Staunton, March 26 – One of the more unusual and simultaneously amusing and disturbing developments in recent Russia history has been the revisionist treatment of Stalin’s notorious secret police chief Lavrenty Beria, with some Russians presenting him as the best and certainly most underrated of Stalin’s comrades in arms at the end of his life.
Now, the Russian7 portal which regularly runs stories about various personalities and events in Russian and Soviet history has weighed in with a lengthy article suggesting that the Soviet Union and indeed the world would have been far better off if Beria rather than Khrushchev had succeeded Stalin (russian7.ru/post/chto-by-bylo-esli-by-beriya-prishel-k-vlas/).
The portal’s Taras Repin argues that on Stalin’s death, there were only four real pretenders for his position: Beria, Khrushchev, Malenkov and Bulganin. But Beria because of his control over the force structures was “the real head of the country” in the first weeks after Stalin’s passing.
Using his position, Beria replaced the interior ministers and the heads of interior ministry offices “in all union republics and in a majority of the regions of the RSFSR,” and they in turn installed people loyal to Beria and his position in subordinate posts, Repin continues. Beria also organized an amnesty for most prisoners and ended several cases against political prisoners.,
Even more radically, he took steps intended to “liquidate the collective farm system and broaden the rights of all the republics within the USSR” and supported “a rapprochement between the USSR and the West.” Had he used his police powers against his opponents, he might have set himself in place to rule for years.
“Many contemporary historians,” Repin says, “suppose that with the death of Beria, we lost a talented and active figure. They are certain that socialism under Lavrenty Beria would have continued to develop ‘successfully and harmoniously’ and the construction of a communist society in the USSR would have become completely real.”
Beria biographer Sergey Kremlyev argues that the USSR has good prospects in the 1950s and that a Malenkov-Beria regime with Beria being the power behind the throne would have changed the entire future of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev might have retained a place in the Politburo but without a significant power base.
Further, the historian says, “had Beria remained in power, then the entire history of the planet could have developed according to an entirely different scenario: one not defined by militarization and capitalization but by the construction of a worthy and just community of toilers.”
Many give Khrushchev credit for overthrowing the cult of Stalin, but in fact, Repin says, Beria took the lead in that, having ended the doctors’ plot Stalin had initiated and releasing all those who had been falsely charged. “All of them were rehabilitated in the course of a two-week period.”
Many are “certain” that if Beria had remained in power he would have reviewed and overturned the cases of all those who were repressed; and some argue that he would have promoted democracy by giving passports to the peasants, something the Soviet leadership didn’t do until the 1970s, and giving the soviets a dominant role in economic life.
One of the reasons Khrushchev gave in 1956 for removing Beria from the leadership in 1953 and ultimately ordering his execution was the fear of the other communist leaders that Beria intended to split apart the USSR by supporting nationalists in the republics at the expense of those who looked to Moscow.
But Beria had few chances to survive in any case, and they would have depended on his acting more like Stalin toward his opponents than he was willing or able to do. According to one human rights activist, the spirit of Stalinism was still too strong in 1953 for Beria to achieve his goals.
Consequently, Nikita Petrov, the vice president of Memorial says, when Beria did not act as Stalin had, the others acted against him in a “completely Stalinist” manner.