Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
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The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Contemporary World

1945 to the present

After World War II, a new world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the developing nations of the Third World.

The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.



The Soviet Union and its Successor

SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states -
Russian Federation,
Ukraine,Belarus, Moldova,
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia,
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan


After the Second World War, all of Eastern Europe came under the influence of Stalin's totalitarian system, which led the Soviet Union into the Cold War. The system was relaxed to a degree under his successors, who were increasingly bound to a "collective leadership." The party's claim to autocratic rule was not seriously questioned until Gorbachev. In the turbulent years of 1989-1991, the structure of the Eastern bloc crumbled, and then the Soviet Union itself collapsed, disintegrating into a federation of autonomous states. While the Central European countries sought bonds with Western Europe, autocratic presidential regimes established themselves in most of the former Soviet republics.


Life After Stalin: Power Struggle and Khrushchev's victory

After Stalin's death, the regime relaxed his hardline policies. At first Malenkov seemed to be prevailing in the struggle to replace him, but in 1955, he was brushed aside by Khrushchev.


In January 1953, Stalin denounced a plot against his life by the Kremlin's doctors, but before a wave of further purges could be initiated, 10 Stalin died on March 5,1953.

Stalin lying in state alongside Lenin in Moscow, March 7, 1953. Eight years later his body was removed

The power struggle for the succession as leaderbegan immediately. At first Georg Malenkov, who had the government apparatus behind him, and Nikita Khrushchev, who had the support of the party, joined forces against Minister of the Interior Beria, who was deposed in June 19S3 and shot in December.

9 Malenkov, who dominated at first, announced on August 8, 1953, a "new course" that would provide for the strengthening of the underperforming agricultural sector and the consumer industry, cultivation of new lands in the east, and "socialistic justice."

A "thawing period" began in 1954 in which writers, creative artists, and intellectuals regained some freedom of expression. The first moves towards detente with the western alliance also took place. However, in May 1955, the Eastern bloc's Warsaw Pact was founded as a counterpart to NATO, and tensions returned.

In February 1956 11 Nikita Khrushchev was able to win out over Malenkov at the 20th congress of the Soviet Communist party.

9 Georg Malenkov, leader of the Soviet Union (1953-1955), shortly after Stalin's death in 1953

11 Party Secretary
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, 1960

He became party secretary and, by 1958, premier. During the 1956 congress Khrushchev famously denounced Stalin's crimes and the direction of the party under his leadership. During the wave of "de-Stalinization" that followed, revolts took place in Poland and Hungary, but both were militarily suppressed.

Khrushchev relaxed 12 cultural policy, released many from the prison camps (gulags), and increasingly relied on agricultural production to improve the standard of living.

12 Nikita S. Khrushchev and his government at a reception for
Soviet artists and writers, painting, 1957

see also: Hungarian Revolution of 1956

Soviet tanks in Budapest, 1956

He also promoted technology: The launching of 7 Sputnik, the first manmade Earth satellite, in October 1957 was a shock for the West. In 1961, 8 Yuri Gagarin, in his capsule Vostok I, became the first human in space.

In foreign affairs, Khrushchev fluctuated between competition with the US and the idea of "peaceful coexistence." He constantly tried to expand the Soviet Union's sphere of influence in the world. Khrushchev took advantage of the desire for independence of Asian and African countries. Following the 1956 Suez Crisis, he also gave military and financial support to Arab countries engaged in the Middle East conflict.

7 Technicians with Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth

8 Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human
 to orbit the Earth on April 12, 1961


Yury Alekseyevich Gagarin

Soviet cosmonaut, born March 9, 1934, near Gzhatsk, Russia, U.S.S.R. [now Gagarin, Russia], died March 27, 1968, near Moscow

Soviet cosmonaut who in 1961 became the first man to travel into space.

The son of a carpenter on a collective farm, Gagarin graduated as a molder from a trade school near Moscow in 1951. He continued his studies at the industrial college at Saratov and concurrently took a course in flying. On completing this course, he entered the Soviet Air Force cadet school at Orenburg, from which he graduated in 1957.

Gagarin’s 4 3/4-ton Vostok 1 spacecraft was launched at 9:07 am Moscow time on April 12, 1961, orbited Earth once in 1 hour 29 minutes at a maximum altitude of 187 miles (301 km), and landed at 10:55 am in the Soviet Union. His spaceflight brought him immediate worldwide fame. He was awarded the Order of Lenin and given the titles of Hero of the Soviet Union and Pilot Cosmonaut of the Soviet Union. Monuments were raised to him, and streets were renamed in his honour across the Soviet Union.

Gagarin never went into space again but took an active part in training other cosmonauts. He made several tours to other nations following his historic flight, and from 1962 he served as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet. Gagarin was killed with another pilot in the crash of a two-seat jet aircraft while on what was described as a routine training flight. His ashes were placed in a niche in the Kremlin wall. After his death in 1968 the town of Gzhatsk was renamed Gagarin.

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Dmitry Dmitriyevich Shostakovich

The changing directions of Khrushchev's cultural policy are illustrated by the case of composer Dmitry Shostakovich. He composed many hymns glorifying Stalin and the Soviet Union in order to gain the freedom to do his own work. For a time he was a star of Soviet culture.

In 1936, he was publicly denounced for the first time as being "decadent" and for "formalistic excesses." Later in 1948, he was forced to exercise "self-criticism" and ostracized. As first secretary of the Soviet Composers' Association, between 1960 and 1968, Shostakovich turned against "Western avant-gardism," again in line with party policies.

Dmitry Shostakovich

see also:




Nikita Khrushchev

Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, January 1936

Stalin and Politburo colleagues in the Kremlin, 1946.
Anastas Mikoyan, Khrushchev, Stalin, Georgy Malenkov,  Lavrenty Beria, Vyacheslav Molotov

1957 May Day Parade (left to right): Georgy Zhukov, Khrushchev, Nikolai Bulganin,
Lazar Kaganovich, Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov, and Anastas Mikoyan

Nikita Khrushchev and John Kennedy, Vienna, June 1961

Khrushchev with Mao, 1958

Khrushchev and Tito, 1960

Khrushchev Addressing United Nations General Assembly

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev

Stalin’s successor as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union didn’t mess around. As a young party operative he aided in Stalin’s purges, and set the tone for his dealings with the West when he told a delegation of ambassadors in Poland in the late 50s that "we will bury you." A few years later, at a 1960 meeting of the UN, he showed that his fires hadn’t dimmed with age. Furious that a Filipino delegate at the podium was calling for freedom for the Eastern European states under Soviet control, Khrushchev took off his shoe and repeatedly banged it on the table in front of him, demanding that "this toady of American imperialism" be silenced.

Khruschev and Yuri Gagarin

Khruschev and Gamal Abdel Nasser

Khrushchev embracing Cuban President Fidel Castro



Manege Exhibition December 1, 1962

Khrushchev: Do you like the West? Please!
This pederasty in art ... so why sodomites - 10 years, and this Order shall be? "

Khrushchev's tomb at the Novodevichy Cemetery
was sculpted by Ernst Neizvestny

Khrushchev was accustomed to issuing trite reiterations of Soviet platitudes on art, such as his 1957 demand for close ties between art and the life of the people. Developments in 1961 and 1962 inspired a more aggressive stance, which culminated in a 1962 visit to an art exhibit in the Moscow Manege, sponsored by MOSSKH (Moscow Section of the Artist's Union) to mark its 30th anniversary of existence. Flanked by political cronies such as ideologist Mikhail Suslov, recently-appointed KGB chief Aleksandr Shelepin, and Culture Minister Ekaterina Furtseva, and conservative artists such as Sergei Gerasimov and Boris Ioganson, Khrushchev gave vent to his crudest reactions, egged on by his comrades. When he reached the works of the abstract artist Ernst Neizvestnyi, he uttered the phrase "dog shit." Incensed by such barbs from a man who knew nothing about art, Neizvestnyi, a highly decorated war veteran, pulled off his shirt and showed Khrushchev the scars covering his back. The embarrassed Khrushchev embarked on an hour-long debate with the artist which brought them to no agreement, but did spark a grudging mutual respect.

Neizvestnyi suffered no brutal consequences, certainly not the job in a uranium mine promised him by Shelepin. He did lose his official status as an artist, and thus his studio; beginning a process that would drive him into emigration. Though Khrushchev should be commended for his honesty, he also revitalized a dismaying tradition of the crudest possible criticism of art that would only disappear with the Soviet Union itself. When he died in 1971, his family turned to Neizvestnyi to create the memorial for his grave in Moscow's Novodevichii Cemetery. Capturing the paradoxes of the man and critic, he placed the gilded head of a smiling Khrushchev against a background of black and white stone.

see also:
Soviet Nonconformist Art




Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev

N. S. Khrushchev

premier of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

born April 17 [April 5, Old Style], 1894, Kalinovka, Russia
died September 11, 1971, Moscow, Russia, Soviet Union

first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1953–64) and premier of the Soviet Union (1958–64) whose policy of de-Stalinization had widespread repercussions throughout the communist world. In foreign policy he pursued a policy of “peaceful coexistence” with the capitalist West.

Early life
Unlike Lenin and most other Soviet leaders, who generally had middle-class backgrounds, Khrushchev was the son of a coal miner; his grandfather had been a serf who served in the tsarist army. After a village education, Khrushchev went with his family to Yuzovka (later named Stalino, now Donetsk, Ukraine), a mining and industrial centre in the Donets Basin, where he began work as a pipe fitter at age 15. Because of his factory employment, he was not conscripted in the tsarist army during World War I. Even before the Russian Revolution of 1917, he had become active in workers’ organizations, and in 1918—during the struggle between Reds, Whites, and Ukrainian nationalists for possession of Ukraine—he became a member of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik).

In January 1919 Khrushchev joined the Red Army and served as a junior political commissar, ultimately in the campaigns against the Whites and invading Polish armies in 1920. Soon after he was demobilized, his wife, Galina, died during a famine. In 1922 Khrushchev secured admission to a new Soviet workers’ school in Yuzovka, where he received a secondary education along with additional party instruction. He became a student political leader and was appointed secretary of the Communist Party Committee at the school. There he married his second wife, Nina Petrovna, a schoolteacher, in 1924.

Political career under Stalin
In 1925 Khrushchev went into full-time party work as party secretary of the Petrovsko-Mariinsk district of Yuzovka. He distinguished himself by his hard work and knowledge of mine and factory conditions. He soon came to the notice of Joseph Stalin’s close associate, Lazar M. Kaganovich, secretary general of the Ukrainian Party’s Central Committee, who asked Khrushchev to accompany him as a nonvoting delegate to the 14th Party Congress in Moscow. For the next four years—in Yuzovka, then in Kharkov (now Kharkiv) and Kiev—Khrushchev was active as a party organizer. In 1929 he received permission to go to Moscow to study metallurgy at the Stalin Industrial Academy. There he was appointed secretary of the academy’s Party Committee. In 1931 he went back to full-time party work in Moscow. By 1933 he had become second secretary of the Moscow Regional Committee.

During the early 1930s Khrushchev consolidated his hold on the Moscow party cadres. He supervised the completion of the Moscow subway, for which he received the Order of Lenin in 1935. That year he became first secretary of the Moscow city and regional party organization—in effect, the governor of Moscow. In the preceding year, at the 17th Party Congress, he had been elected a full member of the 70-man Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).

Khrushchev was a zealous supporter of Stalin in those years and participated in the purges of party leadership. He was one of only three provincial secretaries who survived the mass executions of the Great Purge of the 1930s. He became a member of the Constitutional Committee in 1936, an alternate member of the Central Committee’s ruling Politburo in 1937, and in the same year a member of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Supreme Soviet. A year later Khrushchev was made a candidate member of the Politburo and sent to Kiev as first secretary of the Ukrainian party organization. In 1939 he was made a full member of the Politburo.

In 1940, after Soviet forces had occupied eastern Poland, Khrushchev presided over the “integration” of this area into the Soviet Union. His principal objective was to liquidate both the Polish and Ukrainian nationalist movements, as well as to restore the Communist Party organization in Ukraine, which had been shattered in the Great Purge. This work was disrupted by the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Khrushchev’s first wartime assignment was to evacuate as much of Ukraine’s industry as possible to the east. Thereafter he was attached to the Soviet army with the rank of lieutenant general; his principal task was to stimulate the resistance of the civilian population and maintain liaison with Stalin and other members of the Politburo. He was political adviser to Marshal Andrey I. Yeremenko during the defense of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) and to Lieutenant General Nikolay F. Vatutin during the huge tank battle at Kursk.

After the liberation of Ukraine in 1944, Khrushchev reassumed control of Ukraine as first secretary of the Ukrainian party organization. He worked to restore the civil administration and to bring that devastated country back to a subsistence level. A famine in 1946 was one of the worst in Ukraine’s history; Khrushchev fought to restore grain production and to distribute food supplies, against Stalin’s insistence on greater production from Ukraine for use in other areas. During this period Khrushchev gained a firsthand acquaintance with the problems of Soviet agricultural scarcity and planning. In 1949 Stalin called him back to Moscow, where he took over his old job as head of the Moscow City Party and concurrently was appointed secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU.

The period 1949–53 was far from pleasant for Khrushchev and other members of the Soviet leadership, who found themselves pawns in Stalin’s palace politics. Khrushchev moved more and more into agriculture, where he began his schemes for the agrogorod (“farming town”) and larger state farms at the expense of the conventional collectives. His innovations were rejected in 1951, however, when responsibility for agriculture was transferred to Georgy M. Malenkov.

Leadership of the Soviet Union
After Stalin’s death in March 1953 and the execution of the powerful state security chief, Lavrenty Beria—which Khrushchev engineered—he engaged in a power struggle with Malenkov, who was Stalin’s heir apparent. Khrushchev soon gained the decisive margin by his control of the party machinery. In September 1953 he replaced Malenkov as first secretary and in 1955 removed Malenkov from the premiership in favour of his handpicked nominee, Marshal Nikolay A. Bulganin.

Significantly, by 1954 Khrushchev had been able to reform the Stalinist security apparatus by subordinating it to the top party leadership. Stalin’s Ministry of Internal Affairs was divided into criminal police and the security services—the Committee on State Security (KGB), which in turn reported to the U.S.S.R.’s Council of Ministers.

In May 1955, when Khrushchev made his first trip outside the Soviet Union—to Yugoslavia with Bulganin—he began to show his flexibility; he apologized to Josip Broz Tito for Stalin’s denunciation of Yugoslav communism in 1948. Later, in trips to Geneva, Afghanistan, and India, he began to exhibit a brash, extroverted personal diplomacy that was to become his trademark. Although his attacks on world capitalism were virulent and primitive, his outgoing personality and peasant humour were in sharp contrast to the image earlier Soviet public figures had cultivated.

On February 25, 1956, during the 20th Party Congress in Moscow, Khrushchev delivered his memorable secret speech about the excesses of Stalin’s one-man rule, attacking the late Soviet ruler’s “intolerance, his brutality, his abuse of power.” The spectacle of the first secretary of the Communist Party exposing the wrongful executions of the Great Purge of the 1930s and the excesses of Soviet police repression, after years of fearful silence, had far-reaching effects that Khrushchev himself could barely have foreseen. The resulting “thaw” in the Soviet Union saw the release of millions of political prisoners and the “rehabilitation” of many thousands more who had perished. (See also Khrushchev’s secret speech.)

Khrushchev’s rule was not without its dark side—including an intensified persecution of religion. Nonetheless, by smashing the repressive icon of Stalinism and the mentality of terror that had been imposed on the general population, Khrushchev inspired a new intellectual ferment and widespread hopes for greater freedom, particularly among students and intellectuals.

Inevitably, the de-Stalinization movement had repercussions in the communist countries of eastern Europe. Poland revolted against its government in October 1956. Hungary followed shortly afterward. Faced with open revolution, Khrushchev flew to Warsaw on October 19 with other Soviet leaders and ultimately acquiesced in the Polish leader Władysław Gomułka’s national communist solution, which allowed the Poles a great deal of freedom. Khrushchev’s shared decision to crush the Hungarian Revolution by force, however, came largely because of the Hungarian premier Imre Nagy’s decision to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. Aside from this sanguinary exception, Khrushchev allowed a considerable amount of freedom to the European communist parties.

The stresses in eastern Europe helped crystallize opposition to Khrushchev within the Soviet Communist Party. In June 1957 he was almost overthrown from his position, and, although a vote in the Presidium (i.e., the Politburo) actually went against him, he managed to reverse this by appealing to the full membership of the party’s Central Committee. In the end, with the help of Marshal Georgy Zhukov, he secured the permanent disgrace of Malenkov, Vyacheslav M. Molotov, and others, who were labeled members of the antiparty group. A few months later, in October, he dismissed Marshal Georgy Zhukov from his post as minister of defense. In March 1958 Khrushchev assumed the premiership of the Soviet Union.

Confirmed in power, Khrushchev set a new policy of “Reform Communism.” In an attempt to humanize the Soviet system—but without sacrificing its ideology—he placed greater emphasis on producing consumer goods, in contrast to the Stalinist emphasis on heavy industry. With several million political prisoners newly released from the infamous labour camps of the Gulag, the domestic political atmosphere became freer. In his rough way, Khrushchev was a populist.

In foreign affairs, he widely asserted his doctrine of peaceful coexistence with the noncommunist world, which he had first enunciated in a public speech at the 20th Party Congress. In opposition to old communist writ, he stated that “war is not fatalistically inevitable.” At the 21st Party Congress in 1959 he said: “We offer the capitalist countries peaceful competition.” His visit to the United States in 1959, where he toured cities and farms with the ebullience of a politician running for office, was a decided success, and the “spirit of Camp David,” in Maryland, where he conferred with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, brought Soviet-American relations to a new high. A long-planned summit conference with Eisenhower in Paris in 1960 broke up, however, with Khrushchev’s announcement that a U.S. plane (a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft) had been shot down over the Soviet Union and its pilot captured. In 1961 his blustering Vienna conference with the new U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, led to no agreement on the pressing German question; the Berlin Wall was built shortly thereafter.

Soviet success in lofting the world’s first space satellite in 1957 had been followed by increased missile buildups. In 1962 Khrushchev secretly attempted to base Soviet medium-range missiles in Cuba, but these efforts were detected by the United States. During the resulting tense confrontation in October 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union apparently stood on the brink of nuclear war, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles on the promise that the United States would make no further attempt to overthrow Cuba’s communist government. (See Cuban missile crisis.) The Soviet Union was criticized by the Chinese communists for this settlement. The Sino-Soviet split, which began in 1959, reached the stage of public denunciations in 1960. China’s ideological insistence on all-out “war against the imperialists” and Mao Zedong’s annoyance with Khrushchev’s coexistence policies were exacerbated by Soviet refusal to assist the Chinese nuclear weapon buildup and to rectify the Russo-Chinese border. The Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty reached between the Soviet Union and the United States in 1963, although generally welcomed throughout the world, intensified Chinese denunciations of Soviet “revisionism.”

During Khrushchev’s time in office, he had to steer constantly between, on the one hand, popular pressures toward a consumer-oriented society and agitation by intellectuals for greater freedom of expression and, on the other, the growing fear of the Soviet bureaucracy that reform would get out of hand. Khrushchev himself was uneasy with intellectuals, and he sanctioned the repression of Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago (1957) within the Soviet Union, culminating in the refusal to allow Pasternak to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. His crude condemnations of Soviet avant-garde artists recalled Stalin’s intolerance in cultural matters. On the other hand, Khrushchev permitted the 1962 publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, with its sweeping denunciation of Stalinist repression. Other similar works of protest followed, creating what the historian Martin Malia calls “a culture of dissidence”—an emerging public opinion in Russia which later repression proved unable to completely control. Meanwhile, for the first time, Soviet tourists were permitted to go overseas, and Khrushchev often seemed amenable to widening exchanges with both socialist and capitalist countries.

Khrushchev’s desire to reduce conventional armaments in favour of nuclear missiles was bitterly resisted by the Soviet military. His often high-handed methods of leadership and his attempted decentralization of the party structure antagonized many of those who had supported his rise to power. By this time, four decades after the Revolution, the Communist Party had solidified into the so-called nomenklatura—a 10 million-strong elite of bureaucrats, managers, and technicians intent on guarding their power and prerogatives. In 1962 Khrushchev further weakened the party’s hold over the economy by announcing a policy of creating separate party-government networks in the fields of industry and agriculture.

The central crisis of Khrushchev’s administration, however, was agriculture. An optimist, he based many plans on the bumper crops in 1956 and 1958, which fueled his repeated promises to overtake the United States in agricultural as well as in industrial production. He opened up more than 70 million acres of virgin land in Siberia and sent thousands of labourers to till them; but his plan was unsuccessful, and the Soviet Union soon again had to import wheat from Canada and the United States.

The failures in agriculture, the quarrel with China, and the humiliating resolution of the Cuban missile crisis, added to growing resentment of his own arbitrary administrative methods, were the major factors in Khrushchev’s downfall. On October 14, 1964, after a palace coup orchestrated by his protégé and deputy, Leonid Brezhnev, the Central Committee accepted Khrushchev’s request to retire from his position as the party’s first secretary and chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union because of “advanced age and poor health.”

Last years
For almost seven years thereafter, Khrushchev lived quietly in Moscow and at his country dacha as a “non-person”—officially a special pensioner of the Soviet government. He was mentioned in the Soviet press occasionally and appeared in public only to vote in Soviet elections. The one break in this ordered obscurity came in 1970 with the publication of his memoirs in the United States and Europe, although not in the Soviet Union. This was the first installment of a large body of personal reminiscence that he dictated in secret during his retirement.

Almost 48 hours elapsed after his death before it was announced to the Soviet public. He was denied a state funeral and interment in the Kremlin wall, although he was allowed a quiet burial at Novodevichy Convent Cemetery in Moscow.

For the Soviet Union and indeed for the entire world communist movement, Nikita Khrushchev was the great catalyst of political and social change. In his seven years of power as first secretary and premier, he broke both the fact and the tradition of the Stalin dictatorship and established a basis for liberalizing tendencies within Soviet communism. Khrushchev was a thoroughgoing political pragmatist who had learned his Marxism by rote, but he never hesitated to adapt his beliefs to the political urgencies of the moment. His experience with international realities confirmed him in his doctrine of peaceful coexistence with the noncommunist world—in itself a drastic break with established Soviet communist teaching. He publicly recognized the limitations as well as the power of nuclear weapons, and his decision to negotiate with the United States for some form of nuclear-testing control was of vast importance. At the same time, Khrushchev’s rough empathy with the Soviet people resulted in concessions to a consumer economy and in a general relaxation of security controls, which had equally far-reaching effects. Despite his repression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, his acceptance of “different roads to socialism” led to growing independence among European communist parties, but his Russian nationalism and his suspicion of Mao Zedong’s communism helped create an unexpectedly deep fissure between China and the Soviet Union. By the time he was removed from office, he had set up guidelines for and limitations to Soviet policy that his successors were hard put to alter.

The cautious handling of his death announcement reflected his increasing popularity in his last years, both in the Soviet Union and the outside world, as many contrasted his consistent, if occasionally stormy, peaceful coexistence diplomacy with the more restricted, conservative, and quietly repressive policy of his successor, Leonid Brezhnev. Even at the time of Khrushchev’s death, it was widely felt that the basic changes in Soviet life made under his regime would be hard to uproot and might indeed result in ultimate changes in the pattern of Soviet society and world power relationships.

Khrushchev’s attempts to reform communism, once begun, powerfully and permanently influenced similar tendencies in the world’s other communist states, from Władysław Gomułka’s Polish thaw (1957) to Alexander Dubček’s “socialism with a human face” in Czechoslovakia (1968) down through the efforts of Deng Xiaoping and his successors to combine a market economy with the dictatorship of the Communist Party in China during the 1980s and ’90s. In fact, the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reform policies of perestroika (“restructuring”) and glasnost (“openness”) in the late 1980s owed much to Khrushchev’s attempts to liberalize the communist party-state. Gorbachev, Aleksandr Yakovlev, and other leading figures of this twilight period of Soviet communism developed their reformist outlook during the post-Stalin thaw, as did those more-radical reformers, led by Boris Yeltsin, who came to power in Russia after the collapse of communism in 1991. These “children of the 20th Party Congress,” as they were called, were in their 20s and 30s when Khrushchev’s impassioned expose of Stalin’s dictatorship burst on their consciousness. Their shock at hearing the crimes of the leadership thus publicly exposed engendered a mood of doubt and gathering disbelief that ultimately tore down the whole structure of Lenin’s imposed ideology.

Whatever the view of Khrushchev’s personal eccentricities, his boisterousness, his vulgarity, and his bewildering shifts, he was accounted a man of stature. Throughout the 1990s, increased access to party and state archives in Russia produced a steady stream of publications relating to Khrushchev’s career—and with them an inevitable reassessment of the peasant statesman, flawed though he was, whose courage in revealing the crimes of the past would ultimately work to change his country’s and the world’s future.

Frank B. Gibney

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Cuban missile crisis

Aerial Photograph of Missiles in Cuba (1962)


(October 1962), major confrontation that brought the United States and the Soviet Union close to war over the presence of Soviet nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba.

Having promised in May 1960 to defend Cuba with Soviet arms, the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev assumed that the United States would take no steps to prevent the installation of Soviet medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. Such missiles could hit much of the eastern United States within a few minutes if launched from Cuba. The United States learned in July 1962 that the Soviet Union had begun missile shipments to Cuba. By August 29 new military construction and the presence of Soviet technicians had been reported by U.S. U-2 spy planes flying over the island, and on October 14 the presence of a ballistic missile on a launching site was reported.

After carefully considering the alternatives of an immediate U.S. invasion of Cuba (or air strikes of the missile sites), a blockade of the island, or further diplomatic maneuvers, President John F. Kennedy decided to place a naval “quarantine,” or blockade, on Cuba to prevent further Soviet shipments of missiles. Kennedy announced the quarantine on October 22 and warned that U.S. forces would seize “offensive weapons and associated matériel” that Soviet vessels might attempt to deliver to Cuba. During the following days, Soviet ships bound for Cuba altered course away from the quarantined zone. As the two superpowers hovered close to the brink of nuclear war, messages were exchanged between Kennedy and Khrushchev amidst extreme tension on both sides. On October 28 Khrushchev capitulated, informing Kennedy that work on the missile sites would be halted and that the missiles already in Cuba would be returned to the Soviet Union. In return, Kennedy committed the United States never to invade Cuba. Kennedy also secretly promised to withdraw the nuclear-armed missiles that the United States had stationed in Turkey in previous years. In the following weeks both superpowers began fulfilling their promises, and the crisis was over by late November. Cuba’s communist leader, Fidel Castro, was infuriated by the Soviets’ retreat in the face of the U.S. ultimatum but was powerless to act.

The Cuban missile crisis marked the climax of an acutely antagonistic period in U.S.-Soviet relations. The crisis also marked the closest point that the world had ever come to global nuclear war. It is generally believed that the Soviets’ humiliation in Cuba played an important part in Khrushchev’s fall from power in October 1964 and in the Soviet Union’s determination to achieve, at the least, a nuclear parity with the United States.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


see also: United Nations member states -
Russian Federation,
Ukraine,Belarus, Moldova,
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia,
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan



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