After the death of Stalin there was a serious question that needed to be answered in the Soviet Union. Who would replace Stalin and what direction would be taken to complete the transformation to a utopian society? But, the immediate concern of the party leadership was to prevent the security police from taking over. Immediately after Stalin's death, Baria took control of the MVD and MGB. This was a serious threat to the party who feared he would use these forces to seize control of the government. To prevent this from taking place, the party leaders had him arrested and summarily shot "to forestall any attempt by the security police to rescue him" (Hosking pg. 317.) This was the method that Stalin would have used, but this did not signal the return to a one man control of the security police. From here on the party worked to prevent the new leader from gaining the powers that Stalin held over the Soviet Union. According to Treadgold Beria's arrest was an attempt to make him a scapegoat for the East Berlin uprising.
In 1954, a special commission was established by the Central Committee to investigate Stalin's purges of the party. This turned into somewhat of a dilemma for the party leadership because they definitely knew what was going on at the time of Stalin's terror. Khrushchev tried to deflect blame by stating that "we were part of a regime in which you were told what you were supposed know and you kept your nose out of everything else" (Hosking pg. 334.) This raised the question of what they would reveal concerning the terror Stalin inflicted on the Soviet people. With many soviets gaining freedom from the labor camps and reentering society much of this was bound to come out into the open. With unrest already present in the labor camps, Stalinís death only spurred more unrest. After Beria was arrested and branded a trader many people started to question the circumstances surrounding many of the arrests and imprisonmentís that took place in Stalinist Russia. This prompted many of their relatives to petition the party for a re-examination of the charges that prompted the arrest's and imprisonment's.
A special session was held directly after the Twentieth congress where Khrushchev for the first time revealed the extent of Stalin's crimes. In the so called "Secret Speech", Khrushchev denounced Stalin and his security chiefs, but was careful to defend the actions that occurred before 1934. "It was unequivocally a speech of the elite defending itself against Stalin's ghost and against any possible aspiring successor" (Hosking pg. 337.) He also denounced Stalin's "cult of personality" and called for the continuance of the Leninist ideology that, according to him, was never compromised by the Central Committee of the Communist Party during Stalin's rule. The speech mainly focused on the atrocities committed against the party and other leading Soviets, but made no mention of the ordinary workers and peasants who underwent equal, if not more, suffering. The crimes depicted in the speech caused many intellectuals and students in both Eastern Europe and inside the Soviet Union to question the Soviet system. This led to a new wave of anti-communist activity in Poland and Hungary. The Soviets moved in quickly and took control of the situation.
The Soviet Union was not immune to this new wave of social unrest. The people returning from the forced labor camps quickly shed light on the conditions that they endured in the camps. The prompted underground organizations to be formed by Kransnopevtsev and Trofimov. The KGB was able to control their activities, but these new movements, along with the problems with Hungary, prompted Khrushchev's opponents to move against him. The Presidium attacked Khrushchev's policies and demanded the he resign his post. Khrushchev's countered this by declaring that since he was elected by the Central Committee, he would only resign his post at their request. The Central Committee in turn gave him their backing and Khrushchev proceeded to remove his opposition from the Presidium and Central Committee. He took over the post vacated by Prime Minister Bulganin and combined it with his position as Party Secretary. The method Khrushchev dealt with the dismissed members was vastly different from the way Stalin would have reacted. Instead of being shot or sent to labor camps they were allowed to retain their privileges and some were even given lower level posts in the party. "This was a key moment in the evolution of the insecure ruling elite which Stalin had created into a ruling class in the full sense of the word. From now on its members were sure that, even in the event of political disgrace. They would continue to enjoy a high standard of living" (Hosking pg. 346.) Although this could be considered an attempt by Khrushchev to retain his privileges if he ever lost power, it was nevertheless a sharp break from Stalin's methods and helped speed up the de-Stalinization process.
Khrushchev leadership style was a complete opposite of Stalin's who had little contact with the workers and peasants. Khrushchev would often address peasants at local meeting in an attempt to "replace terror by mobilizing the masses to participate in political processes" (Hosking pg. 347.) In a "return to Leninist norms" Khrushchev believed that the Soviet Union was finished building a socialist society and was now ready to enter into the final stage of creating a true Communist Society by compensating people according to their need, not the amount of work they performed. 1980 was set as the target date for the Utopian society where a classless society would be finally achieved. During this final stage, the Party would replace the state as the body guiding the Soviet people. Term limits were proposed and passed by the Twenty-second congress along with the reorganization of its committees creating separate industrial and agricultural departments.
The legal reforms that Khrushchev enacted after coming to power were aimed at stabilizing the legal system and giving the people a role in the judicial system. The new criminal code was a break from the system which under Stalin convicted people solely on their confession or association with known criminals. People were no longer tried in military and emergency courts for minor offenses. Under the new criminal code people could only be convicted for breaking a specific law through a trial by a "properly constituted court." This took the ambiguity out of the legal system and was an attempt to end the "terror."
The other key aspect of the new criminal code was the rebirth of the comrade courts. These courts were comprised of three citizens out of a pool of fifty were elected for a year at a time. Local organizations (trade unions, local soviets, and house committees) were allowed to convene this court to deal with minor offenses. They were allowed to issue fines and require the guilty to perform public service. Due to the absence of "real courts" during Stalin's reign, a public information campaign was launched to inform soviets of legal issues. During these legal reforms, Khrushchev was carefull not to give the courts to much power, thus keeping the party above the reach of Soviet Law.