Khrushchev in retirement

By Roy MEDVEDEV (1979)

On 2 October 1964, shortly after his meeting with Sukarno, Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev flew south for a holiday, which he spent in his newly-built dacha not far from Sochi. The dacha was a real palace: its indoor swimming pools were inlaid with marble brought from Italy. A high concrete wall, almost 2 km long, hid this most costly of all government dachas from the vulgar gaze of ordinary holidaymakers. Khrushchev, however, did not feel the slightest bit ill or tired. He was full of energy and a thirst for work. Even on holiday he carried on receiving many government officials from West and East who were visiting the USSR, in particular parliamentary delegations from Japan and Pakistan. Also present at these meetings was the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, A. I. Mikoyan, who was also on holiday near Sochi at the time. 

12 October was a particularly intensive day. The first three cosmonauts in history took off from earth in their space ship. The flight controllers were in constant telephone communication with Khrushchev, informing him of what was happening at the cosmodrome. When the space ship completed its third orbit, Khrushchev and Mikoyan linked up with the cosmonauts by radiotelephone and congratulated them on their success. In his jubilation and excitement Khrushchev did not notice that all the other telephones in his residence had stopped working and that all his links with the outside world had been cut off. That day in the Kremlin a session of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU had begun, in which Suslov and Shelyepin proposed the immediate removal of Khrushchev from all his posts. 

On the evening of 12 October Khrushchev entertained the French Minister of State, A. Palevsky, in his dacha. France was getting ready for its presidential elections, and everyone was asking whether de Gaulle would stand for a new term. Khrushchev also asked the French Minister, whom he considered to be a close friend of de Gaulle. Palevsky gave an evasive answer, but Khrushchev interrupted him, saying he was firmly convinced that de Gaulle was bound to stand. ‘ A real politician,’ he said, ‘always fights for his power to the very end.’ Khrushchev invited Palevsky to visit him on the following morning. 

However, the next day this meeting was suddenly cancelled without any explanation. The three Soviet cosmonauts who had just landed in the Kazakh steppe on the morning of 13 October, were also at a loss to understand what had happened. They telephoned Khrushchev, but no one came to the phone. The flight controllers were baffled. For a long time they could not even get through to the Kremlin. All the government phones in Moscow were disconnected. Only a few hours later were the cosmonauts called to the telephone and hastily congratulated on the successful completion of their flight by Leonid Brezhnev. When asked about Khrushchev, Brezhnev at first did not answer, but then, after a moment’s silence, he said: ” Khrushchev is up in the air.’ This was quite true. At that very moment, after coarse and harsh altercations with Brezhnev and Malinovsky, Khrushchev flew off to Moscow to take part in the session of the Presidium and Plenum of the Central Committee, which for the first time in ten years had been called without his knowledge and consent. The Kremlin was completely cut off, and only A. I. Mikoyan drove out to the government aerodrome for a short time to meet the President of Cuba, O. Dortikos, who was on a visit to Moscow. 

However, by 14 October many people began to guess that something important was going on. So, for example, early that morning, all the printing presses in the Soviet Union were stopped. Thousands of censors and editors went carefully through the papers, journals and books, striking out of all manuscripts and proofs any reference to the’ great Leninist’ and ‘fighter for peace’, N. S. Khrushchev. Thousands of tons of printed books and journals were held back in warehouses and then sent off to be pulped. 

On the morning of 15 October, all the Moscow papers came out without a single reference to Khrushchev, whose name had previously cropped up dozens of times in almost every issue of any Soviet newspaper. The reason for this silence became clear only towards the evening of 15 October, when the editors of all newspapers received a short official communique about the Plenum of the Central Committee which had taken place in the Kremlin. The communiqu6 said that the Plenum had acceded to the request of N. S. Khrushchev to be relieved of his duties as First Secretary of the Central Committee, as a member of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU, and as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR ‘ owing to his advancing years and deteriorating state of health’. 

And so, completely unexpectedly, both for the Soviet people and for political observers all over the world, the most powerful of all Soviet leaders was sent into retirement – the man whose power by the autumn of 1964 was as limitless as only Stalin’s had been in the past. At the session of the Presidium of the Central Committee Khrushchev fought his accusers with fury and crudity. But in the plenary session of the Central Committee he kept his silence, not replying to Suslov’s speech or to the many hostile comments from the floor. Immediately after the meeting he went to his residential dacha on the outskirts of Moscow, where almost all his closest relatives had gathered. 

In 1953, when he had settled down in Moscow, Nikita Sergeevich moved into a big comfortable house in Usovo, which had at one time been a landowner’s estate. But this house was not to his liking. To begin with, he had the superb friezes stripped from the ceiling, then after Molotov’s fall from power, he moved into the dacha which had belonged to the Molotov family – a large, but extremely tastelessly designed house. 

Khrushchev also had a small private residence near Metrostroyevsky Street, but later he and his family occupied one of the private houses in the region of Michurinsky Avenue. This was a whole neighbourhood of private government houses, surrounded by a high wall, which Muscovites ironically called’ the collective farm’ or’ The Road to Communism ‘. 

In the first weeks of his retirement Khrushchev was in a state of nervous shock. In spite of his 70 years, he was a man of vast energy and an iron constitution, and he had never worked so hard as in the years 1953-64. As a rule, his working day was 14-16 hours. He visited almost all the countries of the world, and made several tours of the entire Soviet Union. He concerned himself not only with questions of foreign policy, industry and agriculture, but also with literature, art, science; the military; construction; party affairs; questions of the people’s education; space flights; trade; and state security. 

Full of innumerable plans, he wanted to see everything, and hardly a week passed when Khrushchev did not undertake some routine reform or reorganisation. The failure of these hasty and ill-considered reforms exasperated him. Gradually he grew more and more harsh and uncouth, and in time, any argument would provoke him to outbursts of ungovernable rage. The sensation of limitless power prevented him from understanding things as they really were and from taking the right decisions. 

And suddenly, like a horseman, or I should say, like a tank which  is racing forwards full throttle, he had been stopped short and thrown out of political life by his very own aides and subordinates, who recently had been so subservient to him. Khrushchev was lost and did not conceal it. The man who not so long ago had been an almighty dictator, sat for hours immobile in his chair. He could not hold back the tears. When a teacher in one of the Moscow schools where Khrushchev’s grandson studied asked,’ What does Nikita Sergeevich do now?’ the boy answered, * Grandfather is always crying.’ 

However, Khrushchev was too strong a personality to remain inactive for long. Gradually he became more like his old self again. He began reading the newspapers and asking his children and grandchildren about the changes which had taken place in the wake of his retirement. Most of these he viewed with morbid hostility. 

In November 1964, the Plenum of the Central Committee reversed one of Khrushchev’s most clumsy reforms, which had divided almost all the oblast committees in the country into agricultural or industrial ones and which had destroyed the rural district committees – the most important link of party control. Khrushchev tried to prove, if only to his family, that he had been right. He reacted much more calmly to the fall of Lysenko’s clique, but here he could count on his family’s sympathy. Khrushchev’s daughter, Rada, who had for a long time worked as deputy editor-in-chief of the popular journal Science and Life, had tried several times at the end of the fifties to change her father’s attitude both to classical genetics and to Lysenko. But Khrushchev, who loved his daughter deeply and respected her learning, was unyielding. When an article appeared in her journal criticising some of the inept dogmas of the Lysenko school, he was incensed. He called Rada Nikitichna foul names and very nearly drove her from the house. 

Lysenko had some hypnotic sway over him and remained for him an indisputable authority. Khrushchev would see him any time, take all the members of the Presidium to see him in the Lenin Hills, and fulfil his every request. Only now, after his retirement, did suspicion set in, although Khrushchev avoided talking about Lysenko and concealed his disappointment with him. 

In the first months no one except his family visited Khrushchev. His fall was greeted with surprising calm, you could even say, with some relief. Everyone was tired of the endless reorganisation. However, in many countries in the West and in several Communist parties Khrushchev continued to be a popular figure. Some of the government officials and leaders of Communist parties who came to Moscow, expressed their desire to meet him. They were usually told that he was ill, but this could not be repeated endlessly. 

Somehow the question of a lasting arrangement for the retired Premier had to be resolved. It was decided to give Khrushchev and his family one of the ‘ remote’ dachas which had previously belonged to Stalin. He was assigned a personal pension of 1,200 roubles, a series of privileges, and a perpetual security guard. Brezhnev telephoned him and invited him to the Central Committee of the CPSU to discuss the question of his ‘ everyday living arrangements’, but Khrushchev was still in a state of excessive excitement and did not want to speak with any of the new leaders. For this reason he categorically refused to go to Moscow. 

As a result, the preliminary decision about N. S. Khrushchev’s living arrangements was changed. Early in 1965 it was suggested that he vacate Molotov’s house, and not far from the village of Petrovo-Dal’nyeye .. . a more modest dacha was set aside for him. Of course, this fell far short of Khrushchev’s previous residences, but it had an important advantage for Nikita Sergeevich: a large plot of land. The entire dacha section of Petrovo-Dal’nyeye was surrounded by a high fence, but the entrance gate was usually guarded by elderly attendants, who could be evaded without much difficulty. 

For this reason Khrushchev’s new living quarters were surrounded by yet another high fence. A small subdivision of MVD-KGB troops were detailed to guard the ex-Premier. A few people kept a round-the-clock watch on his house and also accompanied him on walks. However, these people did not interfere in his life. It was rather a tedious job for them. 

Khrushchev was assigned a personal pension of 400 roubles a month, which is not much, considering his recent position in the government – the manager of a medium-sized firm or the head of a laboratory in a scientific institute would get approximately the same. Khrushchev reserved the right to use the medical services of the Kremlin hospital and draw special rations. 

Apart from the dacha, N. S. Khrushchev and his wife, Nina were allocated a flat in Moscow. A lover of long walks, Khrushchev requested that he be given a flat in the new blocks on the Lenin Hills. However, they gave him a flat in one of the quarters of old Moscow. Khrushchev did not like this flat. 

He sometimes came to Moscow on business, but over a period of years he never once spent the night in his town apartment. Khrushchev no longer contemplated a return to power. However, he continued to bemoan the power he had lost, indignant with the people who had recently been his allies, many of whom had been promoted to leading positions thanks to him alone. 

As he vented his indignation at Shelyepin, Khrushchev deeply regretted that he had personally removed the former Chairman of the KGB, I. Serov, from his job and sent him to Kazakhstan. Of course the man was implicated in many of the criminal acts of the Stalinist period. It was Serov, for example, who had organised the resettlement of many of the peoples of the Northern Caucasus. And in 1945 he took a large number of valuables out of conquered Germany for his own use. But who was not implicated in all these crimes to some degree or another? Had not Khrushchev himself played a part in the repressions in the Ukraine and in Moscow? But in a personal sense Serov had been completely devoted to Khrushchev and prepared to fulfil his every instruction and order. Was it not Serov and Zhukov who had saved Khrushchev and made his power secure during the alarming days of the June Plenum of the Central Committee in 1957? With Serov there, Khrushchev’s power had been unshakable. But he, Nikita Sergeevich, had listened to the other members of the Presidium of the Central Committee and replaced Serov with the leader of the Communist Youth Organisation, A. Shelyepin, who, as it turned out, had his own dreams of taking Khrushchev’s place. 

Khrushchev also regretted many of the other things he had done, or had not done – much of which already seemed to be in a different world. He regretted, for example, that he had not completed the rehabilitation of Party members. Of course, he could not remember such remote events as the trials of 1928-31, but very often he thought about the trials of 1936-8. Like many young Communists at the end of the twenties, he had greatly liked N. I. Bukharin and respected A. Rykov. A Special Commission of the Central Committee of the CPSU had long ago told him how all these trials were conducted in Stalin’s time: how coercion, threats, and torture would extract clumsy and miraculous ‘ confessions’ from the accused. And he had been prepared to rehabilitate almost all of those accused, despite the objections of certain members of the Party leadership. 

But then Maurice Thorez and Harry Pollit had hurried to Moscow, and begged him to put it off for a while. ‘After Hungary and the 20th Congress,’ Thorez said, ‘ our Party lost almost half its members. If Bukharin and Zinoviev are rehabilitated, it will lose the half that’s left.’ Of course Thorez was not afraid for the party so much as for his own position in it. But Khrushchev listened to him, and sent the detailed conclusions of the Central Committee to the archives. 

Khrushchev felt extraordinary regret for the notorious ideological campaigns of 1962-3 which had mostly been directed against a large group of artists and sculptors, and which greatly harmed his reputation, both among the Soviet intelligentsia and abroad. He himself understood very little about the fine arts, and was not interested in paintings or sculpture. He had never in his life been to the Tretyakov gallery, let alone the Russian museum in Leningrad, or the Pushkin museum in Moscow. He never visited museums even on his trips abroad, Of course, he knew a few of the most famous paintings, like Repin’s ‘ Ivan the Terrible murders his son’ – but only as reproductions. 

Now Khrushchev blamed Leonid Ilich, who had been his chief ‘ ideologist’ at the start of the sixties, for everything. It was he who had persuaded Khrushchev to visit the Manezh during the artists’ exhibition. It was he who had set him against the group of young artists. ‘He (Ilich) needed a passport into the Presidium of the Central Committee,’ Khrushchev said. 

These regrets troubled Khrushchev so much that he asked his family to invite to the dacha some of the artists he had harangued so foully at the Manezh and at later notorious meetings in the Central Committee. And he was greatly touched when Ernst Neizvestny sent him a copy of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment with his own original illustrations. It was no coincidence that Khrushchev’s son, Sergei, who became a friend of the outstanding sculptor, later asked Neizvestny to make a memorial for his father’s grave. 

The first two years of life in retirement were the most difficult for Khrushchev, but later he got used to his status as a pensioner and became more and more gregarious. He started going to Moscow more often, sometimes strolling round the streets with his wife (accompanied by a bodyguard of course). 

He started going to theatres and concerts. This was how he saw M. Shatrov’s play The Bolsheviks — which was very successful at the end of the sixties — at the Sovremennik Theatre. He liked the play and expressed a desire to talk with its author, and with the director of the theatre, Efremov. The conversation took place in the director’s office. Khrushchev made only one observation — that the meeting of the Sovnarkom (Soviet of People’s Commissars) in the play takes place without people like Kamenev and Bukharin. ‘ I wanted to rehabilitate them,’ Khrushchev said, ‘ but Thorez interfered.’ Nina Petrovna, Khrushchev’s wife, who was once a teacher of political economy and, unlike her husband, not noted for her unorthodox views, began pleading with him to go home. 

Having a lot of spare time at his disposal, Khrushchev began to read widely. He had a huge personal library, as in the past he used to receive copies of almost all the books that were published in our country. He sometimes used to complain when he met writers, that he only had the reports of his ministers and their deputies to read, and messages from foreign heads of state – and even these documents were usually read for him by aides, who marked the salient points. Now he could read for himself. 

Sometimes Khrushchev watched television. To his family’s surprise he started listening to foreign broadcasts in Russian. Almost every evening he would listen to the Voice of America, the BBC and Deutsche Welle. It was from these broadcasts that he learnt about many of the events that were taking place both in our country and abroad, and he would discuss them with his family. 

Attempts to rehabilitate Stalin roused his sincere indignation. Khrushchev disapproved of the trials of Sinyavsky and Daniel, and followed with sympathy the first signs of the dissident movement, which in its early stages developed largely as a protest against the partial rehabilitation of Stalin, undertaken before the 23rd Congress of the CPSU. Khrushchev spoke fondly of Academician Sakharov, frequently recalling his meetings with him and regretting their sharp conflict in 1964, over Lysenko. 

His attitude to Solzhenitsyn was different. Only now did Khrushchev read the manuscript of The First Circle. He did not like it and said that he would never have allowed it to be published. This was a boundary line that Khrushchev was incapable of crossing. He had become more tolerant, but even now there was no way he could be made into a supporter of.pluralism, in political or intellectual life. Yet even now he did not regret having helped the publication of “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” a few years previously ‘ Perhaps I am abnormal, perhaps we are all abnormal,’ Khrushchev said,’ but Tvardovsky was not abnormal. And he told me more than once that this story was a great work of art and that Solzhenitsyn is a great writer.’ 

Khrushchev spoke about Tvardovsky a lot, and with great respect; he would read through all the issues of Novy Mir with their stories and novels by F. Abramov, V. Tendryakov, Ch. Aitmatov and B. Mozhaev. He loved Tvardovsky’s poetry — he could understand it. 

Pasternak he could never understand or accept. He bitterly regretted the savage political campaign that had been waged against Pasternak during the years 1959-60, and yet if on occasion he flicked through Pasternak’s verses, he always threw the book down: such poetry was alien to him. 

When his relatives told him about the flight of Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, to the West, Khrushchev could not believe it. He had known Svetlana AUiluyeva for a long time and met her often. For Khrushchev it was very important that, unlike Stalin’s son, Vasilii, Svetlana had publicly supported the resolutions of the 20th and 22nd Party Congress and had even spoken on their content herself at one of the party meetings. ‘She could not flee the Soviet Union,’ Khrushchev said.’ You have no idea how devoted to Communism she is. This is some sort of provocation.’ He was very upset, even rude. However, after he had heard the details of Alliluyeva’s escape the next day on the Voice of America, he was deeply wounded and shaken. For a few days he could not speak with his family. For him it was a great personal tragedy, and even afterwards he did not want to talk about Alliluyeva. 

Khrushchev greatly disapproved of the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. “They could have done it some other way,” he said, “it was a very grave mistake.” When people reminded him of Hungary, Nikita Sergeevich grew annoyed and tried to prove that Hungary was a completely different case; that Hungary had been an enemy of the USSR in the war, and that Soviet troops had already been posted there earlier. “And what’s more,” he added, “in Hungary they really wanted to throw the Communists out of power, whilst in Czechoslovakia the Communists were firmly in control.”

The question of whether the Communist Party should have its mandate to rule the country renewed by popular will, did not arise for him. Khrushchev was very proud of Janos Kadar and frequently praised him, reflecting that it was he, Khrushchev, who had approved Kadar’s rise to power. It must be said, too, that Kadar was the only leader of a Communist country who regularly remembered Khrushchev and sent him greetings on all Soviet holidays. 

Khrushchev followed the military conflicts on the Soviet-Chinese border during the year 1969- 70 with the greatest unease. He did not trust the Chinese leadership and spoke about it with hostility. 

He welcomed the first steps towards detente taken in 1969-70. In the past, Khrushchev’s foreign policy had not been very consistent, but he was a most sincere supporter of peace – although it was he who had ordered the installation of rockets in Cuba and the building of the Berlin wall…

In the first years of his retirement Khrushchev suffered greatly from loneliness: only his very closest relatives visited him at Petrovo-Dal’nyeye. Gradually, however, the circle of people he met began to widen. Twice he was visited by the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. In the years 1961-3 he had had several sharp polemical clashes with Yevtushenko, but Nikita Sergeevich was a forgiving man by nature and he willingly chatted with his guest at some length. 

The dramatist Shatrov also spent a few hours with him, and Khrushchev talked to him in particular about his desire to write his memoirs. Shatrov was surprised, on the one hand, at Khrushchev’s simplicity and common sense, and on the other, at his ignorance of some of the most basic facts of our history and social life. 

When he was bored, Khrushchev often started long conversations with his security men. He would mostly tell them about the tragic events of Stalinist times. They were a willing audience .. . 

Khrushchev’s family frequently visited the dacha at Petrovo Dal’nyeye with their friends, and Nikita Sergeevich was glad to talk with them. Once he even had a visit from the popular artist, Vladimir Vysotsky. But in all the years of his retirement, however, not one Party or government official could bring himself to visit him .. . 

During the elections to the Supreme Soviet or to local Soviets, Khrushchev went to Moscow. He always voted in the elections of the place where he had a permanent residence permit. The district where Khrushchev was registered as a voter was well known to foreign reporters and, of course, many would go there on election day to ask the ex-Premier some questions. However, he was extremely guarded in his answers and never spoke out in criticism of the people who had removed him from the helm of power. He also avoided this subject in conversations with his rare visitors, and even kept off it in his memoirs .. . 

With the years, Khrushchev became more critical both of himself and of his work. He would admit many of his past mistakes, to himself and to those closest to him. Of course, here too there was a limit. Many criticisms he answered firmly, by saying that a Communist was bound to act the way he had acted and that he would die a Communist. But some criticisms were abnormally painful to him. Thus he always got very upset when he heard or read that he, Khrushchev, was antisemitic. He tried to prove that he had never been anti-Semitic, and would point to his friendships with some of the Jews who had worked in his administration. Though, as with much else, Khrushchev involuntarily embroidered upon his own role, it is true that Khrushchev did wipe out many of the crimes of Stalin’s racist policies during his years of power. 

You could call the sixties the decade of the memoir in the history of our country. Almost every military or government figure who was no longer in office – and even some who still were – was writing his memoirs. Prominent figures from Stalinist times were also engaged on their memoirs: Molotov, Kaganovich, Poskrebyshev, Zverev. The desire to leave his memoirs to his contemporaries and descendants increasingly obsessed Nikita Sergeevich too. He had never liked writing anything down himself: you can find a lot of spelling mistakes even in the resolutions he entered in important state documents. 

But he was a fairly experienced orator and conversationalist – he was not one of those politicians who cannot give even a small speech without notes and the help of a whole staff of speech writers. Khrushchev sent a request to the Central Committee to give him a secretary-cum-typist. The request was considered and turned down. But he was not one to back down in circumstances like these. 

The time has not yet come to describe just how his book of memoirs was written, but the appearance of the first volume was not only a sensation in the West, it also came as a great surprise to the Soviet Politburo. It was a surprise for Khrushchev too. Khrushchev’s book was quickly declared a ‘forgery’ by our press, but, for the first time since 1964, the Soviet people saw a reference to his name in the papers. He was summoned to the Central Committee of the CPSU, made to come, and invited to talk with the Chairman of the Committee of Party Control and a member of the Politburo, Arvid Pel’she. The conversation was fairly direct. Khrushchev there and then wrote a short statement which was published the following day in the papers. He utterly denied handing over his memoirs to any foreign publishing house and condemned their publication. But he did not deny that they existed. He refused to accede to Pel’she’s request and call his memoirs ‘ forgeries ‘. Pel’she was the most senior member of the Politburo in age. He owed his rise in the Party hierarchy more to M. Suslov than to Khrushchev, and as early as 1941 Pel’she had become the Secretary of the Central Committee of Latvia. Nikita Sergeevich was upset by his conversation with him, and eye witnesses have told me that he came out of his office clutching his chest. 

However, he was driven to absolute fury by his talk with the Secretary of the Central Committee and member of the Politburo, Andrei Kirillenko. Once the Secretary of one of the oblast Party Committees in the Ukraine, Kirillenko owed his position to Khrushchev. In 1938, when Khrushchev became leader of the Central Committee of the Ukraine and quickly started moving new people into Party work, the 30-year-old Kirillenko, who had just graduated from an institute and was working as an ordinary engineer, was drawn into responsible Party work. At that time he had also grown close to Brezhnev, particularly during their joint work on the Zaporozhskii oblast committee, though Brezhnev’s influence at that time was still not too significant. When Khrushchev had insisted on a change of leadership in the Sverdlovsk oblast Party Committee, incensed by what he saw there during his first major tour of the country, he had recommended Kirillenko for the post of First Secretary. On Khrushchev’s nomination, Kirillenko was soon elected a member of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU. 

And now it was this self same Kirillenko who was raining torrents of the foulest abuse on him. True, he got as good as he gave: ‘ You still live too well,’ Kirillenko said. ‘ Right,’ said Khrushchev, ‘ you can take away the dacha and my pension. I could go round the country with outstretched hands and they would give me something. But they wouldn’t give you anything if you ever stuck your hand out.’ 

The day after this meeting Khrushchev had his first heart attack, and spent several months in hospital. He came out in the autumn of 1970, but his health was undermined and soon he had to go back into hospital again. He himself began to realise that the end was near. On the afternoon of 11 September 1971 Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev died. 

Rumours of his sudden demise had begun to spread during the years when he was in office – at the peak of his popularity and power. Once a report of his death was even published in the foreign press. The next day Khrushchev invited newsmen to come and see him and said jokingly: ‘ When I am going to die, I will tell you at a press conference.’ 

But even his wife and children could not tell their friends straightaway about his death. Foreign reporters heard about it from Victor Louis, the journalist with the reputation of being closest to the authorities, who has frequently carried out extremely ‘ delicate’, or extremely dubious, tasks. 

However, the Soviet people knew nothing of Khrushchev’s death on the evening of 11 September. Only on the morning of 13 September, the day of his funeral, did a brief announcement appear in Pravda of the death, at 78 years of age, of * the former First Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, and holder of a personal pension, N. S. Khrushchev’. The time and place of his funeral were not reported. 

As we know, Khrushchev’s funeral took place on 13 September 1971 in Novodevichy cemetery in the presence of his nearest relatives and a small circle of friends. A wreath from the Council of Ministers of the USSR was laid on his grave, but none of the leaders of the Party or of the government was present at the hasty ceremony. The whole area round Novodevichy cemetery was cordoned off and no one was allowed in that day. An exception was made only for a few diplomats and foreign journalists. 

Nikita Sergeevich lost his popularity while still in office, and during the years of his enforced retirement there was not one group in the country that would have wished to see him back in power. During this period he essentially ceased to be a politically significant presence. But in the last 10 years interest in his personality and politics has been growing continually. There is also a growing awareness of the significance of that radical turnabout in the policies of the Soviet Union and the world Communist movement, which is still connected with Khrushchev’s name. 

He was an unusual man. He truly was a rough diamond, in whom native wit combined with dire lack of education, goodness with cruelty, simplicity with cunning. Khrushchev was a man with exceptional strength-of will and courage, he was noted for his independent outlook, he was not afraid of taking bold or risky decisions. Yet with all this he very often fell under the influence of unscrupulous, self-seeking people – and when he fired a bad civil servant or bureaucrat he would very often replace him with a far worse one. 

Translated by Marjorie Farquharson

Index on Censorship, Vol. 8, 3 May 1979