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Comments on the Change in Soviet Leadership (1955) [pdf] (cia.gov)
63 points by droptablemain 33 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 44 comments

Note : this is about the PRC under Mao and the USSR under Stalin. Arguably Mao's China was more of a dictatorship that Stalin's USSR.

You also shouldn't take this report too literally, some predictions such as the food situation not improving didn't actually come to pass. So take it with a grain of salt.

Mao was sidelined after the great leap forward and had to instigate the cultural revolution to take back the driver's seat. I was under the impression Stalin never faced any real threat of losing power?

Stalin indeed never faced any real threat, but he also didn't rule as long as Mao nor as unilaterally. Stalin always made sure that most of his decisions were popular with a fairly large segment of the population.

Yeah, I think it turns into apples and oranges the more detail one goes into.

Mao was definitely more reckless, Stalin more paranoid, and it makes sense that Stalin's position would be more secure barring an assassination or something.

> Mao's China was more of a dictatorship that Stalin's USSR

Mao's China probably better described as a "cult of personality", perhaps closer to Lenin than Stalin as a starting place to draw distinctions.

The cult of personality reached its height in USSR during Stalin's rule.

The book On Stalin's Team by Sheila Fitzpatrick [0] is an excellent account of how Stalin and his inner circle operated, particularly the decision making process and the balance of power within the group over time.

[0] https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691145334/on...

But the best book about Stalin is from his secretary Boris Bašanov, who deflected as soon as he saw Stalin's insanity. Not in English, but the Google translation is good. The CIA and the Nazis knew about this book. The Nazis ignored it and this lost the eastern front.

If you admit the last sentence is hyperbole I'll be a lot more likely to take your recommendation

Read his book and you'll see. History would have been extremely different.

Alright, and read more than one book on the subject and realize that's an oversimplification

I feel like the most interesting part is that a bit at the end was redacted. I guess im curious what could possibly need to still be secret 53 years later about a country that hadn't existed for 17 years.

Well, the latter point also does concern the PRC, which still exists, I'd guess that's why.

My guess is that the redacted section contains leading commentary on Soviet reactions to potential western actions and policies.

The unredacted section reads are pretty neutral analysis, but you can see the section building. It opens with identifying that things are in flux, and a statement that western policy can likely influence soviet actions. I'd expect that to naturally lead into more detailed examinations, and open-ended but leading suggestions as to beneficial actions.

Submitted title was "The Western idea of a dictator within the Communist setup is exaggerated", which is presumably something the document says.

You don't have to read too much to find it! Why 'presumably'?

Because I didn't look.

Stalin ruled for almost 30 years, it was always collective, however in the 1930s the cult of personality was at its height and the rest of the Politburo and the Central Military Commission (the really important subset of the Politburo) were entirely under his control.

De-Stalinization was real and felt by the party

Nice. I was always thinking that western idea about dictators is stupid. People are the same around the globe. Only difference is amount of resources available at given point on earth.

While in general dictators aren't as definitive as it seems, communist system this report is talking about is quite different, historically many dictators had much more unilateral power and were much less reliant on their peers for support

That is evidenced by the fact that the USSR had many, many more peaceful transfers of power than any dictatorship I can think of, and military/security service coups were always very unsuccessful. Ultimately this all comes from decentralization of power.

> That is evidenced by the fact that the USSR had many, many more peaceful transfers of power than any dictatorship I can think of, and military/security service coups were always very unsuccessful. Ultimately this all comes from decentralization of power.

Saying the USSR had decentralized power is only true in a relative sense. What they actually had was a stable tripartite structure (security, military, party) where each 'leg' held a metaphorical gun to the head of the other two, but any two working in concert could take out the third. The party was the weakest of the three in terms of physical force but controlled promotions in the other two, the military had most of the big guns, and the security services watched and listened to everything and controlled information and movement. With a few extra checks and balances like political officers in the military, the whole thing was mostly stable even through transfers of political power, at the cost of periodic purges of the losers in power struggles (stable doesn't mean bloodless).

Decentralization was of course relative.

It's completely incorrect to say there was a tripartite structure - the party was in practice and in theory above the two other branches. The party routinely dictated to the security apparatus and the military, purged them, and so on, while the other two had so little power they saw the need to attempt coups which never came close to success.

> military/security service coups were always very unsuccessful

Until ultimately a KGB agent took over and has been in power ever since.

He didn't take over the USSR, he took over the Russian Federation, which is very different. He overthrew a "democracy" as the US called it as part of the FSB.

I would advise to watch some content with Putin speaking. A hell more intelligent and constructive than most US presidents. Russia is very power fragile country. It requires a very strict setup to hold stability. Lots of western countries (specially the US) are trying to break the stability by supporting lunatics which we in the west call the opposition. Those lunatics have one single mission and that is to destabilise or sabotage the Russian society. I will never say it's right to simply murder your opponents. But currently the country is very stable, safe and economically made enormous steps last 20 years. Leadership in Russia is very strong. It has still many issues to resolve. But please can the west stop enforcing their so called 'freedom' setup in non democratic countries.

Yes, many do not realize that Putin is quite intelligent or the complexities of the Russian state that could cause some unfortunate power struggles without Putin.

However, you're completely glossing over why Western countries have such problems with Putin. Do you have evidence of the West "enforcing" their ideals with the Russian state? Because here are a list of practically doubtless examples of the Russian state actually being the one enforcing their ideals onto other states:

Poisonings / assassination attempts outside their borders

Election interference in the US and Europe




> I will never say it's right to simply murder your opponents. But..

Nice turn of phrase!

Putin is a) not a communist anymore. b) quite popular in Russia.

> b) quite popular in Russia.

This is true, but from what I hear this is mostly because he’s preferable than a power struggle between his oligarchs which is what people expect would happen in his absence.

Also because Russia under his rule is far better than it was during the 90's. Their economic progress has been remarkable after a major collapse.

And also in comparison to the utter diaster that was the brief period of democracy in Russia. The 90s were utterly horrible to live through.

Now, the reason the 90s were a disaster were not because Russia was a democracy, but nobody will take a foreigner making that argument seriously (and Putin can deal with locals making that argument).

You would be if you jail/murder/disappear all the opposition figures.

The Russian mother of someone I know here in LA has pictures of Putin all over her house. I'm fully aware this is anecdotal, but by every metric, Putin is a popular guy within Russia. He's also probably unfairly demonized by the West, so our view of him is skewed.

"Unfairly demonized"

Multiple poisonings / assassination attempts, even in the UK

Election interference in the US and Europe




Many Russians supporting him believe that he re-asserted Russia's influence in the world, and see Donbass and Georgia in a positive light. My grandfather is one of them. (Although he has soured on Putin himself, over the past few years. Reminds him too much of Stalin.)

I'd like to take a moment to point out that the people of any empire often see it's imperial ambitions in a positive light.

Dig just a bit, and you'll find Americans who thought Vietnam was a good idea, Frenchmen who thought Algiers was a good idea, Brits with Ireland and India, Argentinians with the Falklands, etc, etc, etc. They've all got a list of excuses as long as your arm for why they think so, and so do the Russians.

That's fair demonization. But we in the West have no issue looking past assassinations, electoral interference, coups d'états, and invasions far past what even Putin has done.

That being said, I still think Putin is an evil man. I just don't think he's really worse than, say, Bush, and I can understand while I massively disagree why so many Russians like him.

> we in the West have no issue looking past [...]"

Au contraire, Bush is widely panned across the West, trust in or respect to the CIA is at an all time low, and most educated westerners acknowledge those examples as having been terrible ideas.

Maybe he is in your circles, he is in mine. Bush won reelection after doing all of those things, though, and even liberal media outlets began to rehabilitate him recently - see the whole Bush painting atrocity. Putin isn't universally liked in Russia either.

Well, assuming the intel on poisonings and assassination attempts are true. Then again, the CIA certainly isn't afraid of a little ol' assassination.

Election interference -- nobody engages in more election interference around the world than the U.S. Far beyond the scope of anything Russia has done.

Crimea -- they held a vote where like 95+ percent of residents voted to join Russia. So what's the problem?

> Until ultimately a KGB agent took over and has been in power ever since.

Amazing how Andropov has stayed in power so long. The guy's 107 years old!

> had many, many more peaceful transfers of power

Only because 3 general secretaries kicked the bucket within 12 months of each others — it was a complete black swan event for the system. And the 4th one was the anomalous ascend of Gorbaczev, and the Elczin.

The later two were described as in one book I read as: "the constituent parts of factions in power were so preoccupied with fighting for the throne, that they never noticed how two grey suit career bureaucrats seized it just by following the formal procedure"

KGB, MVD, the army were self-convinced that Gorbaczev will never have enough power to act independently, and that at most he will be "a talking head on TV," while they do the real business from behind, and remove him in a few years time.

And Elczin was assumed to be "a complete nobody," and thus ignored altogether.

These people never believed in power of an individual ability, and brilliance. Their concept of power was the one which only comes with a lifelong pursuit of favours, connections, and coercive influence.

There is more to the USSR than the 80s.

Beyond that, it's outright false that the KGB expected to take down Gorbachev. Gorbachev was more radical than expected, and Yeltsin had a lot of support throughout the party and military, including in the KGB outside the highest level.

If the military and KGB had both really fully turned against Gorbachev and Yeltsin there would be simply no way for them to resist. It's with support from the military and multiple KGB officiers that Yeltsin remained free.

And that's exactly how Yeltsin was able to do his own coup and subvert control of much of the military including nuclear weapons away from Gorbachev and then banned the CPSU.

I'm sure that the hundred of millions of dollars many of those anti-coup military members made under Yeltsin and the farce of Russian democracy was completely coincidental, though. Banning the only party that opposed you so they fragment into three and then appointing people loyal to you to all the media I'm sure was a legitimate mistake. It certainly would have nothing to do with a love of favours, coercive influence, and power.

If there were no threat from USSR's 3 letter agency, Yelczin wouldn't have to arrest his own bodyguards with aid from the army, break down the KGB, and Puga (the MVD head) wouldn't have shot himself for nothing, and Kruczkov wouldn't have tried to flee the USSR in tears, with soiled underpants, few tons of gold ingots, and pleading for mercy when he was caught.

I think it's all very simple, and clear how it came to CPSU collapse, and who was who at that time.

Come on. You don't have to strawman such a simple argument. Yeltsin had parts of the KGB against him and parts of the KGB that followed him. Your argument is orthogonal to that.

You know just as well as me that if the KGB was united and wanted him down and if the military did too he would have been imprisoned immediately.

It's also very clear to anyone that Yeltsin illegally took control of the Soviet military and was massively corrupt, just like anyone else. Your borderline heroic description of him is ahistorical, in reality he was just as much of a corrupt opportunist hungry for power and scheming as anyone else.

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