March 01, 2018

Khrushchev and Me

Nikita Khrushchev gets bad press these days. Everybody, it seems, identifies him with the nuclear-arms brinkmanship that nearly led to war over Cuba, not to mention a whole series of impressively purple-faced rants against the West in general.

It’s true that when Khrushchev addressed a secret session of the Twentieth Communist Party Congress in February 1956, he referred to his predecessor as First Secretary (Stalin) as “a so-called benefactor [who] practiced brutal violence, not only towards everything that opposed him, but also towards whatever his capricious and despotic nature thought contrary to his belief.” It proved sufficient to cause the old-school head of the Polish government, Boleslaw Bierut, to suffer a fatal heart attack when he heard it.

But, set against all this was the harsh and at times almost psychotic impression the undisputed hardman of the Soviet regime from 1953-64 left on his ideological foes both domestically and around the world. This was how Khrushchev, then head of the Moscow Regional Committee, greeted the internal campaign of terror known as the Great Purge in August 1936: “Everyone who rejoices in the successes enjoyed in our country, the victories of our party led by the great Stalin, will find only one word suitable for the mercenary fascist dogs of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite gang. That word is execution.”

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