In this episode, the focus shifts to Moscow and a look at changes in the Communist world. Nikita Khrushchev, reviled in the Soviet Communist Party for buckling under to Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis, is blissfully unaware of the threat to his power bubbling up in the ranks of the Party leadership. A coup is clearly afoot, but the competition for which bureaucratic apparatchik will replace him—Brezhnev, Suslov, Malenkov of somebody else—becomes unexpectedly fierce. Waiting in the shadows, Alexander Shelepin, former head of the KGB, is sitting on a “dictatorship coach” and a cache of secret documents that he hopes will give him the edge in the power struggle that breaks out in the Kremlin in the fall of 1964.
Header image: photo by Thomas Taylor Hammond, Creative Commons 4.0.
This episode extrapolates from what really happened in the Soviet Union in 1964. Nikita Khrushchev, who had led the USSR since Stalin’s death in 1953, was fatally weakened by the Cuban Missile Crisis and his own complacency. The “collective leadership” idea, and the efforts of Brezhnev and Mikoyan to depose and replace Khrushchev, are real and accurate to history. So is the back-story of Komsomol and brief KGB chief Alexander Shelepin, who is often overlooked in histories of the mid-Soviet era and who, if circumstances were slightly different, well could have emerged as the Soviet leader in this period.
Lazar Kaganovich, mentioned fleetingly in the episode, was a real person and was one of Stalin’s most infamous lieutenants during the Purges period of the 1930s. In the Khrushchev era he was eventually disgraced and expelled from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Incredibly, in real life he survived almost to the end of the USSR, dying a very old man in a small flat in Moscow in July 1991. Unlike their ends as described in this alternate history, Khrushchev died in 1971 and Brezhnev in November 1982.
Lazar Kaganovich in the 1930s.
Next Episode (Bonus, Recap & Explainer): April 18, 2021
Next Regular Episode: April 25, 2021