Murder of Kirov

P. N. Pospelov, Materials on the Question of the Murder of S. M. Kirov. 1955

 

Translated from the Russian by Ranjana Saxena.

Original Source: Svobodnaia mysl, No. 8 (1992).

As directed by the Presidium of the CC we investigated the points referred to in the letter of Comrade O. G. Shatunovskaia. We talked to Comrade Kirchakov and Comrade Trunina, former members of the party, mentioned in Comrade Shatunovskaia’s letter.

Dr. Kirchakov confirmed that he did talk to Shatunovskaia and Trunina about some of the unexplained aspects of the Kirov murder case. Nonetheless, he said that his statement was based not ‘on Medved’s words’, as had been stated in the letter of Shatunovskaia but on that of Ol’skii (the former NKVD worker who was transferred in 1931 to the People’s Supply System). Apparently, Medved’ himself told all this to Dr. Kirchakov.

In his declaration Kirchakov writes that: ‘…he stated in the discussion on the tragic death of Comrade Kirov and the role of Medved’ who was repressed over this matter. In this discussion Ol’skii was of the firm opinion that Medved’ came to grief completely undeservedly, that Medved’ was a close and sincere friend of Comrade Kirov and that in the murder of Comrade Kirov Medved’ was not culpable.

Ol’skii also told me that Medved’ was alienated from the investigations of the murder of Comrade Kirov. The proceedings were carried out by Agranov and later by somebody (whose name he did not remember).

During one of the sessions of the cross-examination, Ol’skii related that Stalin asked the killer why Comrade Kirov had been killed. To this he replied that he carried out the instruction of the Chekists and pointed towards the group of Chekists standing in the room, Medved’ was not amongst them..’

In the declaration of Comrade Trunina this episode has been described somewhat differently. Comrade Trunina was a nurse in the hospital and heard this story along with Comrade Shatunovskaia:

I do not remember from where he heard all this but this is what Comrade Kirchakov told us:

After Comrade Kirov’s murder Comrade Stalin came down to Leningrad. He was the last one to interrogate Nikolaev, as to why he had killed Comrade Kirov. Nikolaev pointed to the NKVD workers standing there and said that they had ‘forced’ him to do so. After this one of the persons from them hit Nikolaev on the head with a revolver and he was taken away.

Lots of material started pouring into the CC of the CPSU and the Party Control Committee regarding various aspects of Kirov’s murder after Comrade Khrushchev’s Report, ‘On the Personality Cult and Its Consequences’ was read at closed door meetings. This includes the statement of Kirov’s driver, Kuzin, that Commissar Borisov who was responsible for Kirov’s round the clock security in the Smolnyi was intentionally killed and that his death in a road accident was not at all natural. Some important facts are mentioned in the statement (Stalin’s discussion with the NKVD workers of the Leningrad division) of Fomin, former Deputy Director of the Leningrad NKVD. Incidentally he is the only one living of all the workers of this department it needs to be mentioned that Fomin’s statement on Borisov’s accidental death seems to be untrue.

There is a lot of material, at times of a contradictory nature, available on the Kirov murder case. There are 58 volumes for just one year from 1934 to 1935.

In these materials there is a clear tendency to explain Kirov’s murder as ‘negligence’ of the Leningrad division of the NKVD and also to attribute the murder committed by Nikolaev as the planned work of the supporters of Trotsky and Zinoviev in Moscow and Leningrad. Hence it is necessary to compare the material with that of the years of 1937 and 1938.

The case proceedings of the Kirov murder case and the statements of people like Iagoda, Enukidze, Zaporozhets, and the groups of workers of the Leningrad division of the NKVD (like Khviyuzov, Gubin, Malyi, Vinogradov), who were accused in the suspected murder of Commissar Borisov, are of great importance as far as factual information on the case is concerned.

On studying and comparing this material one can reach some preliminary conclusions:

1. Kirov’s murder could take place primarily because the people responsible for his security, clearly facilitated his killing:

(a) On 15th October, 1934, L. Nikolaev, was arrested for the first time for suspicious conduct but was set free by Gubin though he (by the facts of 1937) was in possession of a revolver and documents which incriminated him of having intentions of terrorist activity. Nikolaev was freed on orders from Zaporozhets, the Deputy Director of the Leningrad NKVD who in turn received orders from Iagoda.

(b) The immediate reason leading to the murder of Kirov was that Borisov, who was responsible for his security in Smolnyi, did not keep pace with Kirov and lagged behind by at least 20 meters. Dureiko, the second guard on patrol duty on the third floor, did not, as per the instructions, accompany Kirov up to the room and instead went into the other direction. Therefore Nikolaev could catch up with Kirov and shoot him almost pointblank.

It would be wrong to say that few people were engaged in the security of Kirov. In fact on the first of December there were 9 persons involved in his security from the NKVD.

2. During the summer of 1934 Iagoda received instructions from Enukidze not to come in between the plans for the assassination of Kirov by the Trotskyites and Zinovievites. Initially, Iagoda was categorically opposed to such an idea as the entire political responsibility of such an act would have been his, but later on he succumbed to pressures from Enukidze. This is what Iagoda had to say.

The question arises: in what capacity did Enukidze give such orders to Iagoda, whether in his position of a member of the ‘Rightist Trotskyite Center’, as Iagoda indicated subsequently and in court in March, 1938, or in his capacity as a trusted person of Stalin, at his ‘instance’. Why strictly speaking was Iagoda in this period (the summer of 1934) in his words ‘forced’ to submit to the ‘Rightist-Trotskyite Center’? Looking at the materials of the investigation it seems to be a far-fetched idea that Iagoda could have politically compromised at this time. His meetings with the rightists were of a formal, official nature, he had to arrest both the Trotskyites and the Rightists. He could not have taken the risk of succumbing to the pressures of the ‘Rightist-Trotskyite Center’, nor to raise the question of the arrest of persons, or offering to assist the murder of a member of the Politbiuro, Kirov.

At this time (the summer of 1934) Iagoda was at the peak of his political career. He was promoted to the post of People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs; his biography and photograph were published in Pravda on the occasion. At this juncture why would he risk his position and follow such a dangerous instruction of the ‘Rightist-Trotskyite Center’?

It is a different matter if these instructions were given by Enukidze in the name of ‘instances’ even in a semi-official form. Iagoda would have been compelled to comply with such directives.

3. Iagoda was not given any penalty. In fact he did not even carry any responsibility for a shameful fault of the NKVD’s functioning as the assassination of a member of the Politbiuro, S. M. Kirov. Instead he was made out to be a ‘hero’. By way of an explanation he was given the chance to come out with a political document: ‘A Closed Letter to the NKVD of the USSR’, No. 001, dated 26th January, 1935, where he squarely put all the blame on Medved’ and the Leningrad workers of the NKVD. The people at the NKVD, said Iagoda in his letter, ‘had become blind and deaf in fact were asleep at their revolutionary post’.

This ‘Closed Letter No. 001’ by Iagoda was placed before Stalin for approval and was edited by him personally.

Was there any move in the PB to implicate Iagoda as responsible in the Kirov murder? Apparently there were. As told by Enukidze in one of the Politbiuro meetings Sergo Ordzhonikidze directly blamed Iagoda for the death of Kirov, flinging the remark ‘You are culpable for the death of Kirov’. (See ‘The Enukidze Case’, p. 81).

The fact that Iagoda did not get any penalty and that the Leningrad NKVD workers were very mildly punished by the court in 1935 raised a lot of doubts.

Right from the beginning of the case of the murder of Kirov in 1934 Stalin who was associated with the case from the start, frankly charged the Trotskyites and Zinovievites as terrorist groups.

Ezhov talked about this in his concluding speech at the Plenum of the CC of the CPSU(b) on the 3rd of March, 1937:

As I now remember Comrade Stalin called Kosarev and me and said ‘Look for the guilty amongst the Zinovievites’, I must say that the Chekists did not believe this and that at all events insured themselves on another line, the line of a foreign connection – possibly something could come out of that. (Stenographic Report of the Plenum of the CC of the CPSU(b) of 3rd March, 1937, p. 391).

Stalin carried out a substantial change while editing the above-mentioned ‘Secret Letter’ of Iagoda. The proposed text read: ‘Our organs in Leningrad criminally overlooked the ramifications of the counter-revolutionary organization of the Zinovievites’. Stalin amended it to ‘criminally overlooked the existence of the terrorist groups of Zinovievites’ (The Case of Medved’, Zaporozhets and others, preserved in the CC).

1. A few facts about the murder of S. M. Kirov and the nature of the investigation in this case during the years 1934-35 and 1937-38.

From the bulk of the factual material on the murder of S. M. Kirov one can conclude that Nikolaev had been planning this villainous murder for some months.

What was the assassin – L. Nikolaev – like?

Many facts point out that Nikolaev was not really a normal person, he was an epileptic with an incorrect self-assessment and bore a grudge against the Party and the Soviet state (he was dropped from the Party for refusing to work in the transport division, later he was reinstated).

If one goes by the personal diary of Nikolaev, his various counter-revolutionary statements and the opinion of his wife, one may conclude that Kirov’s murder was planned by Nikolaev as a mark of protest against the policies of the Party and the Soviet state. While preparing for the assassination, Nikolaev, pretending to be a proletarian (though he worked in a factory for only two years), wrote a counter-revolutionary letter to the Politbiuro in 1934. The letter had a very pretentious title: ‘My answer to the Party and the Fatherland’.

In this letter he listed his various ‘grudges’ and he also declared: ‘We, the working people, do not have any freedom in life, work and academics… We have shifted to a new flat, but what a commotion had been raised for it… They talk about war, the impending war as the Weatherman gives a weather prognosis. So, let it be – the war is inevitable, but it would be destructive and salutary also. Not so many people would suffer as during revolution -17-30-50 million of people – facing all its consequences’.

In another of his letters Nikolaev wrote:

‘…Thousands of generations would come but the idea of communism would still remain alien to life…’

‘I would condemn everything new with the same intensity with which I defended it’ (Materials on the Case of Nikolaev and others, Vol. 24, pp. 27-28, 15).

Nikolaev’s wife, M. Draule, in her declaration of 11th December, 1934, confirms the deep-rooted anti-Soviet feelings of her husband: ‘Nikolaev accused the Central Committee of pursuing the politics of militarization, spending huge amounts on the defense of the country. To justify all the defense expenditure (building of factories etc.) they are raising the false alarm that the foreign forces are planning to attack the Soviet Union though there is no such threat. According to Nikolaev this false alarm is also being raised to divert the attention of the toiling masses of the Soviet Union away from the persisting hardships in the country. These hardships are also the result of the wrong policies of the CC… After his exclusion from the Party, in fact, Nikolaev turned into a hardcore anti-Soviet terrorist, killing Comrade Kirov’.

In her statement M. Draule made it clear that ‘from the date of his expulsion from the Party until his arrest (at the end of March, 1934), Nikolaev remained unemployed. In fact, he was not even willing to take up any work, as he was completely engrossed with the preparations of his future act of’ terrorism’. (The Case of Nikolaev and others: File No. 1, pp. 183, 182).

During the first hours of his arrest, Nikolaev’s conduct has been recorded by Comrade Fomin, the former Deputy Director of the Leningrad branch of the NKVD, in a statement to the CC of the CPSU as follows: ‘The murderer for a long time after gaining consciousness simply was blabbering and only towards the morning he started shouting and speaking coherently. He said: “My shot echoed in the whole world”. I told him that in turn he would get only the abuses of the people. To my and Deputy Director O. O. Ianishevskii’s repeated query about “the person(s) who incited him to this shooting”, Nikolaev did not answer. All he would do is start shouting and become hysterical. (Comrade Fomin’s statement dated 26th March, 1956).

On the day of the murder of S. M. Kirov, Nikolaev stated that the assassination was worked out by him alone and that there were no co-conspirators. Further he said that by killing Comrade Kirov he had fulfilled an ‘historic mission’ and it was a ‘signal’ for the Party that they had done injustice to a living person.

In the Protocol dated the 3rd December, Nikolaev talked only of the officials he met in the Smolnyi on the 1st of December, how he got the entry pass and talked about the actual murder. ‘…I came out of the Smolnyi building and strolled about an hour on the Tver and Ochakov Streets and came back to Smolnyi. I climbed up to the 3rd floor, entered the washroom, came out and turned left. Having taken two-three steps I saw that Sergei Mironovich Kirov was walking towards me from the right side of the corridor. He was 15-20 steps away from me. When I caught sight of Sergei Mironovich Kirov I immediately halted and turned my back to him so that when he walked past me I followed behind him. While walking behind Kirov at a distance of 10-15 paces I noted that there was nobody in the corridor for quite a distance. Then I went after him, gradually caught up with him. When Kirov turned left towards his room, the situation of which was well-known to me, the whole corridor was empty. I ran five steps up to him, took out my revolver and shot him in the back of the head. Instantaneously Kirov fell on his face (The Case of Nikolaev and Others, File No. 1, p. 42).

This statement of Nikolaev clarifies that Commissar Borisov lagged behind Kirov not by just 20 meters but by 40-50 or more. His statement tells us that there was nobody ‘patrolling’ in the main corridor at the time of the assassination attempt.

On the 4th December, 1934 in a message to the Secretary of the CC of CPSU(b) Comrade Stalin, Agranov, who was carrying out the investigation at this moment, intimated: ‘The Secret Service are confounded (This was evidently for the sake of informing the collaborators of the NKVD, Katsaf and Radin, who were sitting in the room with Nikolaev) by the utterances of Nikolaev Leonid, it became clear that his closest friends were the Trotskyite Ivan Ivanovich Kotolynov and Nikolai Nikolaevich Shatskii, from whom he learnt a lot. Nikolaev said that these people were hostile to Comrade Stalin. Kotolynov was well-known in the NKVD to be a former underground Trotskyite activist. He at one time had been expelled from the party and later re-admitted. Shatskii, a former anarchist, had been expelled from the ranks of the CPSU(b) in 1927 for counter-revolutionary activity. He was not reinstated in the party. I issued orders for the arrest of Shatskii for the establishment of the residence of Kotolynov’ (Case of Nikolaev and Others, File No. 1, p. 49).

For the first time after this in the statements of Nikolaev there are hints of his ‘connections’ with the Trotskyites. But at the same time Nikolaev categorically denied any hand of the ‘Trotskyites’ or the ‘Zinovievites’ in the attempt on Kirov.

While reporting to Stalin about the interrogation of Nikolaev of the 4th of December, Agranov conveyed that ‘Nikolaev is holding out with extreme obduracy’ (Ibid., p. 47).

During the cross-examination on the 4th of December, Agranov put the question to Nikolaev: ‘What influence on your decision to murder Comrade Kirov had your relations with the Trotskyite opposition?’ Nikolaev replied: ‘my decision to murder Comrade Kirov was influenced by my relations with the Trotskyites: Shatskii, Vanya Kotolynov, Nikolai Bardin. However I knew these persons not as members of a grouping, but as individuals.’ To the question: ‘Did these individuals participate in his crimes?’ – Nikolaev answered: ‘No, they did not take part. Roughly in the August of that year, when I carried an inspection of the house where Kirov and Chudov lived, I met Shatskii on Red Dawn Street. He complained about his being cut off from the patty, his discontentment. He said that another person in his place would have been prepared for anything…

‘I caught sight of Kotolynov in the Polytechnic Institute in Leningrad before the October Celebrations (4th November), but we had no discussions’ (The Case of Nikolaev and Others, File No. 1, pp. 47, 46). From these testimonies of Nikolaev of 4th December it follows that already in August, 1934, Nikolaev, independently of his meetings with Kotolynov and Shatskii, bad terrorist intentions in relation to S. M. Kirov and that he ‘carried out an inspection of the house where Kirov and Chudov lived on Red Dawn Street.

Here, by his words, he accidentally met Shatskii who complained to him about his serious situation and stated that another in his place would have been driven to the extreme. Thereafter they ‘exchanged glances’ at the time they saw the car of Chudov arrive. All this strictly is established by the interrogation of 4th December.

Further, from the protocol annexed it is clear that Nikolaev first met Kotolynov only on the 4th December, 1934, it is known that no conversation took place between them. Hence, Kotolynov could not be the initiator and main organizer of the murder of S. M. Kirov.

It was on this circumstance that Kotolynov rested in Court to conclusively refute any subsequent (after 4th December) testimony given by Nikolaev.

This is what Kotolynov stated in the court on 29-29 December, 1934:

Nikolaev states as if I was responsible for dragging him into a counter-revolutionary organization. At the same time he also says that before this he had met Shatskii, who got him into the organization. His meeting with Shatskii took place before meeting Kotolynov. Therefore it is Shatskii who is responsible for his entry into the organization, and that Kotolynov is not implicated. He maintains that the meeting in September 1934 was with Kotolynov, but in his testimony he affirms that already in the summer of 1934 be met Shatskii by the quarters of Kirov. The question arises: what did they do by the house of Kirov in the summer of 1934. If you gather to commit a terrorist act, then why do you have a meeting in September when in the summer you went to the residence of Comrade Kirov. Here there is an internal contradiction which exposes the fallaciousness of the testimony of Nikolaev. I have still an entire succession of moments in which he exposes himself. Let him firmly say where he met Kotolynov, he says in the Leningrad Industrial Institute, let him say where and how the meeting was organized. I undertake to disperse the smoke of this testimony (Stenographic Protocol of the Court Proceedings of the Assizes Session of the Supreme Court of the USSR of 28-29 December in the Case of L. V. Nikolaev and others, Sheet 54).

In his last statement Kotolynov said:

I can take the worst kind of punishment, I do not plead for mercy. I demand stern punishment but I did not participate in this murder and in this lies my tragedy. Nikolaev, Antonov testify that I knew, but I did not know, I did not participate, I did not organize and I did not meet Nikolaev.

Being accused in prison I saw the sequence of contradictions of which I have frequently spoken. These inaccuracies and contradictions are the basis of the false statements of Nikolaev. All sitting in the dock admit to their guilt in the terrorist act, but I deny it.

The first question is: who was responsible for the entry of Nikolaev into the counter- revolutionary organization. According to him he first met Shatskii and then Kotolynov. But he also says that from March onwards he did not take up any job and his wife confirms this. But why did he not work? Nikolaev’s wife says that he wanted time to make preparations for the terrorist act. From the end of March, 1934, onwards he did not work, not that he did not get work, but he wanted to devote himself entirely and fully to prepare the terrorist act, that means that he was prepared for the terrorist act already long before his meeting with me that he mentioned. He said that this meeting took place in September. He met Shatskii near the flat of Kirov in the summer of 1934. Again this was before meeting me as Nikolaev’s own words testify.

With full responsibility I declare for the last time that I am guilty of counter-revolutionary Zinovievshchina. I am answerable for that shot witch was fired by Nikolaev, but I did not participate in organizing this murder (Leafs 117-118-119).

In this last statement the suspect Shatskii fully denied any role in the preparations for the terrorist act on S. M. Kirov and the corresponding testimony of Nikolaev. Shatskii stated: ‘I must confirm that I had no relations with the counter-revolutionary group. Nor was I aware of any preparation for terrorist acts upon Comrades Stalin and Kirov. I state that I do not acknowledge any conversations which were spoken of here and in the investigations as if I carried out talks relating to the assassination’ (Leaf 122).

Kotolynov requested a supplementary inquiry into the case of Nikolaev to investigate the evident contradictions in his statements.

Apparently, this testimony of Kotolynov had some effect on Ulrikh, the Chairman of the Military Board. In a letter to the Party Control Commission Comrade Aristovaia-Litkens (the former common law wife of Ulrikh) who was in Leningrad at the time of the trial, said:

When the investigation proceedings were over and a short break was declared before passing sentence, Comrade Ulrikh, not satisfied, apparently, with something in the proceedings, telephoned the Kremlin by the direct-line, requesting permission to carry out further investigation to clarity some facts which were insufficiently clear but could powerfully give the deeper roots and threads of the crime. He received from Comrade Stalin an abrupt and short reply: ‘What further investigations? Enough of it. Finish the case.’

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