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February 25: Khrushchev Denounces Stalin

Lawrence Bush
February 25, 2017
Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on this date in 1956 in which he denounced the “cult of personality” that had elevated the late Joseph Stalin to the status of “a superman possessing supernatural characteristics, akin to those of a god. Such a man supposedly knows everything, sees everything, thinks for everyone, can do anything, is infallible in his behavior.” Khrushchev strongly affirmed Marxism-Leninism and construed Stalinism, with all of its atrocities and killings, as a “deviation.” The speech, when American communists heard about it from “reliable” sources (such as our magazine), sent a shockwave through the CPUSA, which at its height the decade before had approximately 80,000 members, nearly half of whom were Jews. Many left the party in a state of utter demoralization; others continued their activism, in civil rights, anti-war, and feminist causes, without the burdens of “party discipline” and unitary thinking to cramp their style. “Why did this magazine in the past eight years fail to raise questions concerning the shutting down of Jewish cultural institutions in the Soviet Union? Why did we not suspect foul play in the disappearance of leading Soviet Yiddish writers? Why did we not detect the anti-Semitism injected in the Prague trial?… [W]e had no authoritative information; we had blind faith in the nationalities policies of the Soviet Union; the provable misrepresentations in some reports of anti-Semitism led us to the extreme of questioning the truth of all of them; and the cold war use to which these reports were put led us to reject them as part of the incitation of world war…. These reasons help to explain but not to excuse our failure to protest the anti-Semitism revealed in some reports and activities that should have been apparent to us.” —Jewish Currents, June, 1956

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.