Look at these two men! Don’t they look like they could be best friends? Don’t you think they would share a bottle of good ol’ Russian vodka together? Khrushchev was a member of Stalin’s inner circle. Within 6 months of Stalin’s death, he took the reigns of the leader of the Communist Party. Since they look like such good friends above, you think that Khrushchev would’ve continued the work of Stalin and talked highly of his BFF? No. Khrushchev betrayed Stalin.
Okay, he didn’t betray Stalin exactly but he did denounce him. It all started on the 24th of February 1956. The day that de-Stalinization began. Khrushchev summoned members of the Twentieth Party Congress to a late night speech. This speech lasted for four hours. For four hours, Khrushchev threw his old BFF under the bus. He told the congress members all of Stalin’s crimes that he committed during his tenure. Some of them included:
- Details about the unwarranted arrest and execution of high-ranking loyal party members during the Terror of the late 1930s;
- The unpreparedness of the country at the time of the Nazi invasion in June 1941;
- Numerous wartime blunders;
- The deportation of various nationalities in 1943 and 1944 and the banishing of Tito’s Yugoslavia from the Soviet bloc after the war (Siegelbaum)
Khrushchev called out Stalin for his regime of terror and dictatorship. He focused not only on Stalin but how the party had strayed away from what it was founded on; Marxism/Leninism. Little did he know at the time, this “Secret Speech” wouldn’t be too secret for much longer. The United States got a hold of the speech and was able to distribute it to Warsaw Bloc countries.
The speech “sent shock waves throughout the Communist world and caused many western Communists to abandon the movement” (Siegelbaum). Monuments of Stalin were torn down, there were uprisings in Poland by the middle-class workers, uprisings in Hungary from the educated students and took Soviet intervention to shut down. Poland and Hungary had big opposition to the communist regimes, so when they hear their “leader” denounce what has been ruling them, they feel like they themselves are able to speak up.
One good thing to come from this speech was the investigation that came afterwards. 51,439 prisoners were released after the “investigatory commissions that many convictions were based on unproven accusations or ‘confessions obtained through the use of illegal methods of investigation.” (Freeze, 417). Although some people were exempted from the investigations; ‘Nationalists’ from Ukraine, Byelorussia, and the Baltics who fought against the Soviet Union during the war and those ‘who were really exposed as traitors, terrorists, saboteurs, spies, and wreckers’ (Freeze, 417).
This began the period of de-Stalinization that would categorize the rest of the 60s and Khrushchev’s reign. If Stalin was watching from below, he was probably cursing and shaking his fist at his former BFF. “Curse you Khruschev!!”
Russia A History, Third Edition. Gregory L Freeze, Pg 269-275.
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Khruschev’s Secret Speech.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 28 Dec. 2015, soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/february-revolution/.