Current issueRevolutionary History
Vol.9 no.2

Remembering 1956

Edition Editor: John McIlroy

When Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin in a private session at the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1956, he must have been aware that the general gist of his ‘Secret Speech’ would soon be revealed to the world at large. However, he and his fellow Soviet leaders were clearly not expecting the shock-waves that the speech was to cause within both the Soviet bloc and the official Communist movement.

This issue of Revolutionary History, assembled and edited by John McIllroy, is dedicated to responses to Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech’, and in particular the reactions within the Western Communist Parties. From their leaderships to their rank-and-file members, the realisation that the Soviet leaders were now denouncing Stalin in much the same words as their critics provoked consternation and dismay.

Many Communist party leaders attempted to ride out the stormy year of 1956, trying to act as if nothing that untoward had happened. But Khrushchev’s speech and the militant working-class upsurge in Poland and Hungary that threatened the stability of the Soviet bloc inevitably undermined their ‘business as usual’ approach, and they were assailed not only by their left-wing rivals and bourgeois opponents, but by party members who recognised that their movement’s glowing image of Stalin had been a cruel deception.

Although the Communist parties survived the crisis year of 1956, the grip that Stalinism exerted over sections of the Western labour movement was greatly weakened. Once the Soviet leaders took the decision to elaborate a critique of Stalin, such a development was inevitable, and in a world dominated by the nuclear balance of terror, this was no longer a major setback for them.


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