The Thaw became possible after the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953. Khrushchev denounced Stalin in "The Secret Speech" at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, then ousted the pro-Stalinists during his power struggle in the Kremlin. The term was coined after Ilya Ehrenburg's 1954 novel The Thaw ("Оттепель"), sensational for its time. The Khrushchev Thaw was highlighted by Khrushchev's 1954 visit to Beijing, People's Republic of China, his 1955 visit to Belgrade, Yugoslavia (with whom relations had soured since the Tito–Stalin Split in 1948), and his subsequent meeting with Dwight Eisenhower later that year, culminating in Khrushchev's 1959 visit to the United States.
The Thaw initiated irreversible transformation of the entire Soviet society by opening up for some economic reforms and international trade, educational and cultural contacts, festivals, books by foreign authors, foreign movies, art shows, popular music, dances and new fashions, and massive involvement in international sport competitions. Although the power struggle between pro-Khrushchev and pro-Stalinists never stopped, it eventually weakened the Soviet Communist Party.
Such Thaw allowed some freedom of information in the media, arts, and culture; international festivals; foreign films; uncensored books; and new forms of entertainment on the emerging national TV, ranging from massive parades and celebrations to popular music and variety shows, satire and comedies, and all-star shows like Goluboy Ogonyok. Such political and cultural updates all together helped liberate the minds of millions and changed public consciousness of several generations of people in the Soviet Union.
The Thaw was reverted shortly after Khrushchev was succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev, as he reversed the liberalization of the union, albeit going against his endorsement of the Thaw during the Khrushchev era.
Khrushchev's Thaw had its genesis in the concealed power struggle among Stalin's lieutenants. Several major leaders among the Red Army commanders, such as Marshal Georgy Zhukov and his loyal officers, had some serious tensions with Stalin's secret service. On the surface, the Red Army and the Soviet leadership seemed united after their victory in World War II. However, the hidden ambitions of the top people around Stalin, as well as Stalin's own suspicions, had prompted Khrushchev that he could rely only on those few; they would stay with him through the entire political power struggle. That power struggle was surreptitiously prepared by Khrushchev while Stalin was alive, and came to surface after Stalin's death in March 1953. By that time, Khrushchev's people were planted everywhere in the Soviet hierarchy, which allowed Khrushchev to execute, or remove his main opponents, and then introduce some changes in the rigid Soviet ideology and hierarchy.