On the Personality Cult and its Consequences
On the Personality Cult and its Consequences was a report, critical of Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

, made to the Twentieth Party Congress on February 25, 1956 by Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 leader Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev led the Soviet Union during part of the Cold War. He served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964, and as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier, from 1958 to 1964...

. It is more commonly known as the Secret Speech or the Khrushchev Report. In the speech, Khrushchev criticized actions taken by the regime of Joseph Stalin – particularly the purges of the military and the upper party echelons, and the development of Stalin's personality cult – while maintaining support for the ideals of communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 by invoking Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and communist politician who led the October Revolution of 1917. As leader of the Bolsheviks, he headed the Soviet state during its initial years , as it fought to establish control of Russia in the Russian Civil War and worked to create a...


The speech was a milestone in the Khrushchev Thaw
Khrushchev Thaw
The Khrushchev Thaw refers to the period from the mid 1950s to the early 1960s, when repression and censorship in the Soviet Union were partially reversed and millions of Soviet political prisoners were released from Gulag labor camps, due to Nikita Khrushchev's policies of de-Stalinization and...

. Superficially, the speech was an attempt to draw the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Communist Party of the Soviet Union
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the only legal, ruling political party in the Soviet Union and one of the largest communist organizations in the world...

 closer to Leninism
In Marxist philosophy, Leninism is the body of political theory for the democratic organisation of a revolutionary vanguard party, and the achievement of a direct-democracy dictatorship of the proletariat, as political prelude to the establishment of socialism...

. Khrushchev's aim, however, was primarily to garner public acceptance of the arrest and execution of Lavrentiy Beria
Lavrentiy Beria
Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria was a Georgian Soviet politician and state security administrator, chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus under Joseph Stalin during World War II, and Deputy Premier in the postwar years ....

 three years earlier, as well as to legitimize his own recently consolidated power (seized from Stalin loyalists Vyacheslav Molotov
Vyacheslav Molotov
Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov was a Soviet politician and diplomat, an Old Bolshevik and a leading figure in the Soviet government from the 1920s, when he rose to power as a protégé of Joseph Stalin, to 1957, when he was dismissed from the Presidium of the Central Committee by Nikita Khrushchev...

 and Georgy Malenkov
Georgy Malenkov
Georgy Maximilianovich Malenkov was a Soviet politician, Communist Party leader and close collaborator of Joseph Stalin. After Stalin's death, he became Premier of the Soviet Union and was in 1953 briefly considered the most powerful Soviet politician before being overshadowed by Nikita...


It was known as the "Secret Speech" because it was delivered at a closed session, and its actual text was printed only in 1989, although many party members had already been informed of the speech as soon as a month after Khrushchev delivered it. In April 2007, the British newspaper The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

 included the speech in their series on "Great Speeches of the 20th Century."


The issue of mass repressions was recognized before the speech. The speech itself was prepared based on the results of a special party commission (Pospelov (chairman), Komarov, Aristov
Averky Aristov
Averky Borisovich Aristov — 11 July 1973) was a Soviet politician and diplomat.He was the son of a fisherman, working for a fishery during 1912 - 1919. In 1919 he joined the Komsomol and 1921 he became a member of the Bolshevik Party...

, Shvernik
Nikolay Shvernik
Nikolay Mikhailovich Shvernik was a Russian politician, who was the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR from March 19, 1946 until March 15, 1953...

), known as the Pospelov Commission
Pospelov Commission
Pospelov Commission was a commission of the CPSU Central Committee Presidium headed by Pyotr Pospelov whose findings had laid the basis and the contents of Nikita Khrushchev's "secret speech" On the Personality Cult and its Consequences According to Khushchev's speech, "the commission was...

, arranged at the session of the Presidium of the Party central committee on January 31, 1955. The direct goal of the commission was to investigate the repressions of the delegates of the 1934 XVII Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The 17th Congress was selected for investigations because it was known as "the Congress of Victors" in the country of "victorious socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

", and therefore the enormous number of "enemies" among the participants demanded explanation.

This commission presented evidence that during 1937–38 (the peak of the period known as the Great Purge
Great Purge
The Great Purge was a series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union orchestrated by Joseph Stalin from 1936 to 1938...

) over one and a half million individuals were arrested for "anti-Soviet activities", of whom over 680,000 were executed.

While Khrushchev was not hesitant to point out the flaws in Stalinist practice in regard to the purges of the army and Party and the management of the Great Patriotic War, he was very careful to avoid any criticism of Stalin’s industrialization policy or Communist Party ideology. When discussing mass repressions, the absence of any commentary on the haphazard arrests of ordinary citizens is notable and, it must be assumed, purposeful, since occurrences like the brutality of collectivization served the interests of the party and the state. Khrushchev was a staunch party man, and he lauded Leninism and Communist ideology in his speech as often as he condemned Stalin’s actions. Stalin, Khrushchev argued, was the primary victim of the deleterious effect of the cult of personality, which had, through his existing flaws, transformed him from a crucial part of the victories of Lenin into a paranoiac, easily influenced by the "rabid enemy of our party," Beria.

Despite denouncing political repressions, the process of rehabilitating its victims was slow, although the release of political prisoners from labor camps started soon after Stalin died. Still, the victims of the Moscow Trials
Moscow Trials
The Moscow Trials were a series of show trials conducted in the Soviet Union and orchestrated by Joseph Stalin during the Great Purge of the 1930s. The victims included most of the surviving Old Bolsheviks, as well as the leadership of the Soviet secret police...

 were cleared of all charges only in 1988.

Reports of the speech

Khrushchev began the speech shortly after midnight; it took some four hours to deliver. Shortly thereafter, reports of it were conveyed to the West by Reuters
Reuters is a news agency headquartered in New York City. Until 2008 the Reuters news agency formed part of a British independent company, Reuters Group plc, which was also a provider of financial market data...

 journalist John Rettie, who had been told about the speech by Kostya Orlov a few hours before Rettie was due to leave for Stockholm
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...

; it was therefore reported in the Western media in early March. Rettie believes the information came from Khrushchev himself via an intermediary.

On March 5, 1956, the Party Praesidium ordered the reading of Khrushchev's Report at the meetings of all Communist and Komsomol
The Communist Union of Youth , usually known as Komsomol , was the youth division of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Komsomol in its earliest form was established in urban centers in 1918. During the early years, it was a Russian organization, known as the Russian Communist Union of...

 organizations, with the invitation of non-members as well. The contents of the report had become widely known in the country already in 1956, thus the name "Secret Speech" is something of a misnomer. Nevertheless, the full text was not officially publicly released until 1989.

However, the text of the speech was only slowly disclosed in the Eastern European countries. It was never disclosed to Western communist party members by their leaders, and most Western communists only became aware of the details of the text after the New York Times (5 June 1956) and The Observer (10 June 1956) published versions of the full text.

The content of the speech reached the west through a circuitous route. A few copies of the speech were sent by order of the Soviet Politburo to leaders of the Eastern Bloc countries. Shortly after the speech had been disseminated, a Polish journalist, Viktor Grayevsky, visited his girlfriend, Lucia Baranowski, who worked as a junior secretary in the office of the first secretary of the Polish Communist Party, Edward Ochab
Edward Ochab
Edward Ochab was a Polish Communist politician promoted to the position of the First Secretary of the Communist party in the People's Republic of Poland between 20 March and 21 October 1956, just prior to the Gomułka thaw...

. On her desk was a thick booklet with a red binding, with the words: "The 20th Party Congress, the speech of Comrade Khrushchev." Grayevsky had heard rumors of the speech and, as a journalist, was interested in reading it. Baranowski allowed him to take the document home to read.

As it happened, Grayevsky, who was Jewish, and had made a recent trip to Israel to visit his sick father, decided to emigrate there. After he read the speech, he decided to take it to the Israeli Embassy and gave it to Yaakov Barmor who had helped Grayevsky make his trip to visit Grayevsky's sick father. Barmor was a Shin Bet representative; he photographed the document and sent the photographs to Israel.

By the afternoon of April 13, 1956, the Shin Bet in Israel received the photographs. Israeli intelligence and United States intelligence previously secretly agreed to cooperate on security matters. James Jesus Angleton
James Jesus Angleton
James Jesus Angleton was chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's counterintelligence staff from 1954 to 1975...

 was the Central Intelligence Agency
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

's (CIA) head of counterintelligence and in charge of the clandestine liaison with Israeli intelligence. The photographs were delivered to him. On April 17, 1956, the photographs reached the CIA chief Allen Dulles
Allen Welsh Dulles
Allen Welsh Dulles was an American diplomat, lawyer, banker, and public official who became the first civilian and the longest-serving Director of Central Intelligence and a member of the Warren Commission...

, who quickly informed U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army...

. After determining that the speech was authentic, the CIA leaked the speech to The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

 in early June.


The basic structure of the speech was as follows:
  • Repudiation of Stalin's personality cult
    • Quotations from the classics of Marxism-Leninism
      Marxism–Leninism is a communist ideology, officially based upon the theories of Marxism and Vladimir Lenin, that promotes the development and creation of a international communist society through the leadership of a vanguard party over a revolutionary socialist state that represents a dictatorship...

      , which denounced the "cult of an individual", especially the Karl Marx letter to a German worker which stated his antipathy toward it
    • Lenin's Testament
      Lenin's Testament
      Lenin's Testament is the name given to a document written by Vladimir Lenin in the last weeks of 1922 and the first week of 1923. In the testament, Lenin proposed changes to the structure of the Soviet governing bodies...

       and remarks by Nadezhda Krupskaya, the former People's Commissar for Education (and wife of Lenin), about Stalin's character
    • Before Stalin, the fight with Trotskyism
      Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself an orthodox Marxist and Bolshevik-Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party of the working-class...

       was purely ideological; Stalin introduced the notion of the "enemy of the people
      Enemy of the people
      The term enemy of the people is a fluid designation of political or class opponents of the group using the term. The term implies that the "enemies" in question are acting against society as a whole. It is similar to the notion of "enemy of the state". The term originated in Roman times as ,...

      " to be used as "heavy artillery" from the late '20s
    • Stalin violated the Party norms of collective leadership
      Collective leadership
      Collective leadership or Collectivity of leadership , was considered an ideal form of governance in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics...

      • Repression of the majority of Old Bolshevik
        Old Bolshevik
        Old Bolshevik , also Old Bolshevik Guard or Old Party Guard, was an unofficial designation for those who were members of the Bolshevik party before the Russian Revolution of 1917, many of whom were either tried and executed by the NKVD during Stalin era purges or died under suspicious...

        s and delegates of the XVII Party Congress, most of which were workers and had joined the Communist Party before 1920. Of the 1,966 delegates, 1,108 were declared "counter-revolutionaries", 848 were executed, and 98 of 139 members and candidates to the Central Committee were declared "enemies of the people".
      • After this repression, Stalin ceased to even consider the opinion of the collective.
    • Examples of repressions of some notable Bolshevik
      The Bolsheviks, originally also Bolshevists , derived from bol'shinstvo, "majority") were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which split apart from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903....

      s were presented in detail.
    • Stalin ordered that the persecution be enhanced: NKVD
      The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

       is "four years late" in crushing the opposition, according to his principle of "aggravation of class struggle
      Aggravation of class struggle under socialism
      The theory of aggravation of the class struggle along with the development of socialism was one of the cornerstones of Stalinism in the internal politics of the Soviet Union...

      • Practice of falsifications followed, to cope with "plans" for numbers of enemies to be uncovered.
    • Exaggerations of Stalin's role in the Great Patriotic War
      Eastern Front (World War II)
      The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

       (World War II)
    • Deportations of whole nationalities
      Population transfer in the Soviet Union
      Population transfer in the Soviet Union may be classified into the following broad categories: deportations of "anti-Soviet" categories of population, often classified as "enemies of workers," deportations of entire nationalities, labor force transfer, and organized migrations in opposite...

    • Doctors' plot
      Doctors' plot
      The Doctors' plot was the most dramatic anti-Jewish episode in the Soviet Union during Joseph Stalin's regime, involving the "unmasking" of a group of prominent Moscow doctors, predominantly Jews, as conspiratorial assassins of Soviet leaders...

       and Mingrelian Affair
      Mingrelian Affair
      The Mingrelian Affair, or Mingrelian Case was a series of criminal cases fabricated in 1951 and 1952 in order to accuse several members of the Georgian SSR Communist Party of Mingrelian extraction of secession and collaboration with the Western powers....

    • Manifestations of personality cult: songs, city names, etc.
      • Lyrics of the Soviet National Anthem (first version, 1944–53) which had references to Stalin
    • The non-awarding of the Lenin State Prize
      Lenin Prize
      The Lenin Prize was one of the most prestigious awards of the USSR, presented to individuals for accomplishments relating to science, literature, arts, architecture, and technology. It was created on June 23, 1925 and was awarded until 1934. During the period from 1935 to 1956, the Lenin Prize was...

       since 1935, which should be corrected


The speech caused such shock to the audience that, according to some reports, some of those present suffered heart attacks, and others later committed suicide. The ensuing confusion among many Soviet citizens, bred on the panegyrics and permanent praise of the "genius" of Stalin, was especially apparent in the Georgian SSR, Stalin's homeland, where the days of protests and rioting ended with the Soviet army crackdown on March 9, 1956.

Khrushchev's speech was followed by a period of liberalisation known as Khrushchev's Thaw. In 1961 the body of Stalin was removed from public view in Lenin's mausoleum and buried outside the Kremlin
A kremlin , same root as in kremen is a major fortified central complex found in historic Russian cities. This word is often used to refer to the best-known one, the Moscow Kremlin, or metonymically to the government that is based there...


The speech was a major cause of the Sino-Soviet Split
Sino-Soviet split
In political science, the term Sino–Soviet split denotes the worsening of political and ideologic relations between the People's Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the Cold War...

 in which the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 (under Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

) and Albania (under Enver Hoxha
Enver Hoxha
Enver Halil Hoxha was a Marxist–Leninist revolutionary andthe leader of Albania from the end of World War II until his death in 1985, as the First Secretary of the Party of Labour of Albania...

) condemned Khrushchev as a revisionist. In response, they formed the anti-revisionist
In the Marxist–Leninist movement, anti-revisionism refers to a doctrine which upholds the line of theory and practice associated with Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, and usually either Mao Zedong or Enver Hoxha as well...

 movement, criticizing the post-Stalin leadership of the CPSU as being composed of state-capitalists and social-imperialists
Social-imperialism is a Marxist expression, typically used in a derogatory fashion, to describe people, parties, or nations that are "socialist in words, imperialist in deeds"...


External links

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