What If Kirov Lived?

One interesting thing I found out about the early Soviet Union was the story of Sergey Mironivich Kirov, who was one of the main opposition figures in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the early years of Stalin’s premiership. Kirov was made the leader of the Communist Party in Leningrad district in 1926, and became widely admired in the Soviet Union for how often he stood up to and openly opposed some of Stalin’s policies. Kirov told the Leningrad wing of the secret police not to harass any members of the Opposition Movement to Stalin. In 1933, Kirov also successfully blocked Stalin’s attempts to give the death penalty to Martemyan Ryutin, a Communist Party leader who had written and circulated a large document speaking out against the forced collectivisation of farms among other policies of Stalin’s regime and calling for the removal of Stalin as the head of the Communist Party. Kirov became so popular that in 1934, he was elected by the Communist Party to the Central Committee (the highest body in the Soviet Union and the body which elected the First Secretary, the Soviet Union’s head of government) with only three negative votes, compared to almost three hundred negative votes received by Stalin. This admiration by other Party members and Kirov’s advocation of reconciliation with Party dissidents also meant that Kirov attained the unwanted attention of Stalin. On December 1, 1934, Sergei Kirov was assassinated at his office in Leningrad by Leonid Nikolaev. While Nikolaev allegedly acted on his own will, it is highly likely that the assassination of Kirov was arranged by Stalin in order to remove his most vocal opponent.

However, what if he didn’t get killed in 1934? Kirov was a rising star in the Soviet Union and was diametrically opposed to a lot of Stalin’s more underhanded tactics to maintain his power. The death of Kirov pretty much silenced all opposition to Stalin’s directives and was laid out as the pretext for much of the Great Purges in the late 1930s. If Kirov stayed alive and served in the Central Committee, he could have led a growing opposition to Stalin’s policies that might have stopped the purges from happening . Stalin likely would have attempted to keep Kirov out of the limelight of Central Committee politics and in Leningrad, as he did in the months between Kirov’s appointment to the committee and his assassination. If Kirov continues speaking out against Stalin’s more brutal practices, the Opposition Movement against Stalin could continue to grow and once it reached a substantial proportion (say, 1939 or so), could keep the Central Committee operating as a sort of parliament and arena for political discussion rather than becoming the rubber-stamp organization for Stalin’s policies. If this happens, Stalin would try to delay the calling of a meeting of the Central Committee, but would need to do so eventually to affirm the Communist Party’s continued support for him amongst the people.

If there is enough opposition to Stalin when the Central Committee is called in 1939, a movement could arise to replace Stalin as First Secretary with Kirov. There was actually a small movement for Kirov to replace Stalin as First Secretary in 1934, but Kirov declined. With Kirov remaining in the Central Committee, Stalin would not be as able to purge other opponents in the Party and the movement to replace him could gain strength. Let’s say that in 1939 Kirov does accept the offer and the Central Committee has enough votes to replace Stalin with Kirov as First Secretary. This would mean a lot of things for the Soviet Union. Firstly, it would establish a precedent for the replacement of the head of government by election and maintaining the role of the Central Committee as a legislative body, as well as dispeling the tradition that would arise with Stalin of the First Secretary gaining absolute executive power and serving for life.

Kirov’s openness to political dissidents could lead to welcoming back Leon Trotsky to the Soviet Union, whom Stalin has exiled in 1929. This means that Trotsky would not be assassinated in Mexico in 1940 and could continue to be a leading voice in global Communism. On the foreign relations front, the replacement of foreign minister Maxim Litvinov with Vyacheslav Molotov and the building of relations between the Soviet Union and Germany that resulted. In a best case scenario, the Soviet Union could eventually come to establish a stable democratic transition and enact necessary reforms at the right times to keep the Soviet economic system from stagnating as it did during the Brezhnev era. In a worst case scenario, the permission of dissidence would create a lot of instability in the Central Committee and plunge the Soviet Union into a civil war after Kirov leaves office, which could potentially become a civil war where some of the sides have access to nuclear weapons. I am optimistic for a Kirovist USSR and believe that it would have been able to establish some sort of stable multidimensional political system instead of the totalitarian dictatorship that Stalin created.

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