Since 1956 it has been official policy in the USSR to criticise the abuses of power by Joseph Stalin in the period of the so-called Cult of the Individual. It is a widely-held misconception in the West that such criticism ended in the Brezhnev years. In fact, party textbooks continued to castigate Stalin. The negative comments became less specific, however, and many people who weren't old enough to learn about the purges from Khrushchev's revelations in the late Fifties and early Sixties were unaware of the scale of the human carnage that Stalin had perpetrated in the Soviet Union. Brezhnev, moreover, allowed the textbooks to counterbalance anti-Stalin commentary with plaudits for Stalin's domestic and foreign policies. Stalin was never rehabilitated, but his name ceased to be anathema. Gorbachev, coming to power in 1985, has done more than any Soviet leader since Khrushchev to restore the critical side to dominance in treatments of the Stalin question. New projects on Stalin, especially since the January 1987 Plenum of the Central Committee, have been described in the historical journals; and Abuladze's film Repentance and Rybakov's novel Children of the Arbat, with their undisguised attacks on Stalinism, have already indicated the direction which may soon be taken by the Gorbachevite Communist leaders.
LRB 17 March 1988 | PDF Download