Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Secret Speech on Stalin’s Cult of Personality, 1956


Following the death of Joesph Stalin in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev succeeded him as head of the Soviet Union.  Three years into his reign as the premier of the Soviet Union, during a meeting of the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he gave a speech, which for the most part, was very critical and non-supportive of Joseph Stalin’s actions and style of rule.  Due to its in depth statements and sharing of information and opinions, the speech was never published in that specific congress’ preceding.  Although, as politics and foreign relations would have it, the speech was leaked to ministers and ministries within the Soviet government, and eventually, it made its way to the United States via a source in the Eastern Bloc.  The spread of this “Secret Speech” had detrimental consequences.

A few of the criticisms Khrushchev made on Stalin’s regime consisted of the Soviets lack of preparedness in 1941 during the Nazi invasion, massive human loss during war due to poor leadership, and the arrest and execution of Russian nationals who were in fact loyal to the Stalin and his Soviet regime.  Once these statements went international, communist regimes in the east began to experience political turmoil and imminent rebellion against the communist regimes they were living.  Clashes between Stalinists and anti-Stalinists were seen in Georgia, Poland, and Hungary.  This sparked even more intense wage debates between communist and anti-communist supporters in Poland, nearly leading to full on on violent conflicts.  One of the most recognizable repercussions at this time took place in Hungary, where an uprising began in October 1956 that not only proved detrimental to Poland’s political stability, but also threatened Khrushchev’s legitimacy and attempt to reconcile with the hard lines Stalinists.  One significant outcome from this speech was China’s denouncement of the Soviet Union’s post Stalin rule.  They denounced Khrushchev’s “revisionist” political ideals and cut off many political connections with them.

I’m sure that not only did Khrushchev not expect this speech to get out, but I doubt he expected the international and domestic response that came with it.  This one speech could’ve have proved much worse for the Soviet Union then it did, despite eastern Europe coming to the brink of rebellion.

Katyn Forest Massacre, 1943

In 1943, a German radio broadcast announced that a mass grave was discovered in the Katyn Forest area, just outside of Smolensk, Russia.  The victims of the massacre were believed to be those of Polish Officers taken captive in the 1939 Russian Invasion of Poland.  Stalin immediately denied the accusations, claiming that this was just a German tactic to make him and his government look like the bad guys.  When this news reached the Polish Government in Exile, the new government founded after Poland was captured by Germany and the Soviet Union, they called for an investigation by the International Red Cross to determine its legitimacy as a claim.  Once Stalin found out that there was a call for an investigation, he cut off all ties with the Polish Government in Exile and the International Red Cross.  Although the majority of people believed that Stalin ordered the execution of thousand of Poles in 1940, the official truth was not announced until 1990, when Gorbachev made a statement confirming that Stalin ordered the Secret Police (NKVD) to execute all the Poles that they had imprisoned from the 1939 invasion.

Stalin rationalized the initial invasion of Poland by saying that he was liberating Ukraine and Belarus citizens from oppressive Polish landowners, officials, and officers.  The Soviets took thousands of prisoners, but quickly realized that taking care of them would prove to be more expensive then beneficial.  Therefore, Lavrentii Beria, the People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs, was given the go ahead to execute almost all of the Polish prisoners they had simultaneously at all the different location they were keeping them.

To this day, Russia and Poland remain divided on the event as to what it should be classified as and if further reparations are necessary.  Poland sees it as an act of Genocide while Russia sees it as an event that took place during war.  This debate will most likely go on for quite awhile without an official agreement or solution.

The Kornilov Fiasco

The Kornilov Affair of 1917 can be quickly summarized as an event with significant miscommunication riddled with unanswered questions and actions.  Lavr Kornilov was the Commander in Chief of the army for the Russian Provisional Government, which was headed by Alexander Kerensky.  At first, the policies of the provisional government, for the most part, were everything that the citizens had wanted, which most importantly, consisted of more liberal reforms for the citizens.   Although, much sooner then expected, there was a resurgence for increased order and a move towards more right winged policies.  This was due to the continuous participation and poor performance of the Russian army in World War I and the economic toll it was taking on the Russian economy and industry.  Several events took place, which eventually became known as the July Days, where both soldiers and industrial workers protested the actions and policies of the Russian Provisional Government that they thought were failing them.  In these demonstrations, the Bolsheviks tried to take a leading roll in encouraging and directing the protests.  These demonstrations were the sparks that ignited the idea that a movement back towards more right winged and disciplinary policies were in order, and Kornilov, among many other Russian officers, Businessmen, and Politicians felt the same way.

Kornilov was appointed Commander in Chief of the Army by Kerensky, despite his fear of Kornilov becoming too powerful, in order to appease the right winged and conservative activists who’s influence was becoming more and more prominent in Russians politics.  Once Kornilov had this position, he made aggressive requests, such as being relieved of his “government” position so that he can operate independently with no red tape or bureaucratic road blocks, but of course, it was denied.  But this request laid the seeds for the tense relationship to come between Kornilov and the Provisional Government.  As mentioned before, Russia’s continued participation in WWI and the economic and social unrest resulting as a consequence made Kornilov fear that another revolution was in the near future.  Due to this belief, he sent troops close to Petrograd, where many of the demonstrations were taking place, without getting permission, or even asking for it, from the Government and Kerensky.  It took close to a month and increased social unrest for Kerensky to give official approval.

Following the government approval, Vladamir Lvov, and ex procurator, arrived where Kornilov was stationed to see what ground he was making Kerensky’s strategies that were meant to strengthen the government.  The three strategies were a dictatorship under Kerensky, an authoritative government that would put Kornilov in a significant position of power, and a military dictatorship that Kornilov would be the commander of.

The debate still stands as to whether Kerensky actually sent Lvov or if Lvov arrived to Kornilov by means of his own actions.  Either way, Lvov informed kerensky that the only strategy that has made significant progress was the establishment of Kornilov’s military Dictatorship.  Taken back by this startling news, Kerensky started a dialogue with Kornilov via telegraph where he posed as both himself and Lvov to figure out if Kornilov was seeking to over throw him.  Kerensky concluded that Kornilov was indeed trying to take power over the entire Provisional Government and relieved him of his position.  After Kornilov received this news, he believed Kerensky was being pressured by the Bolsheviks to make this declaration, and he responded Kornilov reacted by sending troops into Petrograd to put down the believed Bolshevik Coup.

As a result of this failed coup and overall miscommunication, Kornilov was removed from his position permanently and sentenced to jail, which he served at the Bykhov Fortress, along with other Army Officers that were believed to be cooperating with him.  Truth would have it that Kornilov only sent troops to attack Petrograd because he legitimately thought the Soviets were staging a coup to take over the Provisional Government, but obviously, Kornilov was incorrect in his beliefs.  With all of this being said, it is quite clear that not only was there blatant miscommunication, but more than likely, to some degree, a planned conspiracy to permanently remove Kornilov from power, which after all was said and done, ended up being the case.

Bloody Sunday, 1905

Bloody Sunday occurred on January 22nd, 1905 in St. Petersbrg, Russia.  It happened during a peaceful protest with unarmed citizens, mostly poor laborers, against Tsar Nicholas II over undesirable Tsarist policies.  Multiple groups, lead by Georgy Gapon, a Russian Orthodox Priest, were converging on the Winter Palace when the massacre took place.  The plan was for the Tsar to see the thousands of people protesting his policies so that he would consider changing them, but unbeknownst to them, he was not their.  Upon their approach to the Palace, Imperial Guards shot off warning shots for them to turn around and leave, but they didn’t.  Shortly after that, shots were fired into the crowd towards Gapon, killing about 40 people around him.  There are several different reports that recorded anywhere from 100 to 3,000 deaths.  Following this tragedy, popularity for the Tsar regime dropped sharply.  Many credit it this event as one of the sparks for the Revolution of 1905.

The December before in 1904, there was a similar strike at the Putilov Plant lead by Georgy Gapon, where workers protested for better wages, conditions and working hours.  In this protest there were no deaths or violence, but it was obvious that there was a sense of displeasure with the Tsarist regime.  Further protests and political actions were surely expected in the future.