“Stalin Stalin, Communist Russia would not continue in the

“Stalin had sanctioned in the name of
the Central Committee of the All Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) the most
brutal violation of socialist legality, torture and oppression, which led as we
have seen to the slandering and to the self-accusation of innocent people.”
(Secret Speech, 1956).  These words were the ones of Khrushchev and
his infamous ‘secret’ speech, with which he condemned the ruler of the Soviet
Union and leader of Communism, Joseph Stalin. These very actions have
ultimately led to the United States and the West noticing and re-evaluating
their relationship with the USSR. Khrushchev’s speech has meant that after the
passing away of Stalin, Communist Russia would not continue in the footsteps of
Stalinism, and instead it would reveal its faults and voids and denounce its
very essence. Khrushchev proved to be a promising figure in creation of the
more liberal, socialist and humanitarian Russia, however since he was
essentially a ‘pupil’ of Stalinism and throughout the years has devotedly
served under Stalin as a member of the Politburo, his leadership would not
prove to be efficient enough to result in a clear break away from
Marxism-Leninism.

In this essay we will be taking a
closer look at the atmosphere of Russia after the death of Stalin, the optimism
and hope that the deliverance of Khrushchev’s ‘secret’ speech has created, and
ultimately how by not making a clear break with the policies and philosophies
of Marxism-Leninism, which was Stalin’s very own creation, Khrushchev produced
his own downfall and has paved the way towards his own decline. Throughout the
essay we will make the assessment that ultimately Khrushchev’s speech was very
effective in breaking away from Stalinism, while maintaining the principles of
Marxism-Leninism in his leadership and governance. As a criticism of
Khrushchev, we will be taking a closer look how he handled the revolts and
revolutions in both, Poland and Hungary, and how he deployed the use of force
in order to try to maintain the hold of the USSR over its Eastern satellite
states.

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Competition
for succession

 

After the death of Stalin in 1956, a competition ensued for
the much desired position of the Leader of the Soviet Union.  It was very likely that three of Stalin’s
close allies would ultimately form a triumvirate upon his death. They were,
namely, Georgi Maximilianovich Malenkov, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov and
Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria (Nove,1981, p.114). There was also the unlikely figure
of Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, who was born close to the Ukrainian border,
and came from poor family background with no formal education. He was however a
vehement supporter of Stalin and managed to become a member of the Politburo
and when the Germans invaded Ukraine, he has spent 2 years as a war officer
stationed in Ukraine. No one considered him a dangerous contender however.
(Nove, 1981, p. 116). The new-leader of the Soviet Union had to face many
challenges and inherited many failing policies and implementation of new
domestic as well as foreign policies was inevitable and necessary in order to
avoid the looming possibility of a nuclear attack. The new leaders needed to
re-think their relationships with their satellite states as well as their
relationship with the West. An attempt to gain friends and to create a positive
image of Russia abroad was much needed. On the home level, improvement was
necessary as the outdated and oppressive Stalinist policies were corroded and
were damaging the domestic economy. Russia was in dire need of professional
workforce as well, in order to further its position in the nuclear arm’s race and
combat its technological backwardness, caused by the fact that many of its
professionals were imprisoned or already executed. After the loss of the Second
World War and the loss of the immense efforts and financial resources that was
pumped into the war, many people, especially in the countryside were in
shortage of food and starving. Relaxation of state policies was necessary, but
the question was how far a loosening of policies could go, without being in
danger to affect the state monopoly and the power of the Party? The Communist
Party of the time has hugely benefited not just from material privileged but
also was exempt of any criticism (Nove, 1981, p.118). A regulated and valid
method for succession had to be generated. At this time members of the triumvirate,
Malenkov, Molotov and Beria was either eliminated from the race for leadership
or imprisoned. Khrushchev at the time has successfully launched his
agricultural campaigns, in order to increase grain production and supply and
prevent the starvation of many citizens (Nove, 1981, p. 124). This has won him
much popularity in the eyes of the citizens as well as the Commission and ultimately
the cheery, folksy and unlikely persona of Nikita Khrushchev became the
successor of Stalin. His succession to Leader of the USSR from his previous
position the Party’s First Secretary, did cement and reassert the Party’s
dominance. He has implemented a whole string of progressive social
legislations; successful agricultural measures, he launched the housing drive
and has raised the minimum-wage and provided pensions and disability benefits
to the ordinary people and workers. In the midst of all these beneficial
reforms, censorship has remained intact of course (Nove,1981,p. 129). Most
importantly, however, he aimed to repair the non-existent foreign relationships
with the West and organized state visits.

His most memorable achievement came in the field of internal
affairs, when he organized the 20th Congress of the Communist Party on
the eve of February 24, 1956 where Nikita Khrushchev delivered his famous
Secret Speech (lecture notes). This Congress would be the last of its kind and
Khrushchev’s speech has meant a clear departure from Stalinism and has paved
the way to a new political effort, called de-Stalinization. No one in the
audience could have predicted the events that Khrushchev’s four hour long speech
has launched.

His speech have pushed the limits of the Communist Party, like
it was never done before, it was unprecedented. Behind the purpose of his
speech was hiding the will to cut ties with the old Stalinist ways and
establish and implement the much needed socialist elements in the government as
well as society. Khrushchev was also motivated to deliver his speech in order
to strengthen his own political position and if needed discredit his political
opponents, namely Molotov and Malenkov (Nove, 1981, p.134).  However there were unforeseen negative
consequences of his speech as well like the chaos and uncertainty, it has
unleashed on the Eastern Bloc, exposing its vulnerability as well as the
unwanted fact that it has caused confusion and discussion about the uncertain
future of Communism.

Khrushchev was not afraid to expose Stalin and openly talk
about his tyrannical nature as the leader of the Totalitarian state that he has
created and guarded by violence and oppression. He also pointed out his orders
of arrest, his prison-camps, the gulags and even his involvement in the
ordering of murders, which has created a state of terror throughout the Soviet
Union.  Khrushchev mentioned his weakness
and inability to handle World War II and his avoidance of any contact with the
World; which manifested itself in almost non-existent foreign affairs. He
criticized and exposed every details of Stalin’s rule and cleverly blamed Stalin
for all the failure and errors of the political system. He tactically created
the image of ”the monster” Stalin and never once blamed the Communist Party
and System of any wrongdoing. He actually portrayed the Party as a victim of
Stalin’s tyrannical ways and cult. Khrushchev differentiated between Stalin’s
personal ideologies and actions and the Communist ideas, which were clearly in
opposition to each other.

In order to strengthen and validate his criticism of Stalin’s
rule, he cited the ideologies of both Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, who both
opposed against the ‘cult of the individual’ that Stalin represented and created.
He quoted Lenin :  ”Only he who believes
in the people, he who submerges himself in the fountain of the living
creativeness of the people, will win and retain power.” (Secret Speech, 1956).

Khrushchev condemned Stalin’s ideology and instead was
trying to revive the Leninist philosophy instead. By the means of contrasting
the Stalinist and Leninists ideologies, he pointed out and stressed the
importance of the unification of the Party as whole entity. According to him
Stalin weakened the cohesion of the party in order to increase his own power
and standing. Khrushchev portrayed realistic picture of Stalin as a despot,
whose hunger for power has corrupted his views and ideologies, and ultimately
led him to taint the main principles of Communism with his own personal
beliefs. Despite highlighting the oppressive elements in Stalin’s rule, he was
very careful to mask the weaknesses of the Communist ideology, for example in
his speech he failed to mention the fruitlessness of the five-year plan as well
as collectivization.

To strengthen his critique of Stalin’s persona, he again
cited Lenin, who made the following observation about Stalin’s character and
persona:

”Stalin is excessively rude, and this defect, which can be
freely tolerated in our midst and in contacts among us Communists, becomes a
defect which cannot be tolerated in one holding the position of General
Secretary. Because of this, I propose that the comrades consider the method by
which Stalin would be removed from this position and by which another man would
be selected for it, a man who, above all, would differ from Stalin in only one
quality, namely, greater tolerance, greater loyalty, greater kindness and more
considerate attitude toward the Comrades, a less capricious temper…” (Letter
to the Congress, 1922)

Khrushchev’s speech is very diplomatic and tactic in its
nature and he managed to combine Lenin’s warnings against Stalin together with
the facts about his brutal reign, he this way was able to provide an extremely
valid ground for his argument, without losing the attention and support of his
audience, the Congress of the Communist Party.  

After citing Lenin’s concerns of Stalin, he moved on to
point out his personal disapproving observations and opinions of Stalin, which
he was able to validate, since he has personally known him and has served under
him as a member of the Politburo, which was the highest decision-making body of
the Communist Party. (Nove, 1981, p.145).

He judged Stalin for creating his role of the dictator, who
expected complete compliance not just from the members of the Congress, but
from each and every citizen of the Soviet Union, instead of aiming to
strengthen his position as the leader of the USSR. Any sign of resistance could
be punished by death, or even worse by being sent to the feared death-work
camps, in the remote parts of Siberia, to the Gulags. He also condemned the
creation of the terminology, ‘The enemy of the people’, which designation
enabled him to condemn and persecute millions of innocent people on the base of
make-shift charges. Stalin’s senseless persecutions only led to: ”Glaring
violations of revolutionary legality and to the fact that many entirely
innocent individuals- who in the past had defended the party line – became
victims.”(Secret Speech, 1956).  However, this denunciation of the murders
committed by or in the name of Stalin has put Khrushchev in an extremely
fragile position. By condemning the old Stalinist policies of dealing with
opposition, he implied that there would be a more diplomatic and humanitarian
method of with these situations, however he failed to clarify these exact
ways. 

Khrushchev imperatively ended his speech on a positive tone,
by contradicting his criticism of Stalin and his policies against the
optimistic future of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party:

”Comrades! The 20th Congress of the Communist
Party of the Soviet Union has manifested with a new strength, the unshakable
unity of our Party, its cohesiveness around the Central Committee its resolute
will to accomplish the great task of building Communism. ” (Secret Speech,
1956).

The Speech had a profound effect, both on the participants
of the Congress and the ordinary citizens as well. Many were shocked upon
hearing the accusations against the passed away despot Stalin, many rejoiced and
some were left anxious for the fear of prosecution by the new more liberal
Soviet government. Khrushchev’s secret speech has meant a clear departure from
the old repressive ways and had led to a path of destalinization; and
separation from Stalinism, however it did not mean a complete departure from
its commitment to Marxism-Leninism.  

The Communists abroad were very shocked to learn that all
the horror stories of Stalin’s despotism were in fact true and many were deeply
affected that they were basically fed lies about Stalin’s persona (Rothberg,
1972, p.212)  The fall of the cult of
Stalin, and a therefore weakened Communist regime had its biggest effect on
Poland and Hungary. Both countries had a hostile disposition towards Russia,
due to their history. Their economies were ailing because of the implementation
of failing Communist policies. This fact together with the despised Communist
government forced on anti-Communist people proved to be a failure. The already
fragile Party’s position was further affected by the affects of Khrushchev’s
Secret Speech and the statements that were made about Stalin. Destalinisation,
and its debilitating effects on both the Police and Party, provided the
necessary tools for the anti-communist riots and demonstrations that followed.
Both in Hungary and Poland relaxation has proved to be dangerous. ”Poland and
Hungary erupted. In Poland there was a shift to a more national Communism of
Gomulka, after the collapse of the Party’s ‘Muscovite’ leaders. In Hungary the
‘national’ Communists were led by Nagy, who replaced the hated Rakosi. The last
straw was the announcement that Hungary would withdraw from the Warsaw Pact
(the Soviet equivalent of NATO). ”(Rothberg,1972, p.213). After some
reluctance Khrushchev decided to send Russian tanks into Budapest in order to
crush any signs of the Hungarian Revolution, and to re-assert its power by the
means of terror and fear, just like his predecessor Stalin would do so, in
order to defend his Marxist-Stalinist ideas. This has proved to be one of the biggest
critique of the Khrushchev-era, the resolution to arms, troops and terror, if
there was any sign of disobedience shown.