On this day in 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave a speech to party insiders, “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences.” It was basically an attack on former Premier Joseph Stalin. You can’t read about it without being told that it was all part of Khrushchev’s efforts to consolidate his power against the remaining Stalin loyalists. And while that was certainly the case, the implication is always that the Soviet leaders had ulterior motives but somehow here in America we are pure as the driven snow.
I guess it is just when I grew up and the fact that it was in a conservative household that I find so sad our tendency to trivialize the government of the Soviet Union. It isn’t that I have a all that much respect for it. But it was complicated. My father liked to point out that although they had elections in the Soviet Union, they had only one political party. While that was largely true, there were various factions of the party. And I really can’t say that there was less diversity within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union than there has been between the Democratic and Republican Parties.
It is certainly the case that what Khrushchev said in “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences” was widely shared. They knew they had a major problem on their hands when Stalin was in power. He was exactly the kind of autocrat that the communists hated in the fascist leaders. The truth was that Stalin greatly admired Hitler until the Nazi leader stabbed him in the back. (This was a major mistake; the Nazis probably would have survived World War II if they had managed to keep the Soviet Union out of it.)
Whose Cult of Personality Is Worse?
The Soviet Union changed over time. And it eventually allowed a man as liberal as Mikhail Gorbachev to rule it. Can you imagine the United States ever electing a leader that would admit to our major errors? As it is, even Bernie Sanders, a man who is hardly a radical, has been vilified by a whole industry of opinion leaders who supposedly represent the left of politics.
Also on this day in 1991, the Warsaw Pact was disbanded. Yet NATO continues on. To counter what? Wasn’t the fall of communism the time when the west should have most firmly embraced the United Nations? But instead of using the event to make a better world, the United States used it to consolidate its power. We don’t have a cult of personality here; we have a cult of “exceptionalism.” And it is dangerous. Donald Trump could become our next president. And there are a lot of people in this country who are thrilled at the idea of a cult of personality. Even when it requires the personality of Vladimir Putin.