Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective

Study Guide to the History of the World Communist Movement (Twenty-one Sessions)

Week #15: Khrushchev on Stalin

Session Introduction

In late February of 1956, Nikita N. Khrushchev, nearly three years after Stalin’s death, made a secret speech at the 20th Party Congress of the CPSU offering his critique of Stalin and the period that has been given his name. This was a time of struggle within the party for the leading position. Earlier in the Congress it had been seen that criticisms of Stalin would be greeted in a positive manner by the delegates. So to secure his position, and to avoid being outdone, Khrushchev hastily drew up his assessment of the period in which he played a not too minor role. The shock caused by his speech in the world communist movement is hard to underestimate. For years, Communists everywhere had been raised on assumptions of Stalin’s infallibility and genius. Overnight, because this speech did not remain “secret” for long, this all changed. Expulsions and resignations followed in parties around the world as “de-Stalinization” came to the forefront. This speech of Khrushchev’s was another one of those manifestations of the “crisis of Marxism” that all in the movement had suffered through at least since the thirties. While alluding to this crisis in the theory and practice of the movement in general, and the Soviet Union in particular, Khrushchev contained the understanding of this crisis within the non-concept of the “cult of personality”, ignoring the structures of Soviet society, the role of the Party, and all the other instances that Marxists should use to analyze a specific social formation and a specific situation. For this reason the chance for something new to be liberated by this crisis coming to a head never happened because it was never intended to happen. Thus, no real change occurred, in a fundamental sense.

Discussion Questions

1. What is Khrushchev’s critique of the Stalin period? How does he account for all the deviations from Communist practice that are found in this period? Does he capitulate to the same deviation he criticizes? What kind of self-criticism does he undertake for his role in this period? Was all this intentional?

2. What kind of effects did Khrushchev’s right-wing critique of Stalin have on the international movement? What does this say about the use of bourgeois ideological formulations by Communists?

3. What is economism/humanism and how and where does it arise? How does it penetrate the workers movement and what are the results of this penetration? What does economism/humanism forget?

4. In what aspects, of the US. Communist movement do we see manifestations of the economism/humanism problematic? Why do the Guardian and the PWOC hold the positions they do?


Louis Althusser, “Note on ’The Critique of the Personality Cult’”, Essays in Self-Criticism, pp. 78-93.

Nikita Khrushchev, Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, February 24-25, 1956, pp. 19-81.