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Nikita Khrushchev was the main leader of the USSR and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964. From "Mr. K", history will remember his famous coup in the UN podium in 1960 and his standoff with Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis two years later. Stalin's successor will denounce the excesses of the Red tyrant at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and initiate "normalization" and pacification of the Soviet regime, paving the way for "peaceful coexistence" with the West. On the other hand, its economic reforms will remain without a future.
Khrushchev: an exemplary career
Nikita Kroutchev is a miner's son born on April 3, 1894. He had an exemplary "career": worker, then soldier during World War I, he joined the Ukrainian Communist Party, and then continued his ascent in Moscow before returning to Russia. Ukraine where he led the party for ten years. World War II gave him the opportunity to shine: he organized resistance to the Wehrmacht and took part in the fierce battle of Stalingrad (1942). A member of the Politburo, Khrushchev is already one of the main leaders of the USSR.
When Stalin died in March 1953, he held the key post of First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev participates in the elimination of the "diadochs", the potential successors of Stalin: Beria then Malenkov. His role in collegial leadership becomes preeminent. In 1958, he will combine the function of President of the Council of Ministers.
The break with Stalinism
A pure product of the Stalinist period (he himself participated in the purges ordered by the dictator), Khrushchev nonetheless feels that the Soviet population feels a deep need for change. It promotes a domestic policy of political (liberalization of the regime and amnesty for former opponents) and economic reforms. Priority is thus given to the production of consumer goods in order to improve the living conditions of Russians.
During the XXth Party Congress (1956), he denounced, in a secret report, the “crimes of Stalin” and his “cult of personality”. This position, all the more important since it emanates from a "Stalinist creature", has had considerable repercussions in the communist world, including in the Western Communist parties, which must then admit facts which, until then , had always been denied.
A new era is opening for world communism. The relations of the USSR with the people's democracies as with the rest of the world are modified as a result. The "de-Stalinization" goes further: Khrushchev establishes more liberal political conditions in the USSR and in Eastern Europe. But, to avoid any overflow, he leads an interventionist policy in popular democracies, and tanks will be used in Budapest in 1956 to suppress a popular uprising.
Between Cold War and Relaxation
Internationally, Khrushchev's famous thunderous declarations and anger outbursts in fact conceal a prudent policy based on the idea of a "peaceful coexistence" of the USSR and the United States. Khrushchev seeks to boost a new course in relations between the two blocs. Under his leadership, the Cold War entered a phase of detente. He rejects the idea of a possible conflict with the United States and affirms the need to measure up against the Western world economically rather than militarily. After leading the reconciliation of his country with Tito's Yugoslavia, he took part in the Geneva conference in 1955, which brought together, for the first time since 1945, the former victors of Nazi Germany. Relations with the United States improve: Khrushchev meets Eisenhower then Kennedy.
Paradoxically, he had the Berlin Wall erected in 1961, then brought his support to the Castro regime which precipitated the world on the verge of a third world war during the rocket crisis in Cuba in 1962. He nevertheless preferred to avoid the confrontation with the United States, gives the order to withdraw the missiles installed on the island and signs in 1963, in Moscow, a treaty banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere.
The fall of Khrushchev
To revive economic activity and make it competitive with the West, Khrushchev initiated a vast movement of agricultural reforms, denouncing the priority given by Stalin to industry. He thus launched the great campaign to clear virgin lands in the regions of Siberia. It also endeavors to deconcentrate and decentralize the management of the Soviet economy.
The economic disorders linked to the reforms undertaken, the international crises and the rupture with China (1961) weaken the Soviet position and therefore that of Khrushchev. What is more, the original and imposing personality of the leader does not adapt well to the rules of the "collegial leadership" put in place after Stalin's death. He was dismissed from his post by the plenum of the Central Committee in October 1964, and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.
Khrushchev was one of the main actors in the Cold War which, in 1962, during the rocket crisis in Cuba, almost degenerated into world and nuclear war. In the USSR, the “Khrushchev years” were marked by profound political change, in particular a pacification of Soviet political life. A sign of the times: when Khrushchev is forced to resign, he is not worried and can lead a peaceful retreat, in the heart of the capital, until his death in September 1971 ...
- Khrushchev, the impossible reform, by Jean Jacques Marie. GLDM, 2010.
- History of the Soviet Union from Khrushchev to Gorbachev, by Nicolas Werth. PUF, 2013.