Australian Left Review

Abstract

The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union took place in February 1956, nearly three years after the death of Stalin. At the time o f the Congress, the main interest as reflected in the western media centred on the new emerging Soviet leadership, headed by the ebullient Nikita Sergeievich Khrushchov. But the Congress turned out to be far more than a ritual for parading new leaders. It dealt in a new way with such questions as the possibility of preventing world war, socialist democracy, diverse roads to socialism including peaceful transition, relations among socialist countries and overcoming the consequences o f the "cult o f personality" o f Stalin. And a time-bomb had been set ticking at the Congress. At a "closed session" from which foreign delegates and journalists had been excluded, Khrushchov had delivered his famous "secret speech". News of this speech at first gradually filtered out until, by a process that is still unknown, the New York Times obtained a copy and published it in full. The "secret speech" was never published in the USSR, but it was read out to closed meetings of party members. Outside the USSR its publication had an electrifying effect on communist parties, revealing as it did something o f the enormous power that had become concentrated in Stalin's hands and the abuse o f that power. Reactions to the 20th Congress included resentment that the revelations should have been made at all, attempts to stifle real discussion on the implications o f the Congress, disillusionment and an exodus o f members from communist parties, and genuine attempts to debate the issues and extend the debate in a creative way. The approaches of the various parties was to have a profound effect on their futures. The following article is a reflection by veteran Italian communist leader Gian Carlo Pajetta, written at the time o f polemics earlier this year between the CPSU and the Italian Communist Party. It was published in the Italian communist weekly journal Rinascita of March 5, 1982 and has been translated and edited by Dave Davies.

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