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A coal miner’s son from Kalinovka, Ukraine, Nikita Khrushchev became involved in trade union activities during World War I, and joined the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution.
In January 1919, Khrushchev joined the Red Army and fought against the Whites in the Ukraine during the Civil War. After leaving the army he returned to school to finish his education.
Khrushchev remained active in the Communist Party and in 1925 was employed as party secretary of the Petrovsko-Mariinsk.
Lazar Kaganovich (general-secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party) was impressed with Khrushchev and invited him to accompany him to the 14th Party Congress in Moscow.
With the support of Kaganovich, Khrushchev made steady progress in the party hierarchy. In 1938 Khrushchev became secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party and was employed by Joseph Stalin to carry out the Great Purge in the Ukraine. The following year he became a full member of the Politburo.
After the invasion of Poland in 1940 Khrushchev was given the responsibility of suppressing the Polish and Ukrainian nationalists, and when the German Army invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, he arranged the evacuation of much of the region’s industry.
During WWII Khrushchev attained the rank of lieutenant general and was given the task of organising guerrilla warfare in the Ukraine against the Germans.
When the German Army retreated in 1944 Khrushchev was once again placed in control of the Ukraine and the rebuilding of the region. He came into conflict with Joseph Stalin during the 1946 famine, with Stalin accusing Khrushchev of concentrating too much on feeding the people of the Ukraine rather than exporting food to the rest of the Soviet Union.
Khrushchev was demoted in 1951 and replaced as the minister responsible for agriculture, but emerged as leader of the Soviet Communist Party after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. He arranged for the execution of Lavrenti Beria, head of the Secret Police and gradually he gained control of the party machinery. In 1955 he joined with Nikolai Bulganin to oust Gregory Malenkov from power.
Unlike his political mentor, Khrushchev promoted peaceful coexistence with the West during his years in power, but his ousting by rivals was partly due to his hostility towards neighbouring China.
First Secretary of the Communist party (1953 – 1964) and premier of the Soviet Union (1958 – 1964), Khrushchev sought to “de-Stalinise” the USSR, and after gaining control of the party, travelled to the West to show a Russian face that was friendly and humorous as well as wily and powerful. In the Soviet Union he promoted reform of the Soviet system and began to place an emphasis on the production of consumer goods rather than on heavy industry.
He attacked intolerance, brutality, and abuses of power, but lost credibility in the Soviet Union when he yielded to the US during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Military and the leaders of the Communist Party felt humiliated by Khrushchev climb down over Cuba.
His agricultural policy was also a failure and the country was forced to import increasing amounts of wheat from Canada and the United States.
Domestic agricultural failure, US successes in the race to conquer space, and conservative opposition to his economic reforms forced Khrushchev out of office on 14 October 1964.
After his resignation he lived quietly in Moscow where he wrote his memoirs (Khrushchev Remembers) but just not long enough to see the fruits of some of his policies, or the tragic results of others.
Nikita Khrushchev died of a heart attack in a hospital near his home in Moscow on 11 September 1971. He was denied a state funeral and interment in the Kremlin Wall, and was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.
Fearing demonstrations, the authorities did not announce Khrushchev’s death until the hour of his wake, and surrounded the cemetery with troops.
Pravda ran a one-sentence announcement of the former premier’s death. Western newspapers, meanwhile, contained considerable coverage.
In April 1989 his ”secret speech” against Stalin in February 1956 was officially published for the first time.
“Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even when there is no river”
Nikita Khrushchev. 1960