In February 1956 – fifty years ago – the Communist party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) convened its first congress after the death of Stalin. This ill-famed 20th congress has since been deemed the symbol of the victory of the peaceful counter-revolution in the USSR.
To this very day, the international communist movement, the working class and the peoples in the former socialist countries are suffering from the disastrous consequences. This victory of revisionism in the fifties systematically prepared the ground for the unveiled and complete counter-revolution that took place in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe around 1989-91.
In his memoirs The Khrushchevites, Enver Hoxha summarized as follows: “All the distortions of the major issues of principle, such as those about the character of our epoch, the roads of transition to socialism, peaceful coexistence, war and peace, the stand towards modern revisionism and towards imperialism, etc., etc., which later became the basis of the great, open polemic with modern revisionism, have their official beginning in Khrushchev's report to the 20th Congress.” (1)
This congress was to impel the split within the international communist movement. The fierce ideological polemic became quite open when the Party of Labour of Albania helmed the criticism of Khrushchev & Co. at the Moscow meeting of 81 communist parties in 1960. Reidar T. Larsen, who later became chairman of the Norwegian communist party (NKP), was present at the time. In his memoirs ‘Directed from Moscow?’ he confirms that Enver Hoxha spoke out against Khrushchev “so the sparks went flying”. The leaders of the Communist Party of China restrained themselves, according to Larsen: “In the plenary proceedings they left it to the Albanian leader Enver Hoxha to launch fiery attacks aimed at the Soviet leadership.” (2) The CPC did not enter into its “great polemic” until 1963.
Meanwhile, the old bolsheviks in the leadership of the CPSU, like Molotov and Kaganovich, had woken up from their daze and attempted to defeat Khrushchev from within the presidium of the CPSU. Khrushchev fell in minority, and was in fact removed in 1957. However, he mobilized his lojal marshals and used the majority he had ensured in the CC to topple the meeting of the presidium and to confront the ‘anti-party group’ with Molotov at the head.
The roots of the problem are not to be found in Khrushchev's personality
A mechanical and leftist dogmatic tendency argues that the 20th congress made the Soviet Union change colour more or less overnight. This is a subjectivist approach, reducing the counter-revolutionary process to a matter of rotten personalities and traitors. Khrushchev, originally a Trotskyite, was no doubt a rotten element, as can also be said about Mikoyan and other personalities in the leadership. But this does not explain how these elements could obtain support from the congress delegates and within few years put into effect a number of capitalist reforms that step by step undermined the economy and the socialist order in the USSR.
It is clear that these forces could count on a social base for their power, that they could exploit several unhealthy tendencies. Such tendencies would include the idea that “the leadership is always correct” and a self-satisfaction that grew strong in the aftermath of the victory over fascism in World War II. Adding to this were tendencies of reconciliation towards social democracy and initiatives to merge communist and social democratic parties in several countries, something that undoubtedly gave rise to different reformist ideas on “peaceful transition to socialism” even before Khrushchev laid this down as a general line at the 20th Congress. In East (Soviet occupied) Germany the Communist party of Germany after the war was amalgamated with the Social Democratic party under the name of the United Socialist Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands – SED). Both the Communist Party of Norway (which immediately after the anti-fascist war entered into negotiations with the Norwegian Labour Party) as well as the Communist Party of Britain laid down the thesis of peaceful transition to socialism in their programmes in 1953, that is to say three years prior to the 20th Congress of the CPSU. The efforts for economical reconstruction after the war gave room for different types of “productivity theories” in the economic area, to a certain degree in the USSR, and even more so in post-war Norway, theories that in practice had the effect that they underestimated and dwindled the importance of the ideological and political struggle.
The 19th Congress of the CPSU, the last Congress attended by Stalin, strongly warned against a number of these inclinations. Several precautions and motions in order to prevent bureaucratism were projected by the 19th Congress, but few, if any, of these were to be put into effect. It was in this unsound situation that the Khrushchev clique was able to mobilize and exploit these weaknesses, while they for a while pretended to cuddle for Stalin and shed crocodile tears when he died. When the 20th Congress was due, they had gained sufficient strength to consolidate the victory of revisionism.
Giving revisionism legitimacy
Enver Hoxha was present at the congress representing the PLA, together with Mehmet Shehu and Gogo Nushi. Below, he describes what came to pass on the final day of the Congress proceedings, where among other things the elections of the leading bodies took place, and the foreign delegations were not present. On this occasion a second report was presented by Khrushchev.
“It was the notorious, so-called secret report against Stalin, but which had been sent in advance to the Yugoslav leaders [who had been condemned by the Cominform in 1948 – note by Revolusjon], and a few days later it fell into the hands of the bourgeoisie and reaction as a new ‘gift’ from Khrushchev and the Khrushchevites. After it was discussed by the delegates to the congress, this report was given to us and all the other foreign delegations to read. […] After we had read it we immediately returned the terrible report to its owners. We had no need for that package of filthy accusations which Khrushchev had concocted. It was other ‘communists’ who took it away to give to reaction and to sell by the ton in their book-stalls as a profitable business. […] Only a few days later the black smoke of the ideas of the 20th Congress began to spread everywhere.” (The Khrushchevites, p 183)