Stalin’s last victims

Robert Service on Stalin’s funeral in Stalin: a Biography:

The funeral took place on 9 March. It was a cold, dry, grey day of late winter. The sun did not appear. Frost was heavy. The crowds were dense… The Imperial regime had become intensely unpopular when thousands of spectators were accidentally trampled to death on Khodynka Field on the day of Nicholas II’s coronation. It would not do to allow a repetition of such an event with the passing of Joseph the Terrible.

Regardless, there was a stampede and hundreds of people were killed. The poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote and directed a movie based on his experience as a witness and participant, Stalin’s Funeral. The NYT reviewer adds:

Some commentators believe that this was a secret action planned by the KGB (or whatever it was called back then) in order to heighten the sense of fear and awe among ordinary people, a sort of human sacrifice similar to those practiced by pagans in ancient times.

Between conspiracy and incompetence, my instinct is to choose the latter. The thought of pagan sacrifice, however, is inescapable. One could also see the victims of the funeral as the last of Stalin’s bloody offerings to his infernal patrons. The poet and mystic Daniil Andreyev wrote: “It seemed as though he, who had fed on the fumes of suffering and blood for all his life, was hauling – even from beyond the grave – mountains of victims to his abode, to infraspace [≈inferno].”


  1. Between conspiracy and incompetence, my instinct is to choose the latter.

    When in Russia, this is usually the wisest approach. I certainly leaned this way, and still do, regarding the death of Christophe de Margerie.

    This grates:

    the KGB (or whatever it was called back then)

    Presumably an NYT journalist is too busy to look it up?

    • Perhaps he did but could not figure it out on his own. On the day Stalin died, March 5, the MGB and the MVD were merged into one super-ministry under Beria’s command, called the MVD. About a year later, the MVD got split again into the KGB and the MVD proper.

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