A Political Act of Volcanic Proportions

part 1, 2, 3

In an excerpt from his secret audio diary, Khrushchev discusses why he decided to denounce Stalin:

These problems have to be faced. This is a matter of thousands and thousands of people who perished or who were executed, and of millions who were in exile and in prisons. If we do not speak the truth to the congress, then we will be forced to tell the truth at some later time. But then, we will not be the ones talking. We will be the people under investigation.

There were other motivations behind Khrushchev's desire to denounce Stalin.

"One of them was idealistic," says William Taubman. "It was to somehow cleanse communism, in which he continued deeply to believe, of the Stalinist stain which had accumulated in the terrible years of Stalin's dictatorship."

The final reason was far less altruistic, says Taubman. "The use of the secret speech in the battle to succeed Stalin was in fact a brutal political calculation."

In his bid for Soviet leadership, Khrushchev faced a handful of hard-line Kremlin rivals who were Stalinist henchmen.

"And the idea there was to blacken their reputations and to some extent burnish Khrushchev's own, because they had been closer to Stalin in the worst years of the terror," says Taubman.

When Nikita Khrushchev entered the conference hall for his clandestine address 50 years ago, his communist party comrades were accustomed only to accolades for Joseph Stalin, and for the communist party he had led. Stalin had been their omniscient, kind hearted, all powerful great leader. In Russian, the word is "vozhd'." Khrushchev's denunciation took them completely by surprise. It was a political about-face of volcanic proportions.

In 1971, an English-speaking announcer read the complete text of Khrushchev's secret speech over the U.S. sponsored Radio Liberty.

Comrades! 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.

Stalin practiced brutal violence, not only against everyone who opposed him, but also against anything that seemed contrary to his despotic and capricious character.

Stalin acted not through persuasion, explanation and patient cooperation with people, but by demanding absolute submission to his opinion, whoever opposed his viewpoint was doomed to moral and physical annihilation.

Years later, in his secret audio diary, Nikita Khrushchev described the scene inside the Kremlin when he delivered his secret speech.

People were shocked at my denunciation of Stalin. It was so quiet in the Kremlin congress hall that you could hear a fly buzzing. This was the first time that most of the delegates had heard of the sickness in Stalin's character, and of Stalin's atrocities. So many of us died. So many of old bolsheviks. So many believers. It was truly a tragedy.

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