In the late fifties and sixties one man emerged as the First Secretary of the Russian Communist party, that ruled Russia at that time. Russia then was the USSR or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  The SovietCommunist party at that time was omnipotent and  and people all over the world feared it. This was a time when Stalin had just gone from the Russian scenerio( he died in 1953).

One man who at that time seized power and did something which should be remembered now, is the removel of the element of fear in Russian society. This had become deeply ingrained in Russian society under the rule of Stalin. He was Nikita Khruschev, who led Russia or the Soviet state at that time. This was his biggest contribution: dismantling of the terror and fear among the people in the Soviet state.

The Soviet state and the rise of the communist party in Russia can be directly traced to the Czar, Nicholas II who ruled Russia. The Czar was a man devoid of vision and he instead of attending to the misery of the common people with scarcity of food, embarked on a war against Germany. He was guided by grand ideas of loyalty to his allies, not realising that the Russian army ill equipped and untrained would be easy fodder for the efficient German army. The Russians were defeated and the situation back home became worse with the economy  going in a nose dive. There were food riots, which were ruthlessly suppressed. This is eloquently portrayed by Boris Pasternek in his novel Dr. Zivago.

This was the ripe time for a revoution and Vladimir Lenin seized power in 1917 in a coup, spearheaded by the Russsian Navy at St Petersburg. The Tsar Nicholas II by his foolish policies,  had in fact signed his own death warrant and he was executed in Siberia.

The communist party now seized power and Lenin aided by Leo Trotsky ushered in a police state. This duo were the first in world history to invent the " Concentration  Camp". Millions of their opponents were herded into these camps and died, never to be heard off again. The Russian people expecting good times after the exit of the Czar, were now enveloped in a cloak of terror.

Lenin died in 1924 and Josef Stalin seized power. He was a great leader, but he had a sadistic streak. One is not sure that the excesses committed during his reign were a direct result of his rule. Many Russians feel Stalin was not responsible for the excesses, but the fact is that Beria the head of the NKVD( SecretPolice) was all powerful and most Russians feared the mid night knock , which was the road to silence and the unknown.

In 1953 Stalin died of a brain stroke and now  we know that he inspired so much awe and fear that for some critical hours nobody dared to approach his body. A power struggle then started in the Kremlin and as per information Beria was shot dead. People who had kept quiet during the rule of Stalin now emerged and one of them Gregory Malenkov came into prominence.

However a senior functionary and member of the Presidium Nikita Khruschev was getting his supporters ready to come to power. In 1956 Khruschev  came into power as the First Secretary of the Communist Party. At that time the President was Vorshilov. Khruschev manipulated complete power in 1958 and heralded a new phase in Russia.

His rise to power was a like a beacon, especially after his secret speech in the 1956 Communist party Congress, where he denounced Stalin as a " tyrant". Members of the Communist Party, thought to vote for Khruschev as he promised to remove the trappings of a secret police state.

Rise of Khruschev 

Nikita S Khruschev was a product of the Soviet state. he lived his entire life in a communist enviornment and he was trusted by Stalin. At that time obeying Stalin was of the utmost importance and Khruschev followed the direction of the wind.He had earlier joined the Communist party and had risen up by his loyalty to the communist cause. His hour of glory came when Hitler advanced deep into Soviet Russia. For all his faults Stalin roused the Russian people and a last defence was planned at the city of Stalingrad on the Volga.

Khruschev was directed by Stalin to proceed to Stalingrad with the express instruction that Stalingrad should be held at all costs. It was not only a matter of prestige, but a loss at Stalingrad would have opened the route to Hitlers army into Siberia and Central Asia.

Khruschev went to Stalingrad and coined the famous slogan"  Comrades there is no land  for us beyond the Volga". Khruschev was instrumental in stiffening the defence of Stalingrad and in one of the great battles of world history, the German army under Field Marshal Von Paulos surrendered in December 1943. While Khruschev held teh civil side, the military commander was General Zhukov

Khruschev was now called to Moscow and there he observed the working of the Soviet State and the role of the NKVD. Hundredsof Russians just disappeared , but Khruschev kept quiet. In a question and answer session after his secret speech to the Communist party Congress, he was asked as to why he didn't approach Stalin and apprise him as to what was happening. He answered that had he tried it, the NKVD would have shot him dead.

Khruschev became all powerful in 1958 and decided that war was not an option with the USA. He visited USA in 1959  and also India where he mended fences with Nehru. He had a global vision and wished to propel Russia forward as a great power.

Khruschev in Power

Khruschev in power  carried out what he had promised. No Soviet leader or his opponent was executed. His predecessor  Malenkov was sent as Ambassador to Mongolia and most dissidents were only exiled. Execution so much a vogue of the Soviet State disappeared. One has only to think of the assassination of Trotsky on orders of Stalin and the famous purges and trails of dissidents like Bukharin in 1936-37 that led to executions to realise what Khruschev achieved. It was an act of great courage.

Khruschev was also a great success on the international stage. His greatest contribution to enhancement of Soviet power was during the Cuban missile crises. He outsmarted Kennedy and now we know what  Khruschev achieved. He got US nuclear missiles dismantled in Turkey and also got a solemn promise from Kennedy and the USA to NEVER destabilise the Castro regime in Cuba. The USA honored this pledge for 50 years and that is the reason Fidel Castro and his communist regime survived for 5 decades.

Khruschev was handed a propaganda item on a platter by the USA when a U-2 aircraft on a spying mission over Russia was shot down 1200 miles deep in Russian territory. The pilot was captured ( Francis Powers) and put on trial. The world press was invited and instead of Powers in the dock, it was the USA and the US President General Eishenhower who were in the dock. Subsequently Khruschev became more aggressive and began to flaunt Soviet power. 

When Khruschev moved around the world, the supporters of Stalin were ganging up against him.The Chinese leader Mao tse Tung was also unhappy with him and Khruschev's order to remove the embalmed body of Stalin from the Mausoleum of Lenin at Red Square was not liked by the Stalinsts. They  bidded their time and caught Khruschev on the wrong foot on a matter of agriculture.

Khruschev had wanted to grow wheat in the vast lands of  Siberia. Unfortunately thousands of acres of lands in Siberia were laid waste by the weather and Khruschev was held resposnsible. Actually it was just a ploy to remove Khruschev. Leonid Brezhnev at that time sided with the Stalinists and at a meeting of the Collegium, Khruschev was voted out of power. Khrushev wanted the meeting of the entire congress  of the party, where he had support, but events overtoook him and he was  pensioned off to stay in dacha. 

The fact is Khruschev decided that he had done his part in Russian history and gracefully accepted the decision. He made no attempt to cling to power. This was his greatness and his humane treatment of his opponents had an effect and Khruschev was not killed but pensioned off.

Legacy of Khruschev

Khruschev is now no more and so is the Soviet union. There is no doubt had the Soviet Union survived , the role of Khruschev would have been appreciated more.But he must take credit for dismantling the Soviet secret state and the midnight knock. When asked as to what is his greatest contribution , he replied that he had removed fear  in Russian society.

Now Russia is a democracy and the transition to this stage would not have been possible if Nikita Khruschev  had not appeared on the scene. Its is a sad commentary, that even Russians do not know much about him. But Khruschev was the man who heralded a new era and the present Russia has a lot to owe him. In my book Khruschev is one of the greats of Russia and his role cannot be glossed over.

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Comments (1)

  1. vijay

As a child I had seen Khruschev during his visit to India perhaps with Bulganin. He also was somewhat comical in his appearance and talking style. He and Nehru ticked off well.

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