Khrushchev’s Dishonest Attack on the “Stalin Cult” (And the Role of Leaders in History)

Why did Khrushchev attack the “Cult of Personality”?

In 1956 the Soviet revisionist leader Nikita Khrushchev launched his attack on Stalin, the so-called “De-stalinization” and attack against the “Cult of the Individual”:

“It is of paramount importance to re-establish and to strengthen in every way the Leninist principle of collective leadership… The Central Committee… vigorously condemns the cult of the individual as being alien to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism”.
(Khrushchev, Report to the Central Committee, 20th Congress of the CPSU).

“…the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person”.
(Khrushchev, “The Secret Speech” in The Crimes Of The Stalin Era, Special Report To The 20th Congress Of The Communist Party Of The Soviet Union, p. 554)

Khrushchev attacked the cult of personality in order:
-to hijack the already existing criticism of cult-like behavior.*
-to attack his rivals by labeling them “Stalinists”
-to rehabilitate Tito
-to justify changes to policy and revision of theory

*for instance, according to Hungarian anti-communist historian Balázs Apor, there was already significant criticism of the ‘cult of personality’ before Khrushchev’s rise to power, but this criticism was never targeted against Stalin. (Source: Apor, The Invisible Shining)

Khrushchev’s project was accepted to the degree that it was, because it was legitimate to criticize the personality cult, though Khrushchev himself did it for false reasons.

Stalin Opposed the Cult of Personality

Khrushchev claimed Stalin orchestrated the Cult of Personality. But in reality Stalin always opposed it:

“I must say in all conscience, comrades, that I do not deserve a good half of the flattering things that have been said here about me…”
(J. V. Stalin, Reply to the Greetings of the Workers of the Chief Railway Workshops in Tiflis)

“You speak of your devotion to me… I would advise you to discard the ‘principle’ of devotion to persons. It is not the Bolshevik way. Be devoted to the working class, its Party, its state. That is a fine and useful thing. But do not confuse it with devotion to persons, this vain and useless bauble of weak-minded intellectuals.”
(J. V. Stalin, Letter to Comrade Shatunovsky, August 1930)

“The times have passed when leaders were regarded as the only makers of history, while the workers and peasants were not taken into account. The destinies of nations and of states are now determined, not only by leaders, but primarily and mainly by the vast masses of the working people. The workers and the peasants, who without fuss and noise are building factories and mills, constructing mines and railways, building collective farms and state farms, creating all the values of life, feeding and clothing the whole worldt hey are the real heroes and the creators of the new life.” (J.V. Stalin, Speech Delivered at the First All-Union Congress of Collective Farm Shock Brigadiers)

“I am absolutely against the publication of ‘Stories of the Childhood of Stalin’. The book abounds with a mass of inexactitudes of fact, of alterations, of exaggerations and off unmerited praise… the important thing resides it the fact that the book has a tendency to engrave on the minds of Soviet children (and people in general) the personality cult of leaders, of infallible heroes. This is dangerous and detrimental. The theory of ‘heroes’ and the ‘crowd’ is not a Bolshevik, but a Social-Revolutionary theory. I suggest we burn this book”.
(J. V. Stalin, Letter on Publications for Children Directed to the Central Committee of the All Union Communist Youth)

Stalin never accepted being equated with Lenin. He was only a continuer of Lenin’s work, a supporter of Lenin’s program:

“Robins: …throughout Russia I have found the names Lenin-Stalin, Lenin-Stalin, Lenin-Stalin, linked together.
Stalin: That, too, is an exaggeration. How can I be compared to Lenin?”
(J. V. Stalin, Talk With Colonel Robins, May 13 1933)

”MOLOTOV (. . . stated that he is and will always he a faithful disciple of Stalin.)
STALIN (interrupting Molotov): This is nonsense. I have no students at all. We are all students of the great Lenin.”
(Unpublished Speech by Stalin at the Plenum of the Central Committee, CPSU October 16, 1952)

Who really promoted the personality Cult?

Radek

The Cult of Personality was dishonestly fostered by Stalin’s enemies, by traitors who used it to promote their own careers or used it to hide their anti-Leninist positions. A good example of this was the Trotskyist Radek:

“The first issue of ‘Pravda;’ for 1934 carried a huge two-page article by Radek, heaping orgiastic praise on Stalin. The former Trotskyite, who had led the opposition to Stalin for many years, now called him ‘Lenin’s best pupil, the model of the Leninist Party, bone of its bone, blood of its blood’… He ‘is as far-sighted as Lenin’, and so on and on. This seems to have been the first large article in the press specifically devoted to the adulation of Stalin” (R. Medvedev, Let History Judge, p. 148).

Mikoyan

On the occasion of the celebration of Stalin’s fiftieth birthday in December 1929, Anastas Mikoyan accompanied his congratulations with the demand “that we, meeting the rightful demand of the masses, begin finally to work on his biography and make it available to the Party and to all working people in our country”. (‘Izvestia’, 21 December 1929, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,;164).

Ten years later, on the occasion of Stalin’s sixtieth birthday in December 1939, Mikoyan was still urging the creation of a “scientific biography” (‘Pravda’, 21 December 1939, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,.; p. 158) of Stalin.

An official biography was finally published in 1948. Khrushchev’s crony Mikoyan had been calling for such a biography for 20 years. But what did Khrushchev say in his ‘secret speech’? Khrushchev claimed that the book was created on Stalin’s instructions:

“One of the most chararacteristic examples of Stalin’s self-glorification and of his lack of even elementary modesty is the edition of his ‘Short Biography’. This book is an example of the most dissolute flattery”. (Khrushchev, “The Secret Speech” in The Crimes Of The Stalin Era, Special Report To The 20th Congress Of The Communist Party Of The Soviet Union, p. 554)

Grover Furr citing L.V. Maksimenkov points out that Stalin’s only involvement in the writing of his 1948 biography, was that Stalin diminished his own role. (Khrushchev Lied, pp. 117-121)

Ezhov

The right-wing opportunist and anti-Stalin traitor Ezhov was also a major builder of the “cult” around Stalin. Ezhov even demanded that the name of Moscow be changed to “Stalinodar” or “Gift of Stalin”. However, Stalin succeeded in preventing this from taking place:

“Ezhov commanded his subjects to create a project of renaming Moscow to Stalinodar (translated as “Stalin’s gift”)… But Ezhov didn’t take into account that Stalin hated plain flattery. He dismissed the suggestion as “foolish.”… There are accounts that Moscow was subject to another renaming campaign after WWII, (but Stalin refused the suggestion again)”
https://www.rbth.com/history/332610-why-bolsheviks-never-renamed-moscow

Khrushchev

However, the biggest architect of the “cult” was Khrushchev himself:

“It was Khrushchev who introduced the term ‘vozhd’ (‘leader’, corresponding to the German word ‘Fuhrer’).”
(Bland, THE ‘CULT OF THE INDIVIDUAL’ (1934-52))

At the Moscow Party Conference in January 1932, Khrushchev finished his speech by saying:

“The Moscow Bolsheviks, rallied around the Leninist Central Committee as never before, and around the ‘vozhd’ of our Party, Comrade Stalin, are cheerfully and confidently marching toward new victories in the battles for socialism, for world proletarian revolution”. (‘Rabochaya Moskva’, 26 January 1932, cited in: L. Pistrak: ‘The Grand Tactician: Khrushchev’s Rise to Power’; London; 1961; p. 159).

At the 17th Party Conference in January 1934 it was Khrushchev, and Khrushchev alone, who called Stalin “vozhd of genius”. (XVII s’ezd Vsesoiuznoi Kommunisticheskoi Partii (B.); p, 145, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid.; p. 160).

In August 1936, during the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial, Khrushchev, in his capacity as Moscow Party Secretary, said:

“Miserable pygmies! They lifted their hands against the greatest of all men. . . . our wise ‘vozhd’, Comrade Stalin! Thou, Comrade Stalin, hast raised the great banner of Marxism-Leninism high over the entire world and carried it forward. We assure thee, Comrade Stalin, that the Moscow Bolshevik organisation — the faithful supporter of the Stalinist Central Committee — will increase Stalinist vigilance still more, will extirpate the Trotskyite-Zinovievite remnants, and close the ranks of the Party and non-Party Bolsheviks even more around the Stalinist Central Committee and the great Stalin”. (‘Pravda’, 23 August 1936, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,; p. 162).

At the Eighth All-Union Congress of Soviets in November 1936 it was again Khrushchev who proposed that the new Soviet Constitution, which was before the Congress for approval, should be called the ‘Stalinist Constitution’ because “it was written from beginning to end by Comrade Stalin himself”. (‘Pravda’, 30 November 1936, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid.; p. 161).

“It has to be noted that Vyacheslav Molotov and Andrey Zhdanov did not mention any special role by Stalin in the drafting of the Constitution.” (Bland)

Why did the opportunists promote the Cult?

They did it to hide their own revisionism, to promote their own careers by trying to attach themselves to Stalin. Radek and Ezhov were conspiring against Stalin but they could never have defeated him openly. Radek and Ezhov pretended to be good loyal communists, when in fact they were not.

One might ask, “isn’t it counter-productive to foster this kind of hero-worship of Stalin, if one’s goal is to overthrow him?”. One might think it is counter-productive, yet that’s exactly what Khrushchev did successfully. Khrushchev promoted the cult more then anyone else, and used it to promote himself. But in the end he blamed the cult entirely on Stalin (who never even supported it) and Khrushchev then presented himself as some kind of great ‘democrat’ who fought against the cult!

Stalin knew that the cult was at least partially supported by traitors and opportunists, and he fought against it. He always gave credit to others, to the masses, to the party, and reminded people that the “great-man” theory of history is idealist.

The German writer Lion Feuchtwanger wrote:

“It is manifestly irksome to Stalin to be worshipped as he is, and from time to time he makes fun of it… Of all the men I know who have power, Stalin is the most unpretentious. I spoke frankly to him about the vulgar and excessive cult made of him, and he replied with equal candour… He thinks it is possible even that ‘wreckers’ may be behind it in an attempt to discredit him”.
(L. Feuchtwanger, Moscow 1937, pp. 93, 94-95)

The Finnish revisionist Arvo Tuominen wrote about a certain incident at a new years’ party in 1935. At this party Stalin parodied those who tried to suck up to him. He said:

“Comrades! I want to propose a toast to our patriarch, life and sun, liberator of nations, architect of socialism (he rattled off all the appelations applied to him in those days), Josef Vissarionovich Stalin, and I hope this is the first and last speech made to that genius this evening”.
(A. Tuominen, Bells of the Kremlin, p. 162).

Definition of “Cult of Personality”

In his attack against the “cult of Stalin” Khrushchev doesn’t treat the issue scientifically or in a marxist way at all. He never properly defines what the “Cult of Personality” even is. Khrushchev was not a theoretician, and did not understand what the role of individuals in history is. For Khrushchev, the “cult” was something vague like people singing songs about Stalin, naming cities after him, carrying pictures of him, and generally voicing their admiration and support for Stalin.

However, there is nothing inherently “cultish” or bad in admiring someone who legitimately has achieved something great. It only becomes a “cult” when the person in question is treated as an infallible god, and when people don’t simply respect his wise opinion, but uncritically accept everything without even thinking with their own brains.

Khrushchev never gave an exact explanation like this. Once again, Stalin had the correct position:

“Decisions of individuals are, always, or nearly always, one-sided decisions… In every collective body, there are people whose opinion must be reckoned with… From the experience of three revolutions we know that out of every 100 decisions taken by individual persons without being tested and corrected collectively, approximately 90 are one-sided…”
(J. V. Stalin, An Interview with the German Author Emil Ludwig)

A cult of personality promotes the idealist “great-man” theory of history. Stalin correctly said:

“the personality cult of leaders, of infallible heroes… is dangerous and detrimental. The theory of ‘heroes’ and the ‘crowd’ is not a Bolshevik, but a Social-Revolutionary theory.”
(J. V. Stalin, Letter on Publications for Children Directed to the Central Committee of the All Union Communist Youth)

The “great-man” theory is a remnant of bourgeois society and bourgeois ideology. To avoid this mistake, many Marxists today totally underestimate and disregard the importance of individuals and leaders. However, individuals and leaders do matter. It is not an irrelevant issue whether Stalin or Trotsky becomes the party leader, it is actually a very important issue.

“Marxism does not deny at all the role played by outstanding individuals or that history is made by people. But great people are worth anything at all only to the extent that they are able correctly to understand these conditions, to understand how to change them. If they fail to understand these conditions and want to alter them according to the promptings of their imagination, they will find themselves in the situation of Don Quixote… With us personages of the greatest authority are reduced to nonentities, become mere ciphers, as soon as the masses of the workers lose confidence in them”.
(J. V. Stalin, An Interview with the German Author Emil Ludwig)

To become a revolutionary leader, a person must win the support of the masses and correctly understand objective conditions.

Individuals always represent classes and tendencies. Stalin represented the proletarian political line, and thus relied on marxist theory and the support of the workers. Khrushchev represented a bourgeois line, the line which he pursued ended up restoring capitalism. Building socialism – a new superior type of system – requires a scientific theory and class consciousness. It is not easy to overthrow capitalism and the centuries of habits from class society. However, Marxist-Leninist theory provides the necessary answers for this work. In hindsight we can clearly see the erroneous policies and wrong positions introduced by the Khrushchevites, and avoid them in the future.

Fuentes:

Khrushchev’s Dishonest Attack on the “Stalin Cult” (And the Role of Leaders in History)