BRIAN LAMB, HOST: William Taubman, author of "Khrushchev," a memoir, there`s a quote on page 200 that I want to read and have you tell us what it is. "The woman had the corpse of her own child on the table, and she was cutting it up. She was chattering away while she worked. `We`ve eaten little Maria. Now we`ll salt down little Ivan. This will keep us for some time.` Khrushchev noted as he retold the story, `My thoughts to back to that period.`"
What in the world is that about?
WILLIAM TAUBMAN, AUTHOR, "KHRUSHCHEV": THE MAN AND HIS ERA": This is about the famine that occurred in Ukraine after the war, a famine that was partly the result of the destruction of war, but also a result of Stalinist policy for dealing with the countryside and crushing peasants to the point where they couldn`t do their work and taking some of what they produced and selling it overseas. It was a famine which Khrushchev had to preside over, as Stalin`s viceroy in Ukraine, and which he, to his credit, tried to mitigate.
LAMB: How often did people actually eat their own children?
TAUBMAN: Gosh, I`m glad I can`t tell you. I don`t know. I -- but if it happened once, it must have happened more than that.
LAMB: What created the famine?
TAUBMAN: Well, the famine -- as I say, it was part of Stalin`s policy of sort of starving the countryside to feed the cities -- you know, taking what the peasants produced to give to city dwellers, not paying them for their work, beating them down, repressing them, depriving them of energy, initiative, selling some of what they produced overseas and letting them starve.
LAMB: How many people died from it?
TAUBMAN: Well, in the famine in the early `30s, probably many millions. The famine in Ukraine after the war, I don`t know for a fact, but probably tens of thousands, maybe more.
LAMB: How long was Soviet -- the Soviet Union and Soviet Russia communist?
TAUBMAN: From 1917 until December, 1991.
LAMB: How old was Khrushchev in 1917?
TAUBMAN: Let`s see -- 24 -- 23.
LAMB: What was he doing?
TAUBMAN: In 1917, he was working as a metal worker near the mines in the town of Danetsk, then called Uzefka (ph), in eastern Ukraine.
LAMB: What was his job in the mines?
TAUBMAN: Well, he was working in a metal workshop, sort of preparing machinery.
LAMB: How`d he gotten there?
TAUBMAN: He`d gotten that by apprenticing himself to a metal worker -- his father worked near the mines -- that is, Khrushchev`s did -- and doing a terrific job, apparently, doing such a good job that they promoted him. They gave him a good apartment, or he was able to afford it. And as he himself said later, he led -- he lived better before the revolution than afterwards.
LAMB: And what was the Soviet Union in those days doing in relationship to the -- World War I?
TAUBMAN: Well, it didn`t become the Soviet Union, actually, until later. The communists took over in 1917, October. They actually named it the Soviet Union even later. But Russia in World War I, non-communist, was fighting a brutal, endless war in which their soldiers were being mowed down and destroyed. They were the sort of cannon fodder on a vast scale in World War I.
LAMB: At 24 years old in 1917, had he fought in the military?
TAUBMAN: No, he hadn`t. He`d been exempted because his skills were so valuable to them as a metal worker.
LAMB: And what were his parents like?
TAUBMAN: His parents were both poor, illiterate peasants. His father seems to have been something of a failure, at least in his mother`s eyes. His mother was a strong, powerful woman who idolized her son and had what almost sounds like contempt for her husband. And this I think is very important because I think Khrushchev got some of his ambition, some of his self-confidence, some of his dream from his mother`s dream for him. And I think he also learned from his father`s failure and the way his mother showed contempt for him what it meant to fail. So this helps to explain, in some small way, the drive that pushes him on to succeed and the dread of failure on his own part.
LAMB: You open up your book with a story of a little boy, I believe -- or not maybe a little boy, Pina (ph).
TAUBMAN: Ah, yes!
LAMB: What`s that?
TAUBMAN: Well, Khrushchev, as a child, apparently read in some primer in school or elsewhere a short story, or maybe a simplified version of a short story about a poor, sad-sack prisoner, a Jew named Pina in Ukrainian jail. And all the other prisoners sneer at him, and they are bigger and stronger in every way. But Pina turns out to be a kind of hero. When the time comes to escape from jail through a tunnel that they`ve dug, he -- the others were afraid to go. He insists on going first. And he is eventually killed.
And Khrushchev -- this story seems to have stuck in Khrushchev`s mind because over and over again in his life, he compares himself to Pina. And what`s interesting about this story is it seems like a success story, and it is. But when you go back, as I did, and actually look at the story and discover how downtrodden Pina was, the absolute lowest of the low, you realize that Khrushchev understood himself in that way, to begin with, that there was a kind of sense of inadequacy about him, a sense that he came from a peasant village, that he was dirtier than dirt, and that he had a long way to go to make something of himself, which in the end, he did, but didn`t.
LAMB: I know that you speak Russian. Where did you learn it?
TAUBMAN: I started studying Russian at Harvard, as a freshman, in 1958.
LAMB: What was the impetus to study Russian?
TAUBMAN: Oh, I`ve asked myself that. I think it was partly the fact that my mother`s family came originally from Russia. My mother didn`t know Russia, but her father, my grandfather, did. It was partly that, although I wasn`t really conscious of it. I think it was partly Nikita Khrushchev because I was a -- I was a kind of cold war nut. I used to love the news. I used to love following the jousting between Khrushchev and Eisenhower and Kennedy. And I wanted to know more about that, and so I decided to start learning Russian.
LAMB: What kind of a family did you grow up in? What were your parents like, and what did they do?
TAUBMAN: My mother was a school teacher who stopped teaching when my brother was born. You know my brother because he was here. My father...
LAMB: Philip Taubman.
TAUBMAN: Philip. My father was a newspaperman who for many years was a music critic for "The New York Times," and then became the music critic in 1955 and then became the drama critic in 1960 and the critic-at-large in 1965. So we traveled a lot. We saw a lot of the world. We saw a lot of plays and concerts, and there was always discussion at the dinner table about the cold war and about the events in the world and communism and all the rest. And I think that just got into me, and I wanted to learn more about it.
LAMB: Is it fair to say that a number of New York intellectuals were attracted to communism back in the `20s, `30s, `40s, those years?
TAUBMAN: Yes, they were.
TAUBMAN: Well, communism seemed to many people in the world a system that had more potential, in the long run, than capitalism. I mean, some people were true believers in the utopian vision of communism itself at the end of the road, that people would live in freedom and justice and equality. But it didn`t take all that much belief in that kind of utopia, if what you found all around you was the Depression of the `30s. Then you might be attracted to communism as a system that simply worked and didn`t have unemployment, or didn`t seem to.
And then, of course, you had Hitler come to power, threatening the world. And in the beginning, the West waffled and tried to appease him, and it took a long time for them to oppose him. And for a while, Stalin and the communists seemed to oppose him, although eventually, Stalin signed a pact with Hitler.
So all of these things help to explain communism`s appeal.
LAMB: So back in those years, you say he worked in the mines for a while.
LAMB: Give us a brief overview of what his career was. The town -- I know the town he lived in, or was born in, changed names, like, three times during your book.
TAUBMAN: Yes, it was initially called Uzefka, which sounds like a good Russian name. But actually, it`s a play on the word -- on the name John Hughes, who was an English mine magnate who developed the mining in that area. Then it became in 1923-24 Stalina (ph), in honor of Stalin. And then after Stalin was denounced by Khrushchev, it became Danetsk, which it is today.
His parents moved to that town in 1908, when he was 14 years old.
LAMB: In Russia itself?
TAUBMAN: Well, no, he was born -- the village where he was born was in Russia. Danetsk, or Stalina or Uzefka was in Ukraine, but Ukraine was part of Russia, the Russian empire. So in effect, Russia, but don`t tell that to a Ukrainian.
LAMB: What`s the difference, by the way, between being a Ukrainian and a Russian?
TAUBMAN: Well, that is a -- it depends whom you ask. Ukrainians will say it`s a huge difference. It`s not only language, which it is, and culture and history. Russians will sometimes say, if they`re in a chauvinistic mood, that it`s not much difference at all and that the Ukrainians are really Russians. The Russian state started off -- the initial state was Kiev in Rus, Kiev in Russia. But the real Russia that we know only got really going later, in Muscovy.
LAMB: What was the language that Khrushchev spoke?
TAUBMAN: Khrushchev grew up speaking Russian.
LAMB: But he -- how many years of his life did he spend in the Ukraine?
TAUBMAN: Well, he spent plenty, from 1908 off and on until 1929, and then back again in 1938, and there until 1949. But he never really learned very good Ukrainian, and I think that was a source of some embarrassment to him.
LAMB: How did he get into the party?
TAUBMAN: He joined the party late, 1918. That may not seem very late because the revolution took place in 1917. But the real dedicated, die-hard communists joined before 1917. And Molotov, who was one of Khrushchev`s great enemies and detractors, later made a lot of this. He said, What kind of communist was he, if he joined in 1918?
LAMB: What did it mean to be a communist?
TAUBMAN: I think he joined the party at that point because he had decided that the revolution was bringing better things for people like him, simple people of Russia, and that it was -- in 1918, it was fighting a civil war against people who wanted to crush it. And therefore, he would fight for it. But the other interesting thing is that until this happened -- this is something he wouldn`t admit -- I don`t think he was particularly interested in communism. He was -- he was against exploitation. He wanted a better way of life. But he was busy making his own life, climbing the ladder. I some -- I`ve used the term, which is really anachronistic, "Uzefka Yuppie." He was a guy who was upwardly mobile. I`m straying from your question.
LAMB: No, actually, I was going to ask you when you were talking about the places that he lived and all, you know, how many of those have you been to?
TAUBMAN: Let`s see. I`ve been to Kalinovka (ph), where he was born. I`ve been to Danetsk, where he moved in 1908. I`ve been to Kiev, where he was Stalin`s viceroy, the capital of Ukraine. I`ve been to Kharkov, which was the capital of Ukraine in the `20s. I`ve, of course, been to Moscow. And in Moscow, I`ve been to his -- to his residence in Moscow, where he lived as Soviet leader. I`ve been to another residence in Moscow, where he lived in 1954-`55, before they built the official residence for him. I`ve seen documentary footage of several of his other dachas, and the one outside Ukraine that -- the sort of palatial summer residence of the Ukrainian leader -- I went there with Sergei and knocked on the front door in 1991 -- Sergei Khrushchev...
LAMB: His son.
TAUBMAN: ... Khrushchev`s son. And they wouldn`t let us in.
TAUBMAN: Well, they didn`t say. They didn`t say much. They just sort of said, Go away. Probably because the current leaders of Ukraine then lived there, and -- and who the hell were we?
LAMB: So all those places you`ve been to -- what -- can you describe what they look like today and how...
TAUBMAN: I can -- I can not only describe what they look like today, but I can describe the way Sergei Khrushchev and I were greeted in some of these places, which was almost as if we were visiting heads of state. And that gave me a sense of what it was like for Khrushchev to travel in his own country.
But Kalinovka, the village where he was born -- it doesn`t look like an ordinary Russian village because when he was the leader of the country, either he or somebody else made sure that it lived better than any other Russian village. There are -- there are these brick houses that look as if they come from English suburbs, which lined -- which line and still line a paved road, whereas in many Russian villages, there are no brick cottages and there`s no paved road. And in the spring, it`s a mud road. So that shows the sign of Khrushchev`s benevolent tutelage for his native village.
LAMB: What was the first job he had of any significant in the Communist Party?
TAUBMAN: In the Communist Party, I think he was a chairman of a -- it wasn`t in the party itself. He was the chairman of a local soviet in the place where he was working.
LAMB: What`s soviet mean?
TAUBMAN: Soviet means council, literally. So when you -- when we refer to the Soviets, technically, its councils. But of course, we began referring to them as Soviets, as if it were a kind of citizenship or ethnicity.
Then, almost as soon as he -- well, when he joined the party, the civil war was on, so he became a political commissar in the ranks. The Soviets had not only military officers in their ranks, but they had political officers whose job it was to indoctrinate the troops while keeping an eye on the military.
LAMB: What was the civil war about?
TAUBMAN: The civil war was about the effort of the White forces -- czarist forces, liberals, capitalists, land owners -- to take back control over Russia, which the Bolsheviks, the communists, had grabbed in October, 1917.
LAMB: Lenin came from where to the leadership?
TAUBMAN: Lenin was a highly educated man who had been one of the early founders of the Communist Party. It wasn`t then called communist, it was called social democratic. And he led his troops through the wilderness for years and years, through all sorts of party splits, overseas, in exile, back to Petersburg. And then in the fall of 1917, when the war had reduced Russia to a disaster area and everybody else had sort of lost control, he found power in the streets and he picked it up.
LAMB: And how did Stalin get into this?
TAUBMAN: Stalin was an associate of Lenin`s. He was a Georgian from the area of Georgia which is south of Russia. And he had been a worker, an official in the Bolshevik party. He`d been in charge of some of their dirtier tricks, like robbing banks to earn money for the party. As a Georgian, he had been their specialist on how to deal with non-Russians. And he was up there as one of Lenin`s associates in 1917. And then when Lenin died in 1924 and the other associates fought for power, he won. And he won easily, and he won big.
LAMB: There`s a picture in your book here of...
LAMB: ... Mr. Stalin, and off to the side over there on the right is Mr. Khrushchev. You know what year that was taken?
TAUBMAN: I don`t know the exact year, but it`s obviously the early `30s, when Khrushchev had moved to Moscow and was a young official in the Communist Party leadership in Moscow.
LAMB: You say in your book that Mr. Khrushchev was five-six, but Stalin was only five-one. What did height have to do with the way he related to people? Meaning Stalin.
TAUBMAN: Stalin. Well, Stalin was a very vain man who thought he was a genius of all times and places and I don`t think liked the idea of being quite so short. He is alleged to have worn elevator shoes. He apparently stood on little platforms that couldn`t be seen behind rostrums. He was very vain, although he tried not to appear so, and he fooled a lot of people. And so anybody among his associates who was substantially taller than he had a fairly short life expectancy. The shorter you were, the longer you might live.
LAMB: And how did Khrushchev get to be close to him?
TAUBMAN: Well, Khrushchev moved to Moscow in 1929 from Ukraine, where he had worked his way up in the Ukrainian party hierarchy. And in Moscow, he started off as a fairly invisible person in a -- something called the Industrial Academy. But he was quickly noticed by Kaganovich (ph), Lazar Kaganovich, who was a friend and colleague of Stalin`s. And he became the party leader of this academy. And then suddenly, after a few months, he was made party leader of the borough of Moscow, where the academy was located, and then six months later, party leader of the biggest district in Moscow, and then six months later, deputy party leader to Kaganovich of all of Moscow, and then one year later, party leader of all of Moscow and Moscow province. We`re talking about millions of people. We`re talking about an area the size of some countries. This was like a rocket-like rise.
LAMB: You say that Stalin`s wife had something to do with this.
TAUBMAN: Well, Khrushchev says in his memoirs that Stalin`s wife had something to do with it. She was a student -- incognito, in effect -- at the same academy where Khrushchev was a student, and she had to have dealings with him because he was the party leader. And his version of it is that she liked him and that this is how Stalin may have gotten to like him, but I`m not so sure about this story, for two reasons. First of all, it makes for a kind of miracle to portray it this way, as opposed to portraying his rise as a reward for faithful service to this tyrant. And that might be in Khrushchev`s interest.
And secondly, there`s some evidence that Stalin`s wife may not have agreed with Stalin on everything that he did. There`s powerful evidence. In fact, she killed herself in 1932. So it seems to me it`s just possible that rather than praising Khrushchev to Stalin, she might, if she dared, have complained about him to Stalin, and he might have then said, I don`t trust my wife. Khrushchev must be a good guy. I`ll promote him.
LAMB: So what year would it have been -- you retrace that -- where Khrushchev was the head of all of Moscow?
TAUBMAN: In `34 -- well, `35-`36, especially `36-`37.
LAMB: And what was going on in the world at that time, and where was Stalin looked -- how was he looked upon at that time?
TAUBMAN: Well, the thing -- what was going on in the Soviet Union at that time was the absolute worst of the great purge, the great terror. The worst years of Stalinism were 1937-`38.
LAMB: And when had the famine been?
TAUBMAN: The famine was earlier in the `30s, as a result of the collectivization that began -- of agriculture that began in `29-`30. The famine was `32-`33.
LAMB: And what did collectivization mean?
TAUBMAN: Collectivization was when they -- the Soviet regime forced peasants off the land, ended whatever private ownership there was of land, took the peasants who worked best and arrested them and sent them away and created large collective farms in which peasants would be workers, in effect. And as workers, they would be controllable by the police and by the party. It was a way of living up to the collectivist aspect of communism, or trying to, or at least theoretically. And it also was a way of setting up a system in which the peasants could be controlled.
LAMB: How were the leaders living then?
TAUBMAN: Compared to the way they lived later, not quite as luxuriously. Khrushchev prides himself in his memoirs on saying, We didn`t live luxuriously in those times. But compared to ordinary workers, compared to peasants on collective farms, they were living very nicely indeed.
LAMB: Jumping out of context here -- we`ll come back to it -- but there`s a time later where Mao Zedong comes to visit, and in the midst of them living well, he says -- I mean, he -- you can tell the story about how he refused lots of things, including a bed, I believe, at the time.
LAMB: Well, what was that visit, and what was he -- what point was he trying to make?
TAUBMAN: He came in 1957 to a meeting of leaders of communist parties. And at the time he came, Khrushchev was working very, very hard to have as good relations as he could with China and with Mao. He was flooding them with aid and assistance and advice. And in doing so, I think he was trying to distinguish himself -- Khrushchev -- from Stalin, who was condescending toward Mao and gave Mao a much harder time.
But by this time, Mao was already down on Khrushchev. He was already mad. He thought that Khrushchev had denounced Stalin in `56 without consulting with him. He thought Khrushchev had made a mess of rule in Eastern Europe and faced rebellion in Hungary as a result. And so Mao lived in Moscow in such a way as to demonstrably rub in his contempt for Khrushchev.
They put Mao up in a palace that goes back to Catherine II, with a four-poster bed of some sort, with soft pillows. And Mao insisted on sleeping on the floor. He obviously had a luxurious toilet. He insisted on using a bed pan or a bucket. Food was prepared to him by state chefs, and he ate food that his own Chinese entourage provided for him. They took him to the ballet, and he insisted that the lower loge seats in the orchestra be filled with people. He wasn`t going to sit there. He wanted the masses to be there. Of course, there were no masses there. They were all KGB of police agents pretending to be ordinary people. And then he walked out at the intermission. And all the time he was in his room, which was surely bugged, he talked about what a jerk Khrushchev was.
So all of this was absolute -- must have been devastating to Khrushchev, who had set himself the task of pleasing Mao, unlike Stalin, and maybe even serving as Mao`s tutor. And instead, Mao turns around and shows him where to go.
LAMB: Back to the great purge. Year again that that started?
TAUBMAN: Well, the great purge started in -- depends how you count -- 1934, December, Kirov, the Leningrad leader, is assassinated maybe by Stalin. Stalin acts as if this is the excuse to begin the purges. But in `37 and `38, it reaches its peak.
LAMB: What is it? What was it?
TAUBMAN: It`s a way of purging communists whom Stalin doesn`t trust -- in the beginning, a -- not just communists but sort of remnants of the old regime who have somehow hidden in the woodwork until then. And then it spreads. Stalin is behind the spread. There are quotas for regions, people to be arrested and killed. But it takes on a life of its own, which Stalin probably doesn`t -- may not have wanted but certainly doesn`t object to, in which people who are crazed with fear try to demonstrate their loyalty by denouncing each other.
They try to settle -- and once it takes on this life of its own, people start settling scores with each other. You know, you don`t like the guy upstairs, he`s got a nice apartment, you`d like to inherit that, you`d like that apartment, all it takes is a denunciation, and he`s taken away in the middle of the night. It even gets to the point -- this is not the majority of people, but it does happen -- where husbands and wives who would just as soon be separated from each other, there`s an easy way to do it. You don`t have to go to divorce court, just drop a word and somebody`s taken away.
It becomes a kind of orgy of fear and destruction.
LAMB: Where was Khrushchev in the middle of all this?
TAUBMAN: I was going to say right in the center, but not quite, maybe a couple of millimeters away. He was not yet at the absolute apex of this system. The people who were by Stalin`s side, who signed the death warrants, who scrawled curses, it turns out, next to the people whose names they had approved of -- whose death they approved of, were people like Molotov, Vyacheslav Molotov, the prime minister, and Lazar Kaganovich, the leader of Moscow until Khrushchev replaced him, Malenkov, a high party official, the secret police chiefs of the time, Yezhov (ph) and Beria. Khrushchev was sort of not on the edge of this circle. He was signing the death warrants, too. But he wasn`t at the absolute epicenter of this disaster.
LAMB: You have a lot of different scenes where you have people in Stalin`s presence at his dacha, where there`s all-night drinking and a lot of drunkenness. How does -- what`s that from? And was Stalin a big drinker?
TAUBMAN: Stalin, as years -- I`m sure he always drank, but as years went by, he drank more and more. And he forced his associates, like Khrushchev, to drink. And Khrushchev didn`t like to drink in the beginning. He`d been a teetotaler -- hard to imagine -- member of a temperance union. But he was forced to drink, and he drank. And he became, in his own reluctant way, an alcoholic of a kind.
I`m sure he tried to stop, but at least on these occasions, you weren`t safe if you didn`t drink. You had to pretend to drink, even if you weren`t drinking. The waitresses would bring in the vodka. If you could work it out, you`d try to get them to bring in water instead. And Stalin`s associate at these all-night drunken fests, which went on until 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, after a full day`s work, would -- well, the reason Stalin wanted them to drink was in the hope that they`d say something that would reveal that they were perhaps not to be trusted. So they were -- they were drunk but trying to remember what could be said and what they couldn`t say.
I think they took refuge in playing jokes on each other. At one point -- I don`t know if I can say this on the air. You know, the episode I`m talking about, when they pin a label on his back that referred to his -- his male member? And he walked around, Khrushchev did, for the rest of the evening with this thing on the back, this label on the back of his coat. And you can just imagine these other colleagues of his sort of roaring in laughter until he discovers that he`s been walking around all night with this on the back of his jacket.
And I interviewed later, 40 years, 30 years later, one of his very close associates in later years, who said he never forgot that. He hated that, that kind of humiliation. It was one of the things he held against his colleagues, as well as everything else.
LAMB: Did anybody make a big mistake when they were drunk?
TAUBMAN: Well, a big mistake could take the form of looking away when Stalin looked at you, looking nervous. So I`m sure they must have made mistakes. Many of the people in the circle before Khrushchev got there were later killed. Even some of those who were in the circle in the `30s, when he got there, were later killed. And some of the people who weren`t killed, like Molotov, Anastas Mikoyan, were kicked out of the inner circle in the late `40s. These were the loyalists of the loyal -- most loyal of the loyal, absolutely self-abasing, prostrating, kow-towing colleagues of Stalin, whom he had no reason to suspect, but suspect them he did.
So in 1949, Molotov, who was foreign minister, was fired and replaced by Andrei Vishinsky (ph), who`d been the great purge trial prosecutor. Mikoyan was put into disgrace. And people like that were probably destined to get it in the neck if Stalin had lived a year or two longer.
LAMB: How many people did Stalin order killed in the great purge?
TAUBMAN: Well, if one`s talking about, say -- let`s say `36, `37, `38, there are documents that have come out from the police archives which show that something like 680,000 people were executed in those two or three years.
TAUBMAN: Usually taken into a cellar and a bullet in the back of the head. One of the -- one of the people who -- one of the Russian historians who`s worked on this -- and I learned an awful lot from Russian historians and Americans who worked in these archives that I couldn`t always get to and who showed me what they found. One of these people showed me documentation from purges that took place earlier and later, and it was very interesting to see that in the slightly earlier years, the pages were fairly neat. The names looked as if they were correct, as if they had this thing under control, but by the late `30s, this thing was raging at such a rate that names were scribbled in. They weren`t even first names.
In other words, the bureaucracy which would pride itself on conducting purges and executions in a fairly bureaucratic way was out - not out of control in the sense that Stalin wasn`t controlling it, he was, but was in such a hurry to dispatch these people that all he could do was scrawl their names so they`d be killed and they`d be taken out and dumped into pits. There were places around Moscow, one in a monastery, where these people were buried. It was quite something.
LAMB: What did Khrushchev do to stay close to Stalin?
TAUBMAN: Well, he served him faithfully in ways ranging from trivial to very important, carried out orders, much of it having to do with seemingly routine and things like fulfilling the economic plan of the parts of Moscow that he ran. But he also signed death warrants, and he approved of the arrest and execution of some of his very closest friends, people he`d known for years.
TAUBMAN: Well, he had a very close friend named Simeon Korikmi (ph) who was with him in Ukraine and moved with him to Moscow and worked for him in the Moscow government and when they were in Kiev in Ukraine had lived on the same floor, the same apartment house with him, and Khrushchev apparently saw him the afternoon he was arrested, before he was arrested, in a hospital where he`d gone because he was so shaken by fear that he would go next.
There was a general named Yakir, a famous Soviet general whom Khrushchev knew in Kiev and knew in Moscow and visited at Atocha (ph) on the day that he was arrested. So, these were people who were taken practically out from under him and these are the people whom I`m convinced he knew were innocent.
He claims he didn`t know and it`s possible that some of the people that he didn`t - with whom he wasn`t acquainted he might have believed that in some way or other they were - he was shown their confessions and he might have believed them, but we know there were people he knew were guilty and he approved nonetheless.
LAMB: How many years did Stalin control the country?
TAUBMAN: Stalin became the leader in the early, mid `20s, and died in 1953 so we`re talking about 30 years.
LAMB: So, the great purge ended when and why?
TAUBMAN: Well, the great purge, that is specifically the purge of people in the late `30s, began to end somewhat in 1939 but never really ended. Even during the war Stalin was arresting people, arresting generals.
One of the reasons the Soviets almost lost the war against Hitler was that Stalin had arrested so many of the top military men who could have fought Hitler better than those who did fight him. After the war the purge resumed, not quite on the same scale, but in the sense that innocent people were being taken it never really ended.
LAMB: Where was Khrushchev during World War II?
TAUBMAN: During World War II, Khrushchev was - from `41 to `44, when Kiev was retaken from the Nazis, he was at the front. He was there during the defense of Kiev. He was there during the counter offensive at Harkov. He was there during the battle of Stalingrad. He was there in the greatest tank battle in history at Kursk. He was there at the liberation of Kiev and his record at these places is decidedly mixed.
TAUBMAN: Well, in Kiev and at Harkov there were tremendous disasters hundreds of thousands of Soviet casualties were taken prisoner. Khrushchev in his memoirs, and in his speeches after Stalin`s death, blamed Stalin and portrays himself as somebody who tried to prevent these disasters.
But when you look closely at the documentary record and you interview people it turns out that Khrushchev is partly responsible because he sold or helped to sell Stalin on military operations that were really impossible, and then when they failed, he turned around and tried to get Stalin to call them off.
But Stalin didn`t like calling off operations, so he refused. So, what Stalin - what Khrushchev blames him for is not calling off operations that he, Khrushchev, helped to initiate and that were in effect doomed. So, in that sense he bears part of the responsibility. He didn`t want to think about it. He didn`t want to admit it but it seems to be the case.
LAMB: Did Khrushchev have a military rank?
TAUBMAN: Lieutenant general.
LAMB: Was that honorary or was he really a lieutenant general?
TAUBMAN: He was a political general all during the war. He was a political general as he`d been a political lieutenant or commissar in the Civil War.
And, one of the documents I found in the Moscow archives was a record of his reserve unit in the early `30s. He apparently had to report for reserve duty and studies of various kinds, and I found a document in which his commanding officer had written an evaluation of him, and it was generally positive.
But he said something to the effect that he doesn`t seem, he doesn`t have a good tactical or especially strategic mind, and he doesn`t sort of think things through, and I thought that was really interesting because that is not only characteristic of what led to his mistakes in World War II, it`s characteristic of what led to some of his greatest mistakes which put the world at risk in the 1960s, including something like the Cuban Missile Crisis when he was no longer a political general. He was commander-in-chief.
LAMB: Do you teach any of this to your students at Amherst?
TAUBMAN: I try.
LAMB: And when do you find them getting interested?
TAUBMAN: Well, I`m tempted to say it depends on the day and how well I`m doing and how well they`re doing, but I teach a course on Russian politics, which includes the rise and fall of the Soviet state. It`s really a history course, although I`m a political scientist.
So, it includes the rise and fall of the Soviet state and Khrushchev`s role along the way and Stalin`s role, and I show them film clips of Khrushchev and I tell them stories about my adventures, you know, finding out more about him, and I try to personalize insofar as I can this incredible vast canvass by talking about him and others, and they get interested.
LAMB: What in preparation for your book, if you hadn`t had, would have made this a far lesser, you know, work? In other words, where are the two or three places that mattered the most to you in your research?
TAUBMAN: Well, actually, it`s not a theoretical question. It`s quite an actual question because in 1986, or even earlier when I started working on him, I did not have access to almost all of what is in this book.
If I had delivered this book when I originally promised it in 1989, it would have been much smaller and had much less in it and it was the collapse of the Soviet Union that opened the archives. It was the availability of all the people I found and interviewed that made this possible. That for me was both a boon, because I had so much more to do, and a bane because I had so much more to do.
LAMB: Why for guys like me do you have some of your footnotes in Russian?
TAUBMAN: Well, I don`t have - you mean in English transliteration?
LAMB: No, it looks like to me they`re just Russian.
TAUBMAN: Well, it`s not in Cyrillic. It`s not in...
LAMB: Yes, true, yes.
LAMB: It is in English.
TAUBMAN: But what I have in English transliteration of Russian is the titles of Russian articles and books rather than also translating them into English because then it would have been 1,500 pages. And, I figure if somebody doesn`t know Russian and can`t read the title in the footnote, they`re probably not going to read the book either, but it`s also a convention among scholars to do it that way.
LAMB: I want to read something. It will take 15 seconds.
LAMB: But in all the books I`ve ever read, I`ve never seen a list like this…. Along the way, I have received financial support for which I am indebted:
A Rockefeller humanities fellowship, a Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies visiting grant, a National Council for Soviet and East European Research contract, a Carl Lowenstein Fellowship from Amherst College, a senior fellowship at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, a Fulbright-Hayes Faculty Research Fellowship, a place on the ACLS Soviet Academy of Sciences Exchange Program administered by the International Research and Exchanges Board, a National Humanities Endowment Fellowship, and a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars scholarship, and then a bunch of other things that you got in the process.
But, you know, it`s obvious that somebody thought this was worth if, but how did you manage to get all those people to support a project like this?
TAUBMAN: They supported it seriatim, which is one after another. When you take 20 years to work on something you apply for a lot of fellowships and if you get them, you get them one at a time and they add up.
LAMB: Well, this is a personal question and I want an answer, but if you added all the money up that it cost to do this research and to get this document to where it is with all these fellowships, what would it amount to?
TAUBMAN: Gosh, should I answer? Well, they averaged out to, let`s put it this way, about $20,000 each, so if you add them all together it`s six figures. But put it this way, lots of people who write books get six or seven, not lots of people but some people get six or seven figure advances. This is in the academic world what`s known as an advance, but it`s not an advance to go spend somewhere.
It`s an advance to work for year after year, to pay your transportation to Russia, to put you up in hotels, you know, to pay the Xerox for the documents that you produce. So, when the - I can tell you one thing. There was no money left long before the book was finished.
LAMB: The main reason I asked you though is along the way these folks all thought that you were doing something unique or, I suspect, they wouldn`t have supported it, including the National Endowment for Humanities. How do you convince somebody that you`re on a roll here and you`re heading toward a product like this?
TAUBMAN: Well, it helps to have Khrushchev as your subject.
TAUBMAN: Because he`s one of the most important political leaders of the 20th century who changed his country and the world and might have changed the world for the worst if things hadn`t worked out in some of the crises that he helped to cause.
So, whether you`re studying Soviet Union or the Cold War, you want to know what made this man tick. You want to know about his life and there have been biographies written in his time and power. In the `60s there were a few, Edward Crenshaw (ph), Mark Franklin (ph), Lasar Piestrak (ph).
Then, there was a book written by the Soviet dissident … in the `70s. In the 1990s, there was a brief biography written by a British scholar in England named Bill Thompson. But nobody had taken on this whole task and I think the reason is that until the late `80s and `90s it was impossible to do.
So, I was lucky enough to come along and pick a big, important subject at a time when it was possible to do and that explains why all these institutions were good enough to support me and why I owe them that debt.
LAMB: When was the last word written before this was published?
TAUBMAN: Well, the preface says, at the end there`s a date. I think it says February, 2002. Then, of course, came the copy editing. Then came the proofreading and the further proofreading, and up until almost the last minute when they dragged the manuscript away from me I was trying to make little changes. Every time you read through something like this you notice something that you`d like to have done better or that you want to fix.
LAMB: You know we can`t even scratch the surface on what`s in the book but I do want to ask before we leave, Stalin, what was the end like for him and when did it come, and what happened around it?
TAUBMAN: March 1, 1953, after one of these late night drunken orgies, the others went home. Khrushchev, Malenkov, and the others, Stalin went to his room and apparently went to sleep and when he got up the next morning, that is the morning of March 1st, he apparently had a stroke at about 6:00 a.m.
His guards and attendants were not allowed to come in and visit him and look for him unless he ordered them to. Since he was lying on the floor he didn`t order them in. Hours went by. Later that day, I may have the hours a little bit wrong, but about eight hours later they went in and they discovered him on the floor.
They called the colleagues Baria, Malenkov, Khrushchev. The colleagues came. They looked at Stalin lying on the floor, and instead of saying get medical attention quick, they said he`s just sleeping let him lie there. I think they knew better. It`s possible that they knew he was sick and were thinking the faster he dies the better. I think that`s what they knew.
LAMB: How old was he then?
TAUBMAN: He was - what was he? I think he was 70 in 1949, so he was 74. So, they let him lie there and by the time the doctors came it was too late. He existed for another four or five days, I think, before he finally died, but he never fully regained consciousness. He had had a terrible stroke and by the time he actually croaked they had already appointed themselves his successors.
LAMB: And the immediate successors to him were?
TAUBMAN: The immediate successor as the party leader was Khrushchev, although he wasn`t made - these little distinctions counted a lot for these people. His initial title was secretary of the Central Committee. A week later they made him first secretary of the Central Committee. In that capacity, he replaced Stalin who had been general secretary of the Central Committee.
The prime minister or the head of the government was Malenkov, so they shared those two positions, and it was only in 1958 when Khrushchev had defeated all of his rivals that he took both positions for himself, a decision that he later says he regretted because it was a sign of his megalomania that he didn`t turn it down. He knew he should have turned it down but he couldn`t resist succeeding Stalin in both of Stalin`s posts.
LAMB: When the Soviet Union broke up there were about 280 million people in the country, is that right?
TAUBMAN: That sounds about right and now there are about 140.
LAMB: In Russia itself.
TAUBMAN: In Russia itself.
LAMB: Without the Ukraine?
TAUBMAN: Yes, yes.
LAMB: The reason I bring up that figure is how big would the country have been in people back in say 1953?
TAUBMAN: You mean the population?
TAUBMAN: Gosh, I don`t know really.
LAMB: Because we see the actual population declining now, I mean with...
TAUBMAN: Well now it`s declining both because, if you take Russia they`ve severed them - they`ve been isolated from the rest of the Soviet Republics, but it`s also declining nowadays because of terrible health conditions and stresses and strains. The average male life expectancy these days is 58, and by the end of the Soviet Union it was higher, I don`t know exactly what, but it was higher.
LAMB: 1956, the great speech, was that it, the secret speech?
TAUBMAN: Yes, February 19 - February 25th.
LAMB: What was the secret speech?
TAUBMAN: The secret speech, 1956 was the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, the first since Stalin`s death, and on these occasions the leaders tried to account, give an accounting or at least a report on what had gone on since the last Congress.
So, they were going to have to say something about the fact that Stalin died. They were going to have to say something to evaluate those years, and this was a terrible dilemma. They couldn`t ignore it but how far would they go to telling the truth.
Khrushchev`s colleagues in the leadership didn`t want to go far at all, but Khrushchev got the idea that this was the time to tell at least a good part of the truth and he insisted on doing so. So, they called a secret session of the Congress, no foreigners, no publicity, no press, and he gave a four-hour speech in which he denounced Stalin and unmasked him and revealed, not all, but at least some of his crimes.
And this speech itself was a shock for everybody there and when word of it leaked out for everybody who knew it and it was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union because Stalin was that much of the cement that held the system together.
LAMB: How was it leaked out?
TAUBMAN: Well, it was leaked out partly by Khrushchev himself, that is he made the decision that it shouldn`t be kept entirely secret, that copies of it should be read aloud to party members, and then not just members of the party, there were millions of them, but members of the Young Communist League of whom there were millions more, and then not just them but even students of whom there were many thousands more.
So, the word spread like wildfire in the Soviet Union and they gave a copy of the speech to their satellites in Eastern Europe. One of them was Poland. And, in Poland, they decided to print copies and give them to people, which the Soviets I don`t think ever did in Russia.
And, of course, it takes printers to print copies and some of the printers got the idea that they would print more copies than they`d been ordered to print. Of course, Poland has a long history of being anti-Russia and anti-communist, so they knew what they were doing.
So, they printed thousands of copies and one of them was spirited by somebody who worked in the party to Israeli intelligence and the Israelis passed it to the CIA and the CIA gave it eventually to "The New York Times" and "The New York Times" printed it in June, 1956.
LAMB: What impact did it have when it was printed here in this country?
TAUBMAN: Well, it had a tremendous impact here on people who retained, which was hard to do after Hungary in `56, the invasion by Moscow of Hungary, who retained either their communist affiliation or even their communist beliefs or even a certain sentiment or nostalgia for it, to have the regime, to have Stalin`s terror revealed by the Soviet leader himself was a tremendous shock to communists around the world.
LAMB: Because time is so little left, I`m going to jump again out of context. I`m going to read something back to you and get your opinion on all of this.
The two days of talks that followed were hair raising, at least that was how Kennedy say it. "Roughest thing in my life" he told "The New York Times" columnist James Reston (ph) immediately afterward. "I think he did it because of the Bay of Pigs.
I think he thought that anyone who was so young and inexperienced as to get into that mess could be taken and anyone who got into it and didn`t see it through had no guts, so he just beat the hell out of me. I`ve got a terrible problem if he thinks I`m inexperienced and have no guts. Until we remove those ideas we won`t get anywhere with him, so we have to act." Roughest thing in his life meaning where?
TAUBMAN: This was a summit meeting with Khrushchev at Vienna in June, 1961, and this is one of the puzzles of Khrushchev. I had read that quote from Kennedy long before I actually began studying Khrushchev and so I set one of my tasks to figure out whether Khrushchev actually saw Kennedy the way Kennedy feared Khrushchev saw him.
And, my first conclusion was no. In the memoirs, Khrushchev`s own memoirs, he talks about Kennedy with respect. He said he was sensible. He was intelligent. He was a man of peace. And so, my first thought was maybe Kennedy fled where no Khrushchev pursueth.
But the next thing I did was read the transcripts, which were declassified, of the Kennedy-Khrushchev negotiations. Those were declassified only relatively recently, and when you read those transcripts you see that Kennedy is being pushed around and that Khrushchev looks and sounds like a guy who may indeed feel this way towards Kennedy.
But that didn`t seem to me to be enough, so the next step was to try to talk to the people who knew Khrushchev and who were actually there, and Khrushchev had a foreign policy assistant, Aleg Troianofsky (ph), who was actually there and who talked to him when Khrushchev emerged from the first meeting with Kennedy.
And, lo and behold, there`s a quote in there. I could look for it myself but you may find it faster. There`s a quote in which Troianofsky says something to the effect of this man is youthful and inexperienced. I would like to find it. It`s in the chapter on the...
LAMB: In Khrushchev and Kennedy?
TAUBMAN: Khrushchev and Kennedy and I have to...
LAMB: I`m at page 499.
TAUBMAN: Four ninety-nine. We don`t want dead air, do we, but.
LAMB: Well, while you`re looking, I`ll read another one here.
LAMB: It`s Jacqueline Kennedy was involved in this, concluded correctly that Mrs. Khrushchev was hard and tough and that although … was said to have great influence on his father-in-law, "Khrushchev doesn`t really like him and was not particularly close to him. Sitting next to her at the dinner where his …reminded him of Abbott and Costello, Khrushchev found Mrs. Kennedy quick with her tongue. When he boasted that the Ukraine had more teachers than before 1917, she snapped, oh Mr. Chairman don`t bore me with statistics."
TAUBMAN: Right, and I found myself wishing when I read that that her husband, President Kennedy, had been equally sharp with Khrushchev because one of the things is he`s almost too nice.
But here`s the quote I was looking for. It`s on the bottom of 495. when Khrushchev returned to the Soviet Embassy after his first session with Kennedy, he said the following to Troianofsky:
"What can I tell you? This man is very inexperienced, even immature. Compared to him, Eisenhower was a man of intelligence and vision." And, to appreciate that quote, you have to realize that Khrushchev was about as down on Eisenhower, as angry at Eisenhower, as one could possibly be because Eisenhower had betrayed him, he thought, with the U2 flight. That`s another whole story, which we can talk about if you like.
LAMB: You`re brother has already told us that story on previous BOOKNOTES.
TAUBMAN: Oh, OK. But Khrushchev just was in a rage about Eisenhower, and when he came to the United States in September, 1960, I think he was trying to get revenge and humiliate Eisenhower.
In fact there`s another quote in here in which Troianofsky said: "He came to the U.N. where he eventually either banged his shoe or didn`t to humiliate the Prince of Darkness in his own court" namely Eisenhower.
So, to suddenly turn around and say to him, compared to him, to Kennedy, Eisenhower was a man of intelligence and vision, that expresses a kind of contempt for Kennedy, which Kennedy put right during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
By the time that crisis was over, Khrushchev thought far more highly of Kennedy and hoped that he and Kennedy put together begin the move toward real peace, Test Ban Treaty and other things that they did. But at this particular moment in time, at Vienna `61, he has relatively little respect for him and I fear that that was one of many, many reasons why Khrushchev later dared to put those missiles in Cuba.
He had a number of concrete aims. He had - well, it`s long complicated story. It was an act of consummate irrationality on his part. It was a kind of manic move but in the background I think was the sense that either Kennedy will back down, or even if he doesn`t, I can talk my way through him or around him as I did at Vienna.
LAMB: Let me tell you just a quick story. I was a couple of weeks ago interviewing by telephone on one of the other programs we do here, a man who works at Moscow News, and I know there`s a relative I saw in your book that works at Moscow News somewhere in the Khrushchev family.
TAUBMAN: Yes, do you know what his name is?
TAUBMAN: Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev.
LAMB: Yes, and I remember...
TAUBMAN: He`s the grandson.
LAMB: He`s the grandson. But I asked this fellow. It doesn`t matter who it was but I asked him over the phone, just because I was in the middle of reading your book, who in history do you admire the most in all of the Soviet Union and Russian history? Do you have any guesses at who that would be? Today, someone who is free and obviously, you know, a journalist now and who would be the one person that they would mention?
TAUBMAN: I`m tempted only because we`re talking about Khrushchev to say Khrushchev but I actually doubt that.
LAMB: No, not at all.
TAUBMAN: And if it were I would imagine it was his grandson. But who in all of Russian history?
LAMB: Well, I wanted to know who he thought was a hero in the history of the Russian people and that`s basically the way I asked it.
TAUBMAN: Oh, can I do 20 questions? Is this a politician or?
TAUBMAN: It could be an intellectual, a writer of some sort?
LAMB: It`s a general.
TAUBMAN: General Zuchov (ph).
LAMB: Right. Why? Marshall Zuchov is in your book all over the place.
LAMB: Why would people there today think he was a hero?
TAUBMAN: Well, I think there`s a historical answer and a contemporary answer. The historical answer is that Zuchov was the war hero of World War II, the leading general, the one who may associate the victory with the victory over Nazism, which was a triumph for the Soviet Union and for the world.
But also today when there is so much disorder in Russia, people who wish there were more order and wish the Russian state were stronger and wish that Russian patriotism were more respected, are likely to identify with somebody like Zuchov who sits atop his horse on a statue just outside Red Square.
LAMB: Now, what happened to him in the end?
TAUBMAN: Well, my man Nikita took care of him. He ousted him from power overnight in October, 1957, as his reward, as Zuchov`s reward for saving Khrushchev in June, 1957, when his colleagues tried to oust him.
LAMB: As we close out, I want you to talk about this picture on the cover of this book, and we were talking off camera, there is a story here for you.
TAUBMAN: Well, can I lean forward and point?
TAUBMAN: Well, first of all the story is that I like this picture because it depicts him as a human being rather than a stereotype and I think you can see in his face the original decency that was there before he became corrupted, and I think you can see the corruption here indicated by his medals.
TAUBMAN: This is the power and the glory that he craved and for which he paid a price in conscience to achieve. And down here we can see that fist with which he smashed people and countries that got in his way. Before, at the very end of his life, in his own way he repented and tried to die an honest man.
LAMB: The year he died?
TAUBMAN: 1971, September.
LAMB: And the year he went out of power?
TAUBMAN: October, `64.
LAMB: Our guest has been William Taubman. This is the cover of the book. It`s called "Khrushchev: The Man and his Era." Thank you very much.
TAUBMAN: You`re welcome.
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