turning point of Soviet history occured when a young party functionary
allegedly aimed and fired a round from his Nagan revolver into the
back of the neck of one Sergei Kirov. Kirov was a rising star in
the Communist Party of the 1930's. Although he was no capitalist,
he surreptitiously opposed the extreme measures Stalin was forcing
upon the Soviet peoples.
death would trigger show trials, purges and the ultimate demise
of thousands and perhaps millions.
Kostrikov was born (27 March 1886) to a poor family in Urzhum, Russia,
a small town nestled in the Ural mountains. His father, Miron Kostrikov
left home while Sergei was still at a tender age. Times were hard
in late 19th century Russia. His mother and sisters eaked out a
hardscrabble existence and put considerable energy into providing
for and educating young Sergei. His mother, (Ekaterina) died the
subsequent year (1893). His care was then turned over to his Grandmother.
1901 a group of local, wealthy benefactors provided the growing
Kostrikov with a scholarship at an industrial school in Kazan. He
earned a degree in engineering. It was in Tomsk, Siberia in 1904
and during the 1905 Russian Revolution that Sergei began to awaken
to Marxist ideology. His idealism was spawned by the poverty endemic
in a totalitarian state and the lure of an organization promising,
however irrationally, to eradicate the vagaries of the human condition.
He became active in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and
was arrested several times in 1905 and 1906 for illegal agitation
against the state.
1909 he had moved to Vladikavkaz. Although he was not trained to
be a journalist, he had the interest and aptitude to get on the
staff of a liberal newspaper, TEREK. In 1911 he was arrested again
and continued to bolster his revolutionary credentials through his
work distributing leaflets and agitating workers at factories. By
1917 he was prepared to throw himself into the maelstrom of the
Russian Revolution. The great war (1914-18) had absorbed all of
Imperial Russia's economic and human capital - bankrupt, it slid
further and further into revolutionary ferment. When Lenin arrived
in 1917 the inevitable occured. The autocratic Czar was killed (as
was his entire family) and a subsequent civil war wreaked havoc
upon the countryside.
this time Sergei Kostrikov had changed his name to Kirov. He had
selected it as a pen name. He had seen the name, "Kir", on a calendar
of Saints names. It reminded him of a Persian warrior king. It was
an appropriate name for the young man who was to become head of
the Bolshevik military administration in Astrakhan. In this position,
he ruthlessly crushed the White Russian forces who were fighting
for a return of the czar.
a reward for his grim work in Astrakhan, he was appointed Russian
Embassador to Georgia. While there he helped instigate the Soviet
takeover of the Region. In the early 1920's he worked his way up
the party machinery to become the Secretary of the Communist Party
of Azerbaijan and was also elected a member of the Central Committee
in Moscow. In the Soviet Union, party secretary was the true position
of power since it was the secretary who controlled all communist
party and government appointments. Stalin himself derived his power
from the fact that he was the head secretary of the communist party.
Russian Revolution and the subsequent civil war did not change the
essence of rule in Russia. The autocratic Czar was replaced by an
autocratic secretariat of the communist party. However, the new
regime, without the legitimacy of time or popularity, was compelled
by repressive measures to maintain power. Kirov assisted in these
measures, which included forced labor camps, and the destruction
of a peasant class known as the Kulaks (of which it is estimated
that 4-8,000,000) were killed) Though there is evidence that Kirov
attempted to minimize the disruption and destruction, there is no
doubt that by his actions ten's of thousands of individuals were
1926, after Stalin initiated a purge in Leningrad (the second largest
city in Russia), Stalin replaced his rivals with a man on whom he
felt he could depend. As the new head of the Leningrad Communist
Party, Kirov was put in a position of prominence and power second
only to Stalin himself. From 1926 to 1934, as Stalin's paranoia
was becoming more noticeable and more destructive, Kirov became
more and more the only evident rival to Stalin. Though he always
towed the party line, he put softer touches on the repression and
was becoming more and more popular with the people. At a Party conference
in 1934 he spoke out against some new repressive measures being
dictated by Stalin. He was loudly applauded by the party apparatus.
Some even thought that he might be able to topple Stalin from his
position as overall party leader.
was less than a year later that Kirov was murdered...
Act Of Murder
events surrounding the death of Sergei Kirov are now made dim by
the passage of time. All of the major participants and witnesses
are now dead. (Many were subsequently liquidated in Stalinist purges.)
Yet there were several investigations subsequent to the event that
verifiable information from NKVD (KGB) investigations and the rootings
of historians tells the following story:
1 December 1934 Kirov arrived at his office in Leningrad (St. Petersburg).
It was about 4:30 in the afternoon. He was preparing for a speech
to be given later to party officials. He was met by four plainclothes
NKVD guards. He was greeted also by his usual bodyguard, Borisov.
office was on the third floor of the Smolnyi. Kirov was accompanied
by this group of guards up the stairs. The four NKVD guards left
Kirov when he reached the third floor of the building because there
was another guard post at the top of the stairs. However, his usual
bodyguard, Borisov, remained with him.
seems to have dallied quite far behind Kirov as they went down the
hall. Kirov's office was around a corner to the left. As he walked
by a lavatory, near the 3rd floor guard post, a man came out and
then turned to face the wall. Kirov took no notice of the man and
neither did Borisov who by this time was some distance behind. The
man from the lavatory was one Nikolaev. He followed Kirov around
the corner out of site of Borisov.
shots were heard...
from about three feet away in the back of the neck by a Nagan revolver,
Kirov fell against a post and then slumped to the floor, face down.
Kirov and his assailant were not alone at this moment. One S. A.
Platych, an electrician, was standing on a ladder near the end of
the corridor. He subsequently testified that he had seen Nikolaev
direct the pistol now at his own head. The electrician then flung
a screwdriver at Nikolaev, knocking the assailant to the floor and
causing the revolver to discharge into a nearby cornice. (Platych
in a separate deposition stated that he had not seen Nikolaev use
the weapon at all. That he saw the man slump to the floor and the
weapon was near him when he did so. Platych then picked up the revolver
and threw it into the corner - Which statement is the truth no one
is quite sure.)
the hapless bodyguard, heard the shots and ran around the corner
to witness the remains of the gruesome scene.
had been meeting in a conference room near where the murder took
place. As Borisov achieved the corner these men poured into the
corridor, Ivanchenko, Rosliakov, Ugarov, Kodatskii, Mikhail'chenko
and Struppe. Rosliakov testified that he found Nikolaev slumped
on the floor with the revolver in his hand. He took it out of the
"assassin's" hand and gave it to Ugarov. The NKVD chief, Medved,
was then called.
witness to the murder scene was Stero Gorokova. She came out of
her office upon hearing the shots and testified that she saw Mikhail'chenko
leaning over the body of Nikolaev. She could not see what he was
is considerable conflict in the testimony of witnesses of Kirov's
demise. Some of this conflict can be attributed to perspective,
confusion or the passage of time. Others give it a more insidious
from the Russian Archives
AND TERROR: KIROV MURDER AND PURGES