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History's Happenings for October 15

Khrushchev Deposed
1964

Nikita Khrushchev

Things are not always as they seem on the face.

Most of us who lived the fifties and sixties remember Soviet Premier and Communist Party First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev as a table-pounding, shoe-thumping enemy of capitalism.

While that's certainly not entirely false, there is a deeper side to Khrushchev which, while not a secret, may be forgotten by those of us who saw his antics and attitude as a potential nuclear nightmare. Viewed between his murderous predecessor and his cold and bureaucratic successor, he fares better than our contemporary perception.

Born into a peasant family in 1894, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev had almost no schooling or formal trade instruction, and drifted as a young man from tending cows to mine work. In 1918, shortly after the Revolution, he joined the Bolsheviks and became a political officer in the Red Army during the civil uprising of the post-revolutionary period.

During the twenties and thirties, Khrushchev gradually climbed the political ladder within the new U.S.S.R., in the Moscow Party organization, in the Ukraine, and then, eventually, as a full member of the Soviet Politburo. During the Second World War, he served as a political commissar, attaining the rank of Lieutenant General.

After the war, Khrushchev became a secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, one step away from dictator Josef Stalin, whom he supported during his lifetime. When Stalin died in 1953, Khrushchev was positioned to assume the top slot as First Secretary of a party suffering from internal chaos due to the sudden power vacuum left by Stalin, and from external reproach for the former dictator's atrocities against his own people.

As a result, Khrushchev set a course away from Stalinism, a path which to us still resembles old-fashioned totalitarianism, but at the time looked like radical revisionism to the party elite. He all but eliminated the use of terror as a control over the populace, arranging for the trial and execution of long-time Stalin henchman and secret police chief Lavrenty Beria. Even though by freedom's standards the U.S.S.R. remained a police state, Khrushchev did manage to rein in the everyday activities of the secret police to a marked degree.

De-Stalinization had a more destabilizing effect on Russia's satellite allies, which had had a much shorter adventure with communism at that point. In Hungary division of the leadership over the issue provided the opportunity for a popular revolt against the communist government in 1956. Khrushchev ordered in the tanks of the Warsaw Pact and the uprising was suppressed.

He pursued a goal of raising the average Soviet standard of living through relaxed agricultural, consumer product and economic policies and targeted Soviet success in space exploration, which led to the launching of Sputnik in 1957. But perhaps most importantly, he broke with all previous Soviet communist doctrine by espousing victory over capitalism through peaceful means.

The latter change in party policy precipitated the historic break with Mao Tse-tung's China, which continued to pursue the Stalinist/Leninist ideology of inevitable armed struggle with capitalism.

Khrushchev's doctrine of Peaceful Coexistence with the West did not, of course, end the Cold War, but it did, perhaps, prevent it from becoming the cataclysm that the nuclear weapons build-up on both sides might have precipitated. His well-known "we will bury you" speech, and his shoe-thumping performance at the U.N. helped to keep fear of the Soviet Union alive among democratic nations. In 1961, the west's refusal to cede all of Berlin to East Germany saw Khrushchev order the construction of the Berlin Wall. When he moved missiles into newly communist Cuba in 1962, the world saw itself tottering on the edge of nuclear war, until Khrushchev wisely backed down in the face of President Kennedy's insistence on their removal.

In the end, the old party elite still held sway. Khrushchev had been unable to deliver on the lofty goals of agricultural production associated with his relaxed policies, and the hard-liners chafed at his relatively soft foreign policy stance and at the easing of strict centralization at home. On October 15, 1964, using the usual secretive and power-based process so reflective of communist societies, Khrushchev's critics removed him from his offices and he retired from political life.

The fact that he emerged alive and relatively free from his ouster no doubt attests to the success of Khrushchev's process of de-Stalinization. He died in retirement in 1971.

His successor, Leonid Brezhnev, returned the nation to a more centralized, bureaucratic and elitist form of governance that produced economic stagnation.

Congress Passes Clayton Anti-Trust Act
1914

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Vichy Premier Shot By French
1945

Vichy Premier Pierre Laval

When Nazi Germany defeated France in June, 1940, after just a few short weeks of Blitzkrieg, the armistice left the south central portion of the country unoccupied by German troops. No doubt this decision had less to do with pangs of conscience than with a desire to curry favor with French fascists, and to avoid having to spread occupation troops more thinly.

The capital of the unoccupied zone was established at Vichy, about 75 miles northwest of Lyons. The venerable French Field Marshal Henri Pétain, hero of World War I and, at this late date in his life, anxious for peace at any price, was made Premier.

His able but nefarious deputy was one Pierre Laval.

Laval, born in 1883 and trained in the law, had held a variety of French political posts beginning at the local level, and eventually on the national level as Premier and Foreign Minister. His involvement in 1936 with a treaty demanding the cession of a large chunk of Ethiopia to Mussolini's Italy aroused public indignation and brought down his government. But his willingness to appease fascism was remembered.

As Pétain's assistant in the German-sponsored Vichy government, Laval proved no more trustworthy … after five months in office he was dismissed out of fear that he was plotting against his boss.

Never mind though. Ever on the lookout for a faithful back-stabber, the Nazis insisted that Laval be placed at the head of the Vichy government in 1942. And he didn't disappoint them. During his tenure in office, Laval cooperated in every way with his German masters, including supplying French forced labor for German factories, and rounding up Jews for shipment to German concentration camps. His Vichy government was a model of the National Socialist ideal.

Fortunately his reign was short. Following the liberation of France, Laval was tried by the French for various crimes against the state and, on October 15, 1945, was shot in a Paris prison.

Göring Cheats Hangman
1946

Nazi Reichsmarschall Herman Göring

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LBJ Creates Transportation Department
1966

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