The account of Nikita Khrushchev's final years as a pensioner in Monday's Style section erroneously indentified Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev as the person who turned Khrushchev against liberal artists. Khrushchev blamed Lenold Ilychev, a party ideologue, for influencing him against the artists.
For weeks after he was deposed as supreme leader of Soviet Russia in 1964, Nikita S. Khrushchev lived in a catatonic stupor, broken by uncontrollable weeping over what had befallen him.
But gradually, the tough fiber that had carried the untutored peasant's son from obscurity to the pinnacle of power in this authoritation state reasserted itself and the former premier and Communist party leader found an uneasy accommondation with his fate as "state pensioner." He lived out his days under guard, but found outlets for his lively mind. He was ever alert and bitter against his successors and what he came to consider as his own fatal mistakes, which led to his ouster.
In the seven years that passed from downfall to death, Khrushchev by turns opposed the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovaka in 1968, approved the policy of detente towards the United States charted by the new Kremlin leadership and regretted that he had not carried the process of de-Stalinization, which he had started with the famous "Secret Speech" in 1956, far enough.
He blamed his successor, Leonid Brezhnev, for turning him against liberal artists and writers, and he astonished his family by listening to Western radio broadcasts by the Voice of America and other foreign stations he had made sure were jammed electronically when he was leader.
This conflicting, compelled portrait of Khrushchev, remarkable in its detail and for the insights and revelations it contains about his final years, is drawn in a 7,000-word essay written by dissident Marxist historian Roy Medvedev that is now circulating privately in Moscow. Entitled "Dictator on a Pension," the document apparently was assembled from recollections of Khrushchev family members and surviving friends who were interviewed by Medvedev or volunteered their help in his project.
The Khrushchev of this brief essay is a man who regained his combative toughness enough to feud with his successors over the size of his pension and where he would be housed in his forced retirement, who found again enough zeal to turn to photography and become, in the eyes of his family and friends an amateur of great promise with the camera. He raised vegetables in a backyard garden, debated politics with Kolkhozniki collective farm workers who happened by, and searched constantly in his mind for why he had erred and brough down.
In his published memoirs, Khrushchev carefully avoided any detailed assessment of his successors, Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin, who became, respectively, Communist party leader and Soviet premier on Oct. 14, the day after Khrushchev's final day in office.
But he was not so guarded in private after his fall.
The turbulent events of his last days as leader are by now fairly well known in the West, but the Medvedev account adds new detail.
On Sept. 12, Khrushchev was vacationing at Sochi on the Black Sea at his grandliose new dacha where such splendors as an Italian marble swimmin pool were hidden behind a high concrete fence more than a mile long. Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan (who, unknown to Khrushchev, had been sent to Sochi as a lookout for the plotters) telephoned congratulations to three Soviet cosmonauts who had just begun a dangerous and daring space first by orbiting together in what was planned as a long flight.
The next day, the ambitious space flight was abruptly terminated by Moscow orders. When the bewildered spacemen got to a phone, they asked for Khrushchev. "Brezhnev at first did not answer, but then, after a silence, said mysteriously, 'Khrushchev is in the air.'" Khrushchev at that moment was flying with Mikoyan back to Moscow after what Medvedev records as "sharp and rude exchanges [by phone] with Brezhnez and [then Soviet Defense Minister Rodion] Malinovsky."
The leader arrived at the Kremlin to discover the Praesidium (now Politburo) and Communist Party Central Committee already in session to vote his ouster, led by longtime party ideologue Mikhail Suslov "At the Praesidium session, Khrushchev frantically and rudely fought against all his accusers," the new account asserts. "After all, he knew enough about each of them." A 29-point indictment that later central committee meeting that Khrushchev of agricultural failures, one-man rule, foreign policy blunders in the Cuban misslile crisis and split with China , and many other shortcomings.
Khrushchev lost the fight and at the later central committee meeting that ratified the Praesidium decision, he "kept silence, answering neither Suslov's speech nor numerous hostile remarks from the audience." With the coup final, he went to his favorite Moscow home, a dacha near the capital onece occupied by former Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, whom Khrushchev had ousted from power in 1957 after defeating the so-called "antiparty group" that had sought to topple him.
Pain and Hositlity
"The firs weeks of his retirement, Khrushchev was in shock," Medvedev records. "He was at a loss and did not hide it. The recent almighty dictator would sit motionless in a chair. He could not hold tears back." A grandson, says the historian, told his teacher that "Grandaddy is crying all the time."
Medvedev, a 53-year-old historian whose precise account of Stalin-era departures from Marxist doctrine, called "Let History Judge," is considered a classic in the West, explains Khrushchev's emotional collapse as a result of the stark change from unlimited power to powerlessness. "Quite of a sudden, like a horseman at full gallop, or rather a tank at full speed, he was stopped and thrown out ot political life by his very assistants and subordinates who were so obedient recently."
But soon, he writes, the 70-year-old's spirits began to revive, and by the end of 1964, he "tried to prove at least to his near ones that he was right" in ordering massive structural changes in the party apparatus, which later were canceled by the new leaders. Medvedev does not say whether Khrushchev realized that the disruption of these changes had fueled the ouster. Khrushchev commented only that the early moves of Brezhnev and Kosygin once they were in power "caused him pain and hostility."
The fall "was accepted in our country with surprising equanimity and even, some relief," Medvedev writes. "All were fed up with endless reconstructions." But the new leaders faced what for them was an unprecedented problem: what to do with a forcibly retired premier? The only previous case was Stalin's successor Georgi Malenkov, whom Khrushchev had finally forced out in 1957 and sent to run a power station far from Moscow in Kazakhstan.
Khrushchev's departure had been explained officially as retirement, at his own request, on health grounds, and for a time, the leaders hewed to that story. But the presence of Khrushchev so close made them uncomfortable. They offered him a distant dacha once used by Stalin, a 1,200-ruble-a-month pension, and special food and health privileged enjoyed by the ruling circles here.
"But Khrushchev was still much out of sorts and did not want to talk to any of the new leaders. As a result, the accommodation was canceled." Khrushchev was moved to a smaller country house surrounded by a newly built high fence and guarded around the clock by KGB secret police. "It was a rather uneventful job for them," Medvedev remarks. Khrushchev's pension was set a 400 rubles (now $600 a month), "about as much as the director of a medium enterprise or chief of a research lab. Not much, after all, considering his recent status."
He also accepted a small Moscow flat and the health and food benefits and began his enforced retirement, staying almost exclusively at the dacha.
"Many things appeared to him in a different light" now, and he blamed Brezhnev, "his main ideologue in the 1960's," for Krushchev's campaign against liberal artists and intellectuals. To make amends, Krushchev asked his relatives to invite to the dacha artists he had denounced earlier. "It was [Brezhev] who tilted him against a group of young artists." Brezhev "wanted a pass to the Praesidium," Khrushchev declared.
Isolated from power and former friends and shunned by the new leaders who never dared faced him afterwards, Khrushchev reached out, reading voraciously from a huge library accumulated during his years in the Kremlin and listening "almost every night" to VOA, BBC and Deutsche Welle, the West German radio station.
He disapproved of the trials of dissident writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel in the mid-1960s and "spoke with sympathy" of human-rights activist Andrei Sakharov, who had once petitioned Khrushchev to forsake production of the hydrogen bomb which Sakharov himself had helped design.
Khrushchev, an unlettered man who preferred talking to writing, was proud he had approved publication of Alexander Solzhentisynhs first work, a devastating tale of Soviet prison camp life called "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," but was uncomfortable both with Solzhenitsyn's later works and with the work od Boris Pasternik. "Pasternak was beyond him and never accepted," the account says. "He regretted strongly that a fierce political campaign was staged against Pasternak in 1959-60," who had been barred by Soviet authorities from receiving the Nobel literature prize in 1958.
Khrushchev in 1968 told his circle of friends and relatives that the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia ordered by Brezhnev to quell liberalization of the Communist regime there was "a very big mistake. It could have been done somehow differently." Irrirated when reminded of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 during his years at the Kremlin helm, he argued that Hungary had been a World War II enemy of the U.S.S.R. "Besides, they really wanted to take power from Communists in Hungary, while in Czechoslovakia, Communists were firmly in power." The former dictator retained a warm friendship with Hungarian leader Janos Kadar, whom he installed, and who "was the only leader of a Communist county who regularly remembered Khrushchev and sent him congratulations on all Soviet holidays."
The 1969 Chinese-Russian border war greatly upset Khrushchev. "He did not trust the Chinese leaders and spoke of them with resentment," an attitude which perfectly mirrors Brezhnev's now. Khrushchev is said to have approved of the first steps toward U.S. detente, but does not elabotate on this point.
Photography and Corn
His interest in photography surprised his family, and "though very limited in choive of subjects, he produced masterly shots of snowy fields, trees, flowers, birds." But his main joy was gardening in a large plot beside the dacha where he spent many hours absorbed by the art of agriculture - which had so frequently fialed him during his time in power.
He tried to grow southern varieties in Moscow's harsher climate, raised many different kinds of corn, long a Khrushchev enthusiasm, and in 1967 grew a special sort of tomato plant with fruit weighing a kilo (2.2 pounds) each. "But alas, most of them were damaged by early frosts and the old man took close to heart this natural calamity."
He experimented with hydroponics, (growing plants in solution instead of soil) but earth "turned out to be handier and better." His family joked of their impetuous pensioner that it was "a good thing he had taken a liking to hydroponics at the end opf the '60s, and not 10 years earlier."
But storm clouds were gathering over the pastoral idyll, brought by Khrushchev's desire to record his memoirs. He sought a stenographer, from the central committee to help him. "The request was considered and resolutely turned down," Medvedev writes. "Yet Khrushchev was not the kind of man to back out in such circumstances.
He began dictating into a tape recorder. Eventually, the memoirs were published in the West in two volumes to the unpleasant surprise of the Kremlin. Under intense pressure from his former minions, Khrushchev publicly denied handing the memoirs over to the West , but he did not deny he had written them. He was attacked by Andrei Kirilenko, a former associate who is now considered a possible Brezhnev successor.
"You can take my dacha and pension. I can go begging for alms with my countrymen," Khrushchev is said to have replied. "But they won't give you any if you also go begging some day."
The next day, Khrushvhe suffered his first heart attack and was hospitalized. He died Sept. 11, 1971, at the age of 77, and was buried two days later in a ceremony barred to the public at Novodyeviche cemetery, in the shadow of an historic Russian Orthodox covent church. No party leader attended his funeral. The grave is marked by a bust and sculpture by Ernest Neizestny, whom Khrushchev excoriated in his days as leaders of Soviet Russia.