|This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (February 2012)|
Серге́й Миро́нович Ки́ров
|First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Azerbaijani Communist Party|
July 1921 – January 1926
|Preceded by||Grigory Kaminsky|
|Succeeded by||Levon Mirzoyan|
|First Secretary of the Leningrad Regional Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)|
8 January 1926 – 1 December 1934
|Preceded by||Grigory Yevdokimov|
|Succeeded by||Andrey Zhdanov|
|Full member of the 16th, 17th Politburo|
13 July 1930 – 1 December 1934
|Candidate member of the 14th, 15th Politburo|
23 July 1926 – 13 July 1930
|Born||Sergei Mironovich Kostrikov
27 March 1886
Urzhum, Russian Empire
|Died||1 December 1934
Leningrad, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Sergei Mironovich Kirov (Russian: Серге́й Миро́нович Ки́ров; 27 March [O.S. 15 March] 1886 – 1 December 1934), born Sergei Mironovich Kostrikov, was a prominent early Bolshevik leader in the Soviet Union. Kirov rose through the Communist Party ranks to become head of the party organization in Leningrad.
On 1 December 1934, Kirov was shot and killed by a gunman at his offices in the Smolny Institute. Some historians place the blame for his assassination at the hands of Stalin and believe the NKVD organised his execution, but any evidence for this claim remains lacking. Kirov's death served as one of the pretexts for Stalin's escalation of repression against dissident elements of the Party, culminating in the Great Purge of the late 1930s in which many of the Old Bolsheviks were arrested, expelled from the party, and executed. Complicity in Kirov's assassination was a common charge to which the accused confessed in the show trials of the period.
The cities of Kirov, Kirovohrad, Kirovakan, and Kirovabad, as well as a few Kirovsks, were renamed in Kirov's honor after his assassination. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union Kirovakan and Kirovabad returned to their original names: Vanadzor and Ganja, respectively.
Born Sergei Mironovich Kostrikov (Ко́стриков), he was born into a poor family in Urzhum (then in Vyatka Governorate of the Russian Empire). Kirov lost his parents when he was young. His father, Miron Kostrikov, disappeared; his mother, Yekaterina Kitun Kostrikova, died the following year (1894). Sergey was brought up by his grandmother before being sent to an orphanage at seven years of age. In 1901 a group of wealthy benefactors provided a scholarship for him to attend an industrial school at Kazan. After gaining his degree in engineering he moved to Tomsk. As Russian society went into crisis, Kirov became a Marxist and joined the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) in 1904.
Kirov took part in the Russian Revolution of 1905, and was arrested and later released. He joined with the Bolsheviks soon after being released from prison. In 1906, Kirov was arrested once again, but this time jailed for over three years, charged with printing illegal literature. Soon after his release, he again took part in revolutionary activity. Once again being arrested for printing illegal literature, after a year of custody, Kostrikov moved to the Caucasus, where he stayed until the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II.
By this time, Sergei Kostrikov had changed his name to Kirov in order to make his name easier to remember, a practice common among Russian revolutionaries of the time. One theory is that the name Kir reminded him of the ancient Persian leader Cyrus the Great while another is that he took his name from St. Kir after seeing a calendar of Russian Orthodox saints.
Kirov became commander of the Bolshevik military administration in Astrakhan. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, he fought in the Russian Civil War until 1920. Simon Sebag Montefiore writes: "During the Civil War, Kirov was one of the swashbuckling commissars in the North Caucasus beside Sergo and Mikoyan. In Astrakhan he enforced Bolshevik power in March 1919 with liberal blood-letting: over four thousand were killed. When a bourgeois was caught hiding his own furniture, Kirov ordered him shot."
As a result, Kirov drew the unwelcome attention of Stalin, particularly after the 1934 party congress, where delegates voting for new Central Committee membership elected Kirov with just three votes against.
Although Kirov had been a strong supporter of Stalin, including the leader's sharp swing to the left during the period of enforced collectivisation and "dekulakisation" (which had seen millions die in a famine), Kirov's speech to the congress suggested he wanted to see a more relaxed approach in the future. Kirov, a lover of the good life and a hardened drinker who would even swear in public, was also highly popular with party cadres who saw this style as a welcome alternative to the increasingly (in public, at least) austere regime promoted by Stalin.
Supposedly, Stalin received far more negative votes than Kirov, although the historical records are not entirely clear. After the party congress, Stalin asked Kirov to work for him in Moscow, assisting the Politburo, but then repeatedly postponed Kirov's transfer, stating that Kirov was temporarily required in Leningrad to finish important party business. Kirov was not invited to certain Politburo meetings, and was kept in Leningrad for over nine months. Kirov's influence continued to grow, and at a plenary session of the Central Committee in November 1934 Kirov urged the adoption of further conciliatory measures by the party in favor of party dissidents, which won enthusiastic applause and approval among the delegates.
The Leningrad office of the NKVD - headed by Kirov’s close friend, Feodor Medved - looked after Kirov’s security. Stalin reportedly ordered the NKVD Commissar, Genrikh Yagoda, to replace Medved with Grigory Yeremeyevich Yevdokimov, a close associate of Stalin. However, Kirov intervened and had the order countermanded. According to Alexander Orlov, Stalin then ordered Yagoda to arrange the assassination. Yagoda ordered Medved’s deputy, Vania Zaporozhets, to undertake the job. Zaporozhets returned to Leningrad in search of an assassin; in reviewing the files he found the name of Leonid Nikolaev.
Leonid Nikolaev (also spelt Nikolayev) was well-known to the NKVD, which had arrested him for various petty offences in recent years. Various accounts of his life agree that he was an expelled Party member and failed junior functionary with a murderous grudge and an indifference towards his own survival. He was unemployed, with a wife and child, and in financial difficulties. According to Orlov, Nikolayev had allegedly 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.
Zaporozhets then allegedly enlisted Nikolayev’s 'friend' to contact him, giving him money and a loaded 7.62 mm Nagant M1895 revolver. However, Nikolaev's first attempt at killing Kirov failed. On 15 October 1934, Nikolaev packed his Nagant revolver in a briefcase and entered the Smolny Institute where Kirov worked. Although he was initially passed by the main security desk at Smolny, he was arrested after an alert guard asked to examine his briefcase, which was found to contain the revolver. A few hours later, Nikolayev’s briefcase and loaded revolver were returned to him, and he was told to leave the building. Though Nikolaev had clearly broken Soviet laws, the security police had inexplicably released him from custody; he was even permitted to retain his loaded pistol.
With Stalin's approval, the NKVD had previously withdrawn all but four police bodyguards assigned to Kirov. These four guards accompanied Kirov each day to his offices at the Smolny Institute, and then left. On 1 December 1934, the usual guard post at the entrance to Kirov's offices was left unmanned, even though the building served as the chief offices of the Leningrad party apparatus and as the seat of the local government. According to some reports, only a single friend and unarmed bodyguard of Kirov's, Commissar Borisov, remained. Other sources[who?] state that there may have been as many as nine NKVD guards in the building. Whatever the case, given the circumstances of Kirov's death, as former Soviet official and author Alexander Barmine noted, "the negligence of the NKVD in protecting such a high party official was without precedent in the Soviet Union."
On the afternoon of 1 December Nikolaev arrived at the Smolny Institute offices. Unopposed, he made his way to the third floor, where he waited in a hallway until Kirov and Borisov stepped into the corridor. Borisov appears to have stayed well behind Kirov, some 20 to 40 paces (some sources allege Borisov parted company with Kirov in order to prepare his luncheon). As Kirov turned a corner, passing Nikolaev, the latter drew his revolver and shot Kirov in the back of the neck.
The Sergei Kirov Museum maintains that the circumstances of Kirov's death "remain unknown to this day." There are no doubts on the aftermath, however: "the bloodiest round of Stalin's terror and repression."
After Kirov's death, Stalin called for swift punishment of the traitors and those found negligent in Kirov's death. Nikolayev was tried alone and secretly by Vasili Ulrikh, Chairman of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR. He was sentenced to death by shooting on 29 December 1934, and the sentence was carried out that very night.
The hapless Commissar Borisov died the day after the assassination, supposedly by falling from a moving truck while riding with a group of NKVD agents. Borisov’s wife was committed to an insane asylum. According to Orlov, Nikolayev’s mysterious 'friend' and alleged provocateur, who had supplied him with the revolver and money, was later shot on Stalin’s personal orders.
Nikolayev's mother, brother, sisters, cousin and some other people close to him were arrested and later liquidated or sent to labor camps. Arrested immediately after the assassination, Nikolayev's wife Milda Draule survived her husband by three months before being executed herself. Their infant son (who was named Marx following the Bolshevik naming fashion) was sent into an orphanage. Marx Draule was alive in 2005 when he was officially rehabilitated as a victim of political repressions, and Milda was also found innocent retroactively. However, Nikolayev was never posthumously acquitted.
Several NKVD officers from the Leningrad branch were convicted of negligence for not adequately protecting Kirov, and sentenced to prison terms of up to ten years. None of these NKVD officers were executed in the aftermath, and none actually served time in prison. Instead, they were transferred to executive posts in Stalin's labor camps for a period of time (in effect, a demotion). According to Nikita Khrushchev, these same NKVD officers were shot in 1937 during Stalin's purges.
Initially, a Communist Party communiqué reported that Nikolaev had confessed his guilt, not only as an assassin, but an assassin in the pay of a 'fascist power', receiving money from an unidentified 'foreign consul' in Leningrad. 104 defendants who were already in prison at the time of Kirov's assassination and who had no demonstrable connection to Nikolayev were found guilty of complicity in the 'fascist plot' against Kirov, and summarily executed.
However, a few days later, during a subsequent Communist Party meeting of the Moscow District, the Party secretary announced in a speech that Nikolayev was personally interrogated by Stalin the day after the assassination, an unheard-of event for a party leader such as Stalin:
Other speakers duly rose to condemn the Opposition: "The Central Committee must be pitiless - the Party must be purged... the record of every member must be scrutinized...." No one at the meeting mentioned the initial theory of fascist agents. Later, Stalin even used the Kirov assassination to eliminate the remainder of the Opposition leadership against him, accusing Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Abram Prigozhin, and others who had stood with Kirov in opposing Stalin (or simply failed to acquiesce to Stalin's views), of being 'morally responsible' for Kirov's murder, and as such were guilty of complicity. All were removed from the Party apparatus and given prison sentences. While serving their sentences, the Opposition leaders were charged with new crimes, for which they were sentenced to death and shot.
In December 1955, after Nikita Khrushchev assumed control of the Party, the Presidium of the Central Committee (CPSU) entrusted P. N. Pospelov, Secretary of the Central Committee, to form a commission to investigate the repression of the 1930s (this was the same Pospelov who drafted the famous 'Secret Speech' of Khrushchev at the Twentieth Congress). Khrushchev stated:
Pospelov subsequently spoke to Dr. Kirchakov and former nurse Trunina, former members of the party, who had been mentioned in a letter by another member of the commission, (Olga Shatunovskaya), as having knowledge of the Kirov murder. Dr. Kirchakov confirmed that he did talk to Shatunovskaya and Trunina about some of the unexplained aspects of the Kirov murder case, and agreed to provide the Commission with a written deposition. He stressed that his statement was based on the testimony of one Comrade Olskii, a former NKVD officer who was demoted after Kirov's murder and transferred to the People's Supply System.
In his deposition, Dr. Kirchakov wrote that he had discussed the murder of Kirov and the role of Feodor Medved with Olskii. Olskii was of the firm opinion that Medved, Kirov's friend and NKVD security chief of the Leningrad branch, was innocent of the murder. Olskii also told Kirchakov that Medved had been barred from the NKVD Kirov assassination investigation. Instead, the investigation was carried out by a senior NKVD chief, Yakov Agranov, and later by another NKVD bureau officer, whose name he did not remember. During one of the committee sessions, Olskii related he was present when Stalin asked Leonid Nikolaev why Comrade Kirov had been killed. To this Nikolaev replied that he carried out the instruction of the 'Chekists' [NKVD] and pointed towards the group of 'Chekists' [NKVD officers] standing in the room; Medved was not amongst them.
Khrushchev's Report, On the Personality Cult and Its Consequences was later read at closed-door Party meetings. Afterward, new material was received by the Pospelov committee, including the statement of Kirov's chauffeur, Kuzin, that Commissar Borisov, Kirov's friend and bodyguard, who was responsible for Kirov's round the clock security at Smolny, was intentionally killed, and that his death in a road accident was not at all natural.
The last attempt in the Soviet Union to review the Kirov murder case was the Politburo Commission headed by Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev which was established in the Gorbachev period in 1989. The investigating team included personnel from the USSR Procurator's Office, the Military Procuracy, the KGB and various archival administrations. After two years of investigations the working team of the Yakovlev commission concluded that: 'in this affair no materials objectively support Stalin's participation or NKVD participation in the organisation and carrying out of Kirov's murder.
Alexander Barmine, a Soviet official who knew both Stalin and Kirov, asserted that Stalin arranged the murder with the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, who armed Nikolaev and sent him to assassinate Kirov. The death of Kirov was used by Stalin to ignite the Great Purge, where supporters of Trotsky and other suspected enemies testified that they were guilty of such a conspiracy against the Soviet government and arrested.
Author and Marxist scholar Boris Nikolaevsky argued:
Contrary to popular belief, Khrushchev's secret speech in 1956 did not make the accusation that Stalin personally ordered Kirov's murder. Khrushchev stated that "the circumstances surrounding Kirov's murder hide many things which are inexplicable and mysterious and demand a most careful examination." He argued that the NKVD agents tasked with protecting Kirov were eventually shot in 1937 to "cover up the traces of the organizers of Kirov's killing."
Soviet scholar J. Arch Getty doubts the evidence that Stalin was culpable for Kirov's assassination, calling it "complicated and at least secondhand." He further claims that "before the Cold War, no serious authority argued that Stalin was behind the assassination."  Getty echoed Khrushchev's observation of police complicity in the murder, but doubts Stalin's complicity. He states, for example, that the NKVD head, Genrikh Yagoda, who allegedly received the order from Stalin to kill Kirov later confessed in open court in 1938 to Kirov's murder. Getty argues that it would have been "very dangerous to allow [Yagoda] to appear later before the microphones of the world press" if he had knowledge of Stalin's complicity because he "knew that he would be shot anyway" and "it would have been easy for him to let slip that Stalin had put him up to it." Moreover, Getty points to the fact that the killer, who was immediately apprehended, had on his person a diary that provided no evidence of his motives or any deeper connections. Getty argues that if Stalin had been behind the killing in an effort to blame the opposition and launch a purge, he would not have allowed a dead-end diary to go public. Moreover, the Stalinist political response was haphazard, evidencing reaction rather than proaction or planning.
Many cities, streets and factories took his name, including the cities of Kirov (formerly Vyatka), Kirovsk (Murmansk Oblast), Kirovohrad (in present day Ukraine), Kirovabad (today Ganja, Azerbaijan) and Kirovakan (today Vanadzor, Armenia), the station Kirovskaya of the Moscow Metro (now Chistiye Prudy), Kirov Ballet, and the massive Kirov industrial plant in Saint Petersburg.
The S. M. Kirov Forestry Academy, in Leningrad, was named after him; today this is the Saint Petersburg State Forest Technical University.
In the city of Kirov a speedskating match, the Priz Imeni S.M. Kirova, was named for him. This match is the longest enduring annual organised race in speedskating apart from the World Speed Skating Championships and the European Speed Skating Championships.
For many years, a huge statue of Kirov in granite and bronze dominated the panorama of the city of Baku. The monument was erected on a hill in 1939 and was dismantled in January 1992, after Azerbaijan gained its independence. The Kirov class of battlecruisers is named in his honor, though the first-of-class vessel originally named Kirov has since been renamed Admiral Ushakov.
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