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The Khrushchev period was important for the development of the internal security apparatus. Legal reforms, personnel changes, and the denunciation of Stalin had a marked effect on the position of the police and the legal organs. As the successor to Khrushchev, Brezhnev did much to reverse the tide of reforms, but later, under Gorbachev, reforms progressed again. The reforms brought opposition to Gorbachev from the police apparatus because the changes curtailed police powers.
One of the first reforms instituted by the post-Stalin leadership under Khrushchev was a reorganization of the police apparatus. On March 13, 1954 a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet established the KGB, attached to the Council of Ministers. The establishment of a state security apparatus separate from that of the regular police was designed to diminish the formidable powers that the police had wielded when its activities were concentrated in one organization. Henceforth, the functions of ensuring political security would be ascribed to a special police agency, whose powers were substantially less than they had been under Stalin.
The party leadership also instituted significant legal reforms to protect citizens from police persecution. On May 24, 1955, a new statute on procurator (see Glossary) supervision was enacted by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. This statute provided procedural guarantees of procuratorial power to protest illegalities committed by state agencies and to make proposals for eliminating these illegalities. Another reform that restricted the powers of the political police and protected citizens from police persecution was the enactment in December 1958 of the Fundamental Principles of Criminal Procedure, which were incorporated into the 1960 Russian Republic's Code of Criminal Procedure and were still in effect in 1989, although they had been amended several times.
The new codes, which were established according to the Russian Republic model in the other republics as well, subjected the KGB to the same procedural rules to which other investigative agencies were subject and specified precisely the types of crimes the KGB was empowered to investigate. A new law on state crimes, enacted on December 25, 1958, and incorporated into the 1960 Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Republic, narrowed the range of political crimes that were embodied in the Stalinist codes and made criminal sanctions less severe.
Khrushchev's policy of de-Stalinization also had significance for the role of the post-Stalin political police. His famous "secret speech," delivered at the Twentieth Party Congress in February 1956, called attention to the crimes committed by the police under Stalin. This inevitably weakened the prestige of the KGB and demoralized its cadres (see Glossary), many of whom had participated actively in the purges.
These police and legal reforms were diminished somewhat by the appointment in 1954 of two long-time police officials, Ivan Serov and Sergei Kruglov, to head the KGB and the MVD, respectively. Serov's past was heavily tainted by his participation in the Stalinist police repression, as was that of Kruglov. Both, however, had lent their support to Khrushchev when he made his move against Beria, and apparently they had to be rewarded. Although Khrushchev and the party leadership wanted to demonstrate that they were "cleansing the ranks" of the police by purging many officials, they retained others who were loyal and experienced.
In December 1958, Serov was removed from his post as KGB chief and replaced by Aleksandr Shelepin, a former Komsomol (see Glossary) official. With his higher education in humanities and his untainted record, Shelepin did much to raise the stature of the KGB and to bring renewed efficiency and legitimacy to it. By the late 1950s, efforts were under way to improve the public image of the KGB by portraying its officials in a favorable light in the media and by publishing works on the history of the Soviet political police. In addition, changes in the legal codes in 1961 broadened the KGB's investigative powers.
Shelepin himself may have been largely responsible for the campaign to rehabilitate the security police. Although he left his post as head of the KGB in December 1961, he continued to oversee the police in his capacity as Central Committee secretary, and his successor, Vladimir Semichastnyi, was a close ally. Both Shelepin and Semichastnyi appeared to have joined the ranks of opposition to Khrushchev sometime before his ouster in October 1964 and were actively involved in the plot to overthrow the party leader. DeStalinization , legal reforms, and various other measures promoted by Khrushchev to curtail the activities of the security police had no doubt created resentment within its ranks and aroused the displeasure of leading KGB officials.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents