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Limitations of the Speech

"Gorbachev Factor"

The chief limitation of the speech was that Khrushchev restricted himself to describing the Stalinist atrocities and failed to analyze the political system that had made them possible. The indictment is restricted to the years after 1934, leaving out forced collectivization and industrialization. In other words, Stalin’s twin cardinal policies and the way in which they were conducted were accepted as necessary and justified. Khrushchev was careful to dissociate the party from Stalin, presenting it as a victim rather than an accomplice in his crimes. The party was the source of all that was positive under Stalin, whereas all that was negative was the fault of the dictator.  


Khrushchev said little about the sufferings of the peasantry during the collectivization and the repression against ordinary citizens. Even prominent party and government figures were rehabilitated selectively. The main contenders for power following Lenin’s death, such as Trotsky and Bukharin, who had lost to Stalin, were mentioned only to be condemned. The victory of Stalin in the power struggle and the reckless policies that had helped him achieve it were therefore accepted. In other words, the party line pursued under his leadership was accepted as basically sound, but the way he abused his power was condemned.

The main weakness of the speech was that it failed to provide any theoretical or historical explanation for the emergence of the Stalin phenomenon. The cult of personality and the repressions connected with it were blamed on the bad temper of the leader and not on the nature of the Communist system. The speech did not give any consistent analysis of the legal, political, ideological, or institutional foundations of Stalinism. On the contrary, its moral censure of Stalin effectively exonerated the party and the system as victims of the tyrant’s paranoiac will. Stalin’s style of leadership was forcefully distinguished from that of Lenin and was condemned as a distortion of the true Leninist principles.

Khrushchev’s partial exposure of Stalin left many areas in the dark. If the party had been innocent of the reckless policies and purges under Stalin, why had it not resisted them? Why had the Communists allowed such things to happen? One apocryphal story provides an explanation. Khrushchev was addressing a meeting and speaking of Stalin’s crimes. A member of the audience shouted: “And what were you doing?” Khrushchev snapped back: “Who said that?” Silence. “Well,” he replied, “that is what I was doing too, keeping silent.”

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Soviet Russia

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