Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971)
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971)

Nikita Khrushchev, the miner's son who gained world fame as the Soviet leader who broke with Stalin's rigid interpretation of communism, was born in a Ukrainian province April 17, 1894. His job as a pipe fitter (which he began at 15) exempted him from service in World War I. Yet, eager to change Russia, he joined the workers' struggle before the 1917 Revolution erupted and, by 1920, he had joined the Russian Communist Party (the Bolsheviks), served as a political worker for the Red Army in the Civil War, and fought with the army against Polish troops. His service won him admission to the new soviet schools where he quickly rose in the party ranks, becoming secretary of the school's Communist Party Committee. An enthusiastic, effective party organizer, he rose rapidly within the party, receiving the Order of Lenin and appointment as first secretary of the city of Moscow in 1935 and membership in the Politburo in 1939.

Khrushchev successfully managed a number of experimental agricultural campaigns that attempted to cultivate lands in the harsher climates but his failure to collectivize Ukrainian farms led Stalin to demote him in 1947; however, Stalin called him back to Moscow two years later to lead the Moscow City Party. Determined not to be displaced again, Khrushchev consolidated his power, often clashing with Stalin's designated heir, Georgy Malenkov. In 1955, he successfully challenged Malenkov and assumed control of the party and the Soviet Union.

As he traveled outside Russia, Khrushchev gained world fame as a brash anti-Stalinist communist. He orchestrated the political and intellectual thaw of the 1950s cold war resulting in the "rehabilitation" of thousands of political prisoners whom Stalin had imprisoned in Siberian labor camps. He reduced the power of the secret police and outlawed torture. Yet, as his crack down on religious groups and destruction of churches illustrated, his reform had clear limits.

Khrushchev met with Eleanor Roosevelt in 1957 in Yalta, where ER went to interview him for The New York World-Telegram. Their meeting became more debate than exchange as they discussed differences in arms proliferation, the fate of Soviet Jewry, and violation of the Yalta agreements. But they left each other with their spirits intact. When the premier asked if he could tell the reporters they had a "friendly discussion," ER, smiled, and replied yes, but be sure to say "that we differ." To which Khrushchev laughingly countered, "at least, we didn't shoot each other." When Khrushchev came to the U.S. in 1959, he visited ER in Hyde Park where they discussed disarmament of the two nations. Once again, the two leaders found little common ground, agreeing only that they disagreed on everything other than their individual nation's desire for peace.

Khrushchev's acquiescence in the Bay of Pigs crisis severely weakened his standing with Party leaders, who staged a coup against him and forced his "resignation" in 1964. He died of a heart attack September 11, 1971.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed. vol. 2, Holderness-Krasnoje (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1997), pp. 840-842; Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor: The Years Alone (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1972), pp. 269-272; Eleanor Roosevelt, On My Own: The Years Since the White House (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1958), pp. 229-230.

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Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. http://adh.sc.edu.

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