The Red Book

On the Moscow Trials


A decree of the Central Executive Committee on December 1, 1934, established an accelerated military trial procedure for the cases of terrorists, without legal defense, behind closed doors, without the right of appeal and with the immediate execution of the verdict. For the Moscow trial an “exception” to this decree was made. Formally, everything was permitted: lawyers, appeal to the Central Executive Committee, a public hearing. In reality nothing was allowed.

Any lawyer who had the slightest independence would have made the trial impossible. Therefore the defendants gave up their right to lawyers, and this was part of their end of the “compromise” which Stalin had made with them: in exchange for their confessions, they would be granted their lives.

The question of the right of appeal is exceptionally important. Why did Stalin concede this right to the defendants? After all, he had already decided to shoot them. There is only one explanation of this circumstance: by granting the defendants the right of appeal and thus countermanding the special decree of the Central Executive Committee, Stalin offered a “guarantee” in his deal with the defendants: for their confessions, their lives.

As for the trial, a comedy was acted out, with the roles decided in advance. Everything was agreed on beforehand. The defendants met the conditions – but Stalin “violated” them by having the defendants shot.

Yes, instead of defenders, [72] there were – accusers (they were the defendants themselves), instead of an open trial, two hundred chosen GPU agents attended the trial, all with “military bearing,” as correspondents from the British newspapers wrote. The presence of this audience was only Stalin’s final mockery of the defendants.

Although it was carefully selected, this Thermidorian mob not only applauded the speeches of the prosecutor and the verdict, but also laughed quite frequently at the unfortunate defendants ... They regarded with delight the humiliation and annihilation of the former leaders of Bolshevism and the Revolution. They, the Thermidorians, needed this firing squad as much as Stalin did. The traditions and the ideas of the October Revolution torment them like a horrible nightmare, they prevent them from constructing their “happy and joyful life.”

Finally, the judges retire to deliberate. And to “write up” the verdict, which had long ago been prepared in Stalin’s secretariat, it took them seven and one half hours. This was one more petty, vile and final example of Stalinist revenge: to torture and ridicule these men in the last hours of their life. True, the defendants had been given the right to appeal for mercy ... so that it would not be granted to them. On August 24, at night, they were taken directly from the courtroom to be shot.

Not only overall, but even in every feature and in every detail, the trial bears the mark of inhuman ignominy.


[72] How can we not recall the trial of the SRs in 1922? These were real terrorists. They killed Uritsky, Volodarsky and wounded Lenin. And these were terrible and dangerous times for the revolution. The trial was open, lawyers were allowed, including even foreigners (Vandervelde, Kurt Rosenfeld, Theodore Liebknecht). At that time, there was nothing to hide. With full clarity, the trial established that the terrorist acts were not the activity of individuals, as it first appeared, but organized by the party of SRs. All the defendants, mortal enemies of the October Revolution, were nevertheless spared their lives. (L.S.)

Last updated on: 13.2.2005