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[abridgement, from Stalinism: Its Origins & Future, by Andy Blunden, 1993]
[click here for full text version]

Khrushchev’s 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 Stalin’s 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 Stalin’s life and activity. Concerning Stalin’s 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 Lenin’s 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 Lenin’s 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 Lenin’s fears were justified. The negative characteristics of Stalin, which, in Lenin’s 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 role. ...

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 Zinoviev’s 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 Lenin’s 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 party’s 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 members).

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 Kirov’s 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 Stalin’s 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 people’s 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 Stalin’s 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 Stalin’s 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 “Georgian plot”].

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 whole world.

[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 Stalin’s 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 Party’s Central Committee shortly after Stalin’s 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 Stalin’s 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 from reality.

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.

[prolonged applause]

Comrades! If we sharply criticise today the cult of the individual which was so widespread during Stalin’s 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. Lenin’s 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 great nation.

... during the last years of Stalin’s life he became a serious obstacle ... During Stalin’s 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 or jail”.

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 tragedy!

[Khrushchev then suggests that Stalin’s 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 proposals.

[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]

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