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Kremlin Wives: The Secret Lives of the Women Behind the Kremlin Walls-From Lenin to Gorbachev

Kremlin Wives: The Secret Lives of the Women Behind the Kremlin Walls-From Lenin to Gorbachev


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From behind the fortress walls of the Kremlin, the often shocking truth about the women close to communist power.

For over seventy years the Kremlin was the bastion of the all-powerful Soviet rulers. A great deal is known about the men who held millions of fates in their iron grip, yet little is known about the women—the wives and mistresses—who shared their lives. They took part in the Revolution and its aftermath, bore children, and suffered abuse; some were arrested and sent to Siberia, driven to suicide, or even murdered. In 1991 the KGB granted the author access to its secret files, which, together with the author’s own research and interviews, provided the material for this book. Here for the first time the stark and sometimes scandalous truth about these women is revealed.

Lenin’s wife worked passionately for the Revolution alongside her husband, from the time of Lenin’s exile until her death. His mistress was also a close friend of his wife. Stalin married Nadezhda Alliluyeva when she was only sixteen. Earlier, he had had a relationship with Nadezhda’s mother, and there is strong evidence that his wife may also have been his daughter. When she was found dead in a pool of blood, the official verdict was suicide, but many believe she was murdered. Secret Police Chief Lavrenti Beria, known as “The Butcher,” roamed the streets in Moscow in a curtain-drawn limousine, stalking young girls who would later be abducted by his agents. One was forced to marry Beria—his wife Nina Teimurazovna.

Among the many other Kremlin “wives” portrayed here are: Alexandra Kollontai, feminist and supporter of “free love”; Larissa Reisner, Boris Pasternak’s muse; Olga Kameneva, Trotsky’s sister; Nina Khrushchev; Victoria Brezhnev; Galina Brezhneva; Tatyana Fillipovna Andropov, and Raisa Gorbachev—supposedly the only Soviet ruler’s wife to have married for love.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628725599
Publisher: Arcade
Publication date: 09/01/2015
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 386,412
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Larissa Vasilieva, the daughter of the T-34 tank designer, is a well-known Russian journalist, writer, and poet and is a prominent feminist.

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Honest Nadezhda

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, 1870–1924 (revolutionary name — Lenin), born in Simbirsk. Joined the revolutionary movement while studying law at Kazan University in the 1880s. Imprisoned in 1895 for his part in establishing the Marxist Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. Married Nadezhda Krupskaya during his subsequent exile in Siberia. From 1896 to 1917 he lived mainly in exile abroad, working for revolution in Russia and returning to Petrograd in April 1917 as leader of the Bolshevik party. After October 1917 he was president of the Soviet of People's Commissars (the Sovnarkom), a post he held until his death seven years later.

In the spring OF 1918 a forty-nine-year-old woman moved into the Kremlin. Her face was plain, but her lips were full — perhaps evidence of a passionate nature, though few would have dared to suggest this of her. She had protruding, wide-spaced eyes whose heavy lids gave her face a sleepy expression. Her forehead was broad, and her straight hair was parted in the middle and drawn into a bun at the nape of her neck. A few wisps escaped onto her cheeks. Her figure was shapeless, but her bearing suggested that she had attended a good high school for girls. Her hands were elegant, but her neglected nails suggested someone more interested in action than in talk. The woman was Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya, the wife of Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution.

The new tsaritsa, as some at first called her, had spent most of the previous fourteen years in exile, and was therefore largely unknown in Russia prior to 1917. She had known the miseries of isolation, and since communication at that time was primitive, this isolation was virtually total. Although Russia may not have been ready for Krupskaya, Krupskaya was ready for Russia — far more so than the German princesses who had occupied the Russian throne for the past two hundred years. Since childhood she had set for herself nothing less than the ambition of achieving happiness for all the Russian people. Later, when Lenin's global strategy extended beyond the Russian borders ("Workers of the world, unite!") this suited her perfectly.

Official Soviet culture was to cast an aura of sanctity around this woman's life, and the unctuous memoirs of those who knew her did little but inspire sarcasm about the "saintly" lady:

• "Krupskaya was the model of a faithful wife? With those looks, did she have a choice? Nobody but Lenin would have liked her!"

• "Lenin, faithful? Don't make me laugh."

• "What did she know about children? She never had any!"

• "After the revolution she fought for literacy but banned books because she said they were damaging to proletarian children."

Born in St. Petersburg in 1869, the only daughter of Elizaveta Vasilievna and Konstantin Ignatievich Krupsky, Nadezhda Krupskaya grew up surrounded by love. When she was three years old her progressive father was dismissed from his government post for what were ambiguously called "undesirable attitudes" and for "exceeding his authority," and the Krupskys moved to the provinces. After eight years of dislocation and hardship and petitioning the government to rescind its decision, Konstantin Ignatevich and his family were finally allowed back to St. Petersburg, where they settled in a squalid apartment in the slums.

Nadezhda, deeply affected by what had happened to her father, was quick to grasp that his problems transcended the family and had to do with the woes of Russia. She inherited his progressive ideas and was just as comfortable with the poor children in the yard as she was with the aristocratic daughters of her mother's friends.

Anxious to give their daughter a good education and to introduce her to modern thinking, the Krupskys enrolled her in Princess Obolenskaya's Gymnasium, a progressive high school created by Populist intellectuals of the 1860s and 1870s, and one of the best private girls' schools in Russia. Here Nadezhda met not only aristocrats and girls from wealthy families, but also the daughters of revolutionaries, who dreamed of dedicating their lives to the betterment of the common people. Idealistic teachers offered girls an inspiring example. Indeed, the word "revolution" was frequently heard in the Krupsky home.

By the second half of the nineteenth century, it was permissible for a woman in Russia to leave her family and seek an education. Surrounded by injustice, Krupskaya longed to do something about it, and since the tsarist state was resistant to reform, she was inevitably drawn to the revolutionary movement and to the struggles it brought. Women were permitted to be revolutionaries (and expected to act as men's faithful assistants), and a few enjoyed great authority within the movement.

Vera Zasulich (1849 — 1919) was active in various revolutionary circles before shooting and wounding St. Petersburg's governor-general in 1879. After many years in prison and exile, Zasulich worked with Lenin in exile abroad. Solitary and uncompromising, Zasulich remained deeply hostile to the Bolshevik Revolution and died disillusioned with life.

Vera Figner (1852–1942), a Populist turned terrorist, was sentenced to death for her part in the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. The sentence was subsequently commuted to twenty years in prison. After her release, she lived in Moscow, where for many years she observed with a certain detachment the Bolsheviks' application of her ideas.

Sofia Perovskaya (1853–1881), hanged for her part in Alexander II's assassination, was the first woman in Russia sentenced to death for a political crime.

These Russian women opened the way to a new generation of revolutionary women.

Soon after Krupsky's death in 1883, his widow and daughter were visited by Nikolai Isaakovich Utin, a well-known revolutionary, who helped fourteen-year-old Nadezhda find her first private teaching job. Nadezhda's school friend Ariadna Tyrkova, who subsequently joined the Revolution on the other side of the barricades as a member of the White Army, described her friend's life several years later:

She lived with her mother in an apartment off the inner courtyard of the Durdins' building on Znamenskaya Street. They led a quiet, dull, old-fashioned life, and their cramped three-room apartment always smelled of onions, cabbage, and pies. In the kitchen stood the cook's bed, spread with a red calico cover. In those days even a poor clerk's widow was unable to manage without domestic help; I knew nobody who did not have at least one servant.

The complacent 1870s gave way to the turbulent 1880s (beginning with Alexander II's death in 1881), and Elizaveta Vasilievna watched with a mixture of hope and apprehension as her daughter was taken under the wing of the revolutionaries. Ariadna Tyrkova again gives us a look:

We talked constantly about the failings of society, and these discussions sprang from love of life and the urgent demands of magnanimous youth. ... In many educated Russian families, the more sensitive of the young people were infected at a young age by the microbe of social unrest. Of all my friends the most deeply infected was Nadya Krupskaya. She had defined her views and marked out her path long before the rest of us, and far more irrevocably. She was someone who would surrender herself to a feeling or an idea totally and forever.

After graduating from Princess Obolenskaya's school with a governess diploma in 1887, Nadezhda started coaching the other girls there for their final exams. A letter of recommendation shows how effective the young teacher was: "For the past two years domestic governess N. K. Krupskaya has worked in the evenings with ten pupils. ... The girls' success is evidence of her outstanding pedagogical abilities, her wide-ranging knowledge, and her meticulous approach to her work."

It seemed as if Nadezhda was destined to be a career teacher and a spinster. She made no attempt to make herself appealing to men. Elizaveta Vasilievna's maternal dreams of a good match for her daughter began to fade. She saw a career as a teacher as the best her daughter could hope for. "I'm like the Russian countryside — without bright colors," Nadezhda said to comfort her.

Ariadna Tyrkova recalls, "Nadya did not indulge in flirtation, amorous adventures, or sexual games. She didn't go skating, dancing, or boating, and she talked only to her school friends and the elderly women friends of her mother. I never saw any male guests at their apartment."

Indeed, plain Nadezhda pitied her married friends for enslaving themselves in marriage and throwing away their talents on a man. She had chosen not to dedicate herself to the world of home and family but to take a lonelier route. The first sign on this path was in the form of a newspaper ad placed by Leo Tolstoy. He hired educated girls to take well-known works of literature and rewrite them in a simpler language so that peasants could understand them. Nadezhda saw the ad and immediately wrote to Tolstoy volunteering her services:

Esteemed Lev Nikolayevich! Recently I have realized more and more clearly how much toil, energy, and health I waste in my exploitation of others' labor. I have lived like this in order to acquire knowledge, in the hope that this would enable me to be useful later on. Now I see that the knowledge I have gained is of no use to anyone, since I cannot apply it to my life, even to make some small amends for my own inactivity — and I do not know what is to be done about it. ...

I know that editing books for the common people is important work that demands much knowledge and experience, and that I am only eighteen years old and know very little. ... But I am appealing to you because I think that to do work that I love may help me to overcome my ignorance and inexperience. So if possible, Lev Nikolayevich, please send me one or two of these books, and I will do what I can with them.

Tolstoy's daughter Tatyana sent Nadezhda The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas's romance of revenge, and she sat down to edit it. It was a silly task, as she herself realized the further she progressed, but since she was not one to abandon a task half-done, especially one from the great Leo Tolstoy, she persevered.

While awaiting his response to her work, she visited several groups of Tolstoyans, but her down-to-earth nature was put off by their lofty abstractions. She was attracted to younger revolutionaries, seeking some sign from them that would set her on the right path. Nadezhda did not believe in half-measures.

Ariadna Tyrkova observed, "She would pore endlessly over a phrase in a textbook, struggling to understand exactly what it meant. But once she did grasp it she would absorb it forever, just as later she would absorb the teachings of Karl Marx and Ulyanov-Lenin."

It was in the spring of 1890 that Nadezhda read Marx's Das Kapital, later describing it as a "drink of fresh water." And from that moment it became clear to her that her path lay neither in isolated acts of terrorism nor in Tolstoyan self-perfection. She understood that the only important thing for her was the mighty workers' movement. The year 1890 marked the transformation from the naive girl seeking her own path into the revolutionary. She would discover the force that was to guide her the rest of her life.

Hungry for further education, Nadezhda was enrolled in the prestigious Bestuzhev Courses for Women, but in the autumn of 1890 she abandoned them and concentrated all her energies on teaching.

Ariadna Tyrkova's memoirs describe how revolutionary work transformed her friend:

She would shower me with radiant love, clasping my hands in hers and smiling in bashful tenderness. She had fine white skin, with a delicate pink flush spreading from her cheeks to her ears and chin, and although I had often pitied my Nadya her plainness, she looked quite lovely. Behind this soft and pretty face, however, I sensed another Nadya. She had begun the revolutionary work that would become her life's passion.

It started with workers' evening classes outside the city gates. Her kind blue eyes would sparkle as she told me in a rote, sing-song voice of the importance of awakening the workers' class consciousness. ... I was happy for her and realized what a joy it must be to discover some all-consuming goal.

Seeing that her revolutionary daughter paid no attention to household chores, Elizaveta Vasilievna supervised all the cleaning and cooking in the apartment. A devout woman, she was frightened by her daughter's growing atheism, and told Ariadna Tyrkova: "You're as bad as my Nadya. You'd be wiser if you went to church and prayed for grace and forgiveness!" The naturally tolerant Nadezhda did not try to convert her mother, and the two women lived peacefully together.

Now all Nadezhda needed was someone with whom she could share her revolutionary passion. Blushing, she would casually mention to Ariadna Tyrkova "a certain comrade" who meant a lot to her. Nadezhda never mentioned his name, and many years later Ariadna assumed that it had been Lenin. But four years before meeting Lenin, Nadezhda had become friends with a Marxist engineering student named Klasson and was a regular participant in his revolutionary circle. They studied Das Kapital together, they read and argued. Shared ideas may have led to embraces — although Nadezhda's strict moral code and preference for lofty emotions makes this unlikely. A true Marxist could conquer everything. Monks and nuns mortified the flesh by fasting and praying; she used Marx and Engels.

She recalled giving a worker Tolstoy's War and Peace; he handed it back to her the next day saying: "It's to be read lying on the sofa, and that is of no use to us!" Another worker named Zhukov wrote: "She was talking about India and the life of the Indians, and then she suddenly started talking about our life." Clever, open-minded, and fascinated by new ideas, the young teacher with the pink cheeks and long auburn braid was popular with her students, and after the lesson ended they would argue over who would get to walk her home at night. The man who generally succeeded was Ivan Vasilievich Babushkin. Tall, elegant, mustached, and blazing with youth and health, he took her arm and escorted her through the dark back streets of Petrograd.

All winter Nadezhda Krupskaya toiled away at her evening classes, her innumerable pamphlets, and her books. One of these was an economics book by a Marxist named Herman Krasin. She was about to put it aside, when she saw that the book's margins were filled with neatly written notes, and, struck by the reader's originality and caustic tone, she read on. None of her comrades was capable of thinking in such global terms; certainly not Klasson.

On her way to work that evening she ran into Klasson on the street. He asked if she and her friend Zina would come to his room later for a Marxist debate to be held under the guise of a Shrovetide pancake party. She didn't really want to go; she felt she had outgrown the circle. Klasson insisted. A man from the Volga would be there, he said, a strange character who had torn Krasin's views to shreds. Nadezhda remembered the notes in Krasin's exercise book and decided to go.

She recalled, "There were lots of people there. The discussion was about the future. Someone mentioned the importance of the literacy committee, and this produced a dry, sarcastic laugh from the 'man from the Volga.'"

Hearing the "man from the Volga" speak was like being struck by a bolt of lightning. She suddenly realized that revolution was not only possible but imminent. That evening she made enquiries, and though she rarely told her mother about her revolutionary activities, she told her all about Vladimir Ulyanov. He was twenty-four years old (he looked older) and came from minor nobility. His father, now dead, had been a school inspector in the Siberian town of Simbirsk. His mother, née Blank, was the daughter of a former police doctor, and his elder brother was Alexander Ulyanov, member of the terrorist People's Will party, executed in 1887 for the attempted assassination of Tsar Alexander III.

One evening toward the end of summer, the two of them happened to meet on the steps of the library and walked back through the streets of St. Petersburg to her apartment together. They talked more about revolution.

This encounter sealed her fate. The great passion in her life was and always would be the revolution; for this she lived, worked, and dreamed. And Vladimir Ulyanov-Lenin became the embodiment of her dream. She trusted him implicitly, and for his cause would go to the ends of the earth, asking nothing for herself, accepting whatever role he chose for her. Many women dedicated themselves to the revolution but chose the wrong man; Nadezhda had chosen the right one. She was a star student, after all, and star students seldom make mistakes. By 1894 Lenin's mother, Maria Alexandrovna Ulyanova, had had ample experience with revolutionaries, and from her first meeting with Nadezhda she knew that this young woman was exactly the wife she would have wished for her son. She was not pretty, but that meant he would not be distracted by jealousy. Naturally it would have been better if she had money, but her poverty gave her a certain dignity and the strength to bear life's misfortunes. Lenin and Nadezhda were unable to marry immediately, since in 1896 she was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison for her role in the St. Petersburg strike movement, and the following February he was exiled to the Siberian village of Shushenskoe.


Excerpted from "Kremlin Wives"
by .
Copyright © 1992 Larissa Vasilieva.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations,
Chronological Glossary,
Chapter 1 Honest Nadezhda,
Chapter 2 The Woman Question and Men's Response,
Chapter 3 The Legend of Larissa — Woman of the Revolution,
Chapter 4 The Daughter-in-law,
Chapter 5 The Despot's Wife,
Chapter 6 Empty Bed, Cold Heart,
Chapter 7 The Soviet Esther,
Chapter 8 The Three Wives of Marshal Budyonny,
Chapter 9 In the Inquisitor's Chair,
Chapter 10 The President's Wife,
Chapter 11 "The Personal Has No Social Significance",
Chapter 12 A Pearl Set in Iron,
Chapter 13 Bluebeard's Women,
Chapter 14 Nina Kukharchuk's Kitchen,
Chapter 15 Victoria's Quiet Victory,
Chapter 16 The Mystery of Tatyana,
Chapter 17 Anna of Three Hundred Days,
Chapter 18 The Raisa Phenomenon,
Select Bibliography,

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