dated December 25, 1953: Beria's Execution

Editorial: The execution of Lavrenti Beria, former head of the Soviet Security Police and Deputy Prime Minister, with six others, shows how thin the veneer of constitutional democracy is in Russia. Beria had been Stalin's right-hand man. In the Soviet Encyclopaedia, he was described as one of the most outstanding leaders of the Soviet State. He received the title of Marshal of U.S.S.R. for outstanding services, five Orders of Lenin, and other honours. All this did not protect him last July, when the Presidium dismissed him, and accused him of trying to "subvert the Soviet State". In the last six months, Beria and fellow-accused were no doubt subjected to the terrible methods of police investigation which they themselves had used in the past, and with the same result — they confessed to crimes of which they are not likely to have been capable. Their execution is proof that the new Malenkov-Molotov regime has established its supremacy over the dreaded Ministry of International Affairs, and removed the possibility of Beria's succeeding to the dictatorial throne of Stalin. But there is another possible explanation of his fall: all the purged officials were Georgians, and held high posts in Georgia and Ukraine. Beria may have been working for the greater autonomy of Georgia and the other republics of the U.S.S.R. The story of the conflict between local autonomy and centralisation in the U.S.S.R. is a long one. The Constitution of 1923 gave the States important powers, when the U.S.S.R. in those days was a federal State. By the time the second (Stalin) Constitution came into effect in 1936, police functions were transferred to the Union; all industry was centralised, the power of taxation formerly shared with the republics was given to the Centre; and the Union took exclusive control of the judicial system.

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