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Encyclopedia > Nikita Khruschev
Nikita Khrushchev in
Nikita Khrushchev in 1962

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (Russian: Ники́та Серге́евич Хрущёв) (nih-KEE-tah khroo-SHCHYOFF) (April 17, 1894September 11, 1971) was the leader of the Soviet Union after the death of Joseph Stalin. He was First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 and Premier of the Soviet Union from 1958 to 1964.


Early days

Born in Kalinovka, Kursk Province, Imperial Russia (now Ukraine), Khrushchev trained for and worked as a pipe fitter in various mines. During World War I Khrushchev became involved in trade union activities, and after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 he fought in the Red Army. He rose in the party apparatus to the Politburo.

Great Patriotic War

During World War II, Khrushchev served as a political officer with the equivalent rank of Lieutenant General.

In the months following the German invasion in 1941, Khrushchev came into conflict with Stalin over the conduct of the war in the Ukraine, where Khrushchev was the local party leader. He considered Stalin's unwillingness to accept retreat as a military option to be wasteful in the face of the overwhelming odds the soldiers were facing. Later, he was a political commissar at the Battle of Stalingrad and was the senior political officer in the south of the Soviet Union throughout the war time period—at Kursk, entering Kiev on liberation, and in the suppression of the Bandera nationalists of the UNO (who had earlier allied with the Nazis before fighting them in the Western Ukraine).

Rise to power

After Stalin's death in March 1953, there was a power struggle between different factions within the party. Khrushchev prevailed, becoming party leader on September 7 of that year, and his main rival, NKVD chief Lavrenty Beria, was executed in December. Khrushchev's leadership marked a crucial transition for the Soviet Union. He pursued a course of reform and shocked delegates to the 20th Party Congress on February 23, 1956 by making his famous Secret Speech denouncing the "cult of personality" that surrounded Stalin, and accusing Stalin of the crimes committed during the Great Purges. This effectively alienated Khrushchev from the more conservative elements of the Party, but he managed to defeat what he termed the Anti-Party Group after they failed in a bid to oust him from the party leadership in 1957.

In 1958, Khrushchev replaced Georgy Malenkov as prime minister and established himself as the undisputed leader of both state and party. He became Premier of the Soviet Union on March 27, 1958. Khruschev promoted reform of the Soviet system and began to place an emphasis on the production of consumer goods rather than on heavy industry.

In 1959 during Richard Nixon's journey to the Soviet Union, he took part in what was later known as the Kitchen Debate. Khrushchev's new attitude towards the West as a rival instead of as an evil entity alienated Mao Zedong's China. The Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, too, would later be involved in a similar "cold war" triggered by the Sino-Soviet Split in 1960.

Khrushchev's temper

Khrushchev was regarded by his political enemies in the Soviet Union as a boorish, uncivilized peasant, with a reputation for interrupting speakers to insult them. He repeatedly disrupted a United Nations conference in September-October 1960 by pounding his fists on the table and shouting in Russian during speeches. On September 29, 1960, Khrushchev twice interrupted a speech by British prime minister Harold Macmillan by shouting out and pounding his desk. The unflappable Macmillan famously commented: "I should like that to be translated if he wants to say anything."

At the UN two weeks later, Lorenzo Sumulong, the Filipino delegate, asked Khrushchev how he could protest Western capitalist imperialism while the Soviet Union was at the same time rapidly assimilating Eastern Europe. Khrushchev became enraged and informed Sumulong that he was "kholuj i stavlennik imperializma," which was translated as "a jerk, a stooge and a lackey of imperialism," then removed one of his shoes and made a move as to bang it on the table.

Nikita Khrushchev at the Simferopol Space Control Center

During a Big Four summit in Paris on May 16, 1960, Khrushchev demanded an apology from U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the U-2 Spy Plane Crisis. This ended the conference. Later that year at the UN, he blasted Western interference in the Congo.

At another occasion, Khrushchev said in reference to capitalism, "We will bury you." This phrase, ambiguous both in English and in Russian, was interpreted in several ways. He is famous for boasting to the U.S. President: "We will bury you. Our rockets could hit a fly over the United States."

Forced retirement

Khrushchev's rivals in the party deposed him at a Central Committee meeting on October 14, 1964. The removal was largely due to his personal mannerisms, which were regarded by the Party as tremendous embarrassments on the international stage. Khrushchev's handling of the Cuban missile crisis also contributed to the internal revolt against him. According to Khrushchev's memoirs, in May 1962 he conceived the idea of placing intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Cuba in an attempt to counter an emerging lead of the United States in developing and deploying strategic missiles. He also presented the scheme as a means of protecting Cuba from another United States-sponsored invasion, such as the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

Following his removal from power, Khrushchev spent seven years under house arrest. He died at his home in Moscow on September 11, 1971. Khrushchev is interred in the Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, Russia.

Khrushchev's eldest son Leonid died in 1943 during the Great Patriotic War. His younger son Sergei emigrated to the United States and is now an American citizen. He often speaks to American audiences to share his memories of the "other" side of the Cold War.

Key political actions

Khrushchev embracing Cuban President Fidel Castro

Key economic actions

  • Second wave of the reclamation of virgin and abandoned lands (tselinnaya i zalezhnaya zemlya, tselina, zalezh) (Virgin Lands Campaign)
  • Introduction of sovnarkhozes, (Councils of People's Economy), regional organizations, in an attempt to combat the centralization and departmentalism of the ministries
  • Reorganization of agriculture, with preference given to sovkhozes (state farms), including conversion of kolkhozes into sovkhozes, introduction of maize.
  • Coping with housing crisis by quickly building millions of apartments according to simplified floor plans, dubbed khrushchovkas.
  • Devaluation of the rouble 10:1, 1961.


Khrushchev was portrayed by Bob Hoskins in the movie Enemy at the Gates (2001). Here Khrushchev is shown in his political commissar days during the Battle of Stalingrad. His eldest son dies in the battle.


  • William Taubman - Khruschev (2003)

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
  • The Case of Khrushchev's Shoe (http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FQP/is_4506_129/ai_66383187), by Nina Khrushcheva (Nikita's granddaughter), New Statesman, Oct. 2, 2000.
  • Modern History Sourcebook: Nikita S. Khrushchev: The Secret Speech - On the Cult of Personality, 1956 (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1956khrushchev-secret1.html)
  • Comments by Stephen Pearl, Chief of the English Interpretation Section of the U.N. in New York from 1980 to 1994 (http://article.gmane.org/gmane.culture.studies.literature.slavic/2220)
Preceded by:
Georgy Malenkov

List of leaders of the Soviet Union

Succeeded by:
Leonid Brezhnev

  Results from FactBites:
CNN Cold War - Profile: Nikita Khrushchev (649 words)
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev was born in 1894 to an illiterate peasant family in Kalinovka, a village near Russia's border with Ukraine.
To supplement his family's meager income he began working at an early age, but despite this, and despite his father's second job as a coal miner, Khrushchev's family was unable to survive as farmers.
It was the beginning of his activist career: at the age of 18, Khrushchev joined a group of workers who had organized a strike protesting working conditions.
Dictators (640 words)
Khruschev, der var sluppet helskindet gennem så mange bataljer og snigløb i Kreml, som havde været med i topledelsen igennem 25 år - Khruschev var færdig.
Det var Khruschev, der i sin tid havde opdaget den unge fremadstræbende Brezhnev i Ukraine, taget ham under sine stærke vinger og ført ham til tops i partiet.
Han skyldte Khruschev alt, og han viste sin taknemlighed ved i oktober 1964 at berøve denne alle partiposter og statsembeder.….
  More results at FactBites »



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