In Defence of N Khrushchev, Author
Galbraith, John Kenneth, New Statesman (1996)
About 15 years ago Roswell Garst, the great corn breeder, told me of a meeting that he had had with Nikita Khrushchev. Having saturated the US market with Pioneer Hybrid Corn, Garst had been looking for new customers and the Soviet Union had come into his thoughts. He had gone to Moscow, made a sales call on the Kremlin and left samples, but had not been successful. But then the Soviet embassy in Washington asked him urgently to come back. He went to see Khrushchev, whose interest in corn had deepened in the interval. For a long afternoon he questioned Garst about US methods of corn culture--techniques of hybridisation, land preparation, cultivation, fertilisation, harvesting, storage and more. The telephone did not ring; there were no interruptions; Garst began to wonder who was running the country. Finally, he begged to ask a question himself:
"I assume, Mr Chairman, that you have methods of getting information from the United States--that if we have some new atomic secret you get it in a couple of weeks." Khrushchev interrupted: "No! No, we insist! One week only!" "One week or two weeks, it doesn't matter," said Garst. "I still must ask why you question me about matters which are in our experiment station bulletins, which our extension services pound into the heads of our farmers, which are completely available and in Iowa hard to avoid?"
"It's the Russian character," Khrushchev replied. "When the aristocracy first learned that potatoes were the cheapest way of feeding the peasants the peasants wouldn't eat them. But whatever you say for our aristocrats, they knew their Russians. They put high fences around the potato patches, the peasants immediately started stealing the potatoes. In no time they developed a taste. You should have kept your corn a secret."
This story was on my mind when I read the Khrushchev memoirs. I imagined that they owed their interest to the murky process by which they were acquired rather than to any literary and narrative power. I was wrong. After reading the book and a fair number of the reviews, I've concluded that he's had a bum rap from the critics.
There was first the question of authenticity--a greater question with English than American critics, quite a few of whom have attributed it to the CIA. The CIA can be excluded on simple grounds: no one with that kind of imagination could be had for government pay. It may be that the KGB, which also gets possible credit, has less competition and can hire this kind of talent, but even those who think it responsible agree it must have worked closely with original Khrushchev material.
The critics also complain that there isn't much that is new, but this is also true of the memoirs of Eisenhower and Macmillan, and unlike these worthy books the Khrushchev production is full of fascinating stories. Unlike most other writers of memoirs he has readers other than himself in mind, which is not a bad thing. …