Vyacheslav Molotov

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Vyacheslav Molotov : biography

9 March 1890 – 8 November 1986

Post-war career (1949–1976)

At the 19th Party Congress in 1952, Molotov was elected to the replacement for the Politburo, the Presidium, but was not listed among the members of the newly established secret body known as the Bureau of the Presidium; indicating that he had fallen out of Stalin’s favour. At the 19th Congress, Molotov and Anastas Mikoyan were said by Stalin to have committed grave mistakes, including the publication of a wartime speech by Winston Churchill favourable to the Soviet Union’s war time efforts. Both Molotov and Mikoyan were falling out of favour rapidly, with Stalin telling Beria, Khrushchev, Malenkov and Nikolai Bulganin that he did not want to see Molotov and Mikoyan around anymore. At his 73rd birthday, Stalin treated both with disgust. In his speech to the 20th Party Congress Khrushchev told the delegates that Stalin had plans for "finishing off" Molotov and Mikoyan in the aftermath of the 19th Congress.

Following Stalin’s death, a realignment of the leadership strengthened Molotov’s position. Georgy Malenkov, Stalin’s successor in the post of Premier, reappointed Molotov as Minister of Foreign Affairs on 5 March 1953. Although Molotov was seen as a likely successor to Stalin in the immediate aftermath of his death, he never sought to become leader of the Soviet Union. A Troika was established immediately after Stalin’s death, consisting of Malenkov, Beria, and Molotov, but ended when Malenkov and Molotov deceived Beria. Molotov supported the removal and later the execution of Beria on the orders of Khrushchev. The new Party Secretary, Khrushchev, soon emerged as the new leader of the Soviet Union. He presided over a gradual domestic liberalisation and a thaw in foreign policy, shown by the reconciliation with Josip Broz Tito’s government in Yugoslavia, which Stalin had expelled from the communist movement. Molotov, an old-guard Stalinist, seemed increasingly out of place in this new environment, but he represented the Soviet Union at the Geneva Conference of 1955.

The events which led to Molotov’s downfall began in February 1956 when Khrushchev launched an unexpected denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party. Khrushchev attacked Stalin, both over the purges of the 1930s and the defeats of the early years of World War II, which he blamed on Stalin’s over-trusting attitude to Hitler and the purges of the Red Army. Since Molotov was the most senior of Stalin’s collaborators still alive and had played a leading role in the purges, it became obvious that Khrushchev’s examination of the past would probably result in Molotov’s fall from power. Consequently, he became the leader of an old guard which tried to overthrow Khrushchev.

In June 1956, Molotov was removed as Foreign Minister, and in June 1957, was expelled from the Presidium (Politburo) following a failed attempt to remove Khrushchev as First Secretary. Although Molotov’s faction initially won a vote in the Presidium, 7–4, to remove Khrushchev, the latter refused to resign unless a Central Committee plenum decided so. In the plenum, which lasted from 22–29 June, Molotov and his faction were defeated. Eventually, he was banished as ambassador to the Mongolian People’s Republic. Molotov and his associates were denounced as "the Anti-Party Group" but, notably, were not subject to the physical repressions that marked the Stalin years. In 1960, he was appointed Soviet representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was seen as a partial rehabilitation. However, after the 22nd Party Congress in 1961, during which Khrushchev carried out his de-Stalinisation campaign, including the removal of Stalin’s body from Lenin’s Mausoleum, Molotov (along with Lazar Kaganovich) was removed from all positions and expelled from the Communist Party. In 1962, all of Molotov’s party documents and files were erased by the authorities.

In retirement, Molotov remained totally unrepentant about his role during Stalin’s rule. He suffered a heart attack in January 1962. After the Sino-Soviet split, it was reported that he agreed with the criticisms made by Mao Zedong of the supposed "revisionism" of Khrushchev’s policies. According to Roy Medvedev, Stalin’s daughter Svetlana recalled Molotov’s wife telling her: "Your father was a genius. There’s no revolutionary spirit around nowadays, just opportunism everywhere." "China’s our only hope. Only they have kept alive the revolutionary spirit".