fourth Estate, London, 1991, p.100).
“Ryumin had formerly headed the State Security Section of Stalin’s personal secretariat:
“Ryumin, before being appointed to the post of Deputy Minister of State Security … headed the state security section in Stalin’s personal secretariat” (B Nicolaevsky, Power and the Soviet Elite, Praeger, New York, 1965).
“As a result of the findings in this investigation, … in the summer of 1952 many … doctors who had, worked in the Kremlin Hospital for many years and treated many statesmen were summarily fired. Among them; were Miron Vovsi and Vladirmir Vinogradov. The former head of the Kremlin Hospital, Aleksey Busalov, Mikhail Yegorov … and Sophia Karpai were arrested” (Y Rapoport, op. cit., p. 72).
On 13 January 1953 Pravda carried the report of the arrest of “… a terrorist group of doctors who had made it their aim to cut short the lives of active public figures of the Soviet Union through sabotage medical treatment…
“The participants in this terrorist group, taking advantage of their position as doctors and abusing the trust of patients, by deliberate evil intent … made incorrect diagnoses … and then doomed them by wrong treatment” (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Volume 4, No. 31, 31 January 1953, p. 3).
“Nine doctors were named as ‘among the participants in this terrorist group, namely:
“Professor M S Vovsi, therapeutist;
"Professor V I Vinogradov, therapeutist;
"Professor M B Kogan, therapeutist;
"Professor B B Kogan, therapeutist;
"Professor P I Yegorov, therapeutist;
"Professor A I Feldman, otolaryngologist;
"Professor Ya G Etinger, therapeutist;
"Professor Grinshtein, neuropathologist;
"G I Maiorov, therapeutist.” (Pravda, 13 January 1953, in: ibid.; p. 3).
“The doctors were charged with having murdered in this way Andrey Zhadnov and Alelsandr Scherbakov, and with attempting to murder Marshals Aleksandr Vasilevsky, Leonid Covorov, and Ivan Konev, together with General Sergey Shtemenko and Admiral Cordey Iavchenko.
“It was alleged that
“… most of the participants in the terrorist group (M. S. Vovsi, B. B. Kogan, A. I. Feldman, A. M. Grinshtein, Ya. H. Yetinger and others) were connected with the international Jewish bourgeois nationalist organisation ‘JOINT’, established by American intelligence for the purpose of providing material aid to Jews in other countries. In actual fact this organisation, under direction of American intelligence, conducts extensive espionage, terrorist and other subversive work in many countries, including the Soviet Union… The arrested Vovsi told investigators that he had received orders ‘to wipe out the leading cadres of the USSR’ — received them from the USA through the ‘JOINT’ organisation, via a Moscow doctor, Shimeliovich, and the well-known Jewish bourgeois nationalist Mikhoels.
“Other participants in the terrorist group (V. N. Vinogradov, M. B, Kogan, P. I. Yegorov) proved to be old agents of British intelligence” (Pravda, 13 January 1953, in Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Volume 4, No. 51, 3 January 1953, p. 3).
The full name of ‘JOINT’ was the ‘American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’, founded in the United States in November 1914 by the fusion of three committees, ostensibly as an international charity for the assistance of Jews throughout the world. JOINT still exists to this day, and its website records that its operations in the USSR were restricted in the time of Stalin and not renewed again until after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
An editorial in Pravda on 13 January 1953 reminded readers that in the 1930s a group of doctors involved in a concealed revisionist conspiracy had admitted at their public trial to murdering a number of leading Soviet Marxist-Leninists by administering deliberately incorrect medical treatment to them:
In his secret speech to the 20th Congress of the CPSU in February 1956, Khrushchev admitted that:
“Shortly after the doctors were arrested we members of the Political Bureau received protocols with the doctors’ confessions of guilt” (‘Secret Speech to 20th Congress of the CPSU’, The Anti-Stalin Campaign and International Communism: A Selection of Documents, Columbia University, New York; 1956, p. 64).
Stalin’s bodyguard and Secretariat liquidated
Stalin’s personal secretariat was headed by the Marxist-Leninist Aleksandr Poskrebyshev. Poskrebyshev had been with Stalin from the time of the civil war. Another close comrade of Stalin’s was Lieutenant-General Nikolay Vlasik who ran his security. Both these men were removed from their positions around the time that Abakumov and the Georgian party were purged.
Nikita Khrushchev tells how he orchestrated Poskrebyshev’s ‘fall from grace’. He describes how, during the winter of 1952-53, he came under suspicion of leaking secret documents, and how he succeeded in deflecting the blame from himself in such a way that it fell upon Poskrebyshev. Russian historians have said that the documents which were leaked were some of the contents of Stalin’s Economic problems of socialism in the USSR.
“Stalin … complained that secret documents were leaking out through our secretariats… Stalin was coming straight for me: ‘It’s you. Khrushchev! The leak is through your secretrariat!’ …
“I … succeeded in deflecting the blow from myself, but Stalin didn’t let the matter rest… After I’d convinced Stalin that the leak wasn’t through my secretariat, he came to the conclusion that the leak must have been through Poskrebyshev… Poskrebyshev had worked for Stalin for many years...
“Stalin removed Poskrebyshev from his post and promoted someone else” (N S.Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers, Little Brown, London, 1971, p. 274).
Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, tells the same story: “Shortly before my father died even some of his intimates were disgraced: the perenniel Vlasik was sent to prison in the winter of 1952 and my father’s personal secretary Poskrebyshev, who had been with him for twenty years, was removed” (Twenty Letters to a Friend, Harper Collins, London, 1967, p. 216).
The Death of Stalin (1953)
At the time of Stalin’s death the case against the doctors was still open. On 3 March 1953 a joint statement of the Central Committee of the CPSU and of the USSR Council of Ministers announced that “. . . during the night of March 1-2 Comrade Stalin, while in his Moscow apartment, had a haemorrhage of the brain, which affected vital parts of his brain. Comrade Stalin lost consciousness.
“Paralysis of the right arm and leg developed. Loss of speech occurred. Serious disturbances developed in the functioning of the heart and breathing.
“The best medical personnel have been called in to treat Comrade Stalin” (Government Statement, 3 March 1953, in Pravda and Izvestia, 4 March 1953, in Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Volume 4, p. 4).
There are ample rumours and conspiracies surrounding the death of Stalin which occurred on 5 March. Stalin’s daughter Svetlana alleged that her brother Vasily was said to have been imprisoned for complaining that Stalin had been murdered,
"He was arrested on April 18th, 1953… A military collegium sentenced him to eight years in jail. He died on March 19th, 1962” (op.cit., p. 222-224, 228).
Without paying much attention to these rumours and stories, the veracity of which is hard to establish, we are able to observe the continuation of the fierce struggle which now enters a more serious and violent period. Imprisonment, release, reimprisonment and execution seems to be the theme of this period. As with the case of the Doctors, exactly what did and didn’t take place will never be known for sure.
Revisionists move against Beria
Most of the first-hand accounts of this time are based on Khrushchev’s memoirs which he smuggled out to the West during his forced retirement. The testimony of Molotov given through Chuev is secondhand and, though they must have acquiesced in the machinations of Khrushchev, both Budyonny and Voroshilov later wrote memoirs praising Stalin. Pavel Sudoplatov’s memoirs are of interest despite the contested nature of some of his claims as he is a surviving colleague of both Beria and Stalin, and worked at the highest levels of the intelligence service.
Khrushchev records a discussion with Nikolay Bulganin at the time of Stalin’s illness as follows:
“ ‘Stalin’s not going to pull through… You know what posts Beria will take for himself?’
“ ‘Which one?’
“ ‘He will try and make himself Minister of State Security. No matter what happens, we can’t let him do this. If he becomes Minister of State Security it will be the beginning of the end for us’.
"Bulganin said he agreed with me” (NS Khrushchev, op.cit., p. 319).
On 7 March, a joint emergency meeting was called of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the Council of Ministers and the USSR Supreme Soviet.
“Beria immediately proposed Malenkov for Chairman of the Council of Ministers… On the spot, Malenkov proposed that Beria be appointed first deputy. He also proposed the merger of the Ministries of State Security and Internal Affairs into a single Ministry of Internal Affairs, with Beria as Minister… I was silent. … Bulganin was silent too. I could see what the attitude of the others was. If Bulganin and I objected …, we would have been accused of starting a fight in the Party before the corpse was cold” (Ibid., p. 324).
The Doctors continued… (1953)
According to Bill Bland “after the death of Stalin, the most urgent and immediate task which faced the revisionist conspirators was to exculpate the doctors — not, of course, because they were innocent but, on the contrary, because they were guilty and because further investigation into the case could well lead to the exposure of the highly-placed ring-leaders of the conspiracy.”
On 3 April 1953, the Soviet press carried a communiqué issued in the name of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs which announced the exculpation and release from custody of the arrested doctors.
“The USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs has carried out a thorough investigation of all preliminary investigation data and other material in the case of the group of doctors accused of sabotage, espionage and terrorist acts against active leaders of the Soviet state.
“The verification has established that the accused in this case … were arrested by the former Ministry of State Security incorrectly and without any lawful basis …
“The … accused in this case have been completely exonerated of the accusations against them … and have been freed from imprisonment” (Communiqué of USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, in Pravda and Izvestia, 3 April 1953, in Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Volume 5, No. 10 (18 April 1953), p. 3).
It was Bill Bland’s contention that Beria released the Doctors as part of a broader and more general overhaul of a number of other decisions that had included the arrest and purging of Marxist-Leninists. That seems sensible to this writer. It was also comrade Bill Bland’s contention that this situation was a trick, a ‘feint’ played on Beria to release a group of revisionists quite rightly suppressed. It was the only way to undo the unjust purges which had been directed against the Marxist-Leninists. Though there may be some not inconsiderable truth in this, it is impossible to verify. What is clear from the facts is that Beria returned to their positions a number of previously leading Georgian communists, and at the same time many hundreds of thousands of other prisoners were pardoned. A number of high profile cases, such as the investigation into the Doctors’ plot, were officially denounced. Sources suggest, however, that, while publicly the cases were over, in secret the Marxist-Leninists were preparing a counter-attack against the conspirators they had been forced to release.
On 14 April 1953 the Georgian Central Committee dismissed Akaki Mgeladze as First Secretary, and Mgeladze admitted that the charges of ‘nationalist deviation’ which he had levelled against the former Marxist-Leninist leaders had been fabricated:
“Beria now moved with speed … A plenary session of the Georgian Communist Party was held on 14 April 1953, which dismissed the Party Secretariat headed by A L Mgeladze and established a new one under an official named Mirtskhulava. Beria’s old protegé Valerian Bakradze, whom Mgeladze had dismissed from government office, now became Prime Minister of the Georgian Republic. Several prominent supporters of Beria whom Mgeladze and his faction had imprisoned were released and given portfolios in the Bakradze administration. The ousted First Secretary, Mgeladze, made an abject confession, declaring that charges of nationalist deviation which he had levelled against high-ranking Georgian Bolsheviks were based on false evidence … N Rukhadze, Georgian Minister of State Security, who had aided and abetted Mgeladze, was imprisoned” (D M Lang, op. cit., p. 263).
On 15 April:
“… the Chief Minister of the Georgian Soviet Republic (M Valerian Bakradze) announced . . . that the Georgian Minister of State Security (M Rukhadze) and two former secretaries-general of the Georgian Communist Party (M M Mgeladze and Charkviani) had been dismissed from their posts, arrested and would be ‘severely punished’ for fabricating ‘trumped up’ charges against former leading members of the Georgian Government and Communist Party … At the same time he announced that three former Ministers who had been dismissed at Rukhadze’s instigation would be immediately restored to their former posts; that the Ministries of Internal Security and State Security would be welded into a single Ministry; and that this Ministry would be headed by M Vladimir Dekanozov…
“M Bakradze, who was addressing a meeting of the Georgian Supreme Soviet, said that … a number of innocent persons had fallen victim to baseless charges of ‘bourgeois nationalism” (Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, Volume 9, p. 13,029).
On 16 April Zarya Vostoka reported a speech by Bakradze in which he said: “It has now been fully established by the organs concerned that … the enemy of the people and Party, former Minister of State Security N M Rukhadze, had cooked up an entirely false and provocative affair concerning a non-existent nationalism whose victims were eminent workers of our republic … Rukhadze and his accomplices have been arrested and will be severely punished” (16 April 1953, quoted in R Conquest, The Great Terror, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 145).
On 21 April Vilian Zodelava, released from prison, was made First Deputy Prime Minister and elected to the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Georgian Party:
“Mr. Zodelava was one of three leading Georgian Party members who had been jailed on false charges declared to have been concocted by Mr. Rukhadze …
“Released from jail, he has been made First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers (First Deputy Premier –Ed.) and has been elected to the Bureau of the Georgian Communist Party’s Central Committee” (‘Georgian is rehabilitated’, New York Times, 22 April 1953) (Note 8).
The Military Coup in Moscow (1953)
According to Bill Bland, and substantiated by the course of events “by the end of June 1953, it had become clear that the efforts to convince the Marxist-Leninists that the exculpation of the doctors had been justified had only been temporarily successful. Headed by Beria, the security forces, under Marxist-Leninist control since the readjustment of portfolios after Stalin’s death, were continuing to investigate the ‘doctors’ case.’”
On 10 July 1953, a few days after Beria had been arrested, a leading article in Pravda revealed the real reason for Beria’s arrest — a reason not disclosed in the report of his ‘trial’ — namely, that he had “deliberately impeded” and “tried to distort” instructions of the Central Committee and the Soviet government designed to clear up “certain illegal and arbitrary actions” — an obvious reference to the ‘Doctors’ Case’: “Having been charged with carrying out ‘the Instructions of the Party Central Committee and the Soviet Government with a view … to clearing up certain illegal and arbitrary actions, Beria deliberately impeded the implementation of these instructions and, in a number of cases, tried to distort them” (10 July 1953, quoted in B Nicolaevsky, op. cit., p. 147).
Over several days at the end of June 1953, the revisionist conspirators approached other leading members of the Politburo with the baseless story that Beria was an agent of foreign imperialist powers and was plotting a coup against the Party leadership.
The memoirs of Sudoplatov and others have since made it clear that there was no Beria plot. A statement by Beria’s wife made when she was 87 said: “In 1953, they organised a coup – they were afraid that Beria would become Stalin’s successor. I knew my husband and his character well. I am sure that he would be smart enough not to fight for this place. He was a rational and practical person, he knew that after Stalin a Georgian would not be put at the head of state. No one could imagine such an outcome of events. Lavrenty would probably help a man who claimed the post of head of the party and state [Malenkov]” (Note 9).
Khrushchev has described how he based his allegations against Beria on unsubstantiated charges made at a Plenum of the Central Committee in February 1937 by the revisionist Grigory Kaminsky that Beria had been an agent of the counter-revolutionary Mussavat Party (a nationalist party infiltrated and defeated by the Bolsheviks). Khrushchev admits, however, that:
“I could easily believe that he [Beria] had been an agent of the Mussavatists, as Kaminsky had said, but Kaminsky’s charges had never been verified … We had only our intuition to go on.
“I took Malenkov aside and said: … ‘Surely you must see that Beria’s position has an anti-Party character. We must not accept what he is doing. … ‘Malenkov finally agreed. I was surprised and delighted. … Comrade Malenkov and I then agreed that I should talk to Comrade Molotov … I told Molotov what sort of person Beria was and what kind of danger threatened the Party if we didn’t thwart his scheming against the Party leadership. I had earlier told him how Beria had already set his plan in motion for aggravating nationalist tensions in the Republics … I said: … ‘You think, maybe, that we should detain him for investigation?’ I said ‘detain’ rather than ‘arrest’ because there were still no criminal charges against Beria … Molotov and I agreed and parted” (Op.cit., pp. 330, 331, 332, 333).
“The Presidium bodyguard was obedient to him [Beria]. Therefore we decided to enlist the help of the military” (Ibid., pp. 335-336).
“First, we entrusted the detention of Beria to Comrade Moskalenko, the air defence commander, and five generals. This was my idea. Then, on the eve of the session, Malenkov widened our circle to include Marshal Zhukov and some others. That meant eleven marshals and generals in all. In those days all military personnel were required to check their weapons when coming into the Kremlin, so Comrade Bulganin was instructed to see that the generals were allowed to bring their guns with them. We arranged for Moskalenko’s group to wait for a summons in a separate room while the session was taking place. When Malenkov gave a signal, they were to come into the room where we were meeting and take Beria into custody” (Ibid., pp. 335-336).
The coup was fixed to take place during a joint meeting of the Presidium of the Party Central Committee and of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers on 24 June 1953. At this meeting Khrushchev reminded those present — including the gullible Marxist-Leninists in the words of Bill Bland – of the charges made by Kaminsky in 1937:
“I recalled the Central Committee Plenum of February 1937 at which Comrade Grisha Kaminsky had accused Beria of having worked for the Mussavatist counter-intelligence service, and therefore for the English intelligence service, when he was Secretary of the Baku Party organisation” (Ibid., p. 339).
“After the final speech, the session was left hanging. There was a long pause. I saw we were in trouble, so I asked Comrade Malenkov for the floor in order to propose a motion. As we had arranged in advance, I proposed that the Central Committee Presidium should release Beria from his duties … Malenkov was still in a state of panic. As I recall, he didn’t even put my motion to a vote. He pressed a secret button which gave the signal to the generals who were waiting in the next room. Zhukov was the first to appear. Then Moskalenko and the others came in. Malenkov said in a faint voice to Comrade Zhukov: ‘As Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, I request that you take Beria into custody pending investigation of charges made against him’.
“‘Hands up!’, Zhukov commanded Beria.
“Moskalenko and the others unbuckled their holsters in case Beria tried anything … We checked later and found that he had no gun …
“Beria was immediately put under armed guard in the Council of Ministers building next to Malenkov’s office…” (Ibid., pp. 337-338).
Those arrested with Beria included Vladimir Dekanozov, Vsevolod Merkulov, Bogdan Kobulov, Sergey Goglidze, Pavel Meshik and Lev Vlodzirmirsky all of whom were Marxist-Leninists having close connection with the state security forces.
On 14 July 1953, shortly after Beria’s ‘arrest’ on 26 June, the revisionist conspirators moved to carry out a military coup in Georgia in order to reverse the changes made in April 1953 and restore the situation which existed there prior to this date – the situation of revisionist domination brought about by the feint of 1951-52. The leaders of the coup, which was carried out at a joint meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia and of the Tiflis City Committee, were two military officers — General Aleksei Antonov and Major-General Pavel Efimov:
“A I Antonov, General of the Army, Commander of the Transcaucasus Military District and, reputedly, a friend of Zhukov’s … acted soon after the news of Beria’s arrest was announced from Moscow. He attended a joint plenary session of the Georgian Central and Tiflis Party Committees with a fellow-officer, Major-General P I Efimov. The latter … was then elected to the Central Committee Bureau. Other army officers then took over important posts in the government and Party apparatus” (J Ducoli, ‘The Georgian Purges (1951-53)’, in Caucasian Review, Volume 6 (1958), p. 58).
The ‘Trial’ of Beria (1953)
The ‘trial’ of Lavrenti Beria and six of his fellow-Marxist-Leninists who had been associated with the security forces took place in the USSR Supreme Court on 18-23 December 1953.
Furthermore, a new State Prosecutor was specially appointed by the revisionists — the Ukrainian jurist Roman Rudenko who then held the position until his death in the 1980s:
“We had no confidence in … the State Prosecutor … so we sacked him and replaced him with Comrade Rudenko” (Khrushchev, op. cit., p.339).
The State Prosecutor had been Grigory Safonov, who like Rudenko had acted for the USSR at Nuremburg under the direction of Andrei Vyshinsky. Vyshinksy after the Moscow Trials of the 1930s had been Deputy Chairman of the Council of Peoples Commissars with oversight of the work of the NKVD (Vyshinsky died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1954). The Deputy Prosecutor had been Safonov. Rudenko by comparison had been a prosecutor in the Ukraine, where along with Khrushchev he had been responsible for NKVD repressions under Yezhov, repressions which were halted after 1938 with the arrival of Beria.
After Rudenko was finished fighting for death sentences for Beria and his comrades, he headed up the Commission to re-evaluate the cases of those accused of counter-revolutionary crimes. He also took part in the Pospelov Commission that worked for Nikita Khrushchev as he prepared his infamous Secret Speech to the 20th Party Congress in 1956.
Those tried by Rudenko alongside Beria were:
Vladimir Dekanozov, recently Georgian Minister of Internal Affairs;
Sergey Goglidze, former Georgian People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs, and recently an official of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs;
Bogdan Kobulov, former Georgian Deputy Commissar of Internal Affairs;
Vsevolod Merkulov, former USSR Minister of State Security, recently USSR Minister of State Control;
Pavel Meshik, formerly an official of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, recently Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs; and
Lev Vlodzimirsky, former Head of the Section of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs for Investigating Specially Important Cases.
The Presiding Judge at the ‘trial’ was Marshal Ivan Konev, on whose appointment the New York Times commented: “Marshal Ivan Konev’s role as chairman of the tribunal … appears to be the clearest indication to date of the greatly enhanced political power now apparently wielded by the highest Soviet military leaders” (Harry Schwartz, ‘Beria trial shows army’s rising role’, 24 December 1953).
At the end of the Beria ‘trial’ all defendants were shot. As with Stalin’s death, the exact nature of events remains frequently disputed, not least in Russia where a recent television programme supports the allegations of Beria’s son, that no such arrest took place as described by Khrushchev, but rather Beria was taken by surprise and executed in his home. The lack of records of Beria’s ‘trial’ are used as further proof.
The ‘trial’ of Abakumov (1954)
On 14-17 December 1954, the Marxist-Leninist former Minister of State Security, Viktor Abakumov, was tried in Leningrad before the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court, presided over by Lieutenant-Colonel E. L. Zeidin. Along with Abakumov, as co-defendants, appeared A G Leonov, former director of the MGB Investigating Division for Especially Important Cases; V I Komarov and M T Likhachev, former Deputy Chairmen of the Investigating Division for Especially Important Cases; I A Chernov and I M Broverman, former members of the USSR Ministry of State Security.
The defendants were charged with: "… committing the same crimes as Beria” (Pravda and Izvestia, 24 December 1954 in Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Volume 6, No. 49 (19 January 1955); p. 12), while Abakumov was in particular charged with having “… fabricated the so-called ‘Leningrad case’, in which many Party and Soviet officials were arrested without grounds and falsely accused of very grave state crimes” (Ibid., p. 12).
All the accused were found guilty. Chernov was sentenced to 15 years in a labour camp, Broverman to 25 years in a labour camp, while Abakumov, Leonov, Komarov and Likachev were sentenced to death by shooting.
The ‘trial’ of Ryumin
Ryumin’s ‘trial’ lasted six days – from 2 to 7 July 1953 (Note 10):
“On July 2-7 1954, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR examined at a court session the case of M. D. Ryumin” (Pravda, 23 July 1954, quoted in R. Conquest, op. cit., p. 447), and the report of the proceedings made it clear that he was charged with “fabricating” the “Doctors’ Case”:
“Ryumin, during the period of his work in the post of Senior Investigator and then as Head of the Section for Investigating Specially Important Cases of the former Ministry of State Security … engaged … on the path of forging investigative materials, on the basis of which Provocative cases were engineered and unjustified arrests were carried out of a number of Soviet citizens, including prominent medical workers” (Pravda, 23 July 1954, ibid., p. 447).
In connection with this all those found guilty in the Leningrad Affair were rehabilitated, including Voznesensky. A short time later the criticisms made by Stalin of the ideas held by Voznesensky and others in his Economic problems of socialism in the USSR were openly castigated by Khrushchev and others (who had lauded them at the Congress), and criticism of Stalin’s Economic problems of socialism in the USSR was formally made at the 20th Party Congress and in the years after.
The Rapava-Rukhadze ‘trial’ (1955)
In September 1955 the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court, sitting in Tiflis and presided over by Lieutenant-General Chertkev, tried Avksenty Rapava (formerly Georgian People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs), Nikolay Rukhadze (formerly Minister of State Security), and six other defendants formerly connected with the Georgian security forces. The Prosecutor was Rudenko who again sought and won the death penalty (Note 11).
The eight defendants, therefore, were:
• N M Rukhadze – Minister of State Security of the Georgian SSR
• A Rapava – Minister of State Control of the Georgian SSR
• Sh O Tsereteli – Minister of Internal Affairs of the Georgian SSR
• K S Savitsky – Assistant to the First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of the USSR
• N A Krimyan – Minister of State Security of the Armenian SSR
• A.S Khazan – in 1937-1938 Head of the 1st branch of the STR of the NKVD of Georgia, and then an assistant to the head of the STO NKVD of Georgia
• G I Paramonov – Deputy Head of the Investigation Unit for Particularly Important Cases of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, and
• S N Nadaraya – Head of the 1st Division of the 9th Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR
They were charged with “… high treason, terroristic acts and participation in counter-revolutionary organisations.” One of the accused was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, one to 25 years’, and the rest — including Rapava and Rukhadze — to death by shooting.
The ‘trial’ of Bagirov (1956)
In July 1953, after the ‘arrest’ of Beria, Mir Bagirov, the Marxist-Leninist Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, was removed from his post and, shortly afterwards, arrested (Note 12).
On 12-26 April 1956 Bagirov and five alleged “accomplices” were tried by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court, sitting in Baku and presided over by Lieutenant-General A A Cheptsov with Rudenko acting as State Prosecutor once more for “high treason, the commission of acts of terrorism, and participation in a counter-revolutionary organisation” (Bakinsky Rabochy, 27 May 1956, p. 2, in Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Volume 8, No. 21, 4 July 1956, p. 12).
Among other charges, it was alleged that “… Bagirov, with the help of his accomplices, systematically prosecuted and perpetrated terrorist attacks against a number of prominent party and Soviet workers who at various times criticised his and Beria’s anti-Party behaviour.
“So, on his instructions, they were illegally arrested and convicted on falsified materials: former chairman of Azerbaijan Cheka N Rizayev; People’s Commissars of Education of Azerbaijan SSR M Shakhbazov and M Ju-warlinsky M; head of the film-photo department industry Sultanov G; deputy head of the department of Azerbaijan NKVD Nodev O Ya; former employee of the Azerbaijanian Cheka I Shamsov; former chairman of the People’s Commissariat of the Socialist Soviet Socialist Republic, G Musabekov; former Deputy Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the ZSFSR Huseynov M D; former Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan Mirzoyan J I; former chairman of the Cuban district executive committee Mammadkhanov M; former People’s Commissar of Agriculture of the Republic of Azerbaijan Huseynov M; People’s Commissar of Justice of the Republic of Azerbaijan Sultanova A; Deputy Commissar of Agriculture of the Republic of Azerbaijan Garin B G; and others.”
The accused were all found guilty. Two of the defendants were sentenced to 25 years imprisonment, while three (including Bagirov) were sentenced to death by shooting.
Sudoplatov jailed in 1958
On 21 August 1953, Lieutenant General Sudoplatov was arrested. On September 12, 1958, he was sentenced by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR under “counter-revolutionary” article 58-1 paragraph “b” to 15 years of imprisonment “for active complicity with the traitor Beria in preparing a coup d’etat, carrying out experiments on people, kidnapping and numerous murders”.
Sudoplatov published with his son and some US journalists a best-selling book of memoirs in the early 1990s and in 1992 he was completely rehabilitated by a decree of the Chief Military Prosecutor of the Russian Federation.
Sudoplatov’s book is mix of truly sensational stories and allegations from his time working in the Soviet security services, and is clearly a collaboration between fact and fiction.
What lessons for today?
The story of the coming to power of Khrushchev is not a happy one and it has given me no pleasure to relate it to you. In many ways, this is the history of the victory of revisionism in the USSR, though it took many more years to liquidate Soviet power.
The years surrounding the death of Stalin in 1953 were tumultuous years which saw a fierce confrontation between Marxism-Leninism and the forces of revisionism in many walks of Soviet life. A study of these is important to acquaint Communists today with a rounded history of this struggle and to learn lessons about how to fight it.
As ever, a thorough study of Marxism-Leninism is our best weapon. To be familiar with the history of the proletarian revolutionary movement and to conduct oneself on the basis of firm principles are crucial, but to know these principles, to understand them, to appreciate what is a principle and what is a tactic, this can only be achieved through diligent study and the cultivation of a correct style of work in the revolutionary movement.
(1) Aleksander Shcherbakov – the first Secretary of the Union of Soviet Writers, worked closely with Gorky. Subsequently a CC member CPSU(b) where he headed the Dept on cultural and education, candidate member of the Politburo, First Secretary Moscow Region CPSU(b), in 1943 made a Colonel-General where he was also appointed Main Head of the Political Administration of the Red Army. His sister was married to A Zhdanov.
(2) Andrei Zhdanov – veteran of the Civil War, Member of the Politburo, Secretary of the CC CPSU(b), sent to Leningrad to replace S Kirov after the latter’s murder, Zhdanov was a member of the Leningrad Front Committee and Secretary of the Regional party during the 900-day Siege. After the war Zhdanov led the ideological struggle against idealism and revisionism, most famously in the fields of literature, art and philosophy, as well as in the Cominform.
(5) Pavel Sudoplatov published an autobiography on his time working in the NKVD before serving 15 years in prison as a member of ‘Beria’s gang’
(7) Leaking of information to the West seems to have been a speciality of Khrushchev’s group. His famous secret speech at the 20th Party Congress was leaked via the US and he brags in his memoirs about the leaks from his department which led to the dismissal of Stalin’s Secretary Poskrebyshev.
(8) From Bill Bland On the Doctors Plot https://espressostalinist.com/2014/12/19/bill-bland-the-doctors-case-and-the-death-of-stalin/
(9) Statement of Nino Teymurazovna Gegechkori from an article by the Georgian journalist Teymuraz Koridze available at http://stalinism.ru/stalin-i-gosudarstvo/moy-muzh-lavrentiy-beriya.html and https://s30338944285.mirtesen.ru/blog/43117961655/Moy-muzh-%E2%80%94-Lavrentiy-Beriya
(10) An interesting note from cde Bill Bland’s presentation says that “Somewhat oddly, however, this crime was defined as ‘… a crime envisaged by Article 58-7 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR‘.” (Pravda, 23 July 1954, in ibid., p. 447).
But Article 58, Para. 7, of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR relates to economic sabotage!
“Article 58, Para. 7, is . . . irrelevant to Ryumin’s activity in connection with the arrest of the doctors. . . . It cannot possibly be applied to Ryumin’s role in the doctors’ plot.” (B Nicolaevsky, op. cit., p. 149).
Nicolaevsky points out in explanation that falsification of evidence is punishable under the Criminal Code by only up to five years deprivation of liberty, while “economic sabotage” carries the death penalty. (B. Nicolaevsky, op. cit., p. 149).
The court "sentenced Ryumin to the supreme penalty — death by shooting. The sentence has been carried out.” (Pravda, 23 July 1954, in R. Conquest, op.cit., p. 448).
(11) http://istmat.info/node/22333 Draft indictment (In Russian) of January 10, 1955 on charges of A N Rapava, N M Rukhadze, Sh O Tsereteli, K S. Savitsky, N A Krimyan, A S Khazan, G Iaramonova and S N Nadara
(12) http://istmat.info/node/22355 Copy of the verdict of the Military Collegium of the USSR Armed Forces of April 26, 1956 in the case of M. D. Bagirov, T. M. Borschev, R. A. Markaryan, X. I. Grigoryan, S. I. Atakishiev and S. F. Emelyanov