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American perceptions of destalinisation and leadership change in the Soviet Union, 1953-56: from Stalin’s death to the Hungarian uprising

Ullrich, Weston (2014) American perceptions of destalinisation and leadership change in the Soviet Union, 1953-56: from Stalin’s death to the Hungarian uprising. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Destalinisation was the process of enormous change that began in the wake of Stalin’s death. Whilst it has been heavily studied from the Soviet perspective, it has not been examined from the American standpoint. This thesis fills that gap. It took until 1956 for Eisenhower and Dulles to alter their perceptions of the USSR and its ideology despite the years of change that followed Stalin’s death. This thesis explains how the majority of policymakers rejected signals of change in the USSR until 1956. There were numerous reasons for this: domestic politics, relations with allies, and public opinion all played a role. But the key factor in preventing a change in mindset was an engrained perception of the Soviet leaders as Stalinists. While the Soviet leadership after 1953 rejected the hallmarks of Stalinism, the Eisenhower administration understood such signals of change within a mindset that saw the Soviets as unreconstructed communists, expansionist in aims, conspiratorial in methods, and, above all, out to destroy the West. This perception was in effect a mental ‘dam’, which held back any substantial perception change in Washington. By 1956, however, a new perception of destalinisation, and by extension Soviet Communism, came into being. The Eisenhower administration no longer rejected out of hand the changes the Soviet leadership enacted both domestically and in foreign relations. Eisenhower and Dulles found sufficient evidence to question whether the rigid view of Soviet Communism and its aims was accurate or useful. The 20th Party Congress caused serious cracks in the ‘dam'. Two of these ‘cracks’ were in the minds if Eisenhower and Dulles, who by the end of 1956 had changed their view of the Soviet leaders, and no longer regarded them as Stalinist. This change in perception would ultimately allow détente to take hold.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2014 Weston Conrad Ullrich
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DK Russia. Soviet Union. Former Soviet Republics
Sets: Departments > International History
Supervisor: Casey, Steven

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