The Socialist 22 February 2006 |
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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.