Fifty years ago today, Nikita Khrushchev gave
Speech to the Closed Session of the Twentieth Party Congress in which he
denounced Joseph Stalin. At that time, Khrushchev, the general secretary of
the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, held the most powerful political office
in the world. The power that Stalin had accumulated in this position had made
communism unsafe for communists. Heroes of the Bolshevik Revolution had been
subjected to "barbaric tortures" and forced to incriminate themselves
"with all kinds of grave and unlikely crimes." Khrushchev denounced
Stalin before the Party Congress "in order that we may preclude any possibility
of a repetition in any form whatever of what took place" under Stalin.
Stalin had turned the unaccountable power that Lenin had embodied in the Communist
Party against the Party itself. Karl Marx's reasoning leaves violence as the
mediator between classes. Lenin took the reasoning one step further and made
violence the mediator of disputes between the Party and the people. Stalin completed
the logic and made violence the mediator between the Party and its members.
Consequently, no one was safe. The situation was intolerable for all, and Nikita
Khrushchev brought it to an end.
He no doubt realized that he was reducing his power by reducing the fear associated
with his position. But he probably did not know that in denouncing Stalin he
was shattering the myth of Party Infallibility and setting in motion the ultimate
demise of the Communist Party.
Party members have explained the shattering effect of Khrushchev's speech on
their belief system. The Eastern European satellites responded first, with the
Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and the Czechoslovakian Revolution in 1968, both
put down with Soviet tanks. But life behind the Iron Curtain nevertheless changed
for the better. Camps were closed. Prisoners were released. Innocent victims
were rehabilitated. Dissent became less dangerous. An underground press grew
Stalin, said Khrushchev, "absolutely did not tolerate collegiality in
leadership and in work," but "practiced brutal violence, not only
toward everything which opposed him, but also toward that which seemed to his
capricious and despotic character, contrary to his concepts. Stalin acted not
through persuasion, explanation, and patient cooperation with people, but by
imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. Whoever
opposed his concept or tried to prove his viewpoint, and the correctness of
his position, was doomed to removal from the leading collective and to subsequent
moral and physical annihilation."
Khrushchev went on to say that "Stalin originated the concept 'enemy of
the people.' This term automatically rendered it unnecessary that the ideological
errors of a man or men engaged in a controversy be proven; this term made possible
the usage of the most cruel repression, violating all norms of revolutionary
legality, against anyone who in any way disagreed with Stalin" or were
even imagined to disagree with Stalin. Even ordinary practical and scientific
discussions became laden with deadly danger. "The only proof of guilt used,"
said Khrushchev, "was the confession of the accused himself." Confessions,
Khrushchev said, "were acquired through physical pressures against the
By making communism safe for communists, Khrushchev created a toehold for truth.
Truth grew in importance and influence. After three decades more, the reformer
Mikhail Gorbachev rose to general secretary, reached an understanding with Ronald
Reagan, and brought an end to the Cold War and to the Soviet Union itself. Neocons
credit the U.S. military buildup, and I myself have credited Reagan's restoration
of American capitalism. But the growth of truth in the Soviet Union is what
did the job. When Khrushchev denounced Stalin, he released the truth.
We need to remember this in our own days, faced as we are with a regime that
brooks no dissent, seeks no expert advice, and deceitfully pursues agendas inimical
to the U.S. Constitution and to the rights and safety of citizens. We have already
fallen dangerously far when the U.S. Department of Justice produces justifications
for torture of detainees held without charges or access to attorneys, when Congress
and the judiciary acquiesce to the executive disregarding statutory law, and
when wars of aggression are started on the basis of lies and false accusations.
We now read of Halliburton awarded a $350 million contract to build detention
camps in the United States. Bush says "you are with me or against me."
Rumsfeld and Cheney already speak of "fifth columnists" and enemies
of the regime.
It is a great lie that America needs to give up its civil liberties, the separation
of powers, the Geneva Conventions, and humane treatment of prisoners in order
to defend itself against terrorism. If these are the Bush regime's terms for
protection, Americans need quickly to find another government.