BRIAN LAMB, HOST: William Taubman, author of "Khrushchev" -- who was he?
WILLIAM TAUBMAN, AUTHOR, "KHRUSHCHEV: THE MAN AND HIS ERA": Nikita Khrushchev -- he was a peasant who became the ruler of a superpower and almost destroyed the world.
LAMB: What are these three stars on his chest there in that picture?
TAUBMAN: Well, I`m not exactly sure. I thought one was an Order of Lenin, but Sergei Khrushchev, his son, told me one was the Order of the Red Banner. Whatever they were, they were high Soviet awards which made him feel very proud.
LAMB: You say in your book that you saw him once. When?
TAUBMAN: I saw him in 1959, when I was a student at college, and I was home in September in New York City, and his motorcade swept through Central Park. And I got just a quick glimpse of him as he passed by -- not really much.
LAMB: Did you know anything about him then?
TAUBMAN: Well, I knew a lot because, of course, he was jousting with Eisenhower, and I was a high school and then a college student. And I think it`s probably one of the things that got me into the Russian field, the excitement of the cold war, the kind of suspense over the -- over its crises. So in a way, I`ve made a kind of great circle in my career, from my initial interest in Khrushchev to coming back and trying to understand him in this book.
LAMB: This program`s about 14 years old, and I don`t remember -- I`m sure it must have happened some time, but I don`t remember seeing three different major literary publications -- this is "The New York Times Book Review," with your book on the cover. This is "The Los Angeles Times," with your book on the cover. And this is "The Washington Post," reviewed by Bob Kaiser, with your book on the cover. Were you surprised?
TAUBMAN: I was definitely surprised. Somebody told me I`d hit a trifecta. I didn`t realize, frankly, it was this difficult to do. But if I did it, it wasn`t me. Or it was only partly me. It was Khrushchev who was so important and so colorful, and to this day commands this kind of attention.
LAMB: Robert Conquest, a name that old-timers will remember, reviewed your book in "The New Yorker," and he says, "This is the first comprehensive and scholarly biography of Stalin`s successor." What`s that like, coming from Robert Conquest? And who is he?
LAMB: Well, Robert Conquest is a British scholar of Russia who has written a biography of Stalin, written a famous book called "The Great Terror," written about the famine of the `30s, written about the peoples of south Russia and the Caucuses, wholesale deported, written about the Khrushchev period, too. He wrote a book called "Power and Policy" back in the `50s and `60s, trying to figure out what was going on behind closed Kremlin doors. And that`s what I tried to do in the book, to use the new sources that have become available to figure out what Conquest could only guess at.
LAMB: One review says you`ve been working on this for a couple of dozen years, another one says 10 years. When did you start preparation of this book?
TAUBMAN: Well, it depends how you count. I started -- I`d written a book called "Stalin`s American Policy," which was published in `82. And I looked around for what to do next, and it occurred to me to do Khrushchev`s American policy. So I started working on that. And then in 1986, I sent a prospectus to Norton, the publisher, and they said, No, we really don`t want that, but if you do a biography, we`d be interested. So I signed a contract to do a biography, promised to deliver it in `89, and got, as I tell my students, a 13-year extension. When I tell them that, I say, Don`t ask for that from me!
LAMB: Where do you teach?
TAUBMAN: I teach at Amherst College in Massachusetts.
LAMB: And what do you teach?
TAUBMAN: I teach political science, and my specialty is Russian politics. But I teach political science in a way that focuses on history, as this book does. I try to look at the way things evolve and what they become in order better to understand them.
LAMB: Our last book on this program was your brother, Phil Taubman, wrote a book called "The Secret Empire."
LAMB: Did you two collaborate at all on your two books that came out at the same time?
TAUBMAN: No, we were too busy and too desperately trying to finish our books to collaborate. I mean, we really should have asked each other to read each other`s manuscripts because he could have helped me with my -- what I say about spy satellites and U-2 planes, and I could have helped him. But we didn`t really do that until the very end. There might have been an element of brotherly reticence, too.
LAMB: Who`s older?
TAUBMAN: I`m older by six-and-a-half years.
LAMB: One of the people that did read your book is Sergei Khrushchev. And by the way, what`s the right way for an American to pronounce this man`s name?
TAUBMAN: The right way is Hrush-chov, which I don`t even use myself because I think if I use it that way, people won`t know whom I`m talking about.
LAMB: How do you say it?
TAUBMAN: Well, I say Krus-chov, or Krus-chuv. In this connection, when John Kennedy used to refer to him as "Chairman Krusheff," he made actually four errors of pronunciation in that one word because it should have been "H" rather than "K," the accent should have been on the last syllable -- hrus-CHOV rather than KRU-sheff -- and it`s sh-ch in the middle, rather than sh. There`s one more, but I think I`ve forgotten it.
LAMB: What role did Sergei Khrushchev play in your book?
TAUBMAN: Sergei and his sisters and other members of his family were absolutely central to this. I couldn`t have done it without them. Sergei, for example, invited me to go with him down to Khrushchev`s birthplace, this little village in southern Russia in `91, and then over to the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, where Khrushchev grew to manhood, and then to Kiev, where Khrushchev ruled as Stalin`s viceroy. And he introduced me to other relatives and other people, and he just corrected my errors. He challenged my interpretations. And the most important thing he did was at the very end, he let me get away with my interpretations, even though he didn`t necessarily agree with them.
LAMB: Where is he today?
TAUBMAN: He`s at Brown University. He`s at the Watson Institute for International studies. He teaches and he writes and he lectures.
LAMB: How old would he be?
TAUBMAN: He was born in 1935. So what is that, 68.
LAMB: And how did he get to this country, and what is his circumstance -- what are his circumstances? Is he a citizen?
TAUBMAN: He is a citizen. And by the way, that citizenship doesn`t sit well with some of his countrymen, who I think, even if they aren`t all that nostalgic for communism, are chagrined at the thought that Khrushchev, who promised that our grandchildren over here in the United States would live under communism is now the home for his son.
He got here by -- you know, by visiting and then deciding to stay. And his English is very good. His wife is with him.
LAMB: Why`d he do it?
TAUBMAN: I think he wasn`t that happy with his country. He had been -- when his father was dumped in October, 1964, forced out, he, Sergei, was also -- also suffered from that. And he was made to share his father`s fate, in part. And I don`t think he relished that. His father was an un-person for, really, 20 years. Sergei was more visible, more mobile. And I think he was just as glad to get out and take advantage of what the West has to offer.
LAMB: How`s your Russian?
TAUBMAN: It will be tested tomorrow. I`m speaking on Voice of America Russian service, and I called them up this morning, and they said they want me to talk Russian. So I`m scrambling. I mean, my Russian is very good, but nonetheless, it`s a second language, and so I`m preparing. I`m thinking about what I`ll say and how to say it in Russian.
LAMB: How much interpreting have you done over the years?
TAUBMAN: I`ve not done any formal interpreting of the kind that was done at the strategic arms talks, but I`ve done a lot of interpreting for Russians who are visiting here and for Americans and delegations there. And I did a whole host of interviews for this book with all sorts of Russians, and all of it in Russian.
LAMB: You have a quote in the book from the diary of Harold MacMillan, former prime minister of Great Britain. You say, "How can this fat, vulgar man, with his pig eyes and his ceaseless flow of talk, really be the head, the aspirant czar, of all these millions of people and this vast country?" Where`s that come from? What`s he talking about?
TAUBMAN: Well, he`s talking about the impression that Khrushchev made, especially in the early years, when he was dealing with the West. He`s also talking about a reality. Khrushchev was a primitive man, in some ways. He had no more than two years of elementary education, maybe three. He sometimes varies in what he says. So this was not a cultured man. Ernst Neizvestny, who did his headstone for his grave, a sculptor, said he was the most uncultured man he`d ever met.
Nonetheless, I think there`s a little bit of British urbanity and disdain in this. The British, in particular, were horrified because a man like MacMillan was about as suave as you could get.
LAMB: Your first chapter is about something that happened in 1964. What is it?
TAUBMAN: I decided to start with the end, to begin with Khrushchev`s fall from power. It`s about the story of how his best disciples and closest friends conspired to oust him and how he should have seen it coming, but he didn`t see it coming, about how, when he finally saw it coming, he didn`t do anything to prevent it, and then how he faced the music when they called him to the Kremlin and told him he was through, and how he wept and how he broke down, really, at the thought that he was being kicked out. It`s a kind of dramatic story, and it also gives you a sense of his humanity, which I wanted to do at the beginning of the book, so that when the blood starts to flow, as it does later on, people would remember that this is a human being.
LAMB: In 1964, what was going on in the world?
TAUBMAN: In 1964, the Vietnam war had begun, but that really wasn`t absolutely central to Russian-American relations yet. In 1964, of course, Kennedy had just died a year earlier, and Khrushchev had been desperately disappointed because he thought he could do business with Kennedy after the Cuban missile crisis. In 1954 (sic), the Soviets had allies in the Middle East, like Egypt. They were courting other third-world countries, like India. De Gaulle was still in power in France, Adenauer in Germany, Johnson, of course, in the United States.
LAMB: How long had he been head of the Soviet Union?
TAUBMAN: Well, depends -- he had been the sole head since 1957, when he defeated his rivals, but he`d basically been No. 1 among equals since 1954. Stalin died in `53. There was bit of jockeying, a bit of -- they arrested Beria. They liquidated him. By `54, Khrushchev was really the big man, but the other guys were snapping at his heels.
LAMB: Who was Beria?
TAUBMAN: Lavrenty Beria was the secret police chief under Stalin, a man from Soviet Georgia, who had more blood on him than anybody else, probably up to his neck, who was totally cynical, who was also, it turned out later, a kind of marauding rapist. He would cruise around Moscow in his limousine, pointing to women that he saw in the street and wanted brought to him and whom he would drug and rape. He was a thoroughly, thoroughly unpleasant, unattractive, dangerous, awful man whom Khrushchev feared and therefore moved against.
LAMB: Well, where was he in the hierarchy, at that point? And how did he get there?
TAUBMAN: Well -- Khrushchev?
TAUBMAN: Beria was a member of the Presidium or the Politburo, as they called it until Stalin`s death. This was about 12 to 15 people who were the top leadership circle of the Soviet Union, with Stalin, of course, the main man. And when Stalin died, there were 15 more who tried to rule as the collective leadership but couldn`t do it because they couldn`t resist fighting to take the top spot.
LAMB: So go back to the last days. When did Khrushchev learn that something was afoot?
TAUBMAN: Well, his son, Sergei, the man we talked about before, had a call from a bodyguard of one of the people who was plotting against his father. And he went to meet the guy, got the information and brought it to his father. And his father said, Who`s supposedly plotting against me? And Sergei mentioned a couple of the names. And his father said, Nah! They wouldn`t do it. They`re too weak. And what about the others? And Sergei named some more names. He said, No, they wouldn`t do it because they hate each other. So he brushed it off.
I think, as a few more days went by -- this is now October, just before the coup against him, I think he probably became convinced that it was real. And he certainly knew -- he was down by the Black Sea coast at his dacha when the call came from Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow, asking him to come back. Then he knew. But even then, he didn`t try to resist, which was a stunning surprise to the people who were trying to kick him out because they thought they were dealing with a giant and a tyrant and a very angry and powerful man. So the fact that he didn`t resist was stunning for them, too.
LAMB: What was his title in `64?
TAUBMAN: In `64, he had three titles. The most important one was first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The second one was chairman of the Council of Ministers. That means prime minister of the Soviet Union, head of the government. And the third was chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, which means head of the legislature. This is the opposite of separation of powers. They`re all -- American style. It`s all the powers that be united in one person.
LAMB: So you say he was down by the Black Sea at his dacha. And what is a dacha?
TAUBMAN: A dacha is a -- it`s a summer place. It`s a place outside the city. In the hands of ordinary people, it can be a shack. For the leader of the Soviet Union, it was a massive palace.
LAMB: And how many different places did he live in, at that point?
TAUBMAN: Oh, he had a dacha down there. He had another one in the Crimea by the Black Sea. He had one outside of Moscow. At least three, probably more.
LAMB: And how do you get them? I mean, did he have to buy them himself, or it was provide by the state?
TAUBMAN: No, no, no. You couldn`t -- everything he had was his from the state -- accompanying his services to the state. When he was ousted, he had nothing except a few gifts from foreign leaders which he`d held onto, and that was held against him, too. Everything -- the furniture was government-issue. The cooks were government-provided. The bodyguards were, of course, provided. Everything was government-issue.
LAMB: So how did it play out back in October...
TAUBMAN: Well, he got the call from Moscow. Brezhnev said, We want you to come home, to come back to the Kremlin. We want to meet. And at first, he said, Why do you need me? You know, Hold off the meeting until I get back.
LAMB: He was on vacation.
TAUBMAN: Yes, he was on vacation. And then he agreed to go. And he got on the plane the next morning and flew to Moscow, where he was met at the airport by the head of the secret police, a man named Vladimir Semichastny, not by -- when they usually came back to Moscow, there`d be a whole entourage of the leaders, all bowing down and acting as if the greatest thing that had ever happened to them was greeting their leader. This time, he knew, when there was only Semichasney and a couple of policemen, that this was for real.
They took him back to the Kremlin. They sat him down at the office in the Kremlin. He, at that point, still tried to chair the meeting. They wouldn`t let him do it, and they began landing on him. They took turns beating him up rhetorically, accusing him of everything under the sun. And he just sat there, tried to defend himself. They shouted him down. And then he just -- it was over.
LAMB: Here`s a fellow named Dmitri Polyansky.
LAMB: Quote, "You used to behave yourself. Now you`re a changed man. Stalin himself behaved more modestly than you do, Nikita Sergeyevich. You`ve been reviling Stalin to the point of indecency. You`re suffering from megalomania, and the illness is incurable."
Break some of that down. What about this comment on Stalin?
TAUBMAN: Well, what`s interesting about that is that comment on Stalin because Polyansky himself, like the other leaders, had been also denouncing Stalin, as Khrushchev had begun to do in his famous secret speech. So this shows that they -- although they had been denouncing Stalin, they thought Khrushchev had gone too far. And that`s why, in the years that followed his ouster, his successors partially rehabilitated Stalin.
LAMB: How many people would have been in the room when this started?
TAUBMAN: About 15, the members of the leadership.
LAMB: How many people outside of that room knew it was going on?
TAUBMAN: I would say three or four, top police and maybe army officials.
LAMB: And how much control did he have over the media in the Soviet Union, at that point?
TAUBMAN: Well, he thought he had total control, but they were taking it away even as he was ousted. The minute he arrived in Moscow, they changed the guards at his dacha. They changed the guards in the Kremlin. They were already taking steps to make sure that if he had a last-minute desire to try to turn the tables on them, the tables couldn`t be turned.
LAMB: You say in your book that he opened the Kremlin up to the outside world.
TAUBMAN: Yes, he did.
LAMB: What is the Kremlin? And what would he open up to?
TAUBMAN: The Kremlin is this magnificent ensemble of architectural places in the center of Moscow. There are churches there. There are palaces. There are statues. There are bells. It`s the heart of Russian government and of the Soviet regime, even though the Soviets, of course, didn`t build it. And so that`s where this took place, inside the heart of the Kremlin.
LAMB: You also have a quote in here from a man named Kosygin.
TAUBMAN: Alexei Kosygin was one of Khrushchev`s closest associates, who, of course, was part of the coup against him and who actually succeeded him as prime minister.
LAMB: The quote here is, " `You are an honest man,` Kosygin said to Khrushchev, `but you`ve set yourself up in opposition to the Presidium. You don`t pay attention to anyone. You don`t hear anyone out. You interrupt everyone. You love ovations. You`re constantly involved with intrigues, putting down one man, toying with another.`"
What had he done that really tripped him?
TAUBMAN: Well, you see, I think, in this case, Kosygin is referring to behavior that was always there but became particularly intensified in his last year. As Khrushchev`s troubles mounted and as he desperately tried to stem them, he didn`t want to hear anymore about what was going wrong. He didn`t want to consult people who might -- just might -- suggest things he didn`t want to do. He began berating others as a way of blaming them rather than himself. So that what Kosygin described was real. But on the other hand, they`d lived with it for a long time. They had praised him to the skies when he was doing just this thing. So to suddenly turn around and say, Look what you`re doing, was, in a way, disingenuous. They could have done it earlier. They didn`t. They were using this kind of behavior because it now suited them.
LAMB: How long did this session last?
TAUBMAN: It lasted two days. But by the end of the first day, it was over. The barrage, the bombardment of criticism began again the next morning, but that night, when Khrushchev went home, it was basically over. He -- I think he told his son it was over. He told his aide, Oleg Troyanovsky, that it was over. By the second morning, it was just mopping up, to use a military term.
And then they -- the Presidium then turned it over to the Central Committee, which is a larger body of about 200 or 300 people, and they ratified the decision which the Presidium of 10 or 15 had made.
LAMB: You suggest in the book that Sergei Khrushchev was his favorite of his children.
LAMB: How many children did he have?
TAUBMAN: Well, he had a first wife, by whom he had two children, born in 1915 and 1917, Yulia and Leonid. Leonid, who was a historian himself, was killed during the war. Then, with his third wife, Nina Petrovna, who is the woman that the world knows as his wife because she`s the one who traveled with him and the world got to know, he had three children. Actually, he had four, but one died at about 2 years of age. He had three -- Sergei, sister Rada and another daughter, Yelena.
LAMB: Who`s still living?
TAUBMAN: Sergei`s living. Rada is living. Yelena died in 1972. Yulia, the daughter from the first marriage, died in 1981. He also adopted a daughter of Leonid`s, whose name, to confuse matters more, is Yulia, as well. They adopted her when her father was killed in the war and her mother was sent to the gulag. And so she was raised as if she is their daughter, and she`s still alive.
LAMB: You`ve found...
LAMB: ...I suspect -- the only person that found that he was married three times?
TAUBMAN: Yes, I believe so.
LAMB: Where is that third wife in all this?
TAUBMAN: Well, his third wife died. And we don`t even know her last name. We don`t know much about her, except that he married her in the early `20s and then gave her up, apparently, according to what I heard, as the result of pressure from his mother, Khrushchev`s mother, who didn`t like her. He abandoned her. And this, as I try to say in the book, was particularly striking because Khrushchev had a thing about abandoning spouses, women. He didn`t like that at all. He hated the thought. One of his children remained married to a wife or a spouse from whom he wanted to be divorced for 20 years, lest he cross the old man. So the fact that Khrushchev did this is a sign that he, I think, was capable of transgressing his own moral code.
LAMB: How did you find that little fact about this third wife?
TAUBMAN: Well, on my trip down to Ukraine, Donetsk, I met people who -- I met one woman, in particular, who was the daughter of a childhood friend of his. And she told me a lot of important things about Khrushchev, based on encountering him and her father`s stories. And one of the things she told me was this story about his second wife.
LAMB: When he was ousted in 1964, how old was he?
TAUBMAN: He was 70, born in 1894.
LAMB: What kind of shape was he in physically?
TAUBMAN: He was getting tired. His eyes were beginning to fade. He was losing some of that vaunted energy which had been his stock in trade. He probably was beginning to have the hardening of the arteries that laid him down -- laid him low, you know, and killed him. But he -- again, if one hadn`t known that -- in retrospect, we can see it, but at the time, he was still running rings around lots of his colleagues and foreign statesmen with whom he had dealings.
LAMB: So back in `64, how did the world find out that he was no longer the head of the party and head of the country?
TAUBMAN: Well, there was an announcement made, but people who were watching closely, as Western correspondents always did, noticed that pictures of him, the famous portraits that you see in Red Square and elsewhere, were coming down.
LAMB: But then how long after that was the announcement made?
TAUBMAN: Oh, a day or so.
LAMB: And who was announced to be the leader then?
TAUBMAN: Well, they had appointed Brezhnev to be the party leader and Kosygin to be the head of government. They divided the two positions that Khrushchev had taken for himself, another sign of his hubris that they held against him. And they decided no more of that.
LAMB: So what happened to him right after it was -- when it was over? What was the last moment that he was in that room?
TAUBMAN: Well, the last moment, he had moved from the room, small room in the Kremlin, to the Central Committee in a bigger room. And he sat there while they denounced him and ratified his dismissal, and again described as having tears welling up in his eyes. And then they took him back to his house. He had another one of these magnificent houses on what are called -- what were then called the Lenin Hills overlooking Moscow. And at that point, he was told he could keep that place, as well as his dacha outside of town. But they took those places away in due course, and in the meantime, and until he died, he, in effect, lived under house arrest.
LAMB: Is it fair to say when these folks back then turned on each other, they turned on a dime and they just -- overnight, friends would just slice and burn.
LAMB: I mean, I`m thinking of Mikoyan, who you say he was his best friend, even denounced him in the Presidium.
TAUBMAN: Well, Mikoyan he thought was his best friend. In fact, he was -- may not have been as good a friend as he thought. And you have to also admit that he probably had no other friends. So when Mikoyan turned against him, there was nobody left. And in fact, for the remaining seven years of his life, none of people -- none of his colleagues, none of his peers ever visited him. Even Mikoyan never saw him again, called him once on New Year`s Eve, and that was it. So they only people he saw who might be considered friends were people from his youth, from the `20s, who were themselves in the `60s nobody, and therefore could dare to visit him. Anybody who was somebody wouldn`t visit him because any somebody who visited him would soon be nobody.
LAMB: But you just described it -- just a couple weeks earlier, they would have been drinking together or walking together. I mean, in a -- they were pals. They were having dinners at their dachas and all that stuff.
TAUBMAN: Well, there`s one dramatic moment, April 17, 1964. It`s his birthday. Actually, it`s not his birthday. He was born on April 15, but he treated April 17 as if it was his birthday. And they -- all of his colleagues in the Kremlin and the leadership came to his villa in Lenin Hills early in the morning, and they had a ceremony. They presented him with a petition, a kind of fawning document in which they talked about not only his leadership but their love for him. This is several months before he`s ousted, and they`ve already begun to plan to kick him out.
And then they stick around for a session at the table, drinking and eating, that goes on, according to witnesses, too long. And there`s a picture in the book, which I came across, of that occasion. And Khrushchev is standing, and he`s talking. And it`s clear that he`s going on too long because sitting next to him is his wife and his daughter and Brezhnev. And they`re in the picture, too. And they look very unhappy. Brezhnev couldn`t have been too unhappy because it just added to his sense that this guy had to go. But his wife and daughter must have known he was making a fool of himself and were wishing he would shut up.
LAMB: Eight hundred and seventy-six pages. Two-hundred and twenty-three of those pages are notes, source notes, index, acknowledgements. Could it have been a lot longer?
TAUBMAN: I think it was long enough! I was worn out by the time I reached the end. Of course, it could have been longer, but I`m glad it wasn`t.
LAMB: And where did you write it?
TAUBMAN: I wrote it, for the most part, in Amherst, Massachusetts, where I teach and live. I wrote it in a study in the library in which I put all my research notes and all my documents on shelves. I did a lot of the work for it in Russia. I went over there -- the Soviet Union. I went over two or three times a year, beginning in 1986 through 1994. Not every year, but most of those years. Then in 1994, I decided if I keep going to this country as often as I am, I`ll never finish this book. It was time to sit down and try to do it. And then it took me seven years to finish the writing.
LAMB: And what is -- you know, you don`t have to name everything, but what are two or three important things that are brand-new in this book that`s never been published before?
TAUBMAN: That`s a question I`ve been asked before, and I resist answering it. I`ll tell you why, because I can tell you, for example, the existence of this second wife, the fact that Khrushchev had a dalliance with Trotskyism in the `20s, the fact that on the eve of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, the Presidium decide not to invade, and then he changed his mind overnight -- there are a whole string of things like this, but the reason I resist doing it is that to me, the biggest new thing about this book is the picture of Khrushchev as a living, breathing human being, in all of his complexity. Now, that doesn`t summarize easily, but that, I think, is the biggest thing that I tried to convey.
LAMB: How many people is he responsible for murdering?
LAMB: Well, none with his own hands, which, of course, is not saying much, although Beria and maybe some of the others had some at their own hands. He signed arrest warrants, death warrants. How many? We don`t know, but certainly hundreds, probably thousands, maybe tens of thousands. And if you want to take overall political responsibility for those who died in realms and areas where he was in charge, then you go up over -- probably over 100,000 because he was the rule of Ukraine for many years in which there were mass arrests and deportations from which people didn`t return, and executions on a grand scale. So whatever the number is, it`s very big.
LAMB: You know, you say -- are you close to Sergei Khrushchev, would you say?
LAMB: There`s some pretty rough stuff in here. Does he -- how does he deal with that?
TAUBMAN: Well, I have to tell you, when I finally finished writing this and Sergei called me on the phone and said he`d like to read it, I hesitated. I`m not even sure I`ve told him this, so this is another secret from this book, that I hesitated because I was worried. He is a loyal son. He tries to be objective and he is objective in what he writes. He knows what his father did. He doesn`t deny it. But I worried how he would react to some of the passages in this book, where I tried to leave no stone unturned.
And when he called me up, my hand might have been trembling but he was terrific about it. He talked for three hours about factual errors which he corrected, and I changed, and then he challenged some of my interpretations but he said from the very beginning that these were my interpretations, not his, and that I have to stick to them if I chose to do so and for the most part I did.
LAMB: Did he ever quarrel with you about some of the characterizations of Khrushchev?
TAUBMAN: Well, he quarreled about things from major to minor. He quarreled, for example, about something that`s minor but it`s very well known, the question about whether he banged his shoe. Sergei believes on the basis of what he`s read and heard that Khrushchev did not bang that shoe on that table at the United Nations.
LAMB: When? What year was that?
TAUBMAN: That was 1960, September, 1960. And, he had some evidence. I made a point of trying to find out. I found a "New York Times" correspondent who had been in the hall that day and who swears that the shoe was brandished but never banged. That is not a major distinction as historical distinctions go, but I think it`s interesting.
I also read an account by a Russian who was there who claims that somebody stepped on Khrushchev`s shoe. It came off and was handed back to him in a napkin, which he then placed on the table. So, under that account he didn`t take it off. He didn`t brandish it and he didn`t bang it. Well, that`s one example of a disagreement. I eventually went with the notion that he banged it.
But Sergei, I think, also would like to believe that Khrushchev didn`t know as much as I came to think he knew about what was going on in the `30s about the blood that was flowing. I think Sergei, you know, wants to think well of him as a reformer, and I too think well of many of the things that he did but he made a mess of things in other ways and his reforms, in some ways, came to naught.
LAMB: How many people did the communist regimes from 1917 on kill in your opinion?
TAUBMAN: That is again a big subject about which there`s a lot of debate. I`ve seen figures as high as 20 million, actually higher. Solzhenitsyn says 50 million. The documents that have come out in the last ten years that talk about the number actually executed by the secret police in `37 and `38, these are official numbers, say something like 680,000.
Even if that`s true that`s an awful lot. It probably understates it. That doesn`t include the peasants who were collectivized and sent on trains to Siberia never to return many of them, killed dying en route. That doesn`t include those who did in the camps.
I don`t really know, you know, one million, five million, ten million, 20 million, these numbers are so horrifying that even if you choose the low range you -- they`re horrible.
LAMB: You have a whole bunch of references in your book to artists, writers, the intelligencia, and Khrushchev`s relationship with them and I`ve got page 589:
"The artist applauded Khrushchev but among the first words he uttered were it`s dog (expletive). A donkey could smear better than this with his tail. He shouted at a young artist, you`re a nice looking lad but how could you paint something like this?
We should take down your pants and set you on a clump of nettles until you understand your mistakes. You should be ashamed. Are you a faggot or a normal man? Do you want to go abroad? Go then. We`ll take you as far as the border. We have a right to send you out there to cut trees until you`ve paid back the money the state has spent on you."
It goes on and on. I`ll read some more, but what`s he at here? What`s he going? What’s going on?
TAUBMAN: Yes, I was going to say, it goes on and on and it gets worse. You have to censor more.
LAMB: Yeah, right.
TAUBMAN: You’d have to put in expletive more.
Well, I believe that - well first of all Khrushchev as leader of the Soviet Union, leader of the Communist Party, had the mandate he thought, and others have too, to tell writers and poets what to do. This is a distinction from American presidents who tell a lot of people what to do but not usually writers and poets. This is part of communism, laying down the law on everything.
So, he probably had to do it but he was incredibly ill-equipped to do it. He tried to read. He tried to educate himself. He tried to go to operas and plays and ballet, but he never really educated himself sufficiently to do so.
So, he was going to make a mess of it no matter what happened, but my further conviction is that it pained him to make the mess of it that he did, that he felt badly, that he wanted to educate himself and he didn`t succeed.
So, when he confronted these people, I think this was the tensest kind of confrontation for him. He talks about being unable to sleep before he talks to these people. He wants to tell them what to do but he feels semi-inferior and the result is this kind of outpouring of admonitions and artistic advice and profanity.
It really - I`ve talked to people who were at these sessions and say that it was embarrassing. These are people whom he was reading the riot act to but they were embarrassed for him.
LAMB: Where do you get the actual words?
TAUBMAN: Well, a lot of these words were recorded at its time. People were so stunned by what they heard they went home and wrote them down. Many of the most vivid and striking and astounding quotes were written down by a film director named Mikhail Romm, a famous Soviet film director who was at some of these sessions that Khrushchev had with the Intelligentsia and he wrote a book in which these all appear. It`s a terrific source.
LAMB: Here`s some more. This one`s a little rough. Is it Neizvestny?
LAMB: Who was he?
TAUBMAN: Ernst Neizvestny was a sculptor and an artist who`s been living in the United States for many years and who before he left the Soviet Union designed the headstone which appears at Khrushchev`s grave, a magnificent piece, white and black marble, black stone, in which he`s trying to demonstrate the contradictoriness of Khrushchev`s character.
LAMB: You have Khrushchev saying to him: "Your art resembles this. It`s as if a man climbed into a toilet, slid down under the seat, and from there, from under the toilet seat looked up at what was above him at someone sitting on the seat, looking up at that particular part of the body from below, from under the seat. That`s what your art is like. That`s your position comrade. You`re sitting in the toilet." Where would you think that? I mean how would your brain...
TAUBMAN: Well, if you read the next few sentences, I try to interpret to the best of my...
LAMB: You say: "You think I`m crude Khrushchev was in effect saying. I`ll show you how crude I am. You think you`re smarter than I am. I`ll make you feel uncomfortable."
TAUBMAN: Yes. I think he felt uncomfortable and he was making them feel uncomfortable. I think he must have been mortified at some level of his soul by what he was saying. He knew enough to know how this would go over. I mean he was not a man whose rhetoric was usually refined. He was capable of barnyard epithets, but I think he knew that they fit better in barnyards than to novelists and sculptors.
LAMB: One of the very first books ever on this program was a book called "Say Cheese" by a man named Vasily Aksyonov.
LAMB: He`s in your book if it`s the same one.
TAUBMAN: It is.
LAMB: He was recorded here back in 1989 or `90. At the time he was like 58 years old. I don`t know if he`s still alive or not. Is he still living?
TAUBMAN: He is.
LAMB: Do you know him?
TAUBMAN: Yes, I`ve met him.
LAMB: He was in this mix.
TAUBMAN: He taught at George Mason University for a while. I think he may have moved back at least part time to Russia.
LAMB: And he went after him. Let`s see: "Suddenly in the middle of the harangue, Khrushchev pointed to the back of the hall. He thought he had spotted Aksyonov, ‘hey you’, that agent over there." The first syllable of the word agent he mispronounced.
TAUBMAN: He pronounced it AG-ient instead of in Russian Agient.
LAMB: He said, “The jerk in the red sweater with the glasses. No, no, no, not you, him.” I mean was he always this way and, I mean you even earlier have some strong words that he said to JFK when they met in Geneva or Vienna, one of those meetings they had.
TAUBMAN: He wasn`t always like this and, as the years went by he got worse. These two meetings that you`ve been quoting from occurred in December, 1962, which not coincidentally was two months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which as I depicted was a huge setback, both for Soviet diplomacy and for him personally.
I think it was the beginning of the end of his tenure in power. I think he began to lose confidence in himself. He almost began to lose his grip. His behavior becomes almost surreal and you`ve been giving examples of it.
LAMB: So, 1964 they throw him out and they take his dacha away from him and his house in the Lenin Hills. Where do they put him? What does he get from the state?
TAUBMAN: Well, they put him in a smaller - they also take away - yes. They put him in a smaller apartment in Moscow where he doesn`t spend any time, doesn`t really like the city, and they give him a smaller dacha on the other side of Moscow where he lives out his days.
LAMB: And what about the state`s relationship to him? Was his house bugged? Were his security agents around him working directly...
TAUBMAN: As far as I know, yes. He certainly thought so. Everybody associated with him thought so. I`m sure. I mean I only say - I only hesitate because I didn`t see the bugs with my own eyes, but I`d be thunderstruck. He was clearly bugged.
LAMB: But what about the, you know, a lot you quote in here from his own memoir. How did that work in those seven years? How was he able to write a memoir?
TAUBMAN: Well, that was the task of the rest of his life and a sign of how much he cared about his record and wanted to present it in the best possible light. He sat in his backyard with a tape recorder and recorded it. He had no access to archives, no access to documents, no access to colleagues.
He had access to his prodigious memory which, of course, he was capable of embellishing and he did. And he sat there. His son helped him. Others helped him. He tried to narrate his life on tape and it was no secret that he was doing it.
LAMB: So, how did they get it out of the country?
TAUBMAN: Well, they smuggled it out. They smuggled it out with the help, and this was something else that`s new in the book, although it was known to people like Strobe Talbot and Jerry Schecter, who worked for "TIME" magazine and were involved in this,
it was smuggled out of the country with the help of a very shadowy character who worked for the KGB named Victor Louis, a Russian, who in turn was apparently, if not actively helped, then at least allowed to do this by none other than Yuri Andropov who was the head of the KGB and later, in 1982, became the leader of the Soviet Union on Brezhnev`s death.
Andropov turned the - looked the other way and allowed some other wing of the KGB to search for what he knew was being smuggled out of the country.
LAMB: Why would he do that?
TAUBMAN: Well, I haven`t written the book about Andropov, so I can`t be sure, but from everything I know about Andropov he was another one of these very complex characters, an intelligent man, much more educated than Khrushchev, interested in the arts and poetry, probably a supporter of the de-Stalinization that Khrushchev had carried out, and yet appointed head of the KGB trying to hold this system together, determined to punish those who threaten to tear it apart, and hence in a different version of what characterizes Khrushchev, a human being with some feelings and some conscience and yet on the other hand a man capable of repression, coercion, and bloody deeds.
LAMB: Now, we have this book from you and before that a lot of other books, but Sergei Khrushchev wrote how much himself?
TAUBMAN: He wrote a book which I translated and edited into English. In English it was called "Khrushchev on Khrushchev."
LAMB: What year?
TAUBMAN: 1990 it came out and that`s mostly about his father`s last months in power, about his ouster, and then about his time in retirement, and even how Sergei and the family tried to get permission to put up a monument, a memorial after his death.
LAMB: So you go back to it in 19 what, for the memoir when it came out in this country?
TAUBMAN: The memoir came out in 1971, I believe, the first volume called "Khrushchev Remembers" and then they put out a second volume in 1974 called "Khrushchev Remembers, the Last Testament." And then, in 1989-90, they put out a third volume consisting of stuff that Khrushchev had not smuggled out, the family had not smuggled out, and that was called "Khrushchev Remembers the Glasnost Tapes."
LAMB: Now, who is this fellow you quote in here, it`s P-E-L-S-H-E?
TAUBMAN: Pelshe, Arvid Pelshe. He was a member of the post Khrushchev leaders, the post Brezhnev leadership. He was a communist official from one of the Baltic States, Latvia I believe. So, he must have had a complicated mind too because he was selling out his Baltic compatriots to communism.
But, at the time I think you`re talking about, he was the head of the party control committee and Khrushchev was hauled up against them when he tried to write his memoirs to be balled out.
LAMB: What did they want to do?
TAUBMAN: Well, they wanted him to disown it. They wanted him to deny it, to disown it, and I forget. There were two times he went in and I think the second time he did sign his name to a document which was very carefully worded and he said something like I know nothing about this or I - no, his point was I had nothing to do with allegedly transmitting this abroad, which technically speaking he hadn`t. I think that`s the case you`re talking about.
LAMB: It says ‘when he charged Pelshe with interrupting him in Stalinist fashion, the latter snapped. "You`re the one in the habit of interrupting people." Khrushchev replied, "I too was infected by Stalin but I also freed myself from him whereas you did not" meaning Pelshe.
Then you say ‘Khrushchev’s remarks were full of self pity. This is from Nikita Khrushchev 1970-71. "I`m completely isolated. In fact, I`m under house arrest. Help me in my suffering. Being retired is like being tortured in hell" but also of anti-Stalinism. "Murderers must be unmasked."
‘He recalled a man who had been a good historian and another who had worked for the Comintern: "Stalin shot them both, so many were put to death, so many of my friends were executed, all dedicated beyond doubt to the party, so many were killed by Mao in the cultural revolution by Mao and Stalin both."’ It was just Stalin and Mao that killed them? He didn`t have anything - did he really free himself from all this?
LAMB: Did he really think he had nothing to do with it?
TAUBMAN: No, he knew he had something to do with it. I think if one wants to be charitable, one wants to interpret, one could say that this is in a way condemning himself as close as he could come. Although, I think in that meaning or another one that`s quoted at that point in the book he says something like I was never interrogated, which is as if to say I or my people did the interrogating.
LAMB: He said, “I`m sick of living. I don`t want to live. Today the radio reported De Gaulle died. I envy him. Maybe your summoning me here will help me to die sooner. I want to die. I want to die an honest man. I`m 70 years old.”
LAMB: In the end, how did he die?
TAUBMAN: He died in a hospital after the second or third of a series of heart attacks. In that sense he died his own death.
LAMB: And at the end what kind of a funeral did he have?
TAUBMAN: He had a minimal funeral. The regime which had made him a non-person in its own way persecuted him as he had persecuted others, denied him the kind of state funeral, let alone state funeral, even a public funeral. They encircled the cemetery with troops.
This is an incredible example of their overreacting. They tried to keep out journalists. They tried to keep out others. He was not buried in the Kremlin or near the Kremlin. That, of course, would be impossible. They buried him in a place called Novodevichy which in a final interesting irony is the burial place of many of Russia`s greatest writers and composers and artists.
LAMB: How tall was he?
TAUBMAN: He was about 5`6".
LAMB: How tall was Stalin?
TAUBMAN: About 5`1".
LAMB: And, what were his personal habits, drinking, smoking?
TAUBMAN: One of the very revealing things about Khrushchev is that as a young man he did not smoke. He did not drink. He was even a member of the temperance union. You had to spend some time in Russia in almost any period to realize what it means to say a Russian doesn`t smoke or drink.
Russians smoke and drink to excess, so for him not to is a sign I think of more than simple sobriety. It`s a sign of some kind of principle, some kind of principle reluctance and it goes along with this principle reluctance to abandon a spouse.
One of the things that I thought was so important for later understanding the sense of guilt that I believe he felt when he not only began to smoke which he did during the war, and began to drink which he did when Stalin forced him to, and abandon that woman, but when he began to approve the execution of the innocent.
LAMB: What was his relationship to his wife?
TAUBMAN: The third wife, Nina Petrovna?
LAMB: And how long were they married?
TAUBMAN: They married in the early `20s. Actually they didn`t formally tie the knot. They lived together and I think only much later had a wedding ceremony. I think this was even after he was ousted. But they lived together all those years and I think there`s something very interesting about her.
She was his teacher at a school in Donetsk, where he was a student. To marry his teacher, again, is one of these things that I think says something about him, says that he`s trying to educate himself, to improve himself. She was also very strict. She was a kind of communist puritan and I think that says something about him that he sensed that he needed to be controlled or reminded of some of his principles lest he stray.
LAMB: What kind of a marriage did they have and how close were they?
TAUBMAN: Well, it was hard for him to be close to anybody because he was so busy. He was always working. He was always traveling. Even on weekends he was receiving visitors or he was visiting farms. But I think it wasn`t just his duties. I think he couldn`t sit still.
He just - when he went on vacation, he turned vacations into work and I think she must have felt after a while, after she gave up her own job, her own career, that she was existing in his shadow and leading his life and there is something late in life after he died, she apparently told her housekeeper that she had never really had a life of her own.
LAMB: He had a sister named, is it Irina?
LAMB: She said something interesting about her sister-in-law, meaning Khrushchev`s wife?
TAUBMAN: Nina, yes.
LAMB: Here`s the quote you have. "How unattractive and take a look at her legs. They`re this fat, she said, spreading her hands apart, wide apart." Where is that from, do you remember?
TAUBMAN: Well, yes, that occurred during the war I think. A woman that I got to know later, a literary critic, had a conversation with Irina Khrushchev`s sister during the war. Where this came from, well I think it came from the kind of strain and tension that occurs within families and that occurred in spades in this kind of family.
This a family whose leader is a rich and powerful man and who can provide a safe harbor for his relatives but who isn`t able to provide such a harbor for everybody. So, there are jealousies and there`s backbiting and there`s enmity and it comes out in this form.
LAMB: After spending all your life, adult life, writing about this and thinking about it are any of these people in this book people you admire?
TAUBMAN: I admire Khrushchev in part of my mind. I`m torn about him as I think one cannot help but be. I mean I admire him because despite everything he did, which I hate and despise, to purge people and to sign death warrants, there was a spark or maybe more than a spark of humanity and decency and conscience that remained and he acted on it at great risk to himself and to his regime.
And, in doing so, he freed thousands, millions of people who were still in the camp at that time. He rehabilitated others who still raise a glass to him to this day. So, he was originally a decent man. He was a man who did good, a man who did great evil.
LAMB: In the back of your book under the acknowledgements one of the people that you thank is a psychiatrist, more than one psychiatrist. You got Amy Demorest, my colleague in the Amherst Psychology Department, Nancy McWilliams who guest lectured in our seminar, Jerrold M. Post, and others, you go down the list. Why psychiatrists? Why people that psychoanalyze people?
TAUBMAN: Well, when I started work on this I didn`t talk to them right away. I tried to understand Khrushchev myself and I read his memoirs and I got ideas. I tried - I saw these strange behaviors. I couldn`t quite understand what he was doing. He seemed to get himself into trouble over and over again.
There seemed to be this mix of guilt and evil, and I went looking to try to understand him. I read books. I read psychological theories and I tried out, came up with ideas, and I took them to some of these people and said how does this sound? Is this crazy? Does this sound right?
So, they didn`t really - they didn`t tell me what to think but they were a kind of sounding board and they helped me to make sense of what I had seen and was trying desperately to figure out on my own.
LAMB: What were some of the things that they pointed out to you?
TAUBMAN: Well, for example, I saw him in his memoirs talking about being nervous in the 1930s, `20s and `30s, when he was appointed to high positions and I began to wonder whether this was just a façade, a way of claiming that he didn`t really know what he was doing when he was doing evil.
But then it occurred to me that it might be the truth and I began to develop this picture of a guy who from a simple humble background who really wasn`t sure of himself, and who was trying to make himself better but not succeeding, and I wanted to figure out whether that was the kind of sense of inadequacy which might plague a person long after successes came to him, which might remain.
I also noticed that he was hyperactive. I began to think of him as manic so I went looking for what manic really meant and actually I got enlightenment on that from the CIA because in 1960-61 they gathered, it turned out, 20 or 30 psychiatrists together to study Khrushchev and they didn`t release their studies and haven`t until this day.
But somebody who was there did write about it and they came up with the phrase hypomanic, and what I understand hypomanic to be is a sort of sub-clinical, not so serious as to be paralyzing case of manic depression.
And I think that helps make sense of Khrushchev because something like the Cuban missiles, the decision to send those missiles, is in a way a kind of manic decision. It`s a decision of a man who thinks he`s a giant, who can do anything, whose mind is racing, grand schemes that he doesn`t think through.
So, this stuff is not just - it`s not just technical terms. I try to use them to a minimum. These are ways of trying to understand a human being.
LAMB: What`s the hardest part of doing a book like this?
TAUBMAN: Oh, surviving it, enduring it.
LAMB: Did you ever get bored with it?
TAUBMAN: No, it became my life. I looked forward to it every day with anticipation but also dread. It went on and on. You have to know Russian. You have to travel to Russia. You have to find people. You have to get them to talk to you. You have to burrow into archives. You have to then take everything you find and make sense of it. You have to tell a story. You have to try to tell it well. It was something.
LAMB: Actual number of years that it took you to write it?
TAUBMAN: The actual writing I would say took me ten.
LAMB: Physically writing it?
TAUBMAN: Yes, beginning in 1991 and finishing the manuscript in 2001. Then, of course, working over it some more, but ten years of writing.
LAMB: This is what book for you?
TAUBMAN: You know that`s a question I can`t answer without - I`d have to start naming them.
LAMB: Just a guess what would you say?
TAUBMAN: Well, it`s something like number five or six.
LAMB: And how many copies of this book do you think would make it, you know, a success selling?
TAUBMAN: Gosh, again I don`t know. I think they originally published, they printed 10,000. I think they`ve printed another 5,000 or 10,000. If it sells that many I think it will be a success but, of course, it would be nice if it sold more.
LAMB: And what`s the - what has to happen for you to feel that this has been a success, you personally?
TAUBMAN: I think it`s already been a success. I mean to me the sales are important but the main thing is having done it feeling that I`ve done it well and receiving the respect and approval of my peers and other people who are serious readers of good books.
LAMB: Our guest has been William Taubman and this is what the book looks like. It`s called "Khrushchev: The Man and His Era." Thank you very much for joining us.
TAUBMAN: Thank you.
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