Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
February 25, 1956
To the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
The Man: Khrushchev was of peasant background from near Kursk, on the border of Ukraine. He joined the Bolsheviks in 1918 and fought for the Reds in the Civil War; rose in the Party during the 1920s and 30s, serving as head of the Party in Ukraine after 1938, where he led the Great Purges there for Stalin. After Stalin's death in 1953, he gradually consolidated a leading position within the key political committee of the Party, then called the Presidium. At the 20th Congress, he broke from Stalin and Stalinism, discrediting some rivals and cementing alliances with others.
The Speech: its context. Ground breaking as the speech was, it might have made an even larger impact had Khrushchev's original idea of making it publicly been accepted among Party leaders. Conservative neo-Stalinists wanted no criticism of Stalin at all to be aired, thus a secret, closed door speech to the Party members only appeared to show Khrushchev's willingness to compromise with their concerns.
The Speech: its content.
it is impermissible and foreign to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism to elevate one person... into a superman...Such a belief about... Stalin was cultivated for many years... The cult of the person of Stalin...became at a specific stage the source of a whole series of exceedingly serious and grave perversion of party principles, of party democracy, of revolutionary legality... The cult of the individual... [involved] the accumulation of immense and limitless power in the hands of one person.
Re the Party: Whoever opposed.... was doomed to removal from the leading collective and to subsequent moral and physical annihilation... Stalin originated the concept `enemy of the people.' This term automatically rendered it unnecessary that... errors of a man or men... be proven... Arbitrary behavior by one person encouraged and permitted arbitrariness in others. Mass arrests and deportations of thousands of people, execution without trial and without normal investigation created conditions of insecurity, fear and even desperation... Had Leninist principles been observed,... many thousands of people would not have fallen victim to the method of terror... [O]f the 139 members and candidates of the party's Central Committee who were elected at the 17th Congress [i.e., 1934], 98 persons, i.e. 70 percent, were arrested and shot... Of 1966 delegates [to this same meeting], 1108 were arrested on charges of anti-revolutionary crimes... Stalin ...treated all others in such a way that they could only listen to and praise him.
...the number of arrests based on charges of counterrevolutionary crimes had grown ten times between 1936 and 1937. It is known that brutal willfulness was practiced against leading Party workers... all their cases were fabricated. Confessions of guilt of many arrested... were gained with the help of cruel and inhuman tortures... vile things ...were then practiced.
Re the Red Army: He annihilated large numbers of our military cadres and disorganized our military leadership... Very grievous consequences, especially in reference to the beginning of the war [i.e., World War II] followed Stalin's annihilation of many military commanders and political workers during 1937-41 because of his suspiciousness and through slanderous accusations.... Many ...commanders perished in camps and jails.
Re minorities: All the more monstrous are the acts... of mass deportations from their native places of whole nations...Kalmyk (Dec. 1943), ... Chechen and Ingush peoples (March 1944),...[including] women, children, and old people...
The Speech: the limits of its criticism. While shattering in its explicit elements, the Secret Speech contained no denunciations of Lenin, of one Party rule, or of the key policies of collectivization and industrialization which had served as the rationale for Stalin's crimes. A man, not a system, was denounced. The Speech also did not long remain secret: on June 4, 1956, the U.S. State Department published it, as it had been given to U.S. intelligence agencies by anti-Soviet members of the Polish Communist Party.
source: Nikita Khrushchev, Communist Reality, in Modern Political Thought ed. William Ebenstein (NY: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1960): 450-472.
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