Dead Souls

Khrushchev Remembers

translated and edited by Strobe Talbott, with an Introduction, Commentary, and Notes by Edward Crankshaw
Little, Brown, 618 pp., $10.00

Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Khrushchev; drawing by David Levine

The temptation to resort to deliberate obfuscation as a means of promoting one’s political fortunes has been present everywhere and in all times, but nowhere has its appeal been greater than in the murky and dangerous mists of Russian internal political intrigue. The annals of Russian political life are replete with forgeries, falsifications, and mystifications of every variety. The Soviet period is far from being an exception in this respect. If it differs from earlier periods, it does so only in this sense: that in addition to a respectable number of pure forgeries (the “Litvinov Diaries,” the various Bessedowski products, etc.) it supports a very considerable number of productions that are mixtures of truth and fiction. The “Sisson Documents,” published (and vouched for as authentic) by the United States government in 1918 to prove that the Bolsheviki were German agents, had their origins mostly in the fertile imaginations of Ferdinand Ossendowsky and one journalistic associate; but they did incorporate some genuine material lifted from the files, or tapped from the telegraphic wires, of the Provisional Government.

The “Zinoviev Letter,” which caused the fall of Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government in 1924, appears to have been concocted by a Russian forgery center in Berlin; but it made use of certain genuine Comintern documents and in some respects followed them quite closely. And as for the so-called “Eremin Document” on which is based a portion (by no means all) of the suspicion of Stalin’s services to the Tsarist police in the period from 1900 to 1912, this writer was recently obliged to observe, in a lecture on this subject, that the marks of genuineness in the document were too strong to permit us to view it as entirely fraudulent, and the marks of fraudulence too strong to permit us to view it as wholly genuine. These circumstances are not cited to suggest that one should reason here by analogy; it is simply that this background might usefully be held in mind as one proceeds to the examination of what is surely one of the oddest and most interesting documents-with-a-pretension-to-authenticity to come out of Russia for many a day.

The volume entitled Khrushchev Remembers consists of some fifty fragments of reminiscent and sometimes reflective prose purporting to have emanated in some way from the lips or pen of Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev. Some of these embrace the recollections of early youth. The main body of them treats of the internal events of the Stalin and immediate post-Stalin periods. The last of them, eleven all told, have to do primarily with problems of Soviet foreign relations and are drawn mostly from the period of Khrushchev’s pre-eminence in the Soviet regime. We have no means of knowing how complete this body of material is: whether what is published here is all or only a portion of what is available, or to what sorts of editing the material has…

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