Tony Cliff

Trotsky: The darker the night the brighter the star

14. Nightmare: the Moscow Trials and the mass purges

The Kirov assassination

ON 1 DECEMBER 1934 Sergei M. Kirov, member of the Politburo, Secretary of the Central Committee and First Secretary of the Leningrad Party Organisation was assassinated by one Leonid Nikolaev. A few days later it was announced:

The Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR proceeded on 5 December 1934 against 71 White Guardists who were accused of preparing and organising terroristic acts against officials of the Soviet State. The court ascertained that the majority of the accused had slipped in through Poland, Latvia and Finland. They were entrusted with definite tasks in the organisation of terroristic acts. Sixty-six accused White Guardists were sentenced to be shot. The investigation against five defendants is being continued by decision of the court.

On 28 and 29 December the trial of Nikolaev and 11 others took place. Nikolaev, it was stated, had previously belonged to the Zinovievist Opposition in Leningrad in 1926. (As a matter of fact the entire Leningrad organisation of the party, with only a few exceptions, was part of the Zinoviev Opposition in 1926). In the indictment of Nikolaev, Trotsky appeared as the main culprit: it was alleged that during one of Nikolaev’s visits to the Latvian consulate the Consul gave him 5,000 roubles for expenses. Nikolaev added: ‘He told me that he can establish contact with Trotsky, if I give him a letter to Trotsky from the group.’ The Latvian Consul was, as a matter of fact, an agent of Hitler. Nikolaev and the other 11 accused were sentenced to death and immediately shot.

On 30 December 1934, in his article, The Indictment, Trotsky expressed the firm conviction that the GPU from the outset knew about the terrorist act that was being prepared against Kirov. [1] On 23 January 1935 a military tribunal condemned 12 GPU officials in Leningrad, including the chief of the GPU, F.D. Medved, and his deputy, I. Zaporozhets, to long-term imprisonment. The charge was that ‘they were aware of the attempt being prepared against Kirov but showed criminal negligence in not taking the necessary security measures.’ (In 1937 both Medved and Zaporozhets were executed).

Many years later, in February 1956, in his speech to the Twentieth Party Congress, Khrushchev pointed the finger at Stalin as the real author of the Kirov assassination:

It must be asserted that to this day the circumstances surrounding Kirov’s murder hide many things which are inexplicable and mysterious and demand a most careful examination. There are reasons for the suspicion that the killer of Kirov, Nikolaev, was assisted by someone from among the people whose duty it was to protect the person of Kirov. A month and a half before the killing Nikolaev was arrested on the grounds of suspicious behaviour, but he was released and not even searched. It was an unusually suspicious circumstance that when the Chekist assigned to protect Kirov was being brought for an interrogation, on 2 December, 1934, he was killed in a car ‘accident’ in which no other occupants of the car were harmed. After the murder of Kirov, top functionaries of the Leningrad NKVD were given very light sentences, but in 1937 they were shot. We can assume that they were shot in order to cover the traces of the organisers of Kirov’s killing. (Movement in the hall) [2]

Leon Sedov was clear about who benefited from Kirov’s murder.

If Kirov’s assassination helped anyone, it is certainly the Stalinist bureaucracy. Under the cover of the struggle against ‘terrorists’, it has stifled the last manifestations of critical thought in the USSR. It has placed a heavy tombstone on all the living. [3]

In January 1935 nineteen people, including some leading Old Bolsheviks, were put on trial: Zinoviev, founding member of the Bolshevik Party, member of the Politburo under Lenin and President of the Comintern; Kamenev, founding member of the Bolshevik Party, member of the Politburo under Lenin and Deputy to Lenin as head of the government; P.A. Zalutsky, one of the oldest worker-Bolsheviks, former member of the Central Committee and former secretary of the Leningrad Committee; G.E. Evdokimov, one of the oldest worker-Bolsheviks, former member of the Central Committee; G. Fedorov, one of the oldest worker-Bolsheviks, former member of the Central Committee and Chairman of the workers’ section of the Soviet during the October revolution; G.I. Safarov, who arrived with Lenin in the sealed train, former member of the Central Committee and editor of the Leningrad Pravda; A.S. Kuklin, one of the oldest worker-Bolsheviks, former member of the Central Committee, and another eight Old Bolsheviks. All the accused confessed to their moral responsibility for the assassination of Kirov.

The August 1936 frame-up trial

THE JANUARY 1935 trial was the prologue to the major show trial of August 1936: The Case of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre. A number of the condemned in the first trial appeared again: Zinoviev, Kamenev, Evdokimov, Bakaev and others. The people in the dock were accused of being responsible for the assassination of Kirov and of plotting to assassinate Stalin and other Soviet leaders.

All the accused confessed to the most heinous crimes. None of their speeches could be distinguished from the speeches of the prosecution. In their ‘confessions’ the defendants vied with the Prosecutor in vilifying themselves. They cursed each other as ‘mad fascist dogs’. Although they had been very hostile to the Stalinist regime for years, not one now had a single word of criticism of Stalin. On the contrary, they outdid one another in praising his genius and his grand achievements for the country and for socialism. The accused, without exception, repeated that the real overlord of the terrorist conspiracy was the missing Leon Trotsky.

Vyshinsky ended his speech for the prosecution with these words: ‘I demand that dogs gone mad should be shot – every one of them!’ [4] After this every one of the accused stated that they would not make a speech in defence, but would avail themselves of the right to a last plea. Here again, the pleas sound more like further self-vilification. Kamenev ended his plea with these words:

Thus we served fascism, thus we organised counter-revolution against socialism, prepared, paved the way for the interventionists. Such was the path we took, and such was the pit of contemptible treachery and all that is loathsome into which we have fallen. [5]

E.S. Holtzman added:

Here in the dock beside me, is a gang of murderers, not only murderers, but fascist murderers. I do not ask for mercy. [6]

All the sixteen were condemned to death and speedily shot.

The irrationality of the trial

NO DOCUMENTS, no material evidence, nothing written was brought before the court. No witnesses appeared either. All the evidence was confined to ‘voluntary’ and ‘spontaneous’ confessions of the invariably penitent accused. The terrible terrorists suddenly became transformed into flagellants vying with the prosecution and each other and demanding their own death sentences.

The veracity of the trial is exploded when reference is made to confessed meetings, the details of which can be verified. Thus Holtzman said in the trial

I arranged with Sedov to be in Copenhagen within two or three days, to put up at the Hotel Bristol and meet him there. I went to the hotel straight from the station and in the lounge met Sedov. [7]

However, the GPU was careless: since 1917 there had been no Hotel Bristol in Copenhagen! The GPU was still as sloppy as it had been in the 1931 Moscow trial where a defendant confessed to meeting someone who had proof they were somewhere else at the time.

Again and again Trotsky pointed out the absurdity of the Moscow Trials of the Old Bolsheviks. For instance in an article entitled Shame! written on 18 December 1936 he said:

Let us ... concede the impossible. Let us concede precisely that the Trotskyists, in contradiction to their doctrine, their programme, their present writings, and their private correspondence (which is at the disposal of any honest commission of inquiry), have become terrorists – without internal struggles or splits, without the inevitable defections and denunciations. Let us admit that terrorism was necessary for them to restore capitalism. Why was this new programme accepted in silence by everyone, without reprobation, without criticism, without opposition? Let us concede further – a few absurdities more or less are of no importance – that in order to ensure the restoration of capitalism and the victory of fascism (yes, yes, even fascism), the Trotskyists signed a pact with the Gestapo and that they have been pursuing their terrorist activities at least from 1931 till the middle of 1936. Where? How? But this matters little. It all took place in the fourth dimension. They were continually trying to assassinate all the ‘leaders’, to disorganise the economy, to prepare victory for Hitler and the Mikado.

Can we take all these base absurdities for legal tender? But what do we see in the end? In the middle of 1936, the leaders of this strange tendency, accused of having taken part in these crimes, suddenly repent, all at the same time, and admit to the crimes they had committed (that is, had not committed). Each one rushes to cover himself with as much mud as he can, and each tries to drown the voice of the others in singing the praises of Stalin, whom yesterday he wanted to kill. [8]

Were the defendants completely deranged?

the accused were not satisfied with individual terror; they desired – to restore capitalism. And so strongly did they desire it that they established links with German fascism and Japanese militarism! Did they think that they and I could have leadership positions in a capitalist regime? It is hard even to phrase such a question in an intelligible way, so senseless is the political basis of the trial. [9]

And how credible is the fact that Trotsky chose five Jews, Olberg, Berman-Yudin, David, and the brothers M. Lurye and N. Lurye as his agents to deal with the Gestapo. [1*]

Why did they confess in the Moscow Trials? First of all it is only a tiny minority of those interrogated by the GPU who broke down completely and confessed according to order. Those who refused to make the statements demanded of them were summarily shot. Walter Krivitsky, one of the top Soviet agents in the West, who broke with the Stalinist regime in 1937, remarked that ‘the real wonder is that, despite their broken condition and the monstrous forms of pressure exerted by the GPU on Stalin’s political opponents, so few did confess. For every one of the 54 prisoners who figured in the three ‘treason trials’, at least 100 were shot without being broken down.’ [11]

Still, how can one explain the cringing behaviour of some Old Bolsheviks who had not flinched in the struggle under Tsarism, who spent years in prison and Siberia? How could people like Mrachkovsky, born in prison to a revolutionary mother (and father), member of the Bolshevik Party since 1905, a very experienced and tough underground activist, and a hero of the battles of the civil war, or I.N. Smirnov, a factory worker who joined the party in 1899, was many times arrested, a hero of the civil war who ensured the victory against Admiral Kolchak and was called the ‘Lenin of Siberia’, and quite often referred to as the ‘conscience of the party’ – how could people like that become putty in the hands of Stalin and his agents? Why did such heroic figures behave so differently from the Narodnik activists who under the Tsar went to the gallows without a murmur? Why was the conduct of Mrachkovsky and Smirnov in court so radically different from the proud and defiant behaviour of Danton and Robespierre and other Jacobin leaders who went upright to the guillotine?

The Narodnik martyrs, as well as the French tribunes came directly from the combat arena; they were still at the height of their powers, they were still in the glow of the admiring masses. It was in the period of the powerful upsurge of the revolution. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Mrachkovsky, Smirnov and the others came to court after a prolonged period – more than a decade – of reaction. They went through a series of capitulations to Stalin, each act of capitulation further degrading them, sapping their confidence, their courage, eating into their nerves. To illustrate this let us make a short sketch of Zinoviev’s capitulations.

On 14 November 1927 he was expelled from the Party. In December he capitulated to Stalin. On 27 January 1928 Zinoviev and Kamenev issued a statement which said: ‘Outside the CPSU there is only one fate facing our Leninist ideas – degeneration and decline’. [12] In June Zinoviev and Kamenev were readmitted into the party. In October 1932 the hapless couple were expelled a second time together with a number of supporters of the Right: N.A. Uglanov, a former Secretary of the Central Committee and the Moscow Committee; M.N. Riutin, member of the Central Committee and leader of the Moscow organisation. Riutin had written a document critical of the Stalinist policy and regime. Zinoviev and Kamenev were accused of

knowing that counter-revolutionary documents were widespread, they had preferred, rather than denounce them, to discuss this document and thus to show themselves to be direct accomplices of an anti-party, counter-revolutionary group. [13]

Just for failing to make a denunciation of Riutin, Zinoviev and Kamenev were expelled from the party and exiled from Moscow.

Six months later, in May 1933, after a further submissive statement, Zinoviev and Kamenev were once again readmitted into the party and returned from Siberian exile. The first time they capitulated, in December 1927, they still had not gone down on their knees before Stalin. Now, in May 1933, in the new recantation, they glorified Stalin’s infallibility and genius.

At the Seventeenth Party Congress (January-February 1934), the ‘Congress of Victors’, a number of former Oppositionists – Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Lominadze, Preobrazhensky, Piatakov, Radek, Rykov and Tomsky – appeared on the platform and spoke to the Congress. Each acknowledged his past errors and ended his speech with a statement about the greatness and genius of the Leader.

Throughout 1934 articles by Zinoviev appeared regularly in Pravda. The most servile statement by Zinoviev was the obituary he wrote on Kirov. It was called The Beacon Man.

The grief of the Party is the grief of the whole people, of all the peoples of the USSR. The Party’s mourning is the mourning of our whole great country ... The whole people have felt the bitterness of bereavement.

The foul murder of Sergei Mironovich Kirov has in truth roused the whole Party, the whole of the Soviet Union. The loss of this beloved and dear man has been felt by all as the loss of one who is nearest and dearest of all ...

A son of the working class – this is what this Beacon Man was ... our dear, deep, strong ... One could not help believing him, one could not help loving him, one could not help being proud of him. [14]

And a couple of months later Zinoviev confessed to ‘moral responsibility’ for the murder of Kirov!

Similarly other future victims of Stalin often had so abased themselves before Stalin in advance of their arrest that it was practically impossible for them to make up lost ground and denounce him during their trials.

For instance, a two-page article by Radek heaped sickening praise on Stalin: ‘Lenin’s best pupil, the model of the Leninist party, hone of its bone, blood of its blood’, Stalin embodied ‘the entire historical experience of the party.’ He was ‘as far-sighted as Lenin’, and so on. This article was quickly reissued as a pamphlet in 225,000 copies, an enormous figure for the time.

During the trial of Zinoviev and company, Radek wrote an article in Pravda entitled The Trotskyist-Zinovievist Fascist Gang. [15] In the same issue of Pravda Rakovsky demanded that Zinoviev, Kamenev and the other agents of the Gestapo should be shot. A similar bouquet of filthy accusations was poured on the heads of the defendants by Piatakov.

No less cringing was Bukharin. He ended his speech to the Seventeenth Party Congress with these words:

Hail our Party, its great fighting comradeship, the comradeship of tempered soldiers, hard like steel, revolutionaries with fortitude to win all victories under the leadership of the glorious field-marshal of the proletarian forces, the cream of the cream – Comrade Stalin. [16]

Sedov very aptly explained how the confessions were wrung from the defendants.

On the defendants’ bench sat only the shadows of the Smirnov of the Civil War or the Zinoviev of the first years of the Comintern. On the defendants’ bench sat broken, crushed, finished men. Before killing them physically, Stalin had broken and destroyed them morally.

Capitulation is an inclined plane: no one has yet succeeded in coming to rest on it. Once on it, you can’t help but slide to the very bottom ...

The Stalinist ‘art’ of breaking revolutionary characters consists of going cautiously, steadily, pushing these people degree by degree, always lower and lower ... And what incentive could they have had to struggle? They had not only renounced their own ideas, but helped Stalin to drag them in the mud. If the international workers’ movement had not been in such a state of collapse, these men would have undoubtedly acted differently. Isolated from the revolutionary movement, and even from the world in general, they saw only the rise and strengthening of fascism, and in the USSR the hopelessness of Stalinism. The miserable behaviour of the defendants is first of all an expression of the profound despair of people who had lost all perspective. And how could the Soviet people of today, even the best ones, not become demoralised? Have revolutionaries ever been forged in empty space? For that there must be collective work, mutual relations, links with the masses, a theoretical self-education, etc. Only in such conditions was it possible for the revolutionary and Bolshevik type to be formed. But that is the distant past. In the last ten years in the USSR, and not only there, the reverse process has taken place. [17]

Personal heroism is a social function. To go to prison and Siberia, or even the gallows under the Tsar, with the knowledge that there are people around who support you and your stand is one thing. To be completely isolated physically and spiritually is another thing. All courage is drained away. Trotsky writes:

At each new stage in the capitulation, the victims kept finding themselves with the same alternatives: either reject all the preceding denunciations and engage in a hopeless struggle with the bureaucracy – without a banner, without an organisation, without any personal authority – or sink one step lower again, by accusing themselves and others of new infamies. This was the progress into the depths! It was possible, by determining its approximate coefficient, to foresee accurately the denunciations of the subsequent stage. I did it many times in the press. [18]

Human nerves, even the strongest, have a limited capacity to endure moral torture. [19]

You know the resistance of materials; it is the same with human nature ... in order to be a hero in political activities it is necessary to have a perspective, a hope, an idea of a programme. The people who confessed had long ago lost any individual ideas. They had long ago capitulated to the bureaucracy, not once, but many times. Those on trial were isolated from the external world, they were not strong enough theoretically to analyse the situation, they lost every perspective, and it was said that the bureaucracy was victorious and then those on trial said to themselves, what can we do in this situation? Fascism has spread its power over the world, our workers are more or less disillusioned and in a depressed mood, what can we do? We are helpless; we must capitulate before the bureaucracy. They lost the small support they had before.

After their capitulation the bureaucracy said to them, it is not sufficient, friends, your capitulation, you must help us to exterminate totally all opposition. What could they do? If they refused, they were not devoted to the Soviet state and they would be shot. And then the poor isolated men said to themselves: we will sacrifice ourselves. I recognise in my capitulation that the Soviet state, as it is today under Stalin, is the only one hope. I recognise that the Opposition has no perspective, and if I refuse to confess, it would be only because of abstract moral considerations. Then they capitulated morally just as they had done before politically. [20]

To soften Zinoviev, Kamenev and the others, five days before the trial, the government enacted a special law giving the right of appeal to those sentenced to death by a military court for terrorist crimes. Thus a flicker of hope survived in the defendants’ hearts that they would be spared. They also knew that previously the government had granted clemency in trials in which the court had sentenced the accused to death (the Shakhty trial, the ‘Industrial Party’ trial, and the ‘Menshevik Centre’ trial).

However, Stalin again cheated. At 2.30 am, 24 August, the president of the Military Court, V.V. Ulrich, read the verdict condemning all the accused to be shot. The evening of the very same day the following curt official statement was issued and printed in the Soviet press the next day:

The Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR has rejected the appeal for mercy of those condemned by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR on 24 August of this year in the trial of the united Trotskyist-Zinovievist Terrorist Centre. The verdict has been executed.

Further Moscow Trials

FOLLOWING the ‘Trial of the Sixteen’ (Zinoviev and company) held in August 1936, there were three other well-known ones: ‘The Trial of the Seventeen’ (Piatakov, Radek, Sokolnikov, Muralov, Serebriakov and others) in January 1937; the secret trial of Marshal Tukhachevsky and a group of the highest Red Army generals in June 1937; and finally ‘The Trial of the Twenty-One’ (Rykov, Bukharin, Krestinsky, Rakovsky, Yagoda and others) in March 1938. The men in the dock included all the members of Lenin’s Political Bureau except Stalin himself. Trotsky, though absent, was the chief accused.

If the main theme of the ‘Trial of the Sixteen’ was that the defendants were involved in acts of terrorism against the leaders of the USSR, the ‘Trial of the Seventeen’ put the emphasis on their aim of restoring capitalism through acting as agents of Hitler and the Mikado, for which they offered to yield to Germany the Ukraine, and to Japan the Maritime Province and Amur region. In exchange Hitler would support a Trotsky-Zinoviev government in the USSR. Thus Piatakov stated in the court that Trotsky,

told me that he had conducted rather lengthy negotiations with the Vice-Chairman of the German National-Socialist Party – Hess ... the German fascists promised to adopt a favourable attitude toward the Trotskyite-Zinovievite bloc and to support it if it comes to power either in time of war, or before a war, should it succeed in doing so. [21]

The Jewish Communist Trotsky as Gauleiter of Hitler in the USSR!

Another element in this trial was the accusation that the defendants organised wrecking activities in a large number of enterprises and railways.

As in the ‘Trial of the Sixteen’, here again the only ‘proof of the accusation were the confessions of the defendants. If in the ‘Trial of the Sixteen’ the story of Holtzman meeting Sedov in the non-existent Copenhagen Hotel Bristol had exploded the whole story, this case was shown to he nonsense when it was claimed Piatakov flew to Oslo to meet Trotsky [22]; no flight of a foreign aircraft could have taken place at the time mentioned.

The accusations in the ‘Trial of the Seventeen’, that the Trotskyists were engaged in massive wrecking activities, fill four fifths of the record of the court proceedings.

The bureaucratic mismanagement, the widespread underutilisation of investment, the proliferation of waste, the low quality output, disproportions and bottlenecks in production, etc., inherent in the Stalinist bureaucratic state capitalist regime, were attributed to the wrecking activities of Trotskyist agents. As a matter of fact the report of the court proceedings of the ‘Trial of the Seventeen’ gives a very colourful description of the mismanagement of the economy under Stalin; industrial managers, including ministers, are scapegoated for it. The following describes an example of wrecking activities: I.A. Knyazev, chief of the South Urals railways, gave a very long list of Trotskyists who were carrying out sabotage on the railways. [23]

Member of the Court Rychkov: How many train wrecks were engineered by the Trotskyite organisation under your leadership?

Knyazev: From thirteen to fifteen train wrecks were organised directly by us.

... the increase in train wrecks was undoubtedly connected with the wrecking activities of the Trotskyite organisation in the other branches of industry as well. I remember in 1934 there were altogether about 1,500 train wrecks and accidents. [24]

These confessions of sabotage boiled down to a description of the really sorry state of the bureaucratically managed economy. As Trotsky put it in his evidence to the Dewey Commission, the counter-trial sitting in Mexico in April 1937:

The world learned, from the indictment and the proceedings, that all Soviet industry was virtually in the control of ‘a handful of Trotskyites’. Nor were matters any better as regards transportation. But of what did the Trotskyite acts of sabotage really exist? In Piatakov’s confessions, corroborated by the testimony of his former subordinates who sat beside him on the prisoners’ bench, it was revealed that: (a) plans for new factories were too slowly drafted, and revised time and again; (b) the construction of factories took far too long, and caused the immobilisation of colossal sums; (c) enterprises were put into operation in an unfinished state and consequently were quickly ruined; (d) there were disproportions among the various sections of new plants, with the result that the productive capacity of the factories was reduced in the extreme; (e) the plants accumulated superfluous reserves of raw materials and supplies, thus transforming living capital into dead capital; (f) supplies were widely squandered, etc. All these phenomena, long known as the chronic diseases of Soviet economic life, are now put forward as the fruits of a malicious conspiracy which Piatakov led – naturally, under my orders. However, it remains perfectly incomprehensible what, while all this went on, was the role of the state organs of industry and finance, and of the accounting authorities, not to speak of the Party, which has its nuclei in all institutions and enterprises. If one believes the indictment, the leadership of the economy was not in the hands of the ‘genial, infallible leader’, nor in the hands of his closest collaborators, the members of the Politburo and of the Government, but in the hands of an isolated man, already nine years in banishment and exile ...

The ‘Trotskyites’, we are told at every step, constitute an insignificant handful, isolated from and hated by the masses. It is for this very reason that they allegedly resorted to the methods of individual terror. The picture alters completely, however, when we come to sabotage. To be sure, a single man can throw sand into a machine or blow up a bridge. But in the court we hear of such methods of sabotage as would he possible only if the entire administrative apparatus were in the hands of the saboteurs. [25]

Piatakov, Serebriakov, Muralov, Drobnis and another nine were condemned to death while three defendants, including Sokolnikov and Radek were condemned to ten years’ imprisonment and another defendant to eight years.

The Trial of the Generals

TOWARDS THE end of May 1937 the GPU announced that they had uncovered a conspiracy at the head of which stood Marshal Tukhachevsky, the Deputy Commissar of Defence, the moderniser and actual Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army. Also involved in the conspiracy were the outstanding Generals Iakir, Uborevich, Eideman, Kork, Putna, Feldman and Priakov, together with General Gamernik, Chief Political Commissar of the Red Army. The trial took place in camera, and no particulars are known except for the verdict. With the exception of Gamernik, who committed suicide, all the rest were executed. Of the four Marshals whose signatures appeared under the death sentence, Voroshilov, Budienny, Blücher and Yegorov, the last two were shortly to face the firing squad.

This was followed by widespread purges of the armed forces. Roy Medvedev records the scale of the purges in the armed forces:

3 of the 5 marshals, 3 of the 4 first-rank army commanders, all 12 of the second-rank army commanders, 60 of the 67 corps commanders, 136 of 199 division commanders, and 221 of 397 brigade commanders, both first-rank fleet admirals ... , both second-rank fleet admirals, all 6 first-rank admirals, 9 of the 15 second-rank admirals, both first-rank army commissars, all 15 second-rank army commissars, 25 of the 28 corps commissars, 79 of the 97 division commissars, and 34 of the 36 brigade commissars. There were also huge losses among the field-grade and junior officers. The shocking truth can be stated quite simply: never did the officer staff of any army suffer such great losses in any war as the Soviet Army suffered in this time of peace. [26]

The Trial of the Twenty-One

FINALLY, IN March 1938 came the last of the much-trumpeted Moscow Trials – that of Rykov, Bukharin, Krestinsky, Rakovsky, Yagoda and others. They were charged with belonging to a conspiratorial group named ‘The Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’.

This trial was largely a copy of the ‘Trial of the Seventeen’ and the ‘Trial of the Sixteen’. As in the previous trials, Trotsky was again the main accused. But this time his criminal career started much earlier than previously suspected. Thus the indictment states:

The investigation has definitely established that Trotsky has been connected with the German intelligence service since 1921, and with the British Intelligence Service since 1926. [27]

Krestinsky stated in the court:

In 1921 Trotsky told me to take advantage of a meeting with Seeckt [Chief of the General Staff of the German army] during official negotiations to propose to him, to Seeckt that he grant Trotsky a regular subsidy for the development of illegal Trotskyite activities; at the same time he told me that, if Seeckt would put up a counter-demand that we render him services in the sphere of espionage, we should and may accept it. I shall speak later about the conversation I had with Trotsky when he gave me these instructions. I put the question before Seeckt and named the sum of 250,000 gold marks, that is $60,000, a year. [28]

Trotsky at the height of his power, after winning the civil war, together with Lenin heading the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Comintern, becomes an agent of impoverished and defeated Germany, and all this for the paltry sum of 250,000 gold marks, or $60,000 a year!

According to the evidence of Rakovsky, Trotsky headed a ‘school of espionage, wrecking, treason, terrorism. We were the vanguard of foreign aggression, of international fascism, and not only in the USSR, but also in Spain, China, throughout the world.’ [29]

The court verdict was: Bukharin, Rykov, Yagoda, Krestinsky, Rozengoltz and another thirteen condemned to death. D.D. Pletnev was condemned to 25 years’ imprisonment, Rakovsky to 20 years and S.A. Bessonov to 15 years.

The ‘Trial of the Twenty-One’ was the last show trial in the series that started with the assassination of Kirov. By the beginning of 1939 the purges had come to an end.

By the way, it is interesting that among all the documents of the Nuremberg Trial of the Nazi leaders after the war, not a single one contained as much as a hint of the alleged ties with the Trotskyists or other opposition Communists.

Elimination of the Old Bolsheviks

STALIN HAD liquidated the Politburo membership, a group which directed the fate of the Russian revolution as well as of the Comintern when Lenin was alive. This body was composed as follows: Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Tomsky, Rykov and Stalin, with Bukharin as candidate. After Lenin died in 1924, Trotsky was persecuted by Stalin and finally assassinated by his agent. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov and Bukharin were executed, while Tomsky committed suicide on the eve of his court case.

In Lenin’s Testament, six men are mentioned: Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and Piatakov, the last two as ‘the most outstanding of the youth’. Four of those mentioned by Lenin were shot by Stalin, and one assassinated by Stalin’s agent.

Again, of all the 21 members of the Central Committee at the time of the revolution, only two survived, Stalin and Aleksandra Kollontai.

But the purges liquidated even recent prominent supporters of Stalin. Of the 139 Central Committee members and candidates elected at the Seventeenth Party Congress (January 1934), only 21, or 15.1 percent, were re-elected at the next Congress (March 1939). Of the 1,966 delegates to the Seventeenth Congress, 1,108, or 56.4 percent, were shot over the next few years. [30]

By Trotsky’s calculation, all regional party secretaries were removed and replaced by the end of 1937. [31]

But this was only the tip of the iceberg. As Roy Medvedev sums up:

the NKVD arrested and killed, within two years, more Communists than had been lost in all the years of the underground struggle, the three revolutions, and the Civil war. [32]

Roy Medvedev also writes the following:

In 1936-39, on the most cautious estimates, four to five million people were subjected to repression for political reasons. At least four to five hundred thousand of them – above all the high officials – were summarily shot; the rest were given long terms of confinement. In 1937-38 there were days when up to a thousand people were shot in Moscow alone. These were not streams, these were rivers of blood, the blood of honest Soviet people. The simple truth must be stated: not one of the tyrants and despots of the past persecuted and destroyed so many of his compatriots. [33]

In the Jacobin terror, according to the calculation of an American historian, 17,000 people were sent to the guillotine by revolutionary tribunals. Approximately the same number were condemned without a trial or died in prison. [34]

The number of people in the Gulags rose very swiftly. According to S. Swianiewicz [35], the labour force of the Gulags was:












(These figures of the Gulag labour force are inflated. Compare them with the figures given in Chapter 1, subheading Forced Labour.)

At the beginning of the purges Stalin uttered his famous phrase: ‘Life has become better, Comrades. Life has become more joyful.’ [36]

The historical role of the bloody purges

WHEN THE state is the repository of the means of production, when it dominates all economic, social and political activities, it is of necessity bound to attract every criticism existing in society. The state as organiser of social production becomes responsible for all failures in production, the natural butt for all discontent, the focus of social unrest. Hence the state can be either consistently democratic, or if not it has to be a strong state rising above all criticism; it has to be a totalitarian state.

When such a state, under intense pressure from world capitalism, attempts rapid industrialisation in order to catch up with rivals whose economic development is far more advanced and so has to extract a massive surplus from the labouring classes, this totalitarianism assumes monstrous proportions. This was the pattern both in Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China during its Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, as well as other lesser Stalinist states. But when, as in the Khrushchev era, the process of industrialisation is essentially complete and the emphasis shifts from quantitative to qualitative development, the need for terror declines while the basically totalitarian character of the state remains.

The First Five-Year Plan, by getting rid of private farming and the NEPmen, opened the door to such a state. The forced mass collectivisation introduced massive terror, far greater than had been seen hitherto, into the social organism.

The maladministration of the economy, the waste, the disproportions between different branches of the economy, different factories, the low utilisation of capital invested, the extremely poor quality of the products, the sacrifices, the poverty side by side with economic and social privileges – all created great tensions in society between workers and management, workers and the state, and between different sections of the bureaucracy. In an article entitled Industrial Sabotage, written on 26 January 1937, Trotsky explained that Stalin was looking for a scapegoat for his and the bureaucracy’s mismanagement of the economy.

Any opposition to the system of work under which men are toiling is labelled sabotage by the bureaucracy. Inadequate training of engineers and workers, itself a reflection of over-eagerness to obtain huge returns on investments, has led to the deterioration of machinery, explosions in mine tunnels, numerous railroad accidents, and every kind of mishap and accident. It becomes crystal clear that all these phenomena greatly sharpen discontent among the working masses and that the bureaucracy will need a scapegoat for every crime it commits.

The GPU has distributed the catastrophes among the various defendants. In this way, the responsibility for the crimes of the bureaucracy ... once again falls on the shoulders of Trotskyism. [37]

Donald Filtzer describes the triangle formed by Stalin, the industrial managers and the workers thus:

Industrial managers, of course, were among the main beneficiaries of the Stalinist system and provided – together with the party bureaucracy – its main social support. Perhaps precisely for this reason they were easy scapegoats. To attack them had obvious political advantages: it fostered the illusion that the regime was defending the workers against the abuses of their superiors, whose motivations and loyalty to the ‘workers’ state’ were always officially suspect; while at the same time it never threatened the position of managers as a group within the emerging elite, even though the personal fortunes of individual managers could oscillate wildly. [38]

Industrial ministers, local state officials, factory managers, had to be blamed for all the difficulties: the Leader had to be raised to high Olympus.

The mass purges eliminated the great majority of industrial managers. As Roy Medvedev states:

In 1940, of 151 directors of large enterprises in the Commissariat of Ferrous Metallurgy, 62 had worked less than a year, 55 from one to two years; of 140 chief engineers, 56 had worked for less than a year. For the sake of comparison, we should note 1935, when only five directors in the entire system under the Commissariat of Heavy Industry were replaced, and only one chief engineer in Ferrous Metallurgy. [39]

Again, of railway employees in key positions on 13 November 1938, only 24 percent had been holding them for a year or more. [40]

The immediate, direct impact of the purges on industrial production in the years 1937-1940 was very severe indeed. [41]

The regime needed the purges. The person who singles out its victims and chooses their successors in office must himself be beyond its reach. He has also to be the arbiter between different sections of the bureaucracy. With power to confer life and death, while himself outside the scope of the purge, the position of the man-God is complete.

The association of Trotsky with fascism was necessary because discontented workers quite often identified with Trotsky. Thus Merle Fainsod in Smolensk under Soviet Rule quotes from captured GPU documents cases when even in 1936-37, at the height of the purges, workers expressed sympathy with Trotsky, and this occurred in the Smolensk province where Trotskyism was never very popular. To give a few examples:

The Trotskyist organisation in the USSR was effectively liquidated by the GPU. There did not even exist organised local Trotskyist groups. However, the anger and resentment against inequality, against the privileges of the bureaucracy and the suffering of the masses expressed itself in widespread, though ambivalent, sympathy for Trotsky. The Moscow trials, by their identification of Trotsky with the Gestapo, aimed to put an end to this. The heavy boot had to stamp on the symbol of resistance, to denigrate it, to abuse it. Elsewhere I wrote:

The Moscow trials were the civil war of the bureaucracy against the masses, a war in which only one side was armed and organised. They witnessed the consummation of the bureaucracy’s total liberation from popular control. [48]

Stalin crushed the people and now with the purges he was terrifying the bureaucracy itself. The bureaucracy saw in Stalin the defender of its interests against the people and therefore supported him, while resenting his whip and the way he rode roughshod over them. The purges of 1936-38 put the seal on Stalin’s supremacy over the masses and over the bureaucracy.

The terror reflected the social tensions created by the forced industrialisation and made possible the replacement of the Old Bolsheviks (of all political colours) with a new generation of bureaucrats moulded in the Stalin era. The Bolsheviks who had been shaped in the struggle against Tsarism and who led the October Revolution and the civil war were liquidated. As Trotsky put it in his article Stalinism or Bolshevism, written on 29 August 1936, just after the ‘Trial of the Sixteen’:

The present purge draws between Bolshevism and Stalinism not only a bloody line but a whole river of blood. The elimination of the entire old generation of Bolsheviks, an important part of the middle generation, which participated in the civil war, and that part of the youth which took seriously the Bolshevik traditions, shows not only a political but a thoroughly physical incompatibility between Bolshevism and Stalinism. [49]

The purges completely destroyed the continuity of the revolutionary tradition and created an intellectual vacuum that would prove very difficult to fill even after Stalinism was overthrown in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The purges were also used to discredit Trotsky internationally as an agent of Hitler and the Mikado, thus putting great obstacles in the path of building the Fourth International. In his last plea at the ‘Trial of the Seventeen’ Radek warned the Trotskyists of Spain, France and other countries:

... we must say to the Trotskyite elements in France, Spain and other countries – and there are such – that the experience of the Russian revolution has shown that Trotskyism is a wrecker of the labour movement. We must warn them that if they do not learn from our experience, they will pay for it with their heads. [50] [2*]

The Moscow trials were the springboard for the launching of the Stalin cult. It was then that it took the most extreme, Byzantine forms. Cities and towns were called after him: in 1937 there were one Stalingrad, 10 Stalinos, 4 Stalinskis, 2 Stalinskoes, 2 Stalinsks, 1 Stalinogorsk, 1 Stalin, 1 Stalinstadt, 1 Stalinabad, 1 Stalinissi, 1 Stalinir, and others.

It was just days after the ‘Trial of the Sixteen’ that the following song appeared in Pravda:

O great Stalin, O leader of the peoples,
Thou who broughtest man to birth,
Thou who fructifiest the earth,
Thou who restorest the centuries,
Thou who makest bloom the spring,
Thou who makest vibrate the musical cords.

Thou, splendour of my spring, O Thou,
Sun reflected by millions of hearts ... [55]

Trotsky fights the avalanche of slander

THE MONSTROUS lies, the most blatant self-accusations, the chorus of confessions, were like an unstoppable avalanche. Trotsky stood courageously, unhesitatingly against the bloody madness of the Moscow trials. However, from the start his hands were tied.

On 26 August 1936, a day after the end of the ‘Trial of the Sixteen’, two Norwegian senior police officers called on Trotsky to tell him, on the order of the Ministry of Justice, that he had offended against the terms of his residence permit. The Soviet government threatened Norway with economic reprisals if Trotsky continued his stay in the country. Trygve Lie, Minister of Justice in the Norwegian Labour government, demanded a written declaration from Trotsky to the effect that henceforth he would refrain from writing about current affairs. Trotsky flatly refused. Thereupon the police put him under house arrest, forbade him to make any statement for publication, and four weeks later interned him. While hideous lies were told about him, he was unable to reply. Van Heijenoort, Trotsky’s secretary at the time, wrote:

In order to refute the false accusations hurled at him from Moscow, Trotsky undertook, through his two lawyers, to institute proceedings in two or three European countries against the official Communist publications that had reproduced the calumnies. But on October 29 a special decree of the Norwegian government forbade an ‘internal alien’ from undertaking any court proceedings. [56]

The forced silence must have been an excruciating experience. The Stalinists made the most of the silence. Barely a fortnight after Trotsky’s confinement, Vyshinsky pointed out in Bolshevik that Trotsky evidently had nothing to say in self-defence, or otherwise he would have spoken out. [57]

Sedov stepped into the gap. Accustomed to keep himself in his father’s shadow, he came forward and wrote brilliantly for the occasion. Within a few weeks of the ‘Trial of the Sixteen’ he published his Livre Rouge sur le procés de Moscou, a brilliant factual refutation of the charges and an analysis of the social-political forces motivating Stalin to indulge in the trials.

What a relief it was for his father. Four days after Sedov’s death on 16 February 1938, Trotsky wrote:

my wife and I were captives in Norway, bound hand and foot, targets of the most monstrous slander. There are certain forms of paralysis in which people see, hear, and understand everything but are unable to move a finger to ward off mortal danger. It was to such political paralysis that the Norwegian ‘socialist’ government subjected us. What a priceless gift to us, under these conditions, was Leon’s book, the first crushing reply to the Kremlin falsifiers ... I became completely engrossed. Each succeeding chapter seemed to me better than the last. ‘Good boy, Levusyatka!’ my wife and I said. ‘We have a defender!’ How his eyes must have glowed with pleasure as he read our warm praise! Several newspapers, in particular the central organ of the Danish Social Democracy, said with assurance that I apparently had, despite the strict conditions of internment, found the means of participating in the work which appeared under Sedov’s name, ‘One feels the pen of Trotsky ...’ All this is – fiction. In the book there is not a line of my own. Many comrades who were inclined to regard Sedov merely as ‘Trotsky’s son’ – just as Karl Liebknecht was long regarded only as the son of Wilhelm Liebknecht – were able to convince themselves, if only from this little book, that he was not only an independent but an outstanding figure. [58]

In December 1936 Mexico granted Trotsky asylum. On the nineteenth of that month the petrol tanker Ruth sailed from Norway with Trotsky, Natalia and their police escort as the only passengers for Mexico, arriving on 9 January 1937. On the high seas on his way to Mexico, Trotsky was at last able to begin assembling his written refutation of the charges in the ‘Trial of the Sixteen’. It was not until he reached Mexican soil that he was able to begin organising public sentiment for the creation of an international commission of enquiry to hear his side of the story and pass judgment on the guilt or innocence of the accused in the Moscow trials. Now, for eighteen months, he had to deal with repellent filth. On 23 August 1936 he wrote: ‘Now I have to spend time on the most disgusting slanders and false accusations. There is nothing to be done about it.’ [59]

Hundreds of thousands of words emanated from his pen. To expose the falsity of the trial, Trotsky repeatedly demanded that the Soviet Government bring extradition proceedings against him, which would have necessitated their making a case in a Norwegian or Mexican court.

On 9 February 1937 Trotsky prepared a speech for delivery by direct telephone wire from Mexico City to the Hippodrome in New York, where a large audience awaited the sound of his voice. An unexplained hitch in the transmission lines prevented a good connection. Though he was not heard that night his speech was recorded. In it he said:

Why does Moscow so fear the voice of a single man? Only because I know the truth, the whole truth. Only because I have nothing to hide. Only because I am ready to appear before a public and impartial commission of inquiry with documents, facts, and testimonies in my hands, and to disclose the truth to the very end. I declare: if this commission decides that I am guilty in the slightest degree of the crimes that Stalin imputes to me, I pledge in advance to place myself voluntarily in the hands of the executioners of the GPU. That, I hope, is clear. Have you all heard? I make this declaration before the entire world. I ask the press to publish my words in the furthest corners of our planet. But if the commission establishes – do you hear me? – that the Moscow trials are a conscious and premeditated frame-up, constructed with the bones and nerves of human beings, I will not ask my accusers to place themselves voluntarily before a firing squad. No, the eternal disgrace in the memory of human generations will be sufficient for them! Do the accusers of the Kremlin hear me? I throw my defiance in their faces. And I await their reply! [60]

Trotsky made great efforts to set up Commissions of Inquiry in various countries to pass judgment on the accusations brought against him in Moscow. His efforts, however, bore practically no fruit. Sedov approached Friedrich Adler, the Secretary of the Second International, who wrote a pamphlet describing the Moscow Trials as medieval witch hunts. However, Adler could not convince the leaders of the International to take part in an inquiry or counter trial.

The International was very much under the influence of Leon Blum, who as head of the French Popular Front government, depended on Stalinist support. The Amsterdam Trade Union International also refused to participate in any commission of inquiry. The response from the intellectuals was no better. In France, Spain, Britain and the United States they were very much under Stalinist influence. Isaac Deutscher writes:

From Moscow, where the flower of Russian literature and art was being exterminated, the voices of Gorky, Sholokhov and Ehrenburg could be heard joining in the chorus that filled the air with the cry, ‘Shoot the mad dogs!’ In the West literary celebrities like Theodore Dreiser, Leon Feuchtwangler, Barbusse, and Aragon echoed the cry; and a man like Romain Rolland, the admirer of Ghandi, the enemy of violence, the ‘humanitarian conscience’ of his generation, used his sweetly evangelical voice to justify the massacre in Russia and extol the master hangman ... Where Gorky and Rolland gave the cue, hosts of minor humanitarians and moralists followed suit with little or no scruple ... In the United States, for instance, they declared a boycott on the Commission of Inquiry set up under John Dewey’s auspices. They warned ‘all men of good will’ against assisting the Commission, saying that critics of the Moscow trials were interfering in domestic Soviet affairs, giving aid and comfort to fascism, and ‘dealing a blow to the forces of progress.’ The manifesto was signed by Theodore Dreiser, Granville Hicks, Corliss Lamont, Max Lerner, Raymond Robins, Anna Louise Strong, Paul Sweezy, Nathaniel West, and many professors and artists, quite a few of whom were to be in the forefront of the anti-communist crusades of the nineteen-forties and nineteen-fifties. Louis Fischer and Walter Duranty, popular experts on Soviet affairs, vouched for Stalin’s integrity, Vyshinsky’s veracity, and the GPU’s humane methods in obtaining confessions from Zinoviev, Kamenev, Piatakov and Radek. [61]

In Britain Bernard Shaw, along with Sidney and Beatrice Webb were apologists for the Moscow trials. H.G. Wells, whose first impulse was to support the counter-trial decided in the end to keep aloof. The Moscow trial was also supported by the Left non-CP papers, like Tribune and New Statesman. The Observer wrote: ‘It is futile to think the trial was staged and the charges trumped up. The government case against the defendants is genuine.’ [62] Even the ILP took a very equivocal position on the Moscow trials. [63]

At last on 10 April 1937 a Commission of Inquiry was assembled, chaired by John Dewey, America’s leading philosopher and educationist. The Commission proceedings lasted a full week and took up thirteen long sessions. John Dewey, John F. Finerty (former counsel for Saccho and Vanzetti and also for Tom Mooney, now acting as counsel for the Dewey Commission), Albert Goldman, Trotsky’s lawyer and others, cross-examined Trotsky on every detail of the charges brought in the Moscow trials. At times the cross-examination turned into a political dispute, when some of the examiners ascribed to Bolshevism the responsibility for Stalinism, and Trotsky refuted these aspersions. There was not a single question he tried to avoid.

During the long examination Trotsky went through his basic ideas on Soviet affairs and the international communist movement. His closing speech covers 126 pages, about 60,000 words. This was especially impressive as he chose to speak English, a language he was far less fluent in than German or French, not to say Russian. He ended with a paean to the October revolution and communism:

The experience of my life, in which there has been no lack either of successes or of failures, has not only not destroyed my faith in the clear, bright future of mankind, but, on the contrary, has given it an indestructible temper. This faith in reason, in truth, in human solidarity, which at the age of eighteen I took with me into the workers’ quarters of the provincial Russian town of Nikolaev – this faith I have preserved fully and completely. It has become more mature, but not less ardent. [64]

Dewey at first intended to have a summing up of his own at the end of the inquiry. But he changed his mind after hearing Trotsky’s closing speech. ‘Anything I can say,’ he said, ‘will be an anti-climax’. [65]

In September the Dewey Commission concluded its deliberation and passed a verdict: ‘On the basis of all evidence ... we find that the [Moscow] trials of August 1936-January 1937 were frame-ups ... we find Leon Trotsky and Leon Sedov not guilty.’ [66]

Tragically the Dewey Commission Report’s impact was practically nil. It was like taking a pea shooter to shoot an elephant. Typically, seven days after the Dewey Commission verdict, Moscow announced the summary execution of eight people: seven members of the Council of Foreign Affairs, and A.V. Enukidze, for 15 years secretary of the Central Soviet Executive.

However fraudulent and irrational the Moscow trials, it seems a rational argument was not enough to expose them. A massive irrationality, madness, made people on the left everywhere ready to trust Stalin and reject Trotsky, even if the former was spreading monstrous lies and the latter veracity itself.

One can explain rationally why millions of workers and intellectuals and workers round the world believed in Stalin. That does not mean that this belief was rational. Stalinism was a blind faith, practically a religious faith. The victory of Hitler and the agonies gripping millions was the root cause of this faith. Marx’s words about religion aptly describe the dedication of millions to Stalin: ‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.’

In the face of Hitler’s mighty forces only Stalin and the Red Army looked like a realistic alternative. Any criticism of the latter appeared as a stab at the only consolation existing for anti-fascists.

There are situations in which slanders do not stick, but on the contrary boomerang against the slanderers. This was the case in July 1917 when the bourgeois press accused Lenin and Trotsky of being agents of the Kaiser. A rising, confident working class strove for the truth. Now, the far more monstrous lies about Trotsky being an agent of Hitler and the Mikado did stick. The Moscow trials set the seal on the isolation of the Trotskyists and thus added to the sinking of revolutionary hopes in Spain and France.

Trotsky’s family engulfed by the purges

AFTER A SESSION of the Politburo in 1926, in which Trotsky stated that Stalin had finally presented his candidacy for the role of ‘gravedigger of the Party and the revolution’, Piatakov told Trotsky: ‘... he [Stalin] will never forgive you for that – neither you, nor your children, nor your grandchildren.’ Now the prophecy came true. A graphic description of the fate of Trotsky’s family is given in an article by Valery Bronstein, the grandson of Trotsky’s elder brother Alexander, Stalin and Trotsky’s Relatives in Russia. [67]

To recap: Trotsky’s first wife, Alexandra Lvovna Sokolovskaia, was arrested in Leningrad in 1935, exiled to Siberia, and shot in 1938. Trotsky’s elder brother, Alexander, was shot in 1938; he was never involved in any political activity. Trotsky’s younger sister, Olga, was exiled in 1935 and shot in 1941.

Of Alexander’s children: Matilda was sent to a concentration camp where she died in 1952; Boris was shot in 1937; Lev died immediately after returning from the Gulag in Vorkuta – he was never involved in any political activity; Evgenia was exiled to Kazakhstan and died many years later from an illness – she was never involved in any political activity; Anna was exiled to Kazakhstan and survived – she was never involved in any political activity. Trotsky’s elder sister, Elizaveta, died naturally in 1924. Her son Lev was imprisoned, then exiled to Kazakhstan but survived – he was never involved in political activity. The fate of the children of Olga, Trotsky’s younger sister, was as follows: Alexander was shot in 1937, aged 29; Yury was shot in 1936 (aged 20). Both were never involved in political activity.

The fate of Trotsky’s own children, was as follows: Zina, deprived of Soviet citizenship and thus unable to return to her daughter and husband who was incarcerated in a labour camp, committed suicide in 1933. Trotsky’s second daughter, Nina, died from consumption in Moscow in 1927, shortly after her husband was arrested. Trotsky’s youngest son, Sergei, was arrested in 1935 and shot in 1937, aged 29 – he was never involved in political activity. Trotsky’s oldest son, Lev Sedov, was murdered by Stalin’s agents in Paris in 1938 (aged 32).

Of the above fifteen people, only six were ever engaged in political activity. The rest were not saved by the fact that they were not involved. It was enough to be related to Trotsky for Stalin’s revenge to take its toll.

Horror without end!


1*. By the way, N. Lurye manages to get himself sent into Russia by the Gestapo in April 1932, [10] i.e., some eleven months before the Nazis came to power and established the Gestapo!

2*. A large number of Communist leaders living in the USSR were liquidated during the purges: thus the veteran Hugo Eberlein, the German delegate to the founding congress of the Comintern; Heinz Neumann, former member of the KPD’s Politburo; Hermann Remmele, Fritz Schulte and Hermann Schubert, also members of the German KPD Politburo:

Other prominent German victims included Hans Kippenberger, head of the Party’s military apparatus, Leo Flieg, the organisational secretary of its Central Committee, Heinrich Süsskind and Werner Hirsch, editors-in-chief of Rote Fahne, together with four of their assistant editors.

After the Nazi-Soviet pact, in 1939, about 570 German Communists were assembled in the Moscow prisons. A number of them were sentenced by the Russians, but the majority were told that they had been judged by a Special Commission of the NKVD and expelled as undesirable aliens. These German Communists ... included Jews and men especially wanted by the Nazis ... [51]

Many leaders of the Hungarian Communist Party were liquidated, including Bela Kun, the leader of the 1919 Communist revolution in Hungary, and twelve other People’s Commissars of the Hungarian Soviet government. [52]

All twelve members of the leadership of the Polish Communist Party present in the USSR were executed, together with hundreds of other members of the Polish party. [53]

Leaders of the Yugoslav, Finnish and Rumanian Communist Parties were also liquidated. [54]


1. WLT, 1934-35, pp.132-7.

2. N.S. Khrushchev, Secret Address to the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in HM Christman, editor, Communism in Action. A Documentary History, New York 1969, p.177.

3. L. Sedov, The Red Book on the Moscow Trial, London 1980, p.63.

4. Report of the Court Proceedings in the Case of the Trotskyite Zinovievite Terrorist Centre, Moscow 1936, p.164.

5. Ibid., p.170.

6. Ibid., p.172.

7. Ibid., p.100.

8. WLT, 1935-36, p.499.

9. WLT, 1936-37, p.144.

10. Report of the Court Proceedings in the Case of the Trotskyite Zinovievite Terrorist Centre., pp.102-3.

11. W.G. Krivitsky, I was Stalin’s Agent, London 1939, p.212.

12. Pravda, 27 January 1928.

13. Ibid., 11 October 1932.

14. Quoted by Vyshinsky in Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre, pp.135-6.

15. Pravda, 21 August 1936.

16. Semnadtsatii Sezd VKPb, Moscow 1934, p.129.

17. Sedov, pp.37-8.

18. WLT, 1936-37, p.59.

19. Ibid., p.97.

20. Ibid., p.365.

21. Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre, Moscow 1937, p.64.

22. Ibid., p.60.

23. Ibid., p.365.

24. Ibid., p.371.

25. The Case of Leon Trotsky, London 1937, pp.503-5.

26. R. Medvedev, Let History Judge, Nottingham 1972, p.213.

27. Report of the Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet ‘Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’, Moscow 1938, p.6.

28. Ibid., pp.259-60.

29. Ibid., p.296.

30. Khrushchev’s secret speech to the Twentieth Congress.

31. Biulleten Oppozitsii, No.70, October 1938, p.11.

32. R. Medvedev, p.234.

33. Ibid., p.239.

34. Ibid.

35. S. Swianiewicz, Forced Labour and Economic Development, London 1965, pp.36-7.

36. Speech at the First All-Union Conference of Stakhanovites, 17 November 1935, in J. Stalin, Problems of Leninism, Moscow 1953, p.670.

37. WLT, 1936-37, p.150.

38. Filtzer, p.196.

39. Medvedev, p.230.

40. B.G. Katz, A Quantitative Evaluation of the Economic Impact of the Great Purges on the Soviet Union, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Pennsylvania 1973, pp.9-10.

41. Ibid.

42. M. Fainsod, Smolensk under Soviet Rule, London 1959, p.212.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid., p.302.

45. Ibid., p.322.

46. Ibid.

47. Biulleten Oppozitsii, Nos.60-61, December 1937, p.12.

48. Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia, p.195.

49. WLT, 1936-37, p.423.

50. Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre, p.550.

51. R. Conquest The Great Terror, London 1968, pp.576-8.

52. Ibid., pp.579-80.

53. Ibid., p.584.

54. Ibid., pp.581-2.

55. Pravda, 28 August 1936.

56. Van Heijenoort, p.91.

57. Bolshevik, 15 September 1936, in Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, p.343.

58. WLT, 1937-38, p.174.

59. WLT, 1935-36, p.410.

60. Trotsky, I Stake My Life! in Leon Trotsky Speaks, New York 1972, p.280.

61. Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, pp.367-8.

62. The Observer, 23 August 1936, quoted in S. Bornstein and A. Richardson, Against the Stream, London 1986, p.218.

63. Ibid., pp.222-8.

64. The Case of Leon Trotsky, pp.584-5.

65. Ibid., p.585.

66. Not Guilty!, Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Charges made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials.

67. T. Brotherstone and P. Dukes, editors, The Trotsky Reappraisal, Edinburgh 1992, pp.8-15.

Last updated on 5 August 2009