Of a peasant family, he worked in the plants and mines of Ukraine, joined the Communist party in 1918, and in 1929 was sent to Moscow for further study. He became a member of the central committee of the Communist party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1934 and first secretary of the powerful Moscow city and regional party organization in 1935.
Made first secretary of the Ukrainian Communist party in 1938, he carried out Stalin's ruthless purge of its ranks. As a full member of the politburo, the ruling body of the central committee of the CPSU after 1939, Khrushchev was one of Stalin's close associates. In World War II he served on the military councils of several fronts. He was recalled from Ukraine to his Moscow post in 1949.
After the death of Stalin on March 5, 1953, a “collective leadership” replaced the single ruler of the USSR; from the ensuing struggle for power Khrushchev emerged victorious. He replaced Malenkov as first secretary of the party in Sept., 1953, and, in 1955, Malenkov resigned as premier and was succeeded by Bulganin, a change clearly leaving Khrushchev with the advantage. In 1954 he initiated the virgin lands program to increase grain production and headed a delegation to China.
At the 20th All-Union Party Congress (1956), Khrushchev delivered a “secret” report on “The Personality Cult and Its Consequences,” bitterly denouncing the rule, policies, and personality of Stalin. The program of destalinization, which had already begun, was supported and continued by Khrushchev. Legal procedures were restored, the secret police became less of a threat, concentration camps and many forced-labor camps were closed, and some greater degree of meaningful public controversy was permitted. The new atmosphere of relative freedom constituted a great change from the days of Stalin.
Destalinization had, however, repercussions in other Communist countries, creating unrest that exploded in the Polish defiance of the USSR in 1956 and in the quickly quelled Hungarian revolution of the same year. These events and the abandonment of the sixth Five-Year Plan weakened Khrushchev's position, but he gained strength in 1957 with his program for decentralization of industry. In 1957 a faction headed by Malenkov, Molotov, and Kaganovich tried in vain to remove Khrushchev from leadership; instead, they were removed from important posts, as, soon after, was Zhukov, who had supported Khrushchev against them.
Khrushchev replaced Bulganin as premier in March, 1958, becoming undisputed leader of both state and party. Jovial in manner and often deliberately uncouth, he showed himself capable of alternating belligerence with camaraderie. He soon was known throughout the world as a leader of great shrewdness, fully attuned to the realities of the international scene.
In foreign affairs Khrushchev's announced policy, the opposite of that of Stalin, was one of “peaceful coexistence” in the cold war. He toured the United States in 1959 and met with President Eisenhower at Camp David, Md., thus helping to ameliorate the international tensions created by his threat (1958) to sign a separate peace with East Germany. In 1960, however, Khrushchev canceled the Paris summit conference after a U.S. reconnaissance plane was shot down over the USSR. In the fall of 1960 he headed the Soviet delegation to the UN General Assembly, where he raged against UN interference in the Republic of the Congo (now Zaïre).
Khrushchev's policies at home and abroad involved him in an increasingly bitter struggle with China, whose Communist government continued to adhere to an ideology of international revolution. International tension was created by Khrushchev's adamant stand over Berlin, but was lessened somewhat by his withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba in 1962 and by small compromises in the Soviet proposals for disarmament.
In Oct., 1964, Khrushchev was removed from power. Repeated shortfalls in agricultural production, as well as Khrushchev's retreat in the Cuban missile crisis and the rift with China, had intensified the opposition to him. Thereafter he lived in obscurity outside Moscow until his death in 1971.
See also Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
See biography by R. A. and Z. A. Medvedev (1976); Strobe Talbott, ed., Khrushchev Remembers (2 vol., tr. 1970–74); M. McCauley, ed., Khrushchev and Khrushchevism (1988).
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