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November 15, 1994
Conquest, Robert, Stalin and the Kirov Murder, Oxford University Press, 1989. 164pp.
How does the Kirov affair reveal the mechanisms emerging for the manipulation of Party stalwarts as well as the general public, all to the benefit of Joseph Stalin?
Among his many professional pursuits, Robert Conquest served as scholar-curator of the Russian and East European collections at Hoover Institution, Stanford, California. He is research associate with Harvard University, Ukrainian Research Institute. Conquest is one of the world's leading specialists on Soviet affairs. In his book, Stalin and the Kirov Murder , Mr. Conquest is convincing in his attempt to show Joseph Stalin guilty of the Kirov murder. Sergei Kirov was Secretary of the Soviet Central Committee of the Communist party and leader of the Leningrad city party organization at the time of his assassination in December, 1934. The Kirov murder became the main basis and necessity for endless terror in which millions of mainly loyal Communists were killed or sent to their deaths in prison camps at the hands of the secret police.
In an attempt to show Stalin's involvement and to prove that Stalin was guilty of murder, Mr Conquest was meticulous in examining the evidence surrounding this event. I found the book difficult to read. Still, it was interesting and I would recommend it. As to the central question, it may not be important whether Stalin ordered Kirov killed. As important an event as the Kirov murder is in recent Russian history, it is just one of many events where Stalin shows his great ability to take clever and cunning steps to achieve his goal of making himself all powerful in Russia. To this end, Stalin exploited the Kirov murder for many more years.
Very early, Stalin showed that he had better skills than others in the leadership of the Communists Party. No one suspected how ruthless he would be in exorcising his skills. From the Kirov affair, Stalin learned how to effectively use publicity, to use show trials, and to use death or disappearance. This gave him exactly what he needed to purge any and all who stood against him. And he could blame it all on a conspiracy, on outside forces. These conspiracies could also be used to explain any failers in domestic or foreign policy. The events caused great fear among the Soviet citizens. It presented a dilemma to society ... the people were frozen in utter confusion. This could not have been better for Stalin. The Soviet people were being transformed into a group with no sense of community, with confusing and shocking revelations occurring daily. This left the people with dependence on one man. Stalin could not have been better served. The Soviet Union no longer had its own identity. Stalin wanted the people to see enemies everywhere, in everything. A citizen's task was to help root out its enemies. This is the opportunity that Stalin seized. This is the meaning of the Kirov affair.