Secret Speech Khrushchev Term Paper

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Secret Speech

Khrushchev's Secret Speech

The specific purpose of Khrushchev's 1956 "Secret Speech" before the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was to denounce the Cult of Personality surrounding Stalin and to begin a process of cleansing within the Soviet Union. By first admitting that Stalin acted in excess of his political mandate, Khrushchev set about deconstructing the shining reputation of Stalin, presenting the now deceased leader as a brute, a tyrant, and a scourge of Russia. In doing so, he sought to legitimize his own stance as a Leninist and to distance the Communists Party, which he led, from Molotov and Malenkov, his political rivals and loyalists to the memory of Stalin.

The central idea of the Secret Speech flows from Khrushchev's premise that Stalin was a cruel, irrational dictator: it focuses on the need for the Soviets to acknowledge the reality of the past and to accept responsibility for its errors in order to progress steadfastly into the future.

The speech is organized around three basic points, the first being the largest -- that of repudiating Stalin's cult of personality (and thus politically crippling Khrushchev's opponents); the second regarding the awarding of the Lenin State Prize, which had not been given since 1935 (a matter which, Khrushchev argued, pointed to the distance that had developed between Stalinism and Leninism); the third being the reversal of the literary policy adopted under Stalin -- that of publishing only "socialist realist" works. This final point paved the way for the Solzhenitsyn's famous works to come to the forefront and throw even more light on the Stalinist regime of the 20th century. Thus, the speech was centered on reversing the course of Communism in the Soviet Union, as it had been steered under Stalin, and directing it back towards a more "humane" vision of Communism, as espoused by Lenin. It is organized according to a problem-solution pattern. It first highlights the recommendations given by Lenin. Then it draws attention to Stalin's defects, his "mass repressions against activists," and so on (Khrushchev), and then it offers recommendations for redressing the problems that Stalin's legacy has left in the Soviets. The recommendations are given at the end of the speech and they concern the awarding of the Lenin State Prize and the reversal of attitudes regarding the publishing of literature and taking a more honest and critical look at the Stalinist era of government.

Because the Secret Speech was released or published in so many different forms at various points in history (not being published in the Soviet Union itself until 1989, some thirty years after a version of it appeared in The New York Times), it is important to point out which version of the Speech is being discussed. The Congressional Record transcript of the 1956 speech is available on the Internet Modern History Sourcebook at in an abbreviated form. It contains over 80 body paragraphs of varying length. An audio translation of the speech, read in English and available at runs approximately 3 hours and 18 minutes. It is this full-length version of the speech that is used for the purposes of this paper.

The speech begins with Khrushchev addressing the important issue of the cult of personality and how "a lot has been said about…its harmful consequences" (Khrushchev). In the beginning, he points out that a cult of personality surrounding Stalin was thrust upon the Soviet people "for many years" (Khrushchev). Khrushchev remarks that it is not his purpose to provide a "thorough investigation" of Stalin's life and leadership as a number of books have already achieved that objective. His aim in the speech is to point out the danger of the "cult of the person of Stalin" which has "gradually been growing" (Khrushchev). He goes on to list the evils of the personality cult and how the greatest Communist thinkers denounced it as contradictory to the Communist goal. But it is important to note that Khrushchev comes straight to his main point -- that is, the problem of the cult of personality and how the Stalinist cult should be considered a threat to socialist progress in the Soviet Union. The beginning of the speech thoroughly praises Lenin and upholds him as a "genius of the revolution" who understood well the dangers of the personality cult and understood well how to lead the people through adhesion to a principle of "unity" rather than to "hero" worship (Khrushchev). Stalin, however, was repressive and an enemy of the people in the late 1930s, imprisoning and executing a great many Soviets without cause.

From video recording of his 1960 speech before the United Nations, we know that Khrushchev was a forceful speaker, waving his right hand in a tight fist up and down and around as though warding off all his enemies ("UN Security Council Meeting, Khrushchev Speech"). It may be argued that he did just that as he delivered his secret speech denouncing his predecessor's crimes against the people. But because the Speech was given in secret, it is difficult to know for certain how Khrushchev appeared when he gave it. We do know the cues given by the audience, which were recorded in the transcript -- points wherein the speaker won the applause of his audience. Medvedev and Medvedev note that some delegates reacted with "horror and alarm" and "bewilderment and fear" while others who knew the contents of the speech ahead of time sat "with blank expressions" (104).

Khrushchev's supporting body of the speech is given to expanding upon the charge that Stalin's cult of personality was responsible for a whole "series of increasingly grave and serious perversions of Party principles" (Khrushchev). But first he describes Lenin's philosophy towards leading the socialist cause: that power rests in the people united together under the socialist principles -- not in any one leader or individual who attempts to shore up power based on his own charisma and/or perceived "infallibility" (Khrushchev).

Khrushchev lauds Lenin at length, for several minutes at a time and also discusses Stalin's shortcomings at length, never shying away from condemning the "the criminal murder of S.M. Kirov" or other "brutal acts" committed by Stalin (Khrushchev). The language is direct, forceful, and full of vigor. It does not imply or suggest but comes straight to the point and is unequivocal in terms of identifying the nature of Stalin's shortcomings. He is length referred to as a "superman" who thought he was "infallible," a torturer and a murder. His reputation is thoroughly discredited using historical proof culled from previous investigations into Stalin's crimes.

Khrushchev recounts in detail some of Stalin's most inexcusable crimes along with the "charisma" that the man had, portraying the leader as an impatient tyrant who did not hesitate to threaten Ministers of his cabinet with death if they did not obtain "confessions" from doctors in the "affair of the doctor plotters" (Khrushchev). Again and again, Khrushchev ends his paragraphs driving home examples of how Stalin had no regard for truth or compassion and had no real love for the people but rather only distrust for those he perceived to be a threat to his power. Stalin's preoccupation with this threat was what led him to cultivate the cult of personality -- and it is this cult that Khrushchev continuously exposes in his speech.

Khrushchev does not use fancy language or hyperbole but relies on facts and references to make his lengthy points. He draws upon the words of Lenin to situate his own accusations in their proper context and he draws upon the work of investigators when he lays his charges against Stalin.

However, it is important to point out that Khrushchev uses all his words to denounce Stalin personally and not the Party collectively. Khrushchev shows allegiance to the Party… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Format

Secret Speech Khrushchev.  (2013, November 12).  Retrieved January 28, 2020, from

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"Secret Speech Khrushchev."  12 November 2013.  Web.  28 January 2020. <>.

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"Secret Speech Khrushchev."  November 12, 2013.  Accessed January 28, 2020.