Khrushchev (Late Russia)


Secret speech 1956

His Secret Speech:

 What are Khrushchev's criticisms of Stalin in this passage?

  • "Stalin acted through persuasion, nut by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion"
  • "Stalin was a very distrustful man; sickly suspicious…Everywhere and in everything he saw 'enemies' and 'two facers' and 'spies'
  • "the application of physical measures of pressurizing him, tortures bringing him to a state of unconsciousness, deprivation of his judgement"
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Internal Policy reforms

Culture and the Arts

  • Censorship was eased, and there was a move away from the strict conformity established by Zhdanov. For instance, Soviet citizens had access to a wider range of foreign literature and films- though only those considered 'safe' by the soviet authorities.
  • Artists and writers who had suffered or been banned under Stalin were rehabilitated. An early sign of the changes to come appeared in 1954
  • Other writers, classified by the authorities as 'dissidents' because of their outspoken criticisms of the regime, were harassed by the secret police, and sometimes imprisoned.
  • Most soviet citizens did not give much support to dissident artists, writers and intellectuals.
  • Khruschev's aims of modifying the worst aspects of Stalinism, and improving living standards meant that most Russians tended to see dissidents as unpatriotic rather than defenders of freedom, as undermining a regime which was giving them significantly improved benefits. 
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Internal Policy reforms

  • Legal reforms
    • One important change after 1956 was the end of arbitrary terror- citizens who conformed could feel reasonably safe. Large numbers of political prisoners were also released from the Gulag labour camps.
    • Although serious opposition or dissent was still suppressed by the regime, a new criminal code in December 1958, stated that citizens could no longer be tried by emergency or military courts; while certain 'crimes' (such as being an 'enemy of the people') were abolished.
    • Also, confessions alone were no longer enough to secure a conviction, and the death penalty was given only for the crime of treason.
  • Political reforms
    • Khrushchev's attacks on Stalin and Stalinism were made partly to prepare the way for a series of economic reforms which he wanted to introduce. Although he full intended that the party should continue to be the main force in the Soviet system, to carry through the economic reforms he felt that some changes to party structure and administration were needed.
    • In October 1961, Khrushchev launched a new Party Programme, claiming that by 1970, the USSR, would have laid the basis for true communism and would have surpassed the productivity, scientific and technological levels, and the living standards, of the USA. He asserted that by 1980, the foundations for achieving communism would be complete. 
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Domestic Policies


  • Khrushchev's main approach was to encourage local initiatives and decision-making; he also got the state to pay higher prices for grain and to reduce some quotas, while taxes on farming profits from private plots were reduced. Khrushchev merged many of the collectives into large state farms, over which the government had greater control
  • At the same time, experts were sent from Moscow to advise on more modern methods, while the Machine-Tractor stations were disbanded in February 1958, and instead became repair shops, with the tractors being sold to the state farms and to peasant farmers.
  • The net effect of these reforms and new incentives was to increase production modestly, while living standards of those working in the countryside, both on state farms and on the collectives, more than doubled between 1952-1958
  • Khrushchev also launched the ambitious 'Virgin Lands' policy in January 1954. The idea was to farm land previously not used for agriculture. A large state investment- including 120000 motorised tractors- was provided, along with incentives. In the first year, more than 6 million acres were ploughed. However despite Khrushchev's efforts, there had been inaccurate appreciation of local conditions, and there was often insufficient fertiliser to rejuvenate the quickly exhausted soul
  • Although there was an increase in overall grain production, this was more to do with the usual grain-producing areas rather than the result of success in the virgin lands. A record harvest was announced in 1962, but the reality was that many areas had failed to meet their production targets
  • To make matters worse, the harvest of 1963 was disastrous - grain production dropped by nearly 30%, creating a serious shortage in animal fodder. 
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Domestic Policies


  • He wanted to reduce investments in heavy industry , and instead bring about diversification by concentrating on light engineering and chemicals. He also wanted to reorganise the structure and management of industry, in order to encourage initiatives which would lead to greater efficiency and production. Khrushchev's approach was based on incentives. Although central planning continued, Khrushchev wanted to reduce central bureaucracy from the levels it had reached under Stalin. He tried to streamline that administrative system, and push aspects of economic planning from the centre to local areas.  His first measures included, in May 1956. establishing 105 regional ministries based on the existing administrative structures. During February and March 1957, he abolished most of the all-union economic ministries in Moscow, and carried out reform of Gosplan. Such reforms clearly upset central bureaucrats, and began to create growing opposition to him within the party.When Stalin had died in 1953, the fifth five year plan was about halfway through. Following Malenkov's policies, Khrushchev tried to steer the plan into consumer goods, but met opposition from planning administrators. In 1955, a sixth five year plan was drawn up and introduced in January 1956, but this was soon seen to have set unrealistic targets. In 1957, it was revised; then, in January 1959, it was scrapped, and replaced by a Seven-Year plan. Khrushchev pushed for this to concentrate on consumer production, light industry, chemicals and plastics, and on newly discovered mineral resources. Khrushchev also tried to focus on regional development, in an attempt to create a more balanced Soviet economy. Thus 40% of investment was directed to the relatively neglected eastern regions of the Soviet Union. However, despite some successes, not all the plan's targets were met; and old problems remained. In October 1961, the Seven-Year plan was replaced by the Seventh Five-Year plan. 
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Domestic Policies

The space programme:

  • In January 1960 Khrushchev announced that the Soviet armed forces were to be reduced by half. He hoped the money saved could be diverted into light industry, newer chemical and electrical production, and also the space programme, in order to catch up with the West.
  • In fact,  the USSR was ahead of the USA in the space race: in October 1957, Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite, was successfully launched, followed by Sputnik 2 in November. In September 1959, the USSR landed a rocket on the Moon and, in April 1961, the USSR, scored another first when Yuri Gargarin became the first person to travel in space. In June 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to do so.
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Foreign Policies

Eastern Europe:

  • Khrushchev was very mindful of the needs of Soviet security in the Cold War, and had no intention of losing control of the security belt of satellite states in Eastern Europe which Stalin had established after the war. If the governments which ruled these states were seriously challenged from below, then the Soviet Union would move to shore them up- with military force if necessary. This had happened in June 1953, just after Stalin's death, when Soviet insistence on taking massive post-war reparations from their zone of East Germany had led to protests and riots.
  • Still, the first signs of de-Stalinisation in Eastern Europe did seem to reflect a change in direction. Firstly, as early as 1953, the USSR began to slacken the pace of 'Sovietisation' in Eastern Europe- especially as regards collectivisation of agriculture. Secondly, Khrushchev moved to heal the disagreement with Yugoslavia and, in May 1955, visited President Tito in Belgrade.
  • Although Yugoslavia remained an independent Communist country, it seemed the USSR now accepted that countries could develop their own style of Communism- this was a clear move away from the monolithic model imposed by Stalin.
  • Some Eastern European leaders saw Khrushchev's approach to Yugoslavia as indicating that they could attempt to renegotiate their relations with the Soviet Union, and gain greater national independence for their own countries.
  • At first, Khrushchev seemed willing to accept this. As a result, there were significant stirrings in some countries to reduce Soviet control. In Poland, for example, there were protests by industrial workers in June 1956. Although these were put down with the help of Soviet forces, some reforms were allowed. 
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Foreign Policies

Peaceful Co-existence:

  • Khrushchev followed a policy known as 'peaceful co-existence', first stated in his 'secret speech' of 1956. This was based on the argument that it was possible for different social systems to live in peace with each other. He stated that violent conflict between the Soviet Union and the West was not inevitable - thus allowing the Soviet Union to divert money towards the civilian economy. This was important, as the Soviet economy, being so much weaker than the USA's, found the burden of defence spending had a much more negative impact.
  • In 1955, Khrushchev and Bulganin went on a tour of various Western countries, and also visited Yugoslavia and China- something that would have been unthinkable under Stalin. Meetings with President Eisenhower in September 1959, at Camp David, led to improved East-West relations, and to what was known as the 'spirit of Camp David'.
  • However, in May 1960, this positive spirit ended during the Paris Summit because of the controversy surrounding a US U-2 reconnaissance spy plane, which had been shot down over the Soviet Union. Eisenhower refused to apologise for sending the plane, and the summit broke up. Eisenhower's replacement by Kennedy in 1961 only partially repaired relations. 
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Foreign Policies

The 'German Problem':

  • Russia's aims regarding German have been the subject of some historical debate
  • It appears that even under Stalin the USSR wanted a united, independent - but neutral- Germany. For instance, this seems to be what was offered in March 1952, in the 'Stalin Notes' which were presented to the West.
  • Although these proposals were rejected by the West, Stalin continued to make such offers until his death- even though the East German communists were unhappy at the prospect of losing their newly formed state.
  • Khrushchev's early policies in this area were designed to force the West- which recognised the legitimacy of the new West German state- into also recognising East Germany
  • In 1955, a USSR-GDR treaty was drawn up, giving East Germany full powers to conduct its own foreign policy. In November 1958, Khrushchev's 'Notes' accused the West of using West Berlin ' as a springboard for espionage and anti-Soviet acts', and said the West had six months recognise East Germany- if it did not, then the USSR would conclude a separate peace treaty with the GDR. When the West refused to comply with his ultimatum, Khrushchev withdrew it and, at a summit meeting in March 1959, accepted the rights of West in West Berlin. 
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Foreign Policies

Disputes with China:

  • The Soviet Union had eventually welcomed the Communist victory in China, October 1949, as it gave it an ally in the rather one-sided Cold War which had just broken out. However, apart from the fact that China was hardly a powerful ally in 1949, there had been considerable tension between Stalin and China's leader, Mao Zedong.
  • Initially, Stalin had been against the Communists taking power in China, as he had wanted to avoid upsetting the US in its 'sphere of influence'.
  • In addition, the Soviet leaders were dismissive of the chances of socialism in such an overwhelmingly underdeveloped and agricultural country. However, while Stalin was alive, these tensions remained concealed and, in 1950, the two countries had signed a Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance.
  • After 1953, Mao became more openly critical of the USSR, stating that Khrushchev's policy of peaceful co-existence was a 'revisionist' betrayal of international revolutionary Marxism. These tensions sparked off a struggle for the political leadership of world communism. China openly attacked Soviet foreign policy in June 1960. The following month Khrushchev ordered withdrawal of all Soviet technicians and economic assistance from China. As a result, the international Communist movement became split into pro-Moscow and pro-Beijing parties
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