122. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Conversations in San Francisco


  • Mr. Khrushchev
  • Mr. Lodge
  • Mr. Sukhodrev
  • Mr. Akalovsky

On our way from the hotel to the pier for the boat ride in the San Francisco Bay, Khrushchev at one point observed that many of the ideals written down in the Bible were also the ideals of Communism. The difference was, he said, Christians believed the ideal society would be given them by God, whereas Communists thought it would be developed by man. He said that the optimistic goal of Communism was to abolish the State, since the State suppresses the free will of the people.

I asked whether he meant, in other words, both Christians and Communists were seeking Utopia, but that the means of achieving it were different.

Khrushchev said that this was true, and that, from his point of view, disarmament was one way of making a step in that direction, since the Army is one of the means of suppressing the individual freedom of men. He also said that eventually police, as well as courts, would be abolished. This would be more difficult to do in the U.S. because of the capitalistic philosophy which provides for individual profit, and as long as every person thought that he should have more than his neighbor, [Page 436] there would be excesses by individuals which should be kept under control. The Soviet Union, of course, was different and, as a matter of fact, just before coming to this country, Khrushchev said, he had signed a decree disbanding a regiment of internal security troops. As a matter of fact, since Stalin’s death the secret police had been reduced by 75%.

I noted the fact that he was meeting the American people so freely and was talking to them so directly. In Stalin’s days, Soviet policy statements had been very cryptic and there had been no information as to the reasons or motives prompting such policy. This veil of secrecy had caused a situation where many people, for lack of information, had started imagining things which might not have been true. This intensified suspicions. This is why I thought that his visit and his encounters with the American people were very revealing and could be very useful.

Khrushchev replied that the secrecy during Stalin’s days had been caused by the ill state of Stalin’s mind.

During the boat ride Khrushchev admired the beauty of San Francisco and, having noticed an aircraft carrier entering the harbor, stated that he felt sorry for the crew of that vessel. He said that targets as big as that aircraft carrier could be destroyed immediately if war broke out. He felt that the naval weapons of the future were submarines. While in the past submarines had had to approach their targets as close as five kilometers in order to be able effectively to attack them, now they could do it at distances of several hundred kilometers. Such weapons as flying torpedoes enabled them to do so. He also said that the Soviet Union had scrapped several cruisers which had been under construction and 95% completed; the only naval vessels that the Soviet Union was continuing to build were submarines, destroyer boats and guard boats. When one of the newspaper men asked him how many submarines the Soviet Union had at this time, he evaded a direct reply and said that the Soviet Union was catching herring with submarines.

In the course of our subsequent discussion, I asked him whether it was true that the climate in the Soviet Far East had become considerably milder during the past twenty-five years.

He replied that the port of Vladivostok was an all year round port and never froze.

Later on, while driving to the ILU building, Khrushchev again expressed his belief that the Navy, except submarines, had become obsolete. He said that four years ago the Soviet Union had fired Admiral Kuznetsov, the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy, because he had opposed the reduction of the Navy and wanted to continue its development.

At the Longshoremens Union Khrushchev made a few rather restrained remarks, expressing the hope that the future would not only be [Page 437] peaceful, but also would bring more work and better lives for the working people. his visit there lasted about fifteen minutes.

We then drove to the IBM plant in San Jose. On the way there, he admired the San Francisco Bay Bridge and our highway construction in general. He also said that under our capitalistic system the practice of collecting tolls from these who use bridges and highways was a sound and rational one; yet in the Soviet Union where there was no private property, this was not possible.

I explained to him that the bridges and highways were built by the State and that we felt that it was fair that the users pay for their construction and maintenance. I also asked him whether it was not true that people in the Soviet Union were allowed to own homes and leave them to their children as inheritance. I said that this indicated that even in the Soviet Union there was private property.

Mr. Khrushchev said that there was a difference between private property and personal property. Things like automobiles, homes, clothing, etc. were considered to be personal property. Under the Soviet system, he continued, all means of production belonged to the entire people, and it was the means of production that couldn’t be owned by individual citizens.

To this I remarked that in the U.S. millions owned stock in our industry and were therefore owners of parts of our means of production. I also clarified to him that in Massachusetts electric power was a state-controlled monopoly and that no individual was allowed to produce and sell power individually. Speaking of shares of stock, I said it was a wise thing for a retired person to receive dividends to supplement their income or to insure income in their retirement days.

Khrushchev said that under their system, everyone was provided with a pension in his old age, and that this was much better than collecting dividends.

I replied that we also had a very good and broad social security system in which the American people spent 26 billion dollars per year.

When we were passing Moffett Field, I told him that we had a wind tunnel there, to which he said that they also had wind tunnels in the Soviet Union, one in Moscow and one in Siberia.

On our way back from San Jose, Khrushchev commented on the excellent IBM plant, but said that computers were very highly developed in the Soviet Union too; such things as A bombs or the H bomb could have never been developed in the Soviet Union if it hadn’t had highly complicated and sophisticated computers. He also said that had he been in charge of the construction of the IBM plant, he would have built it as a two-story structure because, in his view, this was more efficient and economical. He also observed that most of the IBM employees were young [Page 438] people and said that in the Soviet Union they were also bringing more and more young people into industry.

When we were passing Moffett Field, he said that he was not interested in military aircraft because they were an obsolete means of war, having been completely displaced by missiles. He said that, as he had mentioned to the Vice President in Moscow,1 the Soviet rocketry was so highly developed that just recently one of their ICBM’s with a range of 7,000 kilometers and capable of carrying a five megaton war head, had hit a target with a deviation of only 1.4 kilometers to the right. Only 50% of the bombers would possibly reach the target, whereas all rockets would reach the target.

To this I remarked that it was necessary to know where the targets were.

Khrushchev replied that this was not of great importance because of the highly destructive power of nuclear weapons.

Khrushchev commented favorably on certain types of housing near Twin Peaks but didn’t like that on the road to San Jose because the houses were too crowded and constructed in such a way as would not permit them to last longer than 20 or 30 years.

I replied that, while it may be true that some houses were built too close to one another, the climate in this area didn’t require more solid construction. I also said that our dynamic society involved constant changes and that all products were replaced with newer and better models even before the end of their useful life. I added that the American people preferred to have individual homes with their privacy rather than to live in big apartment houses or with their mother-in-law.”

Khrushchev also seemed to be very impressed with the large number of cars he had seen and said that the Soviet Union, while producing newer and better models of cars, was not trying to emulate the American pattern but was rather going to set up big rent-a-car garages where people could rent a car whenever they needed one. This, he said, was a much more sensible approach than to have people having their cars standing idle when they didn’t need them.

I replied that we also had nationwide rent-a-car systems and also said that the automobile was a very important item in our economy because of the jobs it provided in various industries and services.

After our visit to a supermarket in San Francisco, Mr. Khrushchev said that he didn’t know whether there were many stores of this type in the Soviet Union and that if there were any, there were very few of them. He said that upon his return to Moscow, he would take up the subject of developing a system of such stores in the Soviet Union.

[Page 439]

At one point in our conversation, he admired our high standard of living and said that it was in the United States that capitalism was at its best. He said that the Soviet Union had never denied that the United States had the highest standard of life and the most efficient methods of production in the world, and that this was the reason why it had chosen the United States as its partner for competition.

I pointed out to him that there was a great deal of difference between capitalism in its American form and the old European type of capitalism.

Khrushchev said that he didn’t think that the Soviet Union could catch up with the United States by 1970; while it might be able to catch up with the United States in the total volume of production, he didn’t think it would be able to catch up as far as per capita production was concerned. He added that as far as clothing was concerned, the Soviet Union seemed to be now on the same level as the United States.

I then asked him about livestock and whether the number of livestock had increased considerably in the Soviet Union in recent years. He said the increase had been tremendous and that as a result the production of meat, as compared to the same period last year, was now 60% higher. This was a tremendous increase which he himself had found difficult to believe.

During our stop at a housing development Khrushchev, while declining to visit any of the homes there, talked to several people—mostly women.

On our way to the hotel I told him that the people he had talked to were typical representatives of ordinary Americans and that now he could see what the wishes and aspirations of the American people were.

He said, This city of San Francisco has charmed me.”2

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1474. Confidential. Drafted by Akalovsky.
  2. See Document 99.
  3. In a message to Secretary Herter, transmitted as an unnumbered telegram from San Francisco, September 21, Lodge repeated much of the information in the memorandum printed here and added:

    The Mayor and chief of police have cooperated magnificently.

    Khrushchev said that the labor dinner didn’t disturb him a bit.

    He has been in excellent humor for two days and has come to make a joke of our mishaps in Los Angeles (having at the time been furious). My personal standing with him is really excellent as of this writing.

    There is no doubt in my mind that as of this moment the gains on this trip definitely outweigh the losses and I can document this in many different ways.

    I can only pray this will continue.” (Department of State, Central Files, 033.6111/9–2259)

    The reference to the labor dinner is to a meeting Khrushchev attended with international union presidents in San Francisco the previous evening, September 20. A summary of this meeting is ibid., Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1474.