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The USSR in the 1950s


Khrushchev
Khrushchev

The struggle for power finally resulted in the triumph of Khrushchev. Using many of the patronage techniques pioneered by Stalin in the 1920s, he packed the CPSU apparatus with officials friendly to him. The 20th Party Congress in February 1956 promoted many of his sympathizers to leading positions. In June 1957, in a climactic assembly of the party’s Central Committee, he ousted Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich, and others. In 1958 he forced Bulganin to resign and stepped into the premiership, continuing as party first secretary. By 1960 Khrushchev was in complete ascendancy, receiving many accolades to his leadership at party gatherings.

The removal of Beria in 1953 gave the other CPSU leaders the opportunity to clip the wings of the political police. Inmates of the Gulag camps began to be freed in 1954 and tribunals started to process the posthumous “rehabilitation” of the reputations of many of those murdered under Stalin. In a startling move at the 20th Party Congress, Khrushchev delivered an address to a closed meeting of the delegates asserting that Stalin had replaced the legitimate Soviet leadership with a “personality cult” to his own glory, with catastrophic consequences for the party and the country.

Among other things, Khrushchev charged that Stalin was guilty of “mass arrests and deportations” and of “the execution without trial and without normal investigation” of Communists and others. In addition, he said, Stalin had been morbidly suspicious of his Politburo colleagues, had not anticipated the German invasion and mishandled the war effort, and had jeopardized “peaceful relations with other nations.”

The “secret speech,” whose contents if not its exact wording soon leaked out into the press, stunned many Communists in the USSR and throughout the world. Khrushchev proceeded to implement a policy of de-Stalinization in which portraits of the late dictator were removed from public places, institutions and localities bearing his name were renamed, and textbooks were rewritten to deflate his reputation.

At the conclusion of the 21st Party Congress in 1961, Stalin’s body was removed from the mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow where it had rested beside that of Lenin. Khrushchev did not follow up these moves with systematic changes in the regime, however. No legal protections for free expression and political activity were enacted, and Khrushchev took offense when intellectuals overstepped the permitted bounds. He intensified political education and increased pressure on religious believers. While allowing some criticism of the shortcomings of central planning by Yevsey Liberman and other economists, he had no coherent strategy for overhauling the economy. His major economic initiatives were to bring marginal lands in Kazakhstan and Siberia under agricultural cultivation and to relocate some industrial planning functions at the regional level. The first had some initial successes, but harvests deteriorated in the early 1960s; the regional reform of industry was ill-considered and had no positive impact. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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