De-Stalinization (Russian: десталинизация,
destalinizatsiya) consisted of a series of political reforms in the
Soviet Union after the death of long-time leader
Joseph Stalin in
1953, and the ascension of
Nikita Khrushchev to power.
The reforms consisted of changing or removing key institutions that
helped Stalin hold power: the cult of personality that surrounded him,
the Stalinist political system, and the
Gulag labour-camp system, all
of which had been created and dominated by him. Stalin was succeeded
by a collective leadership after his death in March 1953, consisting
of Georgi Malenkov, Premier of the Soviet Union; Lavrentiy Beria, head
of the Ministry of the Interior; and Nikita Khrushchev, First
Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the
Soviet Union (CPSU).
1 Terminology issues
2 "Silent de-Stalinization"
3 Khrushchev's "Secret Speech"
4.1 Improved prison conditions
4.2 Re-naming of places and buildings
4.3 Destruction of monuments
4.4 Re-location of Stalin's body
5 Extent of de-Stalinization
6 See also
The term "de-Stalinization" is one which gained currency in both
Russia and the
Western world following the collapse of the Soviet
Union, and was never used during the Khrushchev era. However,
de-Stalinization efforts were set forth at this time by Nikita
Khrushchev and the Government of the
Soviet Union under the guise of
the "overcoming/exposure of the cult of personality", with a heavy
criticism of Josef Stalin's "era of the cult of personality".
However, prior to Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" to the 20th Party
Congress, no direct association between Stalin as a person and "the
cult of personality" was openly made by Khrushchev or others within
the party, although archival documents show that strong criticism of
Stalin and his ideology featured in private discussions by Khruschchev
at the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.
There were dangers in denouncing Stalin as he was placed on a pedestal
both at home and among communists abroad. In the years 1953–1955,
a period of "silent de-Stalinization" took place, as the revision of
Stalin's policies was done in secret, and often with no explanation.
This period saw a number of non-publicised political
rehabilitations, (such as Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Politburo
Robert Eikhe and Jānis Rudzutaks, and those executed in the
Leningrad Affair) and the release of "Article 58ers". However,
due to the huge influx of prisoners returning from the camps (90,000
prisoners in 1954–55 alone), this could not continue.
In December 1955 Khrushchev proposed a commission to be set up in
order to investigate Stalin's activities on behalf of the Presidium;
this investigation found out that out of the 1,920,635 arrested for
anti-Soviet activities – who were arrested on fabricated evidence in
the first place and confessed under torture authorized by Stalin –
688,503 were executed.
Khrushchev's "Secret Speech"
O kulcie jednostki i jego następstwach, Warsaw, March 1956, first
edition of the Secret Speech, published for the inner use in the PUWP.
De-Stalinization meant an end to the role of large-scale forced labour
in the economy. The process of freeing
Gulag prisoners was started by
Lavrentiy Beria. He was soon removed from power (arrested on June 26,
1953; executed on December 24, 1953) and
Nikita Khrushchev then
emerged as the most powerful Soviet politician.
While de-Stalinization was quietly underway ever since Stalin's death,
the watershed event was Khrushchev's speech entitled "On the Cult of
Personality and Its Consequences", concerning Stalin. On 25 February
1956, he spoke to a closed session of the 20th Party Congress of the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union, delivering an address laying out
some of Stalin's crimes and the "conditions of insecurity, fear, and
even desperation" created by Stalin. Khrushchev thoroughly shocked
his listeners by denouncing Stalin's dictatorial rule and his cult of
personality as inconsistent with communist and Party ideology. Among
other points, he condemned the treatment of the Old Bolsheviks, people
who had supported communism before the revolution, many of whom Stalin
had executed as traitors. Khrushchev also attacked the crimes
committed by associates of Beria.
One reasoning given for Khrushchev's speech was that he felt it as a
part of his moral conscience to speak out;
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said
that Khrushchev spoke out of a "movement of the heart". This, the
Communists believed, would prevent a fatal loss of self-belief and
restore unity within the Party.
Martin McCauley argues that Khrushchev's purpose was to "liberate
Party officials from the fear of repression". Khrushchev argued that
if the Party were to be an efficient mechanism, stripped from the
brutal abuse of power by any individual, it could transform the Soviet
Union as well as the entire world.
However, others have suggested that the speech was made in order to
deflect blame from the Communist Party or the principles of
Marxism–Leninism and place the blame squarely on Stalin's shoulders,
thus preventing a more radical debate. However, the publication of
this speech caused many party members to resign in protest, both
abroad and within the Soviet Union.
By attacking Stalin, McCauley argues, he was undermining the
credibility of Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich and other political
opponents who had been within "Stalin's inner circle" during the 1930s
than he had been. If they did not "come over to Khrushchev", they
"risk[ed] being banished with Stalin" and associated with his
Improved prison conditions
Khrushchev also attempted to make the
Gulag labour system less harsh,
by allowing prisoners to post letters home to their families, and by
allowing family members to mail clothes to loved-ones in the camps,
which was not allowed during Stalin's time. Furthermore, when
Stalin died, the
Gulag was "radically reduced in size." On October
25, 1956, a resolution of the CPSU declared that the existence of the
Gulag labour system was "inexpedient". The
Gulag institution was
closed by the MVD order No 020 of 25 January 1960.
Re-naming of places and buildings
As part of the de-Stalinization push, Khrushchev endeavored to have
many places bearing Stalin's name renamed or reverted to their former
names, including cities, territories, landmarks, and other
facilities, see List of places named after Joseph Stalin.
The State Anthem of the
Soviet Union was purged of references to
Stalin. The Stalin-centric and World War II-era lines in the lyrics
were effectively excised when an instrumental version replaced it.
Palace of Culture and Science
Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Poland was
renamed in 1956.
Destruction of monuments
The Statue of Stalin on Stalinallee in Berlin-Friedrichshain was
removed in 1961.
Yerevan monument was removed in spring 1962 and replaced by Mother
Armenia in 1967. Thousands of Stalin monuments have been destroyed not
only in the
Soviet Union but in other Socialist countries. In November
1961 the large Stalin Statue on Berlin's monumental Stalinallee
(promptly renamed Karl-Marx-Allee) was removed in a clandestine
operation. The Monument in Budapest was destroyed in October 1956. The
biggest one, the Prague monument, was taken down in November 1962.
Re-location of Stalin's body
Given momentum by these public renamings, the process of
de-Stalinization peaked in 1961 during the 22nd Congress of the CPSU.
Two climactic acts of de-Stalinization marked the meetings: first, on
October 31, 1961, Stalin's body was moved from
Lenin's Mausoleum in
Red Square to a location near the Kremlin wall; second, on
November 11, 1961, the "hero city" Stalingrad was renamed
Extent of de-Stalinization
Contemporary historians regard the beginning of de-Stalinization as a
significant turning point in the history of the Soviet Union. It began
during the Khrushchev Thaw. However, it subsided during the Brezhnev
period and remained so until the mid-1980s, when it accelerated once
again due to policies of perestroika and glasnost under Mikhail
This process of de-Stalinisation has been considered highly fragile,
with historian Polly Jones saying that the likelihood of
"re-Stalinisation" occurring highly likely after a brief period of
Anne Applebaum agrees, saying that "The era which came to
be called the 'Thaw' was indeed an era of change, but change of a
particular kind: reforms took two steps forward, and then one
step—or sometimes three steps—back."
History of the
Soviet Union (1953–1964):
De-Stalinization and the
List of places named after Joseph Stalin
^ a b H., Hunt, Michael. The world transformed: 1945 to the present.
p. 153. ISBN 9780199371020. OCLC 907585907.
^ a b c Polly Jones (7 April 2006). The Dilemmas of De-Stalinization:
Negotiating Cultural and Social Change in the Khrushchev Era.
Routledge. pp. 2–4. ISBN 978-1-134-28347-7.
^ National Republic. 44–45. 1956. p. 9.
^ a b c Nanci Adler (1 February 2004). The
Gulag Survivor: Beyond the
Soviet System. Transaction Publishers. pp. 21–22.
^ a b Kees Boterbloem (28 August 2013). A History of
Russia and Its
Empire: From Mikhail Romanov to Vladimir Putin. Rowman &
Littlefield Publishers. p. 261.
^ Eric G. Swedin (2010). When Angels Wept: A What-If History of the
Cuban Missile Crisis. Potomac Books, Inc. p. 75.
^ a b c Cavendish, Richard (2 February 2006). "Stalin Denounced by
Nikita Khrushchev". History Today. 56 (2). Retrieved 11 March
^ a b Martin McCauley (9 September 2014). The Khrushchev Era
1953-1964. Routledge. pp. 43–44.
^ "Gulag : Soviet Prison Camps and their Legacy" (PDF).
Gulaghistory.org. Retrieved 2013-10-12.
^ "Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom".
Gulaghistory.org. Retrieved 2013-10-12.
^ Memorial http://www.memo.ru/history/NKVD/GULAG/r1/r1-4.htm
^ G.R.F. Bursa (1985). "Political Changes of Names of Soviet Towns".
Slavonic and East European Review. 63.
^ "CNN Interactive - Almanac - October 31". CNN. (October 31) 1961,
Russia's de-Stalinisation program reached a climax when his body was
removed from the mausoleum in
Red Square and re-buried.
Reuters (1961-11-11). "Stalingrad Name Changed". The New York Times.
MOSCOW, Saturday, Nov. 11 (Reuters) -- The "Hero City" of Stalingrad
has been renamed Volgograd, the Soviet Communist party newspaper
Pravda reported today.
^ Applebaum, Anne (2003). "Thaw – and Release". Gulag: A History.
Doubleday. ISBN 9780767900560.
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