July 3, 1957 – Khrushchev Ousts Molotov, Malenkov, and Kaganovich

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The coffin of Joseph Stalin is carried by (on the near side, front to back) Premier Georgi Malenkov, General Vassily Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Marshal Nikolai Bulganin, and Lazar Kaganovich. 1953

On July  3, 1957, Nikita Khrushchev took control of the Soviet Union with the ouster of three hard-line Stalin loyalists whose failed coup attempt earlier in the year sealed their fate.  Vyacheslav Molotov, Georgi Malenkov, and Lazar Kaganovich were opposed to Khrushchev’s policies of reform, including easing repression and censorship, releasing millions of Stalin’s political prisoners, promoting economic reforms and increased international trade, and allowing cultural exchanges and sports competitions with non-Communist countries.

Khrushchev spent years building his power base; he recruited Marshall Georgy Zhukov and groomed Leonid Brezhnev for the day when he could take the reigns of the Soviet Union in his hands.  He waited for Stalin to die, then slowly built his coalition.  In 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin in a speech which angered his pro-Stalin enemies in the ruling presidium  A year later, Molotov, Malenkov and Kaganovich believed they had enough votes to remove Nikita from the government.  They were wrong.  Zhukov, Breszhnev, and a host of other carefully positioned and cultivated men within the communist hierarchy threw their support behind Khrushchev.  Nikita was reaffirmed as First Secretary and his adversaries were voted off the presidium and demoted to minor government positions.

The United States looked favorably on Khrushchev, at least in the beginning.  Seen as much more moderate than the Stalinist hard-liners, Nikita’s purge of the presidium was welcome news to US officials hoping for a thaw in the Cold War.

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