History 118: Nikita Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” against Stalin (1956)

In a 1956 speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev delivered a devastating summation of the rule of his predecessor, Joseph Stalin. The address was supposed to stay secret, but of course western newspapers, most notably The New York Times, discovered and published the text.

The “secret speech,” as it was now called, outlined the extent to which Stalin  had brutally murdered innocent people, but it also accused the dictator of creating a “cult of personality” around himself. Khrushchev’s commentary avoided exploring the extent to which he and his colleagues had collaborated with Stalin, but when the full text was released, it had a devastating impact on Marxist movements around the world. Here is an excerpt:

“Comrades: The cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person. This is supported by numerous facts. One of the most characteristic examples of Stalin’s self-glorification and of his lack of even elementary modesty is the edition of his Short Biography, which was published in 1948 (sic).

This book is an expression of the most dissolute flattery, an example of making a man into a godhead, of transforming him into an infallible sage, “the greatest leader, sublime strategist of all times and nations.” Finally, no other words could be found with which to lift Stalin up to the heavens.

We need not give here examples of the loathesome adulation filling this book. All we need to add is that they all were approved and edited by Stalin personally. Some of them were added in his own handwriting to the draft text of the book.

What did Stalin consider essential to write into this book? Did he want to cool the ardor of the flatterers who were composing his Short Biography? No! He marked the very places where he thought that the praise of his services was insufficient. Here are some examples characterizing Stalin’s activity, added in Stalin’s own hand:

“In this fight against the skeptics and capitulators, the Trotskyites, Zinovievites, Bukharinites and Kamenevites, there was definitely welded together, after Lenin’s death, that leading core of the Party… that upheld the great banner of Lenin, rallied the Party behind Lenin’s behests, and brought the Soviet people onto the broad paths of industrializing the country and collectivizing the rural economy. The leader of this core and the guiding force of the Party and the state was comrade Stalin.”

Thus writes Stalin himself! Then he adds:

“Although he performed his tasks as leader of the Party and the people with consummate skill, and enjoyed the unreserved support of the entire Soviet people, Stalin never allowed his work to be marred by the slightest hint of vanity, conceit or self-adulation.”

Where and when could a leader so praise himself? Is this worthy of a leader of the Marxist-Leninist type? No. Precisely against this did Marx and Engels take such a strong position. This always was sharply condemned also by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

In the draft text of [Stalin’s] book appeared the following sentence: “Stalin is the Lenin of today.” This sentence appeared to Stalin to be too weak. Thus, in his own handwriting, he changed it to read: “Stalin is the worthy continuer of Lenin’s work, or, as it is said in our Party, Stalin is the Lenin of today.” You see how well it is said, not by the nation but by Stalin himself.

It is possible to offer many such self-praising appraisals written into the draft text of that book in Stalin’s hand. He showers himself especially generously with praises regarding his military genius and his talent for strategy. I will cite one more insertion made by Stalin on the theme: “The advanced Soviet science of war received further development,” he writes, “at Comrade Stalin’s hands. Comrade Stalin elaborated the theory of the permanent operating factors that decide the issue of wars, of active defense and the laws of counteroffensive and offensive, of the cooperation of all services and arms in modern warfare, of the role of big tank masses and air forces in modern war, and of the artillery as the most formidable of the armed services. At various stages of the war, Stalin’s genius found correct solutions that took into account all the circumstances of the situation.”

(Movement in the hall.)

Further, Stalin writes: “Stalin’s military mastership was displayed both in defense and on offense. Comrade Stalin’s genius enabled him to divine the enemy’s plans and defeat them. The battles in which comrade Stalin directed the Soviet armies are brilliant examples of operational military skill.”

This is how Stalin was praised as a strategist. Who did this? Stalin himself, not in his role as a strategist but in the role of an author-editor, one of the main creators of his [own] self-adulatory biography. Such, comrades, are the facts. Or should be said, rather, the shameful facts.”

Fair use excerpt from Marxists.org.

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