- On the evening of 25 February 1956, in what became known as the Secret Speech, Nikita Khrushchev spoke for several hours at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party on Joseph Stalin’s “Cult of Personality.” The speech was not approved by Khrushchev’s colleagues, who feared the opening of the historical record. Khrushchev told 2,000 party leaders that Stalin used the security services to imprison and murder millions of party officials and military officers who had aroused his suspicion. He noted that almost all those who perished had been innocent. Khrushchev quoted documents in which Stalin ordered the police to torture confessions out of doctors accused of poisoning party leaders. The Secret Speech, however, did not absolve the Old Bolsheviks shot in the 1930s. It made no mention of Leon Trotsky’s life or death, and it did not discuss collectivization. Not all enemies of the people warranted forgiveness.Khrushchev’s speech was classified top secret but reached the West through the machinations of the Central Intelligence Agency. It was broadcast back into the Soviet bloc, and the speech was printed in several languages. Nevertheless, Soviet citizens were not legally permitted to read the speech until 1988. Following the speech, the Central Committee mandated severe punishments for party members who questioned the role of the party during the purges. According to a recent account of the immediate post-Stalin period, thousands of people were arrested for “slandering the Soviet system.” Khrushchev intended for the speech to destroy Stalin’s reputation, and to break the authority of those in the party who wished to continue to use Stalinist methods. Despite his efforts to limit the impact of the speech, it raised the consciousness of a number of young party officials such as Mikhail Gorbachev and AleksandrYakovlev, who crafted the glasnost campaign of the 1980s.
Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Robert W. Pringle. 2014.
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