Although the White Russians were active up until 1934, the Civil War all but ended in 1923. The Bolsheviks spent the 1920s consolidating their power in the erstwhile empire. Malenkov emerged as a tough communist Bolshevik, who was completely devoted to the cause.
He quickly rose through the party ranks to become the Communist Secretary at the military-based Bauman Moscow Higher Technical School. Malenkov reportedly did not complete his university graduation, choosing to pursue a career in Soviet politics instead. Some sources, however, argue that he did receive a degree in electronics from Bauman.
During this period, he developed a friendship with Vyacheslav Malyshev, who would become a powerful man in Soviet Russia in later years and lead the Soviet nuclear program along with Igor Kurchatov.
By 1924, Stalin had recognized Malenkov’s effectiveness and designated him to the Organizational Bureau (Orgburo) of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. A year later, he was assigned to the Orgburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU.
Malenkov worked directly under Stalin when he helmed the project of keeping records on the members of the Soviet communist party. Over the course of the next ten years, two million files were prepared on the members. These files were extensively used in the treason trials during Stalin’s purges.
Nikolai Yezhov was a Soviet secret police officer under Stalin, serving as the head of People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del, NKVD for short).
From 1936 to 1938, Yezhov oversaw mass arrests and executions during the purges. However, he ultimately fell from Stalin’s favour and power as the Politburo feared that Yezhov might reveal Stalin had ordered the purges. Malenkov collaborated with Stalin and other members of the Politburo in bringing Yezhov down, which eventually led to his execution.
Malenkov assumed the post of the head of the communist party's Cadres Directorate in 1939, effectively getting control over the personal matters of party bureaucracy. That year, he was also appointed as a member and secretary of the Central Committee and promoted as a full member of the Orgburo. By February 1941, he had been included as a candidate member in Politburo.
If the Civil War was the “greatest national catastrophe that Europe had yet seen”, the effect of the War World II on the Russian society was apocalyptic. According to academic estimations, about 27 million Russians, both military and civilian, perished.
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Following the war, the Soviet economy, which had seen a steady rise prior to the war, was in complete disarray: factories had been destroyed, railways disrupted, and mechanized farming was non-existent. The Politburo had to initiate a new version of the Five Year Plans to pull the country out of its third world economy.
The German invasion of Russia in June 1941 resulted in some drastic changes in Moscow. The Politburo was caught completely by surprise by the German aggression as in August 1939 they had signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact with Nazi Germany. However, they responded accordingly.
Malenkov had been deemed as a highly competent administrator and was included in the State Defense Committee (Gosudarstvennyj komitet oborony, GKO) along with Lavrentiy Beria, NKVD chief after Yezhov; Kliment Voroshilov, a high-ranking officer in the Russian military; and Vyacheslav Molotov, statesman and diplomat, with Stalin himself chairing the committee.
This small group of men held all the economic and political power in the country. As a member of this committee, Malenkov was one of the five most powerful men in Soviet Russia. Anastas Mikoyan, Commissar of Foreign Trade, and Nikolai Voznesensky, First Deputy Chairman of Sovnarkom, also joined the committee later.
From 1941 to 1943, Malenkov supervised the military aircraft production. He was also in charge of the nuclear weapons program. In 1943, Stalin made him the chairman of the committee that looked after the post-war economic rehabilitation in several liberated areas, with the notable exception of Leningrad.
At Stalin’s orders, Malenkov and Beria worked together in creating the Soviet missile program infrastructure. Malenkov served as the chief of the Soviet Missile program with Dmitri Ustinov as his deputy. Ustinov would become an important figure in the Soviet government in later years. He was a rocket scientist and later was appointed as the defence minister of Soviet Russia.
Malenkov and Ustinov, along with Mikhail Khrunichev, statesman and lieutenant-general in the technical and engineering corps, set up the Soviet missile and rocket program. In one of their first moves, they used the German missile industry that had already been in place, assimilating it into their program.
Malenkov oversaw the Soviet government taking control of the German V2 missile industry, which, in its entirety, was shifted to Moscow from Peenemünde.
This relocation resulted in immeasurable success. Not only the Russians were able to create their own indigenous missiles (Vostok missiles) because of that, it also played a pivotal role in the creation of the Russian space program (Sputnik artificial satellites). Malenkov also simultaneously set up several space centres, including Kapustin Yar and Khrunichev missile centre.
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During the World War II, Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov was the most decorated and celebrated military commander in Soviet Russia, having won decisive battles against the Nazi Germany in Leningrad, Stalingrad, and Berlin. In the first few years after the war, Zhukov enjoyed a celebrity status in the country and that worried Stalin, whose own hold on power partly stemmed from his popularity with the public.
Stalin and his loyalists such as Malenkov and Beria became suspicious of Zhukov as he had developed a close friendship with General Dwight D. Eisenhower. They feared he had garnered capitalistic tendencies.
After the War World II ended, Malenkov began to build a comprehensive case against Zhukov and several other military officers who were being considered as national heroes. Malenkov accused Zhukov of anti-revolutionary behaviour and selfish “Bonapartism”. He arranged Zhukov’s downfall and his demotion in rank.
The way Malenkov dealt with Zhukov deeply impressed Stalin. In 1946, Malenkov joined the Politburo as a candidate member. In 1948, after the mysterious death of his political rival, Andrei Zhdanov, Malenkov became one of Stalin’s most favoured associate in the Soviet government. He was appointed as a Secretary of the Central Committee that year.
Following the conclusion of the World War II, the leaders of Leningrad, Mayor Alexey Kuznetsov and his deputies, had become national icons and the importance of Leningrad was on a steady rise.
Despite the fact that Kuznetsov and his men were staunch Stalinists, there was a fear in Moscow that Leningrad was threatening the image of the capital as the only centre of power in the USSR. Malenkov, aided by Beria, brought about Kuznetsov’s downfall. He and his men were tried, executed, and their bodies were buried in unmarked pits.
On August 12, 1952, thirteen Soviet Jews were executed in the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow. This came to be known as the Night of the Murdered Poets.
The men killed were all members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and after their arrest on the charges of espionage, treason, and many other crimes between September 1948 and June 1949, they were beaten, isolated, and tortured for three years before they were formally charged with anything. Malenkov oversaw the complete extermination of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, in the Night of the Murdered Poets and beyond.
The Leadership of the Soviet Union
Stalin died on March 5, 1953, after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage on 1 March. A power struggle ensued among Stalin’s top lieutenants immediately after. Four of these men, Malenkov, Molotov, Beria, and Khrushchev, delivered eulogies at Stalin’s funeral.
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On 6 March 1953, with Beria’s help, Malenkov secured the premiership for himself, becoming Stalin’s first successor as the leader of the Soviet Union.
His name also appeared on the top of the list of Presidium of the Central Committee (Politburo’s alternative name since 1952). A day later, he was listed first among the secretaries of the Secretariat. This effectively made him the most powerful man in the Soviet Union.
However, Malenkov did not get to enjoy absolute power like his predecessor for long. Nine days later, he was forced to submit his resignation from the Secretariat, with Khrushchev coming in as his replacement. The Malenkov-Khrushchev duumvirate would rule the USSR up until February 1955.
Malenkov was a popular administrator, primarily because of his belief that the output of consumer goods should be increased. However, evidently, Malenkov was unable to curtail the rapid power accumulation by the party apparatus and the promotions of younger generations of politicians. It, in turn, emboldened Khrushchev, who organised a “palace coup”.
Malenkov resigned from the office of the premier in February 1955, having been blamed for the slow pace of progress, especially in the matter of rehabilitation of political prisoners. He would serve for another two years as the Deputy Premier under Premier Nikolai Bulganin.
In 1957, Malenkov tried to organise a palace coup of his own against Khrushchev, who had the support of Zhukov, and through him, the military. The coup miserably failed and Khrushchev dubbed Malenkov and his co-conspirators, Molotov and Lazar Kaganovich, as the 'Anti-Party Group' at a subsequent session of the Party Central Committee. Malenkov and the others were thrown out of the Politburo.