Andrei Zhdanov

Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov (Russian: Андре́й Алекса́ндрович Жда́нов, IPA: [ɐnˈdrej ɐlʲɪˈksandrəvʲɪtɕˈʐdanəf]; 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]

Andrei Zhdanov
Андрей Жданов
Andrei Zhdanov (cropped).jpg
Second Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
In office
21 March 1939 – 31 August 1948
Preceded byLazar Kaganovich
Succeeded byGeorgy Malenkov
Head of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Central Committee
In office
21 March 1939 – 6 September 1940
Preceded byPost established
Succeeded byGeorgy Aleksandrov
Additional positions
Chairman of the Supreme Soviet
of the Russian SFSR
In office
15 July 1938 – 20 June 1947
Preceded byMikhail Kalinin
Succeeded byAleksei Badayev
First Secretary of the Leningrad Regional Committee of the Soviet Union
In office
15 December 1934 – 17 January 1945
Preceded bySergei Kirov
Succeeded byAlexey Kuznetsov
Personal details
Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov

(1896-02-26)26 February 1896
Mariupol, Russian Empire
Died31 August 1948(1948-08-31) (aged 52)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Political partyRussian Communist Party (1915-1948)
OccupationCivil servant


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

Zhdanov enlisted with the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolshevik) in 1915 and was promoted through the party ranks, becoming the All-Union Communist Party manager in Leningrad after the assassination of Sergei Kirov in 1934. He was Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Russia from 20 July 1938 – 20 June 1947.

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.[2] Zhdanov's encouragement of rank-and-file mobilisation helped create momentum for the Terror.[3] 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.[4] In June 1940, he was sent to Estonia[5] to supervise the establishment of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic and its annexation by the Soviet Union. At the end of the Terror, Zhdanov noted that ‘other means apart from repression’ could be used to enforce ‘state and labour discipline’.[6] At the 18th Congress of the CPSU (and after the fall of Yezhov) Zhdanov 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.[7][8]

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.[9]

Along with Zhukov, Zhdanov took a leading role during the siege of Leningrad in World War II.[10] 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. After 1945, Zhdanov was given the key role of heading both the Department of Agitation and Propaganda and the Foreign Policy Department.[11]

Zhdanov was appointed by Stalin to direct the Soviet Union's cultural policy in 1946. His first action (in December 1946) was to censor Russian writers such as Anna Akhmatova and Mikhail Zoshchenko. 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"). During 1946–1947, Zhdanov was Chairman of the Soviet of the Union.[12]

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.[13]

In February 1948, he initiated purges among musicians, widely known as a struggle against formalism. Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturian and many other composers were reprimanded during this period. 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'.[14]

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.


After being placed in 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.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]


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.[18]

Cultural standardsEdit

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.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21]

Family tiesEdit

Zhdanov's son Yuri (1919–2006) married Stalin's daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva in 1949. That marriage ended in divorce in 1950. They had one daughter, Yekaterina.

Honours and awardsEdit

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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ V. M. Zubok and Konstantin Pleshakov. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: from Stalin to Khrushchev. Harvard: Harvard UP, 1996, p.119
  2. ^ Getty, John A. Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, 95
  3. ^ Getty, John A. Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, 105, 171
  4. ^ "Сталинские списки - Сталинские расстрельные списки" (in Russian).
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Goldman, Wendy Z. Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin's Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, 288-296
  9. ^ "The Iron Heel". Time Magazine. 14 December 1953.
  10. ^ Montefiore, Simon Sebag (2005). Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Vintage. ISBN 978-1400076789.
  11. ^ V. M. Zubok and Konstantin Pleshakov. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: from Stalin to Khrushchev. Harvard: Harvard UP, 1996, p.119
  13. ^ V. M. Zubok and Konstantin Pleshakov. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: from Stalin to Khrushchev. Harvard: Harvard UP, 1996, p.111
  14. ^ Groys, Boris. The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond. Trans Charles Rougle. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. 40
  15. ^ Jonathan Haslam (2011). Russia's Cold War. Yale University Press. p. 104.
  16. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore (2003). Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. ISBN 1-4000-4230-5.
  17. ^ V. M. Zubok and Konstantin Pleshakov. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: from Stalin to Khrushchev. Harvard: Harvard UP, 1996, p.136
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Richard Stites (1992). Soviet Popular Culture. Cambridge University Press. p. 117.
  20. ^ Lewin, Moshe. The Soviet Century. London: Verso, 2016, 129
  21. ^ Sheila Fitzpatrick (2015). On Stalin's Team. Carlton: Melbourne University Press. pp. 191–194.

Further readingEdit

  • 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 linksEdit

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