Some Reflections on ‘Khrushchev Lied’ by Grover Furr

Vijay Singh

The closed speech given by Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956 had multiple ramifications. It derailed the understanding of the role of Stalin in Soviet and world history, it helped to weaken the international communist movement, it stymied the development of socialism and communism in the Soviet Union, and it weakened the developing national liberation movements. Theoretically, politically and ideologically it reversed Marxism-Leninism on a range of questions. The devastating effects of the closed speech and the 20th Congress of the CPSU had both immediate and long term effects. They led to the end of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism in the USSR and the failure to progress to carrying out the functions of the dictatorship of the proletariat in most of the people’s democracies in East Europe and Asia. No party leader or party in the democratic camp came out in the defence of Stalin and Marxism-Leninism in 1956. The parties which were to initiate the polemics on the line of the international communist movement gave their support to the theses of Khrushchev for a number of years. Inside the Soviet Union, Molotov and Kaganovich were allied to the Khrushchev group from 1953 onwards, despite their differences on a number of questions, until their exclusion from the CPSU in June 1957. Mass demonstrations in the period of de-Stalinisation took place in the Soviet Union as revealed in the manifestations in Georgia (1956), Novocherkassk, Russia (1962) and Sumgait, Azerbaijan (1963) which left hundreds dead in the period 1956-1963. Khrushchev removed 70% of the Stalinist Central Committee in the 1950s; another 50% were later removed. Similarly he changed the composition of the Central Committees of the Communist Parties of the republics, as well as regional parties, city and district party committees by the same amount multiple times.

Outside the resistance in the Soviet Union the closed speech was countered across the world. In the USA the ‘Turning Point’ publication brought out by the Communist League stood up against the revisionist and opportunist attacks of Khrushchev from 1956 itself. In Ireland, Neil Goold in April, 1956 gave his sharp criticism of the opportunist closed speech. In India important criticisms of the 20th Congress were written by Abdul Momin, Parimal Dasgupta and Moni Guha in the aftermath of the closed speech.

The obvious parallels of the closed speech of Khrushchev with the historical views of the left opposition of Trotsky (as also of Titoism in Yugoslavia) were commented upon early on. In many quarters the closed speech was seen, speciously, as a validation of the criticisms made by Trotsky of the Soviet Union and its leadership. After 1956 Trotskyism as a political trend, which hitherto been exiguous, now began its rapid expansion in the intelligentsia in western countries such as Britain. The Soviet intervention of Czechoslovakia, as well as the distribution of questionable Leninist ‘last texts’, played cardinal roles in this process. In France, the year 1968 witnessed the bizarre theoretical marriage of Trotskyism, Anarchism with Maoism (Bettelheim et al). The intelligentsia turned against Marxism-Leninism. In Britain, France and other imperialist powers the onslaught of Khrushchev, Brezhnev and the ideological alliance with the trend of the left opposition dealt crushing blows to the Marxist-Leninism tradition. The revolutionary Marxist-Leninist forces such as those of Albania were able to only partly challenge the hegemony of the new imperialist ideology.

The links between Trotsky and Khrushchev were not merely political, theoretical and ideological. The memoirs of Kaganovich reveal that in 1923 and 1924, Khrushchev had been a member of the Trotskyist opposition. At the end of 1924 he realised his error and admitted it. He requested Kaganovich to shift his area of work so that he could make a break from his earlier political links. After consulting Stalin, Kaganovich had transferred him to new areas of work. Khrushchev, argues Kaganovich, later conducted good work against the deviation of the right opposition. He was later promoted as the secretary of the Moscow Committee.

Commenting on the activities of Khrushchev in his years of power based on his experiences, and after reading the memoirs of the former Soviet leader, Kaganovich argued that: it turned out that Khrushchev did not prove to be a simple chameleon, but a 'recidivist' of Trotskyism.

The closed speech of Khrushchev and the 20th Congress of the CPSU were clearly starting points of modern revisionism, the restoration of capitalism and the liquidation of the majority of the people’s democracies.

In ‘Khrushchev Lied’, Grover Furr has performed an enormous task for all working people by demolishing the content of the closed speech. Furr takes up sixty one assertions made by Khrushchev and establishes their falsity on the basis of the printed documents derived from the Soviet archives which were opened up after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Some instances of Furr’s exposures give a picture of the breadth of the book.

Khrushchev claimed Stalin did not act by persuasion and cooperation but by imposition of his views. Those who did not accept his positions were removed from the political collective and then morally and physically annihilated.

Furr cites the opinion of Marshal Zhukov which contradicts this. Zhukov affirmed that that Stalin changed his opinion when confronted with informed opinion.

Khrushchev implied that Kirov had been killed on the orders of Stalin. Furr correctly points out that Kirov was a staunch supporter of Stalin and that no post-Stalinist commission of inquiry conducted under Khrushchev and Gorbachev was able to establish any link between the death of Kirov and the NKVD.

Khrushchev held Stalin to be responsible for the mass repressions of the late 1930s. But Furr points out the role of Khrushchev himself and Ezhov in these events. Earlier Yagoda had initiated repressions as a member of the right opposition. While Stalin favoured the eliminating the supporters of Trotskyism from the party he wished to do this not by mass repression but dealing with oppositionists individually. The stellar example of this it may be pointed out was that of Khrushchev himself who as pointed out had been a member of the Trotskyist opposition in 1923-4. In another example one may note the example of the economist L.A. Leontyev who had been a member of the Trotskyist opposition as is recorded on his party card.

A major charge made by Khrushchev was that Stalin was not prepared for the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union. This is clearly incorrect as one of the motives for rapid industrialisation and collectivisation, which was opposed by the Trotskyist and Bukharinist opposition, was to secure the long-term defence of the Soviet Union from imperialist intrusion. Had the 5 year plans not taken place, which laid the basis for the military industry, it is difficult to see the Soviet Union surviving a German blitzkrieg. Given the refusal of Britain and France to ally with the Soviet Union against Hitler, the Soviet leader, to secure the position of the Soviet Union, supported the signing of the Non-Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany which gave a temporal and territorial relief to the socialist state.

Khrushchev condemned Stalin for not accepting information of an impending German attack from various informants. However multiple warnings from several sources reached the desk of Stalin for different dates in May and June 1941. Stalin successfully avoided provoking the Germans from attack by not engaging in troop movements in that period. Thus Khrushchev’s charge that Stalin ignored warnings was thus a false one. Khrushchev indulged in gross mendacity in his charge that Stalin was demoralised after the German attack and unable to take any action in the first days of the war. Grover Furr refutes this by pointing to the evidence in the logbook of the visitors to Stalin’s office, the Diary of Dimitrov as well as works of the critics of Stalin such as Volkogonov and Sudoplatov which clearly establish the active role played by Stalin in the early days of the war. Khrushchev further attacked Stalin in the closed speech for military incompetence, not just the charge that the leader engaged in planning operations on a globe. Yet this was refuted by the memoirs of the leading Marshals such as Zhukov, Vasilevsky and Golovanov.

Grover Furr has performed a magnificent job in refuting the lies of Khrushchev in the closed speech. Critics in India such as Anil Ranjimwale of the CPI were cut to the quick by the book. Supporters of the 4th International, too, in India too have negatively reacted to the publication of this book. This to be expected as Grover Furr has struck at the very root of modern revisionism and Trotskyism. It should be noted that the critics, internationally, of Furr have been unable to refute the arguments which have been given in ‘Khrushchev Lied’. The publication of this book in a number of countries internationally and in a number of Indian languages has shown the value attached to this book by the supporters of socialism and democracy.

Grover Furr has given a devastating political critique of the closed speech of Khrushchev. Yet it must be noted that the speech played a central role in the politics and economics of the post-Stalin period. Furr correctly links, following the Russian historian Yuri Zhukov, the speech with the opposition to the programme of democratisation put forward by Stalin. Furr argues: ‘Stalin and his supporters had championed a plan of democratisation of the USSR through contested elections. Their plan seems to have been to move the locus of power in the USSR from Party leaders like Khrushchev to elected government representatives. Doing this would also have laid the groundwork for restoring the Party as an organisation of dedicated persons struggling for communism rather than for careers or personal gain. Khrushchev appears to have had the support of the Party First Secretaries, who were determined to sabotage this project and perpetuate their own positions of privilege’ (p. 200, English edition). Furr also notes the market ‘reforms’ of Khrushchev which shifted the emphasis from heavy industry – production of the means of production of Department A towards light consumer industry which slowed down the economic development of the Soviet Union in these years as well as the abandonment of the programme for the transition to communism.

It may be argued that the closed speech was a conditio sine qua non for the demolition of the authority of Marxism-Leninism in the form of the undermining of the political personality and heritage of Stalin. It was the prerequisite for arranging for the interruption of the transition from socialism to communism which was being elaborated from the Eighteenth Congress of the CPSU (b) onwards and the inauguration of the norms of generalised commodity production in the Soviet Union after Stalin in the period 1953-58.

After collectivisation, which saw the abolition of the last exploiting class in the Soviet Union –the kulaks, Stalin declared the foundations of socialism being laid. He still envisaged the completion of a classless socialist society as a task for the future in his report to the 17th Congress of the party in 1934. The 18th Congress of the CPSU (b) in 1939 saw serious interventions on the question of the transition to communism by Molotov, Voznesensky and Stalin. Stalin noted that while the Soviet Union had outstripped the main capitalist countries in terms of the rate of industrial development it had yet to reach the rate of consumption of the leading capitalist nations. This was important in order to lay the basis for the abundance of goods which was necessary for the transition from the transition from the first to the second phase of communism. In Molotov’s report to the Congress he linked the new plan to the task of completing of a classless socialist society and the gradual transition to communism. It was considered at this congress that the first phase of communism had been completed and that the Third Five Year Plan was to be a major step towards the formation of full communism.

The chairman of the State Planning Commission, N.A. Voznesensky enumerated the basic tasks for the transition to communism: first, the productive forces needed to be raised beyond the leading capitalist countries; second, labour productivity had to be raised in order to create an abundance of products; third, the cultural and technical level of the working class had to be raised to the level of the engineers and technical workers in order to end the distinction between mental and physical labour; and fifth the socialist state had to develop new forms while establishing communism. He expected that while the transition to socialism had taken two decades, the transition to communism would take a lesser time period. He did not refer to Stalin’s thinking projected in the 17th Congress of the party that the collective farms would transit to communes founded on social property.

The perspective for communism implied that a new party programme was necessary. A party committee was set up for this purpose. Parallel to this Gosplan prepared an economic programme for the transition to communism in 1941in two volumes.

These plans were resumed after the war from 1946 and a draft party programme was formulated in 1947 after consultation with the writings of the utopian socialists.

In Economic Problems Stalin outlined the gradual transition to communism through setting up a new planning body above the existing Gosplan so that the collective farms did not gain the impression that their surplus was being taken over by the state planning committee; and, the inauguration of products-exchange between the collective farms and the industrial enterprises without the mediation of money relations. The new perspectives implied the gradual elimination of commodity-money relations in the transition to a communist society.

Khrushchev and the party abandoned the programme of communism of the Stalin period. Molotov, too, even pointed out in his conversations with Feliks Chuyev that he did not agree with Stalin programme for transition to communism which was outlined in Economic Problems.

The CPSU under Khrushchev prepared a new party programme in 1961 which took place after lengthy discussions. The programme formally accepted the conversion of the dictatorship of the proletariat to a ‘state of the whole people’. It further argued that the transition to a communist society would be achieved through the further development of commodity-money relations.

What were the economic steps between the death of Stalin and the 20th Congress of the CPSU? In this period directive centralised planning was terminated: the sphere of Gosplan was steadily reduced, as Mikoyan openly accepted, from 1953 itself; the state planning committee itself was divided into two organisations; the powers of the ministries and the directors of the enterprises were expanded at the expense of the state planning committee. Centralised directive planning for constructing communism was replaced by decentralised ‘co-ordinated ‘planning’ to restore a market economy. The 20th Congress in 1956 and the expulsion of the ‘anti-party group’ the following year prepared the ground for the further changes in the economy. At the end of May 1957 the system of allocation of the products of the state sector had been ended and a number of sales organisations were created under the state planning committee to sell the goods of the state sector. The further commodification of the instruments and means of production took place in September 1957 as the enterprises were expected to operate on the basis of profitability. It now became the new understanding of Soviet political economy by 1958 that the means of production circulated in the state sector as commodities. Following from this the means of production in agriculture, the Machine Tractor Stations, were sold to the collective farms in 1958 and thereby also became commodities.

If a paradigm is to be sought for understanding the secret speech it may be found not primarily in the question of the Stalin plan for democratisation but rather in the reversal of the CPSU programme for laying the foundations of communist society.

The closed speech represented the attempt to bring about the correspondence between the new relations of production ensuing from the destruction of the socialist mode of production such as it had taken place between 1953 and 1956 and to bring the superstructure in line with it. The speech further prepared the way for the creation of a generalised system of commodity production in the Soviet Union and most of the people’s democracies.

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Vol 54, No. 42, April 17 - 23, 2022