In history, some events at first appear insignificant, or their significance is hidden, but they turn out to be earthshaking. Such a moment occurred 50 years ago, with Nikita Khrushchev’s so-called “Secret Speech” to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It ranks, I believe, just below the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the start of Hitler’s War in 1939 as the most critical moment of the twentieth century.
At that moment, the communist movement appeared to be riding the tide of history, and not only for those in the Soviet Union. In the mid-1950’s, communism was on the offensive in Europe, as well as in the emerging Third World. Capitalism seemed to be dying. All of communism’s imperfections were deemed temporary, just bumps on the way to the just society that was then being born. A third of humanity saw the Soviet Union as leading the world toward global socialism.
The Twentieth Congress put an end to that. It was a moment of truth, a cleansing from within of the brutality of Stalinism. Khrushchev’s speech to the Congress inspired doubt and second thoughts throughout the worldwide Communist movement.
Khrushchev’s motives as he took the podium on the morning of February 25, 1956, were, in his mind, moral ones. After his ouster from power, in the seclusion of his dacha, he wrote: “My hands are covered with blood. I did everything that others did. But even today if I have to go to that podium to report on Stalin, I would do it again. One day all that had to be over.”