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After Stalin died on 5th March 1953, Nikita Khrushchev emerged as the leader of the Soviet Union (USSR), a position he held until 1964. How did he differ from Stalin? What were Khrushchev's objectives and policies?
|Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU)|
The political party formed by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Russian Revolution
|Central Committee of the Communist Party|
The leading body of the USSR government within the CPSUMembers of the Central Committee elected the Politburo and the Secretariat members.
The highest level of policymakers in the Soviet Communist partyThe head of Politburo was the General Secretary/Party Leader. The Politburo was meant to report to Central Committee, but it often overshadowed it.
The agency that managed the daily operations of the CPSU, leaving policy-making to the Politburo
The Presidium replaced Politburo in 1952Khrushchev took power in 1953 and became Premier of the Presidium. He also became Party leader due to Politburo's dissolution.
|People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD)|
The Soviet police forceIt also had a secret police division that carried out the Great Purge for Stalin.
|Committee for State Security (KGB)|
The new Soviet secret police formed in March 1954 by Khrushchev
Before we look at how Khrushchev's leadership affected the Soviet Union, let's learn about who he was.
Up to this point, however, Khrushchev was still a minor player on the Soviet stage. This later became an advantage, as his rivals at home and abroad consistently underestimated him. Historian William Taubman claims that “no one realised that between 1949 and 1953 [Khrushchev] had begun to think of himself as Stalin’s successor”.
Stalin's death was a momentous, transformative occasion. Leaders in the West held their breath to see who would lead the USSR after him, unsure whether Stalin’s policies would be continued.
Stalin did not designate the next leader of the Soviet Union. Still, many in the Communist Party suspected that Georgy Malenkov, Second Secretary of the Communist Party, would succeed him. So, how did Khrushchev end up on top?
Khrushchev criticised Stalin's supporters and the "regime of terror". He used his rivals' Stalinism to oust them from their positions in government. By specifically blaming Stalin for the USSR's failings, Khrushchev protected the communist ideology and packaged his policies as a return to Leninism.
Khrushchev’s political ideology differed markedly from Stalinism, making him stand out as a reformer.
Khrushchev’s policies tried to humanise socialism:
In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev delivered a “secret speech” at the Twentieth Party Congress. Though the speech was not made public until 1989, it was disseminated to local party officials and activists. Some key points from the speech are as follows:
Khrushchev’s campaign for ‘de-Stalinisation’ marked the beginning of a period of liberalisation known as the ‘Khrushchev Thaw’.
In response to the Secret Speech, Poland underwent a revolution in October 1956 against the Stalinist conditions imposed by Soviet control. Khrushchev eventually agreed to the new governance of Gomułka, which gave Poland new freedoms as a satellite state. Whilst addressing Western representatives at a speech at the Polish embassy in Moscow in November 1956, Khrushchev criticised Western involvement in the communist success in Poland. He proclaimed, "we will bury you", referencing Communism's superiority over Capitalism.
In 1953, agricultural output was low, and Khrushchev focused on increasing food production. He decentralised control by allowing local leaders to have a say in industrial and agricultural policy.
Industrial ministries in Moscow were replaced with regional economic councils, providing more autonomy over industrial quotas.
Khruschev's agricultural policy revolved around one crop: corn.
For Khrushchev, corn was the answer to Soviet agricultural problems, and it was also vital for competing with the US.
To improve corn cultivation, Khruschev:
Improved corn cultivation would, according to Khruschev, enable more meat production with corn used as food for livestock.
Overall, Khruschev's corn campaign was a failure. Although there were initial successes, the crops eventually failed due to poor land quality and climate conditions.
Khrushchev’s social policies allowed for much more social freedom and better living standards. In 1958, 100 million citizens were living below the poverty line. By 1967, this number had been reduced to 30 million people.
In moving away from the repression of Stalin’s regime, Khrushchev inspired a flourishing of the arts, culture and, indirectly, widespread hopes for even greater freedom.
Khrushchev became the figurehead for Soviet socialism when he was elected Secretary of the Communist Party in September 1953 and later the Premier in 1958. He had a reputation for being blunt, and when the young John F. Kennedy was elected to the US presidency in 1961, Cold War relations deteriorated further between these two personalities.
During the 15th session of the United Nations General Assembly in October 1960, Khrushchev supposedly banged his shoe in the meeting to protest criticism against the Soviet Union. The incident lacks creditability as to whether it actually happened or not. Still, the fact the story exists in the first place tells of the Cold War situation at the time.
On 20th January 1961, Kennedy was inaugurated as the President of the United States and immediately had to deal with the political tensions of the ongoing Cold War with the USSR. His relations with Khrushchev heightened these tensions due to misunderstandings, Kennedy's inexperience, and Khrushchev's desire for USSR dominance.
|20th January 1961||John F. Kennedy was elected as President of the United States||Khrushchev and Eisenhower had had tolerable relations, but Kennedy was inexperienced and so was seen to be manipulatable by Khrushchev.|
|17-20th April 1961||The U.S. failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs||Kennedy failed to quash Fidel Castro's communist revolution in Cuba. Khrushchev saw this as US military weakness, and built up the Soviet presence in Cuba.|
|4th June 1961||Vienna Summit||Khrushchev and Kennedy's first meeting: Kennedy cited that US and USSR forces are "equally balanced", making him look weak and playing into Khrushchev's hands. His inexperience allowed Khrushchev to be more aggressive with Soviet actions.|
|13th August 1961||The Soviet East Berlin government constructed the Berlin Wall||This was a physical metaphor for the ideological differences and poor international relations of the Cold War. Kennedy appeared weak by not deploying the US military to protest the wall.|
|July 1962||USSR begins sending missiles to Cuba||Khrushchev supported the Communist revolution in Cuba and sent missile construction equipment to the country. Cuba is in US's "backyard" so this directly threatened the US.|
|24th October 1962||Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba to stop USSR missile transport||Cold war tensions were at an all-time high between US and USSR, with the threat of nuclear war at its worst. Kennedy interpreted Cuban missiles as USSR policy for "first strike" rather than "MAD", prompting US nuclear tests. Khrushchev accused the US of "piracy" due to the naval blockade and treated it as an act of aggression.|
|28th October 1962||Kennedy and Khrushchev reached agreement over Cuba||After messages between the US and USSR, Khrushchev agreed to remove missile technology from Cuba, and Kennedy (secretly) agrees to remove US missiles in Turkey.|
|25th July 1963||Nuclear Test Ban Treaty||Khrushchev and Kennedy agreed to ban nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater, and in space.|
|22nd November 1963||President Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) assumed the office of President||Despite discussions of a meeting, LBJ and Khrushchev did not meet.|
|October 1964||Khrushchev was ousted from power||Leonid Brezhnev succeeded Khrushchev.|
During the Cold War, the US and USSR initially followed the theory of "Mutually Assured Destruction" (MAD) which deterred nuclear warfare because both sides would destroy each other upon launching missiles. The "first strike" policy is the belief that the attacking side can initiate nuclear war and weaken its opponent enough to survive its retaliation. MAD prevented nuclear action, but first strike considered the possibility of hot warfare.
Leonid Brezhnev eventually deposed Khrushchev in October 1964.
The poor relations between Khrushchev and Kennedy brought the Cold War closest to the possibility of hot warfare. Kennedy's inexperience and Khrushchev's brashness created a clash of their personalities that deteriorated international relations during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Khrushchev is known as the leader of the USSR who succeeded Stalin in 1953. He attempted to reform communism through a process of de-Stalinisation and led the USSR during the most tense moments of the Cold War. Khrushchev was in power during the construction of the Berlin wall in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Khrushchev and President Kennedy's relations led to misunderstandings and the closest the Cold War got to active nuclear warfare.
When Kennedy imposed the naval blockade on Cuba in 1962 to stop Soviet shipments of nuclear equipment, Khrushchev accused America of piracy. He interpreted the blockade as an act of aggression against the USSR and claimed the US wanted to destroy humanity.
Khrushchev regarded Stalin as arbitrarily aggressive and enacting a "regime of terror". When Khrushchev took power in 1953 he deposed his rivals through their connections to Stalin, and attempted to reform communism by stamping out corruption and introducing a fairer socialism.
In response to the Secret Speech, Poland underwent a revolution in October 1956 against the Stalinist conditions imposed by Soviet control. Khrushchev eventually agreed to the new governance of Gomułka, which gave Poland new freedoms as a satellite state. Whilst addressing Western representatives at a speech at the Polish embassy in Moscow in November 1956, Khrushchev criticised Western involvement in the communist success in Poland. He proclaimed "we will bury you", referencing Communism's superiority to Capitalism.
Khrushchev entered a power struggle after the death of Stalin in 1953, emerging on top, having fully cemented his power by 1955.
When did Joseph Stalin die?
Who was regarded as Stalin's successor by CPSU after his death?
What was one of Khrushchev's key policies when he rose to power?
How many prisoners did Khrushchev release from the Gulags to give socialism a "human face"?
When did Khrushchev deliver his "Secret Speech" to the CPSU?
How did Khrushchev plan to reform agricultural production in the USSR?
By addressing grain production
How did Khrushchev improve the standard of living for Russian citizens?
Placed greater emphasis on producing consumer goods
When did the infamous "shoe-banging" incident supposedly occur?
The 1960 UN General Assembly
When was the Khrushchev-Kennedy Vienna Summit?
4th June 1961
Who succeeded Khrushchev as head of USSR in 1964?
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