Khrushchev on Methods and Motivations

Hi, all.

I wanted to follow up our discussion in class today by talking a bit more about the “Secret Speech”, specifically, the distinctions Khrushchev draws between Lenin and Stalin’s respective modes of operation. As we discussed in class, Khrushchev lionizes Lenin throughout the speech, but one of the more interesting ways in which he accomplishes this is by stressing Lenin’s capacity for forgiveness. Khrushchev cites a memorandum drafted by Lenin for the central committee in October of 1920 stating:

“As a special duty of the control commission there is recommended a deep, individualized relationship with, and sometimes even a type of therapy for, the representatives of the so-called opposition – those who have experienced a psychological crisis because of failure in their Soviet or party career” (5).

Khrushchev claims that this document is indicative of Lenin’s more tolerant, patient tendencies, arguing that:

“Lenin…in his practice of directing the party demanded the most intimate party contact with people who had shown indecision or temporary non-conformity with the party line, but whom it was possible to return to the party path. Lenin advised that such people should be patiently educated without the application of extreme methods” (6).

Khrushchev proceeds to argue that Stalin utterly abandoned this way of influencing or convincing people in favor of “administrative violence” (6).

In his discussion of the party’s ideological struggles with dissident factions (Trotskyites, Zinovievites, Burkharinites, etc.) in the 1920’s, a conflict in which he himself admits that Stalin played an important role, he nevertheless asserts that the party did not resort to the sort of brutally repressive tactics that would later be employed by Stalin. Khrushchev seemingly  maintains that those targeted by Stalin were not only not legitimate class enemies, but who posed no real threat to the state. Indeed, as the story of Lenin forgiving Kamenev and Zinoviev suggests, said individuals could possibly have been returned to the fold.

Consequently, it seems to me that Khrushchev is condemning (or at the very least, criticizing) Stalin’s methods and not simply his motivations.  Of course, this conclusion begs the question of whether Khrushchev is simply exaggerating Lenin’s virtues, and given the suppression of public discourse regarding Stalin that occurs following the 22nd Party Congress in 1961, one is compelled to wonder as to what extent Khrushchev’s distaste is performative.

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