Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech on February 25th, 1956, changed the history of the Soviet Union, the whole communist Eastern block, and essentially world history. First, it is crucial to take a few steps back in time.
From 1922, Joseph Stalin was in charge of the Soviet Union. Soon, he consolidated power, dealing with all political opponents. Over time, he sent thousands to Gulags and even banished or killed his former close allies. That was because he was scared that they may try to overturn him. That is known as the Great Purge of 1937.
He set up mass propaganda in his honor. Everything revolved around how perfect Stalin was. And, everyone had to take part – the regular people and the army at parades, the media, schools, sport, and culture. Thus, creating an image of the ideal God-like leader. In conclusion, he built a cult of personality. That is very common in totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.
Khrushchev’s Secret Speech and the Turn of Events
Though Stalin died in 1953, the celebration of his life and alleged achievements continued to spread through the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. Yet, this was not sustainable forever. The following years were in the name of political struggles. A leading candidate to take Stalin’s place was Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist party.
In February 1956, the Communist Party held its 20th congress and first since the death of Stalin. On the 25th of that month, Khrushchev recited his On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences speech. Behind closed doors, he denounced Stalin and accused him of killing millions. Lastly, a common nickname for this address is Khrushchev’s Secret Speech.
The speech came as a shock. It left many questioning the communist movement. After spreading across Eastern Europe, it slowly leaked into the West too. Besides, it was one of the motivations behind the Polish and Hungarian uprises in these years. More importantly, Stalin’s legacy began to crumble. No longer did the regimes present him as such a hero as before. In Prague, they ordered to destroy a massive monument of his.