Khrushchev's attempts at modernisation.

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4: Khrushchev’s attempts at modernisation

1998: Describe the key features of Khrushchev’s policy of de-Stalinisation


1999: In what ways did Khrushchev carry out his policy of de-Stalinisation in the Soviet Union in the 1950’s?                                                  (10)  

2000: Describe the key features of de-Stalinisation.                          (6)  

In March 1953 Stalin died. He had ruled the Soviet Union for twenty-five years. A period of collective leadership followed until 1956 when Nikita Khrushchev appeared as the new Soviet leader.  In that year Khrushchev gave his secret speech to the twentieth party conference.  In this three hour speech he roundly condemned the terror of Stalin’s regime and the cult of personality which had grown up around him.  

Stalin acted not through persuasion, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion.  Whoever opposed this concept was doomed to physical annihilation.  Mass arrests and deportations of thousands of people, execution without trial, created conditions of insecurity, fear and even desperation. Stalin was a very distrustful man, sickly and suspicious. Possessing unlimited power he indulged in great wilfulness and choked a person morally and physically.

This speech began a policy of de-Stalinisation in which Stalin’s portraits and statues were taken down and history books were rewritten to show him in a truer light.

Inmates of the gulags were released and cities had their names changed.  Thus Stalingrad became Volgogradthe powers of the KGB were greatly reduced.  Censorship was also relaxed and Alexander Solzhenitsyn was allowed to publish in the Soviet Union, ‘One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich’ that criticised the gulags.  Novy Mir became a popular liberal newspaper making relatively daring comments on life in the Soviet Union.  A new criminal code was also introduced that laid down that nobody could be imprisoned without due process of law.                

There was also an economic side to deStalinisation too.  In the past the government had concentrated too much on heavy industry or the ‘metal eaters’.   Stalin’s fifth Five Year Plan was scrapped and Khrushchev embarked upon new industrial priorities such as consumer goods which for years the peoples of the Soviet Union had been starved of.  As Khrushchev aptly put it, ‘what kind of communism is it that has no sausage?         

Khrushchev himself typified the differences between the new and the old. When he had eliminated all of his rivals for the leadership, there were no show trials and certainly no executions. Malenkov, Kaganovich and the others were sacked, but then given unimportant jobs to do. One went to be Ambassador to Mongolia, another became manager of a power station.

2000: Why did Khrushchev introduce a policy of de-Stalinisation? (5)

2001: Why did Khrushchev carry out a policy of de-Stalinisation after he became leader of the Soviet Union?                                          (10)  


In February 1956 Khrushchev attacked Stalin in the Secret Speech. He denounced Stalin’s methods and accused him of crimes against the Soviet people. The speech came as a great shock, but had been carefully planned.

Khrushchev introduced de-Stalinisation to protect his own position by getting rid of Stalin’s old supporters in the party.  In order to secure his own position he thus needed to make a clean break with the past and he therefore removed old Stalinists in order to establish his own power base.  Sooner or later the truth about Stalin would come out and Khrushchev did not want to be held responsible

Khrushchev also believed that many of Stalin’s policies, such as the Purges and Collectivisation, had been genuinely unacceptable and that there had to be a break with the Stalinist past. Khrushchev was well aware that the Soviet economy had stagnated under Stalin. He wanted to get rid of the command economy that Stalin had created. He also wanted to reduce Stalinist central planning and replace it with more freedom of expression and local initiative while concentrating more on production of consumer goods.  

Khrushchev was also very conscious of the danger of nuclear war with President Eisenhower’s United States and was eager to rid the Soviet Union of its confrontational Stalinist legacy in order to improve relations with the west. Khrushchev adopted the policy of peaceful-coexistence, which meant accepting that the West had right to exist, while at the same time trying to prove that the Soviet system was better. This new policy could not be put into practice as long as Stalinist ideas prevailed.

2000: In what ways did Khrushchev try to improve industrial output in the Soviet Union in the 1950’s and early 1960’s?                                  (6)  

2001: In what ways did Khrushchev try to modernise Soviet agriculture and industry in the years to 1964?                                                  (15)


Khrushchev’s aim was to achieve ‘peaceful co-existence’ with the west.  At the same time he wanted to show that the communist way of life was superior to that of western capitalism but this would be achieved by the superiority of communist achievement. But Stalin’s command economy strangled initiative because everything was planned by Moscow. If Khrushchev was to achieve his goal, the command economy had to go.

In 1957 Khrushchev closed down most of the large planning ministries in Moscow and set up 150 regional economic councils (sovnarkhozy). These would run industry in their own area.  This, it was hoped, would ensure greater commitment on the part of workers and managers.  You would have a greater say over what you now did and this would increase your pride in your work and so production levels would be increased. In short Khrushchev was trying to modernise industry by trying to encourage local and regional managers to take decisions themselves and not just expect to be told what to do.

Early on Khrushchev had also hoped to improve faith in the economy by promising greater emphasis on consumer goods rather than by concentrating too much on heavy industry or as Khrushchev called them the metal eaters.  Stalin’s Fifth Five Year Plan was scrapped and greater emphasis put on the production of food, clothing and household goods.  However Khrushchev was worried by the lack of progress in the economy and the Sixth Five Year Plan (1956 - 1960) once again emphasised reaching targets in heavy industry. The Seventh Five Year Plan which was launched in 1959 tried to boost crucial secondary industries such as chemicals, fertilisers, and plastics which would be indispensable to making a success of the Virgin Lands scheme and the new industries.      

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In agriculture Khrushchev introduced the Virgin Lands scheme.  This led to the cultivation of lands in previously uncultivated parts of the Soviet Union such as Siberia and Kazakhstan.   Collective farms would also be amalgamated into gigantic farm cities which would be economically more efficient and would provide the peasants with new ‘urban amenities’ such as shops and cinemas that they would not be tempted to seek work in the cities.  Agricultural productivity would also be encouraged by the government writing off debts, encouraging loans, allowing the sale of tractors and other such high cost machinery to peasants and ...

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