His story is something like a fairy tale. A humble young peasant boy,born to a world of famine and poverty with 100 million peasants just likehim, works and fights his way up the political ladder of Russia to one daybecome its most powerful force, simultaneously holding the offices ofPremier of the U. S.
S. R. and First Secretary of the Communist Party. Itseems incredible, but it should be remembered that Nikita Khrushchev didnot accomplish this feat without much sacrifice and hard work on his part.
Coming from virtually nothing, he struggled for many years to rise amongthe ranks in Revolutionary Russia before he achieved the position of awidely-loved ruler and powerful, determining force in internationalaffairs. And although, in the end, he was cast down from this climacticposition, it was not before this loquacious and personable man had employedhis keen and incisive mind toward making many gains for and improvements intwentieth-century Russia. To truly understand how humble and common his beginnings were, one mustunderstand the situation in Russia toward the end of the nineteenthcentury. Serfdom had only recently been abolished, and, as a result, therewas a severe shortage of land and widespread poverty and illiteracy.
Onlythe strongest and cleverest were able to make a living from their new-foundfreedom; most just struggled to survive. It was among this majority, onApril 17, 1894, that Nikita Sergeievich Khrushchev was born. As a boy, helived in Kalinovka, a poor villiage in the Ukraine, in an izba, a mud hutwith a thatched roof, with his grandfather, a large family, and thefamily’s animals. His father, it is said, lived his life with the ambitionto buy a horse, but he never saved enough money to do so. In the end, thefamily was forced to give up their home and move to Yuzovka in another partof the Ukraine.
Throughout his childhood, Nikita was forced to work to survive. Hiseducation amounted to only two or three years in the village school, for hewas forced to go to work herding cows when he was nine. Following that, hewas em- ployed as many things, including a farm hand, a factory worker, andfinally a miner in the coal pits. It was at this time that hisdetermination to better himself was first made apparent, for, rather thanletting himself be destined forever to work in the pits, he offered hisservices in all areas of the job, including the development of pit-heads,elevators for the mines.
This was also the time in which the youngKhrushchev’s rebellious nature began to surface, but rather than tostriking or union-organizing, it was applied toward politics. It all beganwith a visit to the mines in 1917 by a man called Kaganovich, who was sentto recruit miners for the Revolution. Nikita, who was 23 and viewed thisman as both a romantic figure and an opportunity to break from his socialboundaries, joined his Bolshevik group and, by doing so, took his first ofmany steps in his forthcoming rise to political power. Soonafter, Khrushchev, a loyal but not very active Bolshevik member,became involved with the Communist party as well.
Prior to this point, hehad been exempt from military service due to his indispensibility in thelocal coal industry. Also, he had been responsible for a family, as he hadmarried his wife, Galina, during his years in the coal mines, and now hadtwo children (Leonid and Julia), which made him want to remain nearYuzovka. However, in 1919, that rebellious, power-seeking inner sense ofNikita’s got the best of him, and he went off to join the Red Army. Whenthe war ended, Khrushchev, whose main objective had been to emerge as apolitician until he found how difficult it was to compete with the”higher-born,” at least had succeeded in proving himself to be a loyal anduseful figure. Soonafter, he returned home with the task of organizing alocal Communist party.
When he arrived back in Yuzovka, however, he found the area, along withmuch of the Ukraine, suffering due to a great famine. Peasants were forcedto eat bark, grass, leather and one another to survive, and many died,including Khrushchev’s wife. It was a very sad and difficult time forNikita, but he retaliated against his depression by devoting himselfwholeheartedly toward the reorganization of Russia. At once he set aboutto restore local factories and increase coal production, steps heconsidered vital in order to get the economy going. It took much toughnessand courage to get men to work under such conditions, but Khrushchev,gifted with a talent for organizing and motivating people, was able tosucceed.
In 1921, he sent his children to live with his parents andenrolled in a mining technology school, where he further developed himselfin engineering and politics and learned how to read. A quick learner,Khrushchev finished school in four years, literate and with a comprehensiveknowledge of Leninist views. He married again, this time to aschoolteacher named Nina Petrovna, and, at the age 31, encountered thefirst of a series of very rapid steps to the supreme position he would oneday hold as Premier of the U. S.
S. R. In 1925, Khrushchev was appointed to his first full-time and veryimportant Party position, Party Secretary of Petrovsko, a district of about400 square miles in the Ukraine. For the two years that he held thatoffice, Nikita encouraged peasants to work and reopened factories,unemployment dropped and bands of mutinous peasants which roamed thecountryside were wiped out.
In addition, bands of wild Russian children,called besprisorni, were rounded up and either put to work or shot. By theend of his term there, he had grown enough in importance to be a non-votingmember of the All Union Party Congress-in other words, in just seven years,Krushchev had earned his way into the top 1300 of over one million Partymembers. His next step was to go to Moscow, where he studied engineering andworked actively in the Party cell of the Moscow Industrial Academy. Working closely with important political figures, even including Stalin’swife, Khrushchev continued to rise in importance and popularity. By 1932,he had reached a point where he was second in command of the Party for allof Moscow. With this power, he attempted to more or less renovate Moscow.
Its living conditions were deplorable and dreary. There was a severeshortage of food, families lived huddled two or three to a room, buildingswere falling apart. As Peter the Great had done many years before, Nikitaattempted to “drag Russia into the twentieth century. ” He made manyreforms, including the construction of the Moscow Metro, and as a resultwas soon appointed to the Central Committees of the All-Union CommunistParty and the Supreme Soviet. It should be noted that, having always concentrated on technical ratherthan political accomplishment, Khrushchev was able to escape the GreatPurge, a period in the thirties in which those considered “enemies of thepeople” according to Stalin were to be arrested, deported or even executed. Rather, he was even rewarded for his service to the country.
In 1938,Khrushchev returned to the Ukraine as first secretary of he UkrainianCommunist Party and focused his attention primarily on agriculture, inwhich he gained a reputation as an expert. When he gained full membershipin the Politburo in March of 1939, Khrushchev became one of the mostpowerful men in the U. S. S. R.
With World War II came more accomplishments and recognition forKhrushchev. He supervised the annexation of Polish territory, helpedsupervise the evacuation of Ukranian industry when Germany attacked, andeventually helped to expel the Germans from the Soviet Union. After thewar, he was brought again to Moscow, where he served in the Secretariat andthe Politburo and was again head of the Moscow regional committee. It wasthose positions, and his reputation as an agricultural expert, that soonpropelled him to power. Upon Stalin’s death, Khrushchev kept a place in power as “collectiveleadership” came into being, which consisted primarily of him, Beria,Bulganin, Malenkov, Kaganovich and Molotov. There were many problems withthis concept at first, and leadership changed hands frequently.
Finally,in 1957, Khrushchev himself was nominated for the top position as Premier,despite the others’ attempts to gain the position for themselves. Whenproblems arose due to this appointment, Khrushchev, who had previously kepta low profile and not involved himself much in the power struggle,suddenly, at the 20th Party Congress that year, gave his famous six-hour”secret speech” denouncing the “crimes of the Stalin era. ” By doing so,many old-time Party leaders felt that he had gone too far; there were twoattempts on his life later that year. However, Khrushchev remained strongand exposed a plot by Malenkov, Molotov and Kaganovich to oust him fromleadership; in doing so, he solidified his power, becoming both Premier andParty Secretary in 1958.
It should be noted now that Khrushchev, although acting as supreme rulerof the Soviet Union, possessed certain personal characteristics that madehim lesser in the eyes of the world. He was a stout, “bullet-headed” manwho liked to joke and talk, and, though his important positions had trainedhim to carry himself as a supreme ruler would, he was still rough and acountryman at heart. He often dressed in simple peasant smocks or plainshirts, clothing he considered to be representative of what Communist stoodfor, and he didn’t see any harm in getting drunk in public. By many he wasnicknamed “the peasant ruler of backward Russia,” and laughed at.
Anexample of this was Khrushchev’s first trip outside the boundaries ofRussia, a visit to Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia in the late 50’s that hadbeen to make peace after the damage Stalin had vainly sought to inflict. The Premier, believing that he was making such a grand jesture ofreconciliation-having great Russia bow down to insignificant Yugoslavia,was instead greeted by an arrogant ruler who intended to mock, ridicule anddisgrace him. Tito began by walking out during a speech in whichKhrushchev was apologizing for the actions of Stalin. He then proceeded toparade the Russian ruler, who was used to bullet-proof cars, around in aconvertible. Finally, at what was to be an informal dinner, Tito had allhis officials wear full evening dress when he knew that the Russians wouldarrive wearing their simple summer suitings, as an attempt to embarrassthem and make them look foolish.
Khrushchev, though, surprised everyone byovercoming this childishness and concentrating on the business at hand,much to Tito’s dismay. Events like this helped to gain thisgrandfather-like ruler both popularity and great respect. Although for several years Khrushchev’s popularity existed in Russiaalso, several crucial incidents caused it to deteriorate just as quickly. One such event was the “U-2 Incident” in 1960, when an American spy planewas shot down over the Soviet Union.
President Eisenhower, who wasconsidered by Khrushchev to be a trusted friend, took responsibility forthe affair and, by doing so, greatly embarrassed the Soviet Premier. Then,just a few years later, when the Soviet Union was caught positioningmissiles in Cuba, Khrushchev was forced to remove them and leave Cuba. Incidents like this began to mount, and many Party members sought to removehim. Finally, in October 1964, he was forced out of office. His remainingyears were spent in “quiet retirement” in the outskirts of Russia.
He diedon September 11, 1971. Although those who Khrushchev had once struggled to and succeeded inovercoming were able to remove him from power in the end, the vast changesthis peasant-turned-Premier had unleashed in the U. S. S. R.
could not beundone, and his years in power have had a lasting effect on the SovietUnion ever since.