The Red Book

On the Moscow Trials


The naked declaration that the Opposition is a “counter-revolutionary party” is insufficient; no one will take it seriously ... There is only one thing left for Stalin, to try to draw a line of blood between the official party and the Opposition. He must at all costs link the Opposition to attempted assassinations, to the preparation of armed insurrection, etc.

(Trotsky, March 4, 1929, Bulletin of the Opposition., No. 1-2)

The Moscow murders were for many liberal democrats and socialists — Otto Bauer is a striking example of this—a bolt from the blue. Not understanding the meaning of the profound social changes which are occurring in the USSR, the bitter struggle between the bureaucracy, defending its material caste privileges, and the working class, deprived of its rights and beginning to raise a voice of protest, these enemies of the Russian Revolution in its herioc epoch now idealize the Thermidorian bureaucratic regime and Stalinist “socialism” and announce the gradual return of the USSR to democracy, since they see in the Stalinist plebiscite constitution the beginning of a new “democratic” era. On the heads of these naive Manilov [12] dreamers, Stalin has dumped a pail of cold water. With his murders he has introduced not only an amendment to “the most democratic” of constitutions, but also to the conceptions of all these gentlemen.

Without any pretense of passing for prophets, we, the Bolshevik-Leninists can say that we not only never had the slightest illusion about the Bonapartist regime of Stalin, that we not only foresaw such events, but dozens of times warned the proletariat in the West that Stalin would take the road of the bloody repression of Bolshevism, the road of bloody amalgams. He has no other way.

Stalin is not defending progressive ideas, but the caste privileges of a new social layer, the Soviet bureaucracy, which has long been a brake on the socialist development of the USSR. It is impossible to defend these privileges by the methods of proletarian democracy; one can defend them only by means of falsifications, slanders and bloody repression.

Stalin has been headed along this road, without deviating for several years now, since 1924, if not earlier. The Moscow trial is the most grandiose amalgam of Stalin, but it is far from the first (or the last).

At first Stalin proceeded cautiously, with small doses, gradually accustoming the consciousness of the party to more poisonous and vile amalgams like those of the last trial.

Already by 1926, at the height of the struggle inside the party, the GPU [13] had sent their agent to some young, unknown Oppositionist. The “liaison” between the Oppositionist and the GPU agent aided Stalin in accusing the Opposition of “connections with one of Wrangel’s officers” because it appears that in the past the GPU agent had been an officer in Wrangel’s army! That this “officer of Wrangel” was an agent of the GPU, the Stalinist machinery was obliged to recognize officially, forced into a corner as they were by the leaders of the Opposition who at the time were still members of the Central Committee. But in the meantime, Stalin had opened up a furious campaign of slanders against the Opposition for its connections with “Wrangel’s officer.” This campaign was conducted in the press, in party cells, in meetings; it stunned the masses who were not familiar with the hidden aspects of the case.

In 1928, an attempt was made to create an amalgam centering around G.V. Butov, Trotsky’s secretary in the War Commissariat. By using violence, Stalin wanted to fabricate a “plot” around Butov which would link him to the Whites and so on. In prison Butov was cruelly tortured, not only mentally, but also physically. He fought desperately, went on a hunger strike, fasted 40-50 days and as a result of this hunger strike, died in prison in September 1928. Only Butov’s firmness prevented Stalin from fabricating an amalgam at that time.

In January 1929, at the time of Trotsky’s exile, Stalin declared that Trotsky’s activity “in the recent past” was directed “toward the preparation of armed struggle against the Soviet government.” By the words “the recent past” Stalin wished to show that the Left Opposition had taken an abrupt turn, passing from the policy of reform to that of armed insurrection. Stalin needed this slanderous fabrication in order to justify Trotsky’s exile.

In the summer of 1929, Trotsky met in Istanbul with J. Blumkin. In 1918 Blumkin had assassinated the German ambassador, Count Mirbach, and had taken part in the armed insurrection of the Left Social Revolutionaries against the Soviet government. But at that time he had not been executed and for many years he had faithfully served the Soviet regime. He was shot in 1929 for having met with Trotsky in Istanbul. Before shooting Blumkin, the GPU had tried to build an amalgam of some kind around the Blumkin “affair.” But nothing came of it. Shortly after Blumkin’s execution, in the same year of 1929, two Left Oppositionists were shot in Moscow, Silov and Rabinovich. They were shot after an unsuccessful attempt to link them with a case of some type of “conspiracy” or “espionage.”

In 1932 Trotsky was deprived of Soviet citizenship, along with about a dozen Mensheviks whom Stalin had included on the same list only in order to create an amalgam: surround Trotsky with Mensheviks. That should, according to Stalin’s thinking, discredit Trotsky and show his counter-revolutionary character. But these were only the flowers, the fruits were yet to come.

Kirov’s assassination, a terrorist act by several Komsomols, [14] gave Stalin the long awaited and incomparable opportunity to build a “real” amalgam. This is how the case of Zinoviev, Kamenev and other famous Bolsheviks developed in 1935. The attempt to bring Trotsky into this amalgam ended, as we know, in a pitiful fiasco. But it was precisely this failure which impelled Stalin to prepare a new case. “Stalin is faced with the necessity of covering up the unsuccessful amalgams with new ones on a grander scale and ... with more success.” (Trotsky)

In the pamphlet dedicated to the assassination of Kirov in January 1935, Trotsky insistently warned that one must be ready “for new, even more monstrous amalgams.”

“What character the next attack will take,” he wrote, “this question has still not been resolved, perhaps even in the closest circle of the conspirators (Stalin, Yagoda...) Neither malicious desire nor material means are lacking for the conspirators. The preparation of ‘public opinion’ will be undertaken along the lines of the ‘terrorist’ dangers which threaten from the camp of the Trotskyists.”

It seems difficult to express oneself more clearly!

Between the first and last trials of Zinoviev, Stalin built still another amalgam (in mid-1935), no news of which reached the public press. The central figure of this amalgam was Kamenev; probably because Stalin needed to correct the error of the preceding trial, in which Kamenev was given a relatively light sentence (five years in prison). Kamenev was accused of having taken part in an attempt on Stalin’s life. The main witness of the prosecution was Kamenev’s brother, the artist Rosenfeld. There were thirty defendants, a very suspicious gathering. Kamenev categorically denied any participation in this affair and later told his comrades in prison at the Verkhne-Uralsk isolator that most of the defendants were people whom he had seen for the first time in his life at the trial. Kamenev was then sentenced to five more years of imprisonment.

It is to this affair that Kamenev alludes in his final speech at the Moscow trials, when he says: “It is for the third time that I appear before the court.”

But during the trial itself nothing is said of this case. Nothing is said of it because any previous amalgam only constrains Stalin in the preparation of new ones. And Stalin is still far from having said his last word.

In May 1936 Trotsky wrote: “It is now 1936. The methods of Stalin are the same. The political dangers facing him have grown. The techniques of Stalin and Yagoda have been enriched by the experience of several failures. This is why we must have no illusions. The spiciest dishes are yet to come!”

These lines were written at a time when the preparation of the trial was already well underway. The Moscow trial has fully confirmed Trotsky’s prediction. We repeat: the spiciest dishes are yet to come.


[12] Manilov: sycophantic character in Gogol’s Dead Souls.

[13] GPU: the State Political Administration, i.e., the Soviet secret police.

[14] Komsomol: communist youth.

Last updated on: 13.2.2005