Is Nikita Kruschev "overrated"?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Gukpard, Nov 4, 2019.

  1. Gukpard hominem populist

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    Most of the scenarios with the USSR being a pleasant place or reforming into a libertarian socialist model usually ends with a longer Kruschev government and a Kruschevist sucessor replacing him, and many threads here has questions similar to "What if Kruschev succeded" or "No Brezhnev coup", showing that at least on this forum Kruschev is seem as a more positive leader for the USSR.


    A lot of this come for he disclosing the crimes of Stalin, and how he is seen as a revisionist of the soviet system

    The thing is that most of the people here (me included) usually didn't made any real research on Nikita and has this vision of him built by newsreels like above and other people commenting about how "awesome" he was. Some people already have showed that Kruschev had in fact many problems, we had the 1957, 1963 and the 1965 famines at the same time he was sponsoring pro soviet rebels on the whole world and he had failed (at least on the soviet perspective) to gain western Berlin.

    Based on this I ask: Is Nikita Kruschev "overrated"? Do we see him usually as a "good" reformist when he was in fact more of the same?
     
  2. fasquardon Cosmonaut

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    I am honestly not sure.

    On the positive side, the guy had some serious political chops. He didn't rise so high for nothing and he did things that made the lives of his people better.

    On the negative side, he tried to have his cake and eat it with Stalin's legacy, which led to all sorts of problems, especially in foreign relations. Ruining the relationship with China was an especially big disaster. Though Mao and Stalin also have big roles in that tragedy. And there's the "virgin lands" thing.

    Something like Deng's appraisal of Mao ("a great man who made terrible mistakes") was probably the best road to take for anyone who wanted to keep the system going. That Khrushchev didn't probably helped him sideline some of his competitors more fully, but it also begged the question "if Stalin mucked up so bad why were you and are you a Stalinist" (which, you know, he totally was, having been a faithful lieutenant to the old boss for decades and keeping Stalin's architecture once he got the top job). Equally, he could have gone further the other way and gone "listen, the last 30 years have been a disaster, we should re-think our ideas". But he didn't, instead he used Stalin as a scapegoat for crimes which the entire system (including Khrushchev) was complicit in.

    He had a FAR better grasp of geopolitics that Stalin did, though it is pretty easy to be better at Stalin. He also scored a victory in the Cuban Missile Crisis, but loses points for gambling his country so recklessly in the first place.

    I guess I would rate him as less than the "liberalizing hero" reputation some give him and higher than the "over-eager fool" reputation that others give him. I do rate him a better leader than Kennedy, who Khrushchev is often compared to. That said, I really don't think much of Kennedy, who really is overrated.

    fasquardon
     
  3. Gukpard hominem populist

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    I once heard that the Sino Soviet was inevitable, because to be in the soviet bloc you needed to be under the soviet influence and so as soon China recovered and began to surpass the USSR they would claim to be the "true" center of communism. Maybe Kruschev cannot be really blamed for the split per se, but by making it happen sooner.
     
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  4. fasquardon Cosmonaut

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    I don't think that the split was inevitable. Tension, yes. Outright rupture? No. And certainly not as bad a rupture as we got.

    The Sino-Soviet split was a disaster for both sides. So both have an incentive to bend their pride to compromise - which is what happened in OTL right up until Khrushchev's secret speech made Mao see "Khrushchevism" as a direct threat to him (since Mao saw himself as being someone very like Stalin).

    And yes, I have a hard time seeing China not becoming leader of the Communist world eventually. Especially if they still have a successful Deng reform as OTL. But with no Sino-Soviet split, that could take a good long while. Long enough for the Soviets to accept it peacefully. Though they could still mess it up of course.

    fasquardon
     
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  5. stevej713 Well-Known Member

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    Khruschchev was the secular equivalent of a religious zealot. He truly believed Communism was the answer and the solution to mankind's problems, and was driven by an undying faith that his religion would ultimately triumph. His oft-misquoted "We will bury you" was referring to his belief that later Western generations would look upon Capitalism in the same way that people today look back on the Middle Ages.

    Like many zealots, Khruschchev was also ruthless and was willing to go to great lengths to see his vision fulfilled. He was given the reins of an inherently oppressive regime where checks and balances didn't exist and was able to run free with his ill-informed ideas about economic development, industry, and agriculture.

    The USSR emphasized the human element in nation building, believing that if the will is there, success will follow. It doesn't matter if you didn't do your research or simply wish to ignore data points you don't like.

    To sum up, the USSR was doomed to fail. Khruschchev was a great man of action and a visionary, but his vision was flawed. When his boisterous mega-projects inevitably didn't produce the intended results, he was replaced with a more stable, pragmatic figure. I don't see how it could have been any different.
     
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  6. marathag Well-Known Member with a target on his back

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    That 'victory' led to his retirement.
    He was playing 'poke the Bear' when outnumbered 10 to 1 in Warheads, and no good way to deliver more than a tuny fract to CONUS, while SAC could put a gigatons worth on the Moscow Metro Area, Curtis LeMay's 'Dust' scale, with other levels of destruction boulders and gravel.
    SAC was fully capable of make the rubble dance all across the USSR
     
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  7. David T Well-Known Member

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    This is very questionable. Ian D. Thatcher lists the reasons Khrushchev's successors gave for his ouster:

    "The anti-Khrushchev charges included policy failures, domestic and foreign. At home industry and agriculture were under-performing. Abroad relations had soured with China. Most importantly, these policy failings were linked to Khrushchev's misdemeanours as leader. Khrushchev, it was claimed, was bypassing the Presidium and the Central Committee. He had taken to issuing decrees in the name of the Central Committee that were in fact on his own initiative. Khrushchev had surrounded himself with sycophants and family members that formed his inner-staff. Presidium colleagues could not reach him directly but had to deal with this entourage. Khrushchev simply ignored the advice of the Politburo, assigning key duties to his private circle outside the control of the party elite. In this sense Khrushchev broke party norms and even engaged in corruption. The award of honours to his son and son-in-law was noted, as well as the use of state money to fund family excursions abroad on what was supposed to be official business.

    "Such irregularities, it was said, occurred because Khrushchev had concentrated power in his own hands. Moreover, he did not know how to use this power sensibly. While having little or no expertise, he considered himself an expert in agriculture, diplomacy, science, and art, and his interfering had devastating consequences. Khrushchev defended the quack geneticist Lysenko, for example, despite warnings from eminent scientists. Khrushchev was unable to control his thoughts and most importantly his mouth. He had upset prominent friends within the socialist camp, causing trouble in relations with China, Albania, Romania, and Poland. Khrushchev would make promises to foreign heads of state for which he had not received the required authority from the Presidium or Central Committee. In the USSR Khrushchev had engaged in constant reorganisations of economic and party bodies that brought only additional confusion and threatened to split the party. Yet, paradoxically, this sad story of failure and illegality was accompanied by excessive praise of Khrushchev in the media. Ignored and often insulted by the man who had turned meetings of the Presidium into 'empty formality', Khrushchev's colleagues had to act. Khrushchev's 'petty tyranny' unlike Stalin's was not based on terror, but this did not excuse it. If anything, it was 'harder to struggle with a living cult than with a dead one. If Stalin destroyed people physically, Khrushchev destroyed them morally'.

    "This indictment against Khrushchev was a clever use of his own denunciation of the 'cult of personality' against Stalin. (It also borrowed from the criticism, made by Stalin much earlier, that Khrushchev was guilty of 'hare-brained' schemes!) Khrushchev now found himself portrayed as a leader out of touch with reality, as making a mess of policy, and as flouting party rules, ignoring and belittling comrades, whilst surviving in an artificial bubble of excessive praise from official propaganda and an inner coterie of toadies..." https://history-groby.weebly.com/uploads/2/9/5/6/29562653/khruschev_and_stalin_1.pdf

    Thatcher feels that this indictment is largely unfair, but it is the one that Khrushchev's successors made in justifying his ouster, and note that the Cuban Missile Crisis is not even mentioned (at least explicitly).
     
  8. fasquardon Cosmonaut

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    So? I mean, the question here isn't "was Khrushchev good for Khrushchev" it is "was he overrated". And generally, the narrative is that Khrushchev came out of that worse than Kennedy did, and my point is that Khrushchev traded better than that narrative has it.

    He STILL was a fool to give Castro the nukes he wanted (for reasons which you mention) but not as much of a fool as is generally thought.

    Very interesting! I had always gotten the feeling that several of the criticisms of Khrushchev were veiled references to "that time he almost got all of us turned into radioactive ash".

    fasquardon
     
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  9. David T Well-Known Member

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    If you leave aside the execution of Beria, remember that none of the leading Soviet Communists who ran afoul of Khrushchev--Malenkov, Molotov, Kaganovich, Shepilov, Bulganin, Zhukov--was executed or sent to a labor camp. They were assigned to lesser jobs or retired comfortably on pensions. That in itself was a marked change from the Stalin era--and it set a precedent which of course benefitted Khrushchev himself when he was ousted.

    More important, the diminution of terror didn't stop with top officials. People were still arrested for political reasons of course, but they were now likely to be real, not imaginary, opponents of the regime. This decrease in the arrests of innocent people--and the massive releases from the camps--did not of course turn the Soviet Union into a democracy. But we should remember that the changes that were made were literally a matter of life and death for millions of people.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2019
  10. anotherlurker Well-Known Member

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    The split with the Chinese was inevitable imo. The CCPs legitimacy comes from succeeding where the monarchy and republic failed - unifying the country and getting rid of the Europeans and Japanese. The last Europeans left were the Russians. Mao took the tech support they willingly gave and once they had enough knowhow and equipment sent the Russians back home. If it wasnt for the secret speech there would have been other excuses.
     
  11. Tjakari Locusts and Fishbones

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    Exactly, the USSR in the mid 50s was primed by at least 20 years of Stalinist viciousness to turn into self-mutilating terror state, staffed by psychopaths and mass murderers.

    What we got instead was something much better than that. It wasn't heaven, but it was a place where semi-decent people had a chance find their way into government. Kruschev was the precedent setter for that. Just because no one in the party had a stranglehold on it or the country like Stalin doesn't mean no one would have tried. With all the bloodletting and needless cruelties that process would entail.
     
  12. Gukpard hominem populist

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    Now expanding, @David T , @fasquardon and @Tjakari : Was him better than the government that replaced him? Or Brezhnev did a better job? I used (like many) to see Brezhnev as a idiot who ruined everything, but once fasquardon said that he was actually pretty effective at the beginning, but began to ruin things as he went on.
     
  13. Sam R. Well-Known Member

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    Using great man theory to analyse Soviet economics is pretty daft.
     
  14. marathag Well-Known Member with a target on his back

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    Though 'I was less murdery that my predecessor' was an awfully low bar when that guy was Uncle Joe

    Anyone would have been an improvement. N.K. was a vast improvement, but he still set the USSR down the path that would lead to ruin, Repression in Hungary and ramping up the arms race with Bombers and Missiles, a poor choice given that the USA could spare the $$$ for the game of Deep Pockets, the USSR could not.
     
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  15. Sam R. Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, nah, anti-party bloc can wear that one. Khrushchev’s initial gambits in the meetings was certainly more moderate than Zhukov or Mikoyan’s blatant support for the new course, but with a large hostile bloc in the political committee there was little he could do but tail end the consensus the apb forced.

    Joanna Granville translated the committee meetings iirc.
     
  16. Jack Brisco NWA Powerhouse

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    This is a biggie. Khrushchev's 1956 "secret speech" had quite an impact. He was no democrat, indeed, but he also knew the USSR couldn't keep going in a terrorized condition any longer. Khrushchev had been around during Stalin's great purge of 1937-38, and played his role by approving lists of arrests in the Ukraine, where he was party boss. Khrushchev dumped everything on Stalin. This made a break with the Stalin era and ushered in a time of relative liberalization, at least for a while. This was badly needed in the USSR.

    Opinion...don't believe Khrushchev could have pressed "the button" against the USA. He'd been through World War II, was the political commissar at Stalingrad. He'd seen all the war he wanted, had also seen just how bad conditions were in the areas of the USSR occupied by the Germans. Khrushchev knew what it was like and didn't want to go through it again. Same thing with Brezhnev, who also served.
     
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  17. David T Well-Known Member

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    I wouldn't take that change for granted. After the defeat of the Anti-Party Group, Kaganovich tearfully called Khrushchev and asked that his life be spared. To Khrushchev, this was simply an indication of what Kaganovich wanted to do if he (and the "Group") had come to power. "Comrade Kaganovich, your words confirm once again what methods you wanted to use to achieve your vile aims. You wanted the country to return to the order that existed during the cult of personality. You wanted to kill people. You measure others by your own yardstick, but you are mistaken. We adhere to Leninist principles and will continue to do so. You will be given a job. You will be able to work and live in peace if you work honestly like all Soviet people." https://books.google.com/books?id=MYuwCAAAQBAJ&pg=PA50 (That in any event was Khrushchev's own account, but it seems plausible.)
     
  18. Jack Brisco NWA Powerhouse

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    Opinion...Brezhnev may have started out as effective, but when things got to a certain point Brezhnev pretty much marked time after that, and the USSR stagnated. Brezhnev became more interested in his fleet of cars, his hunting, and other diversions and less interested in running the country. Not good if you are trying to compete against the USA. And we all know how that ended.
     
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  19. fasquardon Cosmonaut

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    Again, I'm not sure. Brezhnev overall was... Not good. But when Brezhnev was healthy, I'd say he was a good leader. But then the Soviets are stuck with senile Brezhnev for a decade, and that really sucks. But this isn't a problem only with Brezhnev, the Communist Party had been devastated by WW2 (Party members were extremely likely to die in a war that was already brutal, so basically the generation between Brezhnev and Gorbachev barely exists in the political realm) so from about 1970 the Soviets have a severe problem with their middle managers getting increasingly old and senile. So is Brezhnev's long tenure while he was cripplingly old an indictment of Brezhnev himself, or is it yet another crime of Hitler compounded by a failure of Stalin?

    I am currently inclined to rate Brezhnev as an equal to Khrushchev, and not hold him personally responsible for being a poor ruler when he was senile. Though for sure the Soviets would have been better off had a more mentally sharp fellow taken over in about '74 or so. Unfortunately, everyone I know of who did remain mentally acute to the end in OTL, who were in a position to claim power in the early 70s and who lived long enough to hand over to the Gorbachev generation were all smart enough to not want the top job! Podgorny seems to have wanted the top job, but I don't know if he remained mentally acute for long enough.

    Let's keep in mind that the US was pretty committed to smashing the USSR if they could at this point. Which is perfectly fair after the moves that Stalin pulled off in his last years, but it did put his heir in a very poor position. Was anyone really going to trust a Soviet leader in 1956 if he said "hey, let's call the whole thing off!"?

    I'd say the whole arms race thing was the best play at the time. Again, it's not a good play, but the best play they had after Stalin committed the Soviets to a cold war through his idiot theories of geopolitics.

    fasquardon
     
  20. TonyA Curmudgeon like, but nastier

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    Never thought he could hit the curve ball...seemed like a phony to me.