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Khrushchev - Hare Brained Schemes

Khrushchev was a man of fantastic energy, huge and unrealized opportunities. But the lack of education often pushed him to unreasonable and meaningless innovations, over which the whole country was amused. Nikita Khrushchev was notorious for his eccentric outbursts. Regarded as intelligent and cunning, but lacking education, he regularly humiliated the Soviet political elite with his gaffes. The infamous shoe-banging incident became one of the 20th century’s iconic symbols. It occurred in 1960 at arguably one of the stormiest United Nations sessions. After the Philippine delegate accused the USSR of imperialism in Eastern Europe, the Soviet leader caused uproar when he pulled off his right shoe and banged it on his desk.

Party secretaries had personal reasons not to like Khrushchev. They craved peace and comfort, and Khrushchev conducted a permanent personnel revolution. He shook and drove members of the Central Committee and drove them like boys.

He also threatened to show the US a Kuzka’s mother (Kuzkina mat). A major headache for translators, the famous Russian idiom equates roughly with the English “We’ll show you!” Khrushchev apparently deliberately used the phrase to have a laugh at the interpreter’s expense. Another story has it that the threat he implied was a very concrete one – a Soviet hydrogen super bomb being developed at the time. Because of the incident, the weapon is sometimes referred to as “Kuzka’s mother”.

In his dramatic virgin land campaign in the mid-1950s, Khrushchev opened to farming vast tracts of land in the northern part of the Kazakh Republic and neighboring areas of the Russian Republic. In some years these new farmlands, which had never been farmed before, produced excellent harvests, but they turned out to be susceptible to droughts. Later innovations by Khrushchev, however, proved counterproductive. His plans for growing maize and increasing meat and dairy production failed miserably, and his reorganization of collective farms into larger units produced confusion in the countryside.

Khrushchev's reforms in industry and administrative organization created even greater problems. In a politically motivated move to weaken the central state bureaucracy, in 1957 Khrushchev did away with the industrial ministries in Moscow and replaced them with regional economic councils. Although Khrushchev intended these economic councils to be more responsive to local needs, the decentralization of industry led to disruption and inefficiency.

Connected with this decentralization was Khrushchev's decision in 1962 to reorganize party organizations along economic, rather than administrative, lines. The resulting bifurcation of the party apparatus into industrial and agricultural sectors at the oblast (district) level and below contributed to the disarray and alienated many party officials at all levels. Symptomatic of the country's economic difficulties was the abandonment in 1963 of Khrushchev's special seven-year economic plan (1959-65) two years short of its completion.

The 1962 party reorganization caused turmoil throughout the Soviet political chain of command. Khrushchev constantly professed his belief that the party must maintain supreme power in the USSR. To that end, he restored the party apparatus to the dominant position it had once held and SOught to enhance its authority by restaffing the administration of non-party groups with reliable party workers.

At the same time, however, he undermined the party’s authority by assigning to it tasks which it did not wish to accept. The apparatus was neither qualified nor eager to assume the kind of day-t0~day responsibility for running the economy which Khrushchev sought to impose on it with his division of party organs into separate industrial and agricultural units. Further, he sapped the party’s morale with reorganizations, diatribes, and controversial doctrinal innovations, while diluting the prestige of party membership with a massive recruitment program. He also underplayed what had long been considered paramount, the party’s function as the engine of ideological inspiration.

Unlike Stalin's successors, who had long and wide experience in the ruling group, the men who served under Khrushchev were, as a rule, relative newcomers to the top level. For the most part, their membership in the ruling group dated from Khrushchev's political victory over his opponentsin June 1957.

By 1964 Khrushchev's prestige had been injured in a number of areas. Industrial growth slowed, while agriculture showed no new progress. Abroad, the split with China, the Berlin crisis, and the Cuban fiasco hurt the Soviet Union's international stature, and Khrushchev's efforts to improve relations with the West antagonized many in the military.

Khrushchev's attack culminated in his late September 1964 speech at the Kremlin meeting on a new long-term economic plan, on the entrenched economic traditionalism and vested interests which he believed had long frustrated his program of economic reform. This attack, in the eyes of powerful elements in the party and in the industrial and military establishment, threatened to upset the existing balance of influence and resources which these elements, by a kind of tacit agreement, were determined to maintain.

By the late summer of 1964, Khrushchev apparently had made the critical decision to mount a fundamental attack on traditional economic doctrine and the existing division of resources. The breaking point thus came when, in late September, he made his major bid to break the stalemate and to force through a definitive reorientation and overhaul of the economy in which the “main task” would be to ensure a “more rapid development of the consumers goods industry.” In contrast with this unequivocal demand for preferential development of consumer industries.

Khrushchev assured the Central Committee plenum in February 1964 that consumer requirements would continue to bow to defense needs in line with traditional policy. The thrust of the late September speech, however, strongly implied that defense priorities would be downgraded indefinitely under the new long-term plan. Khrushchev also asserted that traditionally defense-oriented heavy industries must increasingly contribute to consumer production. The first concrete manifestation of this new direction appeared in the party-government decree of 5 September which outlined Khrushchev's program for accelerating poultry production and designated the State Committee for Aviation Technology to organize the necessary production of machines and equipment.

In addition to this demand for a major reorientation in economic priorities, Khrushchev may have been planning other far-reaching actions at the Central Committee meeting scheduled for some time in November and at the semi-annual Supreme Soviet session anticipated in December. These may have included important personnel changes in the party and administration. This is an area in which he apparently had temporized for a long period.

The large accumulation of “dead wood” at high levels has long been obvious. Khrushchev, moreover, has frequently complained about obstructionists and bureaucrats, although these remarks probably were not aimed at members of the top leadership. Within the party presidium, however, there are a number of aging, sickly, or apparently ineffective members. Fear of being ousted from places of authority and privilege may well have been one of the factors that forged the anti-Khrushchev alliance.

There must have been many officials in the upper reaches of the Soviet party and administration who strongly believed that some of his policies and innovations were not only misguided but reckless and damaging to the long-range interests and strength of the Soviet state. These officials were obliged to endure the disruptive effects of Khrushchev's ill-advised ventures in economic policy and organization, many of which were hastily reversed or abandoned. In the foreign policy field, there is no question that some of Khrushchev's colleagues felt that certain of his major ventures subjected Soviet security to needless risks for highly dubious objectives and that his penchant for bluff and intimidation damaged the nation's prestige and the credibility of its basic objectives without yielding significant gains.

In October 1964, while Khrushchev was vacationing in Crimea, the Presidium voted him out of office and refused to permit him to take his case to the Central Committee. Khrushchev retired as a private citizen after his successors denounced him for his "hare-brained schemes, half-baked conclusions, and hasty decisions."

Everyone remembered the struggle against the so-called anti-party group - Kaganovich, Malenkov, Molotov - when Khrushchev remained in the minority at a meeting of the Presidium of the Central Committee, but, having disagreed with the majority of the Presidium at the Plenum of the Central Committee, on a public plane, he received the support of the members of the Central Committee , and won this fight. Accordingly, members of the presidium were afraid of the same turn of events, but Khrushchev refused to fight.

The announcements that the Central Committee and the Supreme Soviet Presidium had “granted” Khrushchev's request to be relieved of his duties were clearly intended to emphasize that normal constitutional procedures had been scrupulously observed in handling the transfer of authority.

Khrushchev's downfall was the product of an accumulation of what might be termed personal-political resentments and dissatisfaction with his leadership, combined with a climatic showdown on basic issues of economic planning, management and personnel having a direct bearing on the long-term structure and direction of the Soviet economy and military posture. The strength of these feelings was evident in Pravda's 17 October denunciation of “subjectivism and drifting in Communist construction, hare-brained scheming, immature bragging and phrase-mongering, commandism,” and intolerable “armchair methods, personal decisions, and disregard for the practical experience of the masses.”

Hares and rabbits are nearly related. The chief difference is in the creatures’ habit of life. Rabbits burrow; hares make grass beds that are called “forms,” and do not burrow. Hares are known for their jumpiness, and they're also not the smartest creatures on Earth. The word harebrained is used to describe a kind of mania leading to wild conduct - volatile, giddy, flighty, wild, or thoughtless. The first recorded use of harebrained dates to 1548.

The spelling hairbrained also has a long history, going back to the 1500s when hair was a variant spelling of hare. Shakespeare wrote in Part I of Henry VI. i. 2: "Let’s leave this town; for they [the English] are hair-brained slaves..." The hair variant was preserved in Scotland into the 1700s, and as a result it is impossible to tell exactly when people began writing hairbrained in the belief that the word means "having a hair-sized brain" rather than "with no more sense than a hare."

The term "as mad as a March hare” is one of the most curiously inexact that we have. The hare’s intelligence is at its best in March; for it is the poor creature’s breeding season. Fearing the approach of enemies for both itself and its young then, more than at any time, it manages intelligently to elude them.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2018 12:54:40 ZULU