Kirov and Killing

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).”

Monument to Sergey Kirov (Soviet politician) on Kirovskaya Square in St Petersburg, Russia

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.

Lenoe, Matt. “Did Stalin Kill Kirov and Does It Matter?” The Journal of Modern History. Vol. 74, no. 2. (2002):352 380.

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.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “The Kirov Affair.” Soviethistory. Web. 17. March. 2018.

Tomski, Nikolay & Noy Trotskiy. “Monument to Sergey Kirov on Kirovskaya Ploshchad.” Saint-Petersburg. 1938. Web. 18. March. 2018.

7 thoughts on “Kirov and Killing

  1. Taylor, I enjoyed your post and I think the background you gave to the purges is really important. I like how you talked about Stalin’s investigation; whether Stalin ordered the assassination or not, it really was the perfect event to begin the purges with more of an “excuse” or reasoning behind it.


  2. Such an interesting event I have never heard about! Do you think that assassination has been used by corrupt leaders as a proficient tool to get what they want in society? In your opinion, do you think people would have been better off with Kirov in office instead of Stalin?


    • I think that there were many politicians that used assassination as a tool to promote their agendas. With the assassination of Kirov, Stalin used it as the event to begin his mass purge and removal of potential opponents during his “Great Terror.” I do not really know Kirov’s political history well enough to say for sure that he would have been better in office than Stalin, but I would like to think that he would not have chosen to have those that he was suspicious of for having different ideologies or worried about losing power to mass murdered.


  3. Taylor, truly enjoyed reading about the purges. Do you think there is enough evidence to place the blame on Stalin for Sergei Mironovich Kirov assassination?


    • Personally I don’t think that there is enough evidence to say for sure. Many people think that Stalin was in some way behind the assassination because he oversaw the interrogation, quickly had Nikolaev executed, and used it to begin his “Great Purge” of his opponents. All of these actions are shady and support the idea that Stalin was behind it. On the other hand if he was behind it he ran the risk of the Bolshevik party finding out, removing him from office, and getting executed himself. The precarious position that Stalin was in at the time would have made him desperate enough to do such a thing to keep his power, but at the same time the potential risks/rewards were extremely bad.


  4. You’ve got some great questions, here and a provocative post! I’ll leave it to you to respond to Dalton and Elysia and will just say how much I enjoyed the way you juxtaposed the popular response to Kirvov’s murder to the official response, and how well you used evidence from other scholars to draw that contrast. What do you think of the turmoil around Kirov’s murder? Great post!


  5. It was interesting to see how the party leader and Stalin especially constructed the murder, whether or not they ordered his death in the first place. They still used it to push their own goals and objectives and to grab power for themselves. Overall what a well written and interesting snapshot of early Soviet politics and scandals.


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