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1955-1964 - Nikita S. Khrushchev

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, who gained world fame as the Soviet leader who broke with Stalin's rigid interpretation of communism, was born in a province of Ukraine on April 17, 1894. Unlike Stalin and other Soviet leaders, Khrushchev, the son of a miner, rose up from the ranks of the working class.

Of the line of supreme leaders of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev was the first worker to become head of the party and the government. His predecessors — Lenin and Stalin — as well as the outstanding leaders (and his adversaries) in the post-Stalin Presidium — Malenkov, Molotov, Kaganovich — were intellectuals of middle-class or "bourgeois" origin.

In his various public contacts, especially since Stalin's fall, Khrushchev revealed himself as an aggressive, energetic, dynamic and demagogic personality, At receptions and dinners, he seemed blunt, uncompromising and generally tactless, although since Malenkov's fall he was on "better behavior" than he was earlier. Khrushchev was described as possessing inordinate ambition and confidence, not in the personal sense but rather in the sense of an executive director completely identified with his vast and complex enterprise.

When, in 1954, a delegation of the United Kingdom's Labour Party (including former Prime Minister Clement Attlee and former Secretary of State for Health Aneurin Bevan) passed through Moscow on their way to the People's Republic of China, Sir William Goodenough Hayter, British Ambassador to the Soviet Union, requested a dinner meeting with Nikita Khrushchev - then General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Much to Hayter's surprise, not only did Khrushchev accept the proposal, but decided to attend in the company of Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoyan, Andrey Vyshinsky, Nikolay Shvernik, and Georgy Malenkov. Such was the interest aroused in British political circles by this event that Sir Winston Churchill subsequently invited Sir William Hayter down to Chartwell so as to provide a full account of what had transpired at the meeting.

Nikita Khrushchev struck Hayter as being "rumbustious, impetuous, loquacious, free - wheeling, and alarmingly ignorant of foreign affairs". Hayter observed that he "spoke in short sentences, in an emphatic voice and with great conviction ..... grinning good naturedly", that he often "stumbled in his choice of words" and "said the wrong thing." Hayter thought that Khrushchev seemed "incapable of grasping Bevan's line of thought," and that Malenkov had to explain matters to him in "words of one syllable". Given to "interrupting," he (Khrushchev) seemed more eager to talk than to listen and to understand. He was "quick, but not intelligent".

On November 8, 1954, Chip Bohlen, the US Ambassador in the Soviet Union, cabled Washington that Khrushchev "as far as I could gather is not especially bright."

Sputnik, Gagarin, the 1st Moscow International Film Festival, Khryshchev-era apartments built instead of barracks and multifamily accommodations, maize - all of those things are strongly associated with Nikita Khrushchev.

Perhaps one of his biggest achievements was the exposure of Stalin's personality cult, which went down in history as the "Khrushchev Report." They say that the sprouts of freedom that started to grow in the Soviet Union during Khrushchev's era, gave their fruits during the 1990s, under Yeltsin.

Nikita Khrushchev followed his own policy, later called voluntarism. His sometimes unreasoned decisions slowed down the industrial growth. Khrushchev’s taxing policy almost destroyed private animal breeding, since peasants could raise poultry only. After Khrushchev’s visit to the USA a new decree ordering corn to be grown everywhere was passed. Peasants had to grow corn irrespective of the fact that it is a heat-loving plant and can bear well only in the south of the country. Damage the changes caused was not repaired: the USSR had to import grain, the country lacked foodstuff and the Stalin’s book “delicious and healthy food” illustrated with pictures of crabs was called dissident literature.

The international Youth and Students Festival held in Moscow in 1957 turned out to be a national triumph and attracted over 30 thousand young people from many countries. Nikita Khrushchev was famous for his impetuosity. When he saw works by avant-garde painters at the Exhibition in Moscow’s Manezh, he said they were daubed by a cow-tail; during his trip to the USA he threw corn ears at annoying journalists. His well-known speech at the UN is especially remarkable: he said “We will bury you” to the Americans, and having taken off his shoe banged his desk with it.

As can be seen from countless jokes, the people did not like Khrushchev. People used to joke during Khrushchev's era: "If communism reigns in the world, where are we going to buy crops?" Any good initiative would be realized chaotically, without rhyme or reason, which would always create a mess. It would then end either with a confusing situation at best or with another national tragedy at the worst. Khrushchev's shocking therapy caused significant psychological damage to the people of the world's largest nation. The spiritual wounds were healed only in many years of Leonid Brezhnev's era of stagnation.

In 1964 Khrushchev was discharged and pensioned off; his post was taken up by a young Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev. In retirement, Khrushchev was fond of reading and gardening. He died of a heart attack in September 1971 in Moscow. While most Soviet leaders before and after him were buried by the Kremlin Wall, Khrushchev was denied a state funeral and his body was buried at Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery.

In the examination of Soviet materials of the Khrushchev era, there are two anomalies which show the extent to which Khrushchev’s personal idiosyncracies marked his regime. One is the famous Secret Speech at the XXth Party Congress vihich denounced Stalin and the kult lichnostj. (cult of personality). The other is Khrushchev Remembers, an unauthorized but authentic record of Khrushchev’s reminiscences about his career and first secretaryship. The singularity of these documents lies in an emphsis on personalities which is wholly alien to thie Marxian idea that the forces of history, not individuals, are that which shape events. Never before, nor likely ever again, has a ruling communist party explicitly repudiated one of its leaders, or has a leader provided a personalized account of his time in office.

The book Khrushchev Remembers, dictated by Nikita Khrushchev while under virtual house arrest from the time he lost power until his death, offered a rare look into the Soviet mind at the height of the Cold War. It was translated to English from the Russian by Strobe Talbott, who was later Deputy Secretary of State, and published in 1970. Shortly after publication, Khrushchev officially said that he did not write it. However, he only said this out of loyalty to the Communist Party, and there is little doubt as to its authenticity (especially with the information found in formerly secret Soviet archives).

Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament was published in 1974, three years after his death. This second concluding volume of the author's oral memoirs wsa again translated to English from the Russian by Strobe Talbott. It is very self-serving and anti-Stalin. Khrushchev comes across as a garrulous old man. Not a first-rate raconteur, but enough to keep you interested.

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