MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Events



Moscow Trials

Conducted between 1936-1938 were the prolonged blood purges and frame-up trials through which Stalin consolidated his personal terroristic tyranny over the Soviet Union.

Stalin's followers staged four key trials from 1936 to 1938.

The first was the “trial of the sixteen”, with Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, Mrachkovsky, and others as defendants; the second, "the trial of the seventeen," which included Pyatakov, Radek, Sokolnikov, Muralov, Serebryakov, and others, took place in January 1937. Then came 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 Politbureau, except Stalin himself. Trotsky, though absent, was the chief defendant in these proceedings. He and the Bolshevik old guard were charged with plotting to assassinate Stalin and other Soviet leaders, of conspiring to wreck the country's economic and military power, and of killing masses of Russian workers. They were likewise accused of working, from the earliest days of the Russian Revolution, for the espionage services of Britain, France, Japan, and Germany and of making secret agreements with agents of Hitler and the Mikado to cede vast slices of Soviet territory to imperialist Germany and Japan. The defendants in Moscow abjectly confessed to their guilt; Trotsky alone did not.

The trials of these notables were accompanied and followed by a frightful purge of people from every walk of Soviet life: party members, military men, Comintern leaders, intellectuals, officials, ordinary workers and peasants. It is still undetermined how many were caught in its bloody net, since the post-Stalin regimes still refuse to divulge such facts. But the victims numbered in the millions.

Stalin did not spare his closest associates or members of his own family. Even the secret police chiefs, Yagoda and Yezhov, who organized the early trials, were later slaughtered.

Stalin arrested and executed almost every important living Bolshevik participant in the Revolution. Of 1,966 delegates to the seventeenth Soviet party congress in 1934, 1,108 were arrested. Of 139 members of the Central Committee, 98 were arrested. Along with the three Soviet marshals, one-third to one-half of the 75,000 Red Army officers were arrested or shot.

The purges of the nineteen-thirties were so sweeping that no major party figure of the October Revolution, which gave power to the working-class through it's soviets or workers councils, survived to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the event, except Stalin's faithful lieutenant, Vyacheslav Molotov, who was retired in disgrace in 1958. The terror has left enduring scars upon Soviet and Russian society. There are few families there today which did not in one way or another suffer from its effects.