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Course: CEES 1B: Communism and its Collapse Question: 4.Why was Khrushchev deposed in October 1964?

Matriculation Number: 1106606 Word Count: 1801 Date: 22/03/12

Khrushchev was deposed in October 1964 for a number of reasons. His new economic policies were unsuccessful, he dealt poorly with international troubles and his constant restructuring of the political system left him with little support both within the Party and with the Soviet citizens. It was this lack of trust in his ability as a successful leader that encouraged his removal from office. This essay will consider all possible reasons for his dismissal, yet ultimately it was a combination of them all that led to the lack of trust from both the public and those within the party that was the definitive motive behind his removal.

A vital reason for Khrushchevs dismissal in 1964 was the state of the economy after his various reforms. Writing in 1958 economist Laskovsky believed that simple administrative reform could not solve the economic problems from the past and that Khrushchevs reforms so far would cause a lot more problems in the future (Laskovsky, 1958: 58). This is a valid point to make as in 1957, near to the start of his time in power, Khrushchev took a radical move towards the decentralisation of economic power from the Moscow economic ministries to a more regionalised system; he introduced sovnarkhozy or Councils of the Peoples Economy. This new introduction gave regional party officials more power and so when in 1963 he decided to recentralise these in the USSR Council of the National Economy the regional party secretaries lost support for Khrushchev, worried that they were losing their power. This weakening of support through economic reforms undoubtedly was a determining factor why he was deposed in 1964. The economy was cast into further disarray and disruption with Khrushchevs bifurcation of the party. Below the province level the party officials were split in two; half dealt with industry and the other half with agriculture. This caused much confusion and was an unsuccessful way of encouraging economic growth; it so damaged Khrushchevs reputation that it lead to his dismissal in 1964.

Perhaps one of the main reasons Khrushchev fell from power in October 1964 was that he had lost support on all sides. Thomson argues that recent Soviet discussions of the reasons for Khrushchev's

removal lay a remarkable amount of stress on his declining personal popularity with the Soviet public (Thomson, 1991: 1111). There is plenty of weight for this argument as many of Khrushchevs agricultural and economic reforms, although aiming to improve the standard of living for the Soviet citizens, failed and brought about more suffering for the people. His plans to increase corn, meat and dairy production failed miserably and resulted in prices rising by up to twenty-five to thirty per cent. The drought of 1963 resulted in such a poor grain harvest that Khrushchev had to spend reserves on importing grain rather than face extensive hunger across the country. These feeble solutions only worsened Khrushchevs position as public support fell. Even according to Khrushchevs son, Sergei, the food shortages and the delay in the introduction of the shorter working week were intended to undermine his fathers popularity (Thomson, 1991: 1111). His failed industrial and agricultural policies further alienated the people and caused much social unrest, which ultimately put him in a fragile position by October 1964. Without widespread support he could not put up much of a fight when he was asked to resign.

Khrushchevs persistent reshuffling and restructuring of the political party during his term in office played a fundamental role in his downfall. Dukes strongly puts across the view that thanks to Khrushchevs political reforms both the Presidium and the Central Committee were alienated, and Khrushchev was unable to out-manoeuvre the opposition when it moved against him in October 1964(Dukes, 1998: 289). This is true as there was massive bitterness and discontent when Khrushchev announced the bifurcation of the Party and further when he sacked one third of regional party secretaries and half the Party Secretariat in 1960. Along with his increased authority in the party leadership, this left the Central Committee and regional party secretaries especially feeling rather isolated as their positions and power were put in jeopardy; it was not guaranteed they would be re-elected next time. Their lack of support for his political reforms undoubtedly aided his disposal in October 1964. Thomson also makes an interesting point when he says that Khrushchevs overconfidence that he could not be defeated after his successful attempt at succeeding Stalin

meant that he didnt believe he could be overthrown in October 1964 (Thomson, 1991: 1104). This meant he was unprepared when the time came and contributed to the ease at which he was ousted. His absence of support from the Politburo due to his restructuring of the party certainly lead to Khrushchevs downfall as when he realised there was no longer any support he stepped down quietly.

So far this essay has considered the domestic developments that led to Khrushchev being deposed in October 1964, yet there are also a number of foreign affairs that can be considered to have impacted on his downfall too. Khrushchev managed to damage the Soviet Unions global image at a time when it was important for them to try and integrate back into the worldwide society. However in more recent years there has been more discussion as to how important these international matters actually were to the fall of Khrushchev. Crampton argues that the Soviet Unionsuffered a number of major setbacksThere were serious defeats for Soviet foreign policy (Crampton, 1997: 307). This is most definitely true as there were many incidents that weakened the view of the nation. Firstly the crushing of the Polish and Hungarian uprisings in 1956 slightly damaged the reputation in the west as they showed they were willing to use force to bring about conformation to the communist ideology. A second incident that tainted the Soviet Unions image abroad and aided the disposal of Khrushchev was the Cuban Missile crisis. After feeling threatened by the placing of US missiles in Turkey, Khrushchev found a way of balancing out the military advantage the US held over the Soviet Union; place his own short range missiles in Cuba. However after discovering their plans America formed a blockade around the island and ordered Khrushchev to remove the missiles. He was seen to be backing down to the US and significantly weakened his image both back at home and internationally. This undoubtedly played a part in Khrushchevs demise as the Soviet Union did not want to be considered cowardly.

Something that further weakened Khrushchevs position in power and contributed to his disposal was the fact that he tried to build positive relations with those in the west. The hard line conservatives in the Soviet Union were unhappy with this and wanted the socialist camp in the east to be defended. Khrushchev was faced with the difficult task of keeping peace with the countries in the west, but also satisfying the communists in the east, especially with the Chinese. The issue surrounding the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 brought about much controversy for Khrushchev. During his early years in power the military had always stood by Khrushchev and played a key role in his rise into office. However his foreign policy attitudes unsettled many in in the army and without their full support Khrushchev had further weakened his standing and made it much easier for him to be overthrown in 1964.

Earlier debates dispute the importance of the international disagreements in the fall of Khrushchev and argue it was his own mistakes and errors in reforms that led to his removal. However from the evidence presented above it seems clear that they were fairly relevant to his departure from office. There is an explanation for this; as time goes on more and more evidence comes to light. Crampton, writing in 1997, and Du Quenoy, writing in 2003, discard arguments made by people like Thomson in 1991 that suggest foreign affairs werent overly significant (Thomson, 1991: 1110). He argues While these accounts do not ignore the role of foreign affairs, they rely heavily on 'Kremlinology': the combination of rumour, induction, and guesswork (however reasonable) to which there was once no scholarly alternativeNewly accessible archival materials on Khrushchev's handling of foreign affairsgive a clearer, albeit incomplete, picture of his downfall. They point clearly to the important role played by foreign affairs (Du Quenoy, 2003: 334).

This is most definitely true as although of course internal problems with the economy obviously were a substantial factor in Khrushchevs downfall, the way he dealt with the international issues

was the icing on the cake and arguably the final straw that pushed them to force his removal. He had embarrassed the Soviet Union in the international sphere, who wanted to be perceived as a powerful and emerging superpower.

There is an important final point to be raised when discussing reasons for Khrushchevs disposal from the Kremlin in 1964. He had indisputably made substantial mistakes regarding the economy and political restructuring of the party, something which may have deserved his removal from power. Yet Russian history is plagued with dictatorial leaders who removed any obstacles in their way to maintain control. Khrushchev was the first leader who stepped down and whose reign did not end due to death. Khrushchev was arguably a more reformist character, who believed that the time of living in fear of speaking out against a leader should be over and that if the majority wanted him to stand down he would do so without a fuss. This is a key factor in his defeat in 1964, as had he decided to be more forceful and authoritarian in his ways he could have removed any opposition that that stood in his way, and retained his position.

There are also arguments as to what extent the fall of Khrushchev was down to his own mistakes or strength of the opposition. Brinkley puts forward the argument that it is still not clear to what extent Khrushchev's failure was a product of opposition (at home and abroad) and to what extent a reflection of his own blundering( Brinkley, 1973: 399). Its fair to say however that the two may be linked; Khrushchev made disastrous mistakes with his policies and it was because of this that such huge opposition grew and caused his removal from office. To conclude further, Khrushchev was deposed in October 1964 because of his failed economic reforms, political restructuring, and difficulty in dealing with international issues. Yet the core reason, brought about as a result of the fore mentioned, is that he lost the support and faith from the Soviet citizens, those within the party (predominantly the regional party secretaries) and the military. This, together with his attitude and willingness to accept his own resignation, is what lead to Khrushchevs downfall in 1964.


Brinkley, G. A. (1973) Khrushchev remembered: On the theory of Soviet statehood, Soviet Studies, Vol.24, No.3, pp.387-401 Crampton, R. J. (1997) Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century and after 2nd Edition, London: Routledge Dukes, P. (1998) A History of Russia c. 882-1996 Third Edition, Hampshire: Palgrave Du Quenoy, P. (2003) The Role of Foreign Affairs in the Fall of Nikita Khrushchev in October 1964, The International History Review, Vol.25, No.2, pp.334-356 Laskovsky, N. (1958) Reflections on Soviet Industrial Reorganisation, American Slavic and East European Review, Vol.17: No. 1, pp.47-58 Thomson, W. J. (1991) The Fall of Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet Studies, Vol.43: No.6, pp.1101-1121