Khrushchev's Secret Speech

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Fifty years ago, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave a speech denouncing his predecessor Joseph Stalin. He set in motion a new era for the Soviet Union, and changed the composition of the Cold War.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

It was 50 years ago this weekend, but I remember it like yesterday: the secret speech that marked the end of an era in the Soviet Union.

DON GONYEA, host:

NPR senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Delegates were assembled in Moscow from around the country and around the world for the 20th congress of the Community Party, the first since the death of Stalin. It was clear that Nikita Khrushchev, a protégé of Stalin, dominated the proceedings.

At one point, he admonished the delegates, Don't applaud every time I come in. Behave like Communists. We foreign correspondents were allowed to witness the proceedings and official censorship of our reports was relaxed until, until the closing session, and then all foreign delegates and observers were barred. And the next morning we heard that the closing session had lasted all night and that Khrushchev had made a speech of several hours, denouncing Stalin as a monster who had created a cult of personality.

Khrushchev said that Stalin had murdered not only citizens, but even good Communists. My radio script reporting this was killed by the censor and the same happened to all my colleagues. Day after day, a few words from the secret speech would leak out, and day after day, our copy was killed. It was clear that Khrushchev was trying to paint the Stalin epoch as a massive aberration from a true Leninist course. The Soviet regime wanted Communists to know it, but not the outside world.

A Reuters' correspondent went to Stockholm and filed a report from there to avoid censorship. And then I heard from New York that The New York Times had published a text of the speech, provided by the CIA. And still later I learned that CIA director Allen Dulles had managed to procure a copy provided by Polish intelligence through Israeli intelligence. Khrushchev told me at a reception that he wasn't upset, that he knew the speech would eventually come out, but that speech inaugurated a peaceful revolution against the dead Stalin whose cold hand had gripped the Soviet Union for so long.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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