Victor Serge

The Hangman’s Year

(January 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 4, 22 January 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Soviet year 1937 opens in January with the Trial of the Seventeen, the sequel of the Trial of the Sixteen in August 1936. On the First of February several of Lenin’s companions and friends are lowered into their graves, shot in the back of their necks. Among them is the leader of the Ukraine victory of 1918, the great industrializer, Gregory Piatakoff; the leader of three insurrections in Moscow, N. Muraloff; the party founder, Serebriakoff; the director of the chemical industry, Rataichak; Drobnis and Boguslavsky, famous fighters in difficult days ...

The year continues with the execution of eight army chiefs, haloed with the memory of Civil War triumphs: Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Kork, Eideman, Putna ... The year, or rather, the massacre of the founders of the U.S.S.R., continues with the execution of the old Caucasian Bolsheviks Mdivani, Okudjava – and others in Tiflis, Lakoba in Sukhum, still others in Batum. A stream of blood. One thousand two hundred and three executions of People’s Commissars, high functionaries and poor devils – according to the official press – between the middle of August and the middle of November. In November comes the finish of the diplomats: Seven ambassadors disappear all at once, representing the Soviet at Helsingfors, Tallinn, Kaunas, Berlin, Nanking, Bukarest, Warsaw.

We learn of the disappearance of the last among the leaders of the Communist International: Bela Kun, Piatnitsky, Ludwig, Magyar, Valetsky, Felix Wolf, Eberlein, Remmele ... The secret execution of one of the most remarkable theoreticians of Bolshevism, Nikolai Bukharin, appears to be confirmed. Also the secret, entirely mysterious, execution of the former chief of the police forces, the People’s Commissar of the Interior, Stalin’s trusted man, Henry Yagoda. On December 12 takes place the plebiscite organized according to the new Stalinist constitution: 90 million voters vote for the genial leader. A few days pass and the year closes on Christ-mas Eve with a horrible report: eight more executions. Four of those massacred were also fighters from the very first days and founders of the regime, members of the government only the day before. It is officially confirmed that Rudzutak, a member of the Political Bureau to this day, has been declared an enemy of the people and is doomed to the same fate ... A frightful year. Indeed, a year for the hangman ...

Karakhan has been shot. I knew it; I made it public more than a month ago. The official communique admits it on December 20. Karakhan: one of the insurgents of October 1917, plenipotentiary of the Soviets at Brest-Litovsk in 1918, later ambassador to Peking, more recently ambassador to Ankara ... Orekhalashvilli is shot. One of the builders of the Bolshevik party in 1903, a fighter in the 1905 revolution, vice-president of the Transcaucasian Council of People’s Commissars, a member of the Central Committee of the party ... Sheboldayev is shot, a soldier in the Civil War, a member of the Central Committee, one of the most ruthless leaders of the forced collectivization – ordered by Stalin – in the Caucasus.

Shoots Boyhood Friend

Aveli Yenukidze is shot. He too, was a founder of the Bolshevik party in the Caucasus; a boyhood friend of Stalin’s, once exiled to Siberia with him. Secretary of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, placed at this post through Lenin’s confidence in him, from 1918 to 1934. Known for his firmness, his trustworthiness, his good nature, his great culture. Suddenly removed in 1934. Apropos his case, I wrote only a year ago:

“The proscriptions have their logic. The whole October generation must be outlawed. Whatever its last representatives may be made to do, to say and to write, words no longer count. Stalin knows that these men may some day take hold of themselves again and that, in their heart of hearts, they are his implacable judges ... Now we understand the bizarre Yenukidze affair of 1935 and the dissolution, at the same time, of the Society of Old Bolsheviks. The Secretary of the Bureau of the Executive of the Soviets, devoted though he was to Stalin, might have hesitated to reject the appeal for pardon of the Sixteen. The Old Bolsheviks might have muttered against the decapitation of the old party.” (Russia Twenty Yeats After, pp. 253–254)

Purge Goes On

The Old Bolsheviks don’t mutter any longer: they are dead.

A few days after the elections of December 12 (if one can speak of elections when only official candidates are presented) several of the candidates – the official candidates – and members of the government, to boot, suddenly disappear: among them are the Mezhlauk brothers, Ivan and Valery, fighters of 1918 in the Volga region; one of them only recently the People’s Commissar for Heavy Industry and Chairman of the State Planning Commission; the other, the director of the institutions of higher education; and the chief of the air forces of the U.S.S.R., General Alksnis, together with Admiral Orloff (also disappeared, for more than a month now) one of the signatories of Marshal Tukhachevsky’s death sentence. Alksnis is believed to have been shot, as well as the pioneer in Soviet aircraft, Engineer Tupoloff.

Of the members of the government commission which elaborated the new constitution, the most prominent are gone. Thirty candidates – approximately – disappeared in the course of their candidacy. The chief has also taken precautions to make plain that the purge is to continue after the elections and that no sort of immunity is to spare those elected – although one of the most numerous groups of the deputies of the two Soviet chambers is that of the high police functionaries (some 60) ...

No regime in modern history has unleashed such a reign of destruction against its own leading elite. What price will history demand one day for these hecatombs?

Last updated on 18 April 2015