[abridgement, from Stalinism: Its Origins & Future, by Andy Blunden, 1993]
[click here for full text version]
Khrushchevs Secret Speech
at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU
February 24-25 1956
Comrades! ... quite a lot has been said about the cult of the
individual and about its harmful consequences. After Stalins
death the Central Committee began to implement a policy of explaining
concisely and consistently that it is impermissible and foreign
to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism to elevate one person, to transform
him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics akin
to those of a god. ..
Such a belief about a man, and specifically about Stalin was cultivated
among us for many years.
The objective of the present report is not a thorough evaluation
of Stalins life and activity. Concerning Stalins merits
an entirely sufficient number of books, pamphlets and studies
has already been written ... [Khrushchev then reports the positions
of Marx, Engels and Lenin in relation to collective leadership,
the role of the party and the working class, etc, and introduces
the delegates to the documents relating to Lenins Testament,
in which he warns against Stalin, concluding with a reading of
a letter from Lenin to Stalin] ... I ask therefore that
you weigh carefully whether you are agreeable to retracting your
words and apologising or whether you prefer the severance of relations
between us. Lenin, 5 March 1923.
Comrades! I will not comment on these documents. They speak for
themselves. Since Stalin could behave in this way during Lenins
lifetime ... we can easily imagine how Stalin treated other people.
When we analyse the practice of Stalin in regard to the direction
of the party and of the country, when we pause to consider everything
which Stalin perpetrated, we must be convinced that Lenins
fears were justified. The negative characteristics of Stalin,
which, in Lenins time were only incipient, transformed themselves
during the last years into a grave abuse of power by Stalin, which
caused untold harm to our party.
We have to consider seriously and analyse correctly this matter
in order that we may preclude any possibility of a repetition
We must affirm that the party fought a serious fight against the
Trotskyites, the Rightists, and bourgeois nationalists, and that
it disarmed ideologically all the enemies of Leninism. This ideological
fight was carried on successfully, as a result of which the party
became strengthened and tempered. Here Stalin played a positive
This was a stubborn and a difficult fight but a necessary one,
because the political line of both the Trotskyite-Zinovievite
bloc and of the Bukharinites led actually toward the restoration
of capitalism and capitulation to the world bourgeoisie. ...
But some years later, when socialism in our country was fundamentally
constructed, when the exploiting classes were generally liquidated,
when the Soviet social structure had radically changed, when the
social basis for political movements and groups hostile to the
party had violently contracted, when the ideological opponents
of the party had long since been defeated politically - then the
repression directed against them began. ...
We must assert that, in regard to those persons who in their time
had opposed the party line, there were often no sufficiently serious
reasons for their physical annihilation. The formula enemy
of the people was specifically introduced for the purpose
of physically annihilating such individuals. ...
Had Leninist principles been observed ... we certainly would not
have had such a brutal violation of revolutionary legality and
many thousands of people would not have fallen victim to the method
of terror. ... [Khrushchev recalls the incident of Kamenev and
Zinovievs betrayal of the Revolution in October 1917, and
their subsequent reinstatement to the leadership] ...
As facts prove, Stalin, using his unlimited power, allowed himself
many abuses, acting in the name of the Central Committee, not
asking for the opinion of the Committee members nor even the members
of the Politburo, or even inform them ...
During Lenins lifetime, party Congresses were convened regularly;
... It should be sufficient to mention that during all the years
of the Great Patriotic War, not a single Central Committee plenum
took place ...
A party commission was [recently] charged with investigating what
made possible the mass repressions against the majority of the
Central Committee members and candidates elected at the Seventeenth
Congress ... many party activists who were branded in 1937-38
as enemies were actually never enemies. spies, wreckers,
etc but were always honest communists ... and often, no longer
able to bear barbaric tortures, they charged themselves with all
kinds of grave and unlikely crimes.
...of the 139 members and candidates of the partys Central
Committee who were elected at the Seventeenth Congress, 98 persons,
i.e., 70 per cent, were arrested and shot!! [consternation in
the hall] What was the composition of the delegates? 80 per cent
joined the party during the years of illegality before the Revolution
and during the Civil War before 1921. By social origin the basic
mass of the delegates were workers (60 per cent of the voting
For this reason, it is inconceivable that a congress so composed
would have elected a Central Committee a majority of whom would
prove to be enemies of the people ...
The same fate met not only the Central Committee members but also
the majority of the delegates to the Seventeenth Congress. Of
1,966 delegates, 1,108 persons were arrested ... This very fact
shows how absurd, wild and contrary to common sense were the charges
of counter-revolutionary crimes ... [indignation in the hall]
... repression increased after the congress... after the complete
liquidation of the Trotskyites, Zinovievites and Bukharinites,
when as a result of that fight the party achieved unity, Stalin
ceased to an even greater degree to consider members of the Central
Committee or Politburo.
After the criminal murder of S M Kirov, mass repressions and brutal
acts of violation of socialist legality began. ... the circumstances
surrounding Kirovs murder hide many things which are inexplicable
and mysterious ...top functionaries of the NKVD were shot presumably
to cover up ...
Mass repressions grew tremendously from the end of 1936 ... the
mass repressions at this time were made under the slogan of a
fight against the Trotskyites ... but ... Trotskyism was completely
disarmed ... it was clear that there was no basis for mass terror
in the country.
This terror was actually directed not at the remnants of the exploiting
classes but against the honest workers. ...
Using Stalins formulation, namely, that the closer we are
to Socialism the more enemies we will have ... the number of arrests
based on charges of counter-revolutionary crimes grew 10 times
between 1936 and 1937. ... Confessions of guilt were gained with
the help of cruel and inhuman tortures ... when they retracted
their confessions before the military tribunal [no one was told]
[Khrushchev cites at length the testimony of Eikhe, a member since
1905, tortured and shot in February 1940, and details the cases
other well-known veterans denounced by Stalin, to consternation
in the hall]
Not long ago we called to the Central Committee Presidium and
interrogated the investigative judge Rodos ... he is a vile person
with the brain of a bird and morally completely degenerate. And
it was this man who was deciding the fate of prominent party workers
... he told us: I was told that [they] were peoples
enemies and for this reason, I, as an investigative judge, had
to make them confess that they are enemies. He could do
this only through long tortures, which he did, receiving detailed
instructions from Beria ... he cynically declared: I thought
that I was executing the orders of the Party. ...
[Khrushchev moves on to talk of Stalin role in the War].
... Stalin put forward the thesis that the tragedy which our nation
experienced in the first part of the war was the result of the
unexpected attack of the Germans against the Soviet
Union. But, comrades, this is completely untrue. As soon as Hitler
came to power in Germany he assigned to himself the task of liquidating
Communism. The fascists were saying this openly; they did not
hide their plans. ...
Churchill personally warned Stalin [and] ... stressed this repeatedly
in his despatches of 18 April and in the following days.
However, Stalin took no notice of these warnings. ..
information of this sort .. was coming from our own military and
diplomatic sources ... [Stalin ordered that] no preparatory defensive
work should be undertaken at the borders, that the Germans were
not to be given any pretext ... when the fascist armies actually
invaded Soviet territory and military operations had begun, Stalin
issued the order that the German fire was not to be returned.
Why? It was because Stalin, despite evident facts, thought that
the war had not yet started, ...
Very grievous consequences, followed Stalins annihilation
of many military commanders and political workers during 1937-41
because of his suspiciousness and through slanderous accusations
...; during this time the cadre of leaders who had gained military
experience in Spain and the Far East was almost completely liquidated
... large scale repression against the military cadres led also
to undermined military discipline,...
after the first severe disaster and defeats at the front, Stalin
thought that this was the end. In one of his speeches he said:
All that which Lenin created we have lost forever.
After this Stalin for a long time did not direct the military
operations and ceased to do anything whatever. ...
when he returned to active leadership ... the nervousness and
hysteria which Stalin demonstrated, interfering with actual military
operations, caused our Army serious damage. ... during the whole
Patriotic War, he never visited any section of the front or any
liberated city ...
[laughter begins to break out in the hall from time to time as
Khrushchev ridicules Stalins exaggeration of his role, after
the war, and he concludes ...] Not Stalin, but the Party as a
whole, the Soviet government, our heroic army, its talented leaders
and brave soldiers, the whole Soviet nation - these are the ones
who assured the victory in the Great Patriotic War! [tempestuous
and prolonged applause, which breaks out repeatedly as Khrushchev
continues this theme].
All the more monstrous are the acts whose initiator was Stalin
.. we refer to the mass deportations from their native places,
of whole nations .. not dictated by any military considerations
.. the Ukrainians avoided this fate only because there were too
many of them and there was no place to deport them [laughter]
... The Party came out of the war even more united .. [Khrushchev
then tells of the Leningrad affair in which eminent
military leaders were denounced and shot]. Stalin became even
more capricious, irritable and brutal; in particular his suspicion
grew. His persecution mania reached unbelievable dimensions ...
this unbelievable suspicion was cleverly taken advantage of by
the abject provocateur and vile enemy, Beria [explaining how Beria
denounced Voroshilov and others. He then tells of the fictitious
The Yugoslavian affair contained no problems which
could not have been solved through party discussions among comrades
... it was completely possible to have prevented the rupture of
relations with that country ... mistakes and shortcomings were
magnified in a monstrous manner by Stalin, which resulted in a
break of relations with a friendly country [Stalin thought he
could destroy Tito, but] Tito had behind him a state and a people
who had gone through a sever school of fighting for liberty and
independence, a people which gave support to its leaders. ...
We have found a proper solution ... liquidation of the abnormal
relationship with Yugoslavia was done in the interest of the whole
camp of Socialism, in the interest of strengthening peace in the
[Khrushchev then deals with the affair of the doctor-plotters]
Present at this Congress as a delegate is the former Minister
of State Security, Comrade Ignatiev. Stalin told him curtly, If
you do not obtain confessions from the doctors we will shorten
you by a head. [tumult in the hall] ... the methods were
simple - beat, beat and, once again, beat.
When we examined this case after Stalins death,
we found it to be fabricated from beginning to end.
[Khrushchev then delivers a prolonged attack on the role of Beria].
Beria was unmasked by the Partys Central Committee shortly
after Stalins death. As a result of particularly detailed
legal proceedings, it was established that Beria had committed
monstrous crimes and Beria was shot.
[Khrushchev then explains how Stalin personally edited the biographies
and histories lauding his role to ensure that his own role was
presented in terms of the most extreme glorification, receiving
applause as he suggests that Stalins name be removed from
the national anthem, which should praise instead the role of the
party, and loud, prolonged applause follows. As Khrushchev turns
to the theme of how Stalin elevated himself above Lenin, even
in the period of the Revolution, and denounced Stalin for this,
he is greeted by repeated bursts of applause].
Comrades! The cult of the individual has caused the employment
of faulty principles in party work and in economic activity; ...
our nation gave birth to many flatterers and specialists in false
optimism and deceit ... many workers began to work uncertainly,
showed over-cautiousness, feared all that was new, feared their
own shadows and began to show less initiative in their work ...
a routine manner ... bureaucratising the whole apparatus. ...
All those who interested themselves even a little in the national
situation saw the difficulties in agriculture, but Stalin never
even noted it. Did we tell Stalin about this? Yes, we told him,
but he did not support us. Why? ...He knew the country and agriculture
only from films ... which so pictured kolkhoz life that the tables
were bending from the weight of turkeys and geese ... The last
time he visited a village was in January 1928 ... facts and figures
did not interest him ... the fantastic ideas of a person divorced
We are currently beginning slowly to work our way out of a difficult
agricultural situation ... We are certain that the commitments
of the new Five-Year Plan will be accomplished successfully.
Comrades! If we sharply criticise today the cult of the individual
which was so widespread during Stalins life, and if we speak
about so many negative phenomena generated by this cult which
is so alien to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism, various persons
may ask: How could it be? Stalin headed the party and the country
for 30 years and many victories were gained during his lifetime.
Can we deny that? ...
The Socialist Revolution was attained by the working class and
by the poor peasantry with the partial support of middle-class
peasants. It was attained by the people under the leadership of
the Bolshevik Party. Lenins great service consisted in the
fact that he created a militant party of the working class, but
he was armed with Marxist understanding of the laws of social
development and with the science of proletarian victory in the
fight with capitalism, and he steeled this party in the crucible
of revolutionary struggle of the masses of the people. ...
Our historical victories were attained thanks to the organisational
work of the party, ...and to the self-sacrificing work of our
... during the last years of Stalins life he became a serious
obstacle ... During Stalins leadership our peaceful relations
with other nations were often threatened, ... In recent years
we managed to free ourselves of the harmful practice of the cult
of the individual ...
Some comrades may ask us: Where were the members of the Politburo?
Why did they not assert themselves against the cult of the individual
in time? And why is this being done only now? ...
Initially many of them backed Stalin actively because Stalin was
one of the strongest Marxists and his logic, his strength and
his will greatly influenced the cadres and party work. ...
At that time Stalin gained great popularity, sympathy and support.
The party had to fight those who attempted to lead the country
away from the correct Leninist path; it had to fight Trotskyites,
Zinovievites, and Rightists, and Bourgeois Nationalists. This
fight was indispensable.
Later, however, Stalin, abusing his power more and more, began
to fight eminent party leaders and to use terroristic methods
against honest Soviet people. ...
Bulganin once said: It has happened sometimes that a man
goes to Stalin on his invitation as a friend. And, when he sits
with Stalin, he does not know where he will be sent next - home
It is clear that such conditions put every member of the Political
Bureau in a very difficult situation. ...
... had Stalin remained at the helm for another few months, Comrades
Molotov and Mikoyan would probably not have delivered any speeches
at this Congress. Stalin had plans to finish off the old members
of the Political Bureau. ...
We consider that Stalin was excessively extolled. However, in
the past, Stalin doubtless performed great services to the party,
to the working class and to the international workers movement....
Stalin was convinced that [these things he did] were necessary
.. He saw this from the position of the interest of the working
class, of the interest of the laboring people, of the interests
of the victory of Socialism and Communism. We cannot say that
these were the deeds of a giddy despot. ... In this lies the whole
[Khrushchev then suggests that Stalins name, and also those
of other leaders be removed from towns etc bearing their names,
but] this should be done calmly and slowly. ... if we begin to
remove the signs everywhere and to change names, people will think
that these comrades in whose honour the given enterprises, kolkhozes
or cities are named have met some bad fate and that they have
also been arrested. ...
We should in all seriousness consider the question of the cult
of the individual. We cannot let this matter get out of the party,
especially not to the press. It is for this reason that we are
considering it here at a closed Congress session. We should know
the limits; we should not give ammunition to the enemy; we should
not wash our dirty linen before their eyes. I think that the delegates
to the Congress will understand and assess properly all these
[tumultuous applause, which escalates as Khrushchev winds up ...]
We are absolutely certain that our party, armed with the historical
resolutions of the Twentieth Congress, will lead the Soviet people
along the Leninist path to new successes, to new victories.
Long live the victorious banner of our Party - Leninism!
[from: Stalinism: Its Origins & Future, by Andy Blunden, 1993]