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De-Stalinization (Russian: десталинизация, destalinizatsiya) consisted of a series of political reforms in the Soviet Union after the death of long-time leader Joseph Stalin in 1953, and the ascension of Nikita Khrushchev to power.
The reforms consisted of changing or removing key institutions that helped Stalin hold power: the cult of personality that surrounded him, the Stalinist political system, and the Gulag labour-camp system, all of which had been created and dominated by him. Stalin was succeeded by a collective leadership after his death in March 1953, consisting of Georgi Malenkov, Premier of the Soviet Union; Lavrentiy Beria, head of the Ministry of the Interior; and Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).
The term "de-Stalinization" is one which gained currency in both Russia and the Western world following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and was never used during the Khrushchev era. However, de-Stalinization efforts were set forth at this time by Nikita Khrushchev and the Government of the Soviet Union under the guise of the "overcoming/exposure of the cult of personality", with a heavy criticism of Joseph Stalin's "era of the cult of personality". However, prior to Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" to the 20th Party Congress, no direct association between Stalin as a person and "the cult of personality" was openly made by Khrushchev or others within the party, although archival documents show that strong criticism of Stalin and his ideology featured in private discussions by Khruschchev at the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.
There were dangers in denouncing Stalin as he was placed on a pedestal both at home and among communists abroad. In the years 1953–1955, a period of "silent de-Stalinization" took place, as the revision of Stalin's policies was done in secret, and often with no explanation. This period saw a number of non-publicised political rehabilitations, (such as Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Politburo members Robert Eikhe and Jānis Rudzutaks, and those executed in the Leningrad Affair) and the release of "Article 58ers". However, due to the huge influx of prisoners returning from the camps (90,000 prisoners in 1954–55 alone), this could not continue.
In December 1955 Khrushchev proposed a commission to be set up in order to investigate Stalin's activities on behalf of the Presidium; this investigation found out that out of the 1,920,635 arrested for anti-Soviet activities – who were arrested on fabricated evidence in the first place and confessed under torture authorized by Stalin – 688,503 were executed.
Khrushchev's "Secret Speech"
De-Stalinization meant an end to the role of large-scale forced labour in the economy. The process of freeing Gulag prisoners was started by Lavrentiy Beria. He was soon removed from power (arrested on June 26, 1953; executed on December 24, 1953) and Nikita Khrushchev then emerged as the most powerful Soviet politician.
While de-Stalinization was quietly underway ever since Stalin's death, the watershed event was Khrushchev's speech entitled "On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences", concerning Stalin. On 25 February 1956, he spoke to a closed session of the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, delivering an address laying out some of Stalin's crimes and the "conditions of insecurity, fear, and even desperation" created by Stalin. Khrushchev thoroughly shocked his listeners by denouncing Stalin's dictatorial rule and his cult of personality as inconsistent with communist and Party ideology. Among other points, he condemned the treatment of the Old Bolsheviks, people who had supported communism before the revolution, many of whom Stalin had executed as traitors. Khrushchev also attacked the crimes committed by associates of Beria.
One reasoning given for Khrushchev's speech was that he felt it as a part of his moral conscience to speak out; Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that Khrushchev spoke out of a "movement of the heart". This, the Communists believed, would prevent a fatal loss of self-belief and restore unity within the Party.
Martin McCauley argues that Khrushchev's purpose was to "liberate Party officials from the fear of repression". Khrushchev argued that if the Party were to be an efficient mechanism, stripped from the brutal abuse of power by any individual, it could transform the Soviet Union as well as the entire world.
However, others have suggested that the speech was made in order to deflect blame from the Communist Party or the principles of Marxism–Leninism and place the blame squarely on Stalin's shoulders, thus preventing a more radical debate. However, the publication of this speech caused many party members to resign in protest, both abroad and within the Soviet Union.
By attacking Stalin, McCauley argues, he was undermining the credibility of Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich and other political opponents who had been within "Stalin's inner circle" during the 1930s more than he had been. If they did not "come over to Khrushchev", they "risk[ed] being banished with Stalin" and associated with his dictatorial control.
Improved prison conditions
Khrushchev also attempted to make the Gulag labour system less harsh, by allowing prisoners to post letters home to their families, and by allowing family members to mail clothes to loved-ones in the camps, which was not allowed during Stalin's time. Furthermore, when Stalin died, the Gulag was "radically reduced in size." On October 25, 1956, a resolution of the CPSU declared that the existence of the Gulag labour system was "inexpedient". The Gulag institution was closed by the MVD order No 020 of 25 January 1960.
Re-naming of places and buildings
As part of the de-Stalinization push, Khrushchev endeavored to have many places bearing Stalin's name renamed or reverted to their former names, including cities, territories, landmarks, and other facilities, see List of places named after Joseph Stalin.
Destruction of monuments
The Yerevan monument was removed in spring 1962 and replaced by Mother Armenia in 1967. Thousands of Stalin monuments have been destroyed not only in the Soviet Union, but in other former Communist countries. In November 1961, the large Stalin Statue on Berlin's monumental Stalinallee (promptly renamed Karl-Marx-Allee) was removed in a clandestine operation. The Monument in Budapest was destroyed in October 1956. The biggest one, the Prague monument, was taken down in November 1962.
Re-location of Stalin's body
Given momentum by these public renamings, the process of de-Stalinization peaked in 1961 during the 22nd Congress of the CPSU. Two climactic acts of de-Stalinization marked the meetings: first, on October 31, 1961, Stalin's body was moved from Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square to a location near the Kremlin wall; second, on November 11, 1961, the "hero city" Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd.
Extent of de-Stalinization
Contemporary historians regard the beginning of de-Stalinization as a significant turning point in the history of the Soviet Union. It began during the Khrushchev Thaw. However, it subsided during the Brezhnev period and remained so until the mid-1980s, when it accelerated once again due to policies of perestroika and glasnost under Mikhail Gorbachev.
This process of de-Stalinisation has been considered highly fragile, with historian Polly Jones saying that the likelihood of "re-Stalinisation" occurring highly likely after a brief period of "thaw". Anne Applebaum agrees, saying that "The era which came to be called the 'Thaw' was indeed an era of change, but change of a particular kind: reforms took two steps forward, and then one step—or sometimes three steps—back."
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- Martin McCauley (9 September 2014). The Khrushchev Era 1953-1964. Routledge. pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-1-317-88922-9.
- "Gulag : Soviet Prison Camps and their Legacy" (PDF). Gulaghistory.org. Retrieved 2013-10-12.
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- "CNN Interactive - Almanac - October 31". CNN.
(October 31) 1961, Russia's de-Stalinisation program reached a climax when his body was removed from the mausoleum in Red Square and re-buried.
- Reuters (1961-11-11). "Stalingrad Name Changed". The New York Times.
MOSCOW, Saturday, Nov. 11 (Reuters) -- The "Hero City" of Stalingrad has been renamed Volgograd, the Soviet Communist party newspaper Pravda reported today.
- Applebaum, Anne (2003). "Thaw – and Release". Gulag: A History. Doubleday. ISBN 9780767900560.