During the years that Khrushchev held power in the Soviet Union, there “began a cautious liberalization that took its name from Ilia Ehrenburg’s novel The Thaw (1954)…that extended to many spheres of cultural and intellectual life” (Freeze 413). This period included a relaxation of many of the harsh cultural policies that characterized Stalin’s rule. Gregory L. Freeze, in Russia: A History, discusses this so-called era of cultural thaw in chapter thirteen of the text. He writes, “Amid the struggle over power and policy, the regime cautiously began to dismantle the Stalinist system of repression and secrecy…Openness also extended to culture, hitherto strait-jacketed by censorship and ideology” (Freeze 413).

          Khrushchev’s policies toward literature and the arts, in theory, should have resulted in increased prosperity and success for the Soviet people. He himself describes the benefits of a healthy relationship between a state, an ideology, the people, and the arts on numerous occasions. One such occasion occurs in a conversation between himself and Indian writer Khwaja Ahmad Abbas in January of 1960. While touting the accomplishments of the Russian Revolution, Khrushchev describes his country as being fraught with success. He says, “All sorts of statements were made that the Revolution would supposedly recognize only material values and not spiritual and cultural values. But now even our enemies admit that socialism has bloomed and achieved enormous successes, our literature and all forms of art have bloomed, our science has flourished immensely, and now we, figuratively speaking, are the first to receive a doctoral degree thanks to the launch of our rocket to the Moon. Not a bad start.” In this statement, Khrushchev includes achievements in the arts as a part of overall Soviet triumph.

Contemplative Khrushchev

Iurii Krivonosov: Contemplative Khrushchev (1963)

          The Soviet Premier echoes these pro-artistic sentiments in his speech entitled “FOR CLOSE TIE BETWEEN LITERATURE AND ART AND THE LIFE OF THE PEOPLE.” His words, published originally in Pravda and then transliterated into the October 1957 edition of The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, detail the Communist Party’s position on the arts. He first says, “It must be stated frankly and clearly that the Communist Party has always supported and will continue to support writers and workers in the arts who honestly and devotedly serve their people, who together with the people rejoice in our country’s achievements in building communism and who find vivid colors to reflect these achievements in works of literature and art.” He continues by saying, “The Communist Party considers workers in literature and the arts to be its true friends and helpers and a trustworthy support in the ideological struggle.” The tone of his speech seems to promote Soviet artists and their ventures, and this coincides with the spirit behind the cultural thaw he brought to fruition.

          However, Nikita S. Khrushchev can be described as a man of paradox and contradictions. While he seemingly supports writers and artists within his country through his relaxation policies, he conversely qualifies the aims of the period. Freeze describes this as one of Khrushchev’s downfalls, writing that “A second factor in Khrushchev’s demise was his cultural policy, which gradually alienated both the intelligentsia and general population…Khrushchev made clear that the ‘thaw’ did not mean artistic freedom” (428). The contradictions present in Khrushchev’s stance on the arts can further be seen on the site Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. In one document on the site, Khrushchev’s remarks as he made his way throughout Moscow’s Manege Exhibit in December of 1962 are recorded. On numerous occasions, the Soviet Premier vocally expresses his disgust for particular paintings, literary works, and artists in general. He often addresses specific artists and insists that the country “won’t spend a kopeck on your art”, which he refers to consistently as “dog shit” and “pictures painted by jackasses”. In a subject essay on the Seventeen Moments site, James von Geldern considers Khrushchev’s role as a critic. He writes, “Heir to a tradition in which heads of state could comment authoritatively on art, and threatened by unfamiliar inartistic expressions from many directions, Nikita Khrushchev took it upon himself to redirect the creative folk of his country towards the virtues of socialist realism”. This statement emphasizes the limitations of the Soviet Premier’s acceptance and approval of literature and artistic expression.

This is a picture that I took in January of 2013 while in Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery. It shows the headstone and gravesite of Nikita S. Khrushchev, which was designed ironically by a sculptor whom Khrushchev once criticized. The juxtaposition of the sculpture's white marble and black granite symbolizes the duality of the Soviet Premier's nature.

This is a picture that I took in January of 2013 while in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery. It shows the headstone and grave site of Nikita S. Khrushchev, which was designed ironically by a sculptor whom Khrushchev once criticized. The juxtaposition of the sculpture’s white marble and black granite symbolizes the duality of the Soviet Premier’s nature.