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Effects of the "Secret" Speech

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Khrushchev’s criticism of Stalinism could not be consistent for many reasons. First, he himself was a product of the Stalinist system and had made his career in it. Second, he himself had been implicated in Stalin’s crimes: as first secretary of the Moscow Party Committee and then of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party he had been in charge of the purges in Moscow and the Ukraine.  

Stalin's ministers Voroshilov and Kaganovich

However determined he might have been to cleanse the tarnished image of socialism, he remained part of the system that he tried to reform from within. Under the circumstances, Khrushchev’s partial denunciation of Stalinism was an act of courage and a major personal victory. All people, closely connected with the many acts of violence and repression committed by Stalin, were still strongly entrenched in the supreme party leadership, including Stalin’s henchmen such as Molotov and Kaganovich.

Although it was never actually published in the Soviet Union until the advent of glasnost under Gorbachev, the speech could not, of course, be kept secret. Moreover, following the Twentieth Congress, local party committees were instructed to read it at the meetings of Communists, and its content soon became known to the majority of the adult population of the Soviet Union.

The weightiest consequences of the Twentieth Congress for the country’s internal life were the return of millions of ex-prisoners and the posthumous rehabilitation of many millions more. By 1959 the number of persons confined to camps, colonies, and special settlements fell to just under one million from over 5.2 million just before Stalin’s death in 1953.

Khrushchev’s revelations exposed him to great personal risks. The hard-liners in the party leadership, such as Malenkov, Molotov, Voroshilov, and Kaganovich, who were closely tied to the Stalinist system, directed the efforts of party conservatives to overthrow Khrushchev. In June 1957 they formed a majority in the Politburo (called the Presidium during Khrushchev’s period in office) of the party’s Central Committee and demanded his resignation. Khrushchev fought back by demanding that the party’s Central Committee settle the issue. His survival now depended on the regional party leaders who were heavily represented in this larger body. With their support he was able to defeat his opponents, condemn them as an “antiparty group,” oust them from their positions in Moscow, and demote them to minor managerial posts far away from the capital. The fact that they were allowed to survive was highly significant in itself, indicating that Khrushchev wished to avoid a return to Stalinist terror.

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Soviet Russia

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