(PURGES and HYSTERIA in the SOVIET UNION – continued)

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Crackdown within the Communist Party

The assassin, Leonid Nikolayev, it was determined, had been a Party member around the years 1917 to 1924. He had been expelled and he harbored a grudge against the Party bureaucracy. After the assassination, the NKVD announced Nikolayev's association with a conspiratorial group of youthful supporters of Zinoviev that it had known about – a group in Leningrad, where Zinoviev had been Party leader before being replaced by Kirov. The group had been unhappy over Zinoviev's demotion and perhaps the demise of the positions of their fathers within the Party. It was a group that may have looked with hope to the Soviet Union's leading dissident, Trotsky. Before Kirov's assassination, the NKVD had asked Kirov for permission to arrest this group of "Zinovievites," but Kirov, characteristically, had refused. He had seen no danger in the group and thought that eventually their opposition to Party positions would diminish – a liberal and hopeful approach to dissent quite different from Stalin's.

Now, with Kirov dead, Stalin obtained an NKVD list of Zinovievites in Leningrad. He took some names from a list of Moscow Zinovievites and added them to the Leningrad list, and shortly thereafter everyone on the Leningrad list was arrested.

To crackdown against rivals, Stalin needed more than Nikolayev as the murderer of Kirov. The NKVD declared that Nikolayev and the Zinovievite group in Leningrad had conspired together to murder Kirov and to murder also Stalin, Molotov and Kaganovich. The arrested Zinovievites confessed to belonging to a group but not to any involvement in Kirov's murder, and they denied that Nikolayev had been a member of their group, but their denials were of no avail.  On December 27, 1934, the indictments were read in court, its details riddled with amateurish contradictions. Nikolayev was led to believe that his life would be spared if he implicated the Zinovievites. He did so and confessed to Kirov's murder. The court presented no other evidence of a link between Nikolayev and the Zinovievites. The court pronounced the death penalty for all. A surprised Nikolayev struggled with his guards as he was dragged away, and he and his thirteen alleged accomplices were shot within hours.

Without a free press in the Soviet Union, there were no journalists probing the background of Nikolayev and the others who were accused and executed. There were no news people analyzing the trial, and no news people asking about Nikolayev having been released twice by the NKVD or other details that would have aroused suspicions or exposed the trial as a farce. Nor was there an investigation of the murder of the NKVD official, Borisov, who had been the head of the detail guarding Kirov. Borisov was murdered by other NKVD police with crowbars while being driven in a closed truck. Borisov's wife was sent to an insane asylum. And no journalists were asking why Stalin had allowed the NKVD to beat Nikolayev unconscious while he was asking Nikolayev questions.

Without an opposition press, the assassination and the trial that followed left the public with the impression that dangerous people were running about trying to wreck the revolution. To the common Russian, any suggestion that Stalin was behind Kirov's murder would have seemed wild and as slander by enemies of the revolution. Many people were ready to believe in conspiratorial theories but they were also reluctant to accept anything that appeared as slander against the great leader Stalin.


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