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.
1 thought on “The Secret Speech on Stalin’s Cult of Personality, 1956”
This post does a good job of contextualizing the Secret Speech in terms of its domestic and international implications. It’s also interesting to think about what parts of the Stalinist system Khrushchev did not critique…