THE POLITBURO'S LAST PURGE
E conomic indicators for 1948 provided firm evidence that the immediate destruction of the war had been overcome and that the main targets of postwar reconstruction had been achieved. Of particular significance was the fact that the regime had survived the famine of 1946–1947. By 1948, the grain harvest had almost reached prewar levels, while the production of potatoes, a major staple, was higher than in any of the immediate prewar years. Industrial production plans for 1948 were also considerably exceeded, with overall growth, according to official statistics, of 27 percent, as opposed to the 19 percent that had been forecast. 1 Although these figures masked the usual bottlenecks and imbalances that marked periods of rapid growth, they nonetheless had a clear influence on the calculations of the leadership. In contrast to the relative caution of the 1948 plan, the 1949 plan was highly ambitious. 2 It was the resultant pressures on the economic agencies which would trigger the Gosplan and Voznesenskii Affairs.
As always, the international situation left a clear mark on the policies of Stalin's regime. In some respects, the position of the USSR was strengthened over the course of 1949. On 24 August, the country carried out its first successful test of the atom bomb, an event that must have heightened the leadership's sense of invulnerability. The Soviet Union's prestige was further bolstered by the decisive victory of the Chinese communists, which culminated in the declaration of the People's Republic of China on 1 October 1949. However, the year 1949 also saw two decisive setbacks. First, there were a series of diplomatic defeats in relations with the West. In April 1949, the founding treaty on NATO was signed, thus establishing a Western military bloc against the Soviet Union. The following month, in May 1949, having run into stiff opposition from Western states that had