The Perceived Thawing of the Cult of Personality
Nikita Khrushchev attacked Joseph Stalin at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU in his secret speech. His goals behind the presentation of the speech were self-serving in nature. Khrushchev wanted to consolidate power while at the same time distance himself from Stalin. His lack of political forethought created a specific set of problems for the Communist Party and the Soviet Union. Khrushchev’s program of de-Stalinization had a negative impact on Soviet political relations both at the domestic and international levels.
A domestic political power struggle immediately ensued following the death of Stalin on March 5, 1953. Nikita Khrushchev was engaged in the battle for dictatorial control of the Soviet Union against Vyacheslov Molotov and Georgy Malenkov. Both Molotov and Malenkov were proud advocates of Stalinism and their affiliation with the former dictator. Khrushchev decided to make a political maneuver that would forever change the course of the Soviet Union. “Stalin’s successors could not rule by terror and had to win support of party officials, the military, the secret police, and other state bureaucracies.” Khrushchev understood this political climate and decided to act upon it. He decided to distance himself from Stalin and his reign of terror by vilifying him. This in turn would greatly reduce the political appeal of Molotov and Malenkov.
Khrushchev decided to demonize Stalin and his former lackeys in the form of a presentation of statistics and inflammatory anti-Stalinist rhetoric at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party. In the speech he first condemned Stalin for securing too much power for himself. “It is impermissible and foreign to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism to elevate one person, to transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics…Such a man…is infallible in his behavior.” According to Khrushchev, Stalin had accumulated so much power that he was above and beyond reproach.
Khrushchev then went on to describe how Stalin over-exerted his political power. He charged him with eliminating both perceived and semi-legitimate enemies. Ironically these were the same type of tactics Khrushchev was employing against Molotov and Malenkov. He claimed that Stalin tortured and forced confessions out of loyal members of the party out of Stalin’s need for absolute power. Khrushchev knew that the message would be better received amongst his audience of politicians if he portrayed the manner in which Stalin had abused and eliminated their very predecessors. Khrushchev cited an investigation created at the behest of the Central Committee that examined the actions against members of the 17th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party.
The facts Khrushchev reported startled the 20th congress and sent shockwaves throughout the Soviet Union and communist-bloc nations. According the Khrushchev’s secret speech, the investigation concluded that, “of the 139 members and candidates of the Party Central Committee who were elected at the 17th Congress, 98 persons, i.e., 70 percent were arrested and shot.” According to the source, indignation erupted throughout the hall. It was not the last time Khrushchev startled his audience. He then went on to describe the fate of the delegates that were present at the 17th Party Congress. “Of 1966 delegates with either voting or advisory powers, 1108 persons were arrested on charges of counterrevolutionary crimes, i.e., decidedly more than a majority.” Once again members of the hall were startled. Khrushchev understood his audience as well as his political goals that oriented the direction of his speech. He praised Marxism and Leninism. He also advocated the progress that was obtained through the measures of industrialization and collectivization. He led the political members to several conclusions at the end of his speech. First, Stalin’s form of absolute power was evil and contrary to Leninism....