e-Dossier No. 15 - Malenkov on the German Question, 2 June 1953
Geoffrey Roberts is Professor of History at the University College Cork, Ireland. He is a frequent contributor to British, Irish and American newspapers and to popular history journals and he has acted as a consultant for a number of TV and radio documentaries. His publications include Victory at Stalingrad (Longman/Pearson, 2002), The Soviet Union in World Politics (Routledge, 1998), and Stalin's Wars (Yale, 2007).
The document below is a translation of a speech by Georgii M. Malenkov, chairman of the Council of Ministers (i.e. Soviet premier) from March 1953 to February 1955. Consisting of six typescript pages, the original text may be found in one of the files of Malenkov's lichnyi fond (personal file series) in RGASPI (Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Sotsial'no-Politicheskoi Istorii – Russian State Archive of Social and Political History). The document is undated and untitled but the text and other evidence indicates that it was a speech that Malenkov made to a visiting government delegation from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) on 2 June 1953.
The existence of the document was first noted by the Czech scholar Michal Reiman, who described it as the draft report by Malenkov for a projected meeting of the plenum of the Central Committee in spring 1953. While this Malenkov file does contain such draft material, this particular document is self-evidently not of that character. More recently, the Russian scholar Alexey Filitov has published a translation and an analysis of the document that correctly identifies its character and importance.
The background to the composition of the document was the imminent arrival in Moscow of the GDR delegation – summoned to the Soviet capital to discuss the growing refugee crisis in East Germany. In the first four months of 1953 over 120,000 people had migrated from East to West Germany, and Moscow was anxious to stabilize the political and economic situation in the GDR. Prior to the arrival of the delegation, Malenkov worked with Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and KGB chief Lavrentii Beria on the text of a resolution "On Measures to Improve the Health of the Political Situation in the GDR." Under the terms of this resolution the East German communists were ordered to abandon the forced construction of socialism and to implement a series of economic and political reforms. Among the measures proposed were "to put the tasks of the political struggle to reestablish the national unity of Germany and to conclude a peace treaty at the center of the attention of the broad mass of people both in the GDR and in West Germany."
The discussions between the Soviet leadership and the GDR delegation took place between 2-4 June. Apart from some cryptic notes of Otto Grotewohl, the East German prime minister, there is no record of the discussions, so it is not certain that Malenkov actually delivered the speech he had prepared. But there is no reason to believe that he did not make the speech and every reason to think that he did. The substance of the speech was, as one would expect, in broad accord with the content and tone of the formal resolution drawn up by Malenkov, Molotov and Beria. While Malenkov's speech was notable for its emphasis on the international importance of Germany's reunification as a peaceful and democratic state, that view reflected longstanding Soviet policy on the German question. Indeed, during April and May 1953 Molotov's foreign ministry had drawn up a series of proposals for the relaunch of the Soviet campaign for a united Germany. The only difference between this documentation and Malenkov's speech was the latter's explicit recognition that a united, peaceful and democratic Germany would perforce be a bourgeois-democratic state. Following the June events in the GDR and the Beria affair Malenkov was forced to retreat from this position, and there was no more talk by him or anyone else in Soviet policymaking circles of a future united Germany being bourgeois-democratic.
In January 1955 Malenkov was dismissed as Soviet premier. Included in the bill of indictment at the CC plenum was the accusation that he had been too close to Beria and had supported the latter's proposal for a united, neutral and bourgeois Germany. In response Malenkov confessed: "I was wrong when at a session of the [Presidium] in April or May 1953 that discussed the German question I thought that in the then international situation, when we had begun a big political campaign on the question of a united Germany, we should not put forward the task of developing socialism in Germany. I considered this question only from the tactical point of view." However, it was not until the end of 1955 that the Soviets finally abandoned the strategy of Germany's reunification as a peaceful and democratic state and fully embraced the perspective implicit in the critique of Malenkov's advocacy of a bourgeois-democratic Germany – Khrushchev's perspective that German unity was only acceptable if the socialist system in the GDR was protected.
Given this political background it is surprising that Malenkov did not destroy the document. Filitov argues that the survival of the speech is testimony to its authenticity as a text that reflected the common view of the leadership on the German question at the time it was delivered. But however authentic the document, its survival may have been purely accidental. The typescript pages are located, indeed scattered, among the drafts of Malenkov's report to the anti-Beria plenum of July 1953 and sections of the pages are marked up for inclusion in that report. Some of this material made it into the final version of his report to the Central Committee on the Beria affair but not very much, not even, it seems, Malenkov's prioritization of German reunification as the most pressing of international problems.
The translation is Geoffrey Roberts' but was cross-checked against Filitov's version.
1. M. Reiman, "Beria, Malenkov und die deutsche Einheit," Deutschland-Archiv, 1999, 456-460.
2. The file contains various drafts of a plenum speech and resolution dated April 1953 on the cult of personality ("Proekt Vystupleniya o Kul'te Lichnosti", RGASPI, F.83, Op.1, D.3, Ll.26-30).
3. A. Filitov, "'Germany will be a Bourgeois-Democratic Republic': The New Evidence from the Personal File of Georgiy Malenkov", Cold War History, vol. 6, no. 4, November 2006 pp.549-557. I am indebted to Filitov for drawing to my attention the existence and importance of this document. A German translation of the document may be found in W. Loth, Die Sowjetunion und die deutsche Frage (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht: Göttingen, 2007), 301-304.
4. See M. Kramer, "The Early Post-Stalin Succession Struggle and Upheavals in East-Central Europe", Part 1, Journal of Cold War Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 1999 espec. pp.12-15, 22-30.
5. Christian F. Ostermann (ed), Uprising in East Germany 1953 (Central European Press: Budapest 2001), Document No. 18, p. 133-136.
6. For Grotewohl's notes see ibid, doc. 19 pp. 137-138. It is not clear from this particular document but it seems that Malenkov spoke first when the two delegations met on 2 June – hence my dating of his speech – but what he said was not recorded by Grotewohl. I am grateful to Wilfried Loth for this clarification.
7. For some relevant documentation see Ostermann op.cit. documents 5-7, 9, 11.
8. "Postanovlenie Plenuma Tsentral'nogo Komiteta KPSS ‘O tov. Malenkove G.M.'", Voprosy Istorii, no. 1 (January 1999), 31-32.
9. RGASPI, F.83, Op.1, D.4, L.34.
10. The USSR's German policy from 1953-1955 and the role of Khrushchev, Malenkov and Molotov in the making of that policy is the subject of a forthcoming study by the author.
11. Malenkov's report to the plenum may be found in Lavrentii Beria, 1953: Stenogramma Iul'skogo Plenuma TsK KPSS i Drugie Dokumenty, Mezhdunarodnyi Fond ‘Demokratiya': Moscow 1999 pp.219-229 (223-224 for Malenkov's remarks on Beria and the German question. However, this is the final, edited and corrected version of Malenkov's report, prepared as part of the official record for circulation within the party. His actual speech to the plenum may have been differed (but probably not by very much). The drafts in his lichnyi fond file provide some clues but not very clear ones. See further Filitov's reconstruction and analysis of Malenkov's plenum report.