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NIKITA KHRUSHCHEV (1894-1971)
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Nikita Khrushchev was a tyrant who, if he had half the chance, would have blown up all of Western Europe and America, conquered it, and turned it into one big Communist gulag. He would have happily sent a billion of those pesky Chinese to Kingdom Come, after the break with Mao, if he thought he could have pulled that off. It is a testament to just how bad Communism is, and how awful Joseph Stalin was, that Kruschev comes off as a humanitarian in comparison. Some Soviet leaders were men that a few Americans said they could "do business with." Kruschev was not at that level, but there was pragmatism to him. The moral relativists would look at somebody like Kruschev and say that he was a product of the system he rose up in. They would say that an American politician would do the same if they were born in Russia. This misses the point. In order to "rise through the ranks" of Soviet Communism, a man had to demonstrate a willingness to do things that moral men are not willing to do. There were plenty of moral men and women who grew up in Communist countries. They were the ones who did not joint the party. They defected. If they were incredibly brave (or stupid) they were dissidents. Many ended up in the gulags. They did not "work the system."  Kruschev did "relax" Communism, although the Hungarians of 1956 would argue that point.

He was born in the Ukraine on April 17, 1894, the son of a miner who rose from the working class. At 15, he was as a pipe fitter, which was necessary enough to the industrial effort that he was exempted from military service during World War I. Instead of getting blown up or gunned down by German machine guns, he was able to joined the "workers' struggle" that led to the 1917 Revolution. In 1918 he joined the Russian Communist Party (the Bolsheviks), and served as a political worker for the Red Army in the civil war. The following year he joined the Red Army and fought against Polish troops. This earned him admission to the new Soviet schools where he made his way through the Communist hierarchy. He was secretary of the school's Communist Party Committee, and by 1925 specialized in factory and mine conditions for the party. In this capacity he gained expert knowledge.

Kruschev gained a reputation for effectiveness and enthusiasm. Earning the Order of Lenin and appointment as the first secretary of the city of Moscow in 1935, by 1939 he was a member of the Politburo.

A few things saved Kruschev. First, he was uncharismatic; short, squat, with a peasant's potato head. His lack of charm meant that he did not have the potential for leadership that is often bestowed upon tall, handsome, elegant men. Stalin put those kind to death if it appeared they had any chance of developing a following. Also, since Kruschev had not served in a major military capacity during World War I, he was not fast-tracked as a military officer. Stalin also killed most military officers, because they offered political potential and, worse, could lead a coup. 

When the Germans attacked, the Red Army lacked senior officer cadres. Many political figures found themselves making military decisions. Kruschev was sent to an almost-hopeless situation, Stalingrad, when things looked bleakest. He provided a pistol to the commander in charge, who he forced to shoot himself in the head rather than face a firing a squad. Kruschev then took over, and against all odds provided inspirational leadership to the Russian citizens and soldiers who outlasted the German assault, with the help of the bitter Winter. His heroic status in the aftermath of the war meant that he walked a tightrope. On the one, it made him vulnerable to one of Stalin's purges. However, he had enough public stature to be kept alive.    

Khrushchev was put in charge of experimental agricultural campaigns, such as the Virgin Lands Project, which attempted to cultivate lands in the harsher climate regions of Kazakhstan and Siberia. He failed to collectivize Ukrainian farms, and Stalin demoted him in 1947. He was then made leader of the Moscow City Party two years later. Khrushchev wanted to consolidate his power, a risky, calculated decision based on his personal position and Stalin's age. He argued with Stalin's designated heir, Georgy Malenkov, over increased Jewish persecution that became official post-World War II policy.  Khrushchev gained control of local party leaders after Stalin's death in 1953, and this allowed him to defeat Malenkov. In 1955, he took over the Soviet Union.

Khrushchev gained fame traveling throughout Russia and other countries denouncing Stalin. He ordered history books to be re-written with Stalin's crimes prominently exploited. Western liberals fell for this and announced that a new kind of Soviet Union had emerged. The ideals of Communism would now have an opportunity to be employed, with all the beauty and utopianism these people thought would be unleashed. With McCarthy's downfall, many wanted to demonstrate that Communism was not so bad after all. Khrushchev met with Eleanor Roosevelt in 1957 in Yalta. Mrs. Roosevelt had always been a Soviet apologist, but her views had been kept quiet during her husband's Presidency, because Americans with common sense who knew the truth about her would have been appalled. After FDR's death, she had become a strident, vocal liberal. Her lesbian affairs have since been exposed, and some historians have suggested that she and her husband had a "marriage of convenience," making some comparison to the Bill-Hillary Clinton cabal. She and her husband did have something of an arranged marriage, but in the beginning it was certainly a normal one by standards of that time. Some have suggested that she was a Communist, or spied for the Communists. This is probably an exaggeration. She is somebody who had love for America, but considering who she was and the access to information that she must have had, her opinions are difficult to respect.

People like Eleanor Roosevelt are not easy to explain. She was well educated and had real compassion for African-Americans, the poor and the dispossessed, all admirable qualities. Many on the right have little use for her kind of thinking and feel that the world is best conducted by conservatives free to implement their vision without the Eleanor Roosevelt's of the world hindering them. I disagree, with some reservation. Her views are worthwhile as a counterweight to hard right ideology.

If the world was run by unfettered conservatism, it would go relatively smoothly, and freedom would reign amid occasional heavy-handedness. The problem with people like Eleanor Roosevelt is that if her ilk were allowed to run the world in such an unencumbered manner, the result would be Apocalypse. The Bible does not recount any "winners" of the Apocalypse, but in the Eleanor Roosevelt Apocalypse, if there is a winner, it most assuredly is not the United States.

 The New York World-Telegram hired Mrs. Roosevelt to interview Kruschev in 1957. They debated arms proliferation and the ongoing persecution of Soviet Jews, along with the violation of the Yalta agreements. In the end, Mrs. Roosevelt described the talk as friendly. Kruschev wanted to be able to tell the reporters that.  Mrs. Roosevelt did and acknowledged that on some issues "we differ."

"At least, we didn't shoot each other," Khrushchev laughingly countered. Khrushchev came to the U.S. in 1959 and visited Mrs. Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York, where disarmament dominated the conversation. This time they found less common ground. They both urged that they wanted peace in the world. Apparently Kruschev wanted peace in the world except in Hungary.

In contrast to the virtual lovefest that Kruschev and Mrs. Roosevelt had, Kruschev engaged in highly partisan, spirited debate with Vice-President Nixon. The two established a working relationship. Kruschev understood that Nixon was a serious man whose political base was anti-Communism, and that he would be President someday. Kruschev visited the United States, including Nixon's native California. Nixon visited Moscow. In both countries, the visiting politicians made trips to ordinary locations like factories and grocery stores. In Moscow, at a model kitchen that was supposed to represent the modern Soviet apartment, they got into a heated conversation known as the "kitchen debate." The two kept their respective cool, although Kruschev's "cool" had a different temperature setting. They both obviously had passion for their respective sides. Kruschev actually thought Communism was the better system. Nixon earned points with his reasoned debating style, learned discussing civil rights with Southern classmates at Duke Law School. His intelligence and knowledge of history gave him, in the general opinion of those who were there, the slight edge.       

Kruschev adopted a brash diplomatic style. He did "rehabilitate" thousands of political prisoners, imprisoned by the prior regime in Siberian labor camps. He reduced the power of the secret police by replacing the NKVD with the KGB and outlawed torture.  He still cracked down on religion, destroying and closing churches. He allowed a more open intellectual atmosphere in the sciences, though. He wanted the Soviets to accomplish big things that would demonstrate the "victory" of socialism. This began the "space race." In 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, which was a capsule that orbited the Earth. In succeeding years, Kruschev desperately tried to defeat the Americans in space. He recklessly launched space flights long before they were ready, resulting in the death of numerous Soviet cosmonauts. The Americans, who did everything publicly, did not put their astronauts in needless danger. The Soviets managed to get Yuri Gagarin in space first, which they publicized. They kept all their failures, and the deaths of earlier cosmonauts, secret.

Kruschev strongly supported Castro's Revolution and resulting Communist government. He visited the U.N. and made a spectacle of himself with his shouting, screaming style. After the Bay of Pigs, with Cuba in the Soviet orbit, he blustered confidently about Communist superiority. After the Vienna Summit, he was confident of Soviet success, and this turned out to be his downfall. Lenin once said the Communists would take "Two steps back, and one step forward." After Sputnik, Gagarin, Castro, the Bay of Pigs and Vienna, he thought he was on a roll. His side had taken five steps forward and none backwards. JFK was a pretty boy, in his mind. Kruschev should have gotten better intelligence. The KGB apparently did not brief him on the Kennedy's competitive nature, or the brilliant minds of his Cabinet appointments. Thinking he could take bold measures, he put the missiles in Cuba. It has been pointed out that the overall effect of the Cuban Missile Crisis was not a total loss for the Soviets, since it inflamed the passions of the peacenik Left. This was an element of American society that played a major role in destroying U.S. military morale in Vietnam, and it started with the missile crisis.

But for Kruschev personally, the crisis was seen as a defeat (which in the shorter term it certainly was). The Politburo did not have the foresight to see its effect on the future. Kruschev had also presided over the break-up of Communist hegemony between China and the U.S.S.R. This was a huge disaster for both countries. Together, they represented a behemoth of military power, a massive population block, and control of geography that no U.S. planners could hope to overcome.

The Sino-Soviet partnership was also an important racial coalition, giving the impression that Communism was an attractive idea that crossed many boundaries. The Soviet had annexed a number of countries with substantial Oriental populations, and China gave them the imprimatur of partnership instead of oppressor. The two countries had impressive combined intelligence networks, and worked together during the Korean War on "brainwashing" techniques and other military-psychological projects with ominous potential for the West.

But Red China and the Soviet Union were tremendously suspicious of each other. Mao was difficult to deal with. Both countries had come to fear each other militarily as much or more than the U.S. The nuclear issue (Russia had the weapon, China did not, and Russia wanted it to stay that way) left the Chinese fearing attack. The split had a profound effect on geo-politics. Together, they had backed North Korea (with the Chinese entering the war). They had struck a blow against the mighty United States at a time when both countries were still poor and struggling to establish themselves. By forcing a truce at Panmunjon, they showed the U.S. was not infallible.

While both countries backed North Vietnam, their fissure had an effect on the Vietnam War. China was not willing to join the fight as they had in Korea, because they did not have Soviet backing. While the North Vietnamese did eventually conquer the south, they were unable to oversee Communist hegemony in the region that could have occurred had a powerful Sino-Chinese conglomerate stepped in, together, to control the situation. Instead, fractious wars between China, Vietnam and Cambodia resulted in chaos that killed millions and left Communism, as an ideal, the ultimate casualty.

Of course, the biggest result of the split was the triangulated strategy employed so brilliantly by the Nixon-Kissinger Administration in 1972-73. When the U.S. recognized Red China, opened business partnerships, and thus established credible influence, then immediately created détente and arms-control with the Soviets, the two countries were further pitted against each other. The seeds were planted at that point for the destruction of Communism.

Kruschev's legacy in all of this is that one decade prior to these events, he had his country were in the poll position, but he had failed to establish the kind of world dominance that the Politburo wanted. The splits that began under Kruschev's tenure were the ones that Kissinger used to further crack the monoliths apart.