Nikita Khrushchev – Soviet leader
Nikita Khrushchev was first secretary of the Communist Party and leader of the USSR during the first decade after Stalin’s death between 1953 and 1964. He abolished the most ruthless aspects of the political system and tried with limited success to catch up with and overtake the U.S. economy. He was one of the most important figures of the Cold War. During his ten years in power, Nikita Khrushchev never stopped surprising the world with his vigor and stamina. He could work 14 to 16 hours a day, never needing a break. He allowed himself to relax only during his energetic hunting sessions.
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev was born in April 1894 in the poor southern Russian village of Kalinovka. His parents were illiterate peasants, and young Nikita was more familiar with hard labor than formal education. In 1908 family moved to Yuzovka, where he worked various factory jobs and got involved in the organized labor movement. By 1914 he had become a skilled, highly paid metalworker, had married an educated woman from a fairly prosperous family, and dreamed of becoming an engineer or industrial manager.
In 1917 Nikita Sergeyevich joined the Bolsheviks. He served as a political commissar in the Red Army during the Russian civil war.
In 1929 Khrushchev enrolled in the Stalin Industrial Academy in Moscow.
In 1939 he became a full member of the Politburo. Between 1938 and 1941, Khrushchev was Stalin’s viceroy in Ukraine.
Khrushchev’s role in World War II blended triumph and tragedy. He was involved in great victories at Stalingrad and Kursk. But he also contributed to disastrous defeats at Kiev and Kharkov.
When Stalin died in March 1953, Khrushchev battled with Georgy Malenkov, Lavrenty Beria, and Nikolai Bulganin for the leadership. By early 1955 he had emerged as the clear leader of the Soviet Union.
The Thaw in Soviet culture began before Khrushchev’s Secret Speech but gained momentum from it. The cultural and scientific intelligentsia was a natural constituency for a reformer like Khrushchev, but he and his Kremlin colleagues feared the Thaw might become a flood.
On the one hand, he authorized the 1957 World Youth Festival, for which thousands of young people from around the world flooded into Moscow. On the other hand, he encouraged the fierce campaign against Boris Pasternak after the poet and author of Dr. Zhivago was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1958.
In 1955 Khrushchev and Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin traveled to India, Burma, and Afghanistan. In 1960 he returned to these three countries and visited Indonesia as well. He backed the radical president of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, and reached out to support Fidel Castro in Cuba.
Under his leadership, the Soviet Union kept pace in the nuclear arms race with the United States and developed a space program that had significant successes. The launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and the first manned space flight in 1961 were great technical triumphs for the Soviet Union.
In 1962 Khrushchev secretly placed nuclear missiles in communist Cuba. The purpose of this gamble was to protect Cuba from U.S. attack and to provide the Soviet Union with instant strategic parity. When U.S. spy planes detected the missiles, however, a standoff resulted that brought the world alarmingly close to nuclear war.
In late 1964, Khrushchev was removed from power by a conservative faction led by Leonid Brezhnev.
From 1964 to 1971 Khrushchev lived under de facto house arrest outside Moscow.
He died in Moscow in September 1971.
Britannica Student Encyclopedia
Encyclopedia of Russian History