Khrushchev, Nikita (1894-1971) was leader of the Soviet Union from the death of Stalin in 1953 until his removal from power in 1964. Born into a humble peasant family, Khrushchev participated in the Russian Revolution (1917), the Russian Civil War (1918-21) and World War II (1939-45). He was a committed communist who rose through the ranks of the party. Khrushchev was loyal to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and was directly involved in Stalin’s purges of the Communist Party in the 1930s. When Stalin died in 1953 Khrushchev became a contender for the Soviet leadership. It took another two years for him to stave off other contenders and consolidate his power.
Khrushchev’s relationship with Mao Zedong and communist China was troubled. In February 1956 Khrushchev delivered his famous ‘Secret Speech’, denouncing the tyranny, brutality and “abuses of power” under his former mentor Stalin. This placed Mao, who had always praised Stalin as a great communist leader, in an awkward position. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was forced to revise its position on Stalin, admitting his “shortcomings and mistakes” while hailing his “great achievements”. Khrushchev made three state visits to China in the 1950s but none went well. Mao, who had been poorly treated by Stalin while visiting Moscow in 1949, returned the favour on the visiting Khrushchev. During a 1958 visit Mao flatly rejected Khrushchev’s joint defence proposals. Another visit the following year went so badly that Khrushchev cut it short and returned home early. He later ordered the withdrawal of Soviet technical advisors from China.
The most significant point of difference between Khrushchev and Mao Zedong was their attitude to the West. Mao had based his entire foreign policy on anti-imperialist, anti-American paranoia and propaganda. Khrushchev, however, was prepared to open up friendlier negotiations with Washington and other Western countries. This outraged Mao, who viewed concessions to the West as a sign of weakness. When Khrushchev retreated during the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962, Mao made public statements accusing him of cowardice. The Sino-Soviet war of words continued through the 1960s. Khrushchev became a target of CCP propaganda, which painted him as a traitor to Marxist-Leninism. During the Cultural Revolution the persecuted Liu Shaoqi was condemned as the ‘Chinese Khrushchev’. As for the real Khrushchev, hardliners forced him out of power in 1964 and he took no further part in Soviet politics. He penned his memoirs before dying in 1971.
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