In the years following the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union reached a new peak of confidence as the world was astonished by the launching of the the first earth satellite in October 1957 and a further row of space successes culminating in the first manned orbital flight by Iurii or Yuri Gagarin in April 1961. Years of anti-Soviet propaganda about technological backwardness and inefficiency now met with a triumphant response. Less spectacular successes in the economy encouraged the government to talk of the completion of the construction of socialism and a move forward towards the full-scale building of Communism. In such an atmosphere, the severe cultural controls of the previous period were to some extent relaxed, although it was not at all difficult for individual artists to find themselves in disgrace for taking the process of thaw too far. In the governmental organisation, there was an immediate return from the ‘cult of personality’ to collective leadership, although a new less powerful cult arose from it in turn. In the international sphere, the Soviet Union showed its self-possession by talking less of a final showdown between socialism and capitalism and more of the peaceful coexistence between the two systems. But this did not mean that the world rivalry would be discontinued, only that it would not have to be solved by military means; this was a point made completely clear in one of the best-remembered Soviet utterances of the time, ‘We shall bury you’.
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