Given his own history, Khrushchev's speech was an act of great moral bravery and huge political recklessness. Speaking for nearly four hours, he stunned his listeners with a detailed and sweeping account of Stalin's mass arrests, deportations, torture and executions. Though the delegates were sworn to secrecy (and the speech remained unpublished in the USSR until 1988), the details soon leaked out, both in briefings to Soviet and satellite parties and, possibly at Khrushchev's own instigation, to the western media, including via John Rettie of Reuters, later of the Guardian.
The truth caved in on us, is how one person in the audience graphically described the speech. But as Tony Judt points out in his magisterial Postwar, it is important not to overstate what Khrushchev was attempting. His aim, not surprisingly, was a controlled de-Stalinisation that kept the revolutionary myth and the Soviet system intact. All the faults of the Bolshevik experience were laid at Stalin's door alone. But in his characteristically impulsive way, Khrushchev placed the possibility of a reformed Soviet system on the agenda. For the next decade, indeed, it was still possible to believe in that outcome, and there were true believers who persuaded themselves that it could happen, even 30 years later in the Gorbachev years. Harold Wilson's "white heat of the technological revolution" speech in 1963 can only be properly understood in the context of his fear that Khrushchev's boast that the USSR would outproduce the US by 1970 was well-founded. But the larger reality, as his biographer William Taubman says, is that the system never recovered from the secret speech and nor did Khrushchev.
The most immediate reason for this, especially outside Russia, was the suppression of the Hungarian democratic revolution in November 1956. From that moment on, communism was irrevocably more about oppression than liberation.
Read it all. Even a mortally wounded beast can still be very dangerous. And the remnants of those sick ideologies are still around to spread their poison in the world. They and their camp followers remain threats in the world and no longer desire or expect a utopian paradise. The modern adherents know full well that their ideology oppresses, kills and causes untold human misery. They don't care anymore about that. They are filled with envy, hatred and an unrivaled animosity toward the system of human interaction that has demonstrated its superiority to their holy religion.
Their new goal in life is to undermine the west in any way possible. That is why you will find them in leadership positions for all the victimhood cults that promote identity politics; and why you will find them supporting the dictators and tyrants of the world regardless of race, religion, or creed. That is why they enable radical Islam. The enemy of their enemy remains their friend because it is so delightful to share the hatred.
Those who still capable of believing in the Marxist religion will always be equal-opportunity haters of freedom, democracy and individualism; and the mortal enemies of humanity.
The essay concludes with this astonishing paragraph:
But the cold-war syllogism lives on today in a new guise. Too many haters of capitalism and the United States still cram everything into the frame of untruth and self-deception that says my enemy's enemy is still my friend because, even if he blows up my family on the tube, murders my colleagues on the bus or threatens to behead me for publishing a drawing, he is still at war with Bush, Blair and Berlusconi. It is 50 years this month since that simplistic view of the world lost whatever moral purchase it may once have had. It is time such thinking was, to choose a sadly appropriate word, purged. Too long, my brothers and my sisters, too long.
Communism and socialism have always been about oppression. It is only the true believers and the many useful idiots of the west who have failed to notice.
UPDATE: And speaking of useful idiots, Alexandra at All Things Beautiful takes them to task. I hope they are listening, but I am doubtful they are willing to look in the mirror she provides.