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1956 1.1: Death of a Comrade

When Diplomacy Fails Podcast

11-01-2024 • 32 minutos

What happened when the architect of the Cold War passed away? Would the Soviet Union Stalin built adapt to a new successor, or would a set of chain reactions doom the empire in its cradle?


If you want to learn more about what followed after the Korean War – as a story and as a year of significance, 1956 has few equals, and we open our narrative with the event which set up all subsequent events – the death of Josef Stalin on 5th March 1953. As far as deaths of prominent characters go, the death of Stalin from a succession of strokes at the age of 73 sticks out particularly – a man who allowed his paranoia get the better of him, out of fear of his own vulnerability and out of lust for power, died without being the victim of any underhanded scheme. As we’ll see, he also died without naming an official successor, throwing into chaos those men who had stuck around long enough to accumulate some power for themselves.


In this episode we’ll meet these figures – the so-called ‘collective leadership’ of the Soviet Union, which included such heavy hitters as Molotov, Malenkov, Lavrenti Beria, Anastas Mikoyan and a sometimes crude, always blunt figure by the name of Nikita Khrushchev. The story of what would come after Stalin is a gripping and fascinating snapshot of life at the top of the Soviet greasy pole. It prepares us for the eventful months which are to come, by investigating exactly what it was that compelled these men to undo some of what Stalin had made, while still holding onto the terrifying edifice which held half of the continent of Europe in rapture.

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