STALIN'S LAST STRUGGLE
A t the beginning of 1952, Stalin's personal physician, Professor V. N. Vinogradov, noted a marked deterioration in the leader's state of health. Despite flying into a rage and having Vinogradov dismissed, Stalin eventually came to heed his doctor's advice. 1 In the months that followed, the leader ceased smoking and further wound down his commitments. His physical condition came to be a source of concern to those around him, as the leader suffered from sudden memory losses, reduced stamina, and very sharp mood swings. 2 Some contemporaries went on to attribute the string of capricious actions that marked the last year of Stalin's life to his physical and even mental degradation. The public attacks on his oldest and most venerable colleagues, the sacking and imprisonment of his most intimate and long-serving aides, and the sudden descent of the leader into—even by his own standards—the most outlandish fits of paranoia, appeared to mark the onset of a deeply irrational state of mind. 3 Yet despite the occasional physical lapse and temper tantrum, the overall thrust of the leader's approach to rule over the last months of his life was entirely in keeping with the pattern of leadership he had established in earlier years. The aging dictator resorted to traditional—and, from his point of view, quite logical—maneuvers to keep his colleagues on their toes and to shore up his power and status despite his own uncertain health.
Over the last year of his life Stalin turned to techniques of leadership control favored earlier by the aging Lenin. Central to this approach were arrangements for a new party congress, which Stalin authorized in December 1951. The many conventions of the congress, which eventually met in October 1952, were skillfully deployed by Stalin to realign the leadership. The selection of leaders to deliver the main reports, for ex