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Title: The double blow : 1956 and the Communist Party of Great Britain
Author: Hudson, Katharine Jane
ISNI:       0000 0001 3583 5612
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 1992
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Three years after Stalin's death, Khrushchev shocked the world by revealing much of the truth about the crimes of Stalin. Most affected by the revelations were the Communist Parties, who had held Stalin in god-like reverence. This thesis examines the effects, both of these revelations on the British Communist Party, and of the second cataclysmic event of that year - the Hungarian Uprising and its suppression by Soviet tanks. It appears that to many members, an opportunity was presented by Khrushchev's frankness, to renew the Communist movement and set aside the old dogmatic ways; this desire for real change did not, unfortunately, permeate the ranks of the British Party leadership. At all points, whilst allowing open debate to proceed, the leadership took positions and expressed views designed to consolidate and continue in the old mould. Demands for a rigorous analysis of the Stalinist period, including the role of the system of democratic centralism, were never fully taken up; the British Party leadership persisted in taking the Khrushchev line - that Stalin, and the cult of the personality, were responsible for the abuses. The questioning of basic Communist principles, such as democratic centralism was not permitted. Considerable debate did take place, however, within the Party press and in the unofficial journal 'The Reasoner', on many topics including Inner-Party Democracy, the rewriting of 'The British Road to Socialism', anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and unrest in Eastern Europe. The leadership eventually responded to demands for a Special Congress in recognition of the cataclysmic nature of the events. The British Party leadership sought primarily to defend what it knew best - the structures of the Party, and its unthinking loyalty to the Soviet Union. This latter feature proved a heavy strain on the Party when the leadership unconditionally supported the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Uprising. The combined effect of the events of 1956 led to a membership loss in the region of 7,000. 1956 appears to have been a tragically wasted opportunity for the international Communist movement. Having exposed and rejected the distortions of the Stalin period, the possibilities were not taken up. The man had gone, but the system remained unaltered. This thesis attempts to show, however, that whilst the British Party had been nominally independent since the dissolution of the Comintern in 1943, it was, because of its historical development, psychologically subordinate to Moscow. For the leaders of the British Communist Party to have gone against the Soviet line, no matter how appalling their decisions, no matter now reasonable the arguments of the British Party dissidents, would have been inconceivable. For many British Communists, Marxism-Leninism had become an article of faith, rather than a political philosophy and practical tool; for many others however, the events of 1956 demonstrated that faith and reason could no longer be reconciled. Despite the departure of many, this dichotomy was to remain within the British Communist Party, along with the structures of democratic centralism, until its dissolution in November 1991.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Stalin; Khrushchev; Hungarian Uprising