Breakdown: Khrushchev’s Secret Speech and the End of Communism

Breakdown: The Secret Speech, delivered to a stupefied, emotionally traumatized audience, was political dynamite. It truly exploded Stalin’s myth. No one has captured more poignantly the effects of this watershed document than Leszek Kołakowski in his unsurpassed and unsurpassable “Main Currents of Marxism”: “What were yesterday the ‘despicable lies of imperialist propaganda’ suddenly became the appalling truth. Moreover, the fallen idol did not simply leave a pedestal to be occupied by someone else. Stalin’s dethronement meant not only the collapse of one authority, but that of a whole institution. Party members could not pin their hopes on a second Stalin coming to repair the errors of the first; they could no longer take seriously the official assurances that although Stalin had been bad, the party and the system were immaculate…De-Stalinization proved to be a virus from which Communism never recovered, though it made shift to adapt itself, at all events in temporary fashion….De-Stalinization led in the end to brutal repressions, but the devastation throughout the bloc was such that the Soviet system could never be the same as before.” (Norton edition, 2005, p. 1150-1151). Indeed, on December 25, 1991, almost 25 years ago, the USSR ceased to exist. In more than one way, it all started with the Secret Speech…




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