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During the reign of Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1953, there were significant changes in the Soviet Union’s society and government. While Stalin was not a legitimate head of state, his reign turned the USSR into a totalitarian regime in which terror was Stalin’s most valuable political tool. After Stalin’s death in 1953, there were crucial reforms in society, political ideology, and economics under the new leader Nikita Khrushchev. Nikita Khrushchev (r.1953-1964) started a period of de-Stalinization in which he reversed many of the policies and ideologies that Stalin had imposed such as: industrial/agricultural economics, the purges, censorship, and isolationism as an international stance. This is known as the Khrushchev thaw.
Stalin had many economic overhauls during his leadership. First, Stalin enforced a collectivization in which individual farms became communally owned. This was to increase crops to feed the workers now living in cities. Secondly there was a major focus on rapid industrialization. Khrushchev expanded the collectivization across the Soviet Union, and gave farmers incentives to work in order to keep another famine from occurring. This was done through more government involvement through providing fiscal assistance. He continued Stalin’s idea of rapid and heavy industry but Khrushchev focused on the production of consumer goods and housing development.
The purges were a political tool that enabled Stalin to eradicate any opposition to his leadership. The punishments that were enforced by the secret police, the NKVD, ranged from exile to expulsion to the Gulag labor camps to execution. When Khrushchev came to power there was a dramatic change. Khrushchev released millions of people from the forced labor camps. The Gulag was a constant reminder of the terror that Stalin had imposed against the Russian people and dissidents. Khrushchev had to abolish the camps to have forward progress, and show that the reign of terror was over. Khrushchev even removed NVKD troikas which were members of the secret police that gave a sentence without a trial. Khrushchev made the punishments for members of political opposition less harsh but still severe. These punishments included removal from a party or a loss of job.
During Stalin’s rule, censorship was imposed across the Soviet Union. Stalin established a censorship bureau, known as the Glavlit, that censored communication from books, television and radio. When Khrushchev came to power, censorship vastly decreased in the Soviet Union; it was not completely eradicated but it was greatly diminished. Books and movies started to show a more realistic view of Russia than previously shown. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was able to publish a book titled One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich which depicted the struggle to survive in the Gulag labor camps. Also, Khrushchev allowed a new influx of art and ideology by authorizing tourism to the USSR. In addition and significantly many Soviets gained the permission to travel abroad. Overall, the reduction of censorship opened the USSR to an inflow of information and ideas which greatly impacted information and entertainment.
Khrushchev reversed Stalin’s international viewpoint as well. Stalin was paranoid that western culture would negatively influence the Soviet people. Although Khrushchev did not agree with western ideology, he was not afraid of the western culture which helped form his new foreign policy called peaceful cooperation. This meant that communist countries could coexist alongside democratic capitalist countries. This new view of the west helped develop the stage for a period of cooperation instead of isolation.
Stalin’s death in 1953 ended his violent reign and opened opportunities for reform. Stalin’s appointed successor Nikita Khrushchev began a period of de-Stalinization in which he reversed many of the policies and ideologies that Stalin had imposed during his leadership. All of these new policies pushed the USSR back from a totalitarian regime, and towards a reformed communist state.
- "The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe Since 1945." Modern European History. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990. 534-36. Print.