Nikita Khrushchev rose to power after the death of Stalin. He was a leader who desperately worked for reform yet his reforms hardly ever accomplished their goals. He was a man who praised Stalin while he was alive but when Stalin died Khrushchev was the first to publicly denounce him. Khrushchev came to power in 1953 and stayed in power until 1964, when he was forced to resign.
Stalin died without naming an heir, and none of his associates had the power to immediately claim supreme leadership. The deceased dictator s colleagues initially tried to rule jointly through collective leadership, with Malenkov holding the top positions of prime minister and general secretary. Lavrenti Beria took over Ministry of Interior and also became the first deputy prime minister. Molotov became foreign minister and, like Beria, a first deputy prime minister. These three formed the uneasy triumvirate. (Modern Enc.. and Kort)
To prevent Malenkov from gaining to much power, he was stripped of his duties as First Secretary. These duties in turn were handed to Nikita Khrushchev, a longtime party boss of the Ukraine and the first secretary of the party s Moscow organization, who was not seen as a serious candidate for supreme power. (Kort) Khrushchev had two advantages over his associates, the right to appoint his trusted followers to key positions and the right to demote those he distrusted. To succeed Khrushchev had to remove his two principal rivals. He removed Beria quickly with the help of other colleagues who feared Beria. On April 4, 1953 Beria was forced to admit that his men had fabricated the “Doctors plot” that resulted in the arrest and death of several
physicians. Beria himself was secretly arrested on June 26. He was denounced as an “enemy of the people” and was charged with a number of crimes including that of careerist and traitor. He confessed, was tried without being present or represented, found guilty and executed.
After the elimination of Beria, the succession struggle became more subtle. The rivalry between Malenkov and Khrushchev surfaced publicly through Malenkov s support for increased production of consumer goods, while Khrushchev stood for the development of heavy industry. On January 1955 Khrushchev called Malenkov s commitment to consumer goods a new form of anti-Leninist “right deviation”. (Modern Enc..) Two weeks later Malenkov was forced to resign as Chairman of the Council of Ministers and publicly acknowledge his shortcomings. Malenkov s post was then given to Bulganin who had little influence. Khrushchev had become the most important figure within the collective leadership. (A Country Study)
At the Twentieth Party Congress, held February 1956, Khrushchev further advanced his position within the party by denouncing Stalin s crimes in a “secret speech”. Khrushchev revealed that Stalin had arbitrarily liquidated thousands of party members and military leaders and had established a cult of personality. With this speech Khrushchev not only distanced himself from Stalin, and Stalin s close associates, Molotov and Malenkov, but also abjured the dictator s policy of terror. As a result of the
de-Stalinization campaign launched by the speech, the release of political prisoners, which had begun in 1953, was stepped up and some of Stalin s victims were posthumously rehabilitated. Khrushchev later intensified his campaign against Stalin at the Twenty-Second Party Congress in 1961, winning approval to remove Stalin s body from the Lenin Mausoleum. De-Stalinization encouraged many in artistic and intellectual circles to speak out against the abuses of the former regime. Although Khrushchev s tolerance of creative works wavered during his years of leadership, the new cultural period, known as the “thaw”, represented a clear break with the repression of the arts under Stalin.
After the Twentieth Party Congress, Khrushchev continued to expand his influence, although he faced opposition. Khrushchev s rivals in the Presidium, hastened by potentially threatening economic reforms and the de-Stalinization campaign, united to vote him out of office in June 1957. However, Khrushchev demanded that the question be put to the Central Committee, where he had strong support. The Central Committee overturned the Presidium s decision and expelled Khrushchev s opponents, whom Khrushchev called the “anti-party group”. (Tompson) Unlike Stalin, Khrushchev did not order the imprisonment or execution of his rivals but instead placed them in minor
In the following months, Khrushchev moved to further consolidate his power. He removed Zhukov from the office of defense minister. Khrushchev became prime minister in March 1958 when Bulganin resigned, thus formally confirming his predominant position in the state as well as the party.
Throughout his years of leadership, Khrushchev attempted to carry out reform in a range of fields. The problems of Soviet agriculture, a major concern of Khrushchev, had earlier had the attention of the collective leadership, which introduced important innovations in the area of Soviet economy. The state encouraged peasants to grow more on their private plots, increased payments for crops grown on the collective farms, and invested more heavily in agriculture. In his virgin land campaign in the mid 1950 s, Khrushchev opened to farming vast tracts of land in the northern part of the Kazakh Republic and neighboring areas of the Russian Republic. These new farmlands turned out to be susceptible to droughts, but in some years they produced excellent harvests. However, later innovations by Khrushchev proved counterproductive. His plans for growing maize and increasing meat and dairy products failed horribly and his reorganization of collective farms into larger units produced confusion in the countryside.
Khrushchev s reforms in industry and administrative organization created even greater problems. In a politically motivated move to weaken the central state bureaucracy, in 1957 Khrushchev did away with the industrial ministries
in Moscow and replaced them with regional economic councils. Although he intended the economic councils to be more responsive to local needs, the decentralization of industry led to disruption and inefficiency. Connected with the decentralization was Khrushchev s decision in 1962 to reorganize party organizations along economic, rather than administrative, lines. The resulting bifurcation of the party apparatus into industrial and agricultural sectors at the oblast level and below contributed to the disarray and alienated many party officials at all levels. Symptomatic of the country s economic difficulties was the abandonment in 1963 of Khrushchev s special seven-year economic plan two years short of its completion.
By 1964 Khrushchev s prestige had been injured in a number of areas. Industrial growth slowed, while agriculture showed no new progress. Abroad, the split with China, the Berlin crisis, and the Cuban fiasco hurt the Soviet Union s international stature, and Khrushchev s efforts to improve relations with the West antagonized many in the military. Finally, the 1962 party reorganization caused turmoil throughout the Soviet political chain of command. In October 1964, while Khrushchev was vacationing in Crimea, the Presidium was summoned to meet, with the objective of removing Khrushchev from all his official positions. The plot had been hatched by Suslov and Shelepin and they were supported by Brezhnev and Malinovsky. By the time of the meeting only Mikoyan supported Khrushchev. He was summoned to Moscow from his holiday dacha by Brezhnev. The meeting specified the reasons for their discontent and asked for his resignation. A report accused Khrushchev of: taking hasty and ill-considered decisions, encouraging unnecessary administrative changes, taking sole credit for country s achievements, ignoring members of the Presidium and treating members with disdain, applying foolish theories in the field of agriculture, and treating Russia s allies in a cavalier fashion, ignoring some and being overly generous with others. (Soviet Almanac)
Khrushchev was said to be released from his duties due to poor health and old age. His retirement was spent in a modest dacha at Petro-Dalneye. He was paid a pension of 400 rubles a month and had use of a car. He also had an apartment in Moscow.
Khrushchev, above all, is remembered for his contribution to de-Stalinization. His de-Stalinization policy not only affected Russia, but also its allies. The main pressures for political liberalization throughout Eastern Europe came from his attack on Stalinism and changes that were made in the Soviet legal system. Leaders in other communist states recognized that they could no longer depend on terrorism and the support of the Soviet Union to remain in power, leading to a general relaxation in the exercise of power. Khrushchev s charge that Stalin had debased the basic nature of communism by developing a cult of personality led to changes aimed at reducing the previously dominant role of individual leaders like, Rakosi of Hungary and Gottwald of Czechoslovakia. In many cases, one individual held the top posts in both party and government, but the de-Stalinization campaign with its attack on the cult of the individual resulted in temporary abandonment of the dual role. Reforms during this period mainly took the form of reduced power for the state security system, ending a period if unchecked authority over all citizens. The impact of de-Stalinization and its liberalization s remain today in the Soviet Union and in most Eastern European countries. (Markiewicz)
Khrushchev s career and personality both had their contradictions. He was a hard politician yet he could also be a warm humanitarian. As a youth he helped to create Stalin s cult of personality, which he also denounced after Stalin s death. He wanted to reform the Soviet state, but most of reforms ended in disaster. Although the nations low standard of living was raised to some extent. (Markiewicz) But Khrushchev played an important role in removing the Stalinist inheritance. The secret police terror ended and Gulag slave-labor network was dismantled. (Kort) All in all, the Russia Khrushchev left was a better place than when he found it.