People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 52

December 29, 2013


Khrushchev Lied?


R Arun Kumar


THE New York Times reporting on the birth anniversary of Stalin on December 21 wrote: “Georgians march with portraits of late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin through his native town of Gori marking his birthday in a controversial celebration”. Stalin is one such personality who was/is always reported with adjectives and is discussed by equal passion by both his admirers and haters. In spite of all the propaganda against him, castigating him as a cruel dictator, he still has enough admirers around the world. As the Hindu reports, (March 6, 2013): “A poll conducted by the independent Levada Centre in the run-up to Stalin’s anniversary found that 49 percent of Russians still see Stalin’s role in history as positive, even though they are aware of millions of innocent people who died in Stalin’s prisons and labour camps. Only 32 percent said Stalin’s role was negative. The popularity of Stalin has in fact grown in democratic Russia. The number of people who called Stalin the most outstanding historical figure jumped from 12 percent shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union to 36 percent in 2008”.


The main weapon in the hands of those who demonise Stalin is the secret speech made by N S Khrushchev at the fag end of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1956. The speech had a tremendous impact on the audience and also on the entire international communist movement. Though many communist parties today identify the 20th Congress of the CPSU with revisionist deviations, not all of them disagree with that secret speech made by Khrushchev. Such was the impact of the speech that it was ranked 6th in the list of most influential speeches made in the 20th century.


Khrushchev took four hours to deliver this 'secret speech'. The full text of the speech, 26,000 words in length, was not published in the Soviet Union until 1989. The BBC in its reporting on the speech states: “In a sensational speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party Mr Khrushchev painted a graphic picture of a regime of 'suspicion, fear, and terror' built up under the former dictator who died three years ago. He said he wanted to break the 'Stalin cult' that has held Soviet citizens in its thrall for 30 years”.


On the impact of the speech, The Guardian wrote: “Many of those who were present recall the 'deathly silence' that fell across the hall. It was the evening of February 25 1956. Unexpectedly, delegates at the 20th congress of the Communist party had been ushered into a final, closed session at central committee headquarters in Moscow. When the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, took the tribune and began to speak, some members of the audience fainted. Others clawed their heads in despair. Most could not believe their ears...No debate was allowed, however, and the delegates went home in awe. Many were sunk in depression; two committed suicide within weeks”. The speech created such an impact because, the subject matter was, as the world learnt it – Stalin.


This year, we have in India a book published by Aakar, Khrushchev Lied, authored by Grover Furr (originally published by Erythros Press and Media in 2011) that tears into the claims made by Khrushchev in his secret speech. The book, as the title boldly proclaims, is about finding the veracity of facts in the speech made by Khrushchev. The author identifies 61 'revelations' in the speech and claims that he 'would have been much happier' even if 25 percent of these revelations were found to be false, as the world would have then accepted his research as genuine. Furr says, he himself is surprised by the findings, as he found out that “not one specific statement of revelation that Khrushchev made about Stalin turned out to be true”. Furr expresses his apprehensions that his findings about the speech will not be accepted by the world, which is completely beguiled by the anti-Stalin paradigm. “To disprove the whole of Khrushchev's speech is, at the same time, to challenge the whole historical paradigm of Soviet history of the Stalin period, a paradigm to which this speech is foundational”.


Though recently there were hints of researchers disputing the claims made by Khrushchev, never before this book, was such a claim of an outright denial of the entire speech made. The main line of attack of Khrushchev in his speech was Stalin's personality cult, his role in ignoring the collective functioning and his role in mass executions, which in a way are all interlinked. Furr, in this book, claims he had heavily relied on primary source material retrieved from the declassified archives of the Soviet era and very few secondary sources, to deny all the accusations made by Khrushchev.


Furr divides the book into two parts – the first part dealing with 'revelations' made by Khrushchev and the documentary evidence extracted from archives to prove them wrong; the second part consists of a “discussion of some of the conclusions which flow from this study”. He presents a compelling study before the reader, extracting paragraphs from the reports of the rehabilitation commission formed by Khrushchev to show how even their findings contradict some of the claims Khrushchev made. Furr wants his effort to be recognised as not an attempt to destroy the entire edifice of the anti-Stalin paradigm, but “at least remove one of the main supporting pillars on which the whole edifice of this paradigm stands”. According to the author, “what Khrushchev really did was to reinforce it (the cult of Stalin) in an inverted form. He tried to replace the “all knowing, all-good” Stalin of the “cult” with another Stalin who was equally all-powerful but malevolent”.


Furr convincingly tries to reason that Khrushchev is lying, hinting the reason to be to protect his own involvement in the right-Trotskyite coup attempts of that period. He demonstrates with ample proof how Khrushchev himself stood out among the First Secretaries of various provinces in sending people to death and imprisonment. Here he presents an interesting piece of evidence: a telegram written by Khrushchev seeking permission for condemning more people to death and imprisonment. The author, of course, also digs into evidence and shows how Stalin and the leaders of the Central Committee of the CPSU were concerned about the repression and wanted to put an end to it. Similarly there are many anecdotes, presented chronologically, to show how Stalin was against the promotion of personality cult and how much importance he had given to listen to others views and was even ready to change his initial conclusions.


In his secret speech, Khrushchev audaciously claims that during Second World War “Stalin planned operations on a globe” and belittles the role of Stalin. This book, thoroughly debunks this claim quoting from various sources, including accomplished generals as Zhukov and others, who have vouched for Stalin's knowledge of the war fronts and details of the topography on which the war had raged. Khrushchev mischievously tried to rob even the credit for Soviet victory.


A reading of the book leaves the reader certainly with an apparent question, which incidentally the author too foresees – if Khrushchev's version of reality is false, then what really had happened, what is the truth? This unfortunately, is not part of the book and neither the author promises to come out with such a study to quench the readers' thirst.


Another question for which a thorough answer is awaited is (though the book hints at Khrushchev's connivance with other conspirators of that period) why did Khrushchev lie? Yuri Zhukov, a historian from the Russian Academy of Sciences who also has studied declassified archives on the period, states: “Khrushchev was trying to dump all the blame on Stalin when his own hands were drenched in blood”. Whatever it is, only a thorough research of all the declassified and classified documents lying in the various archives only can provide us with the answer. Similarly, as the author himself states, to arrive at a correct understanding on many more 'revelations' made by Khrushchev, a scientific study of the complete archival material is necessary.


One thing for certain is the achievement of this book. It had added to the discussion on the most passionately discussed topics in history and also opened another front of defence of Stalin. The CPI(M) in its understanding of the role of Stalin states: “While fully recognising the negative features and grave defects that developed in Stalin's method of leadership, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India considers that a one sided appraisal of his role during the last twenty years of his life, years of mighty developments in the USSR and the world communist movement, causes, bewilderment among the masses and can be utilised by enemies of communists to confuse them. The Central Committee therefore is of the opinion that an objective assessment of Comrade Stalin's life and work in their entirety, Comrade Stalin's great achievements and serious shortcomings, is essential for successfully fighting the cult of the individual and for effectively combating the prevailing confusion”. This is from a resolution adopted in 1956, by the then united party, which the CPI(M) had reiterated once again in 1986.


This book certainly is a contribution to be studied for such an objective assessment of that period. For many like Nikolai Baybakov, 94, then head of Gosplan, the Soviet central planning agency, “Compared to Stalin, Khrushchev was a zero”. Or as Hiren Mukherjee described, Ivory Flawed but Ivory Still.


Incidentally, the author also took the trouble to place most of the source material used for his study on his website for all the doubting Toms to have a look.