Mikhail Suslov

[soos-lawf, -lof; Russ. soo-sluhf]
Mikhail Andreyevich Suslov (Russian: Михаил Андреевич Суслов; November 21, 1902 - January 25, 1982) was a Soviet statesman, communist theoretician and ideologist, and a member of the Politburo and Secretariat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Initially a professor of economics at Moscow State University, Suslov became the most prominent intellectual in the Soviet leadership under Joseph Stalin and held considerable sway over political decision making in the Soviet Union and beyond during the post-Stalin era. Known as "the Red Eminence", Suslov led the October 1964 coup d'etat that replaced Nikita Khrushchev with Leonid Brezhnev and is credited for promoting future Soviet leaders Yuri Andropov and Mikhail Gorbachev to top positions in the party and KGB.


Early Years

Mikhail Suslov was born in the village of Shakhovskoye (Шаховское) in the Khvalynski district of the Saratov oblast, Russian Empire (now the Pavlovsky District of Ulyanovsk Oblast).

His parents were poor peasants; they ran a small peasant farm and didn't even have their own horse. For this reason, his father occasionally sought work as a carpenter (Baku, Arkhangelsk). Soon after the October Revolution, his father quit farm work in the village completely, but his mother, with Mikhail's help, continued to farm for a time. Subsequently, his father worked as a laborer (store-room keeper in a butter factory in the city of Volsk), as well as a leader in Soviet work. While a member of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks), he died in 1930. His father had been expelled from the party because of his drinking. His mother died in 1920.

At age 16 Suslov joined the Komsomol (Young Communist League) and became an active member of the local organization. In 1918 he worked for the kombed (Poor Peasant Committee) established in his village. Until 1920 he lived in the village of Shakhovskoe and helped his mother on the farm, and sometimes in winter he worked in the village Soviet and on the kombed as the assistant secretary (his father was the chairman of the committee).

In 1919 he began in earnest to be interested in Bolshevist political pamphlets and politics. At the beginning of 1920, he organized a Komsomol branch in his village and was its secretary. He served the party at this time chiefly as a collector in the surplus-appropriation system and as an organizer of aid to poor peasants at the expense of rich peasants (kulaks). He joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1921, aged 19.

Between February 1921 and July 1924, Suslov studied at Prechistensky rabfak (Workers' Faculty) at Moscow. After graduating from the rabfak he studied economics at the prestigious Plekhanov Institute of National Economy between 1924-1928. In the summer of 1928, after graduating from the Plekhanov institute, he became a graduate student (research fellow) in economics at the Institute of the Red Professoriat, and taught at Moscow State University and at the Industrial Academy.

Promotion in the Stalin years

In 1931 he abandoned teaching in favour of the party apparatus. He became an inspector on the Central Control Commission of the All-Union Communist Party and on the People's Commissariat of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate. His main task here was to adjudicate on large numbers of ‘personal cases’, breaches of discipline and appeals against expulsion from the party. In 1933–1934 Suslov directed a commission charged with purging the party in the Ural and Chernigov provinces. The purge was organized by Lazar Kaganovich who was head of the Central Control Commission in the early 1930s. Suslov's role in the repressive campaigns of 1937 and 1938 is undocumented though it is clear that these campaigns, which wiped out most of the corps of party activists, opened up the way for his rapid advancement.

In 1939 Suslov was transferred there as first secretary of the Stavropol Krai and a vital stage in his career had begun. Suslov attended the 18th Party Congress as representative of the Stavropol Krai. Although he did not speak he was elected to serve on the Central Auditing Commission. Two years later, at the 18th Party Conference he was elected to the CP Central Committee, another vital stage in his party career. War came to the Stavropol Krai in 1942. In the course of their summer offensive German forces took Rostov-on-Don and began a swift advance into the North Caucasus. The retreat was so rapid that in some areas sections of the Red Army were moving east several days before the arrival of the German divisions. The German attack was arrested only in the region of Ordzhonokidze, a day or two's march from the town of Grozny. The German occupation was to last no more than a year, during which the regional party committee saw as its main task the organizing of a guerilla movement. Suslov became Chief of Staff of the Stavropol partisan forces. He was promoted to full member of the CPSU Central Committee in 1941, bypassing candidate membership.

During World War II, he supervised the deportations of Chechens and other Muslim minorities from the Caucasus. In 1944-1946, he chaired the Central Committee Bureau for Lithuanian Affairs. As head of the external affairs department of the Central Committee he was personally responsible for the extermination of tens of thousands of opponents in Lithuania after the Red Army's re-occupation of the Baltic countries on their drive to Berlin in 1944.

In part because of his ruthlessness in Lithuania, in 1946 Stalin gave him a seat on the Orgburo and put him to work in the Central Committee apparatus; In 1947 Suslov was transferred to Moscow and at a plenary session he was elected to the Central Committee secretariat, a body that he would serve on for the rest of his life. The Secretariat then included also Zhdanov, Kuznetsov, Malenkov, Popov and Stalin himself. Suslov enjoyed the full confidence of Stalin and in 1948 he was entrusted with the task of speaking on behalf of the Central Committee to a solemn meeting called to mark the twenty-fourth anniversary of Lenin's death. From September 1949 to 1951 he was editor-in-chief of the central Party daily Pravda.

Suslov's first endeavour, from his earliest pronouncements on ideology, was to eliminate all ideological error, in other words to avoid any contradiction of what was laid down in political terms by established directive.

In 1949 he was one of the chief organizers of the triumphant marking of Stalin's seventieth birthday, and in 1964 he performed a similar service for Nikita Khrushchev. In 1976 and 1981 he was the chief organizer of Leonid Brezhnev's seventieth and seventy-fifth birthday celebrations.

In June 1950, he was elected to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. Promoted to the Politburo (Then it was called Presidium) in 1952 following the 19th Party Congress, he suffered a temporary reversal when Stalin died, as the politburo (presidium) reduced its member's number from 25 to 10, and he was excluded from the new smaller body in 1953.

Khrushchev years

However, he began to recover his authority when he became chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Supreme Soviet in April 1954. In 1955 he was again elected full member of the Presidium, bypassing the customary candidate membership. Suslov played an active part in the events that led to the signing of the Warsaw Pact, travelling to Warsaw in July where he delivered the principal speech at the ceremonies celebrating the revival of People's Republic of Poland. On October 1955 he visited East Berlin for the sixth anniversary of the German Democratic Republic.

In the 20th congress of the communist party in 1956, where Khrushchev made his famous Secret Speech about Stalin's cult of personality. In Suslov's ideological report on February 16, he carefully inventoried the principal negative effects of Stalin's cult of personality:

During the Hungarian revolution in 1956, along with Mikoyan, Zhukov and Andropov, he had remained in close proximity with Budapest in order to direct the activities of the Soviet troops and lend assistance to the new Hungarian leadership. On November 1956 he delivered the traditional October Revolution anniversary speech in Moscow. Addressing in the newly built Palace of Sports, Suslov conceded the possibility of different roads to socialism, but reminded the audience that there could be no compromise on the question of "defending the gains of the socialist revolution against attempts of former dominating and exploiting classes". The Hungarian Revolution and its aftermath catapulted Suslov to the international stage of news.

In June 1957, Suslov backed Party First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev during his struggle with the "Anti-Party Group" led by Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, and Dmitry Shepilov. The following October he accused Defense Minister Georgy Zhukov of "Bonapartism" at the Central Committee plenum that removed him from all Party and government posts. The removal of the fiercely independent Zhukov had the effect of firmly subordinating the armed forces to Party control.

In a speech on January 22, 1958, Khrushchev officially proposed to dissolve the Machine and Tractor Station (MTS). This reform had a particular salience on soviet ideology. In a socialist society, cooperative ownership of property was considered a "lower" form of public ownership than state ownership. Khrushchev's proposal was to expand the "lower" form of economic organization whose ultimate elimination was the objective of communist society, ran contrary to the entire teaching of Marxist theory as interpreted by Stalin, and Suslov, as the probable editor of Stalin's economic opus, saw Khrushchev's proposal as unacceptable on theoretical grounds. In a Supreme Soviet election speech in March 1958, Suslov avoided recognizing the theoretical significance of Khrushchev's reform, praising the sale of the MTS equipment only as a "practical" measure to increase productivity. Unlike the rest of the Party leaders who participated in the discussion, Suslov also conspicuously refrained from mentioning Khrushchev as the initiator of the MTS reform.

The 21st congress of the party convened in January 1959. Khrushchev wanted to consider the draft of new Seven-Year plan. Countering Khrushchev's assertion that the Soviet Union was moving from socialism to the higher stage of "communist" development, Suslov cautiously demonstrated that Khrushchev's view of "transition from Socialism to Communism" was flawed, and that it didn't have the official stamp of party approval. To belittle Khrushchev's optimistic assertion that the Soviet Union would soon reach full communism Suslov deferred to Marx and Lenin, emphasizing:

This congress brought an icy chill to the already cooling Suslov-Khrushchev relationship.

Khrushchev had been trying to reduce Suslov's authority and influence since the Moscow International Communist Conference in November 1957. Suslov, on the other hand, was becoming progressively more critical of Khrushchev's theoretical pronouncements, his political intransigence, and his campaign to eliminate what was left of the old Stalinist guard. There were also deep-seated divergences in foreign and domestic policy between the chief ideologue (Suslov) and the First Secretary (Khrushchev). Suslov was convinced that the United States was the cause of most Soviet domestic and foreign difficulties, and was against Khrushchev's attempts at rapprochement with Yugoslavia. On the domestic arena, Suslov was opposed to Khrushchev's policy of rapid and un-controlled de-Stalinization and his economic decentralization policy.

On March 14-24, 1959, Suslov toured the United Kingdom as head of a Supreme Soviet delegation. On 25 June that year, he made a trip to France where he addressed the 15th congress of the French Communist Party. On September 27, accompanied by Shelepin and Andropov, Suslov left for Beijing to a summit conference with Mao. At the April 22 Lenin Day meeting, he had even substituted for the absent Khrushchev, opening the ceremony and introducing Otto Kuusinen, who delivered the main speech. On November 1962 he travelled to Bulgaria and made a speech to the VIII congress of the Bulgarian Communist Party.

Chief ideologue and elder statesman

On October 1964 Khrushchev was ousted. Suslov played a crucial role. As in the Anti-Party Group in 1957, also here, Suslov had again assumed the position of senior Party leader, the high priest of Communism and protector of the Party's incorruptibility, this time not as an impartial arbiter, but as an aggressive and ominous prosecutor. Reading a carefully prepared report, Suslov accused Khrushchev of a wide range of serious errors and misdemeanors which, apart from specific issues and policies, narrowed down to condemnation of Khrushchev himself. It is because of this that he is sometimes referred to as the Grey Eminence. Under the new general secretary, not only was Suslov's executive authority increased, but his functional responsibilities were also widely expanded. Pelshe and Andropov who became the chairmen of the Party Control Committee and the KGB respectively, owed their careers to Suslov, and it helped him to wield enormous power in the Politburo. Suslov, with his protege Andropov, was also behind the steady rise to power of Mikhail Gorbachev.

During the celebration of the 50 years anniversary of the October Revolution in November 1967, Suslov acted as host to a large number of foreign Communist delegations, in preparation for an international conference to discuss "the revolutionary revival of the world". The consultative conference took place in Hungary in February 1968, where Suslov delivered a speech calling for rekindling of "international solidarity among the working class". At the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx in Moscow on May 5, Suslov gave a major speech that touched a broad spectrum of world problems. The lengthy address zeroed in on two new developments affecting the Soviet Union's relations with the rest of the communist world: the growing disarray of the Communist movement itself, and the need for a more revolutionary policy arising out of the political and military consequence of the Vietnam War.

Suslov adamantly denied that détente could lead to an eventual reconciliation of the two systems, fearing that the improvement in Soviet-American relations could undermine the basic tenets of international Communism. To Suslov détente meant the avoidance of a military confrontation in an environment of continued conflict and competition for the liberation of the oppressed peoples of the world.

The 25th Party Congress convened in Moscow on February 24, 1976. In his welcoming speech to the foreign delegates, Suslov recognized the high level of participation, remarking:

During the 70s he had thrust himself into almost every phase of Soviet political life. By the end of the 70s, he exercised an even greater influence than Brezhnev. He had become not only the chief ideologist and senior member of the Politburo and the Secretariat, but an elder statesman and power broker without whose participation and counsel the Soviet gerontocracy remained paralysed and politically unstable. Suslov had complete control over ideology, Agitprop, civilian and military-political education, the media, the State Publishing Committee, Komsomol, inter-party relations and foreign policy. Through Andropov and Pelshe, he had also exercised immense influence on the KGB and the Party Control Committee.

He was kept especially busy by the dissident movement which evolved during the 60s and 70s. The system of party education, Znaniye publishing, the preparation of school text-books, the training of party personnel, the relations between the Soviet state and various religions and church organizations—these are just a few more of the problems which came within the purview of Suslov.

The expansion of Suslov's political influence and functional responsibilities did not curtail the output of his ideological pronouncements. He actually stepped up the level and frequency of his ideological writings and speeches.

At the beginning of the 80s, the political and economic turmoil had seriously eroded the authority of the Polish Communist Party. Suslov's position on this matter carried particular weight as he chaired a special secret commission that was set up in August 1980 to deal with the Polish problem and was unofficially called the "Suslov Commission". Addressing at the congress of the East German Communist Party on April 1981 in East Berlin, Suslov warned Poland- without mentioning it by name- that deviation from the Communist theory would be bad:

Suslov made a second, hurried trip within less than two weeks, this time to Warsaw, Poland. Suslov's threats did not end the crisis, but it did contribute to the coalescing of the Polish Communist leadership around Jaruzelski that declared martial law to avoid a possible Soviet intervention.

His death is viewed by some as starting the battle to succeed Brezhnev, in which Yuri Andropov, who secured Suslov's ideology brief, sidelined Andrei Kirilenko and Konstantin Chernenko.

Suslov's collected speeches and articles were common in the Soviet Union. The first full publications was of Complete Works edition which was published in 1977 of 100,000 copies had not sold out more than two years after publication even though it was on sale in every street-corner kiosk. Then, in 1980, a little pamphlet appendix of Suslov's collected speeches and articles for the period 1977–80 was published at the give-away price of thirty kopecks and in an edition of fifty thousand copies, ludicrously small for a political pamphlet; it has sold mainly to libraries and party offices. Most of Suslov's works and speeches described the tasks of the Komsomol in the education of young people, the tasks of a people's teacher in bringing the light of knowledge to the masses, the need for careful, seasonal tilling of the soil, the necessity of doing one's very best for the front-line and of fighting bravely when in that position.

Once, the well-known Soviet writer and war diarist, Vasili Grossman, appealed to Khrushchev to have his life's work "Life and Fate", that had been confiscated by the regime, published. Instead Grossman was given an invitation on 23 July 1962 to speak with Mikhail Suslov. At the end of the ensuing conversation Suslov had the temerity to tell the accomplished writer Vasilii Grossman that, since "Life and Fate" was more hostile to the ideals of the Russian Revolution than was Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, "Life and Fate" could not be published for at least 250 years.

Death and Legacy

Suslov wasn't a healthy man. In his youth he suffered from tuberculosis and in later years he became a diabetic. Even as early as 1964, he had connected to him at all times an intestinal-discharge tube.

In June 1976 he suffered a myocardial infarction- a serious heart attack that put him out of commission until mid-September. In 1979, a vitrectomy- a delicate surgical procedure for removing blood from the vitreous fluids of the eye-ball, an operation associated with a common complication of diabetes, was performed on Suslov by Dr. Svyatoslav Fyodorov, a world known Soviet ophthalmologist with the help of three American eye surgeons specially invited from the Johns Hopkins University to demonstrate the newest American methods of treating diabetes-related eye diseases.

Just before his death, Suslov, due to Yevgeniy Chazov's persistent demand (who, according to his own evidence, was especially close to Andropov) had been undergoing a prophylactic checkup in the high guarded government medical complex Central Clinical Hospital in Kuntsevo District for a few days. Suslov refused to undergo the checkup for a long time. He and his close relatives didn’t see any reasons for it. But Yevgeniy Chazov, the main Kremlin Doctor, managed to insist on it, saying that it was a formal, though necessary medical act. The checkup which took a few days went very well, and the patient and his family were informed about it. Suslov was expected to turn up to work on the 22nd of January (on this very day that very meeting with Brezhnev were to take place).

In the evening of the 21st of January Suslov was suddenly given a very high dose of some new strong medicine. One should have known how carefully he took any medicine cutting pills (even such harmless as valeriana pills) into small pieces and taking micro dosages of them. But here, in the medical centre, he was at the mercy of the doctors and had to obey. In the evening he and his daughter were sitting in front of the TV set. Just at that time a jubilee program devoted to the anniversary of Lenin's death was being transmitted. An hour passed after Mikhail Andreevich took the medicine when his head suddenly began to bend to his shoulder. He had hardly said a short phrase in order to pacify his daughter when he fainted. He didn’t regain consciousness any more. It was said later that blood stopped coming into the brain and he suffered a severe stroke. It was the end. Formally Suslov was being kept in a life support machine for two-three days more for some purpose; actually he stopped living in the day of taking the fatal pill. The irony of it was that this day coincided with the date of the death of Lenin whose works Suslov knew almost by heart and whom he honored and worshipped.

Suslov's death was one of the biggest events that Russia and Soviet Union have ever knew. It was the biggest event since Stalin's death in 1953. A four-day period of nationwide mourning was announced. The entire media and propaganda machine were assigned to cover his death and glorify him. The official obituary described him as a "major party theoretician" and as a man with a "vast soul, crystal clear morals, exceptional industry who earned the profound respect of the party and the people" and all the newspapers in the country dedicated their whole edition to Suslov, praising him, and publishing his official biography. His body was placed in an open coffin in House of Trade Unions in Moscow. Inside the hall, mourners shuffled up a marble staircase beneath chandeliers draped in black gauze. On the stage, amid a veritable garden of flowers, a complete symphony orchestra in black tailcoats played classical music. Suslov's embalmed body, dressed in a black suit, white shirt and black-and-red tie, lay in an open coffin banked with carnations, red roses and tulips, facing the long queue of mourners. At the right side of the hall, the seats were reserved for the dead leader's family. Then, on January 29, the day of the funeral, classes in schools and universities were cancelled and all roads into Moscow were closed. The ceremony was broadcast on every television channel. Two officers led the funeral parade, carrying a large portrait of him. A sea of red floral wreaths followed, adding a brilliant touch to a procession colored mostly in drab grays and black. Behind them, the coffin rested atop a gun carriage drawn by an olive-green military scout vehicle. As the coffin reached the middle of the Red Square it was taken out of the carriage it was placed on, and with its lid removed, it was placed on a red-draped bier facing the Lenin Mausoleum. A lavish eulogy was delivered by General-Secretary Brezhnev who stood alongside with the politburo members at the top of Lenin's Mausoleum in front of Suslov's open coffin: "Sleep in peace, our dear friend. You lived a great and glorious life, you did much for the party and people, and they will maintain your bright memory." Suslov's coffin was lowered into the ground as foghorns blared, joining with sirens, wheezing factory whistles and rolling gunfire in a mournful cacophony. When the noisy tribute had ended, an eerie silence hung for five minutes over Red Square - and the nation.

During his life, he was awarded with decorations/medals: Twice Hero of Socialist Labor, 5 Orders of Lenin, Order of October Revolution, Order of Patriotic War 1st degree.

Suslov is buried next to Stalin at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.

Suslov lived in 26 Kutuzovsky Prospekt, Moscow at the same building of Brezhnev and Andropov and also had a Gosdacha in Troitse-Lykovo (Троице-Лыково) in west Moscow district of Strogino named Sosnovka-1 stretched over 11.5 hectares on the Moskva River with a private beach. He had a wife, Yelizaveta Alexandrovna who was a dentist doctor. She was member of the Communist Party since 1928. She served as the director of the Semashko Moscow Dental Institute. She died in September 1972 after long and grave illness. She was given a ceremonial funeral, including a lying in state at the Central Committee headquarters. They had twin children that were born in 1929: son named Revolii and daughter named Maya, historian, lives in Austria since 1990.

He liked to read and had a big library and that he read mostly the classical books and liked some English literature. While he planted himself a few trees at his dacha, he spent a lot of time listening to the birds singing and spent a lot of time with his grandchildren.


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