MALENKOV: The Machine-Man whom nobody knows

Lionel Shapiro May 1 1953

MALENKOV: The Machine-Man whom nobody knows

Lionel Shapiro May 1 1953

MALENKOV: The Machine-Man whom nobody knows


A FEW WEEKS ago, in a drab fog-chilled apartment in a London suburb, I talked with a man who knew Malenkov. Although not much past fifty, he looked like an old man, as all exiles are old before their years. He was weatherbeaten and spiritless and downright afraid

— even in London— so afraid he would not permit me to name the middle European country of which he had been a distinguished diplomat of ambassadorial rank only six years ago.

Malenkov had had a hand in reducing him as well as his country to a state of servitude. Therefore he spoke bitterly of the new Soviet leader— bitterly but with the ingrained reserve of a lifelong diplomat.

He said, “The day will come it cannot be far off; perhaps a year, certainly not longer—when we will begin to look upon the Stalin years of the cold war as the gentle, the easy years. We will think how foolish we were to regard Stalin as an enigma or a silent monster or, as you journalists like to put it, the great question mark in the Kremlin. He wasn’t, you know. He was clever and he was ruthless but he was a man, a human being. He had small personal failings smoking, for instance, while he ate; and nepotism and he had of course extraordinary strength of personality on the world scene and an absolutely inhuman belief in his own wisdom and in his destiny. But my point is, he was a man, even a mellow man considering his life and mission, a man that other men could study and judge and even anticipate. He was a known quantity—

The ex-diplomat lit his pipe and a grimace came to his face. He played unhappily with his scrubby discolored mustache.

“But now we have Malenkov. I know him— that is to say, I have had dealings with him twice. In Moscow I had a long negotiation with him on a not very important level, and later, when he was already a prominent member of the Politburo, he came to my country and I was involved in the social activities that surrounded his visit.

“Do you know what is the most revealing thing about Malenkov? It is that nobody knows him. Here is a man who has been in fiie public eye in Moscow since 1922, a bright young man climbing steadily for thirty-one years to the pinnacle of success, and nothing is known about him. Now that he has reached the height, the publicity force of the Kremlin cannot find a personal anecdote, a small humanizing story of his youth, an unofficial photo


“By comparison, Stalin was a warm human being. There are factual stories and legends about him.



We have seen pictures of him as a young married man fondling his children. We know he was a revolutionary, a bank robber, a hunted fugitive. We know he had many moods and many sides. We knew Stalin, and even when we were afraid of him, we were afraid of the known, which is not so terrible as being afraid of the unknown.

“I remember when I was preparing to go to Moscow to negotiate with Malenkov. In the diplomatic we are required to collect a dossier on our opposite number and to study his characteristics. There was nothing about Malenkov, nothing except the dates on which he acquired new and higher positions in the government. No anecdotes, no pictures, not even a jot on his domestic life. To our intelligence he was truly an enigma.

“I had been in his office in the Kremlin only a few minutes when a terrifying truth came to me: In his dealings with me, at least, Malenkov was as close to a mechanical brain as could be clothed in flesh and blood.

“He cut off the preliminary pleasantries at the precise point where rudeness had been passed but friendliness not attained. Then we proceeded to negotiate the economic matter for which I had been sent to Moscow. In this case, the word ‘negotiate’ is merely a figure of speech. He put the Soviet case succinctly —and I might add brilliantly and in our next several sessions he never deviated from it. Indeed we discussed and argued, but at the end of each session he always came up with the same answer which was his original position. Like a mechanical brain when certain elements are fed into it, his result never deviated a fraction.

“This curious feeling I had about him - that I was dealing with a new species of machine-man— was confirmed when I saw him in my country under very different circumstances. We met at an afternoon reception and at a state dinner.

“He has, as you know, a round face, very fleshy but firm with a waxlike smoothness. It seldom moves except muscularly; that is, when he opens his mouth to speak or to eat. Only his eyes are alive with a certain furtiveness as if they are a feeding apparatus for the thinking machine deep, deep inside him. His smile is brief and completely mechanical like that of a bored monarch.

“And when he eats! It is difficult to describe; he is neither a gourmand nor a gourmet. Have you ever noticed a child when he comes into the kitchen famished after a day’s play? He eats in a thoughtless voracious way because his body demands it his body, not his palate or his brain. That is the impression I had of Malenkov at the banquet. He

pounced on his food and he ate rapidly and without reserve. He drank a great deal, I might add, without visible effect.”

The ex-diplomat applied a few matches to his pipe and drew on it thoughtfully.

He finally said, “You want to know about Malenkov? Go to the men who are in a position to know him best; go ask them about his youth, his life, his habits, his family. They will tell you nothing because they know nothing. Then go back to your study and think this over a long time: Malenkov is the only world leader, perhaps in all history, about whom nothing is known except the bare dossier of his official life. When you have thought on this, and you have drawn from it all the philosophical conclusions which must emerge, then you will know all you need to know about Malenkov —.”

He gave a short, embittered laugh. “And you will not like it, I assure you.”

Where the Bread Is Buttered

The ex-diplomat was not altogether right. In subsequent journeys through the capitals of western Europe I found that a good deal is known about the life and habits of Georgi Maximilianovich Malenkov, the fifty-one-year-old leader of the Soviet empire. And on the basis of what is known, the chancelleries of Europe anticipate violent quakes on the diplomatic front, within the next year; on the diplomatic front, not on the fighting front.

But nothing I found would upset the basic conclusion of the ex-diplomat in London that Malenkov is the Soviet machine that walks like a man, the human being conditioned by Stalinism to control an empire of intrigue and terror with the tools of calculated risk, economic pressure and military power.

There is a definite psychological pattern that weaves through his entire career. In every crisis of his life—and there were many —his shrewd brain veered like a magnetic compass toward the more powerful, and this happened at times when opportunists of lesser calibre couldn’t accurately judge which faction to support. It does him less than justice to say that he guessed right; in situations where power hobbled like a marble on a spinning roulette wheel, he calculated right every time. No considerations of personality or belief or intellectual integrity entered into his calculations. Only power.

The boy of eighteen who cast himself into the raging maelstrom of Soviet politics and piloted himself for thirty-three years to the top of the Kremlin possessed more than luck, more than shrewdness

and ability. He possessed a genius for power, to incline to it, to touch it, and to wield it with the ruthlessness and precision of a machine.

He was born on Jan. 8, 1902, to a middle-class family in the town of Orenburg, beyond the Urals in southeast Russia. In the czarist regime the middle class enjoyed a reasonably favored economic position, and there is no evidence to indicate other than that young Georgi Malenkov knew no suffering in his boyhood. Unlike Stalin who had been a proletarian thinker and revolutionary in his young teens, Malenkov’s boyhood is completely without incident or legend. His family was the kind that would have fared comfortably before, during and immediately after the revolution.

At seventeen he calculated his first crisis and won. He joined t he Red Army when it was still in danger of defeat, in 1919; but in 1920 its victory was reasonably assured and Malenkov was on his personal highroad. In this year he faced another decision: the proletarian military victory was assured but the seat of the nation’s political power was still in grave doubt. Once more the sensitive antennae of his brain guided him aright. He joined the Communist Party and became a political commissar in the army. His new position gave him the touch and the taste of power and he lunged for it with immense verve and accuracy. In 1922 —he was only twenty —he became chief political commissar of the Red Army in southeast Russia. In that year he was brought to Moscow.

In his first few months in Moscow he overcame, almost simultaneously, the two most critical hurdles of his life, and when he emerged triumphantly his colleagues recognized that he was a man to be reckoned with. More importantly, there is evidence that he realized at that moment his own immense urge and talent for power.

The first critical hurdle of 1922 was that of the direction of his career. He had been brought to Moscow’s Higher Technical School to advance his army engineering career, but with his eye always on the fount of power, he managed to shoulder his way to the top position in the school’s Communist Party unit. His decision to specialize in politics may have disappointed his engineering instructors (for he was a brilliant student) but by this time he had enough political power to have his own way.

The second hurdle came a few months later. Lenin was dying and the struggle for power between Stalin and Trotsky had already begun. In the Communist Party organism at the school the students generally supported Trotsky who was the more colorful and popular figure, one whose dramatic career had a wider appeal for young men than that of the quiet, conniving, brutish man called Stalin. At this point young Malenkov’s antennae almost played him false; almost but not quite. He sat on the fence until the last moment and then jumped into the right camp, the Stalin camp. He was therefore in a position, when in 1924 Stalin emerged alone and triumphant after Lenin’s death, to make a purge of the Trotskyite students who had so lately been his companions. He did this with such ruthless efficiency — at the age of twent y-two —that he came to the attention of the great leader himself.

This feat patterned his life and thereafter neither his antennae nor his instinct for power played him false. From 1924, when he proved he was capable of purging his fellow students; through the terrifying Thirties, when he made up the master lists of the thousands who went to their deaths; through 1948, when he eliminated politically and perhaps physically his great rival, Andrei Zhdanov; to the freezing March day of 1953 when he came away from Stalin’s funeral and marched past Molotov and Beria to occupy the desk of the master

his instinct to incline to power, to appropriate a discreet amount of it, and to wield it for his own advancement, never failed him. The antennae, the instinct and the cleverness blended perfectly. The machine-man had reached his zenith.

There is one salient fact about Malenkov on which the intelligence estimates of every West European chancellery are agreed. It is that he was Stalin’s personal successor-designate for at least three years before the leader died. This simple widely known fact is invested by diplomats with the greatest significance because of the light it sheds on Malenkov’s character.

Stalin had three general choices to consider as his successor. There were the old Bolsheviks, as exemplified by Vyacheslav Molotov, an old Lenin colleague, a popular and respected figure in the nation, a man U. S. Secretary of State Foster Dulies has called the most brilliant diplomatist he had ever known. There was Lavrenti P. Beria, the state security chief, a Bolshevik of the younger school, who represented a faction which concerned itself with the acquisition of power and was known to have independent ideas about the future of the state. Only two years older than Malenkov, Beria was nevertheless not considered of the same generation of Communists because he had come up through the hard school of the original secret police, the Cheka, and not through the hand-picked intellectual class. The third choice was the pure first-generation Communist as represented by Malenkov.

It is not difficult to trace the reasoning Stalin must have used to make his choice.

He knew Malenkov intimately for more than twenty-seven years. Fresh

from his purge of nv ,eÜow students Malenkov became Stalin’s private secretary at twenty-three. Five years later, when Stalin sensed the need for the great economic purges, he brought Malenkov into the central apparatus of the party from which position his talents for ruthlessness could best be used. In 1934, when Stalin prepared the final great purge of his political enemies, he elevated Malenkov to the post of chief of the personnel departments of the Kremlin, and in the next four years, the young man (in association with Andrei Y. Vishinsky) became the effec-

tive “finger man” for hapless old Bolsheviks like Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky. He made so great a success of this mission that in 1939 Stalin raised him to the Cent ral Committee of t he Communist Party.

On the out break of war in 1941 Stalin tested out Malenkov’s technical ability by placing him in charge of airplane production. He did, by all reports, a brilliant job, and was rewarded with direction of the nation’s development of war industries. Here again his ruthlessness and efficiency brought immense results and, with victory at hand, Stalin

admitted him into full memliersiup in the Politburo.

What is apparent here is that Stalin tested Malenkov in every conceivable kind of mission and found him the perfect machine, the true echo of the master’s voice. When the Communist Party congress gathered in Moscow last October—the first such congress in twentytwo years—Stalin, for reasons of health or to show the nation his choice of successor, selected Malenkov to deliver the report which set the sights of the Soviet empire into the future.

Stalin selected Malenkov as hissuccessor because even in death he felt it necessary that his wisdom prevail through the unforeseeable future. He selected the man who had no personality and no popularity in the nation, the man who had no sense of independent ideological direction, the man, who once set upon a course, could be relied on to follow it without deviation, the man who knew how to wield political power without the quality of political personality. He chose this man over Molotov and Beria because he wanted pure Stalinism to remain the political bible of the empire.

He chose, in short, the machine-man, the perfect product of the first generation of Communist religion, the man with no sense of humor or of humanity, the man whose face and body mask an apparatus of the highest efficiency, the man whose human side is known to the Kremlin publicists to the extent of only one sentence: He has been married twice and has two children.

In death, Stalin has launched a great new Soviet experiment. Is there such a thing as a machine-man? Can the executor of his last will and testament fight off the urges of independent action which must be latent within the spirit of every human being? Can his instinct for power prove resilient enough to withstand the attacks of the cunning and more popular Bolsheviks who are his deputy premiers?

Thus far his public pronouncements have parroted the Stalin line of peace but they lacked Stalin’s cleverness and they certainly failed to achieve Stalin’s impact on the world.

The great danger to peace lies in the application of Malenkov’s machine mind to Stalin’s policy which was strong, even vicious, but not intractable. Stalin played a dangerous game but he knew when to withdraw, as he did in Iran in 1946, in the Berlin blockade of 1949 and as he might have done in Korea if he had known that the Western allies would resist. Stalin’s policy of playing dangerously on the brink of war was one only he could indulge because of his extraordinary talents of cleverness and flexibility. If he bequeathed such a policy to Malenkov at a time when the Western allies are gaining peak strength and losing patience, the diplomatic year ahead is stormy indeed, and beyond that the prospect for peace is foreboding.

The great question is: Can Stalin’s

brilliant but mechanically conditioned disciple replace the old master at a chessboard on which nations are pawns and a single misplay means world catastrophe?

The words of the ex-diplomat in London return to mind: “Indeed we dis-

cussed and argued, but at the end of each session he always came up with the same answer which was his original position. Like a mechanical brain when certain elements are fed into it, his result never deviated a fraction.”

A machine-man now controls the people of almost half of the world.

That is the challenge we face as we move into a new, exciting and eventful era in human history. if