Once a loyal Stalinist, Khrushchev gave a long speech in February 1956 that criticized Stalin for arresting and deporting opponents, for elevating himself above the party and for incompetent wartime leadership, among other things. This withering, albeit incomplete, indictment of Stalin was supposed to remain secret. By that June, however, the U.S. State Department had published the complete text. Starting in 1957, Khrushchev made some minor attempts to rehabilitate Stalin’s image. But he switched course once again in 1961, when the city of Stalingrad was renamed and Stalin’s remains were removed from Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow’s Red Square.
Emboldened by Khrushchev’s so-called “secret speech,” protestors took to the streets in the Soviet satellites of Poland and Hungary. The Polish revolt was resolved fairly peacefully, but the Hungarian revolt was violently suppressed with troops and tanks. In all, at least 2,500 Hungarians were killed in late 1956, and about 13,000 were wounded. Many more fled to the West, and others were arrested or deported.
On the domestic front, Khrushchev worked—not always successfully—to increase agricultural production and raise living standards. He also reduced the power of the Soviet Union’s feared secret police, released many political prisoners, relaxed artistic censorship, opened up more of the country to foreign visitors and inaugurated the space age in 1957 with the launch of the satellite Sputnik. Two years later, a Soviet rocket hit the moon, and in 1961 Soviet astronaut Yuri A. Gagarin became the first man in space.