Khrushchev’s Speech

Next Friday will mark the 50 years since Nikita Khrushchev made his famous “secret speech” at the 20th Communist Party Congress. The speech, which can be found here, denounced the Stalin’s “cult of personality,” his use of mass repression, ethnic deportations, and bungling during the War. Among the many detailed examples Khrushchev used to disclose Stalin’s crimes, he said:

Stalin acted not through persuasion, explanation and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. Whoever opposed this concept or tried to prove his viewpoint and the correctness of his position was doomed to removal from the leading collective and to subsequent moral and physical annihilation. This was especially true during the period following the 17th Party Congress, when many prominent party leaders and rank-and-file party workers, honest and dedicated to the cause of Communism, fell victim to Stalin’s despotism.

The history of the Khrushchev’s speech is undoubtedly a world historical event. It redefined the 20th century. It planted the seeds for the Thaw. It split the world communist movement in half. It sparked the Hungarian uprising. It laid the groundwork for d?tente with the West. However, it is a mistake that the speech was public denunciation of Stalin. It wasn’t published when it was given, but read aloud in factories, kolkhozes and other Soviet institutions. Here is how historian Roy Medvedev remembered it:

They gathered activists, all the party members, all the Komsomol members, the directors of kolkhozs [communal farms[ and sovkhozs [state farms]. The instructor of the district Communist Party arrived, took out a red book, and told us: ‘I am going to read you the secret speech of Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev at the 20th congress.’ For four hours, we listed to this report. There were people present who had fought in World War II and worshipped Stalin. There were people like me, whose father was repressed and died in prison and who knew about torture and camps.

Though immediately published abroad, generating shock and commendation from foreign Communist Parties, the text was not published in the Soviet Union until 1988. You can read about how John Rettie, the Moscow correspondent for Reuters brought the speech to the West in a recent article in the New Statesman. Moreover, there are rumors that there are many versions of the speech and that the copies in our possession are believed to be incomplete. An unedited transcript has yet to be found, and there is some question whether one actually exists.

This week will be filled with assessments, memories, and discussion around the historical significance of Khrushchev’s speech and, for better or for worse, some rather tired commentary on the “specter” of Stalin in contemporary Russia. In fact such reflection has already started. Here are a few links to that emerging discussion.

“Communism may be dead, but clearly not dead enough”
“Russia and Stalin on the Rise”
“Secret Speech Still Divides”
“Stalin museum is ‘an insult to millions sent to death in Gulag”
Why Does Russia Still Love Stalin Now?
“The day Khrushchev denounced Stalin”
“Debunking Stalin’s Debunkers”

Today’s LA Times has several commentaries around Khrushchev’s speech:

Nina Khrushcheva, “The day Khrushchev buried Stalin”
Robert Conquest, “The Speech that Shook the World”
“By the Numbers”