On 1 December, 1934 Sergei Mironovich Kirov was murdered at the Smolnyi Institute in St. Petersburg by Leonid Nikolaev, a former party member. The 48-year-old First Secretary of the Leningrad party organization and longtime Bolshevik member was assassination only months after he had received a higher percentage of votes in the elections to the Politburo at the Seventeenth Party Congress than Joseph Stalin (Freeze, 364).
Isaak Brodskii. “S.M. Kirov Secretary of the Leningrad Provincial Committee of the Communist Party.” The Kirov Affair Images. Soviethistory. 1929. Web. 18 March. 2018.
Sergei Kirov’s death became a political sensation for the Bolshevik party because of the murder of such a prominent political figure. For days after the event, radio broadcasts and newspaper devoted time to mourn the death of the politician. They also denounced those responsible for the assassination and focused on the alleged perpetrators of the crime. These newspapers also called for national support for the Bolshevik Party by stating that the attack on Sergei Kirov was not just about him, but about the entire Bolshevik Party and the proletariat revolution (Knight). In rural areas local party leaders organized meetings for workers, peasants, students, and others to mourn the death of Kirov together. As this was occurring, these local leaders were also asking for donations of either money or labor to support his memory (Rimmel, 481).
Kirov’s death did not provoke the same intense, mournful response from the common people. These people, mostly those living in rural areas, were not concerned with the assassination of a powerful politician, as they were focused on their lack of food and growing hunger. The general population did not see the events as terrible news or something to be too concerned with, as they viewed the Soviet government and Kirov himself with hostility. With Kirov’s death, they focused more so on the failures of the Party and Communism to help combat their mass hunger than on Kirov himself. (Lenoe, 353).
Interestingly enough was the responses from Leningrad, Kirov’s place of work and a city where two days before the assassination it was announced that bread rations for workers would be ended. These workers, angry at their main source of food being removed, viewed Kirov’s murder and the question of who did it as being important. Instead, the average Soviet worker viewed Kirov’s assassination with a sense of satisfaction and glee, with one worker being noted as saying, “That’s the way to go—that’s just what he deserved, because the people are exhausted and are kicking the bucket from hunger…. This means there are now 800 extra grams of bread for the population (Lenoe, 353).”
Nikolay Tomskiy & Noy Trotskiy. “Monument to Sergey Kirov on Kirovskaya Ploshchad.” Saint-Petersburg. 1938. Web. 18. March. 2018.
While the responses from the Party members and the general public were vastly different and demonstrated the varied sentiments towards the Soviet government, the official response of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin created a sense of unity between the two groups. This was because Stalin’s response affected everyone in the Soviet Union, regardless of position, and put everyone in some form on danger. After Sergei Kirov’s murder, Stalin launched an investigation and personally oversaw the interrogation of Nikoleav, the assassin. Stalin’s report stated that Nikoleav did not act alone in this crime, and that he was supported by the Zinovievites, the supports of the disgraced former party boss Grigorii Zinoviev, the remaining members and supporters of the White Guard, and other rival ideological organizations (Siegelbaum). Stalin’s report and the resulting investigation into these particular groups is significant, as it allowed for him to eliminate and try those he deemed to be dangerous. He was able to do this without question and with the support of his mourning and angry political party, as they saw these individuals and political organizations as being an “enemy of the people.” (Freeze, 364).
Historians have viewed Joseph Stalin’s responding actions to the assassination of Sergei Kirov as being suspicious because of its intensity. A result of Kirov’s assassination and the resulting actions of Joseph Stalin was the widespread and popular theory that Stalin himself had ordered Kirov’s assassination. This is a common theory, as it allowed for Stalin to use Koriv’s assassination as an excuse to investigate and purge his political opponents and those he deemed potentially dangerous to his authority (Freeze, 364-365). The resulting purge, deemed the Great Terror by historians, resulted in millions of deaths of government officials, military officers, members of the elite, those with great economic statuses, those opposed to the Bolshevik Party and Joseph Stalin, and the high-ranking members of the Bolshevik Party (Freeze, 369). This mass purge resulted in the removal on anyone who could potentially challenge Stalin’s rule and authority in the Soviet Union.
Brodskii, Isaak. “S.M. Kirov Secretary of the Leningrad Provincial Committee of the Communist Party.” The Kirov Affair Images. Soviethistory. 1929. Web. 18 March. 2018.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History, Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.
Knight, Amy. Who Killed Kirov?’ The Kremlin’s Greatest Mystery. New York: Hill and Wang. 1999. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/first/k/knight-kirov.html
Lenoe, Matt. “Did Stalin Kill Kirov and Does It Matter?” The Journal of Modern History. Vol. 74, no. 2. (2002):352 380.http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/stable/pdf/10.1086/343411.pdf
Rimmel, Lesley, A. “Another Kind of Fear: The Kirov Murder and the End of Bread Rationing in Leningrad.” Slavic Review Vol. 56, no., 3. (1997): 481-499.http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/stable/pdf/2500926.pdf?refreqid=search:6baceaec30e6bf432917be92b4ab20a8
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “The Kirov Affair.” Soviethistory. Web. 17. March. 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1934-2/the-kirov-affair/
Tomski, Nikolay & Noy Trotskiy. “Monument to Sergey Kirov on Kirovskaya Ploshchad.” Saint-Petersburg. 1938. Web. 18. March. 2018.