Before taking this course, I can honestly say that I had a very naive, idealistic vision of how history played a role in society. In true American fashion, I believed that history was irrevocable, it couldn’t be altered and it was certain. I took comfort in knowing that regardless of what happens on a day to day basis, history remains the same. I’ve come to realize however, just how easily history can be changed, molded, or even forgotten over time. Despite this disconcerting realization that I’ve reached over this semester, I’ve realized that there is one constant with the study of history, and that is change. Studying the history of Russia, and in particular that of the Soviet Union has proven this time and time again. Its truly fascinating to see just how easily Soviet history is changed, adopted, and twisted to fit the needs of those in charge.
For example, when Stalin became the leader of the Soviet Union it was common knowledge within the inner circle that Lenin had not wanted Stalin to become the leader. As a result, Stalin sought to eliminate that aspect of history, and strove to create himself as the ultimate, all-knowing Father of Russia. He did this by getting rid of Lenin’s supporters, and by taking many of Lenin’s quotes out of context to show himself as Lenin’s chosen heir. By erasing people who knew the truth about Lenin’s opinions of Stalin, he was able to erase and twist history to suit his own needs.
This idea was also clearly epitomized on February 24, 1956, when Khrushchev delivered a “secret speech” to a closed session of the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party. In this speech, Khrushchev not only denounced Stalin for his transgressions, but also disassociated himself and the Communist Party from any of Stalin’s actions while leader of the Soviet Union. With one single speech, Khrushchev transformed Stalin from a national hero to the image of a tyrannical mass murderer. Similar to Stalin, Khrushchev also got rid of supporters of the old leader, though through the less violent means of deportation and demotion.
As much as Khrushchev strove to emphasize the differences between him and Stalin, it is clear that both had some similarities. One key aspect of their lives that was similar was how both manipulated history to suit their own needs. No matter how hard Khrushchev tried to distance himself from Stalin, there was no escaping this commonality. This idea is common not only in leaders throughout history, but also within every individual. We’re all guilty of changing memories we posess, and in turn, we alter history collectively. The histories we know are not objectively correct, they’re simply the only ones we have. The Russian people were dictated their nation’s history by their leader, and it was the only one accepted and taught. The ability of history to be so easily changed with each passing leader only solidifies the susceptibility of history to change.