Mediterranean Quarterly 12.3 (2001) 144-148
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Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower
Sergei N. Khrushchev: Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower. University Park, Penna.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000. 769 pages. ISBN 0-271-01927-1. $54.95. Translated by Shirley Benson.
The subject of this book, Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev (NSK), is remembered by many as the court jester who got down on his haunches, thrust out his legs, and danced the Ukrainian gopak like a bear on Stalin's orders. He wore ill-fitting clothes and showed his lack of manners. When receiving yet another Order of Lenin, he reportedly had tears in his eyes and said that only under a communist system could a peasant with just four years of elementary school become leader of the Soviet Union. At a 1960 United Nations meeting in New York, he took off his shoe and pounded it on the table to express displeasure with U.S. policies.
It is understandable that a son would attempt to glorify his father and present him in a most flattering light, although not that he would do so by using evidence creatively. The dust jacket of this book by Sergei Khrushchev shows NSK bedecked in the uniform of a two-star general during the Second World War. Buried in the text is an indication that he served as a high-level political commissar (politruk) and not as a combat officer. NSK also appears in this same uniform in a 1958 picture in the photograph section of the book.
The volume covers in detail the period between 1953 and 1964, the years between the death of Stalin and NSK's own forced retirement to a not-uncomfortable dacha outside of Moscow--a villa worthy of an American multimillionaire. The book's tone is established in its prologue, which offers a portrait of NSK's accomplishments during the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Unfortunately, however, it also misinterprets the U.S. military's role in White House decision making as being a mirror image of relations between the USSR high command and its political leadership. [End Page 144]
Contrasting this massive work with a growing body of literature and archival materials on the subject, one is left with the nagging feeling of its incompleteness. For example, the author mentions his father's memoirs and refers the reader to them regarding secret police chief Lavrenty P. Beria, who was expelled from the Communist Party and executed in July 1953, but fails to address a controversy about the authenticity of the first version of the memoirs published in the West. It has been reported that the KGB confiscated thirty-seven-hundred pages and forty-three tapes of the authentic memoirs, which it then may have doctored before returning them. It is not clear in this volume whether Sergei Khrushchev is referring to the translation by Strobe Talbot, Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament (Boston: Little Brown, 1974) or the tapes. The issue of authenticity of the Khrushchev memoirs is central to any historical accuracy of a turbulent era. In that spirit, I sought the author's clarification, without success.
The debate over the incompleteness of accounts has been revived with the publication in Moscow of a four-volume set of memoirs (total length, including reproduced documents, is 3,128 pages) under the title N. S. Khrushchev: Vremya, Liudi, Vlast' (Moscow: Moskovskie Novosti, 1999), edited by G. I. Reznichenko. This voluminous work presumably represents a transcript of all original NSK tapes as well as significant primary source materials that should add to our knowledge of the period. For unexplained reasons, the appearance of these memoirs is ignored by Sergei Khrushchev, other than a brief note that they exist. This does not mean that Nikita S. Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower is devoid of useful insights, however.
The author does offer some psychological aspects of a family on the move from obscurity to prominence. Three years after returning to Moscow from Ukraine, the Khrushchev family was shaken by the death of...