De-Stalinization (Russian: десталинизация, Destalinizatsiya) refers to a process of political reform in the Soviet Union that took place after the death of long-time leader Joseph Stalin in 1953. The reforms consisted of changing or removing key institutions that helped Stalin hold power: the cult of personality that surrounded him, the Stalinist political system, and the Gulag labour-camp system, all of which had been created and dominated by him as General Secretary, among other titles, from 1922 to 1952. Stalin was succeeded by a collective leadership after his death in March 1953, consisting of Georgi Malenkov, Premier of the Soviet Union; Lavrentiy Beria, head of the Ministry of the Interior; and Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). These men had all been loyal Stalinists, but they also knew that the excesses of Stalinism threatened everyone, even the very top loyalists, with arbitrary execution. They thus embarked on a process of disassembling one-man rule and rehabilitating some of the persons who had met undeserved fates.
Contemporary historians regard the beginning of de-Stalinization as a significant turning point in the history of the Soviet Union. It began during the Khrushchev Thaw. However, it subsided during the Brezhnev period and remained so until the mid-1980s, when it accelerated once again due to policies of perestroika and glasnost under Mikhail Gorbachev.
Beginnings: Khrushchev's speech
De-Stalinization meant a complete end to the role of large-scale forced labour in the economy. The process of freeing Gulag prisoners was started by Lavrentiy Beria, but he was soon removed from power (arrested on June 26, 1953; executed on December 24, 1953). In turn, Nikita Khrushchev then emerged as the most powerful Soviet politician.
Many argue that the watershed moment of de-Stalinization was when Khrushchev gave a speech entitled "On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences", concerning Stalin. On 25 February 1956, he spoke to a closed session of the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev thoroughly shocked his listeners by denouncing Stalin's dictatorial rule and his cult of personality as inconsistent with communist and Party ideology. Among other points, he condemned the treatment of the Old Bolsheviks, people who had supported communism before the revolution, many of whom Stalin had executed as traitors. Khrushchev also attacked the crimes committed by associates of Beria.
Improved prison conditions
Khrushchev also attempted to make the Gulag labour system less harsh, by allowing prisoners to post letters home to their families, and by allowing family members to mail clothes to loved-ones in the camps, which was not allowed during Stalin's time. Furthermore, when Stalin died, the Gulag was "radically reduced in size." On October 25, 1956, a resolution of the CPSU declared that the existence of the Gulag labour system was "inexpedient". The Gulag institution was closed by the MVD order No 020 of 25 January 1960.
Re-naming of places and buildings
As part of the de-Stalinization push, Khrushchev endeavored to have many places bearing Stalin's name renamed or reverted to their former names, including cities, landmarks, and other facilities. These included even capital cities of the Soviet republics and territories: in 1961, Stalinabad, capital of the Tajikistan, was renamed Dushanbe; Staliniri, capital of the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast, was renamed Tskhinvali; and Stalingrad, a major industrial center of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, was renamed Volgograd. In Ukraine, the Stalino Oblast and its capital, also named Stalino, were renamed Donetsk Oblast and Donetsk.
In a broadly symbolic gesture, the State Anthem of the Soviet Union was purged of references to Stalin. The Stalin-centric and World War II-era lines in the lyrics were effectively excised when an instrumental version replaced it.
Destruction of monuments
The Yerevan monument was removed in spring 1962 and replaced by Mother Armenia in 1967. Thousands of Stalin monuments have been destroyed not only in the Soviet Union but in Socialist countries. In November 1961 the large Stalin Statue on Berlin's monumental Stalinallee (promptly renamed Karl-Marx-Allee) was removed in a clandestine operation. The Monument in Budapest was destroyed in October 1956. The biggest one, the Prague monument, was taken down in November 1962.
Re-location of Stalin's body
Given momentum by these public renamings, the process of de-Stalinization peaked in 1961 during the 22nd Congress of the CPSU. Two climactic acts of de-Stalinization marked the meetings: first, on October 31, 1961, Stalin's body was moved from Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square to a location near the Kremlin wall; second, on November 11, 1961, the "hero city" Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd.
One of the most important effects of de-Stalinization was to open Soviet cultural life. Doing this enabled artists and intellectuals to be more open and this led to learning more about Western culture. This included new music such as jazz, swing, and rock and roll. Published literature started to drop its political undertones and became more about the readers' and their personal lives and fantasies. Young people were among the largest demographic to grasp this new culture. There were new clothing trends, musical choices, and most of all budding nightclubs.
Not everyone in the Soviet Union was so open to new cultural trends. A security officer working one of the booming nightclubs in 1956 made a comment, "All this energy could be invested in building a hydro-electric power station, rather than wasted here on a dance floor." Even though not everyone agreed with these changes there was no longer a fear of execution and punishment of family and friends.
- Anti-Stalinist left
- History of the Soviet Union (1953–1964): De-Stalinization and the Khrushchev era
- Kureika (village)
- Khrushchev Thaw
- List of places named after Joseph Stalin
- Rehabilitation (Soviet)
- "Gulag : Soviet Prison Camps and their Legacy" (PDF). Gulaghistory.org. Retrieved 2013-10-12.
- "Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom". Gulaghistory.org. Retrieved 2013-10-12.
- Memorial http://www.memo.ru/history/nkvd/gulag/Articles/chapter3main.htm
- Memorial http://www.memo.ru/history/NKVD/GULAG/r1/r1-4.htm
- G.R.F. Bursa (1985). "Political Changes of Names of Soviet Towns". Slavonic and East European Review. 63.
- Gwillim Law. "Regions of Tajikistan". Administrative Divisions of Countries ("Statoids"). Retrieved 21 November 2010.
- Gwillim Law. "Regions of Georgia". Administrative Divisions of Countries ("Statoids"). Retrieved 21 November 2010.
- "CNN Interactive - Almanac - October 31". CNN.
(October 31) 1961, Russia's de-Stalinisation program reached a climax when his body was removed from the mausoleum in Red Square and re-buried.
- Reuters (1961-11-11). "Stalingrad Name Changed". The New York Times.
MOSCOW, Saturday, Nov. 11 (Reuters) -- The "Hero City" of Stalingrad has been renamed Volgograd, the Soviet Communist party newspaper Pravda reported today.
- Hunt, Michael (2004). The World Transformed, 1945 To The Present. New York City: Oxford University Press. pp. 154–5. ISBN 9780199371020.