Editors Note: We're blogging through We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel.
Nikita Khrushchev was born on April 17, 1894, the son of a coal miner. His first job was at age 15 as a pipe fitter, which kept him out of the military. He joined the Communist Party in 1918 during a worker’s organization struggle. He opted to join the new Communist army, and was assigned the job of a junior political commissar, which was the equivalent of a minor officer, and served in a civil war between the Red Army and the White Army. He lost his first wife in the post-war famine.
In 1922, Nikita was given a spot in a Worker’s School, where he met his second wife, Nina. He came out of the school and into Communist party work in 1925, where his hard work paid off and got him noticed by Joseph Stalin’s organization. He was appointed secretary of the Party Committee for Stalin Industrial School in 1929. By 1933, he had risen to second secretary of the Moscow Regional Committee, and was assigned to supervise the completion of the Moscow subway system.
In 1934, Khrushchev became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and in 1935, he became the equivalent of the mayor of Moscow. He strongly supported Stalin, and managed to survive the Great Purge of the 1930s, one of only three secretaries that avoided execution. He was made a Lieutenant General in 1941 after supervising the Soviet Union’s takeover of Poland and Ukraine, and made governor of Ukraine. During a massive famine in Ukraine, he successfully fought Stalin and kept food produced in Ukraine. In 1949, he was recalled to Moscow and took his old role back.
Joseph Stalin died in March of 1953, which ignited a power battle in the Soviet’s ranks for leadership. Khrushchev ended up winning the battle, and started attempting to mend the fractured relationships with other countries that Stalin had left behind. Finally, on September 25, 1956, Khrushchev gave the so-called “Secret Speech” - which was anything but secret - exposing Stalin’s widespread executions and imprisonments, and denouncing his former boss’s regime. The result was a shocked world, many released prisoners, and renouncing guilt of many executed party members. However, the admissions caused Poland and Hungary to revolt. Poland was given a ton more freedom, but Hungary was crushed with the army.
Khrushchev was almost removed from office in June 1957, but his appeal to the Central Committee helped him retain his job, and he ended up taking the leadership of the entire party over in March 1958.
Nikita pushed a “peaceful coexistence” doctrine with non-communist countries. He toured the US in 1959. However, he still considered the Soviet Union superior, and, as relations with the US fell apart, the Soviet Union shot down a US plane in May 1960. His discussions with John F. Kennedy did nothing, and the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. Khrushchev attempted to station Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962, which was stopped by the US. The two powers engaged in a standoff, ended with Khrushchev’s agreement to remove the missiles in exchange for the US leaving Cuba alone. This angered many of the Soviet’s allies, and the USSR’s relationship with China all but ended.
At this point, Khrushchev slowly started de-militarizing the USSR. The military officers were angered, and many people started losing confidence in their leader. The biggest failure of this time was the USSR’s inability to grow wheat, which had to be imported.
Finally, in 1964, the USSR had had enough. They removed Khrushchev from office. His removal was announced as retirement. For the next seven years, Nikita lived in Moscow, taking a pension from the government and appearing in public only to vote. However, he published his memoirs in the US and Europe, which was denounced in the Soviet Union. When he died on September 11, 1971, his death was not announced until two days later. His body was not given a spot in the major government wall with Stalin, and was buried quietly in a separate cemetery.