IntroductionOn the 1stof March 1953, a 74-year-old, paranoid man suffering from arteriosclerosis wasfound unconscious on the bedroom floor in his Volynskoe dacha covered in hisown urine.
1Four days later, this man died from a cerebral hemorrhage,2leaving in his stead, a leaderless superpower. The Death of Joseph Stalin, asaccounted by his daughter Svetlana, described Stalin as having a ‘terriblelook- either mad or angry and full of the fear of death, he raised his lefthand, pointing upwards, perhaps threateningly, and then death took him.’3 Stalin hadnot left an heir apparent, which was problematic for an authoritarian nationruled through fear by a dictator shrouded in a ‘Cult of Personality’ however,it was Nikita Khrushchev who would rise to power and lead the Soviet Union.What Khrushchev would do in power between 1953-1964 is known as the ‘Thaw,’ aphrase coined by the title used in a short novel written by Illya Ehrenburg.
Due to the liberalization of the of the period being correlated withEhrenburg’s first novel which was unlike her past works of portraying apro-Soviet setting and theme.4 This essaywill look at understanding what exactly was the period known as the “thaw,”firstly by setting the context of what Stalin’s Soviet Union looked like andthe policies adopted. After acquainting with the period and context,Khrushchev’s rise to power and secret speech will be briefly presented.Followed by an examination of the Thaw and its policies and whether they can bejudged as being successful or failures. Stalin’s Soviet Union Aftersuffering from three strokes, Vladimir Lenin died on the 21st ofJanuary 1924.
5This is where Stalin would make the most of his position as General Secretary,having already placed loyal clients in to positions of influence, Stalin wasable to eliminate the competition and isolate Trotsky as described by a formercolleague as a ‘grey blur’ who was insignificant yet manipulative.6While doing this Stalin had also ‘fabricated’ his claim as heir to theleadership and would bolster his image at the funeral of Lenin.7By 1929 Stalin had assured that both the Left and Right oppositions of theparty were no longer a threat and would finally be the supreme leader.
8 Aftertaking control of the country, Stalin began adopting policies which would alignwith communist party beliefs and make the country sustainable. Stalin would usea planned economy method to increase industrialization and heavy industriesoutput,9which included the creation of factory cities like Magnitogorsk,10and saw the output of pig-iron increase from four million tons in 1928 tofifteen million tons by 1940. It also saw the production of steel ingots go upfrom an estimate of eight million to eighteen million between 1928 to 1940.11Agricultural Collectivization was also implemented in Stalin’s five-year-plan,with the effort to industrialize agriculture in the hope to increaseefficiency, this however, was met with opposition from the ‘Kulaks,’ a termoriginally used for the affluent peasants, but this term was soon broaden inthe countryside to refer to any peasants who opposed the introduced system ofkolkhozy farms.12 Withthe class enemies sent to gulags, by the Summer of 1930, 320,000 households hadbeen affected in the forced transformation of the peasantry.13 In additionto these policies, Stalin would also bring down the ‘Great Terror’ on thepopulation, significantly impacting the Soviet people’s lifestyles and society.In the Winter of 1932, Stalin’s wife, Nadya had committed suicide, it isspeculated that this caused Stalin to become more emotionally cold andcoincided with the dates of the Great Terror, giving some explanation as to whyStalin became harsher as a leader.
14The repression of the Soviet people would end in 1938, however, with thehighest estimated dead at 1,750,000 during the period of the Great Terror.15Stalin was able make this possible through use of the Cheka, otherwise known asthe secret police or NKVD, and the Gulags which had become the largestemployers in Europe by 1939.16The targets would include political opponents, intellectuals, kulaks and thearmy, fear would hang over everyone’s shoulders. ‘One Day in the Life of IvanDenisovich,’ portrayed life in the Gulag camps intensely, with the descriptionsof artic conditions, overwork and starvation, based on the first-handexperiences of the author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Followingthe end of World War Two and having defeated Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union hadbecome a big player on the International scene, and would look to increasingits sphere of influence by installing puppet governments in the ‘Eastern Bloc’and supporting communist movements in Asian countries.17Stalin would also begin the souring of relations with former allied nationswith the blockading of berlin in June 1948 being one of the initial actionstaken in the prelude to the Cold War.18With the Peoples Republic of China being formed in the Autumn months of 1949,19the Marxist states now had a vast sphere of influence which also included theKorean peninsula.20Furthermore, Stalin was now old poorly, and from 1946 had only given threepublic speeches until he died in 1953.21 Khrushchev’s Rise to Power and The SecretSpeechAfter thedeath of Stalin, three main party candidates had emerged to inherit the controlof the Soviet Union; this included Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of theCommunist Party, Lavrentiy Beria, Minister of Internal Affairs, Georgy Malenkov,Chairmen of the Council of Ministers.
22Malenkov would, however, dropped out early due after a fortnight of Stalin’s death,to the fear of being unable to control so much power, this event would prove tobe a victory for Khrushchev in the struggle for power.23Malenkov and Khrushchev would then ally with each other in a campaign against Beriawhich would ultimately lead to the execution of Beria by the Winter of 1953 dueto a conspiracy that Beria was preparing a coup.241Conquest, 1991, p.3112Ibid, p.3123 Cavendish, Death of Joseph Stalin, http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/death-joseph-stalin,2003, Date accessed: 03/01/20184 TheKhrushchev “thaw” (1953-1964), http://territoryterror.
org.ua/en/history/1953-1964/,Date accessed: 03/01/20185 Conquest, 1991, p.1046Pollard, Why did Stalin Succeed Lenin and not Trotsky, http://www.markedbyteachers.com/as-and-a-level/history/why-did-stalin-succeed-lenin-and-not-trotsky.
html,Date accessed: 05/01/20187 Conquest, 1991, p.1108 Ibid., p.135-1409 Davies, 1996, p.
96110 Service, 2004, p.26511 S.L. Iron and Steel in the SovietUnion, 1952, p.21012 Service, 2004, p.253-26713 Ibid.,14 Ibid, p.292-298.15 Conquest, 2007, p.33916 Davies, 1996, p.962-96417 Service, 2004, p.492- 50418 Ibid, p.50719 Ibid, p.50920 Ibid, p.550-55321 Ibid, p.56022 Ibid, p.584-58823 Taubman, 2004, p.24524 Tompson, 1995, p.120-123