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Nikolai Bulganin

Premier of the Soviet Union, 1955-1958

Nikolai Bulganin

Nikolai Aleksandrovich Bulganin was born in Nizhni Novgorod (now Gorky), on June 11, 1895. The son of a well-to-do white-collar worker, he was educated in private schools. He joined the Bolshevik (Communist) Party in 1917, and served in a number of major party posts over the next four decades.

As an officer in the Cheka, the forerunner of the KGB, from 1918 to 1922, Bulganin received criticism from within the party for his brutality. In 1922, he became a member of the National Economic Council, which was charged with planning and directing the Soviet economy. In 1927 he was given control over a major electrical components factory, in which position he completed his assigned Five Year Plan in less than three years. As Chairman of the Moscow City Soviet (Mayor) from 1931 to 1937, Bulganin oversaw construction of the Moscow Metro, as well as implementation of many of Stalin's major urbanization projects. Bulganin's reputation as a more-than-capable administrator helped him survive Stalin's purges and, in 1937, he was appointed Premier of the Russian Republic. In 1938 he was promoted to Deputy Premier of the Soviet Union, a position he held until 1941. During this period he also held the position of chairman of the State Bank.

Although he wasn't a military man, Bulganin did political work in the Red Army during World War II, first as principal party administrator for the Western front, and later as chairman of the State Defense Committee. He was made Deputy Commissar for Defense and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers in 1944, and served as Minister of Armed Forces and Marshal of the Soviet Union from 1947 to 1949. He became Vice-Premier of the Soviet Union in 1949, and Minister of Defense in 1953.

When Stalin died in 1953, Bulganin joined forces with Nikita Khrushchev against Stalin's hand-picked successor, Georgi Malenkov, and KGB Chief Lavrenti Beria. Bulganin became Premier in 1955, but Khrushchev, now head of the Communist Party, held most of the true power. Although always in Khrushchev's shadow, Bulganin soon became known as the Soviet Union's leading exponent of peaceful coexistence and better relations with the West. In January 1956, he sent a letter to U.S. President Eisenhower urging an end to nuclear tests and proposing a treaty of friendship (Eisenhower rejected the proposed treaty, however, saying that the agreements suggested by Bulganin were already covered by the United Nations Charter).

In June 1957, Khrushchev's de-Stalinization campaign and efforts to stimulate rapid industrial growth by introducing a number of rapid-fire domestic reforms led to the formation of an opposition bloc in the Politburo. Although he personally supported Khrushchev's policies, Bulganin felt bound to side with the majority, and the decision to replace Khrushchev was made in his office. Khrushchev refused to leave office, however, and, in March 1958, removed Bulganin and assumed the office of Premier himself.

Bulganin was initially demoted to head of the State Bank. In August 1958, he was transferred to a minor economic post at Stravopol. In February 1960, Bulganin's request that he be allowed to retire was granted. In gradually failing health, he spent the remainder of his life as a pensioner in a small dacha outside Moscow. He died in Moscow on March 1, 1975.

World War II
Nikita Khrushchev
President Dwight David Eisenhower

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The Robinson Library >> Soviet Union, 1918-1991

This page was last updated on June 11, 2018.