Fifty years ago - Khruschev's report to 20th Congress
FIFTY years ago, the world was a different place. From the Baltic to the Pacific, one large slice was seen as 'Socialist'. Not only did all these states look to Moscow for leadership, but so did Communists around the world, some leading mass parties and major trade unions, and influencing important intellectuals and artists.
Clinging to the hopes aroused by the Great October 1917 Revolution, and feeling a debt to the Soviet people for the defeat of Nazi Germany, they resisted any doubts or disillusion they had themselves experienced, let alone admitting any truth in hostile Western propaganda.
Trotsky's opposition had been decimated by Stalinist and fascist repression, and its surviving voices stood little chance between Cold War social democracy and "actually existing socialism".
Then on February 25, 1956, approaching the 20th anniversary of the infamous Moscow Trials, delegates at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union were treated to a bombshell report on Stalin's crimes and the "cult of the personality" by the Party's First Secretary, Nikita S.Khruschev.
He brought out Lenin's warnings against Stalin's tendencies, revealed the scale of the purges, refuted the myths about the Great Leader's part in the War.
Khruschev's "secret speech" soon rebounded around the world, cracking the monolith that was official "Communism", shattering faiths and consciences.
For some it was the end, for others a new beginning. Khruschev, part of the ruling elite, could not take his critique of Stalin into an end of Stalinism. Before the year was out he was sending the tanks into Hungary.
Today there are still Old Believers who blame Khruschev for bringing down their idol, and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. Seeking faith, even when their hero's icon is carried alongside that of another moustached dictator, they alternately deny or glory in Stalin's crimes. But they can never reclaim the leadership of working-class revolution.
For anyone who seriously seeks a socialist future today, the historic questions raised by Khrushev's 1956 report still need an adequate answer. But facing and acknowledging what went wrong in the Soviet Union is not a source of weakness, but of strength.
EXCERPT FROM TWENTIETH CONGRESS REPORT
Having at its disposal numerous data showing brutal willfulness towards party cadres, the Central Committee has created a party commission ...charged with investigating what made possible mass repression against the majority of the Central Committee members and candidates elected at the 17th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party(Bolsheviks).
The commission became acquainted with a large quantity of materials in the NKVD archives and with other documents and has established many facts pertaining to the fabrication of cases against Communists, to false accusations, to glaring abuses of socialist legality, which resulted in the death of innocent people. It became apparent that many party, Soviet and economic activists, who were branded in 1937-1938 as 'enemies', were actually never enemies, spies, wreckers, etc., but were always honest Communists; they were only so stigmatised and, often, no longer able to bear barbaric tortures, they charged themselves (at the order of the investigative judges-falsifiers) with all kinds of grave and unlikely crimes.
The commission has presented to the Central Committee Presidium lengthy and documented materials pertaining to mass repressions against the delegates to the 17th Party Congress and against members of the Central Committee elected at that Congress. These materials have been studied by the Presidium of the Central Committee. It was determined that of the 139 members and candidates of the party's Central Committee who were elected at the 17th Congress, 98 persons, i.e. 70 per cent, were arrested and shot (mostly in 1937-1938). (Indignation in the hall.)
What was the composition of the delegates to the 17th Congress? It is known that 80 per cent of the voting participants of the 17th Congress joined the party during the years of conspiracy before the Revolution and during the civil war; this means before 1921. By social origin the basic mass of the delegates to the Congress were workers (60 per cent of the voting members).For this reason, it was inconceivable' that a congress so composed would have elected a Central Committee a majority of whom would prove to be enemies of the party. The only reason why 70 per cent of the Central Committee members and candidates elected at the 17th Congress were branded as enemies of the party and of the people was because honest Communists were slandered, accusations against them were fabricated, and revolutionary legality was gravely undermined. The same fate met not only the Central Committee members but also the majority of the delegates to the 17th Party Congress.
Of 1,966 delegates with either voting or advisory rights, 1,108 persons were arrested on charges of anti-revolutionary crimes, i.e., decidedly more than a majority. This very fact shows how absurd, wild and contrary to common sense were the charges of counter-revolutionary crimes made out, as we now see, against a majority of participants at the 17th Party Congress. (Indignation in the hall)
We should recall that the 17th Party Congress is historically known as the Congress of Victors. Delegates to the Congress were active participants in the building of our socialist state; many of them suffered and fought for party interests during the pre-Revolutionary years in the conspiracy and at the civil war fronts; they fought their enemies valiantly and often nervelessly looked into the face of death. How, then, can we believe that such people could prove to be 'two-faced' and had joined the camps of the enemies of socialism during the era after the political liquidation of Zinovievites, Trotskyites and rightists and after the great accomplishments of socialist construction? This was the result of the abuse of power by Stalin, who began to use mass terror against the party cadres.
What is the reason that mass repressions against activists increased more and more after the 17th Party Congress? It was because at that time Stalin had so elevated himself above the party and above the nation that he ceased to consider either the Central Committee or the party. While he still reckoned with the opinion of the collective before the 17th Congress, after the complete liquidation of the Trotskyites, Zinovievites and Bukharinites, when as a result of that fight and socialist victories the party achieved unity, Stalin ceased to an ever greater degree to consider the members of the party's Central Committee and even the members of the Political Bureau.
Stalin thought that now he could decide all things alone and all he needed were statisticians; he treated all others in such a way that they could only listen to and praise him. After the criminal murder of Sergei M. Kirov, mass repressions and brutal acts of violation of socialist legality began. On the evening of December 1, 1934, on Stalin's initiative (without the approval of the Political Bureau -which was passed two days later, casually), the Secretary of the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee, Yenukidze, signed the following directive :
'1. Investigative agencies are directed to speed up the cases of those accused of the preparation or execution of acts of terror.
'2. Judicial organs are directed not to hold up the execution of death sentences pertaining to crimes of this category in order to consider the possibility of pardon, because the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR does not consider as possible the receiving of petitions of this sort.
'3. The organs of the Commissariat of Internal Affairs are directed to execute the death sentences against criminals of the above-mentioned category immediately after the passage of sentences.'
This directive became the basis for mass acts of abuse against socialist legality. During many of the fabricated court cases, the accused were charged with 'the preparation' of terroristic acts; this deprived them of any possibility that their cases might be re-examined, even when they stated before the court that their 'confessions' were secured by force, and when, in a convincing manner, they disproved the accusations against them.
It must be asserted that to this day the circumstances surrounding Kirov's murder hide many things which are inexplicable and mysterious and demand a most careful examination. There are reasons for the suspicion that the killer of Kirov, Nikolayev, was assisted by someone from among the people whose duty it was to protect the person of Kirov. A month and a half before the killing Nikolayev was arresteon thehe grounds of suspicious behaviour, but he was released and not even searched. It is an unusually suspicious circumstance that when the Chekist assigned to protect Kirov was being brought for an interrogation, on December 2, 1934, he was killed in a car 'accident'in which no other occupants of the car were harmed.
After the murder of Kirov, top functionaries of the Leningrad NKVD were given very light sentences, but in 1937 they were shot. We can assume that they were shot in order to cover the traces of the organisers of Kirov's killing. (Movement in the hall) Mass repressions grew tremendously from the end of 1936 after a telegram from Stalin and Zhdanov, dated from Sochi on September 25, 1936, was addressed to Kaganovitch, Molotov and other members of the Political Bureau. The content of the telegram was as follows :
'We deem it absolutely necessary and urgent that Comrade Yezhov be nominated to the post of People's Commissar for Internal Affairs. Yagoda has definitely proved himself to be incapable of unmasking the Trotskyite-Ziniovievite bloc. The OGPU is four years behind in this matter. This is noted by all party workers and by the majority of -the representatives of the NKVD.'
Strictly speaking, we should stress that Stalin did not meet with and, therefore, could not know the opinion of party workers. This Stalinist formulation, that the 'NKVD is four years behind' in applying mass repression and that there is a necessity for 'catching up' with the neglected work directly, pushed the NKVD workers on the path of mass arrests and executions.