Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament
translated and edited by Strobe Talbott, with a foreword by Edward Crankshaw, an introduction by Jerrold L. Schecter
Little, Brown, 602 pp., $12.95
In October, 1964, Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev was removed from office by a palace revolution in which his protégé Brezhnev emerged as his successor to head the Communist party of the Soviet Union. However, in contrast with what had hitherto been Soviet practice, he was neither murdered nor transformed into an “unperson.” Until his death in September, 1971, he lived in relative comfort on an official pension in a compound of state-owned villas in a village some twenty miles outside Moscow. Although he was officially guarded, he was able to meet people in the neighborhood, to receive visitors, and he was provided with a car for an occasional visit to see friends and relations in Moscow.
The greatest hardship from which this energetic and ebullient man suffered was boredom, relieved mainly by interminable, rambling reminiscing about the past to all who were ready to listen to him. In 1967 he was persuaded, by his family we are told, to use a tape recorder, and during the years that remained to him, one hundred and eighty hours of Khrushchev’s memoirs and comments on events were recorded. In 1970, by means and in circumstances which still remain secret, a few tapes and a typed transcript of some of the recorded memoirs, running to 820 pages, together with many photographs and some homemade films of Khrushchev’s daily life, reached Little, Brown and Life magazine. The publishers were satisfied that the material was genuine, and brought out, at the end of 1970, a book under the title Khrushchev Remembers.
It was only natural that the book should have been treated with skepticism by some students of the Soviet scene. The sole authentication of it was the assurance by the publishers, who were of course financially much interested, that they were “convinced beyond doubt” that the material was what it purported to be. Mr. Edward Crankshaw regarded the work as authentic, basing his view on internal evidence alone. But it was precisely the internal evidence that seemed so unconvincing to me. The text bore the marks of Khrushchev’s style, and was riddled with errors, as one would have expected from any product coming from the eccentric First Secretary, and as one would also have expected any competent faker to imitate. But it contained very little indeed that was new and a great deal that closely followed accounts of events which had appeared in the West in recent years, such as Svetlana Allilueva’s book, or interviews given by Khrushchev to visiting socialists.
There were very circumstantial stories at the time of the involvement of the KGB in some way in the genesis of the book. Even though the book contained nothing that could be pointed to as disinformation of the kind that the Soviet authorities might wish to put about, the manufacture of seemingly harmless forgeries by KGB agents is a major Soviet industry, or was in the decades after the war—whether simply to earn foreign currency, or in order to cast …