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Premier of the Soviet Union, 1958-1964
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev was born in Kalinovka, Russia, on April 17, 1894, the son of a farmer/coal miner. In 1908 his family moved to an industrial center in Ukraine, where Nikita began working in a factory. His activist career began soon after.
At the age of 18, Khrushchev joined a group of workers who had organized a strike protesting working conditions, and was promptly fired. He found another job, but continued his activism, helping to organize strikes in 1915 and 1916. After serving in the czarist army in World War I and participating in the Bolshevik Revolution that ousted the Czar, Khrushchev joined the Communist Party and the Red Army in 1917 and fought in the civil war.
After attending a Communist Party technical college in 1921 Khrushchev took up a career as a full-time party official, beginning as secretary of a district party committee near Yuzovka. After attending the Industrial Academy in Moscow from 1929 to 1931 he became secretary of a district party committee in Moscow, from which position he rose rapidly through the party ranks, becoming a member of the Central Committee in 1934. In 1935 he became second in command of the Moscow Communist Party. He became a full member of the Politburo in 1939.
Khrushchev spent most of World War II as head of the Communist Party in Ukraine. Called back to Moscow after the war, he soon became one of Joseph Stalin's top advisers. When Stalin died in 1953, Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin won a power struggle against Stalin's hand-picked successor, Georgi Malenkov, and secret police chief Lavrenti Beria. Bulganin became Premier, but Khrushchev, now head of the Communist Party, held most of the true power.
As First Secretary of the Communist Party, Khrushchev's first task was to reverse the effects of Stalin's excesses and abuses of power. In a speech to the 20th Party Congress in 1956, he blatantly attacked Stalin for crimes which, until then, no Soviet leader had been willing to admit had been committed. In 1957 he demoted many of Stalin's former close associates. He became Premier of the Soviet Union on the removal of Bulganin on March 27, 1958, while also retaining his position as leader of the Communist Party.
A true believer in the superiority of Communism over Capitalism, Khrushchev set bold goals of "overtaking the West" in food production, initiating massive programs to put vast tracts of virgin lands in Kazakhstan and Siberia under the plow. But his grand plan failed when he tried to introduce corn into those regions, a crop totally unsuited to the prevailing climate. His industrial reforms were successful, however, resulting in a wider array of consumer goods and an improved standard of living for ordinary Soviet citizens.
Khrushchev frequently boasted of Soviet destructive might, while simultaneously advocating peaceful methods to overcome capitalism. Nevertheless, his tenure was marked by a series of potentially lethal crises: the U-2 affair, the building of the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. His tenure was also marked by a number of Soviet "victories" over the West, including the launching of the first satellite, the first dog, the first man, and the first woman into space. Communism's appeal spread rapidly throughout the newly independent nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America during his tenure as the Soviet Union provided funding for massive public works programs in those regions.
By 1964, Khrushchev's reforms had alienated too many powerful Soviet constituencies. A group of conservatives led by Leonid Brezhnev ousted him on October 14-15, 1964. In 1966 he was dropped from the Central Committee.
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev died in Moscow on September 11, 1971.
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This page was last updated on May 25, 2017.