Two prominent Soviet dissidents portray Khrushchev in power as a shrewd, complex, decisive, and impetuous innovator, impatient to remedy defects in the Soviet system but carried away by initial successes.
One event dominates Soviet dissident historian Medvedev's account of Nikita Khrushchev's life: the former premier's denunciation of Stalin's crimes and subsequent efforts to rehabilitate some of his predecessor's victims. This, then, is a Khrushchev with relatively clean hands. A true son of the working class, he owed his rise from local labor militant to party official to good luck: during a reaction against intellectuals in top leadership positions, he was tapped for a position in the Ukrainian party organization. From there he was brought to Moscow, where his background and hard work brought him rewards. (Medvedev convincingly rebuts the K. story that he was helped by Stalin's first wife.) In the 1930s, Khrushchev administered Stalin's brutal collectivization from a distance and, moving up the ladder, stayed as far as possible from the fate of others. By 1938, he was one of the USSR's top ten and installed in Kiev as First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party. The worst of the purges were over, but he was still in charge when, after the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Soviet troops crossed into the western Ukraine (then part of Poland) - precipitating the deportation of Ukrainians, Poles, and Jews to the eastern USSR. It was then, too, that Khrushchev began to spend more time on agricultural issues, which was critically important to him later. Medvedev notes that Khrushchev repeatedly, and unavailingly, warned Stalin of the impending German attack and the inadequacy of Soviet defenses. (Neither the deportations nor the unheeded warnings were mentioned in K.'s denunciation of Stalin.) Khrushchev's final leap to power resulted from his determination to restore the political importance of the party: when the troika emerged after Stalin's death, he assumed the party leadership, and parlayed it to come out on top. His 1956 denunciation of Stalin, says Medvedev, sowed the seeds of his downfall eight years later - too many were implicated in Stalin's crimes to feel completely comfortable. The later failure of Khrushchev's "virgin lands" program, together with unpopular administrative reforms, left the premier with no constituents and his fall was relatively quiet. Medvedev's account of his years in power is a whirlwind of foreign travel that sheds almost no light on world events. But his straightforward, if single-minded, chronicle of Khrushchev's rise is factually informative and politically illuminating. (Kirkus Reviews)