Andrei Zhdanov

Andrei Zhdanov
Андрей Жданов
Andrei Zhdanov cutout.png
Second Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
In office
21 March 1939 – 31 August 1948
Preceded by Lazar Kaganovich
Succeeded by Georgy Malenkov
Head of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Central Committee
In office
21 March 1939 – 6 September 1940
Preceded by Post established
Succeeded by Georgy Aleksandrov
Additional positions
Chairman of the Supreme Soviet
of the Russian SFSR
In office
15 July 1938 – 20 June 1947
Preceded by Mikhail Kalinin
Succeeded by Aleksei Badayev
First Secretary of the Leningrad Regional Committee of the Soviet Union
In office
15 December 1934 – 17 January 1945
Preceded by Sergei Kirov
Succeeded by Alexey Kuznetsov
Personal details
Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov

(1896-02-26)26 February 1896
Mariupol, Russian Empire
Died 31 August 1948(1948-08-31) (aged 52)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Citizenship Soviet
Nationality Russian
Political party RSDLP (Bolsheviks) (1915–1918)
Russian Communist Party (1918–1948)
Occupation Civil servant

Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov (Russian: Андре́й Алекса́ндрович Жда́нов, IPA: [ɐnˈdrej ɐlʲɪˈksandrəvʲɪtɕ ˈʐdanəf]; 26 February [O.S. 14 February] 1896 – 31 August 1948) was a Soviet Communist Party leader and cultural ideologist. After World War II, Zhdanov was thought to be the successor-in-waiting to Joseph Stalin, but he died before Stalin. He has been described as the ‘propagandist-in-chief’ of the Soviet Union in the period 1945 to 1948.[1]


Early career

The Soviet leadership signs a treaty with the Finnish Democratic Republic, 1939 (standing from left to right are Andrei Zhdanov, Klim Voroshilov, Stalin and Otto Kuusinen while Vyacheslav Molotov is seated)

Andrei Zhdanov was born in Mariupol, in Ukraine, where his father was a schools inspector. His maternal grandfather was the former rector of the Moscow Theological Academy. [2] He studied at the Moscow Commercial Institute. In 1914, he was drafted into the Russian army, graduated from an officers' school, and served in the reserves. He joined the Bolsheviks in 1915. In 1917, he was chairman of the Shadrinsk committee of the RSDLP(b). He was a political commissar in the Red Army during the Russian Civil War. He was elected chairman of the Tver soviet in 1923. In 1924-34, he was First Secretary of the Nizhny Novgorod provincial party committee.[3]

Party secretary

Zhdanov's first major promotion came at the end of the 17th Congress of the CPSU, in February 1934, when he was transferred to Moscow as a Secretary of the Central Committee, responsible for ideology.. In this capacity, he inserted his protege Aleksandr Shcherbakov as Secretary of the Soviet Writers union, and he gave the opening address to the first Soviet Writers' Congress in August 1934. In his speech, as well as paying tribute to "the guiding genius of our great leader and teacher, Comrade Stalin", and repeating Stalin's famous line that writers "engineers of human souls", he declared that the only good literature was political:

Our Soviet literature is not afraid of the charge of being 'tendentious'. Yes, Soviet literature is tendentious, for in an epoch of class struggle there is not and cannot be a literature which is not class literature, not tendentious, allegedly non-political.[4]

Zhdanov's second big promotion followed the assassination of Sergei Kirov in December 1934, when he succeeded Kirov as First Secretary of the Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) provincial party, and was co-opted as a candidate member of the Politburo. Early in 1935, he and the head of the Leningrad NKVD, Leonid Zakovsky, organised the deportation of 11,702 so-called 'Leningrad aristocrats' - ie people who had belonged to the nobility or middle class before the revolution. They also hunted any current or former party member suspected to having supported Leon Trotsky, or the former Leningrad party boss, Grigory Zinoviev.

Role in the Great Purge

Zhdanov has been described by John Arch Getty as a key figure in the Terror, advocating an approach that would make the party a vehicle for political education, ideological agitation, and cadre preparation on a mass scale.[5] Zhdanov's encouragement of rank-and-file mobilisation helped create momentum for the Terror.[6] Though somewhat less active than Vyacheslav Molotov, Joseph Stalin, Lazar Kaganovich and Kliment Voroshilov, Zhdanov was a major perpetrator of the Great Terror and personally approved 176 documented execution lists.[7]

On holiday with Stalin in August 1936, he co-signed the telegram which brought about the dismissal of the head of the NKVD, Genrikh Yagoda, who was accused, among other failings, of not having impeded Zhdanov and Zakovsky in their purge of the Leningrad party organisation.[8] During a Central Committee plenum in March 1937, Zhdanov announced that all provincial party secretaries were to be subject to re-election - a device used to remove them. Zhdanov was the only provincial party leader anywhere in Russia to remain in post throughout the Great Purge. In May 1937, he called leaders of the Leningrad party together to tell them that the long-serving second secretary of the provincial party, Mikhail Chudov, and the former Mayor of Leningrad, Ivan Kodatsky, had been arrested. When an Old Bolshevik, Dora Lazurkina went up to him afterwards to vouch for Kodatsky, Zhdanov warned her that such talk "will end badly for you". She was arrested, and survived 17 years in the Gulag.[9]

After the Great Purge

In September 1938, Zhdanov was appointed head of the reorganised Central Committee Directorate for Propaganda and Agitation, which brought all branches of the news media and arts under centralised party control.[10] He was also Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR from July 1938 to June 1947, and from 1938 was on the military council of the Soviet Navy.

His rise coincided with the fall of Yezhov. At the 18th Congress of the CPSU, Zhdanov noted that ‘other means apart from repression’ could be used to enforce ‘state and labour discipline’.[11] gave a key speech in which he proposed 'to abolish mass Party that the capitalist elements have been eliminated', declaring that the purges had been co-opted by 'hostile elements' to 'persecute and ruin honest people.[12][13]

At the conclusion of the Congress, in March 1939 Zhdanov was promoted to full membership of the Politburo. He was still one of four secretaries of the Central Committee - the others being Stalin, Andrey Andreyev, and Georgy Malenkov - but Malenkov was not a Politburo member of the Politburo, which meant that Zhdanov had replaced Lazar Kaganovich as Stalin's deputy in the party apparatus, and appeared to be his most likely successor.

On 29 June 1939, he had a signed article in Pravda in which he expressed what he called his "personal" view - "with which my friends do not agree" - that the UK and France did not seriously want a military alliance with the Soviet Union. In retrospect, this was the first public hint that the USSR would be prepared, three months later, to sign up to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

War Years

Zhdanov was very publicly associated with the decision to invade Finland in November 1939. In December, he signed the 'treaty' between the USSR and Finland's 'government in exile", headed by Otto Kuusinen. AS the Leningrad party boss, and the official overseeing the navy, he had an interest in increasing the Soviet presence in the Baltic sea, at the expense of Finland, Estonia and Latvia.[14] The final peace treaty between Finland and the USSR was signed by Zhdanov, on 12 March 1940.

In June 1940, Zhdanov was sent to Estonia[15] to supervise the establishment of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic and its annexation by the Soviet Union. He was one of those accused during the United States House of Representatives' 1953–1954 Kersten Committee investigation into the annexation of the Baltic states.[16]

The Finnish debacle weakened Zhdanov's political standing. In September 1940, he was removed from direct control of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee, which was taken over by Georgy Aleksandrov, an ally of his rival Malenkov. It was undermined further by the German invasion of the USSR, because he had been so publciy associated with the failed pact with Hitler. He was excluded from the State Defence Committee (GOKO) which directed the war effort, and which was initially controlled by Malenkov and Lavrentiy Beria. According to the historian Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko :

Beria and Malenkov zealously sawed away at the chair holding Andrei Zhdanov, the first in line to succeed Stalin. They laid the groundwork for his transfer to the doomed city of Leningrad. No place was found for Zhdanov, Stalin's favourite, even when the State Defence Committee was revamped.[17]\

Along with Zhukov, Zhdanov took a leading role during the siege of Leningrad in World War II.[18] In August 1941, he created a City Defence Council, but was ordered by Stalin to disband it.[17] When the siege was lifted, he was not officially given credit for saving the city.

After the cease-fire agreement between Finland and the Soviet Union was signed in Moscow on 4 September 1944, Zhdanov directed the Allied Control Commission in Finland until the Paris peace treaty of 1947. This meant that he had to spend several months in Helsinki, and relinquish his position as head of the Leningrad party organisation, which he had held for nine years - though he was able to leave it in the hands of his ally, Alexey Kuznetsov]. In January 1945, when Pravda celebrated the lifting of the siege of Leningrad, it made special of the fact that Malenkov and Molotov had been dispatched to the city in 1941, implying that they shared the credit with Zhdanov.

The 'Zhdanovschina' years

Zhdanov made a political comeback during 1946, when his main rival Malenkov temporarily lost his position as a party secretary. For the next two years, he was delegated by Stalin to direct the Soviet Union's cultural policy, and to handle relations with the Eastern European states that were under or coming under communist control. He formulated what became known as the Zhdanov Doctrine ("The only conflict that is possible in Soviet culture is the conflict between good and best"). In December 1946, he launched the attack on Anna Akhmatova and Mikhail Zoshchenko, two writers living in Zhdanov's former Leningrad fiefdom. He described Akhmatova - argubly then the greatest living Russian poet - "half nun, half whore."

In 1947, he organized the Cominform, designed to coordinate and control the communist parties around the world. At a famous speech at Szklarska Poręba in September 1947 Zhdanov warned his fellow communists that the world was now split into two hostile camps and that the Cominform was needed to oppose the ‘frank expansionist programme’ of the US.[19]

In January 1948, he presided over a three day conference in the Kremlin, to which more than 70 composers, musicians and music critics, including Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturian, Nikolai Myaskovsky were summoned to be lectured by Zhdanov on why they should avoid "formalism" is music. A persistent story is that Zhdanov played the piano during the conference, to demonstrate how music should be written, but years later this story was furiously denied by Shostakovich, who attributed it to "toadies".[20] Zhdanov's cultural policy rested on the USSR 'critically assimilating the cultural heritage of all nations and all times’ to take what was most inspiring'.[21]

Defeat and Death

In June 1948, Stalin sent Zhdanov to the Cominform meeting in Bucharest. The purpose of the meeting was to condemn Yugoslavia, but Zhdanov took a more restrained line in contrast to his co-delegate and rival Georgy Malenkov. This infuriated Stalin, who removed Zhdanov from all his posts and replaced him with Malenkov. Soon after Zhdanov was transferred to a sanatorium.

Zhdanov died on 31 August 1948 in Moscow of heart failure. It is possible that his death was the result of an intentional misdiagnosis.[22]


Despite his bullying of Akhmatova, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and other cultural figures, and the apparent threat that the founding of Cominform posed to peace, Zhdanov is reckoned by many Soviet scholars to have been a 'moderate' within the context of the post-war Stalinist regime.[23] The worst events of Stalin's final years, such the rift with Yugoslavia, the Leningrad affair, the show trials in Bulgaria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and the anti-Semitic "Doctors' plot all occurred after Zhdanov was dead. The Leningrad Affair was a brutal purge of Zhdanov's former allies, notably Kuznetsov and Nikolai Voznesensky. The most notable survivor of that purge was the future prime minister, Alexei Kosygin.

In Khrushchev Remembers, Nikita Khrushchev recalled that Zhdanov was an alcoholic, and that during his last days Stalin would shout at him to stop drinking and insist that he drink only fruit juice.[24] Stalin had talked of Zhdanov being his successor, but Zhdanov's ill health gave his rivals in the politburo, Lavrentiy Beria, Georgy Malenkov, and Nikita Khrushchev an opportunity to undermine him. Stalin would later blame Zhdanov's death on Kremlin Doctors and ‘Zionist’ conspirators.[25]


Zhdanov and Stalin at the funeral of Sergei Kirov

Zhdanovshchina was the emphasis on purified communist ideology developed during the war by Zhdanov. It emerged from his arguments inside the party hierarchy opposing the pragmatist faction of Georgii Malenkov. Malenkov stressed the universal values of science and engineering, and proposed to promote the technological experts to the highest positions in the Soviet administrative elite. Zhdanov's faction said proper ideology trumped science and called for prioritizing political education and ideological purity. However, the technocrats had proven amazingly successful during the war in terms of engineering, industrial production, and the development of advanced munitions. Zhdanov sought to use the ideological purification of the party as a vehicle to restore the Kremlin's political control over the provinces and the technocrats. He worried that the provincial party bosses and the heads of the economic ministries had achieved too high a degree of autonomy during the war, when the top leadership realized the urgent necessity of maximum mobilization of human and material resources. The highest priority in the postwar era was physical reconstruction after the massive wartime destruction. The same argument that strengthened the technocrats continue to operate, and the united opposition of Malenkov, the technocrats, the provincial party bosses, and the key ministries doomed Zhdanov's proposals. He therefore pivoted to devote his attention to purification of the arts and culture.[26]

Cultural standards

Originating in 1946 and lasting until the late 1950s, Zhdanov's ideological code, known as the Zhdanov Doctrine or Zhdanovism (zhdanovshchina), defined cultural production in the Soviet Union. Zhdanov intended to create a new philosophy of artistic creation valid for the entire world. His method reduced all of culture to a sort of chart, wherein a given symbol corresponded to a simple moral value. Zhdanov and his associates further sought to eliminate foreign influence from Soviet art, proclaiming that "incorrect art" was an ideological diversion.[27] This doctrine suggested that the world was split into two opposing camps, namely the "imperialistic", led by the United States; and the "democratic", led by the Soviet Union. The one sentence that came to define his doctrine was "The only conflict that is possible in Soviet culture is the conflict between good and best". This cultural policy became strictly enforced, censoring writers, artists and the intelligentsia, with punishment being applied for failing to conform to what was considered acceptable by Zhdanov's standards. This policy officially ended in 1952, seen as having a negative impact on culture within the Soviet Union.[28] The origins of this policy can be seen before 1946 when critics proposed (wrongly according to Zhdanov) that Russian classics had been influenced by famous foreign writers, but the policy came into effect specifically to target "apolitical, 'bourgeois', individualistic works of the satirist Mikhail Zoshchenko and the poet Anna Akhmatova", respectively writing for the literary magazines Zvezda and Leningrad. On 20 February 1948, Zhdanovshchina shifted its focus towards anti-formalism, targeting composers such as Dmitri Shostakovich. That April, many of the persecuted composers were pressed into repenting for displaying formalism in their music in a special congress of the Union of Soviet Composers.

Zhdanov was the most openly cultured of the leadership group and his treatment of artists was mild by Soviet standards of the time. He even wrote a satirical sketch ridiculing the attack on modernism.[29]

Family ties

Zhdanov's son Yuri (1919–2006) married Stalin's daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva in 1949. Sn=he described the Zhdanov household as imbued with "an inveterate spirit of bourgoies acquisitiveness ... There were trunkloads of possessions ... The place was presided over by Zinaida Zhdanov, the widow, and the ultimate embodiment of this mixture of Party bigotry and the complacency of the bourgeoi woman."[30] In 1952, Yuri Zhdanov was raised to membership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as head of its Department of Science and Culture, but was sacked very soon after Stalin's death. That marriage ended in divorce in 1952. They had one daughter, Yekaterina.

Honours and awards

Zhdanov's birthplace, Mariupol, was renamed Zhdanov in his honor at Joseph Stalin's instigation in 1948 and a monument to Zhdanov was built in the central square of the city. The name reverted to Mariupol in 1989 and the monument was dismantled in 1990.

See also


  1. ^ V. M. Zubok and Konstantin Pleshakov. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: from Stalin to Khrushchev. Harvard: Harvard UP, 1996, p.119
  2. ^ "Жданов, Андрей Александрович". Жизнь Замечательных Людей (Lives of Notable People). Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  3. ^ "Жданов, Андрей Александрович". Энциклопедия Всемирная история (Encyclopedia of World History). Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  4. ^ Maxim Gorky; Karl Radek; Nikolai Bukharin; Andrey Zhdanov; et al. (1977). Soviet Writers' Congress 1934, The Debate on Socialist Realism and Modernism. London: Lawrence and Wishart. ISBN 085315 401 5.
  5. ^ Getty, John A. Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, 95
  6. ^ Getty, John A. Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, 105, 171
  7. ^ "Сталинские списки - Сталинские расстрельные списки" (in Russian).
  8. ^ J.Arch Getty, and Oleg V.Naumov (1999). The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939. New Haven: Yale U.P. pp. 425–28. ISBN 0-300-07772-6.
  9. ^ Conquest, Robert (1971). The Great Terror, Stalin's Purge of the Thirties. London: Penguin. pp. 325–26.
  10. ^ Katerina Clark, and Evgeny Dobrenko (2007). Soviet Culture and Power, A History in Documents, 1917-1953. New Haven: Yale U.P. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-300-10646-6.
  11. ^ Morcom, Shaun. "Enforcing Stalinist Discipline in the Early Years of Post-war Reconstruction in the USSR, 1945–1948." Europe-Asia Studies 68.2 (2016): 318
  12. ^ Zhdanov, Andrei. Amendments to the Rules of the C.P.S.U.(B.): Report to the Eighteenth Congress of the C.P.S.U.(B.). Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1939.
  13. ^ Goldman, Wendy Z. Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin's Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, 288-296
  14. ^ Ra'anan, Gavriel D. (1983). International Policy Formation in the USSR: Factional 'Debates' during the Zhdanovshchina. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon. p. 14. ISBN 0-208-01976 Check |isbn= value: length (help).
  15. ^ "Analytical list of documents, V. Friction in the Baltic States and Balkans, June 4–21 September 1940". Telegram of German Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Schulenburg) to the German Foreign Office. Retrieved 3 March 2007.
  16. ^ "The Iron Heel". Time Magazine. 14 December 1953.
  17. ^ a b Antonov-Ovseyenko, Anton (1983). The Time of Stalin, Portrait of a Tyranny. New York: Harper Colophon. p. 267. ISBN 0-06-039027-1.
  18. ^ Montefiore, Simon Sebag (2005). Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Vintage. ISBN 978-1400076789.
  19. ^ V. M. Zubok and Konstantin Pleshakov. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: from Stalin to Khrushchev. Harvard: Harvard UP, 1996, p.111
  20. ^ McSmith, Andy (2015). Fear and the Muse Kept Watch, the Russian Masters - from Akhmatova and Pasternak to Shostakovich and Eisenstein - Under Stalin. New York: New Press. p. 267. ISBN 978-1-59558-056-6.
  21. ^ Groys, Boris. The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond. Trans Charles Rougle. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. 40
  22. ^ Jonathan Haslam (2011). Russia's Cold War. Yale University Press. p. 104.
  23. ^ e.g. "Despite his reputation as a hardliner, Zhdanov appears to have been a more moderate influence that Stalin's other top deputies." Hahn, Werner G. (1982). Postwat Soviet Politics, The Fall of Zhdanov and the Defeat of Moderation, 1946-53. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell U.P. p. 20. ISBN 0-8014-1410-5.
  24. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore (2003). Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. ISBN 1-4000-4230-5.
  25. ^ V. M. Zubok and Konstantin Pleshakov. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: from Stalin to Khrushchev. Harvard: Harvard UP, 1996, p.136
  26. ^ Daniel1 Stotland, "The War Within: Factional Strife and Politics of Control in the Soviet Party State (1944–1948)" Russian History (2015) 42#3 pp 343-369.
  27. ^ Richard Stites (1992). Soviet Popular Culture. Cambridge University Press. p. 117.
  28. ^ Lewin, Moshe. The Soviet Century. London: Verso, 2016, 129
  29. ^ Sheila Fitzpatrick (2015). On Stalin's Team. Carlton: Melbourne University Press. pp. 191–194.
  30. ^ Alliluyeva, Svetlana (1968). Twenty Letters to a Friend. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: (translated by Priscilla Johnson) Penguin. p. 172.

Further reading

  • Kees Boterbloem (2004). The Life and Times of Andrei Zhdanov, 1896-1948. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
  • Shiela Fitzpatrick (2015). On Stalin's Team: The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Russia
Succeeded by
Mikhail Tarasov
Preceded by
Andrey Andreyev
Chairman of the Soviet of the Union
Succeeded by
Ivan Parfenov