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International Socialist Review, Fall 1964


Dick Roberts

Purge and Rehabilitation in the Soviet Union


From International Socialist Review, Vol.25 No.4, Fall 1964, pp.125-126.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


On June 12, 1937, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Chief of Staff of the Red Army, and seven other generals, were executed after a secret trial. Before them Zinoviev, Kamenev, Pyatakov, and Radek had fallen victim to Stalin’s bloody purge; after, Bukharin and ... Trotsky. Perhaps as many as 35,000 officers of the army were “liquidated.” The estimated total of those imprisoned during the purges reaches the fantastic figure of 8,000,000. [1]

In view of the awesome toll of Stalin’s purges, it may seem somewhat out of proportion to deal at length with the circumstances of a single frame-up, even that of a Tukhachevsky. The extent to which these trials changed the course of history is incalculable. At the least, they rendered the Soviet Union nearly defenseless before Hitler [2]; and they destroyed her revolutionary cadre. The frightful toll would seem to make the execution of a single individual almost inconsequential.

It is nevertheless instructive to note with what care Leon Trotsky focused his attention on each episode, each assassination, trial or disappearance, and every move of the Stalinist bureaucracy through the entire course of the purges. It was Trotsky’s task to pillory in detail the lies and treacheries of international Stalinism, to warn the world working class of the precise nature of the counterrevolution as it took place; and this operation he accomplished with the precision of a master surgeon.

There is not a little irony in the comparison between Trotsky’s careful dissection of each case, and Khrushchev’s “rehabilitations” which can resolve thousands of cases in a trifling sentence at a Moscow party meeting. In fact, a reexamination of the anatomy of a purge has particular significance at the present time precisely in the context of the Kremlin “de-Stalinization.” It offers a striking measure of Moscow’s half-hearted attempt, after more than twenty years, to bring the truth of Stalin’s purges to light.


Marshal Tukhachevsky was “rehabilitated” at the 22nd Party Congress, in October, 1961. In two brief paragraphs in his final speech to the congress, Nikita Khrushchev accomplished this act of divine resurrection:

“We have heard with sorrow of the eminent political and Party men who died without being in any way culpable. Leading officers such as Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Uborevitch, Kork, Yegorov, Eidemann and others fell victim. These were not ordinary officers. As a result, Blucher and other leading military men also became victims.

“A curious piece of information has appeared in the foreign press according to which Hitler, while preparing to attack us, circulated by means of his secret service a document, forged throughout, according to which Yakir, Tukhachevsky and the others were agents of the German General Staff. This was sent to the President of Czecho-Slovakia who, in turn and undoubtedly with good intentions, sent it to Stalin. Yakir, Tukhachevsky and the others were arrested and done away with.”

One must have to be some kind of Kremlinologist to figure out exactly what implications, in this second paragraph, are intended. Note that Khrushchev does not deny the validity of the “curious piece of information.” It seems, in fact, that Khrushchev expected his audience to accept without question the probability that Stalin, receiving some sort of counterfeit document from the Gestapo through Benes, simply took it for good coin and executed his top ranking generals.

The “curious piece of information” quite probably refers to a series of articles on the Tukhachevsky frame-up which were printed in the Giornale d’ltalia in 1960, by Victor Alexandrov, a Russian-born journalist. Alexandrov’s articles were published in France, in 1962, and a translation has appeared this year, published by Prentice-Hall. [3] In these articles, Alexandrov traces in detail the circumstances leading to Tukhachevsky’s execution; but Alexandrov does not leave the frame-up simply in the hands of the Gestapo. It is Alexandrov’s thesis that Stalin, not Hitler, originated the frame-up of the army generals.

Role of the White Guard



Throughout the period, Stalin’s secret police worked in close cooperation with the White Army exiles living in Europe. “The active utilization of White Guard officers has become a general method of the GPU abroad ...,” Trotsky wrote in 1937. “The kidnapping of General Mueller was committed in order to replace him with General Skoblin, an old agent of the GPU, and in this way to have the free disposition of the whole Union of the White Army.” (Socialist Appeal, October 30, 1937)

It is Alexandrov’s contention that Stalin, through Skoblin, initiated contact with the Gestapo, and that the Gestapo willingly cooperated in the preparation of forged letters of the German General Staff to Tukhachevsky. The letters, again through Skoblin, were passed on to Czechoslovak President Beneš, who, as Khrushchev commented, “undobutedly with good intentions,” forwarded them to Stalin.

With such “evidence” in hand, Stalin wiped out his general staff.

Between Alexandrov and Khrushchev, it is impossible to escape either of two conclusions: Either Stalin consciously framed Tukhachevsky with the intermediary of the White Guard and Hitler; or Hitler framed Tukhachevsky with the intermediary of the White Guard and Stalin. Such a “triple alliance” is of the utmost significance, and highly revelatory of the charcter of Stalin’s maneuvers towards coexistence with the Third Reich.

Even the year 1937, two years before the Stalin-Hitler pact, is not too early a date for this inverted cooperation. Commenting on the Kirov assasination, in 1934, Trotsky wrote,

“The vile amalgam constructed around the ‘consul’ who, apparently, was in the simultaneous employ of three governments, stands today as one of a number of ordinary and normal measures utilized by the Stalinist bureaucracy in the struggle for its caste positions.” (New Militant, April 5, 1935) (Emphasis Added).

Krivitsky’s Story

Nor was Victor Alexandrov the first to level specific accusations against Stalin. Walter Krivitsky, chief of Soviet Military Intelligence in western Europe, defected from Stalin in 1937 and published a series of articles in this country disclosing Stalin’s schemes for preparing an alliance with Hitler. [4] In 1937, Krivitsky contended, “Stalin was confident that the deal with Hitler was as good as consummated ... He now knew that he had no immediate attack to fear from Germany. The road was clear for the purge of the Red Army.” (Reprinted in Socialist Appeal, April 25, 1939) Although Krivitsky had defected before he would have been able to have complete information on the Tukhachevky case, he predicted to a man, the agents whom Alexandrov later labeled as intermediaries in the frame-up. [5]

Krivitsky was “paid off” for his efforts to expose Stalin. February 10, 1941, six months after the assassination of Trotsky, Krivitsky’s dead body was discovered in a Washington hotel – the work, again, of Stalin’s gunmen.

How do Khrushchev’s revelations stack up against the indictments of Trotsky, Krivitsky, and Alexandrov? We might expect, at least, an answer to the charges, if not an admission. The only clarification Khrushchev offers are the cryptic sentences quoted above.

Aragon’s Apology

But perhaps the affairs of the 22nd Congress took precedence over these matters, and further enlightenment awaited the research of Khrushchev’s scholars, the historical experts. With this expectation we turned to the long-awaited new version of the history of the Soviet Union, A History of the USSR from Lenin to Khrushchev, by Louis Aragon. Aragon, “intellectual leader of the French Left and internationally famous as a poet, historian, and novelist ...” [6] winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1957, was hand-picked by the Khrushchevites to accomplish this monumental task. Here is Aragon’s explanation of the Tukhachevsky case:

”Later is was to be said that the arrest and the trial were based upon information given to Stalin by Beneš, and that it was the Sicherheitsdienst of the Nazi party that had thus deprived the Red Army of its best leaders ... Although there are no documents that allow one to suppose that there has been a revision of those trials in which the accused publicly confessed, the verdict on the generals has been officially reversed since 1956 [sic]: Tukhachevsky, Uborevich, Eideman, Yakir, Kork, Primakov, et cetera, are no longer traitors. It may be said that it was Himmler who gained in this affair, but it was Yezhov who set it on foot and who brought about the execution of those men who were to be so tragically missed in the face of the German invaders. Stalin had been perfectly right: at headquarters one can strike a blow that accomplishes more than the heroism of several army corps.” (p.323)

Thus Stalinists write history! Now, according to “expert” Aragon, the accused “publicly confessed!” This is an outright lie – the trials, if there were any, having been kept completely secret. But suppose they had confessed. Their confession, according to Khrushchev’s speech, would have been to a conspiracy with Himmler against Stalin, which Stalin would have learned about in 1937. If we accept this, then Stalin, when he signed the non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939, two years later, would have known that Hitler had framed his best generals.

Incredible to believe is Aragon’s assertion that there are “no documents” to clear this up! But that’s all right, because Aragon, to whom the Soviet archives were made available, assures us that the generals are no longer traitors. In fact, he admits that it was not Himmler, but Yezhov, Stalin’s right hand man, who originated the frame-up. (Stalin had paved the way to Yezhov’s leadership of the GPU by purging the previous GPU head Yagoda.) Finally Stalin, now the philosopher-king according to faithful disciple Aragon, had been “perfectly right.” At headquarters, the elitists (Stalin-Yezhov & Co.) felt a single bureaucrat is worth more than several army corps.

No. There cannot be any illusions about the extent of de-Stalinization. It is not simply that Khrushchev does not want to reveal his own complicity in the purges, which would become apparent in any scrutinization of the records; a thorough examination of the purges would reveal that Stalin had completed a counterrevolution against the Bolsheviks who led the Russian Revolution. The degeneration of a revolutionary Marxist movement to a gang of cloak-and-dagger men, who maneuvered in back alleys to make deals with fascists, was not simply a bureaucratic shift in tactics. It could only be accomplished by destroying physically every last vestige of the great Leninist movement, every man who knew the idea, every man who knew a man who knew the idea ...

The bureaucratic yes-men who emerged from this “schooling” as the leaders of the Soviet state understand well the role they played. There is not a little “curious information” that their hand-picked historians must “fail” to uncover.

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1. This is the considered estimate of Alexander Weissberg, a noted Austrian physicist who was imprisoned in the purges. Other estimates concur with Weissberg. See The Accused, by Alexander Weissberg, trans. Edward Fitzgerald, New York, 1951.

2. The debilitation of the Red Army (arrests of 60-70 percent of the officers, elimination of 90 percent of the generals and 80 percent of the colonels) on the eve of the war allowed Hitler’s troops to run rampant through the country, as far as the Volga, destroying in all nearly 25 percent of the Soviet population – the fruit of just one of Stalin’s innumerable “errors.”

3. The Tukhachevsky Affair, trans. John Hewish, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1964. 201 pp. $4.95.

4. The articles were published in the Saturday Evening Post. See also In Stalin’s Secret Service by W.G. Krivitsky. New York, 1939.

5. In Stalin’s Secret Service, pp. 238-243.

6. Quoted from the inside cover which continues, “[Aragon] has had the full co-operation of the Soviet authorities in writing this arresting reappraisal of Soviet history.” David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1964. 684 pp. $12.00.

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