On April 18, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev began his official visit to Britain. Days later, he summed up his friendly state trip, by commenting, “You don’t like Communism. We do not like capitalism. There is only one way out – peaceful co-existence.”
In saying this, Khrushchev rejected the thesis of inevitable war between communism and capitalism, proclaiming the possibility of peace of nations with different social systems.
This visit heralded in the so-called ‘Khrushchev Thaw,’ which was the period in the history of Soviet Union after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 to the early 1960s.
It began when Khrushchev, who had emerged as Stalin’s successor, denounced Stalin and Stalinism in a secret speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He sharply criticized Stalin for his purge of the party, mass executions, his cult of personality and the damages done.
During the period of De-Stalinization, censorship in literature and cinema was noticeably scaled back while the media was also awarded some freedoms. This period also saw the release of prisoners held in gulags (labor prison camps) and a significant drop in the widespread use of terror against the population.
Khrushchev managed to denigrate Stalin’s reputation without destroying the structure of the system, including the dominance of the Communist Party, which remained intact.
Meanwhile, he laid down the foundations of his foreign policy, declaring a course of ‘peaceful coexistence’ and competition with the capitalistic world. He confidently said that the nation that makes the greater advances will triumph.
Khrushchev’s visit to Britain was one of many abroad to improve Soviet relations with the rest of Europe, America and Asia. He reopened diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia, whose leader had broken with Stalin, and recognized permanent neutrality for Austria.
Nevertheless, the "thaw" period did not last long. Khrushchev’s reforms and policies were sometimes marked by conflict with the West; tension deepened with the construction of the Berlin Wall around West Berlin and came to a head with the Cuban Missile Crisis. This tense incident, which saw the two superpowers seemingly on the brink of nuclear war, eventually led to Khrushchev’s downfall and he was dismissed as the Soviet leader in 1964 as Leonid Brezhnev came to power.