Sergei M. Kirov, the Soviet leader who was assassinated last Saturday, was to Leningrad what Joseph Stalin is to the whole of the U.S.S.R. Which is to say that he was a few notches more powerful, more autocratic and more feared than an American mind can even imagine.
Kirov was “the boss” to armies of underlings in a political domain that took in the whole of northwestern Russia and an area about as large as all of France. On the two holy days, May 1 and November 7, his pictures and effigies in the Leningrad province were second in number only to Stalin’s and, of course, more numerous than Lenin’s.
Yet his death is not likely to bring any twinge of personal loss to the mass of Russians, as the death of Lenin didâ€”as did the deaths of politically less eminent leaders like Lunacharsky, Larin, Joffe. Though one of the Big Ten who constitute the Politburo of the ruling partyâ€”and one of the few among those ten whose power was genuineâ€”Kirov at his death is little more than a strange and distant name to the Russian population.
MAN OF DESTINY
The grandiose funeral, the nationwide memorials, the million-fold flood of tribute-payers and the rest of the effects will mean nothing. In present-day Russia, tributes and ceremonials and parades are turned on from neat faucets and pour forth in precisely the volume and with precisely the force required by the official engineers.
The fact is that not one in 10,000 Russians outside of Leningrad would have recognized Kirov if he had met him unexpectedly face to face. And that one would have got nothing but a fright out of the encounter.
Between the run of present Soviet rulers and the masses there is practically none of that intimacy, that illusion of class equality, which surrounded Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev and the earlier hierarchy in general. Only a very few, like Michael Kalinin, have managed to retain that old aura of simplicity. The others are as far away from the crowd as were Nicholas II and his predecessors.
Outside Russia the very name of Kirov, as it was flashed over the news cables, was a mystery. It was significant, in the first reports, how little the editors could dig out of their “morgues” to add to the Kirov story. I read the dispatches as sent over by my former colleagues in Moscow. It was perfectly clear that Kirov was to them, at the very center of Russian news, as vague and distant a figure as to their editors at home. The few facts they managed to mobilize were obviously drawn out of the official encyclopaedia.
SYMBOL OF CHANGE
Beyond that, neither the correspondents nor the average Russian knew anything about the man who ruled the country. Surely that is sign and symbol of the change that has come to the leadership of Russia. There are no more names of flame, no more personalities to stir the imagination. Gone are the orators and fire-eaters. The new