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Khrushchev became First Secretary in September, 1953 ushering in a period in which Malenkov and Khrushchev shared power. Khrushchev won the support of Bulganin to move against Malenkov and at the Central Committee meeting in January 1955, Malenkov was criticized for his close relationship with Beria as well as his failure to implement promises to increase the production of consumer goods. The next month he was dismissed as head of the government.

The Twentieth Party Congress held in 1956 marked the party's formal break with Stalin (three years after his death) when First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev gave his famous Secret Speech denouncing the crimes and excesses of Stalin. This ushered in a period of destalinisation which saw an end to the personality cult which had grown around Stalin, the release of tens of thousands of political prisoners and a thaw in political and cultural discourse. This was too much for conservatives in the Presidium (the renamed Politburo). Malenkov, Kaganovich, Molotov and Bulganin attempted to oust Khrushchev in the summer of 1957 and won a vote in the Presidium to oust Khrushchev but Georgy Zhukov the defence minister and war hero, supported Khrushchev's demands that the matter be sent to the Central Committee which overturned the Presidium vote. Khrushchev ousted the so-called Anti-Party Group from the Presidium and ultimately from the party and, in 1958 became Premier while retaining the position of First Secretary.

The execution of Beria also brought the NKVD and its successor, the KGB under party control where, under Stalin, the state security apparatus had become more powerful than the party and the military. The reversal caused by Beria's arrest and execution brought to the end much of the arbitrary arrest and the system of forced labour in Gulags that had marked the Stalin era.

Khrushchev attempted to reorganize the party structure in 1962 along economic rather than geographical lines. This led to confusion and the alienation of many party officials.

Khrushchev's prestige was severely damaged as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis which ended in what many in the party saw as a humiliating climbdown by Khrushchev. He was removed from power in October 1964 by the Central Committee due to the Cuban Missile Crisis as well as the failure of his agricultural and industrial policies. Destalinisation came a halt under the new General Secretary, Leonid Brezhnev who emerged as the new party leader after first plotting with Nikolai Podgorny to oust Khrushchev and then outmanouvering Podgorny to take the party leadership (Podgrony became the ceremonial head of state as a consolation until Brezhnev took that position for himself in 1977). However, there was no return to the policies of terror against party members. While internal party struggles would result in expulsions there were no executions of party members after the execution of Beria in 1953. When Malenkov, Molotov, Kaganovich and other members of the so-called Anti-Party Group were expelled from the Presidium and ultimately from the party for allegedly plotting against Khrushchev they were not put on trial or imprisoned but simply demoted to minor posts (such as ambassador to Mongolia in the case of Molotov) or pensioned off as when Khrushchev himself was deposed in 1964.

Though initially, the USSR was again under a "collective leadership", this time of Brezhnev as General Secretary, Podgorny as President of the Soviet Union and Alexsey Kosygin as Premier of the Soviet Union. Brezhnev was able to consolidate power and become the undisputed leader. At the 23rd Party Congress held in 1966, Brezhnev was able to have himself declared General Secretary of the party, reviving a title that had not existed since Stalin. The Presidium also reverted to its previous name of Politburo. While Kosygin attempted to pursue a policy of favouring light industry and consumer good production over heavy industry, Brezhnev favoured military expansion which necessitated a continued emphasis on heavy industry. While Kosygin remained Premier, it was Brezhnev's policies that won out and by 1968 he was the undisputed leader of both the party and the country. The Brezhnev period ushered in an unparalleled period of stability in the party, a stability that ultimately led to stagnation. Almost half of the members of the 1981 Central Committee had been on the body in 1966 while the average age of Politburo members rose from 55 in 1966 to 68 in 1982. The aging Soviet leadership led to its being described as a gerontocracy. Brezhnev suffered a stroke in 1975 but continued in power despite deteriorating health until his death in November 1982 at the age of 76. His final years were marked by an attempt to create a personality cult around himself as well as growing corruption within the party as members increasingly paid lip service to socialist ideas and instead saw their positions as a route to self enrichment.

See also: History of the Soviet Union (1953-1985)

Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev became the party's general secretary in 1985 following an interegnum after Brezhnev's death in 1982 when the party was led first by Yuri Andropov and then by Konstantin Chernenko. Unlike previous successions there was no pretence of a collective leadership replacing Brezhnev. When Brezhnev died Andropov was proclaimed General Secretary within days and by the official coverage in the Soviet media it was clear that he was the leader. Andropov died on February 9, 1984 and Chernenko was elected his replacement on February 13 but Chernenko was a compromise, stopgap candidate as Gorbachev, Andropov's protege, lacked sufficient support in the Politburo. However, Chernenko he was already an ill man and his duties were increasingly carried out by others, particularly Gorbachev who was nominated by Andrei Gromyko to become General Secretary when Chernenko died. There are indications Gorbachev may have been in control prior to Chernenko's death as he was announced as the new General Secretary the day after Chernenko died on March 10, 1985.

Gorbachev instituted policies of glasnost and perestroika. Glasnost allowed freedom of speech in the Soviet Union and a flourishing of political debate within the Communist Party to a degree not seen since the Russian Revolution while perestroika was an attempt to restructure the political and particularly the economic organisation of the country. This period of liberalisation ultimately ended in the dissolution of the Soviet bloc in eastern Europe.

At the Twenty-Seventy Party Congress in 1986, Boris Yeltsin became a candidate member of the Politburo and offended party members in a speech that attacked the hidden privileges of the party elite.

At the 1988 Party Conference Gorbachev launched reforms to reduce the party's control over the government including proposals for multicandidate elections to regional and local legislatures and the positions of local and regional party first secretaryships.While Gorbachev was able to receive approval for his reforms from the party, the membership of the CPSU was becoming increasingly resistant to Gorbachev's policies and rather than being a locus for change became a bulwark of conservativism. Increasingly, Gorbachev bypassed the party in order to implement his reforms relying instead on governmental bodies.

In 1990, Gorbachev obtained the repeal of Article Six of the USSR constitution which gave the party supremacy over all institutions in society.

By the time of the Twenty-Eighth Party Congress in July 1990, the party was largely regarded as being unable to lead the country and had, in fifteen republics, slit into opposing factions favouring either independent republics or the continuation of the Soviet Union. Stripped of its leading role in society the party lost its authority to lead the nation or the cohesion that kept the party united.

See: History of the Soviet Union (1985-1991)

End of Communist rule

The growing likelihood of the dissolution of the USSR itself led conservative elements in the CPSU to launch the August Coup in 1991 which temporarily removed Gorbachev from power. On August 19, 1991, a day before a Union Treaty was to be signed devolving power to the republics, a group calling itself the "State Emergency Committee" seized power in Moscow declaring that Gorbachev was ill and therefore relieved of his position as president. Soviet vice-president Gennadiy Yanayev was named acting president. The committee's eight members included KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, Internal Affairs Minister Boris Pugo, Defense Minister Dmitriy Yazov, and Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov. The coup dissolved due to large public demonstrations and the efforts of Boris Yeltsin who became the real power in Russia as a result. Gorbachev returned to Moscow as president but resigned as General Secretary and vowed to purge the party of conservaties. Yeltsin had the CPSU formally banned within Russia. The KGB was disbanded as were other CPSU-related agencies and organisations. Yeltsin's action was later declared unconstitutional but by this time the USSR had ceased to exist.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the party became known as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

Related articles

Organization of the Communist Party of the USSR, Communist Party, List of socialists

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