In the wake of The Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Union needed a leader that would rebuild the state from the remnants that were left when the war ended. Khrushchev was the one who stepped up and seemingly forced himself to step into the role Stalin once occupied. However, he was not keen on taking the same path that Stalin took. Khrushchev was adamant about breaking down the “cult of personality” that Stalin had created, which overtook the Soviet people. This did not only involve the regime remaining silent about Stalin and the actions he took while alive, but this also lead Khrushchev to make big moves in the economy, society, and culture that were completely opposed to Stalin’s views.
Khrushchev cared a great deal about the Soviet people and wanted to invest largely in agriculture. Khrushchev’s new focus on a previously ignored and unloved sector for business proved useful, and “the policy yielded immediate results, as output increased 35.3 per cent” (Freeze 424). His Virgin Lands program “opened up an additional 41.8 million hectares of arable land, which produced high yields and a spectacular bumper crop in 1958” (424). His move towards democratization also created far better living experiences than the Soviet people were previously used to. His abolition of criminal absenteeism, as well as “drastic reductions in wage differentials, and [an] established minimum wage” completely changed labor policy (425). In the late 1950s, Khrushchev also “abolished school and university tuition fees and dramatically restructured secondary schooling” (425-426).
But in my opinion, the increase the Soviet Union saw in industrial production in the 1950s, and the role that played in the launch of Sputnik played a massive part in pushing the Soviet Union into the new age. The launch of Sputnik, which became the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth, marked the Soviet Union’s capability to compete on the world stage, or at least other countries’ recognition of this. An announcement in Pravda noted that “the successful launch of the first man-made earth satellite brings about a most important contribution to the storehouse of world science and culture.” Another announcement in Pravda noted that Lenin cared a great deal about scientific development and that the Soviet party “and government have not spared funds or resources to aid scientists in every way.” Khrushchev was focused on putting the Soviet Union back on Lenin’s original terms in order to move away from the direction Stalin wanted to take. This new focus and the launch of Sputnik gave way to many new developments, such as the development and testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), that put the Soviet Union in even more direct competition with the United States. An article written by V. Kruchinin, which was published in a Soviet paper, explained the success the Soviet Union has seen in testing ICBMs and what those successes meant in terms of foreign relations. The author noted that the U.S. was appropriating millions of dollars to reach this feat before the Soviet Union, and the success of ICBM testing in the Soviet Union showed that “Soviet scientists and engineers have successfully solved” complex problems in regards to ICBM developments. And it’s safe to assume these developments couldn’t have been made without the launch of Sputnik, and the increases in industrial production that was made prior to the launch.
The article ends with this statement: “The military might of the Soviet Union, which has grown still more with the successful development of an intercontinental ballistic missile, has been and remains a powerful factor for the maintenance of world peace.” The launch of Sputnik, and the continued developments that took place because of the launch, proved that the Soviet Union was able to compete with other world powers like the U.S. in this new technological era. And without Khrushchev and the economic golden age of the late 1950s, I believe these developments would have taken a lot longer to achieve and would’ve put the Soviet Union at an even bigger disadvantage in the competition that continued to ensue between them and the United States.
This post received a “Red Star” on the Motherblog.
April 20, 2020 @ 9:33 am
Hi Kendall! This was really interesting to read! I’ve always enjoyed learning about the Space Race and Sputnik, and I would agree with you that Sputnik did play a massive part in launching the Soviet Union into the new age. The part about ICBMs surprised me, I had no idea that they were testing them at this point in time. Great job!!
April 20, 2020 @ 11:16 am
Hey Lauren! I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and the ICBM testing surprised me too! I knew the space race was a big deal, but the fact that they were able to develop and test ICBMs because of the launch was news to me. But the fact that they were able to develop this capability before anyone else proved that they were willing and able to compete.
April 20, 2020 @ 10:04 am
Kendall, this is a great post about the Soviet’s ability to rally and develop after the war. Their ability to compete on an international stage with the United States after fighting a world war in their backyard proves their resilience and determination. Sputnik was a huge accomplishment that sent the message, “we mean business” to their competitors.
April 20, 2020 @ 11:29 am
Hi Natalie! I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I really like how you phrased the USSR’s persona. The phrase “we mean business” really does encapsulate how eager they were to show they were willing to compete. I also think it applies well to the way Khrushchev approached de-Stalinization and his goal to reform economic and social policy under his leadership, which clearly proved useful to the Soviet Union’s growing future.
April 20, 2020 @ 11:35 am
It’s so interesting that a show of both scientific and military might would allow a once poor, disregarded nation to assume a spot on the world stage, not only that but being seen as competing with the United States. The relatively short amount of time for this have occurred, the launching of Sputnik, and the testing of ICBMs is truly a remarkable feat on part of the Soviets.
April 20, 2020 @ 3:14 pm
Hi Alyssa! Thanks for your comment! And I agree; it’s interesting how the Soviet Union was able to assume that role and be able to compete on such a large scale. It says a lot about Soviet resiliency.
April 20, 2020 @ 12:01 pm
You make a lot of excellent points on how the launch of Sputnik impacted the Soviet Union and its image in the eyes of other world powers. The reading for this past week really emphasised Khrushchev’s focus on agriculture over industry, but you post shows how industry and technological developments were still rapidly advancing at this time. Great read!
April 20, 2020 @ 3:22 pm
Hi Kayt! And I was surprised and how quickly the reading skimmed over the Sputnik launch because I think an achievement like that played a large role in Russia’s future successes. As you said, Khrushchev’s focus on agriculture was the highlight, but there was so much more to the advancements being made under his leadership than the chapter focuses on, especially those that eventually lead to a decades-long power struggle. Thanks for your comment!
April 20, 2020 @ 2:51 pm
What Kayt said! (and Natalie and Alyssa ;-)). The Soviet space program is so compelling that it’s easy to just focus on the technological innovation and human drama. Your post does a wonderful job of explaining how the space race was part of a broader proxy struggle and the evolution of the arms race that defined super power tensions for thirty years. Nicely done!
April 20, 2020 @ 3:27 pm
Hello Prof. Nelson! Thanks for your comment; that’s exactly what I was going for! The power struggle that arose from these advancements had serious effects on how world powers interact with each other, and we are still seeing the remnants of it today.
April 20, 2020 @ 5:00 pm
Your article truly shows not only the significance of the Space Race, but the measures the Soviet Union took in being a major power in the world. When you mentioned ICBM’s it just had me thinking about how the power struggle would only grow between the Soviet’s and US. This era in the Soviet history shows how far technological innovation can push countries to new levels of competition. Great read!
April 20, 2020 @ 7:52 pm
Hi Max! Thanks for your comment! And you’re right; the power struggle only grew to have more tension as time went on. The technological innovations from the Sputnik launch and its consequential discoveries, in my opinion, played a large part in the nuclear arms race that was soon to follow.
April 20, 2020 @ 7:00 pm
I like that you blogged about the Soviet Union’s scientific advances. Growing up in America, we learned about Sputnik but always through the lens that the United States won the Space Race. The Soviet Union did not receive as much credit as it deserved in this regard.
April 20, 2020 @ 7:57 pm
Hey Ben! You’re definitely right about that, we typically ignore the advances the USSR made prior to the US’s discoveries and accomplishments. We definitely can’t ignore how the USSR made many more advancements, and how they contributed to the power struggle that was soon to follow.
April 20, 2020 @ 8:07 pm
Hey Kendall! I really liked your post and I think that Sputnik’s launch, along with
Khrushchev taking charge, took the Cold War conflict into a new period as well. It sent the message to America that they actually had competition and would need to work harder and spend more if they wanted to beat the Soviets going forward. I also think it’s fascinating that Khrushchev wanted to get rid of so many of Stalin’s acts given the long reign that he had. Great post!
April 21, 2020 @ 12:29 am
Hey Michael! I totally agree; the US learned very quickly that the USSR would not be an easy competitor to tackle, and they had to prepare the time and resources that would be necessary to even come to bat at the USSR’s level. It is an interesting dynamic to reflect on. Thanks for your comment!
April 20, 2020 @ 8:38 pm
This was an interesting read. Did you find out what the Soviet people thought about the Soviet Union investing in the space race and military? I feel that some citizens would want to have money invested in areas that would benefit them such as agriculture, businesses, and infrastructure. Was there ever a feeling that the citizens felt that the Soviet Union cared more about its reputation among other nations rather than how its citizens felt?
April 21, 2020 @ 1:35 am
Hey Matt! That’s an excellent question that I hadn’t thought of. I tried to look up some information on how the Soviet people felt about the Space Race, but I can’t find much. I did find a Busniess Insider article about Soviet Space Race propaganda that’s pretty interesting (https://www.businessinsider.com/here-are-the-soviets-extremely-intense-space-race-propaganda-posters-from-1958-1963-2012-4) and I wish I would’ve had it when writing this post. However, I would argue that after a major world war, the Soviet people were probably also looking for a reason to have pride in their country. If you think about it, the Soviet citizens are no different than US citizens; both nations had come out on the winning side of a brutal war, which is the time you typically see a surge in patriotism. So while I think the Soviet citizens knew that they needed government investments in infrastructure and agriculture, I also think they most likely supported a space race against their nation’s number one competitor, and even more so when it became an arms race. I mean, that’s what the Cold War turned into: a test of capability and absolute power, and I’m willing to bet that the Soviet people were less likely to stand down from a fight against a capitalist nation than their government was, both in the Cold War and the time preceeding it.
April 21, 2020 @ 1:34 pm
Hey Kendall, your post does a great job analyzing and covering how the Soviet space program came of age and how Khrushchev was focused on bringing reform to the Soviet Union, especially in agriculture. I feel like most people don’t give the Soviets enough credit in the Space Race since they weren’t the ones that landed on the moon.
April 21, 2020 @ 3:16 pm
Hello! Thanks for your comment! And I definitely agree, the Soviet Union is seriously overlooked in terms of the innovations they made and the goals they reached during the Space Race. As Michael stated in his post, since the US kept moving the goalposts, it was kind of hard to determine who actually won. But I think it’s safe to say that the developments the Soviet Union made were made much earlier than that of the US, despite the fact that we made it on the moon first.
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