Khrushchev: The Stalinist who denounced Stalin

    50 years ago…

    Khrushchev: The Stalinist who denounced Stalin

    AT THE 20th conference of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in
    February 1956, first secretary Nikita Khrushchev denounced the crimes of
    Stalin (who had died in 1953). However, as the revolutionary events of
    that year showed, in denouncing Stalin Khrushchev hadn’t rejected

    Following the defeat of the Nazis in world war two the Red Army
    occupied eastern Europe. Gradually, through a series of ‘popular front’
    governments and by an iron grip on the army, police and judiciary,
    Stalinist regimes – mirror images of the Soviet Union – were installed.

    Living conditions were severe. War reparations saw factories stripped
    of machinery and removed to the Soviet Union. A harsh labour system
    involving piece-work and high production targets under a dictatorial
    management (known as ‘Stakhanovism’) was rigidly enforced. Thousands of
    worker-militants were expelled from Communist Parties as Stalin’s police
    apparatus purged society of any potential political opponents.

    The followers of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky (an implacable
    opponent of Stalinism) explained that although the occupation of eastern
    Europe had temporarily strengthened Stalin’s regime, the dead hand of
    the bureaucracy would inevitably conflict with the functioning of the
    planned economy. This would provoke a clash between the working class
    and the bureaucracy. So, the demand for workers’ democracy could only be
    realised through a ‘political revolution’.

    The clearest expression of the political revolution occurred in
    Hungary later in 1956 (although a brief strike wave in Poland had
    earlier that year taken on the character of a workers’ uprising).

    Starting with the stirrings of dissent amongst intellectuals (the ‘Petofi
    circle’) and students, splits in the ruling Communist Party opened up
    channels for working-class opposition to move along. By October a
    political revolution was in full swing. Quickly, the workers embraced
    Lenin’s 1919 programme against bureaucratisation.

    In the capital, Budapest, workers’ councils ie soviets, were
    established with the election of officials with the right of recall.
    Maximums were placed on wages, the standing army was replaced by
    workers’ militias and freedom of expression, except for capitalist
    counter-revolutionaries, was established. To implement this, two general
    strikes and two uprisings were conducted by the working class throughout

    The occupying Soviet troops became infected with this revolutionary
    mood and were hastily withdrawn, only for more reliable troops to return

    Khrushchev, having earlier denounced Stalin, resorted to the same
    brutal methods to crush the revolution. This resulted in splits and
    defections from the mass Communist Parties in the West.

    Khrushchev had survived and the repressive system staggered on for
    several more decades but the workers’ revolution of 1956 showed that the
    writing was on the wall for Stalinism.