Monday, January 15, 2018

Soviet Citizens Sought to Rename Capital City Because ‘Moscow isn’t a Russian Name’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 15 – Eighty years ago this month, a group of Soviet citizens wrote to their government proposing that it rename Moscow. In the context of the Great Terror, they immediately were charged with crimes and repressed. But that was not the first such popular initiative in this regard.

            In 1927, Aleksey Volodin writes on the Top War portal, another group of Russians, mostly from Tambov, called for renaming the USSR capital “’Ilich’ in Lenin’s honor given that according to them, “’Moscow is not a Russian name’” (

                “’Ilich’” or “’Gorod Ilich’” they insisted was a name which would connect “the hearts and minds of the proletarian” more than the senseless name ‘Moscow’ which is neither Russian nor has any logical roots,” the historian says. Neither the proposals from 1927 nor those from 1938 were accepted, and Moscow remained Moscow.

                According to Volodin, historians still disagree on why that was so. Some say that it was because the Soviet leadership noting that one capital was already called Leningrad thought that renaming Moscow in his honor would be excessive.  Others say that some in 1938 wanted to rename Moscow for Stalin, but he too already had another citied named for him.

            To meet the objection that there was already one Stalingrad (since 1925), the writers of the 1938 letters suggested that the capital might be renamed “’Stalinadar’” meaning “’the Gift of Stalin.’”  Archivists say that some of those making this proposal were communist activists who wanted to show themselves absolutely loyal.

            One of their number justified the name change because the Soviet Union had just adopted the new “Stalinist” constitution. Several other people wrote in identical messages, a pattern that suggests, Volodin argues, that this “’popular campaign’” may in fact have been created by people in Stalin’s own entourage

            In particular, some historians say that the recently opened archival documents suggest that NKVD chief Nikolay Yezhov may have been the instigator not only because of certain charges brought against him after he was ousted but also because letter writing on this subject stopped – or at least hasn’t been retained in the archives -- after his dismissal.

            But this history about the possibility of renaming Moscow may be nothing more than a variant on some earlier Soviet proposals to rename the USSR, “form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics into the Union of Soviet Stalinist Republics.” That was too much even more Stalin – and thus it never happened.

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