How Soviet Historians Rewrote History under Khrushchev: A Revisionist Perspective
In the aftermath of Stalin's death and denunciation at the 1956 Twentieth Party Congress, a wave of historical revisionism swept through the Soviet Union. A small group of anti-Stalinist historians challenged the official version of Soviet history and sought to uncover the truth about the past. They faced fierce opposition from the party political elite, who tried to suppress their efforts and maintain the Stalinist legacy. This article explores the politics of revisionist historiography in the USSR under Khrushchev, from 1956 to 1974, and its impact on the development of Soviet historical writing.
The Context of the Discussions
The Twentieth Party Congress in February 1956 marked a turning point in Soviet history. In his secret speech, Khrushchev denounced Stalin's crimes and cult of personality, and called for a return to Leninist principles. He also initiated a process of de-Stalinization, which involved releasing political prisoners, rehabilitating victims of repression, relaxing censorship, and encouraging criticism and debate within the party and society. These reforms had a profound effect on the Soviet intelligentsia, especially historians, who saw an opportunity to revise and rewrite Soviet history in a more objective and truthful way.
However, de-Stalinization was not a consistent or coherent policy. Khrushchev faced resistance from hardliners within the party apparatus, who feared losing their power and privileges. He also faced pressure from below, from radical intellectuals and reformers who demanded more freedom and democracy. Khrushchev tried to balance these forces by alternating between liberalization and repression, depending on the political situation. He also tried to control the scope and direction of historical revisionism, by setting limits on what could be questioned and criticized, and by promoting his own version of Soviet history.
Some Major Discussions
One of the main areas of historical revisionism under Khrushchev was the history of collectivization and industrialization in the 1930s. Many historians challenged the Stalinist narrative of these processes as heroic achievements that transformed the Soviet Union into a socialist superpower. They exposed the human and economic costs of forced collectivization, mass famine, terror, and purges. They also questioned the role and responsibility of Stalin and his associates in these events. Some historians went further and criticized the very concept of collectivization as a violation of peasant rights and interests.
Another area of historical revisionism was the history of World War II. Some historians challenged the Stalinist glorification of the war as a patriotic struggle against fascism, and revealed the mistakes and crimes committed by the Soviet leadership before and during the war. They criticized the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which divided Eastern Europe between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. They also criticized the unpreparedness and incompetence of Stalin and his generals in facing the Nazi invasion in 1941. They highlighted the role and contribution of ordinary soldiers and civilians in resisting and defeating fascism.
A third area of historical revisionism was the history of methodology. Some historians advocated for a more scientific and critical approach to historical research and writing, based on empirical evidence, logical analysis, and multiple perspectives. They rejected the Stalinist dogmatism and ideology that distorted and falsified history. They also rejected the Stalinist cult of personality that elevated Stalin above all other historical figures. They called for a more balanced and nuanced assessment of Stalin's role in Soviet history, acknowledging both his achievements and his failures.
The Political Consequences
The development of historical revisionism in the USSR under Khrushchev had significant political implications. On one hand, it contributed to the intellectual awakening and cultural renewal of Soviet society. It stimulated public interest and debate on historical issues, and fostered a more critical and independent attitude among historians and other intellectuals. It also paved the way for further revisions and reforms in other fields of knowledge and social life.
On the other hand, it provoked a backlash from conservative forces within
the party political elite. They accused revisionist historians of undermining
the legitimacy and stability of the Soviet system, by questioning its
foundations and values. They also accused them of serving foreign interests
and ideologies, by echoing Western criticisms of Stalinism. ec8f644aee