First of all there, there was The Thaw
Soviet Union with the death of Stalin. When the great dictator
finally died, one
of the key ideas to emerge among the communist leadership was the idea
that there should be "collective leadership." This was to allay the
that any single man could again amass unlimited, dictatorial power.
Another main point
was to reduce the police terror rampant in the USSR, and finally
another issue was to try and increase the
production of consumer goods for the people. These internal issues
themselves out in the internal power struggle between Georgii Malenkov
and Nikita Khrushchev, which would have an impact on Soviet diplomacy.
After Stalin's death, at first it
appeared that Georgii Malenkov would assume the positions of premier
(head of state) and general secretary (head of the party) with
Malenkov, Molotov and Beria (all closely connected to Stalin)
as the key leaders, but Malenkov was quickly forced to give up his
position as head of the party. He was succeeded
by Khrushchev (although Khrushchev was not formally named first
secretary until September 1953). Shortly thereafter, Beria was arrested
and executed later in 1953--that was a very brave move! To combat Khrushchev, Malenkov advocated the production of
more consumer goods, but he remained tagged by his former close connection to
Stalin. In the meantime Khrushchev's power rose as he had orchestrated
the removal of Beria, and he had achieved a modicum of success with his
"Virgin Lands" scheme which resulted in a great 1956 harvest. Malenkov
resigned as Premier In February 1955--but he was not killed--and Khrushchev's ally, Nikolai Bulganin,
became premier. Khrushchev had won the struggle for power.
Sometimes the years between 1953 and
1956 with regard to Soviet diplomacy are called the "New Course"
referring to the Soviet--and at first Malenkov and then Khrushchev--attempt to
reduce Cold War tensions. Some of the key indicators of the changing
nature of Soviet diplomacy are listed below, although I am not
sure that the western world caught them all at the time:
At the nineteenth party congress in 1953, Malenkov delivered the main
report on the international situation: "The bellicose circles in the U.
S. A. and Britain are constantly reiterating that the armaments race
alone can keep the industries in capitalist countries running.
Actually, however, there is another prospect, the prospect of
developing and expanding commercial relations between all countries,
irrespective of the difference in social system. This can keep the
industries in the industrially-developed countries running for many
years to come, can ensure the sale of products of which one country has
an abundance to other countries, can help to raise the economy of the
underdeveloped countries, and thereby bring about lasting economic
cooperation. 'The export of revolution is nonsense.' Peaceful
Coexistence will win." (Report to the Nineteenth Party Congress,"
- Quickly, in July 1953, the Korean Conflict came to an end with the signing of the Korean Armistice.
- In October 1954 Khrushchev visited Mao in China to patch up strained relations there.
much of 1954, Khrushchev toured throughout the Soviet Union. The
year 1954 indicated that Khrushchev was clearly a different kind of
communist leader with his willingness to go abroad and also to appear in
- Then in July 1955, there occurred the Geneva Summit when Khrushchev and President Eisenhower
met in Geneva (along with Anthony Eden from Great Britain and Edgar Faure from France).
- In 1955, the Americans and Soviets agreed on an
Austrian Peace Treaty which provided for the withdrawal of foreign
troops from Austria. Austria, like Germany had been occupied
after the war, and Vienna, like Berlin, had been divided. The
treaty showed that Americans and Soviets
could negotiate specific issues.
June 1955, Khrushchev traveled to
Belgrade to meet with Tito and patch up relations that had been pretty
much non-existent since 1948--Stalin had wagged his little finger at
Tito, but Tito had not disappeared. One of the key pronouncements
in connection with the visit to Belgrade was Khrushchev's recognition
could be "different roads to socialism" (or different paths to
communism). In other words, countries, like Yugoslavia, did not
have to follow the Soviet model. In public, Tito thought this was
year 1955 certainly was a busy one. In May 1955 the Warsaw Pact
was signed as a military alliance of the Soviet Union and the East
European satellites. Remember that NATO had been in 1949.
Also that year, the Russians pulled their troops out of neutral Finland.
- Twentieth party congress (20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union)
- The Congress approved the ideological shift to a policy of
"peaceful coexistence " and reversed the idea that war was
inevitable. The Congress also approved the idea of "different
paths to socialism." The "Report of the Central
Committee," delivered by Khrushchev,
("Report of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet
Union to the 20th Party Congress, Delivered by Comrade N. S.
Khrushchev," Pravda, 15 February 1956, pp. 1-11, in Current Soviet
Policies: (II) The Documentary Record of the 20th Communist Party
Congress and its Aftermath, ed. Leo Gruliow (New York: Praeger,
pp. 29-62) upheld the "deepening general crisis" of capitalism but
interjected that "it should be said that the idea that the
general crisis of
capitalism means complete stagnation, a halt in production and
technical progress, has always been alien to Marxist-Leninists." (p.
30) Then Khrushchev maintained that "countries with differing
systems can do more than exist side by side." (p. 37) They can
cooperate to the mutual advantage of both. Second, Khrushchev asserted
that the proletarian revolution "need not be associated with civil war"
but can be accomplished through parliamentary means. (p. 38)
I believe that Khrushchev also stated, "either peaceful coexistence or
the most destructive war in history,"
he declared, "there is no third way." (source)
- In the Secret Speech at the end of the Congress, Khrushchev, in addition to denouncing Stalin's
"cult of personality," also repeated his call for an easing of Cold
War tensions and a policy of peaceful coexistence.
critics of the idea of peaceful coexistence pointed to the ensuing
events of 1956 in Eastern Europe as proof that there was, in reality,
no such thing as "peaceful coexistence" (the tiger cannot change his
stripes). By criticizing Stalin, Khrushchev had opened both the
Russian party and the communist parties in Eastern Europe to further criticism.
The popular uprising in Poland began in June 1956.
- Factory workers in Poznan demonstrated.
- Władysław Gomułka (1905-1982), who had been repressed by Stalin, was re-elected head of the Polish Communist Party.
- Gomulka said that he would work for a more democratic Poland.
did not think that a Soviet military intervention would achieve
anything, and when Gomulka pledged to maintain communist control (and
stay in the Warsaw Pact), Khrushchev said ok. That sure looked like a
good sign of peaceful coexistence, if Western experts interpreted matters correctly.
Then there was the Hungarian Revolt in October-November 1956.
- The Hungarians began to demonstrate in support of the Poles.
Nagy (1896-1958), who had been forced out of the party in 1955 because
of his moderate politics, formed a new government and tried to
negotiate with Khrushchev.
- Hungarians began to attack the Russian troops stationed in Hungary, and the Russians initially pulled back.
Khrushchev, this was a major problem, especially when Nagy announced
that Hungary was going to leave the Warsaw Pact. Could Khrushchev
allow that? When further attacks occurred in Hungary on pro-Russian Hungarian communists, the Soviet
army re-entered the country and crushed the rebellion. About 5000
Hungarians were killed, and hundreds of thousands fled the
country. Nagy was arrested in very duplicitous circumstances and
- For many experts, the Soviet repression
confirmed the idea that Khrushchev's idea of "peaceful coexistence" was
just a smoke screen and that the Soviets just could not be trusted.