Nikita Khrushchev takes control in the Soviet Union by orchestrating the ouster of his most serious opponents from positions of authority in the Soviet government. Khrushchev’s action delighted the United States, which viewed him as a more moderate figure in the communist government of Russia.
Khrushchev had been jockeying for ultimate control in the Soviet Union since the death of long-time Russian dictator Joseph Stalin in March 1953. Following Stalin’s demise, the Soviet Union was ruled by a 10-member presidium. Khrushchev was only one member of this presidium, but during the following four years he moved steadily to seize total control. In June 1957, Khrushchev survived an attempt by his political opponents to remove him from the government. In July, he had his revenge. Since 1953, he had worked tirelessly to gain allies in the Soviet military and to gain control of the all-important Communist Party apparatus. On July 3, 1957, his years of work paid off as he used his important political connections and alliances to remove the three main challengers to his authority. Vyacheslav Molotov, Georgi M. Malenkov, and Lazar Kaganovich were voted off the presidium and relegated to minor government positions. Khrushchev then reigned supreme, and ruled the Soviet Union until his own ouster in 1964.
In the United States, the news of Khrushchev’s “housecleaning” was greeted with optimism. Malenkov and Molotov, in particular, had been viewed as communist “hard-liners” in the Stalinist mold. Khrushchev, on the other hand, was seen as a “moderate” who might be receptive to a more amenable relationship with the United States. In the coming years, U.S. officials were often disappointed with the newest Soviet leader, who seemed to vacillate between warm words about “peaceful coexistence” between the United States and the Soviet Union and aggressive talk about “burying” the capitalist system. Khrushchev’s power began seriously to wane in 1962. Many Soviet officials characterized his behavior as “cowardly” during the October 1962 missile crisis in Cuba and he was pushed from power in 1964. Leonid Brezhnev succeeded Nikita Khrushchev.