|A.K.A.||Sergey Mironovich Kirov|
|Birth||15 March 1886, Urzhum, Urzhumsky District, Kirov Oblast, Russia|
|Death||1 December 1934, Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire (aged 48 years)|
|Politics||Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Russian Social Democratic Labour Party|
Sergei Mironovich Kirov (born Kostrikov; 27 March [O.S. 15 March] 1886 – 1 December 1934) was a close, personal friend to Joseph Stalin, and a prominent early Bolshevik leader in the Soviet Union. Kirov rose through the Communist Party ranks to become head of the party organisation in Leningrad.
On 1 December 1934, Kirov was shot and killed by a gunman at his offices in the Smolny Institute. There is a widespread belief that Joseph Stalin and elements of the NKVD were behind Kirov's assassination, but evidence for this claim remains lacking. Kirov's death was later used as a pretext for Stalin's escalation of repression against dissident elements of the Party, and disarming of the Party (every Party member was issued a revolver up to that time, when Stalin had them all taken away), 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 honour after his assassination. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kirovakan and Kirovabad returned to their original names: Vanadzor and Ganja, respectively. In order to comply with decommunisation laws, Kirovohrad was renamed in July 2016 by the Ukrainian parliament to Kropyvnytskyi.
Sergey Kirov was born Sergei Mironovich Kostrikov into a poor family in Urzhum (then in Vyatka Governorate of the Russian Empire, subsequently in Kirov Oblast) as one of seven children born to Miron Ivanovich Kostrikov and Yekaterina Kuzminichna Kostrikova (née Kazantseva); their first four children had died young, while Anna (born 1883), Sergey (1886) and Yelizaveta (1889) survived.
Miron, an alcoholic, abandoned the family around 1890. In 1893, Yekaterina died of tuberculosis. The children's paternal grandmother, Melania Avdeyevna Kostrikova, raised Sergey and his sisters for a brief time, but she could not afford to take care of them all on her small pension of 3 rubles per month. Through her connections, she succeeded in having Sergey placed in an orphanage, but he saw his sisters and grandmother regularly.
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 in Siberia. Kirov became a Marxist and joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour 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. Kostrikov began using the pen name "Kir", first publishing under the pseudonym "Kirov" on 26 April 1912. One account states that he chose the name "Kir" (Cyrus, from the Greek Kūros), after a Christian martyr in third-century Egypt from an Orthodox calendar of saints' days, russifying it by adding an "-ov" ending. A second story is that he based it on the name of the Persian king Cyrus.
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 Ordzhonikidze and Mikoyan. In Astrakhan he enforced Bolshevik power in March 1919 with liberal bloodletting; more than 4,000 were killed. When a bourgeois was caught hiding his own furniture, Kirov ordered him shot."
In 1921, he became manager of the Azerbaijan party organisation. Kirov was a loyal supporter of Joseph Stalin, and in 1926 he was rewarded with the command of the Leningrad party organisation.
Kirov was a close, personal friend of Stalin, and a strong supporter of industrialisation and forced collectivisation. At the 16th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) in 1930 he stated: "The General Party line is to conduct the course of our country industrialisation. Based on the industrialisation, we conduct the transformation of our agriculture. Namely we centralise and collectivise."
At the 17th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), in 1934, Kirov delivered the speech called "The Speech of Comrade Stalin Is the Program of Our Party", which refers to Stalin's speech delivered at the Congress earlier. Kirov praised Stalin for everything he did since the death of Vladimir Lenin. Moreover, he personally named and ridiculed Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov and Mikhail Tomsky. Bukharin and Rykov were tried in the show trial called The Trial of the Twenty-One. Tomsky committed suicide expecting the arrest.
Assassination and aftermath
The Leningrad office of the NKVD – headed by Kirov's close friend, Filipp Medved – looked after Kirov's security. Stalin allegedly 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 Nikolayev.
Leonid 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 told a "friend" he wanted 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, Nikolayev'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 Nikolayev 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 housed the chief offices of the Leningrad party apparatus and was the seat of the local government. According to some reports, only a single friend, Commissar Borisov, an unarmed bodyguard of Kirov's remained. Other sources 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 Gregory 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 Saturday, 1 December 1934, Nikolayev 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 some 20 to 40 paces behind Kirov, (some sources allege Borisov parted company with Kirov in order to prepare his lunch). As Kirov turned a corner, passing Nikolayev, 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 and cousin, and some other people close to him, were arrested and later killed or sent to labour camps. Arrested immediately after the assassination, Nikolayev's wife, Milda Draule, survived her husband by three months before being executed as well. 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 retrospectively. 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 the NKVD officers were executed in the aftermath, and none actually served time in prison. Instead, they were transferred to executive posts in Stalin's labour camps for a period of time, in effect, a demotion. According to Nikita Khrushchev, the same NKVD officers were shot in 1937 during Stalin's purges.
Initially, a Communist Party communiqué reported that Nikolayev had confessed his guilt, not only as an assassin, but an assassin in the pay of a "fascist power", having received 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:
Comrade Stalin personally directed the investigation of Kirov's assassination. He questioned Nikolayev at length. The leaders of the Opposition placed the gun in Nikolayev's hand!
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 scrutinised...." 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, 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 therefore 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.
Alexander Barmine, a Soviet defector who knew both Stalin and Kirov, asserted that Stalin arranged the murder with the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, who armed Nikolayev and sent him to assassinate Kirov.
Author and Marxist scholar Boris Nikolaevsky argued: "One thing is certain: the only man who profited by the Kirov assassination was Stalin."
Khrushchev, in his secret speech in 1956, said that the murder was organized by NKVD agents. He noted that the NKVD agents tasked with protecting Kirov were eventually shot in 1937, and assumed that this was to "cover the traces of the organisers of Kirov's killing".
Pospelov Commission investigation
In December 1955, after 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" for Khrushchev at the 20th Congress). Khrushchev stated:
It must be asserted that to this day the circumstances surrounding Kirov's murder hide many things which are inexplicable and mysterious and demand a most careful examination. There are reasons for the suspicion that the killer of Kirov, Nikolayev, was assisted by someone from among the people whose duty it was protect the person of Kirov. A month and a half before the killing, Nikolayev was arrested on the grounds of suspicious behaviour, but he was released and not even searched. It is an unusually suspicious circumstance that when the Chekist [Borisov] assigned to protect Kirov was being brought for an interrogation, on 2 December 1934, he was killed in a car "accident" in which no other occupants of the car were harmed. After the murder of Kirov, top functionaries of the Leningrad NKVD were relieved of their duties and were given very light sentences, but in 1937 they were shot. We can assume that they were shot in order to cover the traces of the organizers of Kirov's killing.
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 Yan Olsky, 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 Fyodor Medved with Olsky. Olsky was of the firm opinion that Medved, Kirov's friend and NKVD security chief of the Leningrad branch, was innocent of the murder. Olsky 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 said he was present when Stalin asked Leonid Nikolayev why Comrade Kirov had been killed. To this Nikolayev 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 among them.
Khrushchev's report, On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences was later read at closed-door Party meetings. Afterward, new material was received by the Pospelov committee, including the assertion by 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 an accident at all.
Politburo Commission headed by A. Yakovlev
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.
Kirov was buried in the Kremlin Wall necropolis in a state funeral, with Stalin personally carrying his coffin.
Many cities, streets and factories took his name, including the cities of Kirov (formerly Vyatka), Kirovsk (Murmansk Oblast), Kirovohrad (today Kropyvnytskyi in present-day Ukraine), Kirovabad (today Ganja, Azerbaijan) and Kirovakan (today Vanadzor, Armenia), the station Kirovskaya of the Moscow Metro (now Chistye Prudy), Kirov Ballet, and the massive Kirov industrial plant in Saint Petersburg. In order to comply with Ukrainian decommunization laws Kirovohrad was renamed Kropyvnytskyi by the Ukrainian parliament on 14 July 2016. Ukraine's Kirovohrad oblast was not retitled because it is mentioned by name in the Constitution of Ukraine, and any alteration would require a constitutional amendment.
The S. M. Kirov Forestry Academy, in Leningrad, was named after him; today it is the Saint Petersburg State Forest Technical University.
In the city of Kirov a speedskating match, the Kirov Prize, was named for him. This match is the oldest annual organised race in speedskating, apart from the World Speed Skating Championships and the European Speed Skating Championships.
The English Communist poet John Cornford wrote an eponymous poem in his honour.
For many years, a huge statue of Kirov, in granite and bronze, dominated 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.
Kirov was married to Maria Lvovna Markus (1885 — 1945) from 1911, although they never formally registered their relations. His daughter Yevgenia Kostrikova (1921—1975) was a famous tank company commander and WW2 veteran.
Honours and awards
- Order of the Red Banner
- Order of Lenin