Khrushchev - RTP, domestic and foreign policies

Past Questions:

Paper 3
  • For what reasons, and with what results, was Kruschev successful in the power struggle after Stalin’s death in 1953? (May 2010)
  • For what reasons, and with what results, did Khrushchev pursue a policy of destalinization? (Specimen)
  • “I am not an adventurer, but we must aid national liberation movements.” To what extent does Khrushchev’s assertion explain his foreign policy between 1953 and 1964? (Nov 2008)
  • Assess the view that Kruschev’s policies were a failure both at home and abroad between 1955 and 1963. (May 2005)

Paper 2
  • Analyse the methods used and the conditions which helped in the rise to power of one ruler of a single-party state. (May 2007, May 2005)
  • “It was personality and not circumstances that brought rulers of single-party states to power.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? (Nov 2006)
  • Analyse the methods used and the conditions which helped in the rise to power of one ruler of a single-party state. (May 2005)
  • To what extent was the ruler of one single-party state successful in achieving his aims? (May 2008, TZ2)
  • Evaluate the successes and failures of one ruler of a single-party state. (May 2007, 2005)


Key dates:

Rise to Power

No successor had been nominated by Stalin, as this would have been dangerous to his own position. The leading members of the politburo decided to rule the country collectively. The main players in the politburo were:
First secretary of the party and chairman of council of ministers (prime minister)
Chairman of the central committee
Chief of secret police
Foreign minister
Minister of defence
Minister of foreign trade
First secretary of the Moscow party, member of central committee.

First phase of power struggle: 1953-55
Malenkov had the leading position as both head of the government and the party. Malenkov was closely associated with Stalin and participated in the purges. Malenkov was seen as Russia future leader.

Favourable factors for Malenkov:

Execution of Beria:
Beria amalgamated the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) and the MGB (Ministry for State Security) under his command. As many in the politburo feared that Beria was too powerful now, and could be become the next Stalin he was “unmasked as a capitalist agent” and executed in 1953. As a result, a major threat to Malenkov’s power position had been removed.
Unfavourable factors for Malenkov:

Malenkov had to give up his position as first secretary (general secretary as Stalin was) because it concentrated too much power in the politburo as he also was chairman of council of ministers. Consequently, Khrushchev was appointed first secretary, given immense power just as Stalin in his power struggle decades ago.

Policy differences with the politburo:
Policy differences between Malenkov and central committee headed by Khrushchev arose. They were debating over
1) Fiver year plans (that had gone really badly). They also debated over what to focus on; Malenkov wanted to focus more on consumer goods, which the central committee did not want.
2) Agricultural output was low; they debated over what to do?
3) They also debated how to approach the west, Malenkov argued for a conciliatory approach as a third ww3 would mean the end of civilisation.

He was opposed by Khrushchev (who later adopted Malenkov’s policies). In 1954 Malenkov had little support in the central committee, and in 1955 his position as prime minister was replaced by Bulganin, a nominee of Khrushchev.

Khrushchev emerged as the most powerful leader because he had support from
a- The army (He had been a general in the army, this gave him a lot of practical power)
b- The Ukrainian communist party (He was originally from Ukraine)
c- A majority of the Politburo (used his power as first secretary to appoint officials)

Second phase of power struggle: 1957
By 1957 an anti-Khrushchev majority had formed in the politburo consisting of: Molotov, Shepilov, Kaganovich, Malenkov (he remained a member of politburo), Voroshilov, Pervukhin and Saburov. He was almost overthrown.

The anti-Khrushchev group opposed
a) His style of leadership
b) His economic policies
c) The speed and nature of Destalinization
d) The pursuit of peaceful coexistence

In 1957 the politburo demanded Khrushchev to resign, however, he refused. He was able to maintain in office because he had filled the central committee with loyal supporters (he was general secretary just like Stalin). Now Khrushchev’s opponents were labelled as an anti-party group as they opposed the government. Molotov, Malenkov and Kaganovich were ousted from the party.

The central committee supported Khrushchev since
a) 60 percent of the members were his supporters appointed by him
b) The central committee mistrusted the anti-Khrushchev group
c) Khrushchev was making a genuine effort to solve the country’s problems
d) Khrushchev had raised the credibility of the party by destalinization
In 1958 Khrushchev was in full control of the party.
The remarkable aspect of this power struggle was that the people that got ousted from the party were not executed. This marked a new tolerance within the ruling elite, and relaxed Russian politics.

Domestic Policies


Return to Marxism and establish communism:
1) Raise living standards for Soviet citizens

i) Raise grain production ii) Switch focus from heavy industry to consumer industry

2) Decentralize government power and economy. Khrushchev sought to limit government control by making the state “wither away”.

1) Dismantle Stalin’s dictatorship without making the entire Stalinist system collapse and bring chaos to the USSR.
2) improve the efficiency of the Russian economy by decentralizing power + control.
3) Strengthen Khrushchev’s position in the party by weakening his opponents.

Key successes

b) Destalinization

Denunciation of Stalin:
In 1956 Khrushchev held a speech called the secret speech, strongly criticizing various aspects of Stalin’s policies. He denounced Stalin for his
a) Personality cult b) Ultimate dominance in the party c) The purges and the great terror d) His conduct of WW2

The speech was an attempt of Khrushchev to:
a) dissociate themselves with Stalin
b) Dismantle Stalin’s dictatorship

Destalinization involved downgrading the secret police, as that institution was the machinery of Stalin’s dictatorship. In addition to above, there very harsh laws during the Stalinist era, these were reformed. During 1958 there were, which completely transformed the judicial climate in Russia.

a) Prosecuting departments of the MVD and special courts were abolished. In the future, criminal investigation was carried out in regular courts, under the authorities of the government.
b) According to the new legal laws, civilians were now only to be convicted in properly constituted courts, and not in military tribunals as before. Civilians could no longer be convicted on the grounds of being a member of a special group of society and vaguely “an enemy people”. Besides that, all convictions had to have proper evidence.
c) Absenteeism and quitting a job was no longer criminal
d) However, the legal system was circumvented by the “Parasite Law” enabling the government to sack people living on “non-labour income” such as priests, which the communists did not like.

Overall destalinization was a success as it achieved the aims of the policy. It dismantled Stalinist society without making USSR collapse. It helped Khruschev in his power struggle with his opponents.

Key failures

Virgin land schemes were an attempt to raise grain production by convert large areas of Kazakhstan and Siberia into farming land. The project was initially a success, and the Komsomol had mobilised hundreds of thousands of youths that went to Siberia. By 1956 the production had tripled compared to 1953, but then, the schemes began to fail because:

a) Khrushchev discouraged the use of crop cycle and fallow land for quick results, and had failed to provide the farms with fertilisers. The fertility of the land gradually disappeared and in the 1960 half of the farm land was ruined
b) Many volunteers lost their enthusiasm and went home
d) The climate in Kazakhstan and Siberia is not made for farming.

Failure to produce maize:
In 1959, after Khrushchev’s trip to the US, he decided that Russia too would produce a lot of corn, as he had seen the corn fields of Iowa. The rich fields of Ukraine were turned into maize fields. However, this was a serious failure as maize was grown on 37 million hectares of land, but could only be harvested on 7 of these. This project failed due to:

a) Ukraine does not possess a climate in which maize thrives in, it was far too damp.
b) MTS stations were abolished on the countryside.
c) In 1962 food prices were raised, and this led to food crisis in Ukraine, so the peasants were discontented and did not care about their work on the collective farms.

Economic policies
In 1957, Khrushchev attempts to reduce the central control over the economy by setting up several regional economic councils called (Sovnarkhozy), and central control was relaxed. However, this had a negative impact on the economy as it was hard to organize the economy of the USSR without a strong central control in Moscow.

Under Khrushchev the economy performed well in the beginning of his reign, but gradually declined because:
a) Failure to correct imbalances
b) Acute shortage of capital that could be invested
c) High military spending, and high spending on space programs
d) Investment spread to widely in Russia

Foreign Policies


1) Peaceful coexistence with the west
2) Prevent nuclear war

Key successes
The US, UK and the USSR were afraid of what had happened during the Cuban missile crisis and consequently they signed the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty in 1963 agreeing that they would not test any more atom-bombs. In addition to above, direct lines of communication were established between Washington and Moscow via the “hot line”.

Key failures
In 1960, an American spy plane was shot down over the USSR. The US denied that it was a spy plane and claimed that it was a weather plane. However, the American pilot survived and confessed that it was a spy plane. This made the relations between the west and USSR seriously decline, and in 1961 the Berlin wall was built.

Relations during in 1962 due to Cuban missile crisis.
Cuba was a communist state, and Khrushchev decided to build place nuclear missile on Cuba to
1) To counter the similar threat of US missiles on the Soviet border in Turkey
2) To prevent an invasion of Cuba which was being planned in Washington
When Russian ships were outside Cuba loaded wit nuclear missiles, the US navy had blocked the path to Cuba, and would fire upon the ships if they got to closer to Cuba. As Kennedy was unwilling to back down, the only two options were either nuclear war, or to withdraw. Khrushchev decided to withdraw and not to start a nuclear war.

After the Cuban missile crisis a split between the USSR and China developed called the Sino-Soviet split. This was caused by
1) The USSR and Khrushchev faced a lot of criticism from the CPC in China because of the Cuban missile crisis. Mao thought that Khrushchev had given in to the capitalist west.
2) China resented Khrushchev’s policy of destalinization.
3) The Soviets refused to assist China in a nuclear weapons programme.
4) There were border disputes in Mongolia.