Khrushchev’s period of office as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) from 1956 to 1964 is commonly closely associated with a raft of liberalizing reforms that aimed not only to redraw the Soviet Union’s relationship with the outside world, but also to reassess the relationship between the Soviet state and society, between the CPSU and government at central, regional and local level on one side and ordinary Soviet citizens on the other. The chapters contained in this book take a case study approach to examining different aspects of the shifts in this relationship in some detail. The best-known statement of Khrushchev’s reform intent is his Secret Speech to the XX Communist Party Congress in February 1956, which initiated the process of de-Stalinization in the Soviet Union and in the satellite states of Eastern Europe.1 Subsequent statements to the extraordinary XXI Party Congress in 1959 and the XXII Party Congress in 1961 further elaborated the aims and ambitions of the reform agenda. The third Communist Party Programme, formally adopted at the XXII Party Congress, set these visions down on paper as goals of the Soviet regime. Historians have come to term the decade or so following the death of Stalin

in 1953 as the ‘thaw’, taking their lead from Ilya Ehrenburg’s novella published in the journal Znamya in May 1954.2 The ‘thaw’ is used as a metaphor not only for the early signs of relaxation in the international Cold War tensions that had existed since the end of the Second World War in 1945, but also for the easing of the frosty cultural and social relations that existed internally within the Soviet Union.3 Interpretations of these years invest elements of Khrushchev’s reform agenda with varying degrees of intent in terms of both their contents and their outcomes. Assessments also differ, depending on perspective and chosen case study, in terms of the extent of the reach of the reform programme and in determining the limitations of its outcomes. Beyond its political and cultural focus, and beyond its intellectual and academic locale, the thaw also came to have meaning in the everyday lives of the Soviet population, not only in the way people came to view the Soviet state, but also in the way in which individuals came to construct their relationships with one another.4 From this perspective, then, the thaw can be seen not only as a centrally driven and formulated change in policy direction, it was also a

marked shift in attitude and mood evident amongst the population in the country as a whole. The early years of the thaw ushered in a sense of optimism about the Soviet

Union’s future. This optimism was fuelled by real and tangible achievements in economic growth and in scientific and technical developments in the 1950s and was reflected in the somewhat utopian promise of the building of communism in the near future that was set out in the 1961 Party Programme. After 1956, Khrushchev’s promotion of ‘peaceful coexistence with the West’ included the belief that the Soviet Union should imitate and borrow from capitalist countries in order to boost the socialist economy. His aim was that the Soviet Union should eventually overtake the capitalist economies in levels of output and growth. To some extent, Khrushchev’s aims to modernize the Soviet Union, to bring the country prosperity and success, to improve health and welfare and to raise the everyday living standards of the Soviet population can be seen as common goals of all contemporary governments. His period of office notably saw the emergence of a material culture and the beginnings of a consumer society in the Soviet Union.5