Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (Russian: Ники́та Серге́евич Хрущёв, April 15, 1894 – September 11, 1971) was the guy who emerged as the ultimate successor to Josef Stalin as supreme leader of the USSR, following the short-lived leadership of Georgy Malenkov. In the USSR he was remembered as that utter and incompetent idiot who destroyed the Red Army and was obsessed with missiles, practicing an absolutely idiotic brand of nuclear-blackmail/brinkmanship that nearly killed several hundred million people. In the West, he is remembered as a hotheaded buffoon who pounded his shoe on a table at the United Nations. Whether the shoe-related incident really happened is a matter of some debate, but it has become a symbol of the Cold War anyway.
In Russia, he is remembered for his domestic work, particularly his (failed) efforts to improve Soviet agriculture by introducing corn to the USSR, and the Khruschyovkas, low-quality, very cookie-cutter style apartment buildings that were supposed to be a temporary measure to alleviate the housing shortage (they were partially successful in this) until "communism is achieved in 20 years or so". Obviously, this never happened, and many people still live in such buildings today.
Finally, by many historians, he is viewed as the last Soviet leader to be a true believer in the cause of communism and who actively attempted to work towards the future promised by the ideology. This is a function of his biography; he is the only Soviet leader who was ever an actual proletarian worker under capitalism,note and this almost certainly informed his worldview. He was too young to be a true "Old Bolshevik", but he was one of hundreds of thousands of young peasants from Southwestern Russia who flocked to the Donbas (the very same region contested between Russia and Ukraine as of 2023), the heart of the industrialization program of the late Russian Empire, for better wages in the mines and mills. At the start of World War I, he was a skilled metal worker in Yuzovka (modern Donetsk), and also active in the labor movement (encouraged by his father, himself a union leader in the metals trades) and the nascent Communist Party. So it's perhaps inevitable, or at least no surprise, that he was a true believer in communism. By contrast, his eventual successor, Leonid Brezhnev, more or less immediately abandoned any idea of building communism by a specific deadline, declaring that the status quo of "developed socialism" would be good enough, and aligned the Soviet Union's raison d'être from a vision of a brighter future to instead be firmly mired in the past; namely that the USSR had triumphed over Nazi Germany and that as such it were their destiny to vanguard against Nazism ever rising in the world again.
Interestingly enough for someone remembered for his failed brand of nuclear brinkmanship, personal accounts note him having a particular hatred and fear of war. Although both Khrushchev and Brezhnev, his then-right-hand man, served as Commissars to Red Army military units and were physically present around Stalingrad during the eponymous 1942-3 campaign, neither was actually 'at the front' due to their rank. As the Commissar of the Stalingrad Front at that time Khrushchev was responsible for the morale of the 100,000+ combat and 200,000+ logistics troops serving under General Vasily Chuikov, so his role mostly consisted of paperwork and interviews with high-ranking officers and commissars. That said, both saw their share of unpleasantness in the course of visiting hospitals and attacks by German ground-attack aircraft, which caused many of said visits and interviews to be conducted with additional blood and viscera. This, and probably a sense of lingering guilt about the horribly botched Kharkov offensive operation of summer 1942 (launched by Stalin on Khrushchev's recommendations against professional military advice), caused Khrushchev to become an alcoholic by 1943.
In a classic piece of Khrushchev-ian logic Khrushchev later came to believe that his familiarity with war's horrors meant that he could prove more able to stomach the possibility of a war than someone who had not experienced them (and therefore was even more scared of war) - namely the US President in 1962, John F. Kennedy (who had 'only' served in the Navy). This proved not to be the case, as Khrushchev's harsher experiences seem to have inspired more fear than did Kennedy's.
Following Stalin's death in 1953, Georgy Malenkov succeeded him as the undisputed ruler of the Soviet Union... for all of one week, after which power was split between Malenkov as premier and Khrushchev as chairman of the Communist Party, setting the stage for a classic power struggle. Despite this, most predicted that the ultimate winner of this struggle probably wouldn't be Khrushchev or Malenkov, but rather Lavrentiy Beria, the leader of the country's secret police, whose support Malenkov was relying on to stay in power. Khrushchev persuaded Malenkov — probably not untruthfully, in fairness — that Beria would pull a You Have Outlived Your Usefulness on him sooner or later, and they and a gang of co-conspirators plotted to have Beria arrested and executed on charges of treason. However, this really proved a no-win situation for Malenkov, as the loss of his main ally essentially removed his grip on power, allowing Khrushchev to gradually steal authority away from him over the next year, before forcing Malenkov to resign altogether in early 1955.
The bravest thing Khrushchev did was give his "Secret Speech" to the 20th Party Congress on the 25th of March 1956. In it he denounced Stalin's elevation of himself to godhood, his tyranny, his pettiness, and his incompetence before the entire leadership of the Soviet Union. He had a script, but he got so emotional he couldn't stick to it.note Even the original transcript, as read out to people by their managers, is said to have reduced some to tears. Of course, Khrushchev sidestepped the issue of his own complicity in Stalin's policies, let alone that of his audience which included Mikoyan and Molotov. Yes, that Molotov. Molotov and Malenkov would try to mount a coup against Khrushchev the following year in an attempt to restore Stalinism, but it failed and resulted in both being Reassigned to Antarctica (more specifically, Molotov ended up as Ambassador to Mongolia, while Malenkov got the even more humiliating job of managing a hydroelectric plant in Kazakhstan).
Outside the Soviet Union, the reviews were not good from all those commies who had idealized Stalin, with China's Mao Zedong denouncing the speech and Khrushchev's de-stalinization initiatives as "revisionist" and a deviation from ideological orthodoxy. Khrushchev also supported a policy of "peaceful coexistence", which was based on the radical notion that blowing up the world would be bad. In the paranoid climate of the Cold War, that sounded like capitulation to China, Albania, and North Korea. Soon, the Sino-Soviet split developed. On the other hand, it allowed Soviet-Yugoslav relations to recover after the Tito-Stalin split (after Khrushchev, ever the happy Sentimental Drunk, got hammered with the rest of the Soviet delegation at a summit in Belgrade and plied Tito and his aides with drink and pleas to "drink up and let bygones be bygones").
Other notable events of his time in power include the launching of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin's orbit around the Earth. On a less positive note, he crushed the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 — his first instinct had actually been to try using economic pressures to make the new government play nice to the Soviets, but Yuri Andropov, the Soviet ambassador to Hungary and future head of the KGB, strong-armed Khrushchev into putting down the revolution by force, as he would later do to Khrushchev's successor over the course of similar crises — and oversaw the construction of the Berlin Wall. A similar disaster was averted in Poland, where, after some violently suppressed workers' strikes and tense negotiations, a relatively moderate faction of the Communist Party led by Władysław Gomułka came to power in 1956, having convinced Khrushchev that Soviet-Polish relations would not be altered, and that a reformist approach would in fact strengthen communist doctrine in the country (this event is sometimes known as the Polish October). And yes, Khrushchev is partly to blame for the Crimean crisis in Ukraine. Although he was an ethnic Russian, he grew up near the Ukrainian border, his dad frequently took jobs in eastern Ukraine, and he eventually moved there himself and married a Ukrainian woman; as a result, Khrushchev identified strongly with Ukraine in general and the Donbas in particular, and he found it prudent to give away Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic in 1953. Finally, it should be noted that, although his efforts to improve the Soviet agriculture mostly failednote , the improved relations with the West allowed the USSR to import grain and finally put a stop to the famines that plagued it since The Russian Civil War and the later collectivisation of agriculture in 1929 (and wartime Tsarist Russia before that, what with the over-mobilization and goods-shortage crises).
He's also remembered for his role in the Cuban missile crisis, traditionally as the "loser" to John F. Kennedy. However, Khrushchev didn't make it out of that confrontation as badly as it initially seems, due to a secret deal to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviet missiles in Cuba. But since that deal was, you know, secret, Khrushchev couldn't use it to fight the general (and generally correct, given his litany of horrible misjudgements and diplomatic bunglings which nearly caused World War III) impression that he was incompetent. In the end, he was deposed by more hardline rivals, making him, Malenkov, and Mikhail Gorbachev the only Soviet leaders to leave office before their deaths. If sources are to be believed, the man could be embarrassingly free-spoken and honest about things, something which actually annoyed his own secret police. May be a reason why the other leaders decided to remove him.
Khruschev's time in office is sometimes known as the Khruschev Thaw because political repression and censorship were somewhat relaxed (compared to Stalin's time). Many political prisoners were released from the gulags. A certain number of foreign tourists were allowed to visit the USSR, and Khruschev himself visited the United States in 1959. Furthermore, Soviet citizens were allowed to see how people live in the West, which led to an increased focus on producing consumer goods in the USSR; the people who were more immersed to the imported goods and forming their own tastes became the stilyagi. There was also a certain degree of liberalization in the arts (Khruschev personally authorized the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), though Khrushev rolled back some of the reforms once he began seeing works he didn't like. Another important aspect of the Khruschev Thaw is the abolition of the troikas, special tribunals operated by security agencies that often ignored procedures and laws. Far fewer dissidents were put on trial; now the methods used to silence them included expulsion from the Party, loss of their job, or forced hospitalization.
- He often appeared as a villain in older Marvel comics, especially Iron Man, under the very transparent alias Comrade K. In these stories, he was the dictator of "the Iron Curtain nations", and depicted basically as a supervillain version of himself, plotting various dastardly schemes against the free world in general and Iron Man and his alter ego Tony Stark in particular while recycling his famous real-life sound bites.
- Nero: Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin have a cameo in the album De Wortelschieters, where they arrive among the huge crowd present to take over Nero's island with only pacifist intentions in mind.
- Khrushchev makes a small appearance in The Fight we Chose during a meeting with the Soviet Communist Party; the main topic being about the Gate that opened up in the USA during the 60s. He is portrayed as a more reasonable voice against the war hawks of the USSR, citing that trying to forcibly take the Gate would only provoke a useless war with the United States for very little gain and advises to simply bide their time.
- He's mentioned frequently, but unseen, in Thirteen Days. The members of the Kennedy administration spend a lot of time trying to guess what Khrushchev's game is and, at one point, whether he's even still in power.
- In Batman: The Movie, the Soviet ambassador is shown banging his shoe on the table in homage to Khrushchev.
- He's played by Bob Hoskins in Enemy at the Gates, which exaggerates his role in the Battle of Stalingrad for the sake of Young Future Famous People.
- In the film The Death of Stalin, which depicts the power struggle after Stalin's death, Khrushchev is played by Steve Buscemi.
- In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the motorcycle chase goes through an anti-communist rally. An effigy of Khrushchev is briefly seen.
- Stilyagi, a Russian film about the lives of young hipsters during the Khrushchev Thaw.
- The second part of Tom Rob Smith's thriller/drama novel series revolving around Tcheka agent Leo Demidov is named after Khrushchev's Secret speech. Parts of the speech are quoted in the novel and it plays a decisive role in the plot.
- In the Alternate History timeline New Deal Coalition Retained, Khrushchev's inability to counter the Prague Spring leads to him being ousted from power by KGB chief Vladimir Semichastny.
- In NewsRadio, after Beth suggests profit sharing (something Mr. James was planning to introduce anyway), Mr. James takes off his shoe and bangs it on the table and shouts "I WILL BURY YOU!"
- In a season one episode of Mad Men, set in early 1960, Don jokes about almost having to bang his shoe on a table while meeting with a client, referencing Khrushchev's shoe banging incident, which hadn't even occurred at that point in time.
- He is mentioned in the song "P.O.E." from Adam Ant's solo album Vive Le Rock
Damn your eyes, Mr. Khrushchev
Don't go dropping bombs over here
- Queen name-check him in the song "Killer Queen"
Build in a remedy for Khrushchev and Kennedy...
- Sting's 1985 song "Russians", a plea against nuclear war, namechecks Khrushchev and quotes his infamous "we will bury you" remark, with Sting stating that he doesn't "subscribe to this point of view."
- The 'crafty' side of Khrushchev is given center stage in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. He eventually comes to the heroes' rescue by calling off his MiG aircraft, allowing them safe passage to Alaska.
- In The New Order Last Days Of Europe, an Alternate-History Nazi Victory mod for Hearts of Iron IV, Nikita Khrushchev acts as a deputy to Lazar Kaganovich, the leader of the Russian Stalinist breakaway in Tyumen. He can overthrow his boss if Kaganovich implements too many reforms. Although still very authoritarian, Khrushchev is less repressive than Lazar and he grants many cultural and societal freedoms to the peoples of reunifed Soviet Russia. Ironically enough, Khrushchev venerates Joseph Stalin as a great egalitarian revolutionary whose legacy was perverted by Kaganovich.
- One of the routes in More Than Comrades focuses on him. His love of corn is exaggerated due to Rule of Funny.
- The Simpsons: In "Das Bus" the Springfield children hold a Junior United Nations meeting which ends in fighting. Principal Skinner restores the order by banging with his shoe on the table.