Winston Churchill's Last Campaign: Britain and the Cold War, 1951-5

By John W. Young | Go to book overview

6
THE DEATH OF STALIN, MARCH-APRIL 1953

ON 6 March 1953 the Communist leadership in Moscow announced that 'The heart of Joseph . . . Stalin . . . no longer beats.' Like Roosevelt before him, and Churchill after him, the Soviet dictator was the victim of a stroke. Such was the fear he inspired that for hours after the initial attack, as he lay stricken, alone in his room, none of his assistants dared open the door to discover why he was not up.1 He had been undisputed leader of the USSR for a quarter of a century. Through a ruthless personal leadership, an ambitious series of Five Year Plans, the terrible Purges of the 1930s, and the trials of the Second World War he had made his country the second greatest power on the globe. The costs had been countless millions of lives, social upheaval, and the creation of an oppressive police state; the rewards had been rapid industrialization, the unity of the Soviet Empire, and enormous international influence. When he died the USSR's post-war reconstruction was almost complete, the Red Army dominated Eastern Europe, Moscow possessed the atomic bomb and stood at the centre of an international Communist movement which included Mao's China. None the less the traditional Russian sense of insecurity remained strong, the Cold War was deadlocked and the Soviets feared America's atomic predominance. The belief that Stalin was bent on world conquest was always exaggerated. Even before he died of course there had been talk of a possible relaxation of tension, talk too of a Summit. He had seldom shown much enthusiasm for revolutionary Communism (except where it furthered Soviet policy) and had shown increasing interest in the pursuit of some form of 'coexistence' with the West. But his aim was to provoke division in the Capitalist world. The dictator's death was bound to have some impact on Soviet policy and on the Cold War, given his central role in Kremlin decisions. The main immediate

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1
Stalin had died on the morning of 5 March. D. Folliot (ed.), Documents on International Affairs, 1953 ( 1956), 1-3; on Stalin's demise see D. Volkogonov, Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy ( 1991), 570-5.

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