Boris Bazhanov

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Boris Bazhanov
Boris Georgiyevich Bazhanov

9 August 1900
Died30 December 1982 (aged 82)
Resting placePère Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
Other names
  • Boris Bašanov
  • Boris Bajanov
  • Boris Baschanow
CitizenshipRussian (1900–1917)

Soviet (1917–1928)

French (1928–1982)
Known forStalin-era defector

Boris Georgiyevich Bazhanov (Russian: Борис Георгиевич Бажанов; 9 August 1900 – 30 December 1982) was a Soviet secretary of the Secretariat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that defected from the Soviet Union on 1 January 1928.

Bazhanov was the personal secretary of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin from August 1923 to 1925 and held several prominent secretarial positions in the Politburo until defecting from the Soviet Union in 1928.[1][2] Bazhanov was granted French citizenship and survived subsequent Soviet assassination attempts, writing and publishing memoirs and books from 1930 about the secrets behind Stalin's actions, which continued to be published and translated after his death in 1982.

Bazhanov was the only assistant of Stalin's Secretariat to have defected and one of the first major defectors from the Eastern Bloc.


Early years[edit]

Boris Georgiyevich Bazhanov was born on 9 August 1900, in Mogilev-Podolskiy, Russian Empire (present-day Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine), the son of a physician.[3] Bazhanov was 16 years-old upon the beginning of the Russian Revolution in March 1917 which led to the collapse of the Russian Empire and the subsequent Russian Civil War. Bazhanov's native Ukraine witnessed some of the worst splintering of power and the "Ukrainian territory" was continuously fought over by various ideological factions in the Ukrainian Civil War. Bazhanov graduated from high school in the summer of 1918 and in September went to study physics and mathematics at the University of Kiev despite the political situation. However, the university was closed shortly after his arrival, and Bazhanov was injured by gunfire during a student demonstration against the closure, returning to his hometown to recover.

Communist Party membership[edit]

In 1919, Bazhanov joined the local organization of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), to which he later recalled having to choose between Ukrainian nationalism and communism, stating he eventually rejected Ukrainian nationalism as he had been raised and associated with Russian culture. Bazhanov was soon afterwards elected district secretary, quickly rising through the CPSU ranks in Ukraine. In November 1920, Bazhanov went to Moscow to study engineering. The following year, when Bazhanov was 21 years-old, the political fighting within Ukraine had ended in communist victory, with territory being divided between the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and Poland, with smaller regions belonging to Czechoslovakia and Romania. In 1922, the Ukrainian SSR joined the newly-founded Soviet Union as one of its constituent republics, after which Bazhanov applied for a technical position within the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the highest policy-making authority within the CPSU. Bazhanov's application was accepted by Ivan Ksenofontov, a prominent member of the Soviet Union's state security apparatus.

On August 9, 1923, Bazhanov was appointed as the personal secretary and assistant to Joseph Stalin, the General Secretary of the CPSU, based on a decision of the organization bureau that read: "Comrade Bazhanov is named assistant to Joseph Stalin and a secretary of the CC."[3]

Stalin's assistant[edit]

As General Secretary Stalin's assistant, Bazhanov became Secretary of the Politburo and was responsible for taking notes of the meetings.[4] On October 26, 1923, Bazhanov took notes at a Central Committee meeting attended by Stalin, Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, and Leon Trotsky, at a time when Lenin was very ill and just three months before his death.[5] During the meeting, Lenin offered to appoint Trotsky as his "heir."[5] According to Bazhanov's notes, Trotsky turned down the job of deputy leader because he was Jewish, reasoning "We should not give our enemies the opportunity to say that our country was being ruled by a Jew. ... It would be far better if there was not a single Jew in the first Soviet revolutionary government."[5] Bazhanov's notes were discovered in early 1990 by Soviet historian Victor Danilov and used in support of an answer to one of the mysteries of the Bolshevik Revolution: why Trotsky refused Lenin's offer to appoint him as heir.[5] After Lenin's death in January 1924, Stalin, Lev Kamenev, and Grigory Zinoviev together governed the CPSU as a triumvirate, placing themselves ideologically between Trotsky (on the left wing of the party) and Nikolay Bukharin (on the right). Bazhanov was Stalin's personal secretary at the beginning of his power struggle with Trotsky and rise to becoming the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union. Trotsky was eventually forced into exile in Mexico, where he was later assassinated in 1940 by Ramon Mercader, a pro-Stalin agent.[5]

From 1923 to 1924, Bazhanov attended all the meetings of the Politburo, working in Stalin's Secretariat of the CPSU Central Committee and for the Politburo until the end of 1925.[6][7][2] In the early 1920s, Bazhanov's role in Stalin's inner circle was smaller than that of the "group of five" composed of Yakov Brezanovsky, Ivan Tovstukha, Amayak Nazaretyan, Georgy Kanner, and Lev Mekhlis, but his influence with Stalin increased after Brezanovsky and Nazaretyan left the secretariat, and he was able to hold on to different positions at the Politburo from 1925 until 1928.[8][9][7]


On January 1, 1928, Bazhanov defected from the Soviet Union after becoming disillusioned with communism and dissatisfied with working under Stalin. Bazhanov scheduled a business trip to the Soviet Union's territory in Central Asia and crossed the border into Iran. Bazhanov defected the same year that the first of Stalin's Five-Year Plans for the National Economy of the Soviet Union was accepted, avoiding the first purges that led up to the Great Purge in the mid-to-late 1930s. Bazhanov would be the only assistant of Stalin's Secretariat who would turn against the Soviet regime, and subsequently was granted asylum in France.[10][11]

Bazhanov became an enemy of Stalin and an enemy of the state through his defection, and was subject to numerous assassination attempts during the remainder of his life. Soviet security agencies immediately launched a manhunt for Bazhanov led by Georges Agabekov, the chief Soviet spy in the Near East at that time, until Agabekov himself defected to France shortly afterwards in June 1930.[1] The Iranian authorities protected Bazhanov from the Joint State Political Directorate, the Soviet secret police, who had sent agents from Moscow to assassinate him. However, Bazhanov learned that an agreement was reached between Iran and the Soviet Union through diplomatic channels to extradite him back. Bazhanov left his detention and illegally crossed the Iranian-Indian border, from where he moved to France with the help of the British authorities. In October 1929, Stalin ordered assassin Yakov Blumkin to travel via Paris to kill Bazhanov before travelling to the island of Büyükada in Istanbul, Turkey to assassinate Trotsky, who had been deported from the Soviet Union in February 1929.[11][11] With the help of his cousin and GPU informer Arkady Maximov, Blumkin staged a car accident to kill Bazhanov, however the plot failed.[11] Bazhanov recalled an assassination attempt on himself in 1937, stating that "Some Spaniard, obviously an anarchist or a Spanish communist, tried to hit me with a dagger when I returned home, like every night, leaving my car in the garage".

Allegedly, upon the outbreak of World War II, Bazhanov had attempted to organize a legion of anti-communist Russian emigres and Soviet prisoners of war to fight with the Finnish Army in the Winter War against the Soviet Union, but the plan never became reality as the war ended before it was properly organized.[12] On the eve of Operation Barbarossa, Bazhanov visited Berlin and met with Alfred Rosenberg, the head of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories of Nazi Germany, and his deputy Georg Leibbrandt. Rosenberg was studying the possibility of using Bazhanov to form a new government in the Soviet Union's territory, but Bazhanov was skeptical of Germany's plans and returned to Paris.

In the conclusion of the 1978 book The Storm Petrels: The Flight of the First Soviet Defectors,[1], Bazhanov remarked on "the twisted path of Marxism":

You know, as I do, that our civilization stands on the edge of an abyss ... Those who seek to destroy it put forth an ideal. This ideal [of communism] has been proven false by the experience of the last sixty years ... the problem of bringing freedom back to Russia is not insoluble ... the youth of Russia no longer believe in the system, despite the fact that they have known nothing else. If the West [develops its] confidence and unity, [it] can win the battle for our civilization and set humanity on the true path to progress, not the twisted path of Marxism.[13]

Bazhanov published an edition of his memoirs in France in 1980, entitled Memoirs of a Secretary of Stalin's.[2]


Bazhanov died in the 4th arrondissement of Paris on 30 December 1982, and is buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery.[1]

Editions of Bazhanov's memoirs[edit]

Retracted parts of the first edition[edit]

The 1930 edition of Bazhanov's memoir had him becoming an anti-communist well before he came to Moscow and took up positions with the Central Committee. In later editions, Bazhanov retracted these statements, explaining that in reality he soured on the communist ideology during 1923 to 1924, while working at the Central Committee. However, he was bound to protect his closet-dissident friends remaining behind in the USSR, by casting himself as a "lone avenger" figure.

List of editions[edit]

See also[edit]

List of Soviet and Eastern Bloc defectors


  1. ^ a b c d Krasnov, Vladislav (1985). Soviet Defectors: The KGB Wanted List. Hoover Press. pp. 11–12. ISBN 0-8179-8231-0. Retrieved 6 November 2008.
  2. ^ a b c Medvedev, Roy Aleksandrovich (1989). Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism. Columbia University Press. p. 89. ISBN 0-231-06350-4. Retrieved 6 November 2008.
  3. ^ a b Martens, Ludo (25 August 1995). Another view of Stalin. Progressive Labor Party (United States). Archived from the original on 26 June 2002. Retrieved 6 November 2008.
  4. ^ Bajanov 2003: 2–3
  5. ^ a b c d e "Newly Revealed Document May Solve Mystery About Trotsky". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. April 1, 1990. p. 9D. Retrieved 6 November 2008.
  6. ^ Kun 2003: 93
  7. ^ a b Bajanov 2003: 4–5
  8. ^ Kun 2003: 285–286
  9. ^ Kun 2003: 93, 286
  10. ^ Kun 2003: 296, writing "Bazhanov, the only assistant at Stalin's secretariat who later turned against the Soviet regime, mentions a number of such cases ..."
  11. ^ a b c d Krasnov, Vladislav (2001). The Secret File of Joseph Stalin: A Hidden Life. Routledge. pp. 204–205. ISBN 0-7146-5050-1. Retrieved 6 November 2008.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Brook-Shepherd, Gordon (1978). The Storm Petrels: The Flight of the First Soviet Defectors. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 234. ISBN 0-15-185223-5.