(1893–1991), Communist Party and Soviet government official. The son of a struggling artisan, Lazar’ Kaganovich was born in the Chernobyl district, Kiev province. An autodidact, from the age of 14 he worked in Kiev as a tanner and shoemaker. Kaganovich joined the Rossiiskaia Sotsial-Demokraticheskaia Rabochaia Partiia (Russian Social Democratic Workers Party) in 1911.
Between 1914 and 1917, while living under assumed names (Samokhin, Goldenberg, Kosherovich), Kaganovich worked at shoe factories in Ukraine and engaged in Bolshevik agitation. He was also involved in a number of Bolshevik organizations, becoming in succession a member of the Ekaterinoslav City Party Committee, head of the Melitopol’ Shoemakers Union, and leader of the organization in Iuzovka (modern Donets’k), a major mining center. Arrested several times for spreading propaganda, he always managed to evade severe punishment.
Kaganovich was drafted in May 1917 and became a leader of the Bolshevik soldiers’ organization in Saratov. In July of that year, he was sent as a delegate to the All-Russia Conference of the Bolshevik Soldiers Party Organizations, where he was elected to the All-Russia Bureau of Soldiers Party Organizations. During the October Revolution, he was head of the Party committee of the Poles’e region and personally led the Bolshevik seizure of power in Gomel (Homel’). In 1918 and 1919, Kaganovich chaired the Nizhnii Novgorod Provincial Party Committee and Executive Committee. He was a leader of military actions during the civil war. Between 1920 and 1922, he held prominent positions in the party structures in Voronezh province and in Turkestan. In 1922, he was appointed head of the Central Committee Organization–Instruction Department, and from 1924 to 1925 he was secretary of the Central Committee.
From 1925 until 1928, Kaganovich was general secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine. Between 1928 and 1939 he was again secretary of the Central Committee, and from 1930 to 1935 he headed the Moscow Party organization. He also was in charge of the Central Committee Control Commission for checking Party ranks, which meant in practice that he conducted purges. In 1928, Kaganovich was appointed to the Orgburo (the Organization Bureau of the Central Committee) and in 1930 became a full member of the Politburo. Indeed, Kaganovich was the only Jew in the Politburo after the removal of Trotsky, Zinov’ev, and Kamenev. He oversaw the construction of the Moscow underground (1931), which for a while bore his name. Between 1935 and 1944 (with short interruptions) he was people’s commissar of railroads, and at the same time of fuel, oil, and heavy industry.
During World War II, Kaganovich was a member of the state defense committee and headed the political administration of the Transcaucasian front. From 1947 until 1957 (again with short interruptions), he served as deputy prime minister (vice chairman first of the Council of People’s Commissars and then of the Council of Ministers) and minister of the building materials industry.
Kaganovich received many official and honorary titles, among them Hero of Socialist Labor (1943). However, at the Central Committee plenum of June 1957, he was relieved of all official functions and was removed from the Politburo and the Central Committee. This action was taken against him for belonging—with Malenkov and Molotov—to an “anti-Party” group that opposed de-Stalinization. He was later appointed director of a mining complex in the city of Asbest in Sverdlovsk Oblast’. In 1961, Kaganovich was expelled from the Party and was forced to retire.
Kaganovich never publicly mentioned that he was Jewish. On the contrary, after the revolution he made negative statements about Jewish socialist organizations and parties (including the Bund and the Po‘ale Tsiyon) and questioned the necessity for the Evsektsiia. He was, however, known for his calls to stage plays on “real Jewish heroes” (the Maccabees, Bar Kokhba) when he visited the newly established Gosudarstvennyi Evreiskii Teatr (State Yiddish Theater; GOSET) in Moscow in the 1930s, in the context of the campaign to publicize the leaders of insurgencies of different nations.
Anatolii Chernev, 229 kremlevskikh vozhdei: Politbiuro, Orgbiuro, Sekretariat Tsentral’nogo Komiteta Kommunisticheskoi partii v litsakh i tsifrakh (Moscow, 1996); R. W. Davies, Oleg V. Khlevniuk, et al., eds., The Stalin-Kaganovich Correspondence, 1931–36 (New Haven, 2003).
Translated from Russian by Chaim Chernikov