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About this book

This concise, approachable introduction to Khrushchev explores the innovative theme of Khrushchev as reformer, arguing that the 'bumbling' nature of those reforms only partly reflected Khrushchev's uncertainty about how to act. Swain provides a cogent account of Khrushchev's political career and of his wider role in Soviet and world politics.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Khrushchev’s life was framed around Stalin. From their first meeting in 1925 until the completion of his memoirs shortly before his death, Khrushchev analysed and re-analysed his relationship with Stalin. This is the story of how a pre-revolutionary labour activist, one who flirted with Trotskyism, became a convinced Stalinist, was first mesmerised and then appalled by the personality of Stalin, and in the process of rejecting Stalin, rejected Stalinism as well, reintroducing towards the end of his rule debates about the role of the party in the economy that had not been current since the early 1920s. Khrushchev’s evolution as a Stalinist was not untypical. He was a legal labour activist before the revolution; he did not join the revolutionary underground but preferred to be with the masses, organising at the work place, distributing literature, running a workers’ retail co-operative. During 1917 he was a classic member of the revolutionary “sub elite”, the middle rank activist who spread the word and served on a local soviet. As with many such activists, who favoured labour militancy, opposed the war, criticised the Provisional Government and welcomed the formation of the Soviet Government in October 1917, it was the civil war which forced them to identify fully with the Bolshevik Party rather than Bolshevik policies.
Geoffrey Swain

Chapter 1. Becoming a Party Apparatchik, 1894–1929

Abstract
Nikita Khrushchev was typical of the radicalised workers of his generation. He was born on 15 April 1894 in the village of Kalinovka, situated some way to the west of the Russian town of Kursk but scarcely 10 miles from what would become, as the Russian Empire disintegrated, the border with Ukraine. Owing to a clerical error when the Russian calendar was changed on 1 February 1918, his birthdate was recorded as 17 April and that is the date which he celebrated. The Khrushchev family home was primitive, an earth floor, an area where the livestock were brought in and a stove without a chimney. “When the fire was burning and the food was being cooked, you could not stay inside; the smoke went out the door”, he recalled. Kalinovka was big enough to have a school run by the local administrative council but Khrushchev was frequently absent from school because he was needed in the fields - one summer he joined his mother and father in working on the estate of a wealthy local landowner, Khrushchev being put in charge of the oxen team used for ploughing. However, like so many peasants of that era, Khrushchev’s father supplemented his income with migrant work in the growing network of mines and ironworks on the River Donets, the Donets Basin or Donbas.
Geoffrey Swain

Chapter 2. Stalin’s Favourite, 1929–41

Abstract
In September 1929 Khrushchev moved to Moscow to take up a place in the Industrial Academy. It is clear that the academy itself had reservations about taking Khrushchev on, given his lack of formal qualifications, but after he had sought the intervention of Kaganovich it was all arranged. At the academy he did indeed struggle academically — the embarrassing “fail” for his English was tactfully erased from his transcript — but he was immediately thrown once again into party work and factional struggle. As Khrushchev recalled in his memoirs, within the Industrial Academy there was every sort of oppositionist. There were still supporters of Zinoviev, as well as the Right Opposition of Bukharin, but soon a third opposition group had emerged, the “Right-Left Bloc of Syrtsov and Lominadze”.1
Geoffrey Swain

Chapter 3. Questioning Stalin, 1941–53

Abstract
Although his precise designation changed during the war, Khrushchev was effectively a “chief political commissar” throughout the fighting, a middle man between his Politburo colleagues in Moscow and the commanders in the field. It was an uncomfortable position because he got the wrath of both. His immediate task when the Nazi attack began was the defence of Kiev. The Nazi invasion began on 22 June 1941 and tank units of the German Army were already nearing Kiev on 11 July. However, the infantry were far behind, so mounting an effective defence of Kiev seemed quite possible. The Red Army’s resistance hardened and local propaganda spoke of Kiev being “a second Tsaritsyn”, the town that in the Russian Civil War had never fallen to the Whites. As the Nazi forces drew nearer, the call went out to form a volunteer people’s militia, but although the militia was very active, weapons were in short supply. When Khrushchev phoned Moscow to ask for extra arms he was told: “there are no rifles, cut some pikes; the rifles are only for Leningrad and Moscow”.1
Geoffrey Swain

Chapter 4. Dethroning Stalin, 1953–6

Abstract
Despite Khrushchev’s efforts since the 19th Party Congress to restore the authority of the party, it was those in favour of the state’s authority who benefitted at first from Stalin’s death. It was no accident that Khrushchev was the only member of the new ruling Presidium who was not a member of the Council of Ministers. The key figures in the new government announced at a joint meeting of the Central Committee Plenum, the Council of Ministers and the Supreme Soviet Presidium on 5 March were. Malenkov, as prime minister; Beria, as Minister of Internal Affairs; Molotov, as Minister of Foreign Affairs; and Bulganin, as Minister of Defence. Khrushchev, it was suggested, would “concentrate on work in the Central Committee”; he would not, however, have any title other than “Secretary” for the post of general secretary was abolished. The implication was fairly clear, Khrushchev’s role was to mobilise the party into supporting the implementation of government decisions. This situation was reinforced when on 14 March a Central Committee Plenum relieved Malenkov of his party responsibilities and gave Khrushchev leadership of the Secretariat; at the same time Khrushchev gave up his responsibility for Moscow’s party organisation.1
Geoffrey Swain

Chapter 5. Ousting Stalinists, 1956–58

Abstract
Whatever might have been said about the need to keep the Secret Speech secret, the Presidium nevertheless decided just a week after it had been made, that it should be discussed at all levels within the party and Komsomol organisations, and also among those falling under the umbrella term of “non-party activists”. Although on some occasions the speech was simply read out, and no discussion held, in most cases the reading of the speech was followed by question and answer sessions, with the most senior figure present agreeing to respond to written questions. Khrushchev attended such meetings himself in Moscow and Leningrad, and many later recalled the shock of attending such a gathering. Between 20 and 23 March the Central Committee member and leading historian Anna Pankratova made nine such presentations in Leningrad to a total audience of 6,000, and the audience questions she brought back with her to Moscow caused serious concern. At a meeting in Saratov a former district secretary recently rehabilitated expressed gratitude for being found work again, but could not understand why her former accusers remained in post. In Bălţi, Soviet Moldavia, the meeting raised the question of whether, given the revelations in the Secret Speech, Stalin’s body could remain in Lenin’s mausoleum.1
Geoffrey Swain

Chapter 6. Constructing Communism at Home, 1958–62

Abstract
Back in August 1953 Khrushchev had told a meeting of agricultural activists that the Soviet Union was gradually moving from socialism towards communism. He then added a little anecdote. He had said the same to a group of peasants, and one had commented: well, under socialism we have no pancakes, will there or won’t there be pancakes under communism? Khrushchev was determined that as the move towards communism accelerated under his watch, there would indeed be pancakes. The agricultural situation in 1958 was good. The grain harvest was 30% above the previous year, which was in turn almost 70% above the average harvest for 1949–53. The Virgin Lands Campaign seemed to have paid off, and the growing of wheat in the Virgin Lands enabled other parts of the country to move over to maize production, which could both feed the population and be used as animal fodder.1 Khrushchev saw this as rationalising Soviet agricultural production: growing grain had once been the concern of the whole country, but now areas like the Baltic States, Northwest Russia and even parts of Ukraine could concentrate on things like dairying, pig breeding or industrial crops. Of course, more could have been done. In the Soviet Union as a whole there was only one tractor per 190 hectares of ploughed land, and even in intensively farmed areas like Kazakhstan the figure only rose to 281.
Geoffrey Swain

Chapter 7. Confronting Capitalism

Abstract
The shootings in Novocherkassk, the price rises which preceded them, and Khrushchev’s reluctant concession to the steel eaters only make sense if the international position of the Soviet Union under Khrushchev is kept clearly in mind.
Geoffrey Swain

Chapter 8. The Reformer Ousted

Abstract
There is no doubt that the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis weakened Khrushchev’s position. This was most clearly evident in the fate of talk about radical economic reform. Before the crisis developed, Liberman had written his famous article in Pravda on 9 September 1962, and Izvestiya continued to publish articles by reform economists supporting Liberman’s ideas until 29 October. Liberman was even interviewed on the radio early in November. However, his ideas were firmly rejected by the Soviet leadership at the Central Committee Plenum of 19–23 November. On the eve of that plenum, an article in the party’s theoretical journal Kommunist condemned Liberman’s proposals, and the November issue of the economics journal Voprosy Ekonomiki carried three articles on Liberman, two attacking him and only one supporting him: a former finance minister set the tone by criticising “oversimplification in solving complex questions” and insisting that the planning agencies were quite capable of accurately assessing the production capacities of enterprises; the Director of the Institute of Economics in the Academy of Sciences simply condemned Liberman’s ideas as unsound; it was only Nemchinov who once again defended Liberman, pointing out that critics of “reviving the capitalist category of the price of production” had completely misunderstood Liberman’s proposals and were essentially raising a red herring.1
Geoffrey Swain

Conclusion

Abstract
Brezhnev gave Khrushchev a generous pension of 400 roubles per month, a flat in Moscow, a dacha outside the city, a modest car and access to the Kremlin hospital. Initially Khrushchev was depressed, his grandson recalled him crying frequently, but his spirit revived in 1966 when he started tape recording his memoirs. This soon became a family enterprise, with his son Sergei responsible for the transcribing and editing. In 1968 the chairman of the Party Control Commission ordered Khrushchev to stop work on the memoirs, but he refused, insisting he had a right as a Soviet citizen to write what he pleased; the request that he submit to party discipline was similarly ignored. It was after this bruising encounter with his former colleagues that Sergei Khrushchev began the process of smuggling the typescript of the memoirs abroad and getting them published in the US. After their publication there, in autumn 1970 Khrushchev was forced to sign a statement dismissing them as a fabrication. Plagued by heart problems in the last 18 months of his life, Khrushchev died on 11 September 1971.1
Geoffrey Swain
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