They underestimated him terribly, thought of him as second rate, dismissed him as Nikita the Fool. In fact, he outsmarted this group of crooks, thugs, and mountebanks: the faceless bureaucrat Vyacheslav Molotov, the inept womanizer Nikolay Bulganin, the spineless apparatchik Lazar Kaganovich (his former patron), the rapist NKVD (MGB) marshal Lavrenty Beria, and the obese sycophant Georgy Malenkov whom they called Malania.
Beria was liquidated in 1953 (June, September or December, it is still debated), the others tried to sabotage de-Stalinization. They did not realize that once Nikita became first secretary, he held the most poweful office in the USSR. He used it shrewdly and managed to achieve his goals, including the rejuvenation of the party Presidium (Politburo). In the photo, Stalin and his lieutenants walk to the victory parade, Moscow, 1945: Khrushchev, Malenkov, Beria. At the bottom: Stalin and Molotov.