“You see to what Stalin's mania for greatness led. He had completely lost consciousness of reality; he demonstrated his suspicion and haughtiness not only in relation to individuals in the USSR, but in relation to whole parties and nations...Comrades, the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person…Our historical victories were attained thanks to the organizational work of the party, to the many provincial organizations, and to the self-sacrificing work of our great nation. These victories are the result of the great drive and activity of the nation and of the party as a whole; they are not at all the fruit of the leadership of Stalin, as the situation was pictured during the period of the cult of the individual...Comrades, we must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all; we must draw the proper conclusions concerning both ideological-theoretical and practical work.”
-Nikita Khrushchev, 1956
“[Khrushchev’s secret speech] unmasked Stalin as the instigator of the terror of the 1930s, when millions were shot to death; as a coward who was paralyzed by fear at the time of the Nazi invasion; as a stupid military strategist, who sent thousand of troops to senseless deaths; as a supreme egotist, who rewrote books to glorify himself.”
-Charles E. Bohlen (U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, 1953-1957)
SCARCE FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE of Khrushchev's 'Secret Speech' Which Attacked Stalinism and Changed the Course of World History.
On February 14, 1956 the twentieth congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union assembled in Moscow for their first meeting following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. Almost nothing was said about the deceased leader until, in a closed session on February 25th, 1,500 delegates and visitors with special passes listened to a shocking speech by First Secretary of the party Nikita Khrushchev entitled The Personality Cult and its Consequences. In this speech Khrushchev denounced Stalin, seeking to destroy the beloved image and legacy of the late dictator. Guests and members of the press were excluded, and the Polish translation was the only version circulated during the Cold War. We have on offer the scarce first printing of the Polish text which included the recorded interjections which were edited out of subsequent printings. The official Russian text was not published until 1989.
In his speech, Khrushchev recounted numerous instances in which Stalin committed horrific crimes. He quoted from correspondence, memoranda, and his own observations, providing details of Stalin’s heinous actions during the Terror of the late 1930s, Stalin’s lack of the preparedness at the time of the Nazi invasion in 1941 and throughout World War II, Stalin’s inhumane deportation of various ethnic groups (including the Kalmyks, Chechens, and Crimean Tatars) in 1943 and 1944, and Stalin’s tyrannical and abusive behavior towards party members. Khrushchev also referenced V.I. Lenin’s Testament, published in 1923, in which Lenin warned that Stalin was power hungry and should be removed from his position as General Secretary. Khrushchev spoke for four hours as his audience sat in complete silence, stunned by the appalling accusations. When Khrushchev was finally done, there was no applause and the audience departed in a state of shock.
By distancing himself from Stalin and blaming Soviet failures on the “cult of personality” that Stalin encouraged, Khrushchev sought to absolve the Communist party itself of any grave mistakes that had been committed under Stalin. This speech also served as a starting point for Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign to revert official policy to an idealized Leninist model.
The decision to deliver the speech was contentious. Khrushchev had argued vehemently with those who saw Stalin as the divine father, finally agreeing that the speech was not to be published as part of the congress’s proceedings nor reported in the Soviet press. However, copies were sent to regional party secretaries who briefed rank-and-file members. The U.S. State Department received a copy of the speech from Eastern European sources.
The speech was a bombshell, Soviet sources reported that some twentieth congress delegates suffered heart attacks and others committed suicide. People in the Soviet Union were shaken to the core and Khrushchev’s words changed the Soviet Union with ripples felt for decades to come. At the 1961 party congress Khrushchev and others attacked Stalin’s memory again in an open session. After this meeting Stalin’s body was removed from the mausoleum in Red Square that he had shared with Lenin. Stalingrad and other such places were renamed. Mikhail Gorbachev, who became General Secretary in 1985, publicly praised Khrushchev for his courageous speech and pursuit of de-Stalinization. Determined to carry on Khrushchev’s reform work Gorbachev explained that the secret speech laid the foundation for perestroika by addressing “not only the cult of personality, but also…ways to manage the country." (Bigg)
The speech also had far-reaching consequences in Central and Eastern Europe, fueling hopes of political change and revolution, particularly in Poland and Hungary. It eventually led to a period of liberalization known as the “Khrushchev thaw” and freedom for tens of thousands of political prisoners. The speech caused many western Communists to abandon the movement and shocked many western powers. On February 8, 1956, prior to the meeting of the Communist Party congress, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) sent out a policy statement about the meeting explaining that it would “probably not bring any surprises.” Thus, western powers were astonished when in March 1956, word leaked out that on February 25th at the twentieth congress, Stalin had been censured and condemned.
The speech, and Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign, also had major repercussions in Asia. China’s Chairman Mao Zedong saw Khrushchev’s speech as a threat to his authority and the speech was a major cause of the Sino-Soviet split. Mao criticized Khrushchev for deviating from the path of Lenin and Stalin, using adherence to Stalinist values as an excuse to strengthen his own cult of personality. In North Korea, activists within the Workers’ Party of Korea attempted to remove Chairman Kim Il Sung, criticizing him for not “correcting” his leadership methods, distorting the “Leninist principle of collective leadership,” developing a cult of personality, and using arbitrary arrest and executions. (Lankov) The attempt to overthrow Kim failed, the activists (labeled anti-party factionalists) were arrested and executed and Kim further strengthened his own cult of personality.
This extremely scarce and important first edition of Khrushchev’s secret speech, is one of the defining texts of twentieth century geopolitics and the Cold War. Khrushchev, describing Stalin as a despot and terrorist who had committed crimes against humanity, disrupted the traditional belief that Stalin was a savior of the Soviet people and unleashed forces that changed the course of history. It planted the seeds that led to revolutions throughout Eastern Europe and eventually contributed to the demise of the USSR.
With "Wylacznie do uzytku organizacji partyjnych" ("Exclusively for inner-party use") printed to top of front wrapper.
Warsaw: np, March 1956. Original wrappers, custom box. With serial number stamped on front wrapper. Tiny closed tear to first leaf of text (no loss); occasional neat light underlining in pencil; chipping to spine with possible use of adhesive for stabilization.
Note: While the second impression appears somewhat regularly on the market, the first impression is exceptionally rare.
Claire Bigg. “Russia: Khrushchev’s 'Secret Speech' Remembered After 50 Years.” Radio Free Europe. February 15, 2006.
Charles E. Bohlen. Witness to History, 1929-1969. New York: W.W. Norton, 1973.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Khrushchev’s secret speech.” Encyclopedia Britannica, February 18, 2023.
Andrei Lankov. Crisis in North Korea: The Failure of De-Stalinization, 1956 . University of Hawaii Press, 2007.
“Policy Information Statement EUR-243: 20th Congress of the CPSU.” General Records of the Department of State. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-57, Volume XXIV: Soviet Union; Eastern Mediterranean.
John Rettie. “The secret speech that changed world history.” The Observer. February 25, 2006.
Price: $7,800 .