After the death of the Vozhd’, Joseph Stalin, the future of the Soviet Union seemed unclear. Who would rise to power in his stead, and how would they lead? Through primary sources, we can see that those within the Communist Party mourned Stalin while still internally clamoring for a change. Once Khrushchev rose to power, his “Secret Speech” showed a definitive break with Stalinism, though his reign and attempts at reform would not last long. The age of Khrushchev was an important one, in terms of the changes that were implemented and the thaw that occurred during his leadership.
An ode to Stalin, written after his death by the Secretary of the Latvian Communist Party Central Committee, J. Kalnberzins, is an reference to Stalin’s great work for Communism. Titled “Stalin Taught Us to be Vigilant,” Kalnberzins refers to Stalin as a “warmly loved, wise teacher and great leader” and “the man whom the Soviet people lovingly called their father.” Through this work, Kalnberzins memorializes Stalin and lauds the Communist system. Being that this was written by a Communist Party member, he is of course very sympathetic to Stalin’s regime. Throughout the country, however, many people were ready for a change.
Soon after Stalin’s death, Khrushchev became the leader of the Soviet Union. Through his “Secret Speech,” he breaks with Stalin in several key ways, condemning his “cult of personality” and the Terror of the 1930s, which he claimed were unlawful. It was shocking to many Communists, and caused fear to those within the party. Yet it was necessary for Khrushchev to declare himself as someone different to Stalin, and signal a softening after the harshness of Stalin’s government.
Though Khrushchev would eventually be removed from power and exiled, his reign was an important shift away from Stalin’s policies. Though we can see through works like “Stalin Taught Us to be Vigilant” that not everyone was so open to these changes, they were necessary for the development of the country. Moving away from Stalin’s “cult of personality” was the best way for Khrushchev to signify to everyone that he was the new ruler of the Soviet Union.
Gregory L. Freeze, Russia: A History (Oxford University Press, 2009).
J. Kalnberzins, “Stalin Taught Us to be Vigilant,” https://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13832491.
Lewis Siegelbaum, “Khrushchev’s Secret Speech,” http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1956-2/khrushchevs-secret-speech/.