This Day in World History
February 25, 1956
Khrushchev Denounces Stalin in Speech to Soviet Communists
For thirty years, Joseph Stalin had ruled the Soviet Union unchallenged. Less than three years after his death, new Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev shocked the Twentieth Communist Party Congress with a long, angry speech that denounced Stalin.
Khrushchev framed his attack as a critique of the dead leader for promoting the “cult of personality,” which, he said, is alien to Marxism-Leninism. He began dismantling Stalin’s claims to greatness by pointing out that Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin had written in his will that Stalin should be removed from his position as secretary general of the Communist Party. Khrushchev revealed Lenin’s trenchant criticisms of Stalin, which Stalin had managed to suppress.
Khrushchev then denounced Stalin for “despotism.” He accused Stalin of “repression and physical annihilation, not only against actual enemies, but also against individuals who had not committed any crimes against the party and the Soviet Government.” Khrushchev pointed out that in the late 1930s, 98 of the 139 members of the Communist Party’s Central Committee were arrested and shot. Furthermore, he said, more than half of the Seventeenth Party Congress was arrested on trumped-up charges of counterrevolutionary actions.
Next, Khrushchev labeled the image of Stalin as the savior of the Soviet Union during World War II as a lie. Rather, he said, Stalin endangered the Soviet state by ignoring warnings about Adolf Hitler’s implacable hatred of communism, doing nothing to prepare his nation’s defenses, and initially dismissing the reality of Germany’s invasion of Soviet territory.
Khrushchev warned the delegates that they needed to tightly control these revelations. “You understand, comrades, that we could not spread this information to the people at once,” he said. While a “de-Stalinization” campaign began, the exact reasons were never made clear to the Soviet people. The text of Khrushchev’s speech — though known outside the Soviet Union within a month — was never published in the Soviet Union until 1988.