The Power Struggle, 1953-56

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Power Struggle

  • On the 5th of March 1953, Stalin died and his 31 year reign over the Soviet Union came to an end.
  • No clear line of succession had been established during Stalin’s rule; therefore there was much uncertainty over who would be the next leader of the Soviet Union.
  • A collective leadership took over the running of the USSR and nobody succeeded Stalin on their own for the first few years following his death.
  • There was considerable competition and rivalry amongst the contenders for power. The most prominent contenders were Khrushchev, Beria, Malenkov and Bulganin.
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Nikita Khrushchev

  • Born 1894, Khrushchev emerged from a working class background in Ukraine.
  • Joined the Communist party in 1918 and fought for the red army during civil war.
  • Worked his way up the Party and joined the Politburo in 1939.Entrusted with important tasks during the war years.
  • His big break came in 1949when Stalin appointed him as a secretary of the central committee. 
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Georgi Malenkov

  • Born 1902, descended from a long line of tsarist civil servants.
  • Served as a political officer in the red army during the civil war.
  • Was a prominent Party official in the1920s and 30s. He was very friendly with Beria and Stalin and became a member of Stalin’s inner circle.
  • Was made deputy prime minister and a member of the Politburo in 1946.
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Nicolai Bulganin

  • Born 1895. Joined the Cheka (Lenin’s secret police) in 1918.
  • Was active in the Moscow soviet in the 1930s,working closely with Khrushchev, and rose to become deputy prime minister in 1938.
  • Helped organise the defence of Moscow duringWW2 and became minister of defence in1947.
  • He was part of Stalin’s inner circle and joined the Politburo, then later became head of state. 
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Laverenti Beria

  • Born 1899, was Georgian.
  • Wormed his way into Stalin’s favour and became his agent in the Caucasus in the1930s.
  • Achieved great power when Stalin appointed him as head of the NKVD.
  • Between 1941 and1953, he was in charge of Soviet security, and was briefly minister of internal affairs after Stalin’s death.
  • Beria even controlled Moscow Dynamo,Russia’s most famous football team.
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Fall of Beria

  • Beria was a very powerful man.
  • He was feared by everyone because of his powerful position and his brutality.
  • He was the biggest threat to the other contenders and seemed the most likely to take over.
  • However, Beria underestimated his rivals and had no power base within the Party.
  • Khrushchev and the other leaders moved swiftly to oust Beria and took their opportunity when he was away in East Berlin.
  • Khrushchev led colleagues in a plot,and Beria was arrested in 1953. The way was now clear for Khrushchev and Malenkov to fight for supremacy.
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Khrushchev vs Malenkov

  • Malenkov and Khrushchev both had different policies and strengths.
  • Malenkov wanted power to be concentrated in the government and wanted the government to control the Presidium decisions.
  • Whereas Khrushchev wanted the party to dominate the government.
  • Both favoured economic reform, however Malenkov wanted more effort to be put into light industry while Krushchev wanted to focus on heavy industry and defence sectors.
  • Khruschev mobilised support within the party and proved himself to be stronger and more ambitious than Malenkov. In February1955, Malenkov admitted to some mistakes in policy and resigned. Khrushchev was victorious.
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