The Thaw, this is an event which took place in the Soviet Union's history, after the death of their leader Stalin in 1953. The Thaw was a relaxation of totalitarianism. This was a method, which Stalin used through out his time in power to keep power and leadership of the Soviet Union. There was a period of collective leadership between those in power. The main rivalry for power was between Khruschev and Malenkov. Eventually Khruschev came out ahead of Malenkov to be the new leader.
Now that Khruschev is in power and had the people's belief in him he felt he could start making changes. His first major difference came at the 20th Annual Party Conference in 1956. Here he delivered his Destalinisation speech, this speech attacked Stalin and the much of the work he had done. This speech was a secret one, but he wanted it to be leaked to the public, this was achieved. The result of this speech over time was that statues of Stalin came down, towns lost his name and eventually his body was removed from beside Lenin's.
This was both internal and external. Khruschev said, "Capitalism and Communism should get along together." Externally, Khruschev unlike Stalin visited the West and rather liked the place, some western newspapers came into the Soviet Union and some western visitors were allowed in. Internally, purges stopped they were not the same extent as they had been. If you went to a gulag, (a gulag is a place where kulaks were sent these are people who were criminals or opposed Stalin) you at least got a trial first. People were also released from gulags, e.g. Molotov's wife. Khruschev didn't kill his rivals, but he sent them to out of the way place like Malenkov was sent to manage a power station in Siberia.
Certain banned books were allowed to be published Doctor Zhivago and A Day In The Life Of A Man Called Ivan. Khruschev liked to appear out in public, often he would go and eat an ice cream in Gorky Park. Some emphasis was placed on consumer goods as Khruschev said, "There is something wrong with communism if it can't make a good sausage."
Leadership was now more open. Khruschev didn't make all the decisions by himself, he consulted with the Politburo, the Secret Police weren't allowed to roam around freely like they had been doing, they were now placed under the party's control. Economic decisions were not all made by Gosplan, local regions now got to have a say in what was going to happen themselves.