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All his limitations notwithstanding, Khrushchev’s main historic merit consists of the fact that he was able to muster courage to mount the platform of the Twentieth Congress and reveal the crimes of the Stalinist regime against its own people. The speech dealt a crushing blow to Stalinism but could not defeat it entirely. In changed forms it survived for a long time and even tried to raise its head under Brezhnev’s creeping re-Stalinization. But the ferment engendered by Khrushchev’s speech would continue. It ensured that there would be no return to high Stalinism as an extreme form of authoritarianism, based on tyrannical power, a leader’s cult, and mass repressions. The conservative leaders who replaced Khrushchev were unable to reanimate that extreme type of tyranny.  


Khrushchev would be remembered for his more consumerist approach and for the guarantees of basic freedoms he granted to Soviet citizens. The peasants’ bondage to the collective farms was relaxed, and they were given freedom of movement within the country. The educated elites were allowed, on certain strictly defined conditions, to make contacts with foreign colleagues and even occasionally travel abroad. Finally, Khrushchev, despite all his blunders in the international arena, made a decisive contribution to the establishment of peaceful coexistence between the Soviet Union and the United States, and between East and West in general. These achievements endured under his successors.

Finally, the fact that the first secretary could become a private citizen so peacefully was in itself a remarkable achievement of Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization. His nonviolent retirement was another sign that the system had moved away from the murderous brutality of Stalin’s days, when the only way out from the top was to prison or before the firing squad. It demonstrated that Khrushchev had managed to introduce some elements of legality into the Soviet political system.

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Soviet Russia

Understanding the Soviet Period
Russian Political Culture
Soviet Ideology
The Soviet System
Soviet Nationalities
The Economic Structure
The Socialist Experiment
"Great Leap" to Socialism
The USSR in World War II
Stalin's Legacy
Brezhnev's Stagnation
The Economy in Crisis
Political Reform
The USSR's Collapse

Models of Soviet Power

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