Khrushchev, Nikita Sergevich

(1894–1971)
   Khrushchev was the preeminent leader of the Soviet Union for a decade after the death of Josef Stalin. He is chiefly remembered for his denunciation of Stalin, the initiation of “de-Stalinization” of both the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and for his advocacy of “peaceful coexistence” with the capitalist world and the United States in particular.
   Khrushchev was a miner when he joined the Bolsheviks in 1918. He fought in the Russian Civil War, and as a loyal Stalinist rose through the ranks of the CPSU to become a member of the Central Committee in 1934 and of the Politburo in 1939. The death of Stalin in 1953 saw a power struggle from which Khrushchev emerged victorious, rapidly establishing a new identity as an anti-Stalinist. In 1956 at the 20th Party Congress he made his famous “secret speech” in which he denounced Stalin, accusing him of crimes against the people and the party, and of creating a cult of personality. Rehabilitation of victims of Stalinism, a relaxation in censorship, curbs on the arbitrary use of power (“socialist legality”) and greater involvement of the people in implementing policies all followed. The party retained a monopoly of power and maintained strict control over the country. Internationally the Khrushchev era was characterized by the continuation of the Cold War, with incidents such as the shooting down of the United States’ spy plane in 1960 and the Cuban missile crisis in 1963. The space race was another notable feature, along with the growing split with the People’s Republic of China. Ideologically, in spite of the Cold War, Khrushchev supported “peaceful coexistence” with the capitalist world, and the nuclear test ban treaty of 1963 was one significant achievement of this doctrine. There was, though, no softening of policy toward the Eastern Bloc countries which remained firmly under the control of the Soviet Union as the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising showed.
   Failures of policy, notably in agriculture, and conflicts with colleagues led to Khrushchev being deposed in 1964. Forced to resign he rapidly became a “non-person” taking no further part in politics or public life, and his death in 1971 was barely marked in the Soviet Union.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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