Politics has always been about image. A good image leads to power, it’s that simple. Sometimes it is hard to draw the line between a leader who is genuinely interested in improving the lives of his people and one that is interested in filling a few more pages of the already crowded History book. A good example of this is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in its transition time between 1953 and 1964.
The tyrannical rule of Joseph Stalin in the USSR was finally over, and the nation sought a new leader; after nearly a decade, one man, Nikita Khrushchev, rose up from the ranks with new ideas for the nation, and an extreme anti-Stalin campaign. But was he truly enraged at the way Stalin ruled or was he using this image in an attempt to capture the same power as his predecessor? The link between the two leaders goes back many years, to nearly the beginning of the communist annexation of Russia.
Even today, we find ourselves asking if the politicians we vote for say they will make a reform to actually help the people, or if they say it as an empty promise in a ploy to get elected or to gain power. Was Nikita Khrushchev a man for the people, or was he simply a puppet with motives unseen to the people that pulled his strings? Joseph Stalin ruled the USSR from 1929 until his death in 1953. His rule was one of tyranny, and great change from the society that his predecessor, Lenin, had envisioned (Seton, 34). Stalin put into effect two self proclaimed “five-year plans” over the course of his rule.
Both were very similar in that they were intended to improve production in the nation. The first of these plans began collectivization, in which harvests and industrial products were seized by the government and distributed as needed. The government eliminated most private businesses and the state became the leader in commerce. Stalin also initiated a process called “Russification”. (Great Events, 119)”Through this program, he ruled the minority nations of the USSR such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan more strictly.
This policy of expansion also helped Stalin seize a large portion of Poland, and it was done under the guise that it was to “enrich the nation. ” Stalin established a secret police force which was unyielding and went about it’s business with an iron fist, bringing down dissenters, revolutionaries, and those that cheated in collectivization. Much of Stalin’s effectiveness can probably be contributed to this police force; because of their keenness in apprehending “criminals,” Stalin went generally unopposed and he could carry out his policies which no one liked, but everyone endured.
Anti-Semitism was abundant and encouraged at this time. Stalin’s entrance into WWII left the Soviet Union, although victorious, in shambles. These factors all led to Stalin becoming an unpopular leader over his powerless people. There were several effects of Stalin’s reign that shaped the political views of future leaders. Communism grew unpopular among the lay-people because Stalin used the system, not to benefit them, but to benefit the state and his reign. The collectivization did improve the economy, but it killed many people in the process.
Farmers who depended on their crops not just for income, but also for food, died, as did those who tried to hide some of their crops from government collectors. Industrialization was rapid and many products came off the assembly-line… all of which went to the State for distribution. All of this domestic reform by Stalin left his army unprepared because of their other concentrations. While they should have been preparing for World War II, the soldiers were sent around the USSR to erect statues and paraphernalia of Stalin (Great Events, 121).
Several cities and monuments were named after the leader, also causing problems for military units as stations and fortified cities lost their names and confused soldiers. These are probably major reasons for the heavy amount of casualties suffered by the Russians in the war. It enraged the people that their leader left them so unprepared, and deepened their already great hatred of Joseph Stalin. Under this dictator, the USSR fell behind in worldwide economics, politics, and technologies-their status as a world power was declining and a new leader was to be welcomed.
A struggle for power ensued almost immediately following the death of Stalin in 1953. Cries came from the people for reform, but they were quiet cries because nobody knew if the next leader would just continue Stalin’s no-opposition policies. Also the secret police force, though without their master, still had power and still worked to satisfy Stalin’s wishes (Rutherford, 16). Before dying, Stalin held one of several “great purges” in which he eliminated or imprisoned anyone who could possibly threaten his power- especially those who were gaining power in his own Communist Party (Great Events, 121).
This led to confusion as to who actually held leadership, as there was no one truly ranked in a position to take over. Finally, a collective leadership was established in the Communist Party which was the majority party at the time. Several men ruled together and Georgi Malenkov emerged as the leader of this group. He named himself premier, a position just short of dictator, while a man named Nikita Khrushchev emerged as the leader of the Communist Party. Malenkov told the Russians that he would undo many of the changes that Stalin had made, but his reforms were extremely slow and ineffective.
Khrushchev built support and soon gained enough power to blackmail Malenkov into resigning in 1955. Khrushchev finally became premier in 1958 and remained the Party leader, giving him almost total control over the nation. Khrushchev worked hard to be agreeable with the majority of the people he ruled. He went against many of Stalin’s policies and gave the people a much greater sense of freedom.
There was free political discussion, a standard 40 hour work week where people were free to change jobs, better government planning of production, and eased travel restrictions over the “Iron Curtain. Because he went away from Stalin’s collectivization, industry and farm production suffered, and most of the nation’s wheat was purchased from the West; the only counteraction to this was a happier constituency. Khrushchev established a policy of “peaceful co-existence” with the West in 1956 (Hirschfeld, 38-39). It helped the war-battered nation avoid further war with the West and it helped the nation to keep up with world technology. Stalin wanted to spread Communism where ever he could and however he could.
Khrushchev, too, wanted to spread the political system, but he did it through words, and encouraged riots in other nations. These differences, along with a win in the space race, gave Khrushchev a popular image with the common people; but he was scorned by the neo-Stalinists and those who held a lot of power in the Communist Party. Probably the most notable achievement of Khrushchev was his process of “Destalinization. ” A political ploy to erase the past and ease the minds of those who suffered under the dictator.
Khrushchev worked to denounce his former leader’s doings and clean up the image of the nation on a worldwide scale. It is interesting to note though that Khrushchev worked with Stalin since nearly the time when Stalin took power at the uprisal of the modern Communist Party. He never made his newly found hatred for the man obvious while Stalin was in office, perhaps to protect himself, and perhaps to keep him rising through the ranks of the party. Only after Stalin’s death did Khrushchev express his views on the leader’s tyranny.
The cities which were once named in honor of Stalin were given new names or returned to their old names (ex. Stalingrad returned to Volgograd) (Rutherford, 80). The statues and pictures of Stalin which were erected were destroyed, and letters were sent to families of those killed in battle which criticized Stalin’s weak leadership during the time of war. Perhaps the most notable example of Destalinazation was a clandestine speech that Khrushchev gave to top officials of the Communist Party where he denounced Stalin and criticized the dictator and those who agreed with his views which murdered so many Russian citizens.
The speech was supposedly kept a secret so that the Capitalist media would not receive word of it and gain an edge over the Communists if they knew of the strife that was occurring within the party. Stalin’s grave was plundered and vandalized during this process, and Khrushchev gained approval from the West. It had a negative effect on Communism as a whole in that denouncing Stalin was basically denouncing Communism from its roots. Revolts broke out against the Communist governments in Poland and Hungary, and the USSR spent money to thwart these disturbances which might have helped to bolster Capitalism in the nearby areas.
Now that the scene has been established, we shall look deeper to find possible reasons for why Destalinazation started and the impact that it had on Khrushchev and the nation. Joseph Stalin was probably one of the smartest leaders in keeping his people under an iron fist. Louis the XIV had the same effect, but he did it in a much more subtle way, quelling the nobility while serving the lay-people. It would have been tough for anyone to rise to power while Stalin was ruling because the secret police would have caught on to them so quickly and had them “removed.
The reason’s his policies failed may have been the rapidness of the instillation of Communism on the people. They had been under Czarist rule for so long, when all of the sudden Lenin seized power, and soon after, Stalin gained that power. The drastic differences in the way the government was run was bound to stir up conflict in the people, no matter what the consequences may have been. Also, many of his policies couldn’t get accomplished because of what one could call weak “secondary” leadership. Nobody could rise to a position to take charge of a certain industry there because of Stalin’s greed for absolute power.
One man could not possibly rule a nation the size and calibre of the USSR by himself-but Stalin tried. The fact that his secret police were so well trained is probably the only reason why he remained in power as long as he did; if they weren’t, revolutionaries or even conservative Communists could have easily striped him of power because the people certainly were not on Stalin’s side. Yes, the policy of collectivization under Stalin boosted the economy, but the resulting loss of human life completely outweighed this gain, leading to a loss of workers, and, if Stalin would not have had to enter the war, a loss of production.
The war brings up one last reason for the failure of Stalin’s policies which were the subject of Destalinazation later on. Stalin could have somewhat redeemed himself with a prepared army that would defend the nation from the Nazis and establish the USSR as a major world power. The people might have then been able to appreciate the role of the State under Communism. But Stalin was too busy erecting statues of himself-gaining the image that he wanted to be remembered by. The soldiers, due to lack of money, were unprepared, untrained, and unequipped.
The only thing that drove the German’s out of the USSR was the immense mass of Russians that Stalin had fighting, but the casualties prove the Russians were certainly not victorious, and this probably deepened the people’s hatred for the poor rule of Stalin and their lack of representation in society. During this time, Khrushchev kept quiet. This was most likely due to two factors: one, he did not want to be stripped of his power and two, he wanted to remain somewhat anonymous so that he would not be associated with Stalin’s policies when it would be time for him to possibly rise to power.
He was simply protecting his image, to both his leader, and the masses, looking favorable to both. He was probably one of those people that nobody likes-the type that will say whatever is necessary to boost his image at the time. If Stalin, who Khrushchev did work closely with at times, wanted an opinion, Khrushchev probably told Stalin that his policies were well thought out and working advantageously to the nation, but when confronted with his views in public, one would tend to believe that he would not be so praising, as to look good to the masses, which hated Stalin.
Once Khrushchev finally rose to power and was safe because of Stalin’s death, he started the process of Destalinizing the nation. Even though he had been a firm believer in Communism, and probably did not care about much of what Stalin did, Stalin had left his mark on history as an evil man. Khrushchev most likely wanted to take advantage of his opportunity to gain a positive image, and therefore he undid many of Stalin’s reforms, he gave people their freedoms back, and he removed the image of Stalin from cities across the USSR. He simply told the people what they wanted to hear.
It’s hard to tell how much of Khrushchev’s motive for Destalinizing was for political betterment, compensating the citizens, or national security. It could have been that he tried to go against the policies of Stalin to open up communication with the West and nations such as the United States. His peaceful co-existence plan went directly against Stalin’s policy of spreading Communism everywhere, any way possible. It could have been done to make the Western nations feel an ease on Cold War tensions, and soften their burden, giving the USSR time to catch up technologically and rebuild after still lingering war burdens.
If Khrushchev could get the people on his side, perhaps he felt he could rule, like Stalin, in a Louis XIV-esque style, with absolute power… only he’d be favored by the people, and could reign easily and without distraction; but Khrushchev forgot about one very important group of people: the ardent Communists. This group was probably overlooked by Khrushchev while he was in the midst of his reforms. He kept pushing them aside to better his anti-Stalinistic image.
These grass-roots Communists were then able to gain ample time and make a strong case against Khrushchev’s “soft” Communism, and they soon had him removed from office for splitting with China and Korea. How could a man who was, although quiet, reputed to support Stalin throughout his reign make such a turnaround in ideas? Did Khrushchev really want to take away the image of the cruel Stalin, who killed many people, or was he simply using it as a guise to cover us his old image with one that would appeal to the common people of the USSR and the World which also felt the wrath of Stalin upon them?
Changing the names of cities back to their original names and removing statues to get Stalin out of the minds of the people may have just done the exact same thing that happened from the start of the tyrant’s reign: brought the nation into a state of shock from all of the rapid changes which were happening once more. Khrushchev was probably interested in making himself look like a noble leader, and a Communist that could move the USSR competitively into the future. Look at politics today in the United States.
Candidates fill their campaigns with promises for lower taxes or better childcare or improved road maintenance. Yet, most of these promises go unfulfilled, or they are done half-heartedly. They say this to improve their image and gain power or prestige. Once they hold the office, they are required to fill the duties of that particular office and nothing more. President Clinton promised that every school would be hooked up to the Internet by the year 2000. Well, we’re one year away, and the outlook for that promise being fulfilled is not looking prominent.
But it helped the president win his election and it improved his image to what was a popular idea at the time. Nikita Khrushchev saw his opportunity and jumped on it, using a policy of Destalinazation to appeal to a people that had suffered so long under ideals that he most likely once agreed with. In conclusion, the process of Destalinazation may have helped ease the pain many Russians felt because of the dictator that controlled their whole lives. The process, however, did not and can not erase the mark Stalin left on the country.
Thought of by most as an evil and murderous man, his image is one of power, which he wanted, but power in a negative form. Khrushchev gained the confidence to rise up as Party leader after staying so quiet for so long, never losing favor with a particular group of people. He turned the nation around and tried to clean up the image of the Communist country to the rest of the world, perhaps to gain support, and through that, catch up with world forerunners in economics and technology.
Nikita Khrushchev in my opinion was nothing more than just another dirty old politician who conformed to whatever was popular at the time, henceforth, improving his own image. Destalinazation was a ploy… he knew Stalin’s legacy would never be removed no matter what he did, and he was simply trying to make himself the grander follower to the harsh dictator. History books are filled with leaders; all make their mark in a certain way in an attempt to be remembered. Destalinazation was Khrushchev’s attempt at a favorable image for posterity.