The famous but long-suppressed "secret speech" of Nikita S. Khrushchev denouncing dictator Josef Stalin was officially published for the first time on Wednesday, more than 32 years after it was delivered.
Filling four pages in the influential Polish weekly newspaper Polityka, the 20,000-word speech lays out in Khrushchev's blunt language most of Stalin's crimes--the mass repressions, the tortures, the brutal prison camps, the country's near-defeat in World War II, its mismanaged economy, the late dictator's obsessive personality cult.
'Capricious and Despotic'
"Stalin allowed himself to use brutal force against anything that, to his capricious and despotic mind, was contrary to his own ideas," Khrushchev declared, disclosing for the first time details of the many horrors of life under Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953.
Stalin, until then a political deity, had been personally guilty of "massive arrests, the deportations of thousands, executions without trial or even normal investigation," Khrushchev is quoted as saying.
The speech--delivered on the closing day of the Communist Party's 20th congress on Feb. 25, 1956, when Khrushchev was the party's first secretary--was a bombshell that changed politics not only in the Soviet Union but in most of Eastern Europe, in China and in many other countries where Stalin, his achievements and leadership as well as his crimes, defined contemporary socialism.
But the importance of the speech's publication now, 17 years after Khrushchev's death, does not lie in its contents; copies had long been available in the West, and even fuller disclosures of Stalin's crimes are now being published by Soviet historians, who are writing with fresh vigor on virtually all aspects of his long rule.
The significance instead is that the speech was finally printed officially in Eastern Europe after so many years of refusal on grounds that the issues were still too sensitive for open discussion. As recently as four weeks ago, delegates to the special Soviet Communist Party conference said they were uncertain when Khrushchev's speech could be published.
How the speech came to be published first in Poland, rather than the Soviet Union, is unclear, but potentially important.
Editors at Polityka said in Warsaw that they simply thought that it was time that the speech, which had been widely circulated within their own party as well as in the West, be published and that they obtained permission from their party leaders to print the full text.
Jan Bijak, the chief editor, said that he felt the timing was right, particularly after the visit to Warsaw this month by Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the present Soviet leader, and because of Gorbachev's general policy of glasnost, or political openness.
"We had not tried to print it earlier because it seemed it would be impossible," Bijak said. "Now it seems there is a climate in which we can do it."
Gorbachev OK Likely
Bijak rejected suggestions that publication had been cleared with Soviet leaders, but generally well-informed East European diplomats and journalists here and in Warsaw said they believe that, in fact, approval had probably been obtained personally from Gorbachev or one of his lieutenants.
"This may be the best-known, most widely circulated 'secret speech' in the world," a West European ambassador in Warsaw commented, "but no Communist party, at least in this part of the world, deliberately upstages another by printing its internal documents--unless the whole thing is part of something much bigger and more far-reaching than a historical exercise."
The Khrushchev speech had already become a litmus test among many here for glasnost , with skeptics saying that until it was published, they could not take seriously promises of greater political freedom.
Opposition to the speech's publication lay not in Khrushchev's disclosures about Stalin, Soviet historians agree, but in what they may imply about the Communist Party that he led for nearly 30 years, the Soviet political and economic system that he shaped in large part and the men, some of whom remain at the top in the Kremlin, who first came to politics during his rule.
Khrushchev himself reluctantly agreed that his speech would remain, at least nominally, "secret," but later justified it on grounds that he did not want to give socialism's enemies any comfort by publicly disclosing Stalin's abuse of power.
Changed Nation's Course
Yet, in the opinion of the Soviet historian Roy A. Medvedev, a biographer of both Khrushchev and Stalin, the "secret speech" marks Khrushchev's place in history, for it pulled the country back from the political course on which Stalin had set it.
"His exposure of Stalin's mistakes, even if not all of them, was a personal mission, a service performed by him as an individual," Medvedev wrote in his 1983 biography of Khrushchev. "It remains the principal feat of his life, overshadowing all his mistakes, both before and after. He occupies a prominent place in history above all because of the report he delivered at the 20th party congress."