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Sixty Years Since Khrushchev's Rise To Power

On September 12, 1953, Nikita Khrushchev took over as first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Bolstered by the growing Soviet economy and his faith in communism, Khrushchev launched bold reforms at home, including de-Stalinization, the Virgin Lands agricultural program, the space program, and a cultural thaw. Abroad, however, Khrushchev was tough -- ordering the construction of the Berlin Wall, ruthlessly suppressing the 1956 uprising in Hungary, and pushing the world to the brink of war during the Cuban missile crisis. In 1964, he was ousted from power by Leonid Brezhnev. In perhaps the most telling sign of the changes he wrought since the days of Josef Stalin, he was allowed to retire quietly and pen his memoirs until his death in 1971.

A young Nikita Khrushchev speaks at the Eighth Extraordinary Congress of Soviets on December 5th, 1936. In 1931, he began to work full-time for the Communist Party, rising through its ranks to become first secretary of the Moscow City Party Committee in 1938. The following year he became a member of the Politburo, the highest decision-making body of the Communist Party.
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A young Nikita Khrushchev speaks at the Eighth Extraordinary Congress of Soviets on December 5th, 1936. In 1931, he began to work full-time for the Communist Party, rising through its ranks to become first secretary of the Moscow City Party Committee in 1938. The following year he became a member of the Politburo, the highest decision-making body of the Communist Party.

Khrushchev, Nikolai Bulganin, and Lazar Kaganovich (left to right) at Josef Stalin's funeral on March 6, 1953.
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Khrushchev, Nikolai Bulganin, and Lazar Kaganovich (left to right) at Josef Stalin's funeral on March 6, 1953.

In February 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, sending shock waves through the party.
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In February 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, sending shock waves through the party.

In the mid-1950s, Khrushchev launched his Virgin Lands campaign to encourage farming on previously uncultivated land in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. In this picture from 1964, he poses in a Kazakh field.
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In the mid-1950s, Khrushchev launched his Virgin Lands campaign to encourage farming on previously uncultivated land in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. In this picture from 1964, he poses in a Kazakh field.

A scene from the Hungarian uprising of 1956, crushed by Soviet troops under Khrushchev's orders.
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A scene from the Hungarian uprising of 1956, crushed by Soviet troops under Khrushchev's orders.

U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon speaks at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959, an event that gave many Russians their first glimpse of capitalist life. At the exhibition, Nixon and Khrushchev launched an impromptu discussion about their countries' economic systems which became known as the Kitchen Debate.
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U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon speaks at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959, an event that gave many Russians their first glimpse of capitalist life. At the exhibition, Nixon and Khrushchev launched an impromptu discussion about their countries' economic systems which became known as the Kitchen Debate.

In 1959, Khrushchev became the first Soviet leader to pay an official visit to the United States. Here, he poses with his wife Nina (left), U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Eisenhower's wife Mamie on September 16, 1959.
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In 1959, Khrushchev became the first Soviet leader to pay an official visit to the United States. Here, he poses with his wife Nina (left), U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Eisenhower's wife Mamie on September 16, 1959.

Khrushchev's moderate policies toward the West and his rejection of Stalinism led to a split with Communist China. In this picture, the visiting Soviet leader speaks with Mao Zedong in 1958.
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Khrushchev's moderate policies toward the West and his rejection of Stalinism led to a split with Communist China. In this picture, the visiting Soviet leader speaks with Mao Zedong in 1958.

Khrushchev rests his shoe on his desk at the United Nations in New York on October 12, 1960. Moments before, he had banged his shoe on the desk while denouncing the Philippine delegate, Lorenzo Sumulong, for accusing the Soviet Union of imperialism in Eastern Europe.
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Khrushchev rests his shoe on his desk at the United Nations in New York on October 12, 1960. Moments before, he had banged his shoe on the desk while denouncing the Philippine delegate, Lorenzo Sumulong, for accusing the Soviet Union of imperialism in Eastern Europe.

Khrushchev looks at the wreckage of an American spy plane that was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. The incident sparked a crisis in the Soviet Union's relations with the West.
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Khrushchev looks at the wreckage of an American spy plane that was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. The incident sparked a crisis in the Soviet Union's relations with the West.

Builders work on the Berlin Wall on October 1, 1961, built under Khrushchev's directive.
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Builders work on the Berlin Wall on October 1, 1961, built under Khrushchev's directive.

Khrushchev joins U.S. President John F. Kennedy at their first meeting on June 3, 1961 in Vienna, one year before the beginning of the Cuban missile crisis. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba in October 1962 after the Soviet Union began to transport missiles to the island.
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Khrushchev joins U.S. President John F. Kennedy at their first meeting on June 3, 1961 in Vienna, one year before the beginning of the Cuban missile crisis. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba in October 1962 after the Soviet Union began to transport missiles to the island.

A CIA reconnaissance photo shows evidence of missile assembly in Cuba -- missile transporters and missile-ready tents. Khrushchev's plans to place Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba were seen as bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war.
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A CIA reconnaissance photo shows evidence of missile assembly in Cuba -- missile transporters and missile-ready tents. Khrushchev's plans to place Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba were seen as bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Khrushchev speaks during a session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in October 1964, at the end of his term in office. Having alienated much of the Soviet elite, Khruschev was eventually forced to retire by his opponents, led by Leonid Brezhnev.
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Khrushchev speaks during a session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in October 1964, at the end of his term in office. Having alienated much of the Soviet elite, Khruschev was eventually forced to retire by his opponents, led by Leonid Brezhnev.

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