Khrushchev came to this world on April 15, in Kalinovka, 1894, a small Russian town near the border with Ukraine. At the age of fourteen he moved with his family to the Ukrainian mining town of Yuzovka, exactly where he apprenticed as a metalworker and did other odd jobs. Despite his religious upbringing, Khrushchev joined the Communist Bolsheviks in 1918, just a year after they seized power within the Russian Revolution. During the ensuing Russian Civil War, Khrushchev’s first wife, with whom they had two children, died of typhus. Then he also remarried and had 4 more children.
In 1929, Khrushchev moved to Moscow, wherever he continually rose through the ranks of the Communist Party. Eventually, he entered the inner circle of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who at that particular time had consolidated control over the nation and instituted a bloody purge of would-be opponents. Millions of people were killed or perhaps imprisoned in the Gulag labor camps, just as many millions more died in famines caused by the forced collectivization of agriculture.
During World War II, Khrushchev mobilized soldiers to fight Nazi Germany in Ukraine and Stalingrad. After the battle, he helped rebuild the devastated field and, at the same time, suppressed Ukrainian nationalist dissent. When Stalin died in March 1953, Khrushchev had positioned himself as a likely successor. Six weeks later, he became the top leader of the Communist Party and probably the most powerful people in the USSR.
At first, Khrushchev and other high-ranking officials ruled through a type of collective leadership. But in 1955 he organized the removal of Prime Minister Georgi Malenkov and replaced him with an ally, Nikolai Bulganin. Khrushchev thwarted a Malenkov-led coup attempt in June 1957 and assumed the post of prime minister the following March.
When he was a loyal Stalinist, Khrushchev delivered a lengthy speech in February 1956 in which he criticized Stalin for arresting and deporting his opponents, for rising above the meeting, and for incompetent wartime leadership, among several other issues. . It was claimed that this particular, withering, though inconclusive, accusation against Stalin remained secret. However, by that June, the US State Department had printed the full text. Beginning in 1957, Khrushchev made some minor attempts to rehabilitate Stalin’s image. But he changed course again in 1961, when the city of Stalingrad was renamed and Stalin’s remains were removed from Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow’s Red Square.
Emboldened by Khrushchev’s so-called “secret speech,” the protesters took to the roads in the Soviet satellites of Hungary and Poland. The Polish revolt was resolved quite peacefully, although the Hungarian revolt was violently stopped with tanks and troops. In all, a minimum of 2,500 Hungarians had been killed by the end of 1956 and approximately 13,000 were injured as well. Many more fled to the West and others have been arrested or perhaps deported.
On the home front, Khrushchev strove, never successfully, to increase agricultural production and raise living standards. He also reduced the energy of the feared Soviet Union secret police, freed many political prisoners, calmed down artistic censorship, launched much more of the country for international guests, and ushered in the space age in 1957 with the launch of the Sputnik satellite. . Two years later, a Soviet rocket landed on the moon, and also in 1961 Soviet astronaut Yuri A. Gagarin became the first man in space.
Khrushchev had a complex relationship with the West. A fervent believer in communism, however, he preferred quiet coexistence with capitalist nations. Unlike Stalin, he actually went to America. Relations between the 2 superpowers deteriorated somewhat in 1960 when the Soviets shot down an American U 2 spy plane deep within their territory. The following year, Khrushchev approved the construction of the Berlin Wall in order to prevent East Germans from fleeing to capitalist West Germany.
Cold War tensions peaked in October 1962 when the United States encountered Soviet nuclear missiles stationed in Cuba. Although, after a 13-day standoff, Khrushchev agreed to eliminate the weapons, the planet appeared to be on the brink of a nuclear conflict. In return, US President John F. Kennedy, who a season earlier had authorized the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion, publicly agreed not to attack Cuba. Kennedy also privately agreed to withdraw US nuclear weapons from Turkey. In July 1963, the United States, the United Kingdom, and also the Soviet Union negotiated a partial ban on nuclear tests.
Among the sharpest thorns on the edge of Khrushchev was his fellow communist Mao Zedong, the leader of China. Beginning in 1960, the two sides engaged in an increasingly vindictive battle of terms, with Khrushchev calling Mao a “left revisionist” who did not understand modern warfare. Meanwhile, the Chinese criticized Khrushchev as a “psalm-singing buffoon” who underestimated the dynamics of Western imperialism.
The confrontation with China, as well as the food shortages in the USSR, eroded Khrushchev’s validity in the eyes of several other high-ranking Soviet officials, who previously resented what they saw as his erratic inclination to undermine their authority. . In October 1964, Khrushchev was called back from vacation in Pitsunda, Georgia, and was also forced to resign as prime minister and top leader of the Communist Party. Khrushchev wrote his memoirs and lived in silence for the rest of his days before dying of a heart attack in September 1971. Yet his spirit of reform endured throughout the perestroika era of the 1980s.