Khrushchev's Motives for Industrial and Agrarian R
Once in power, Khrushchev embarked on a policy sometimes called "Reform Communism". He had both political and economical motives for following this path.
Though the Soviet economy had made some advances during the early 1950's, there were still major weaknesses. Though consumer goods were gradually becoming more available, they were often poor in quality and expensive. Military spending was still a huge drain on the Soviet economy. The USSR lagged behind many western economies, which were far less labour intensive and far more productive.
The political motive for Khrushchev's policy of "Reform Communism", was informed by the economic one. Khrushchev did not want his regime to rest upon the fear that had characterised much of the Stalinist era. He wanted it to rely on popular consent instead. In order for this to happen, people needed more than calls for sacrifice and hard work, they needed incentives: more freely available consumer goods and prospects of better accomodation. Socialism had to deliver upon its promise of a better future.
How would Khrushchev achieve this whilst adhering to the Stalinist blueprint for utopia?
Industrial Reform Under Khrushchev
One of Khrushchev's first economic reforms was the decentralization of economic ministries. They were replaced by regional ministries, upon which the party kept a firm grip. This reform yielded little success, instead causing confusion and a lack of coordination or cooperation between regions.
Just like Stalin before him, Khrushchev looked towards a five year plan to guide growth. Eventually, this developed into the first seven year plan, which lasted from 1959 to 1961.
Whilst the production of consumer goods did increase, emphasis still remained upon steel, coal and oil, which admittedly met their lofty targets.
In spite of some substantial gains, lingering weaknesses in the centrally planned economy meant that not all targets were met. Managers were reluctant to innovate, afraid that they would fail to meet governmental targets. In addition, confusion existed regarding who was actually making the decisions, factory owners or the government.
Even though greater importance was placed upon consumer goods, shortages still frequently occurred and these goods were often sub standard.
Agricultural Reform Under Khrushchev
Khrushchevs pet project, the Virgin Lands Scheme, had started in motion even before he was elected leader, as he began work on it in 1954, following approval from the Central Committee. Intended to open up previously neglected areas of land, in order to increase food production, the scheme was a success, at least initially. Grain production had increased by 50% by 1958. Quickly though, the scheme went sour. Due to problems with fertility, erosion and the administration of the scheme, the virgin lands project fell apart.
Khrushchev made other agricutural reforms during his time in power. Overall taxes on private plots were reduced and the state began to pay farmers more for deliveries. Workers on state farms became entitled to improved social security and a minimum wage for the first time.
Though improvements were made in agriculture, a lack of investment meant that by the time of Khrushchev resignation, rates of production were insufficient to meet the needs of the USSR.
John Keep summarised the agricultural reforms with this quote - "By subsidising socialised agriculture, the state was ensuring that it remained inefficient".
The Overall Impact of Khrushchev's Industrial Refo
Overall, Khrushchev's industrial reforms had a variable impact. Foreign trade increased greatly, even though it was primarily amongst the Eastern European Comecon countries. Living standards did improve, though there is debate as to whether this was solely due to the reforms of Khrushchev. Many argue that this may simply have been the result of peace time. Others question the extent of this success, as life was still fairly backwards by western standards. Fewer than one percent of the population owned cars, eight percent owned televisions and only four had refrigerators.
In spite of Khrushchevs attempt at industrial reform, by 1963, the USSR was still reliant upon imported grain from the USA, a fact which was highly embarassing.
There was a huge shortage of housing, despite the building of 15 million new flats.
There were some major gains in terms of social security: A minimum wage was established, working conditions were improved and medical care was made big leaps forward
Prestige projects were often very well resourced. The Soviet space programme was highly succesful and it was often trumpeted as a huge success of socialism. Khrushchev was a realist in regard to such matters, stating that "It is useless if everyone has the right ideology if they have to walk around without any trousers".
De-Stalinisation is an ambiguous term. Sometimes, it is used to describe Khrushchev's attack on Stalin, through his secret speech. Other times it is used to describe Khrushchev's policies within the USSR, such as his moderate concessions to cultural and intellectual freedom. Some even use it as a far reaching term, encompassing every reform made by Khrushchev.
However it is interpreted, it is important that it is employed with caution. After all, the fundamental features of Stalinism, such as the command economy, the one-party state and the states monopoly on information remained in place throughout the reign of Khrushchev and beyond. Furthermore, Khrushchev had no intention of changing this. Whilst he is often remembered as a reformer, he was a firm believer in Stalinism. De-Stalinisation implies the removal of Stalin and his legacy, this was not the case at all.
It is often said that Khrushchev did not truly change Communism, he merely humanized it, removing the emphasis placed on terror by the previous leader.
Cultural Reform - "The Thaw"
"Reform Communism" was Khrushchev's attempt to give the regime some basis of popular consent. This was not to be achieved solely by raising living standards however. He wanted to grant Soviet citizens more personal freedom.
Sometimes knwon as the "Thaw", Khrushchevs series of cultural reforms had some positive effects for Soviet citizens.
Citizens had much greater access to foreign literature and films, though they did have to be passed as "Safe" by Soviet censors. Certain foreign radio stations were permitted and artists who had been denounced by Stalin found their reputations restored. The publication of frank accounts of Soviet history was actively encouraged, for example, Solzhenitsyn was allowed to publish "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch", which gave a graphic account of life in a Stalinist labour camp.
Foreign visitors were encouraged to visit the USSR for the first time and certain Soviet citizens were allowed to travel abroad.
Limits to Khrushchev's Cultural Reforms
Khrushchev's regime had no intention of turning the USSR into a Liberal democracy. The "Thaw" was not a coherent set of policies, meaning in practise, the reforms suffered from some severe limitations.
Though Solzhenyitsyn's novel was published to widespread acclaim, others, like Doctor Zhivago were banned in the USSR, even though it went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Though Khrushchev frequently asserted the idea that there were no political prisoners in his USSR, writers who were too outspoken against the regime were often harrassed and imprisoned.
The party was very concerned with an influx of "Youth Hooliganism", which it blamed upon Western influences.
Many groups were subject to particularly zealous persecution. The anti religious campaign of the 20's was resurrected and many churches were converted into museums.
Throughout Khrushchev's reign and beyond, the party continued to be a dead weight on cultural and social life, dictating what was and what was not acceptable. Though an attempt at change had been made, the party still decided what was good for the Soviet people.
Interpretations of Khrushchev's Overall Impact
There is no one interpretation of Khrushchev's impact on the USSR.
M. McCauley said that "The Khrushchev paeriod was one of hope and despair. Great enthusiasm was engendered in the early ears, but eventually despair set in as the problem of modernising the Soviet Union became intractable".
F. Roberts said "He did bring some fresh air into Stalins hot-house Soviet union, did make life less dangerous and unpredictable and somewhat more comfortable for most people in the Soviet Union".
P. Kenez said "During his tenure the Soviet union ceased to be totalitarian; his rule can be better characterised as authoritarian. Ultimately his failures showed that the problems he recognized were inherent in the system that he wanted to save".