Boris Bazhanov was born in 1900, in Mogilev-Podolskiy, Russian Empire (now in Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine), the son of a physician. When Bazhanov was 17 years old, the Russian Revolution of 1917 led to the collapse of the Russian Empire and the subsequent Russian Civil War. With the splintering of power in Bazhanov's native Ukraine, the Ukrainian territory was continuously fought over by various ideological factions.
Situation in Eastern Europe, March 1919. Western Ukrainian territories are marked in grey; Russian in red; Polish in yellow.
Despite the political situation, Bazhanov graduated from high school in the summer of 1918, and in September went to study physics and mathematics at the University of Kiev, however shortly after his arrival the university was closed. During a student demonstration against the closure of the university Bazhanov was injured by gunfire, afterwards returning to his hometown to recover.
Communist Party membership
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In 1919, Bazhanov joined the local Communist Party of the Soviet Union organization, to which he later recalled having to choose between Communism or Ukrainian nationalism, stating he eventually rejected nationalism as he had been raised and associated with Russian culture. Bazhanov was soon afterwards elected district secretary, quickly rising through local party posts in Ukraine, he went to Moscow to study engineering in November 1920. The following year, when Bazhanov was 21, the political fighting within the Ukrainian territory had ended in communist victory, with territory being divided between Soviet Ukraine and Poland, with smaller regions belonging to Czechoslovakia and Romania. In 1922, Soviet Ukraine joined the newly-founded Soviet Union as its constituent republic, after which Bazhanov applied for a technical position within the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union apparatus and was accepted by Ksenofontov.
On August 9, 1923, Bazhanov was named assistant to the Soviet leader, General Secretary Joseph Stalin, based on a decision of the organization bureau that read: "Comrade Bazhanov is named assistant to Joseph Stalin and a secretary of the CC."
As General Secretary Stalin's assistant, Bazhanov became Secretary of the Politburo and was responsible for taking notes of the meetings. On October 26, 1923, Bazhanov took notes at a Central Committee meeting attended by Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Leon Trotsky at a time when Lenin was very ill and just three months before his death. During the meeting, Lenin offered to appoint Trotsky as his "heir." 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." After Lenin's death in January 1924, Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev together governed the party, placing themselves ideologically between Trotsky (on the left wing of the party) and Nikolay Bukharin (on the right). Trotsky eventually was forced into exile in Mexico, where he was assassinated in 1940 by a Stalinist agent. 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.
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. 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,
Georgy Kanner, and Lev Mekhlis, however Bazhanov's 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.
On January 1, 1928, dissatisfied with working under Stalin, Bazhanov crossed the border to Iran to defect from the Soviet Union, the same year that the first of Stalin's Five-Year Plans for the National Economy of the Soviet Union was accepted. Bazhanov would be the only assistant of Stalin's secretariat who would turn against the Soviet regime, and subsequently was granted asylum in France.
Through his defection, Bazhanov became an enemy of Stalin, and was pursued by a manhunt 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. 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 Leon Trotsky, who had been deported from the Soviet Union in February 1929. With the help of his cousin and GPU informer Arkady Maximov, Blumkin staged a car accident to kill Bazhanov, however the plot failed.
Allegedly, Bazhanov had attempted to organize a legion of Russian emigres to fight with the Finnish Army in the Winter War against the Soviet Union, but the plan never became reality.
In the conclusion of the 1978 book The Storm Petrels: The Flight of the First Soviet Defectors, 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.
Bazhanov published an edition of his memoirs in France in 1980, entitled Memoirs of a Secretary of Stalin's.
Bazhanov died in Paris in January 1982, and is buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery.