After Stalin’s death on March 1, 1953 a power struggle ensued within the Soviet Presidium of the Central Committee. Three individuals in particular, Georgii Malenkov, Lavrentii Beria, and Nikita Khrushchev, would form what was to be called a “collective leadership”. Malenkov became the chairman of the Council of Minister, Beria remained the head of the secret police, and Khrushchev was made the head secretary of the Central Committee. After a series of conspiracies and alliances against Beria and Malenkov in the two years that followed, Khrushchev would emerge victorious from the power struggle by “reviving the party apparatus and reasserting its control over the state ministries, the military, and the new Committee for State Security (KGB).”
Despite only being the First Secretary of the Communist Party (and also the Chairman of the Council of Ministers in 1958), Khrushchev had a considerable amount of power and influence. His secret speech in February of 1956, which denounced many of Stalin’s actions as Premier (including the Purges, unpreparedness for the Nazi invasions during WWII, and deportation of various nationalities), caused noticeable unrest in the communist world; particularly in Georgia, Hungary, and Poland. His desire to rely primarily on missiles for national defense would eventually result in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1961.
Khrushchev is also remembered for his attempt t0 “de-Stalinize” the Soviet Union and bringing about a less repressive era in Russia. His support for the newly launched Soviet space program allowed the Soviets to become a formidable opponent to the U.S. in the space race during the cold war. In 1964 Khrushchev was removed as First Secretary by his colleagues in the Presidium due to the perceived failures of his domestic policies and was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 409-422. Print.
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