Government of the USSR under Khrushchev 1953-64


1.       Early Reforms & Power Struggle, 1953-56

  • Beria & secret police: Beria reduced the power of the secret police to make him not look like he was going to use terror to take over. Khrushchev and Malenkov arranged his arrest and execution in 1953 for being a British spy. Brought the secret police under Party control.
  • Malenkov & Bureaucracy: Increase Party power over state to ensure he overpowered Malenkov.  Khrushchev used his role as First Secretary of the Central Committee to replace Stalin’s supporters with his own. By 1956 he had replaced nearly half of the Central Committee. Power was also decentralized to the republics to weaken state bureaucracy further, therefore Malenkov as well.
  • Party membership: It grew from 6.9 million (1954) to 11 million (1964) –to make it more democratic.
  • Fixed terms introduced: For senior Communists to make sure they were replaced regularly. Therefore also reducing the personal power that people could collect over the years. Two-thirds of regional party secretaries and were replaced by 1961.


2.       Secret Speech, Feb 1956

  • The Presidium agreed to allow Khrushchev to give his speech to the CPSU at the 20th Party Congress. His main criticisms of Stalin included:

a.       Stalin’s personality cult.

b.      Stalin’s serious mistakes like purging the Red Army just before WW2.

c.       Stalin’s responsibility for ordering the Great Terror.

d.      Stalin abandoned collective leadership and set himself up as a dictator.

e.       He revealed the criticism of Stalin in Lenin’s testament.

  • The party members’ views of a great Stalin were shattered as they found out what happened. Some people were so shocked that they either died of a heart attack or committed suicide.

3.       Attempt to Overthrow Khrushchev, 1957

·         Stalinists in the Party argued that K’s reforms had de-stabilized the Soviet government and been responsible for recent anti-Soviet revolts in Poland and Hungary.  The Central Committee issued a statement in June 1956 revising the Secret Speech.

  • In June 1957: A majority in the Presidium, led by Malenkov, voted to replace Khrushchev. Khrushchev argued the decision to replace him could only be taken by the Central Committee (where he had a majority of support). As a result, he survived the attempt to remove him and instead sacked his opponents. The


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