On this day in 1958, Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev replaces Nicolay Bulganin as Soviet premier, becoming the undisputed leader of the USSR's party and state.
In 1953, Joseph Stalin died and Khrushchev grappled with Stalin's chosen successor, Georgy Malenkov, for the position of first secretary. Khrushchev won the power struggle and Malenkov was made premier, a more ceremonial post. In 1955, Malenkov was replaced by Bulganin, an ally of Khrushchev. Later, Bulganin joined a group that tried to oust Khrushchev from his leadership position, so he removed Bulganin from the premiership and took it on himself.
As Soviet leader, Khrushchev denounced Stalin and his totalitarian policies, but the new atmosphere of freedom led to anti-Soviet uprisings in Poland and Hungary. In launching the first cosmonauts, he gave the Soviet Union an early lead in the space race, and by reasonably negotiating with the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he may have averted World War III. He resigned abruptly in 1964 under pressure from a Communist party critical of his foreign policy and economic record in the USSR.