- Corn Crusade: Khrushchev's Farming Revolution in the Post-Stalin Soviet Union by Aaron Hale-Dorrell
My first distinct memory of what subsequently came to be known as the "Khrushchev Era" came with the first volume of Detskaia Entsiklopediia.1 This was in 1958 in the Bulgarian city of Varna, a port city that only a couple of years before had been called Stalin. It had come to pass in our young lives that Stalin himself had died, our home city had been renamed back to Varna, Stalin's statue in the Maritime Gardens had quietly disappeared, and our school uniforms had changed from ornate Soviet to sober navy blue Bulgarian.
Times were changing and changing fast. Volume 1 of the newly arrived Detskaia Entsiklopediia announced it from the very first lines of the preface, greeting us, child-readers, with the words: "Happy journey to you, travelers to the Third Millenium!" (Schastlivogo puti vam, puteshestvenniki v tret´e tysiacheletie!).2 The preface described the demands to which Soviet science had to answer. The first two in the long list were that average life span should be prolonged to 150 to 200 years and all contagious diseases would be eradicated.3
We believed this, as we would believe stranger things to come with Khrushchev, including the promise that when we grew up, there would be communism and no need of money. Abundance would be such that you could take from the shops whatever you wanted in unlimited quantities without paying. We thought about chocolate. The Entsiklopediia was made for us.
Aaron Hale-Dorrell's book brought me back to those days. Insofar as Bulgaria had been closely copying Soviet policy since the Soviet-supported communist takeover of 1944, the "Thaw" came to us in all aspects of life. Of some prominence among them was the local version of the corn mania. The Bulgarian contribution to it was sowing corn in shallow holes, fertilized with human waste. This innovation came from the Bulgarian northwest, near the Danube port of Lom, and was known as the "Lom-hole method" (lomski iamki). As with many wonders of that era, the method is now long forgotten, the age of free chocolate never came, and Khrushchev's name is increasingly remembered mainly by professional historians of the period. [End Page 135]
Hale-Dorrell's book speaks to this last community in a spirit of redeeming the long-lost leader from an unjust fame. A great part of that reputation came from the leader's clownish posturing and interminable upbeat speeches. Indeed, those of us who grew up in his time, remembered him mainly for that and much less for his "corn crusade." Khrushchev's clowning, nonetheless, brought a relief from the previous time, during which the grim leader's public performances came as if from a sarcophagus. The tone of Khrushchev's public performance was decidedly different. His published speeches were dotted with reporters' remarks like: "excitement! laughter! tumultuous and undying applause!" every few sentences.4 A carnivalesque spirit was all around.
Much more than an upbeat, jocular mood came with Khrushchev. The first blocks of flats began to be built in my home city, we learned about central heating and indoor bathrooms, about refrigerators, washing machines, electric irons, and, at the apex of this forward and upward development, Sputnik. And then it all came to a sudden end. In October 1964 there came a half-muted announcement in the papers that due to health problems Khrushchev had asked the Politbureau to be retired. The name of Brezhnev began to appear in the papers. It became obvious with time that Khrushchev's illness had been a sham and he had actually been removed from power for his supposed adventurism. A new time had come, and only decades later would it be called "zastoi" (stagnation). The carnival had acquired a more sober form.
What was happening in my own country raises an interesting question. The country's supreme leader, Todor Zhivkov, had come to...