20th Party Congress
- After emerging victorious in the power struggle following Stalin’s death, Khrushchev was in a very strong position, but not yet an unchallengeable leader.
- Khrushchev wanted to move away from the Stalinist era and was aware that there was a desire for change in the USSR.
- He had accepted some of the fundamentals of Stalinism, such as the dominance of the party, however he wanted to shift to blame for past errors onto Stalin.
- Khrushchev believed that economic reform was necessary and wanted to encourage initiative.
- He also wanted to avoid opposition and not give his rivals the opportunity to strike against him.
- Khrushchev was an ambitious politician, and aimed convince the Soviet people that they no longer had to fear arbitrary terror, while preserving the basic structure and ideology of a socialist state.
- This was the background to his speech at the 20th Party Congress in February 1956.
- Khrushchev’s secret speech lasted four hours and basically just denounced Stalin.
- He condemned Stalin’s policies during the great terror and his cult of personality, destroyed Stalin’s reputation as an infallible war leader, criticised Stalin’s behaviour and said that it went against the essence of Marxism-Leninism.
- Delegates strongly applauded parts of the speech, but were shocked at some of the content.
- Nothing like it had been heard before in Soviet history
Highlights of the speech
- It is foreign to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism to elevate one person, to transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics akin to those of a god."
- “Stalin originated the concept ‘enemy of the people’.”
- “We are absolutely certain that our Party will lead the Soviet people along the Leninist path to new success, to new victories.
Reactions to the secret speech
- An edited version of the speech was sent out to local Party committees to be discussed by Party members.
- Although it wasn’t officially published in the USSR, it was read to several million Soviet citizens.
- Some welcomed the denunciation of Stalin, but felt that the blame should have been spread more widely.
- Others were angry at the denunciation of Stalin and by implication much of Soviet policy during the previous generation.
- The speech was also seen by some as an attack on those like Malenkov and Molotov who had been in Stalin’s inner circle.
- After the speech, Khrushchev succeeded in getting several new supporters added to the Politburo.
- By1956, half of the Central Committee members of 1952 had been replaced.
- Khrushchev had also gained more support from intellectuals and those wanting more freedom in the arts
Economic motives for industrial & agricultural ref
- Despite economic growth since 1950’s, still major weaknesses in Soviet economy- Consumer goods such as refrigerators in high supply but expensive and poor quality- Military expenditure was draining the economy, much weaker than that of their main rival, USA.
- (Khrushchev had publicly stated he wanted to catch up with West)- Lagged behind more sophisticated capitalist economies which were less labour intensive and more productive- Agriculture poor, lacked sufficient innovation and investment.
- Production low and inefficient, with few incentives for peasants. Weakest sector of economy.
Political motives for industrial & agricultural re
New regime wanted to rely on popular consent.
To gain this popular consent, people needed to see results of hard work e.g. more supplies in shops and better housing.
Communist ideology must mean something more than wishful thinking: socialism needed to deliver.
Communists saw the Stalinist system as essential if country was to progress to communism- This created a dilemma for Khrushchev, as he was unsure how to reform within Stalin’s planned economy.
Positive impact of the economic reforms
- Foreign trade considerably increased (2/3 with European Communist states).
- Working conditions improved (shorter days, more holidays, longer maternity leave, better pensions,minimum wage decreed 1956) >>> better living standards.
- 1956 education decree, increase in student numbers.
- Improved medical care infant mortality significantly decreased 1950-1956.
- 1957, Women banned from manual labour in mines.
- Scientific and technical education prioritised, first satellite and man in space soviet space. Technology appeared superior to that of the west
Negative impact of the economic reforms
- Living conditions still backwards compared with West,by 1964, only 5/1000 citizens owned a car.
- 1963, USSR had to import grain from capitalist West to compensate shortages.
- 15 million poor quality prefab flats built and still housing shortages.
Khrushchev's political reforms
- To cope with industrial reforms, Khrushchev initially tried decentralisation. Existing ministries in Moscow abolished and replaced by 105 regional ministries.
- Each region jealously guarded its own resources.
- Gosplan’s (state planning agency) functions were divided- 1963, some regional ministries were merged and there were new planning regions.
- Party split into industrial and agricultural wings but industrial sectors of party did not match geographic divisions of the ministries i.e. poorly organised.
- These changes caused opposition within the party, there was anger about decentralisation of power in particular-contributed to the anti party conspiracy.
- Conspiracy led to Khrushchev implementing major changes within Party.
- October 1957, sacked Zhukov.
- 1958, further sackings (such as Bulganin), Khrushchev assumed position of ‘commander-in-chief of all soviet forces’(same post as Stalin had done).
- Disliked the idea of 'jobs for life' which created culture of privilege and complacency.
- Resultantly, in 1961, 22nd party congress Khrushchev passed rule whereby- depending on level of organisation-there must be substantial amount of new people elected, for example:- At Presidium level- 25% members must be new- At Republican level- 1/3 members must be new.