The System’s Adaptation to Repression, 1953-55
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Many political systems maintain their stability through a dynamic tension between opposing forces. The beginning of the post-Stalin period was characterized by an oscillation between a surge toward reform and the renewed pursuit of repressive policies. This chapter examines the vicissitudes of the post-Josef Stalin policies. It examines how the system—a system that had thus far maintained its legitimacy by force—struggled to maintain itself in the absence of mass terror. In the aftermath of Stalin’s death, the newly liberalized old leaders— Lavrentii Beria, Nikita Khrushchev, K.E. Voroshilov, and others, did attempt modest reforms. But the system's entrenched bureaucracy, comfortably adapted to repression, thwarted many of their efforts. On April 24, 1954, a long-awaited accommodation was made toward correcting the repressive mechanism. In spite of the Central Committee's instructions, the camp administrators enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy and many continued to take care of problems in their old repressive ways.