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XX CPSU Congress. "Thaw" (1956-1964)

Culture and Art in the "Thaw" period

The time of the "Thaw" was characteristic with rise in Soviet science and Culture. Much attention was given to secondary and higher education. In December of 1958 a law was passed, according to which eight-year general compulsory education was introduced instead of the seven-year one, that had existed before. Yield of the graduates from universities and other higher educational institutions ran up considerably. In the school year of 1958/1959 Soviet higher educational institutions yielded almost 3 times more engineers than the United States. At the same time quality of training at school and in institutes and universities began to fall down first of all due to decreased demands to the magistral staff. The number of scientific foundations increased - up to 3200 in 1958.

In the "Thaw" period a noticeable rise in Fiction literature and Art should be as well mentioned. That happened mainly due to rehabilitation of part of Culture and Art personalities, who had been victimised in the years of Stalin's reigning. In culture sphere recurrence of Stalinism was clearly noticeable. Party leaders, like in good foretime, used to intervene into fiction, painting, science, trying to make the creative process controllable to the party ideological stamps.

In the period of 1957-1962 meetings of the party leaders with personalities of Culture, Art, with representatives of Russian Intellect were traditionally held. On December 1, 1962 infamous Khrushev's visit to the Moscow artists works exhibition (under the heading of E. Bilutin) in Manezh took place, the end of that visit was the well-known rout.

Opposed to the Soviet regime dissident movement appeared and developed. "Samizdat" fiction (typewritten copying) was a part of it.

In Academy of Sciences reorganisation came about. The foundation didn't any longer comprise institutes, investigating practical themes. Simultaneously, institutes and laboratories of problematic and theoretical character were set up, especially in the realm of theoretical physics and mathematics. In May, 1957 the USSR government settled to create a large-scale scientific centre on the East of the country, in Siberia, in the city of Novosibirsk. It was decided to name it "Siberian branch of the USSR Academy of sciences". Soon the scientific centre near Novosibirsk became one of the biggest scientific centres in the country. That very year the first Soviet sinchrophasotron was launched there.

In 1956 in a small city Dubna not far from Moscow a large-scaled international research centre was founded - the United Institute of Nuclear Investigations.

At the same time production of domestic computing machinery began.

Liberalisation of the foreign policy course

Since the mid-50-s a positive shift in international situation had been foreshadowed: actually for the first time after the Second World War leaders of the most powerful countries including the Soviet Union began to discuss current international problems together. The first meeting of this series was Geneva 18-23 July 1955 get-together of Great Britain, France and USA leaders.

When the Western leaders demanded that the USSR carried out a policy of democratisation in the countries of East Europe, the USSR appeared with offers targeted to propaganda effect. For instance, the USSR suggested to materialise the Treaty of Nollective Security without any preliminary consultations. Naturally, the suggestion was rejected in the West-European capitals.

In attempt to demonstrate the competence of the suggestion, Soviet government ventured to a partial unilateral disarmament. In August of 1955 the USSR Supreme Soviet adopted a decision about one-sided 640 000 people reduction of the Army. Other socialist countries ventured to one-sided reductions also.

In 1957 the USSR made a number of suggestions in UN about a cessation in nuclear weapon tests; about accepting obligations not to use nuclear or thermonuclear weapons; about the USSR, the USA, China Armies manpower reduction down to 2 500 000 people and then down to 1500 000 people; about liquidation military bases on foreign territories. In 1958 the USSR stopped nuclear weapons tests one-sided, awaiting similar steps from the West countries.

In the second half of the 50-s and the first half of 60-s relations between the USSR and other countries grew better: with Turkey, Iran, Japan (with which in 1956 a declaration was signed about belligerency ceasing and diplomatic relations restoration. Approximately at the same time two-sided negotiations were held with Great Britain and France. In 1958 an agreement with the USA was signed about co-operation in the fields of culture and economics, about exchange groups of scientists, culture personalities etc. Relations with Yugoslavia normalised.

The USSR policy in East-European socialist countries remained practically the same get-tough one as it was previously. In September-October of 1956 Hungarian government made an attempt to get rid of the tough dependence from the USSR, to restore democracy in "Western" variant. They announced that they were going to leave the Warsaw Pact Organisation and to cease allied relations with the USSR.

Another serious crisis were German events of 1961. According to the Potsdam Peace Agreements, the city of Berlin, as well as the whole Germany, was divided into three occupational zones: of the USSR, USA and Great Britain. In 1949 the USSR zone became a part of German Democratic Republic and simultaneously its capital. The zones of the USA and Great Britain formed West Berlin, a territory, actually controlled from FRG.

Right after the "Berlin crisis" "the Missile Crisis" (Havana) followed, that put the world on the edge of global catastrophe, as the USSR and the USA were very close to thermonuclear war. "The Missile Crisis" was the culmination in the process of sharpening relations between nations in the period of "Cold War". After that event a slow and unsteady process of improvement of relations between socialist and capitalist countries began.

In the second part of the 50-s and early 60-s complex problems in relations between China and Albania became apparent. Sharpening of the relations between the USSR and China led to collapse of "one and undivided" socialist camp, created by Stalin after the Second World War.

As direct USSR-USA confrontation was subsiding, concealed struggle between them in the countries of the "Third World" began. In the 50-s many Asian colonial countries obtained independence, in early 60-s that process began in African countries, too. The USSR, as well as the USA wanted to have their own trust, "one of the lads" in the governments of those countries, in order control in some way or other the foreign and internal affair courses. Economic and military assistance was being rendered from both sides.

In late 50-s and early 60-s there was a situation, when communist movement in many countries was close to seizure of power. Only massive aid from the side of the USA, Great Britain and other countries made it possible for the ruling regimes to stabilise the situation. The USSR urged to tune up diplomatic relations with some developing countries. The most stable links were set up with India and Indonesia. The relations with Burma, Cambodia, Nepal were rather good also.

The Soviet Union often used the fact of setting-up fast diplomatic and economic relations with developing countries for weakening influence of former colonial countries and for creation a favourable situation for coming a communist or a "close-to-communist" regime to power.

In the Middle East the problems were no less complicated. By late 40-s, early 50-s most of the Arabian countries had made a clean sweep of colonial dependency. The USSR supported Arabian countries in political, economic and military area. Especially large-scale aid was received by the United Arabian Republic (construction of Asuan Dam). The USSR openly rendered an assistance to Egypt in 1956 during England, France and Israel aggression because of Suez Canal nationalisation. In the long run England, France and Israel withdrew their troops from Egypt. The war of 1956 strengthened the USSR position in the Middle East. Since that time the USSR's influence onto countries of the Third World began to mount.

1960 was the year of gaining freedom by 17 African countries, but the USSR practically wasn't prepared for active actions on African continent. The USSR influence there was limited by political declarations and by recognising new independent countries.

All in all by the mid-60-s a certain stabilisation of the post-war world had occurred. An important step was made towards limitation of nuclear weapons race, that had among other things an important ecological meaning. On August 5, 1963 Agreement about nuclear tests in atmosphere, space and water prohibiting was signed

Achievements in science and industry

The "Thaw" period became the one of noticeable upraise in the USSR's economics, which was reached by means of working enthusiasm of labouring people, and as a result of a reform in the national economic machinery as well. As compared with the fifth five-year plan, pace of development in capital construction increased considerably. Quality of constructing raised, simultaneously cost value lowered. Metallurgy base of the country broadened, mightiness of the electric plants increased. A number of new large-scale production units in chemical, oil-processing, and other branches of industry were constructed.

Rates of development in mechanical engineering were the highest. Steps were taken for creation of unified energetic system in European part of the USSR. The total length of railroads in USSR increased. In 1957 the first in the world atomic ice-breaker, named "Lenin".

Development of Soviet economics in mid-50-s was carried out in conditions of accelerating technical progress. This is the time that Russian technical revolution began. Space research, broad chemical fertilisation in agriculture, development of electronics.


In the years of the seven-year plan (1959-1965) about 5500 large-scale industrial enterprises were built. Capital funds in industry doubled. Total power of electric plants doubled plus. A real breakthrough was achieved in chemical industry, where 500 new big production units appeared. Growth of production volume was higher than the planned one. Considerable success was noticeable in oil and natural gas extraction. The fuel balance of the country changed dramatically.

In July of 1956 the first Soviet jet passenger plane, TU-104 took off. In 1957 a multy-stage ballistic rocket was launched. On October 4, 1957 the first Soviet sputnik started. The Soviet Union became pioneer in cosmic space development. On April 12, 1961Yury Gagarin carried out the first in the history of mankind flight into cosmic space.

Mass media didn't fall behind as well. The radio net covered the whole territory of the country. In 1958 there functioned 53 television centres, and the total number of televisions was 3 mln., while in 1953 the number of the centres in the country was 3, and that of televisions - 200 thousand.

At the same time a few branches of industry seriously fell behind, couldn't cope with the planned labours. First of all this refers to agriculture, and to many branches of light industry. One of the reasons of the situation was the fact that in 1955 concept about a speedy development of group "B" industries was sharply opposed by Nikita Khrushev. That led to the situation when group "B" industries chronically suffered scarcity of monetary means from the budget.

Another reason: constant difficulties in the country's agriculture. Finance injections didn't result in structural changes in land use, since the farmer wasn't master of his land and his labour results. Aside from constant financial assistance, it was planned to solve the problem in two directions: (1) by means of broadening of cultivated area, primarily through reclamation of virgin soil, and (2) by means of giving some economic self-dependency to the agricultural units.

In the years of the seven-year plan output growth in agriculture went down. The main reasons were: unskilled use of the land and technics, rude administrative interference into the production units' affairs, and unfair limitation of farmers' private plots of land.

In the years of the "Thaw" living level of the USSR citizens increased. In cities it was still higher than in rural area. Common workers, not only administrative workers, began to get separate accommodations with every convenience. In 1956-1960 all workers and federal clerks moved to the 7-hour working day (6-hour day in the underground and harmful works). In 1956 practically pensions were doubled.

During the period of the seven-year plan the country's housing stock increased 40%. Those were of course rather small, low-ceiling, stuffy flats, but anyway the sharpness of the problem was abated.

Democratisation of social life caused rise of working activity. New working initiatives appear. Together with manufacture questions innovators put forward a broad circle of social ones, including rise of education level, of working qualification etc.

At the same time the end of the "Thaw" period was marked with the first open, though poorly organised protests against the USSR political system. In June , 1962 in the city of Novocherkassk a demonstration of workers, demanding improvement of living conditions, took place. The demonstration was scattered by the help of soldiers.

The CPSU after the XX Congress

All the main decisions in the country were taken with participation and under party's control, in accordance with its "general line". The Communist party was divided into kind of three levels: "soldier" manpower, party bureaucracy and the top layer.

As for the "soldier" manpower, there happened many changes. Trying to lean on the force, opposing the party bureaucracy, N. Khrushev stimulated in some way or other intraparty democracy. Meaning of party meetings increased, as well as responsibility of elected delegates. Number of Conferences increased also, as well as the amount of party members.

In 1962, according to decisions of November CPSU Plenum, restructuring of party organs was fulfilled, on production principle. Separate industrial and agricultural party organisations were set up.

As for political struggle, it went on mainly in the Central Committee Presidium and in the Central Committee itself. The Congresses played basically the role of bellmen of new ideas and concepts, that had been accepted in ruling organs. The outcome of the struggle in Presidium and in Central Committee was a decisive one for the entire political struggle in the country. The 1956-1964 period was a time of some broadening of democracy inside the party. The role of Plenums became considerably more significant.

In 1956 a mighty opposition to Khrushev began to rise. His report "About cult of the individual" became an event, defining not only the new political course of the country, but it stimulated "loyal stalinists" to activate their actions, pointed to Khrushev's dismissal. The opposition group was headed by V. Molotov, G. Malenkov and L. Kaganovitsh. In June of 1957 the struggle turned into an open confrontation. The Central Committee Presidium accepted a decision about Khrushev's dismissal.

However Khrushev was supported by a bigger part of the Army, by the fresher part of the Central Committee and KGB (KGB - Committee for National Security). On a new Plenum, called on 22-29 June, the actions of the opposition side were reckoned as factious. Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich and Shepilov, who had adjoined them, were withdrawn from Presidium and from the Central Committee. So for the first time in many years Presidium was an active, decisive political force.

The next step in political struggle was marshal Zhukov's dismissal from the post of Minister for Defence and withdrawal from Presidium, since his popularity was by that time close to Khrushev's. Zhukov was accused that "he had ignored Lenin's party principles in managing the Armed Forces".

At the beginning of 1959 the XXI (extraordinary) Party Congress was held, called for consideration and ratification of the seven-year plan of the National Economy development. The Congress stated, that socialism in the USSR gained full and irrevocable victory. The seven-year plan was considered as an important step towards creation the material and technical base of Communism.

The XXII Party Congress (October 1961) was a logical development of ideas, expressed on the pervious one. On the XXII Congress a new CPSU program was accepted - the program of Communistic society construction.

Nikita Khrushev's political course, style and methods of administration caused growing irritation among party and government apparatus. In 1964 L. Brezhnev, M. Suslov and A. Shelepin prepared and carried out Khrushev's displacement. On October 12, 1964, at the time when N. Khrushev was in the Crimea enjoying his holiday, an enlarged meeting of the Central Committee Presidium was held in the Kremlin, where Suslov and Shelepin raised a question about Khrushov's dismissal from all his posts. N. Khrushov was summoned to Moscow, to the meeting. He was accused in ignoring principles of collectiveness in administration, in voluntarism, in unacceptable, wild administrative methods etc. All the Presidium members appeared against Khrushev, except A. Mikoyan. On 14 October, 1964 Nikita Khrushev was discharged of duties of the First CPSU secretary, of Presidium member and of the USSR Council of Ministers Chairman "due to declining years and unsatisfactory health". The October (1964) Central Committee Plenum considered "not practical" in future to combine duties of the First CPSU Secretary and Council of Ministers Chairman. Leonid Brezhnev was voted the First Secretary, Alex Cosigin - the Council of Ministers Chairman.

Attempts to reform national economics

Trying to subdue the party and federal bureaucratic apparatus, N.Khrushev attempted to create an alternative structure of executive power with a considerable element of democracy. The substance of the reform was transmittals of industry and construction management from the branch method (through ministries and departments) to the territorial one. In every administrative region a Council of National Economy was set up, obeying directly to the Council of Ministers of the corresponding Union Republic. By that, possibilities of the local party apparatus' interference into the domestic economics narrowed drastically. 105 Councils were created all over the country. 141 ministries were abolished. Production units were given under the control of the new councils.

A number of federal committees were also created (on aerial technics, on automation and mechanical engineering, on radio electronics, on shipbuilding, on chemistry etc.)

From the very beginning administrative reform had a limited character. It didn't bring quality changes into economic conditions of management, planning and was reduced to a formal, structural readjustment of the federal administrative apparatus. The main idea of the reform was "administrative decentralisation".

The reorganisation of administrative system gave a certain impulse to economics development. Rates of National Income growth increased. Process of differentiation and cooperation in the regions deepened, process of the production technical reconstruction fastened. An impressive growth of economising was reached at the cost of administrative apparatus cheapening. But soon the reform began to walk with a limp. Many Councils of National economy were enlarged repeatedly, in the centre multiple branch committees were set up. After Khrushev's dismissal in 1964 the system of territorial administration began to round off and by early 70-s had been terminated.

The XX CPSU Congress. Struggle for power.

The XX Congress of the Communist Party (14-25 February, 1956) became a turning point in the history of the country. The Congress and especially the historical Khrushev's report "About the cult of individual and its aftermath" gave a powerful impulse to the process of renovation of the society, to the Stalinism myths dethronement, to liberation of men's mind from ideological stereotypes. The period in the country's life, connected with the Congress, was named "the Ottepel" ("Thaw").

Exposure of Stalin's crimes was fulfilled with men who were guilty themselves, including Nikita Khrushev, the rapporteur. The evils of the command system were narrowed down to Stalin and his closest encirclement. The political administration being at power at the moment, didn't share the responsibility and escaped punishment and critics.

Some unimportant changes that took place in 1956-1964 in federal system, were of make-up sort. Soviet power bodies of all levels, as before, functioned under the party ruling and control. The ultimate power body was formally the Supreme Soviet, as before. On the Supreme Soviet sessions preliminary prepared documents were affirmed with a single heart.

A characteristic feature of the time: part of central power bodies' legitimate functions were given to provincial ones. In May 1956 functions on control over local courts and forensic foundations were granted to local administrative bodies.

By decision of the USSR Supreme Soviet Sixth Session national autonomy was restored for Chechnya, Ingush, Kalmick and Karatshayev peoples, that had been abolished in connection with Stalin's persecution in the years of the Second World War.

Not only representatives of party and administrative bureaucracy, but common workers began to be involved for the work in Soviets. In 1957 March 1500 000 deputies were elected to the local Soviets, 60% of whom were workers and farmers.

The second part of the 50-s and first part of the 60-s were a period of noticeable rise in social activity in many regions of the country. A great many social organisations appeared, that began to solve various local problems.

From the very beginning of Khrushev's activity the party and administrative bureaucracy were his subterranean adversaries. Nikita Khrushev couldn't do without them, but simultaneously didn't want to be a puppet in their hands. He constantly tried to put the bureaucracy in inconvenient borders.

More serious attempts of modernisation were undertaken by Khrushev in the sphere of executive power. The ultimate executive body was still Council of Ministers. In 1955 N. Bulganin became its chairman. In 1958 Khrushev replaced him, A.Kosygin, A.Mikoyan, D.Ustinov became his assistants. One of the first steps of the new government was transfer of some rights to the province. In 1956 percentage of contributions into republican budgets on different types of taxes were raised. A number of all-union ministries were reorganised into republican ones (communication, education etc.). The number of all-union ministries was reduced. But a deeper administrative reform began later.

Soviet Russia
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Russia in NEP
Industrialization. USSR in 30s
USSR in Second World War (1939-1945)
First Post-war Decade
XX CPSU Congress. "Thaw" (1956-1964)
Epoch of "Developed Socialism" (1964-1985)
"Perestroika" (1985-1991)

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