Completed in 1931, the House of Government rose across the Moscow River from the Kremlin. The largest residential building in Europe, it combined 505 furnished apartments with public spaces that included everything from a movie theater and a library to a tennis court and a shooting range.
Its residents were among the most powerful members of the Soviet government: People’s Commissars, Red Army commanders, Marxist scholars, Gulag officials, industrial managers, foreign Communists, socialist-realist writers, Stalin’s relatives, and others. They ruled the Soviet state and lived in relative post-revolutionary luxury and safety in this corner of Moscow until the political purges of the Great Terror began in 1936, during which some 800 of them were evicted from the House of Government and led to prison or their deaths.
In his new book The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution (Princeton University Press), historian Yuri Slezkine tells the story of the residents of a building that, like the Soviet Union itself, became a haunted house disturbed by the ghosts of the disappeared.
Among the memorable apartment-dwellers were Tania Miagkova, who in her letters from prison tried to reconcile her devotion to the Party with her love for her husband, mother, and daughter; Agnessa Argiropulo, who may or may not have suspected that the love of her life was one of the most prolific executioners in Russian history; Lyova Fedotov, a boy who dreamed of conducting Aida; and Yuri Trifonov, Fedotov’s friend who grew up to become the revolution’s heir and chronicler.
In conversation with Peter Baker, White House correspondent for the New York Times and former Moscow bureau chief for the Washington Post, Slezkine discusses the personal and public lives of the Bolshevik true believers who lived in the House of Government, from their conversion to Communism to their children’s loss of political faith and the fall of the Soviet Union.
Slezkine is the Jane K. Sather professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley.
The House of Government is available for signing.