121. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Mr. Khrushchev
  • Mr. Gromyko
  • Ambassador Menshikov
  • Mr. Sukhodrev
  • Henry Cabot Lodge
  • Ambassador Thompson
  • Mr. Kohler
  • Mr. Pedersen
  • Mr. Akalovsky


  • Train Trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco

On board the train from Los Angeles to San Francisco I first discussed the schedule for Mr. Khrushchev’s stay in San Francisco, which he approved, and then mentioned the situation in Pittsburgh. I pointed out that, while it was true that the steel strike was still on, other plants such as Mesta were operating. He said that he had been informed of that and that this changed the situation. He would not have seen any reason for going to Pittsburgh if all of the plants were shut down.

Khrushchev then talked at great length about his stay in Los Angeles. He expressed his annoyance about the treatment he had received there and in particular about the fact that no one from the city had been on hand at the railroad station to say goodbye to him or to ask him to say a few words to the population of Los Angeles, even though microphones had been set up on the platform. I apologized for this and said that I understood how he felt. I said to him that I met with the Mayor [Page 433] during the luncheon yesterday and had urged him to delete many portions of his speech and that as late as just before the dinner last night I had tried to make him delete certain other portions which I thought were inappropriate. However, the Mayor refused to do so.2 I said I hoped Mr. Khrushchev would understand that we had no centralized power in our country, that our country was rather loosely organized and that even as a personal representative of the President I could not control the actions of local officials.

Khrushchev said that he was now beginning to understand the problems the President had in trying to establish normal relations with the Soviet Union. He said that the President was surrounded by certain elements who wanted to prevent a normalization of relations with the Soviet Union. I replied that this was not true. I said that both the Secretary of State and myself were very close to the President and that certainly neither the Secretary nor I were trying to prevent the relations between the two countries from improving.

Mr. Khrushchev replied that he understood that, but said that he also realized why certain difficulties arose. For instance, he said, the Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles, Mr. Carter, told him that he had been born in Russia and that his father had been a merchant. Since Jewish people, except the wealthy ones, had not been allowed under the Czarist regime to live in Rostov, where Mr. Carter had been born, this indicated, Mr. Khrushchev said, that his father had been a very wealthy person and that therefore he had been one of those the Red Army had failed to take care of during the Revolution. Mr. Khrushchev said that he himself had participated in the fighting for the city of Rostov and therefore it was only natural that a person like Mr. Carter would feel rather awkward having to make arrangements for his reception. He said that he didn’t blame Mr. Carter for that because he understood that all people were human. It was difficult, he said, for such people as Mr. Carter to change their attitude toward the Soviet regime.

Later during one of our conversations I asked Mr. Khrushchev whether the Soviet Union was switching to a larger production of consumer goods. Mr. Khrushchev said that this was true but said that the Soviet Union was in the same position as a hungry person who had just awakened and wanted to eat. Such a person would not wash his hands before eating. He would grab the food and gulp it down. Therefore, the Soviet Union was not trying now to develop the production of any sophisticated consumer goods; it was simply trying to satisfy the basic needs. Moreover, the demand for sophisticated goods had to be developed in the Soviet Union because people in the Soviet Union don’t even [Page 434] feel the need for such goods. In this connection Mr. Khrushchev told us a couple of stories demonstrating the low level of civilization in the Soviet Union at the time of the Revolution. He mentioned that at that time very few ordinary people knew how to use a toilet properly or that they should bathe regularly.

I replied that I realized this but that I had read that since Stalin’s days there had been a trend in the Soviet Union towards greater production of consumer goods. Mr. Khrushchev confirmed this and said that Stalin regarded this problem from a military point of view. However, when the Seven-Year Plan was being developed he, Khrushchev, had said that five million tons of steel would [not?] make a big difference as far as defense was concerned and suggested that the output be cut by that amount so as to produce more consumer goods. his argument at that time had been that this would not weaken the defense capability of the Soviet Union but would even strengthen the state because the people would support the government. This approach proved to be the correct one just as the freeing of concentration camp inmates had strengthened the Soviet state rather than weakened it. At the time when the question of the freeing of concentration camp inmates had been discussed, some people in the Soviet Government had expressed fears that this might undermine the Soviet state. He, Khrushchev, argued that it would not because the liberated inmates would see that the government was changing its policy and was taking care of them.

In a conversation between Ambassador Thompson and Khrushchev, Khrushchev expressed the view that the performance he had seen yesterday at the Twentieth-Century Fox studio was something he could not understand.3 He said that he could not understand how such good and hard working people could indulge in such entertainment. The only reason for that he thought might be the extreme abundance of wealth in the United States which made the people look for such unusual entertainment. He also complained about having noticed a reporter at the studio who had been trying to make a dancer lift her skirt while she was being photographed with Mr. Khrushchev. This, he thought, was in very poor taste.

It has been reported to me that after Mr. Khrushchev’s stop at San Luis Obispo, where the people had accorded him a very friendly welcome, Mr. Khrushchev had a very brief conversation with Mr. Sholokhov.4 He told Sholokhov that, as one could see from the warm [Page 435] welcome, the American people had very friendly feelings toward the Soviet Union in spite of efforts by American officials to erect a barrier between him and the American people. Sholokhov replied that this was true and mentioned the fact that he had seen a man at the station waving a hammer and sickle. He said that the American people were really good, friendly people but that he had a feeling that they were oppressed and frightened.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1474. Confidential. Drafted by Akalovsky.
  2. The source text is incorrectly dated September 21.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 119.
  4. In the early afternoon of September 19, Khrushchev visited the motion picture set of Can Can” at Twentieth-Century Fox Studios.
  5. Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov, a Soviet writer who was a member of the official party accompanying Khrushchev.