Betrayal at the Kremlin!

Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev on the tribune of Lenin's Mausoleum, Moscow, c1935-c1937. Artist: Pyotr Otsup
Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev on the tribune of Lenin’s Mausoleum, Moscow, Soviet Union, c1935-c1937. Born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, Stalin (1879-1953) became General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party in 1922 (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

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!!”

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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,


10 thoughts on “Betrayal at the Kremlin!

  1. Alright, first off this is hilariously written. I love it. Also, the way you broke down the response to hearing about this speech is really great. The explanations are brief but informative and were delightful to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a cool way of framing and talking about the relationship between Stalin and Khruschev. It really makes you wonder how close the two really were especially since Khruschev turned on Stalin so quickly after his death. I wonder if it was less personal but more to ensure his own reign and take down the cult of personality while also separating the idea of communism from the image of Stalin.


  3. Agree with Cameron — your engaging writing really invites the reader to dive in. The points about the fallout of the “secret” speech all make sense to me — I’d just like to know a bit more. How was the 20th Party Congress covered in the Soviet press, for example? If the speech was “secret” how did people know that de-Stalinization had started?


  4. Great post Claire, I really enjoyed it! I liked how you worded this post and made it same very personal to the reader. Very unique! I don’t think a lot of communists were expecting the de-Stalinization “Secret Speech”. I wonder why after all those years of serving under Stalin he was so quick to change things, why remain so loyal if you didn’t agree? I guess you did it to avoid being sent to a camp!


  5. Agreed with everyone else, this was hilarious! It was very easy to understand. The Secret Speech and Khrushchev’s denunciation played such a huge role in Russia’s thaw and their decline of communism.


  6. Not to repeat all the comments above…but I really enjoyed your humorous narrative in this post. I think your post did a great job of highlighting ways that Khrushchev denounced Stalin and his ways. You mention that Khrushchev was a member of Stalin’s inner circle before his death, that makes me wonder if he was a true follower under Stalin or if he was slyly doing things that might have undermined Stalin


  7. Sick post, Claire! Everything about this post was funny and easy to understand for me. We so often look at Stalin as such a monster in history, but I wonder if it would have done Khrushchev more good to just support the old man, considering that he was the symbol for Soviet Power and victor of World War II. By doing what was seemingly the right thing, K opened the door to anti-communism and a weaker Party, but hey, better for the US! Great job.


  8. It’s amazing how quickly after Stalin’s death people started to denounce him. It also shows how terrible his reign was if literally nobody but the people up top were ok with it. This “de-Stalinization” in the end was probably a good thing for the USSR as I don’t know how sustainable Stalin’s government was. People would have gotten fed up at some point.


  9. I like that you put Khrushchev’s grievances against Stalin into neat bullet points. Like Dr. Nelson said, it could use some extra research to give it a good kick. Besides that, good post!


  10. I like how you talked about the broader implications of the secret speech and how it posed potential problems for them in areas like Hungary. In my post I talked a little about how de-stalinization caused problems for Russia in China (but for different reasons.) Great work, and I really did like your writing style.


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