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The Kirov Murder and Soviet History

The Kirov Murder and Soviet History

Matthew E. Lenoe
Translations by Matthew E. Lenoe
Documents compiled by Mikhail Prozumenshchikov
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 872
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  • Book Info
    The Kirov Murder and Soviet History
    Book Description:

    Drawing on hundreds of newly available, top-secret KGB and party Central Committee documents, historian Matthew E. Lenoe reexamines the 1934 assassination of Leningrad party chief Sergei Kirov. Joseph Stalin used the killing as the pretext to unleash the Great Terror that decimated the Communist elite in 1937-1938; these previously unavailable documents raise new questions about whether Stalin himself ordered the murder, a subject of speculation since 1938.

    The book includes translations of 125 documents from the various investigations of the Kirov murder, allowing readers to reach their own conclusions about Stalin's involvement in the assassination.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14242-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Note on Translation, Transliteration, and Dates
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Note on Soviet Government and Territorial Structures
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  7. Note on the Documents and Citations
    (pp. xviii-xix)
  8. List of Acronyms and Abbreviations
    (pp. xx-xxiii)
  9. List of Archives Cited
    (pp. xxiv-xxiv)
  10. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    On December 1, 1934, at about 4:30 P.M. Sergei Kirov, first secretary of the Leningrad Communist Party organization, left his automobile and walked into the main entrance of the Smolny Building, the government headquarters for the city. Kirov planned to spend an hour or so consulting with other city leaders before addressing a 6 P.M. meeting of Communist activists. Upstairs prominent Leningrad officials had already gathered to prepare for the event. Kirov climbed the main stairwell past the first and second floors, stopping to converse briefly with one or two employees. The security officer responsible for guarding Kirov inside Smolny,...

  11. CHAPTER 1 From Kostrikov to Kirov, 1886–1925
    (pp. 19-63)

    After Sergei Kirov’s assassination in 1934 Soviet authors and screenwriters turned him into a Bolshevik martyr, the personification of everything truly “Leninist,” struck down at the height of his powers. Stalinists and anti-Stalinists alike praised him as “fearless,” “bold,” “stern,” “sympathetic to people,” and “tireless”—standard traits of the Socialist Realist “positive hero” in Stalinist novels.¹ All memoir accounts of Kirov’s youth and early political career date from after his death, and nearly all appear to be influenced by the martyrology. Furthermore, ironically, commentators in the West who came to see Kirov as a moderate rival to Stalin repeated the...

  12. CHAPTER 2 Conquering Leningrad, 1925–1929
    (pp. 64-106)

    In the fall of 1925 a new Communist opposition group challenged the party leaders grouped around Stalin. Led by Politburo members Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev, the opposition also had the support of Lenin’s widow Nadezhda Krupskaya and Commissar of Finance Grigory Yakovlevich Sokolnikov. The Zinovievites’ main institutional base was the party organization of Leningrad, which Zinoviev headed. The new oppositionists repeated many of the criticisms leveled by Trotsky and his supporters in 1923–1924, namely that the Soviet leadership was crushing democracy within the party and undermining the living standards of urban workers. They also argued that the Central...

  13. CHAPTER 3 Kirov in Leningrad, 1930–1934
    (pp. 107-148)

    In the winter of 1929–1930 Stalin and his lieutenants initiated a mass campaign to force Soviet peasants to join collective farms. They did not issue direct orders to use compulsion. Rather, they insisted that party officials in particular regions achieve “complete collectivization” immediately, and issued quotas for the deportation of kulaks and their “lackeys” (podkulachniki). The OGPU, Komsomols, Communists, factory workers, and even some Red Army units were mobilized to accomplish the task. They used persuasion, threats of force, and violence. Hundreds of thousands of peasants—supposed kulaks or “kulak lackeys”—were deported from their homes in the first...

  14. CHAPTER 4 The Scene of the Crime
    (pp. 149-178)

    Early in the morning of Thursday, November 29, 1934 Kirov arrived back in Leningrad on the Red Arrow sleeper train from Moscow. The Central Committee plenum that approved the end of rationing was over. According to Rosliakov, Kirov traveled in a train car with the Leningrad party delegation rather than using the separate coupé reserved for him. Rosliakov describes the atmosphere as relaxed, as Kirov reviewed events at the plenum with his colleagues. “It was very late before the conversations and laughter in the train car quieted down,” he concludes.¹

    Kirov’s immediate task was to mobilize the Leningrad party organization...

  15. CHAPTER 5 Leonid Nikolaev
    (pp. 179-207)

    Nkvd officers who interviewed Nikolaev in the hours and days after the murder remembered him decades later with contempt as “a degenerate,” drooling, with “short, crooked legs” and “small . . . shifty eyes.” F. T. Fomin, who interrogated him on December 1–2, described him as “a half-insane person, at the interrogation he’d say three words and that was it.”¹

    His relatives arrested by the Leningrad NKVD were hardly more flattering, describing him as a strange loner, obsessed with his own “sickly condition,” and convinced of his “ideological superiority” as a Communist....

  16. CHAPTER 6 Nikolaev Agonistes
    (pp. 208-250)

    The brush with expulsion from the party, the “strict warning,” and the loss of his job shocked Nikolaev into a state of depression. Milda Draule in her first interrogation on December 1, 1934 reported that “from the moment of his exclusion from the party [Leonid] fell into a depressed mood, he was just waiting a decision from the Central Committee on his ‘strict censure’ all the time and did not want to work anywhere.”¹ Nikolaev became obsessed with the resolution of his case to the exclusion of all else. A diary entry from mid-May shows his distraction....

  17. CHAPTER 7 Stalin Responds
    (pp. 251-278)

    Kirov’s deputy Mikhail Chudov called Stalin’s secretariat from Leningrad with news of Kirov’s assassination sometime soon after 5:00 P.M.¹ Stalin was meeting in his Kremlin office with his close collaborators Molotov, Kaganovich, Voroshilov, and Zhdanov at the time. About forty years later Molotov told interviewer and admirer Feliks Chuev that when Stalin got the news over the telephone he exclaimed “Idiots!” (“Shliapy!”), presumably referring to the Leningrad NKVD. It is also quite possible that the word used was actually an obscenity.²

    NKVD chief Genrikh Yagoda arrived at the office soon after the news, at 5:50 P.M. according to Stalin’s visitor...

  18. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  19. CHAPTER 8 Fingering the Zinovievites
    (pp. 279-322)

    Just after noon on December 4 most of the Politburo gathered in Stalin’s office for a three-hour meeting. A number of security and legal officials were also present for at least part of the time, including Yagoda, Pauker, Redens (chief of the Moscow Region NKVD), Avel Yenukidze (who among other things had charge of Kremlin security), USSR chief prosecutor Ivan Akulov, his deputy Andrei Vyshinsky (who had already made a name for himself as a show trial prosecutor), and Commissar of Justice Krylenko. The assassination, the security organs’ response, and future criminal proceedings were presumably the main topics on the...

  20. CHAPTER 9 The Trials of the Moscow and Leningrad “Centers”
    (pp. 323-388)

    The roundup of Zinoviev supporters in Moscow began on the morning of December 9, with the arrests of Ivan Bakaev, Pyotr Zalutsky, Grigory Yevdokimov, Artyom Gertik, Grigory Fyodorov, Aleksei Perimov, and Sergei Gessen. The first five are all identifiable as prominent officials in Leningrad under Zinoviev in 1925.¹ Four days later, in the small hours of December 13, Yagoda arrested eight more former Zinovievites in Moscow—Ivan Gorshenin, Boris Bravo, Aleksandr Gertsberg, Leonid Faivilovich, Anna Bakaeva (probably the wife of Ivan Bakaev), Ivan Naumov, Aleksei Bakaushin, and Sergei Mandelshtam. Of these, Faivilovich and Ivan Naumov had been senior officials under...

  21. CHAPTER 10 Investigating the Leningrad NKVD
    (pp. 389-452)

    On December 3, 1934, Genrikh Yagoda issued an order for the firing and arrest of eight officers of the Leningrad regional NKVD: Medved, his second deputy Fomin, chief of the Special Political Department Gorin-Lundin, deputy chief of the Special Department Yanishevsky, head of the Third Section of the Special Department P. M. Lobov, Special Political Department Officer Mosevich, and Special Department officers Baltsevich and G. A. Petrov. Yanishevsky, Lobov, Mosevich, Baltsevich, and Petrov were all involved in suppressing Volkova’s denunciations before the murder. Medved, Fomin, and Gorin-Lundin were the most senior NKVD officers in Leningrad on the day of the...

  22. CHAPTER 11 The Kirov Murder and the Great Terror
    (pp. 453-486)

    Soviet subjects understood immediately that the Kirov murder would provoke large-scale state retaliation. Apprehension was particularly widespread among Communist Party members and the intelligentsia. Yevgeniya Ginzburg, a Communist activist and teacher, describes fear and confusion in the Kazan party organization in the days following the killing. The fact that Nikolaev was a Communist was seen as particularly ominous. Leningrad journalist Zavalishin in 1950 reported widespread anxiety among Communists in the city, especially those with histories of belonging to other parties during the revolutionary era. In post–World War II accounts of the Kirov murder, some memoirists began attaching the general...

  23. CHAPTER 12 Rumors, Speculation, and the Martyr Cult
    (pp. 487-525)

    News of Kirov’s murder spread rapidly throughout the USSR. Soviet radio made an announcement at 11:30 P.M. on December 1, which reached thousands of receivers at factories on night shift (home receivers were still a rarity in 1934). Leningrad party leaders met at Smolny beginning at 6 P.M., little more than one hour after Kirov’s death, to write an official announcement, order Kirov’s office sealed, and begin preparations for memorial ceremonies. They immediately ordered party organizations to meet during the night shift at city factories. Ward party secretaries ran these meetings during the small hours of December 2, just as...

  24. CHAPTER 13 The Kirov Murder in the West, 1934–1956
    (pp. 526-554)

    Soon after Kirov’s murder readers of the Soviet press from abroad understood that the NKVD was seeking to implicate former party oppositionists and “class enemies” in the crime. Russian socialists in exile anticipated large-scale repressions. On January 10, 1935 theSocialist Herald(Sotsialisticheskii vestnik), organ of the Menshevik Central Committee in Paris, ran the headline “New Wave of Terror in the USSR” over a resolution denouncing Stalin’s accusations against Zinovievites and “Zinovievite-Trotskyites.” The resolution noted that party opposition groups inside the USSR did not advocate terror and it blamed the killing on a lone assassin unbalanced by the atmosphere of...

  25. CHAPTER 14 The Politics of Rehabilitation and the Kirov Murder, 1953–1957
    (pp. 555-605)

    Joseph Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953 began a succession struggle among his collaborators in the party leadership. Continuing practices established by Stalin himself, Lavrenty Beria, Nikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, and their respective allies scrambled to gather compromising information on one another and pose as reformers. Discrediting one another was not difficult, as all of the rivals were directly implicated in the mass violence wrought by the Stalinist regime. Khrushchev, the victor in the succession battles, proved the master of mobilizing archival documents and party memory against his competitors, but Beria, the first loser, employed the same tactics. It was...

  26. CHAPTER 15 Shatunovskaya’s Investigation and After
    (pp. 606-669)

    Following the June 1957 plenum and the defeat of the “antiparty group,” the prosecutorial apparatus under Rudenko and the KGB under Serov continued to exonerate high-ranking victims of the Terror. On November 20, 1957 Serov and Rudenko reported to the TsK on the rehabilitation of three of the defendants in the March 1938 Moscow show trial, Levin, Kazakov, and Pletnev (all doctors charged with murdering their patients). This report also cited the recent admission of “expert witnesses” at the trial that their testimony had been worthless. Serov and Rudenko thus crept closer to a truly radical step, the rehabilitation of...

  27. Conclusion
    (pp. 670-692)

    With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kirov was once more transformed in accord with the spirit of the times. As censorship collapsed, television channels went to work selling footage of corpses, naked women, and shows like “Road Patrol,” in which reporters monitored police radio and drove to accident scenes to videotape grisly footage. Pornography, detective novels, and harlequin romances appeared in the same streetside booths that had once soldPravda.In this atmosphere, Kirov became a nymphomaniac shot by a jealous husband. Tales of Kirov’s sexual escapades proliferated. As one Moscow friend said when I mentioned this project to...

  28. APPENDIX. Biographical Sketches
    (pp. 693-738)
  29. Notes
    (pp. 739-808)
  30. Index of Documents
    (pp. 809-814)
  31. General Index
    (pp. 815-832)
  32. Back Matter
    (pp. 833-833)