Nikita Khrushchev

Nikita Khrushchev books and biography


Nikita Khrushchev

Никита Сергеевич Хрущёв
Nikita Khrushchev

First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
In office
September 7, 1953 – October 14, 1964
Preceded by Josef Stalin
Succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev

Premier of the Soviet Union
In office
March 27, 1958 – October 14, 1964
Preceded by Nikolai Bulganin
Succeeded by Alexey Kosygin

Born April 17, 1894
Kalinovka, Russian Empire
Died September 11, 1971
Moscow, USSR
Political party Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (Russian: ; English: Nikita Sergeevič Hruŝėv; IPA: [nʲɪˈkʲitə sʲɪˈrgʲejɪvʲɪtɕ xruˈɕːof]); surname more accurately romanized as Khrushchyov; April 17, 1894 [O.S. April 5]–September 11, 1971) was the leader of the Soviet Union after the death of Joseph Stalin. He was First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 and Chairman of the Council of Ministers from 1958 to 1964. He was removed from power by his party colleagues in 1964 and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev. He spent the last seven years of his life under the close supervision of the KGB.


Early days

Nikita Khrushchev was born in the village of Kalinovka, Dmitriyev Uyezd, Kursk Guberniya, Russian Empire, now occupied by the present-day Kursk Oblast in Russia. His father was the peasant Sergei Nicaronovich Khrushchev (d. 1938 of tuberculosis); his mother was Aksinia Ivanovna Khrushcheva. In 1908, his family moved to Yuzovka, what is now Donetsk, Ukraine. Although he was apparently highly intelligent, he only received approximately two years of education as a child and probably only became fully literate in his late twenties or early thirties.

He was trained, and worked, as a joiner in various factories and mines. During World War I, Khrushchev became involved in trade union activities, and, after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, he fought in the Red Army. He became a Party member in 1918 and worked at various management and Party positions in Donbass and Kiev.

In 1931, Khrushchev was transferred to Moscow and, in 1935, he became 1st Secretary of the Moscow City Committee (Moscow Gorkom) of VKP(b). In 1938, he became the 1st Secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party.

Beginning in 1934, Khrushchev was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and he was a member of the Politburo from 1939.

Great Patriotic War

Khrushchev (left) at the military council of Stalingrad Front.
Khrushchev (left) at the military council of Stalingrad Front.

During the Great Patriotic War (Eastern Front of World War II, as known in Russia and several other countries), Khrushchev served as a zampolit with the equivalent rank of Lieutenant General.

In the months following the German invasion, in 1941, Khrushchev, as a local party leader, was coordinating the defense of Ukraine, but was dismissed and recalled to Moscow after surrendering Kiev. Later, he was a political commissar at the Battle of Stalingrad and was the senior political officer in the south of the Soviet Union throughout the war time period - at Kursk, entering Kiev on liberation, and in the suppression of the Bandera nationalists of the Ukrainian Nationalist Organisation, who had earlier allied with the Nazis before fighting them in the Western Ukraine.

In the years leading up to 1953, Khrushchev was an ardent Stalinist, carrying out Stalin's orders with uncritical obedience; he earned the nickname the "Butcher of Ukraine" in the late 1940s.[1]

Rise to power

After Stalin's death in March 1953, there was a power struggle between different factions within the party. Initially Lavrenty Beria controlled much of the political realm by merging the Ministry of Internal Affairs and State security. Fearing that Beria would eventually kill him and others, Georgy Malenkov, Lazar Kaganovich, Vyacheslav Molotov, Nikolai Bulganin and others united under Khrushchev to denounce Beria and remove him from power. With Beria imprisoned awaiting execution (which followed in December), Malenkov was the heir apparent. Khrushchev was not nearly as powerful as he would eventually become even after his promotion. Few of the top members of the Central Committee saw the ambition lurking within him. Becoming party leader on September 7 of that year, and eventually rising above his rivals, Khrushchev's leadership marked a crucial transition for the Soviet Union. He pursued a course of reform and shocked delegates to the 20th Party Congress on February 25, 1956 by making his famous Secret Speech denouncing the "cult of personality" that surrounded Stalin (although he himself had no small part in cultivating it), and accusing Stalin of crimes committed during the Great Purges. This effectively alienated Khrushchev from the more conservative elements of the Party, but he managed to defeat what he termed the Anti-Party Group after they failed in a bid to oust him from the party leadership in 1957.

In 1958, Khrushchev replaced Bulganin as prime minister and established himself as the undisputed leader of both state and party. He became Premier of the Soviet Union on March 27, 1958. Khruschev promoted reform of the Soviet system and began to place an emphasis on the production of consumer goods rather than on heavy industry.

In 1959, during Richard Nixon's journey to the Soviet Union, he took part in what was later known as the Kitchen Debate. Khrushchev reciprocated the visit that September, spending thirteen days in the United States. His new attitude towards the West as a rival instead of as an evil entity alienated Mao Zedong's China. The Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, too, would later be involved in a similar "cold war" triggered by the Sino-Soviet Split in 1960.

In 1961, Khrushchev approved plans proposed by East German leader Walter Ulbricht to build the Berlin Wall, thereby reinforcing the Cold War division of Germany and wider Europe.

Khruschev and Yuri Gagarin
Khruschev and Yuri Gagarin

Khrushchev's personality


Khrushchev was regarded by his political enemies in the Soviet Union as boorish. He had a reputation for interrupting speakers to insult them. The Politburo accused him once of 'hare-brained scheming' — referring to his erratic policies. He regularly humiliated the Soviet nomenklatura, or ruling elite, with his gaffes. He once branded Mao, who was at odds with Khruschev ever since the denunciation of Stalin at the 1956 Congress, an "old boot". In Mandarin, the word "boot" is used to describe a prostitute or immoral woman. The Soviet leader also famously condemned his Bulgarian counterpart, making xenophobic comments about the Bulgarian people as well.

Khrushchev's blunders were partially the result of his limited formal education. Although intelligent, as even his political enemies admitted after he had defeated them, and certainly cunning, he lacked knowledge and understanding of the world outside of his direct experience and often proved easy to manipulate by hucksters who knew how to appeal to his vanity and prejudices. For example, he was a supporter of Trofim Lysenko even after the Stalin years and became convinced that the Soviet Union's agricultural crises could be solved through the planting of maize (corn) on the same scale as the United States, failing to realize that the differences in climate and soil made this inadvisable.

Khrushchev repeatedly disrupted the proceedings in the United Nations General Assembly in September-October 1960 by pounding his fists on the desk and shouting in Russian. On September 29, 1960, Khrushchev twice interrupted a speech by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan by shouting out and pounding his desk. The unflappable Macmillan famously commented over his shoulder to Frederick Boland, the Assembly President (Ireland), that if Mr. Khrushchev wished to continue, he would like a translation.

During a debate over a Russian resolution decrying colonialism, he was infuriated by a statement from the rostrum by Lorenzo Sumulong. The Filipino delegate had charged the Soviets with employing a double standard, pointing to their domination of Eastern Europe as an example of the very type of colonialism their resolution criticized. Khrushchev thereupon pulled off his right shoe, stood up, brandishing it at the Philippine delegate on the other side of the hall. (Sources do not agree as to whether Khrushchev actually banged his shoe on the table, or merely waved it around.) The enraged Khrushchev accused Mr. Sumulong of being "Холуй и ставленник империализма" (kholuj i stavlennik imperializma), which was translated as "a stooge and a lackey of imperialism". The chaotic scene finally ended when General Assembly President Frederick Boland broke his gavel calling the meeting to order, but not before the image of Khrushchev as a hotheaded buffoon was indelibly etched into the West's collective memory. At another occasion, Khrushchev said in reference to capitalism, "Мы вас похороним!", translated to "We will bury you". This phrase, ambiguous both in the English language and in the Russian language, was interpreted in several ways.

Forced retirement

Khrushchev's downfall came as a result of an apparent conspiracy among the Party bosses, irritated by his erratic policies and cantankerous behaviour, which was seen by the Party as an embarrassment on the international stage. The Communist Party accused Khrushschev of making political mistakes, such as mishandling the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and disorganizing the Soviet economy, especially in the agricultural sector.

The conspirators, led by Leonid Brezhnev, Aleksandr Shelepin and the KGB chief Semichastny struck in October 1964, when Khrushchev was on vacation in Pitsunda, Abkhazia. They called a special meeting of the Presidium of the Central Committee and, when Khrushchev arrived on October 13, voted to remove him from his positions in the Party and in the Soviet government. A special meeting of the Central Committee was hastily convened the next day and approved the decisions of the Presidium without debate. On October 15, 1964, the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet accepted Khrushchev's resignation as the Premier of the Soviet Union.

Following his ousting, Khrushchev spent the rest of his life as a pensioner, living in quiet retirement in Moscow. He remained a member of the Central Committee until 1966. For the rest of his life, he was closely watched by the KGB, but managed to dictate his memoirs and smuggle them to the West. He died at his home in Moscow on September 11, 1971 and is buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, Russia, having been denied a state funeral and internment in the Kremlin wall.

Key political actions

Khrushchev embracing Cuban President Fidel Castro
Khrushchev embracing Cuban President Fidel Castro
  • In his Secret Speech, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for his personality cult and his regime for "violation of Leninist norms of legality", marking the onset of the Khrushchev Thaw.
  • Dissolved the Cominform organization and reconciled with Josip Broz Tito, which ended the Informbiro period in the history of Yugoslavia.
  • Established the Warsaw Pact in 1955 in response to the formation of NATO.
  • Ordered the 1956 Soviet military intervention in Hungary (see Hungarian Revolution of 1956).
  • Ceded Crimea from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR in 1955.
  • Provided support for Egypt against the West during the 1956 Suez Crisis.
  • Promoted the doctrine of "Peaceful co-existence" in the foreign policy, accompanied by the slogan "To catch up and overtake the West" in internal policy.
  • Triggered Sino-Soviet Split by talks with the U.S. and a refusal to support the Chinese nuclear program.
  • Initiated the Soviet space program that launched Sputnik I and Yuri Gagarin, getting a head start in the space race. Participated in negotiations with U.S. President John F. Kennedy for a joint moon program, negotiations that ended with Kennedy's assassination in 1963.
  • Cancelled a summit meeting over the Gary Powers U-2 incident.
  • Met with Eisenhower in Iowa.
  • Initiated the deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba, which led to the Cuban missile crisis.
  • Approved East Germany's construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, after the West ignored his ultimatum that West Berlin be incorporated into a neutral, demilitarized "free city".

Key economic actions

  • Second wave of the reclamation of virgin and abandoned lands (see Virgin Lands Campaign).
  • Introduction of sovnarkhozes, (Councils of People's Economy), regional organizations, in an attempt to combat the centralization and departmentalism of the ministries
  • Reorganization of agriculture, with preference given to sovkhozes (state farms), including conversion of kolkhozes into sovkhozes, introduction of maize (earning him the sobriquet kukuruznik, "the maize enthusiast").
  • Coping with housing crisis by quickly building millions of apartments according to simplified floor plans, dubbed khrushchovkas.
  • Created a minimum wage in 1956.
  • Redenomination of the ruble 10:1 in 1961.


Khrushchev's grave at the Novodevichy Cemetery was designed by Ernst Neizvestny, a sculptor he had denounced for promoting
Khrushchev's grave at the Novodevichy Cemetery was designed by Ernst Neizvestny, a sculptor he had denounced for promoting "degenerate art".
Khrushchev sculpture at Nixon Library
Khrushchev sculpture at Nixon Library

On the positive side, he was admired for his efficiency and for maintaining an economy which, during the 1950s and 1960s, had growth rates higher than most Western countries, contrasted with the stagnation beginning with his successors. He is renowned for his liberalisation policies, whose results began with the widespread exoneration of political sentences.

With Khrushchev's amnesty program, former political prisoners and their surviving relatives could now live a normal life without the infamous "wolf ticket".

Khrushchev placed more emphasis on the production of consumer goods and housing instead of heavy industry, precipitating a rapid rise in living standards.

The arts benefited from this environment of liberalisation, where works like Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich created an attitude of dissent that would escalate during the subsequent Brezhnev-Kosygin era.

He also allowed Eastern Europe to have a greater freedom of action in their domestic and external affairs, without the intervention of the Soviet Union.

His de-Stalinization had a huge impact on young Communists of the day. Khrushchev encouraged more liberal communist leaders to replace hard-line Stalinists throughout the Eastern bloc. Alexander Dubček, who became the leader of Czechoslovakia in January 1968, accelerated the process of liberalisation in his own country with his Prague Spring programme. Mikhail Gorbachev, who became the Soviet Union's leader in 1985, was inspired by it and it became evident with his policies of glasnost and perestroika. Khrushchev is sometimes cited as "the last great reformer" among Soviet leaders before Gorbachev.

On the negative side, he was criticized for his ruthless crackdown of the 1956 revolution in Hungary, even though he and Zhukov were pushing against intervention until Hungary's declaration of withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. He encouraged the East German authorities to set up the notorious Berlin Wall in August 1961. He had very poor diplomatic skills, giving him the reputation of being a rude, uncivilised peasant in the West and as an irresponsible clown in his own country. He renewed persecutions against the Russian Orthodox Church, publicly promising to show the "last priest" on Soviet television. Between 1960 and 1962, as many as 30 percent of churches were destroyed, with the number of monasteries falling by a quarter.[2]

His administration, although efficient, were also known to be erratic since he disbanded a large number of Stalinist-era agencies. He made a dangerous gamble in 1962 over Cuba, which almost made a Third World War inevitable. Agriculture barely kept up with population growth, as bad harvests mixed with good ones, culminating with a disastrous harvest in 1963, due to weather. All this damaged his prestige after 1962 and was enough for the Central Committee, Khrushchev's critical base of support, to take action against him. His right-hand man, Leonid Brezhnev, led the bloodless coup.

Because of his policies, as well as the increasingly regressive policies of ths successors, leading which led many dissidents to view his era with nostalgia as his successors began discrediting or slowing down his reforms.

Other information

Since he spent much time working in Ukraine, Khrushchev gave off the impression of being Ukrainian. He supported this image by wearing Ukrainian national shirts.

Due to various Reforms of Russian orthography, the ё letter is often replaced by е in writing. Hence Khrushchev is the standard English transliteration, even though it is more closely rendered as Khrushchyov.

Khrushchev's eldest son Leonid died in 1943 during the Great Patriotic War. His younger son Sergei emigrated to the United States and is now an American citizen and a Professor at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies. He often speaks to American audiences to share his memories of the "other" side of the Cold War.

Khrushchev married Yefrosinia Pisareva (1896-1921) in 1914. A year later their daughter Yulia (d. 1981) was born, and they had a son, Leonid, three days after the October Revolution. Yefrosinia died in 1921 of hunger, exhaustion and typhus during the famine following the Russian Civil War. In 1922 Khrushchev married a girl of 17 named Marusia but, as she attended to her young daughter and neglected her stepchildren, Khrushchev's mother soon convinced him to leave her.[3] His third wife was Nina Petrovna Kukharchuk (1900-1984), with whom he began living soon afterward (though the marriage was not officially registered until the late 1960s)[4]; besides Sergei, they had two daughters, Rada (born 1929) and Lena (1937-1972).


  1. ^ Pearson, Raymond, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire, p. 55. Palgrave, London, 2002.
  2. ^ Kulavig, Erik, Dissent in the years of Khrushchev, p. 39. Palgrave, London, 2003.
  3. ^ Taubman, William, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, p. 58. W. W. Norton, New York, 2003.
  4. ^ ibid.

Further reading

  • William Taubman: Khrushchev: The Man and His Era - London, Free Press, 2004
  • Khrushchev Remembers: The Glasnost Tapes - translated and edited by Jerrold L. Schecter, Boston, Little Brown, 1990
  • Khrushchev Remembers - edited by Strobe Talbott, 1970
  • Khrushchev, Sergei N.: "Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower", Penn State Press, 2000.
  • Nazi Hunter The Wiesenthal files by Levy, Alan 1993, 2002 barnes and noble books

Part III, Raoul Wallenberg. Chapter 19. pg 202. The Wallenberg disappearance.

  • Khrushchev, Sergie N., translated by William Taubman: "Khrushchev on Khrushchev", Little, Brown and Company, 1990.
  • Rettie, John. "How Khrushchev Leaked his Secret Speech to the World", Hist Workshop J. 2006; 62: 187–193.

In popular culture

  • The video game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater features Khrushchev shortly before his ousting by Brezhnev, demanding that the United States prove they had nothing to do with a nuclear explosion caused by the game's primary antagonist, Col. Yevgeny Borisovitch Volgin, or he will be forced to take military action against the United States. Volgin is a member of the Brezhnev faction who wants to replace Khrushchev with Brezhnev.
  • In the 2001 motion picture Enemy at the Gates, a dramatization of the Battle of Stalingrad, Khrushchev is portrayed by British actor Bob Hoskins; his surname is spelled as Krushchev in the closing credits.
  • He's mentioned in Billy Joel's history-themed song "We Didn't Start the Fire".
  • Is mentioned once in the Queen song "Killer Queen".
  • The Sting song "Russians" mentions Khrushchev.
  • In his liner notes for "Dreams and All That Stuff", Leo Kottke states the title of his song "When Shrimps Learn to Whistle" is from a statement made by Krushchev. (Russian: Когда рак на горе свистнет! - When a crawfish whistles from a hilltop!)
  • In John Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy, Josef Stalin learns of Khruschev's de-Stalinization program from history books well before it would have been implemented. To pre-empt this, Khruschev was arrested, tortured, and ultimately executed by the NKVD.
  • He is mentioned in the Family Guy episode "Dammit Janet!"
  • He in mentioned in the song "Revol" by the Manic Street Preachers on the album The Holy Bible. The verses of the song comprise lists of famous and controversial names in history being dismissed one-by-one in short—and often insulting—staccato lines.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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