1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov
A tale for our times
By Gavin Gatenby
30 November 2004
years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events
of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the War
on Terror and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy
figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Kirov was shot to death on the 1st of December 1934, certainly on the
orders of his mentor, Joseph Stalin. His assassination was a textbook
false flag operation and certainly did more to divert the
current of human history into regressive channels than the assassination
of John F. Kennedy. Both
in its style of execution and its ramifications it set a benchmark for
the cynical manipulation of the public and the falsification of history.
dispute the broad outline of the conspiracy: Kirov, the popular Leningrad
Bolshevik party chief and potential successor to Stalin was shot by a
disturbed and obsessive former party member with a grudge. And the assassin
was incited and aided by an NKVD agent provocateur.
available evidence and the who benefits test, indicate that,
in a ruthless and utterly cynical ploy, Stalin ordered Kirovs assassination
and then blamed it on a shadowy terrorist conspiracy allegedly
uniting Tsarist exiles with Stalins Old Bolshevik opponents, especially
Kamenev, Zinoviev and the exiled Leon Trotsky.
assassination was exploited to terrify Stalins Communist opponents
and potential rivals and to initiate the infamous Moscow Trials, through
which the dictator finally eliminated the Old Bolsheviks, launched the
Great Purges that did so much to weaken Soviet society in the lead-up
to the Second World War, and foisted highly regressive social legislation
on the Russian people.
to an assassination
1934, the infant Soviet state, which had arisen out of the crisis and
overthrow of the Tsarist regime at the end of three debilitating years
of the First World War, had subsequently endured civil war, blockade,
and economic isolation.
died in 1924. Contrary to his final wishes, Stalin, rather than being
relieved of any influence, had remained on the Central Committee and had
consolidated his autocratic rule. Under his patronage a new caste of bureaucrats
careerists with little or no experience of the underground struggle
had captured control of party and the state and had marginalised
the remaining Old Bolsheviks with their orthodox Marxism and liberal social
values. In 1927, two of Lenins most important co-workers, Zinoviev
and Kamanev, were expelled from the party and the most popular alternative
leader, Leon Trotsky, was exiled to Turkey.
Under the banner of Socialism in a single country an
idea unthinkable within the framework of conventional Marxist theory
Stalin set the Soviet Union on a breakneck course towards industrialisation
and the brutal imposition of broad-acre industrial agriculture. Millions
died as a result.
By 1934, the country was exhausted and a rising demand for democracy within
the party and the government, a relaxation of bureaucratic control, and
reconciliation with the exiled Old Bolsheviks, began to exert itself powerfully,
even through the thoroughly stage-managed conferences and meetings of
the party. Stalins autocratic rule was under threat.
The rise of Kirov
Unusually, Sergei Kirov was both an Old Bolshevik and a loyal Stalinist.
He was born in Urzhum, Russia, on 15 March, 1886. His parents having died
when he was very young, he was brought up by his grandmother until the
age of seven when he was sent to an orphanage.
He became a Marxist at technical school, joined the Social Democratic
Party in 1904, and took part in the 1905 revolution in St. Petersburg,
when he was arrested but was released after three months in prison.
Kirov then joined the Bolshevik faction of the party. Moving to Tomsk,
he was involved in the printing of revolutionary literature and he helped
to organize a successful strike by railway workers.
Between 1906 and 1916 he was arrested and imprisoned twice for printing
and disseminating illegal literature. The abdication of the Czar in March
1917, found Kirov in the Caucasus where he fought in the Red Army during
the civil war and in 1921 was selected to head up the Azerbaijan party
organization. In the years that followed he loyally supported Stalin and
was rewarded by being appointed head of the Leningrad party organization,
and in 1930, the Politbureau. It was clear the Stalin was grooming Kirov
as a possible successor.
But in the summer of 1932 Stalin became aware of the growing opposition
to his policies. He was outraged that some party members were even publicly
criticizing him and calling for the readmission of Leon Trotsky to the
party. At the Politburo, Stalin demanded that the critics should be arrested
and executed but Kirov argued against this policy. At the vote, the majority
In the spring of 1934 Kirov went further, putting forward a policy of
reconciliation. People who had been imprisoned for opposing the collective
farms and industrialization policies should be released, he argued. Once
again, Stalin found himself in a minority in the Politburo. In addition
to these problems, Kirov had been a vigorous advocate for the interests
of Leningrad industrial workers.
Stalin realised that he could not even rely on his own appointees to support
him unequivocally. He was particularly angered by Kirov's willingness
to stand up to him in public and feared his authority was being eroded.
In a last attempt to bring his protege under close supervision, Stalin
tried to persuade Kirov to move to Moscow, but Kirov refused. At that
point his fate was sealed.
It was only feasible to carry out the assassination of such an important
public figure with the collaboration of elements of the Leningrad office
of the NKVD, who were responsible for Kirovs security, but the head
of the Leningrad organization was Kirovs close friend, Philip Medved.
At first, Stalin had his reptilian security chief, Yagoda not yet
privy to the plot appoint Yevdokimov, a veteran NKVD officer (and
one of the dictators drinking buddies) in Medveds place. But
Kirov intervened indignantly and had the order countermanded.
Stalin then had no option but to take Yagoda into his trust. Yagoda summoned
to Moscow Medveds deputy, Vania Zaporozhets, and the story goes
that the two then went to Stalin, because Zaporozhets would never have
taken such an assignment on Yagodas say-so.
Accepting his mission, Zaporozhets returned to Leningrad in search of
an assassin, and in the files he found his man Leonid Nikolayev.
We will probably never know conclusively if Nikolayev really fired the
shots that killed Kirov, or if he was just the patsy, but it is most likely
that he was indeed the assassin.
Nikolayev may well have been sympathetic to the mood of disaffection below
the surface of Soviet political life but the various accounts of the assassination
agree that he was an expelled party member and failed junior functionary
with a murderous grudge and an indifference towards his own survival.
Unemployed, with a wife and child, and in financial difficulties, Nikolayev
had expressed to a friend a desire to kill the head of the
party control commission that had expelled him. His friend reported this
to the NKVD. Returning from Moscow, Zaporozhets decided that the disturbed
and impressionable young man might be groomed to commit the act that Stalin
Nikolayevs friend (who may have been an NKVD officer
or informer) took on the role of agent provocateur and convinced
Nikolayev that the murder of a mere control commission functionary would
hardly act as a call to arms against the bureaucracy, but that the death
of the Leningrad party chief and Politbureau member would send a rousing
message to the masses. He loaned Nikolayev money and obtained for him
a Nagant revolver and information on Kirovs office and movements.
According to the account of Alexander Orlov (a former Soviet diplomat
and counter-intelligence chief), Zaporozhets felt it necessary to personally
meet the prospective assassin, and he did so posing as an acquaintance
of Nikolayevs friend. On the basis of small-talk, Zaporozhets
formed a favourable impression, but exposing himself to Nikolayev was
an imprudent act that was to bring Stalins whole plan close to disaster.
Nikolayev supposedly kept a diary in which he detailed the progress of
his obsession, but the history of subsequent state frame-ups cautions
us to consider whether this particular piece of evidence was an NKVD fabrication.
Nikolayevs first attempt failed. Carrying a briefcase containing
the loaded pistol (for which he had no permit) and (incredibly) the incriminating
diary, he applied for, and received, a pass at the main security desk
in the Smolny Leningrads main party office. But an alert
guard asked to check the briefcase, the unlicenced pistol was found, and
he was immediately arrested. Then a strange thing happened which betrays
the hand of Zaporozhets: after a couple of hours Nikolayevs briefcase
and pistol were returned and he was told to leave the building.
Nikolayev was depressed and shaken by the experience, but with the help
of the provocateur he regained his composure and determination.
On the afternoon of 1 December 1934 he returned to the Smolny in the evening,
successfully obtained a pass and found his way to the suite of offices
occupied by Kirov and his secretariat.
Kirov, meanwhile, arrived at the Smolny about 4.30 pm to prepare a speech
and was escorted to his offices on the third floor by four plainclothes
NKVD guards as well as Borisov, a middle-aged man, devoted to Kirov, who
acted as personal attendant and bodyguard. Nobody was manning the usual
guard post at the entrance to Kirovs offices. The four guards left
and the two men continued alone.
Borisov apparently stopped off to prepare sandwiches for Kirov who continued
down the corridor alone, turned a corner, and was shot from behind, apparently
by Nikolayev, who had concealed himself in the mens lavatory. The
only witness was apparently an electrician working in the corridor. This
man subsequently testified that he threw a screwdriver at Nikolayev as
the latter tried to shoot himself, knocking him to the floor.
Apart from the electrician the next witnesses to arrive were Borisev and
a group of officials who had been meeting in a nearby conference room.
Stalin arrived the next day and personally took charge of the investigation.
The day before the assassination he had armed himself with powers enabling
those involved in crimes against the state to be summarily tried and punished
by special tribunal. His presence and that of the NKVD chief Yagoda, severely
intimidated the witnesses, although some were brave enough to observe
that the guards that should have been stationed at the entrance to Kirovs
offices were mysteriously absent.
Key witnesses eliminated
The hapless Borisev died the day after the assassination, supposedly by
falling from a moving truck while riding with a group of NKVD agents.
Nikolayevs friend, the provocateur, was allegedly shot
on Stalins personal orders. Borisevs wife was committed to
an insane asylum. Some accounts have Nikolayev committing suicide in his
cell, others say he was executed after an in-camera trial.
The plot nearly
As Alexander Orlov tells it, Stalin had instructed Zaporozhets to wring
a confession from Nikolayev that he had done the deed at the instigation
of Zinoviev, Kamenev and other former leaders of the opposition, but the
assassin was made of sterner stuff. Eager to win favour from The
Boss, Zaporozhets decided to interrogate the suspect personally
but Nikolayev immediately recognised Zaporozhets as the man he had been
introduced to by his friend and realized that he had been
Thereafter threats by Zaporozhets and even a visit from Stalin could not
induce the assassin to agree to incriminate the Old Bolsheviks and if
he couldnt be relied on to stick to the script, he couldnt
be brought before a public trial. This was a setback, and Stalin was furious.
Kirovs body was rushed to Moscow in Stalins train and laid
in state. Stalin was even cynical enough to throw himself on the coffin
and kiss the body (Orlov observes: As a former student of the ecclesiastical
Stalin must have recalled at that moment the legend of
the kiss of Judas Iscariot).
A compliant media whipped the public into an orgy of grief in preparation
for the witch-hunt for terrorists and the wave of arrests
and trials that were to follow. Initially, because Nikolayev couldnt
be relied upon to play his part in an open trial, it had to be publically
announced that he had acted at the instigation of White Guard
Czarist exiles, but Stalin and Yagoda worked hard to get the plot back
on track. Some young supporters of Zinoviev (with who Nikolayev may have
been casually acquainted) were brought to trial, convicted on the basis
of extremely flimsy evidence and executed. Then, Zinoviev,
Kamenev and other former leaders of the Left Opposition and Right Opposition
were charged with the murder. Zinoviev and Kamenev were personally interrogated
by Yagoda and brought before a secret military tribunal on 15 January
1935. Absolutely no proof was advanced that the accused had anything to
do with the assassination, but Zinoviev and Kamenev agreed to take upon
themselves the political and moral responsibility for Kirovs
murder although they denied any personal complicity.
The Great Purges had begun.