The Red Book

On the Moscow Trials



Yes, Stalin must have very pressing reasons to begin the proceedings and carry out these assassinations. Reasons of different types, on different levels, but all closely linked. Stalin and his henchmen undoubtedly considered this trial not only a very cunning and clever move, but also the beginning of a new period marking the even greater reinforcement of the power of the Bonapartist [1] bureaucracy and the end of the Opposition. When Trotsky was still in the USSR, in other words in the hands of the Thermidorian clique, Stalin had considered that a meticulously prepared operation, ending in exile, was the best means of ridding himself of an irreconcilable Bolshevik. He was wrong. One does not need to have exceptional insight in order to understand how he is haunted by this mistake. Today, in the face of this ever renewing and ever growing opposition, he coldly orders the shooting of Bolsheviks, former leaders of the Party and the Comintern, and heroes of the Civil War. But here again he is wrong, as he will soon be forced to realize. This terrifying crime, carried out in cold blood, will fall back on the head of its author!

Domestic Political Reasons

Socialism has been constructed, classes have been abolished—proclaims the official Stalinist doctrine. “Socialism has been constructed,” but never before has the Soviet Union known such inequality as now, nearly twenty years after the October revolution: salaries of 100 rubles and salaries of 810,000 rubles. Some live in miserable barracks and walk about in worn-out shoes; others drive luxurious automobiles and live in magnificent apartments. Some struggle to feed themselves and their families; others have not only cars, but servants, country houses in the suburbs of Moscow, villas in the Caucasus, etc. “Classes have been abolished,” but what does the life of a director of a trust have in common with that of a laborer? The life of a marshal with that of a kolkhoznik? [2] Certainly, even today some inequality would still be inevitable, but the whole question is this, that the inequality becomes sharper every year, taking on more and more monstrous proportions, and this is made to pass ... for socialism.

In the most diverse areas, the heritage of the October revolution is being liquidated. Revolutionary internationalism gives way to the cult of the fatherland in the strictest sense. And the fatherland means, above all, the authorities. Ranks, decorations and titles have been reintroduced. The officer caste headed by the marshals has been reestablished. The old communist workers are pushed into the background; the working class is divided into different layers; the bureaucracy bases itself on the “non-party Bolshevik,” the Stakhanovist, that is, the workers’ aristocracy, on the foreman and, above all, on the specialist and the administrator. The old petit-bourgeois family is being reestablished and idealized in the most middle-class way; despite the general protestations, abortions are prohibited, which, given the difficult material conditions and the primitive state of culture and hygiene, means the enslavement of women, that is, the return to pre-October times. The decree of the October revolution concerning new schools has been annulled. School has been reformed on the model of tsarist Russia: uniforms have been reintroduced for the students, not only to shackle their independence, but also to facilitate their surveillance outside of school. Students are evaluated according to their marks for behavior, and these favor the docile, servile student, not the lively and independent schoolboy. The fundamental virtue of youth today is the “respect for one’s elders,” along with the “respect for the uniform.” A whole institute of inspectors has been created to look after the behavior and morality of the youth.

The Association of Old Bolsheviks and that of the former political prisoners has been dissolved. They were too strong a reminder of the “cursed” revolutionary past.

In the economic domain there is a sharp turn to the right: reestablishment of the market, money accounting [3] and piece work. After the administrative abolition of classes, the Stalinist leadership has turned to placing its bet on the well-to-do; it is according to this policy that the differentiation among the kolkhozes as well as inside the kolkhozes takes place.

“Socialism has been constructed.” But there are many prostitutes in the country and prostitution is growing. Most often the prostitute is a poorly paid worker or servant or a former kolkhoz worker driven from her village by hunger. The problem of abandoned children is far from being eliminated.

“Socialism has been constructed”—that is, the state should disappear and, in any case, force should play a smaller and smaller role. What is happening is just the opposite. Never before has repression been so severe and so universal in character, and the repression, directed in the past against the class enemies of the proletariat, is now directed against the proletariat itself, since it is against it that the new ruling social layer, the bureaucracy, defends its material privileges. By legal and illegal means, the bureaucracy appropriates an enormous portion of the national income. It has something to defend! The Soviet bureaucracy, which is getting fatter and more prosperous, furiously defends its privileges, its “easy and happy” life, against the masses who are deprived of any rights.

But at the same time, the material situation of the masses improves, even if extremely slowly and much less rapidly than the inequality increases. This gives them great confidence in themselves, leading not to a strengthening, but to a weakening of the political positions of the bureaucracy. The worker who a few years ago was entirely preoccupied with earning his daily bread, often working 14 and even 16 hours a day, in two shifts, struggled only to satisfy his hunger and to feed his family. The improvement of the economic situation has given him room to breathe and has increased his needs. First he wants to dress better, to have an overcoat, to go to the cinema. But that is only the beginning. The worker then feels the need to read, to attain culture; he begins to think about, or even strives to participate consciously in the process of production, to defend his interests and soon—what a crime!—he wants to take an active part in politics. This, of course, Stalin cannot permit. This is what he mortally fears.

The discontent of the worker, his strivings towards an active political life, his “oppositionist” protests against social inequality, the whole complex of brutal contradictions which tear apart the Soviet state;—this is what Stalin wishes to overcome by police repression! And to give the repression a still more merciless character, he needs “terrorism.” By confusing the masses, by frightening them, Stalin makes his bloody repression easier. Here is what awaits you, says Stalin, pointing to the corpses of Zinoviev and Kamenev, if you permit yourselves to doubt my infallibility, if you do not agree to become mute slaves of the bureaucracy.

If in the past each dissatisfaction, each protest, was labelled “Trotskyism,” Stalin has, by the Moscow murders, identified “Trotskyism” with “terrorism.” Whoever is discontented or simply shows a critical attitude is a “Trotskyist.” Today this means a “terrorist.” He is not threatened with the concentration camp or prison, but with an immediate firing squad.

Stalin is finally taking the road of the universal physical extermination of all the actively dissatisfied and, above all, the Left Oppositionists. As leaders of the struggle against the bureaucracy and the only proletarian revolutionaries having roots in the masses, the Bolshevik-Leninists are the greatest danger to Stalin. In the concentration camps and in solitary confinement, they will be declared “terrorists,” that is, sentenced to be shot. Throughout the USSR now, there are without a doubt “trials” and executions for which the Moscow trial served as a signal. A terrible and frightening reality ...

With the Moscow murders, Stalin lashes out against even his own apparatus, especially against the thin layer of it which is still made up of Old Bolsheviks, for in this part of the apparatus there exists widespread, though concealed, discontent. Having become the blind executor of the orders from the Stalinist summit, the former revolutionary loses all perspective; his rights are reduced to the right to be in ecstasy before the “father of the people.” He, better than most, knows Borgia-Stalin, the perfidious usurper, the cold-blooded assassin, the gravedigger of the revolution. And to keep a firm grip on his own apparatus, at least that part which is still tied by something to the October revolution, there is no longer anything left for Stalin to do but to terrorize it still more.

By means of the Moscow murders, Stalin also wants to politically annihilate the Left Opposition and Trotsky personally. The trial is directed above all against Trotsky, who is the principal defendant, although he is not seated on the defendants’ bench. It is he whom Stalin tries to cover with filth and blood. The resources of journalistic slander and calumny have been exhausted. With the bodies of those who were shot, Stalin wishes to add new weight to the most poisonous, rotten and vile slanders. If he had not shot Zinoviev, Kamenev and the others, the trial would have been exposed as a pitiful comedy, and not as a terrible tragedy. Only after being backed up by the assassinations did the slanders of the Moscow trials take on a new force that made them able to shake world public opinion.

By his executions, Stalin shows and wants to show, that the Bonapartist bureaucracy will stop at nothing in its struggle to keep the power it has usurped and maintain its privileges. The working class must remember it well.

But these assassinations show also how precarious the situation of the bureaucracy is. It is not due to an excess of strength that one goes to such bloody lengths. To consolidate its position, the bureaucracy—Stalin—must lead the country, already completely terrorized, to new and yet unknown forms of monstrous injustice and fierce repression. But this is a dead end. A way out—insofar as it depends upon the bureaucracy—can only be found along the road to a new, even deeper reaction. By the attempt to annihilate Trotsky politically and by the assassinations of old Bolsheviks. Stalin wants to make the road to reaction much more secure for himself.

The danger of war only intensifies the Bonapartist character of Stalinism. In case of imminent war, Stalin is counting not on the initiative and the courage of the working class in struggle for the communist ideal, but on the privileged caste of officers. on the submission of “inferiors.” stripped of every right and driven by fear, to the all-powerful “superiors.”

The execution of the old Bolsheviks—what a prelude to the “most democratic constitution in the world!” Let those who have illusions know—as Stalin would say—that the democracy of the constitution consists in giving the electors and the congresses the right to vote for him. And whoever does not vote for Stalin, that is, for the bureaucracy and its privileges, is a Trotskyist, therefore a terrorist whom we will have shot in 24 hours. The Stalinist constitution is a deceitful cover for the plebiscitary regime. [4]

Perhaps there was one more reason which pushed Stalin to the murder of the old Bolsheviks. It is the bureaucracy’s fear of terrorism, not organized terrorism, as it was represented at the Moscow trial, — nothing of the sort exists in the USSR—but of the isolated terrorists who come From the desperate youth deprived of perspectives. The terrorist tendencies are hardly strong in the USSR. In any case, during the ten years of bureaucratic rule, one political assassination has been carried out by one of these desperate young communists against the Stalinist bosses, the assassination of Kirov. It is much more likely that the bureaucracy artificially blows up this danger, with the aim of justifying and facilitating its repression against heretics and malcontents.

This is how it is inside the country, but outside?

Reasons of Foreign Policy

Stalin not only bloodily breaks with Bolshevism, with all its traditions and its past, he is also trying to drag Bolshevism and the October revolution through the mud. And he is doing it in the interests of world and domestic reaction. The corpses of Zinoviev and Kamenev must show to the world bourgeoisie that Stalin has broken with the revolution, and must testify to his loyalty and ability to lead a nation-state. The corpses of the old Bolsheviks must prove to the world bourgeoisie that Stalin has in reality radically changed his politics, that the men who entered history as the leaders of revolutionary Bolshevism, the enemies of the bourgeoisie,—are his enemies also. Trotsky, whose name is inseparably linked with that of Lenin as the leader of the October revolution, Trotsky, the founder and leader of the Red Army; Zinoviev and Kamenev, the closest disciples of Lenin, one, president of the Comintern, the other, Lenin’s deputy and member of the Politburo; Smirnov, one of the oldest Bolsheviks, conqueror of Kolchak—today they are being shot and the bourgeoisie of the world must see in this the symbol of a new period. This is the end of the revolution, says Stalin. The world bourgeoisie can and must reckon with Stalin as a serious ally, as the head of a nation-state. [5]

Such is the fundamental goal of the trials in the area of foreign policy. But this is not all, it is far from all. The German fascists who cry that the struggle against communism is their historic mission find themselves most recently in a manifestly difficult position. Stalin has abandoned long ago the course toward world revolution. He carries out a national policy which is “reasonable,” the Thermidorian measures follow one after another. It becomes more and more difficult for the fascists and other enemies of communism to represent Stalin, with his “nationalist” IIIrd International, as the source of revolutionary danger and upheavals. Thus they assert with such great insistence the slander that the IVth International is nothing but a branch of the IIIrd, on the basis of a division of labor. Some assist the Thermidorian policies of Stalin in the USSR, others (the IVth International) stir up the fires of revolution in the West; presenting themselves as the enemies of Stalin, they are in fact only his allies. [6]

This gives Stalin an additional argument for carrying out his assassinations and for actually condemning Trotsky to death. Here is the proof that Stalin has nothing in common either with the revolution or with the revolutionary IVth International.

Instead of the international revolution—the League of Nations, the bloc with the bourgeoisie in the framework of the so-called People’s Front, and in France there is the perspective of the French front, that is, the Holy Alliance. [7] No help whatsoever to the Spanish revolutionaries. Long live the Poland of Pilsudski! [8] Without hesitation Stalin would make a pact even with Hitler at the expense of the German and international working class. It only depends on Hitler! All these international policies of Stalinism move and will move the working class further and further away from the parties which for some reason still call themselves communist. In the European working class and in particular among the communist workers, the distrust and discontentedness toward the Stalinist policies are increasing. That in itself would not trouble Stalin very much if he did not fear that the revolutionary workers would find the way to the IVth International; Stalin understands very well how this orientation would constitute a great danger for his policies in the USSR itself. (In this respect, let us say, parenthetically, he is more astute than the narrow-minded critics who consider us “sectarians” without perspectives.) This is why Stalin tries to discredit the IVth International, to annihilate Trotsky politically by accusing him of terrorism and connections with the Gestapo and rendering these accusations “convincing” by the execution of old Bolsheviks ... with blood and filth, Stalin wants to close off to the advanced workers the road to the ranks of the IVth International. This is yet another one of the aims of the Moscow trials.

“Sweet Revenge”

Apart from the political reasons for this affair, there is a purely personal reason. Stalin’s insatiable thirst for revenge. It enters as a factor in all Stalinist affairs. It played no small part in the creation of the latest amalgam.

In one of the last letters which he wrote before his internment in Norway, L.D. Trotsky tells of the following episode:

In 1924 Stalin, Dzerzhinsky [9] and Kamenev were sitting on a summer night around a bottle of wine (I don’t know if it was the first) and chatting about various trifles when they came, during the conversation, to ask themselves what each of them likes most in life. I don’t remember what Dzerzhinsky or Kamenev (from whom I got this story) said. But Stalin said: What is best in life is to choose one’s victim, prepare the blow well, take revenge without pity, and then go to bed.

In the same letter, Trotsky reports, according to Krupskaya, [10] a declaration of Lenin’s about Stalin which was never published:

In the autumn of 1926 Krupskaya told me in the presence of Zinoviev and Kamenev: “Volodya (this is a nickname for Vladimir, i.e. Lenin) used to say of Stalin: "He lacks the most elementary honesty,’” And she repeated: “Do you understand? The simplest human honesty!” I have never published these words before because I did not want any harm to come to Krupskaya. But now that she helplessly swims with the official current and raises not the slightest voice of protest against the infamous crimes of the ruling clique, I consider myself to have the right to make these words of Lenin public.

(Trotsky did not know at that time of the miserable and odious article, as painful as it is to say, by Krupskaya on the trials.)

Let us recall again some of Lenin’s other declarations about Stalin. In March of 1923 Lenin was preparing the struggle against Stalin at the 12th Party Congress; through his secretary Fotieva, he told Trotsky — Do not enter into deals with Stalin, because “Stalin will make a rotten compromise and betray you.”

It is a “compromise” of this type that Stalin had made before the trial with Zinoviev, Kamenev and the others; in exchange for their confessions—their lives. And he betrayed them! And how horribly he betrayed them!

Even earlier Lenin had said of Stalin: “This cook will only prepare spicy dishes.” Lenin, although correctly exposing Stalin’s tendencies, could not by any stretch of the imagination guess how far this modern-day Cesare Borgia [11] would go.

Rudeness and disloyalty, perfidy and the absence of scruples, these are the most characteristic traits of Stalin. These personal traits of the “leader” have become the traits of the Bonapartist ruling clique. And it is this man whom Pravda declares to be as “pure and clear as a crystal!” There are no limits to human baseness!

Stalin, who, in the circles of the apparatus, has the reputation of being experienced at “measuring out doses,” is beginning to lose his self-control. He thereby accelerates the disintegration of his own absolutism.

The rise of the workers’ movement in the West and from there to the USSR will put an end to the corrupt regime of the Bonapartist clique.


[1] Bonapartist, Thermidorian: To help clarify the nature of the Stalinist reaction in the USSR, Trotsky developed the analogy to the French Revolution. On “Ninth Thermidor” (July 27, 1794), the revolutionary dictatorship of the Jacobins, led by Robespierre, was overthrown and replaced by the Directory, which represented the conservative wing of the bourgeoisie. On “Eighteenth Brumaire” (November 9, 1799), the Directory was overthrown by Napoleon Bonaparte, who established a military dictatorship, still resting on bourgeois property relations. Napoleon did not restore feudalism in France. Thermidorian is used hem to describe political reaction without a change in the fundamental class base of the regime. Bonapartism designates a one-man dictatorial rule in times of extreme crisis of the ruling class.

[2] Kolkhoznik:—worker on a collective farm.

[3] Money accounting: “In a communist society, the state and money will disappear. Their gradual dying away ought consequently to begin under socialism.” (Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed). In the Soviet Union, a workers state in transition between capitalism and socialism money had by no mans lost its historical role as a measure of value, means of exchange and medium of payment. Attempts to “abolish” money and establish “direct socialist distribution” were exemplified by the introduction of the food-card. By the 1930s, facing a crisis in the monetary system which included dangerously high inflation, Stalin re-introduced monetary accounting, wage scales and even piece-work to try to raise the productivity of labor. The Left Opposition had long since called for a stable unit of currency, even at the price of “a bold cutting down of capital investments” (1932).

[4] Plebiscitary regime: a form of rule where the vote is taken for or against a candidate or proposal without the voters having an alternative choice.

[5] O. Bauer is horrified about the impression the Moscow executions make on sincere, liberal and socialist friends of the USSR. For Stalin, this is a stage already passed through. He now has little use for these friends. In case of war, he seeks much more “solid” friends and allies among the bourgeoisie of France, England, America and other countries. (L.S.)

[6] With this goal, for example, the German fascists recently spread rumors about a pint conference of the IIIrd and IVth Internationals in Brede, about Stalin financing the IVth International, and other nonsense. (L.S.)

[7] This sentence was omitted in the revised French edition.

[8] Pilsudski (1867-1935): Polish politician and general. A one-time socialist and leader of the Polish Socialist party. Fought to free Poland from Tsarist Russia. Imprisoned in Siberia from 1887-1892. Led Polish troops in World War I. Fought against the Bolsheviks. Launched invasion of the Ukraine in May 1920, which was answered by the Red Army’s advance on Warsaw in August 1920. Emerged as a spokesman for the petit-bourgeoisie in opposition to the bourgeois National Democrats. On May 12, 1926, Marshal Pilsudski seized power in Poland. When the Polish Communist Party approved of the coup, Trotsky launched a campaign against what he felt was support for a fascist regime. Pilsudski remained in power at the head of a military dictatorship until his death in l935.

[9] Felix Dzerzhinsky (1877-1926): Polish revolutionist. Freed from tsarist prison by Bolsheviks in February 1917. Central Committee member in August 1917; member of the Military Revolutionary Committee. Organizer and Chairman of the Cheka in December 1917. Commissar for Internal Affairs in 1921. Active on many fronts in the Civil War. Sided with Stalin in February 1921 on the Georgian question. Commissar for Transport 1921, President of the Supreme Economic Council 1923, candidate member of the Politburo 1924. Opposed the Russian Opposition. Died of a heart attack on July 20, 1926.

[10] Nadezhda Konstantinova Krupskaya (l869-l939): Lenin’s wife, a leading Old Bolshevik and expert in education. After Lenin’s death in 1924, became alarmed at the rising bureaucracy headed by Stalin; joined briefly with the Left Opposition in 1926. Fearing a split in the party, withdrew from the Opposition. Became increasingly isolated, and by the purge trials of 1936-1938 was a virtual prisoner of the GPU. Died in February 1939.

[11] Cesare Borgia: infamous and unscrupulous Italian politician of the 15th century.

Last updated on: 13.2.2005