The Politicsnof a Deathnby Donald W. TreadgoldnStalin and the Kirov Murdernby Robert ConquestnNew York: Oxford University Press;n164 pp., $16.95nIt is difficult to think of a case comparablento the murder of Sergei MironovichnKirov. Here one of the top leadersnof a great country was killed—mostnprobably by the wish of the supremendictator, the murder being used as fullnor partial justification for the arrest,ntorture, exile, or execution of many,nthen thousands, and finally millions ofnmen and women charged with somenguilt relating to that deed. To be sure,nthere seem to have been other casesnwhere a highly placed Soviet leader wasnkilled, or his death hastened, by Stalin’sninitiative, and then posthumouslynpraised or in effect canonized. But nonenof those cases involved the kind ofnlarge-scale false accusation of murder,nor conspiracy to murder, that Kirov’sndeath set off. This episode has a grislynuniqueness.nSuch is a possible justification fornConquest’s latest book. He has earnednthe tide of our premier Kremlinologist,nboth in terms of his careful methods ofnhandling evidence and the amazingnquantity of his publications. Conquestnstates his opinion of this case in thenpreface: that “Stalin’s guilt is scarcely inndoubt,” but that the final verificationnand official Soviet condemnation ofnStalin for the murder of Kirov (whichnhe expected might precede appearancenof the book) would still be welcome.nKirov, born Kostrikov in the Vyatkanregion of northern Russia, was studyingnto be a mechanic in nearby Kazannwhen he met some radical studentsnfrom the local university and began tonprint leaflets for them. Next he spentntime in Tomsk in western Siberia, wherenhe joined the Social Democratic Partynand was elected to the party committee.n34/CHRONICLESnREVIEWSnActive during the Revolution of 1905,nhe was arrested and served three yearsnin prison; after his release in 1909 henwent to Vladikavkaz in the Caucasus,nchanged his name to Kirov, and marriedna girl whose sister was a Bolshevik,nwhen the Bolsheviks organized a partynseparate from other Social Democratsnin 1912, Kirov was among them. InnOctober 1917 he was a delegate fromnthe Caucasus to the Second All-RussiannCongress of Soviets, and then took anleading role in the Bolshevik recapturenof the Caucasus, including the savagenconquest of independent and democraticnCeorgia. In 1926 he was namedncandidate member of the Politburo andnbecame First Secretary of Leningrad’snprovincial party committee.nDespite showing occasional signs ofnmoderation, Kirov remained a hardline,ntough-minded henchman of Stalinnthrough the ghastly years of collectivizationnand all-out industrialization fromn1929 to 1933. But by February 1934, atnthe XVII Congress of the CommunistnParty, the atmosphere of internal strugglenand sacrifice was passing. Somenhighly-placed party members were horrifiednby what they had seen or knewnhad been done to the peasantry andnwished to dethrone its author; othersnbelieved that Stalin had been the bestnperson to lead the violent and mercilessncampaign that had now slackened, butnthat a less brutal person, a conciliator,nwas now needed in the seat of power. Annumber of leading Communists approachednKirov with a proposal that henreplace Stalin as General Secretary —nthe position that Stalin had made thenfocal point of the dictatorship. Kirovndeclined, declaring — quite plausibly—nthat the entire policy of the party wouldnbe thrown into question if such a movenwas made. Nevertheless, neariy 300n(out of 1,966) delegates at the Congressnvoted for Kirov and against Stalin evennfor Central Committee membershipn(let alone dictator). Stalin, however,nwould have his revenge; as Khrushchevnrevealed in his secret speech of 1956,n1,108 out of the 1,966 delegates werenlater shot.nnnStalin, who was aware of the groupnthat opposed his leadership, then askednKirov to come to Moscow. Kirov refused,nand it was agreed that he couldnremain in Leningrad until 1938. Therenhe remained, the obvious choice for anynconspiratorial or democratic effort tonreplace Stalin. In September 1934, Stalinnsent him to Kazakhstan, which hadnsuffered grievously during collectivization,nto bring in the harvest; there henhad a car accident, which some haventhought a first assa.ssjriatipri attempt.nKirov attended a plenum of the CentralnCommittee in Moscow in November,nreturned to Leningrad and was shot onnDecember 1, 1934. The actual assassinnwas Leonid Nikolayev, an unemployednparty member who suffered from bothnphysical and psychological weaknesses.nWhat happened next defiesnthe imagination. Stalin and others immediatelynwent to Leningrad to “invesrigate.”nBy March from 60,000 ton100,000 people had been seized andndeported from Leningrad, and one didnnot need to have had the remotestnconnection with Kirov or the Leningradnleadership to be arrested. Zinoviev andnKamenev, who had been two of thenmost highly placed Bolsheviks, werenarrested, released, rearrested, given antrial in January 1935, sentenced to tennand five years respectively, retried publiclynin August 1936, and executed.nThe Western reaction to the public trialnwas mixed, but many found it plausiblenthat Zinoviev and.Kamenev had connivednin the assassination.nThe final—or perhaps the penultimate—nchapter of this story lies in thengradual but mounting suspicion that thenculprit was none of those who had beennin the dock, but Stalin himself It wasnTrotsky (safely abroad until 1940, whennone of Stalin’s agents sank an axe intonhis skull) who first hinted and in Octobern1936 charged that Stalin was responsible,nthough he thought Stalin hadnintended to prevent the deed at the lastnmoment and then proceed against thenoppositionists. While Khrushchev camenclose in his secret speech to labelingnStalin as the guilty party, he drew back,n