On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences

"On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences" (Russian: «О культе личности и его последствиях», «O kul'te lichnosti i yego posledstviyakh»), also popularly known as the "Secret Speech" (Russian: секретный доклад, sekretnïy doklad), was a report by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, made to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 25 February 1956. Khrushchev's speech was sharply critical of the rule of the deceased General Secretary and Premier Joseph Stalin, particularly with respect to the purges which had especially marked the last years of the 1930s. Khrushchev charged Stalin with having fostered a leadership cult of personality despite ostensibly maintaining support for the ideals of communism. The speech was leaked to the West by the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet, which received it from the Polish-Jewish journalist Wiktor Grajewski.

The speech was shocking in its day. There are reports that the audience reacted with applause and laughter at several points.[1] There are also reports that some of those present suffered heart attacks and others later committed suicide, due to shock at the revelations of Stalin's use of terror.[2] The ensuing confusion among many Soviet citizens, bred on the panegyrics and permanent praise of the "genius" of Stalin, was especially apparent in Georgia, Stalin's homeland, where the days of protests and rioting ended with the Soviet army crackdown on 9 March 1956.[3] In the West, the speech politically devastated the organised left; the Communist Party USA alone lost more than 30,000 members within weeks of its publication.[4]

The speech was cited as a major cause of the Sino-Soviet split by China (under Chairman Mao Zedong) and Albania (under First Secretary Enver Hoxha) who condemned Khrushchev as a revisionist. In response, they formed the anti-revisionist movement, criticizing the post-Stalin leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for allegedly deviating from the path of Lenin and Stalin.[5]

The speech was a milestone in the Khrushchev Thaw. It possibly served Khrushchev's ulterior motives to legitimize and consolidate his control of the Soviet Union's party and government after political struggles with Georgy Malenkov and firm Stalin loyalists such as Vyacheslav Molotov, who were involved to varying degrees in the purges.[citation needed] The Khrushchev report's "Secret Speech" name came because it was delivered at an unpublicized closed session of party delegates, with guests and members of the press excluded. The text of the Khrushchev report was widely discussed in party cells in early March, often with the participation of non-party members, before the official Russian text was openly published in 1989, during the glasnost campaign of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.