The Red Book

On the Moscow Trials


The Moscow trial is not ended, it continues in new forms. The business of “terror” is conducted at full speed. Dozens, hundreds of people arrested in connection with the trial of the old Bolsheviks fill the prisons of the USSR. The repressive machine works for the time being without failure.

People are arrested because they had a Trotskyist relative, because ten years ago they expressed some Oppositionist thought. Arrests take place in Moscow, the Ukraine, in Turkestan, everywhere. Writers, economists, journalists and military men are arrested; no one is spared. Bukharin, the editor of Izvestia, mints in the newspaper which he edits resolutions demanding his head! The ink on the new Stalinist Constitution was not yet dry, when one of its principal editors—Radek—was handed over for punishment to another of its editors—Vyshinsky. After elaborating the “most democratic constitution in the world,” its authors send one another to the guillotine. The same day that Radek clamored in the columns of Izvestia for the shooting of the defendants and recalled his services as an informer (in the Blumkin affair) in order to appease Stalin, his name was mentioned at the trial and he was declared a “terrorist.” You only had to turn the page of the newspaper!

Piatakov is imprisoned by the GPU for being guilty of the same crimes for which, the day before his arrest, he “demanded” a merciless punishment for the other defendants. Ordzhonikidze’s deputy is found guilty of terrorism, that is, he had planned ... to assassinate his immediate superior. Sokolnikov and Serebriakov, Uglanov and Putna are in prison. Having already broken from any opposition many years ago, they had become docile functionaries of Stalin. This did not help! Even them people an in some respect dangerous for Stalin. Or, rather, then is some ether terrible danger which threatens him and he hopes to ward it off by striking at these men, and getting rid of them. Linked by their past to the revolution, of which Stalin is the gravedigger, they must disturb him by their very existence. And if Stalin, after several years of preparation and hesitation, has now decided on bloody repression, this shows that along the road of the liquidation of the revolution he is preparing something new, something which cannot be compared with what he has already done. His blow against the former revolutionaries, his blow struck against the Left, leaves no doubt but that his path is heading to the right, sharply to the right.

In the Moscow trial, those dragged to trial are the most notable representatives of Bolshevism, as we have already shown. Remember that 19 members of the Central Committee alone and eight members of the Politburo were mentioned! True, Rykov and Bukharin have been “rehabilitated” [73] after a three-week investigation. But how were they rehabilitated? “The investigation has not established the judicial grounds which make Bukharin and Rykov legally responsible.” How well we know this wretched formula! It repeats word for word the first “rehabilitation” of Zinoviev. In using this truly Stalinist formula, the “father of the people” keeps his hands free for future infamies. “Grounds” can always be found. It will only take a short time before we learn that the Unified Center was nothing in comparison to the “Bukharin-Rykov Center,” the existence of which was hidden by those who were shot. We will also learn that Bukharin personally went to Leningrad to organize Kirov’s assassination, etc., etc. The fact that the names of Bukharin and Rykov were mentioned at the trial is a “warning” from Stalin: you are in my hands, I only have to say the word and you’re finished. In the language of the penal code, this “method” is called extortion (in its most odious form: life or death).

The death of Tomsky, [74] whose suicide made a very strong impression on the country, had a definite effect on the temporary easing of Rykov and Bukharin’s fate. This suicide forced the usurper who had gone too far to reduce the pressure. Accused of taking part in terror, Tomsky understood that there was no way out of the Stalinist trap. As a revolutionary and a Bolshevik, Tomsky preferred a voluntary death rather than suffer the Stalinist ignominies, rather than spit on himself, rather than drag through the mud all that he had fought for for decades. Doesn’t this fact alone, the suicide of one of the heads of the party, show what a hopeless quagmire Stalin has driven the revolution into?

Stalin took revenge on Tomsky in the Stalinist way. After having half-condemned and half-rehabilitated Rykov and Bukharin, he has not said a word about Tomsky. But how indeed could Stalin have rehabilitated his memory? That would have meant admitting the calumny over the still-fresh grave of one of the leaders of the party and the most capable Bolshevik to come out of the Russian working class.

It is not difficult to imagine the nightmarish atmosphere which reigns in the USSR today. No one is sure of tomorrow, least of all the old Bolsheviks. Yesterday’s experienced and responsible leaders are without any reason declared terrorists tomorrow and thrown into the teeth of the repressive machine. The old Bolsheviks among those who distinguished themselves in some way in the past can only anxiously ask themselves: who’s next in line? [75]

Only the “non-party Bolsheviks” and certain “leading figures” feel at ease. These upstart bureaucrats have neither prison nor the fight for revolution in their past, in fact they have no past at all. And that is why their future is so much more secure.

Just as the bureaucracy as a whole has freed itself of any dependence on the workers, so inside the bureaucracy the GPU takes on an increasingly autonomous character. Independent, not only of the masses, but also nearly independent of the bureaucracy itself, the GPU is Stalin’s personal instrument. Of course, it protects the positions of the bureaucracy as a privileged social layer, but its first task is to safeguard the personal position of Stalin and his absolutism, to defend him against the bureaucracy itself, if circumstances demand it. The Bonapartist nature of Stalinism shows itself most clearly through the role of the GPU. In order to guarantee his monopoly on power, Stalin relentlessly strengthened the role of the GPU—the major instrument of this power. Since it has achieved unheard of power, when it is called on to fight against the dangers which threaten Stalin, the GPU itself begins to be a danger to him. It is not without concern that Stalin must consider the GPU. It depends only upon the “leader” but the “leader” depends no less on it. And if the GPU wanted another leader? It is from this point of view, it seems, that one must consider the removal of Yagoda. He had been head of the GPU for too long. He had assumed too much power and gathered too many threads into his hands. Even if Yagoda did not threaten Stalin yet, it was reasonable, nevertheless, to remove him as a preventive measure. Less to worry about. Yezhov, the new head of the GPU, is that much better suited because he’s a new man, “inexperienced.” (In the past, Yagoda also showed sympathy for the right.) The Moscow trial was, moreover, a good pretext for removing Yagoda. The truly “saboteur’s” handling of this case required a scapegoat, and not just from among the lower ranks. To shake up the talentless investigative agents, mired in routine, Stalin removed Yagoda, thus giving the others a lesson. Neither rank nor “General Commissar of Security” nor the large star on his collar could save him from a transfer to the Post Office. What then can the other Yagodas, at lower levels hope for? Shooting some, shaking up others, Stalin only reinforces the state of general uncertainty, anxiety and discontent.

We are certainly headed toward a new trial (or trials)! Its outlines can begin to be discerned even now. The slanderous accusation of “terrorism” must be supplemented by the accusation of a “military plot” and of “espionage.” A number of symptoms tell of how the new trial will be built around these accusations. It is enough to read the lead article in Pravda on October 8. It leaves no doubt as to Stalin’s plans for the near future.

The “Trotskyists” are spies and saboteurs; this is what is repeated dozens of times. Along these lines, public opinion is now being prepared. What is more, Pravda openly informs its readers about the course of the new investigation of the Stalinist Inquisition, when it says that the “frank confessions of a number of the most prominent (?) Trotskyists (?) show” that they “carried out the work of spies and saboteurs in the Soviet Union not only out of fear, but out of conscience.”

Here again we have before us the “frank confessions” which are so well known and so discredited.

(Stalin will find it that much easier to repeat with the new defendants that which he was able to do with the 16 already shot, since they were arrested before or during the trial. Cut off from the outside world, they know nothing of the end of Zinoviev, Kamenev and others.)

The arrests of the military men, Putna, Schmidt, Kuzmichev, and others also reveal the nature of the new case. They are to help Stalin accuse the Left Opposition of a “military plot,” and by their execution, he will have the possibility of calling the military caste “to order.”

It is also possible that Stalin will place the new trial on the widest possible foundation. Moscow’s lead article says, for example, that the “counterrevolutionary sabotage of the Trotskyists in our industry, in the factories and the mines, on the railroads, in construction, in agriculture is now proven and already admitted by a whole series of the most prominent Trotskyists.”

There can be doubt. We are on the eve of a new trial. Our duty is to warn Western public opinion. No illusions concerning the Borgia of Moscow, armed with modern technology!

Stalin needs Trotsky’s head, that’s his main goal. To achieve it, he will begin the most extreme, even more ignominious trials. If any one was still able to entertain any illusions on this subject, the Moscow trial must have dispelled them completely. Stalin hates Trotsky as the living representative of the ideas and traditions of the October Revolution, toward which is turned all that has remained revolutionary in the Soviet Union. To get Trotsky’s head, Stalin conducts the most abominable intrigues in Norway and prepares further intrigues through the League of Nations. With his trials he prepares the ground for demanding Trotsky’s extradition. It is not in vain that the Soviet government showed such a great interest, in connection with the assassination of the King of Yugoslavia, toward the problem of international police collaboration against terrorists. At that time, it might have seemed rather surprising. Today, after the Moscow “terrorist” trial, Stalin’s interest in the struggle against terrorists on an “international scale” takes on much sharper meaning.[76]

The methods of Stalin and the GPU are carried over more and more into the international arena. Trotsky is imprisoned. The Spanish Trotskyists are accused of “attempts” against the leaders of the Popular Front (although every Spanish worker-militiaman knows that the Bolshevik-Leninists fight with them in the same ranks at the front). The Polish Trotskyists are agents of the secret police. The German Trotskyists are Gestapo agents. Such is Stalin’s only method of fighting.

It is not at all a question of Trotskyists, it is a question of Stalin’s methods which threaten to poison the entire moral atmosphere of the world workers movement. Today these methods are used predominantly in the fight against “Trotskyism,” tomorrow they will be directed against other currents in the working class. We have already seen how the leaders of the Second International were accused of being accomplices of the Gestapo agents because of their telegram during the Moscow trial. Stalin wants to reduce the political disagreements of the workers movement to the formula: GPU or Gestapo. Whoever is not with the GPU is a Gestapo agent. Regardless of party affiliation the world workers movement must repulse this attack in the sharpest and most decisive manner. The workers movement cannot tolerate in its midst the methods of political gangsterism. The danger is all the more serious since Stalin has placed a powerful government apparatus at the service of this political gangsterism.

The Moscow slanders and the Moscow assassinations affect not only the interests of the Soviet Union, but deal an irreparable blow not only to all the gains of the October Revolution, but also to the world workers’ movement. Woe to him, who doesn’t know how to protect himself from the fatal venom of Stalinism. It is his moral self-preservation which is at stake.

It is a lie and a slander to pretend that Lenin and Trotsky, the Bolsheviks during the epoch of the upsurge of the Russian Revolution, used the same methods. This is a slander against the October Revolution, the greatest proletarian revolution in history. Could it have been by means of filth and slanders that the Russian working class conquered in 1917? That it won the Civil War? Political morality is not an abstraction. It depends entirely on politics itself. The poisoned weapon of slander was organically alien to the revolutionary politics of the insurgent masses of 1917. This weapon is taken from the arsenal of reaction. But it is only with the help of this weapon—lies, slander, and the assassination of revolutionaries—that Stalinism, which has usurped power from the Soviet proletariat, is able to hold on.

The Moscow trial has once again shown just how much the bureaucracy has exhausted its progressive role as defender of the conquests of the October Revolution. It has become an obstacle to the further development of the USSR, because the interests of this development in social, cultural and political relations have come into irreconcilable contradiction with the caste interests of the bureaucracy. In order to open the way for the development of the USSR toward socialism, the bureaucracy mast he liquidated.

More than ten years ago, Stalin said: “these cadres (of the bureaucracy) can never be removed except by civil war.” Thus he openly placed the bureaucracy above the working class, above the party. For ten years, nevertheless, the Bolshevik-Leninists defended the political line of reforming the Soviet state. But by its politics and by its methods, the bureaucracy has finally taken from the Soviet proletariat the possibility of reforming the state by legal means.

The International Conference of the IVth International in July 1936 — before the trial—said in its theses: “If the return of the USSR to capitalism requires a social counterrevolution, then the advance toward socialism inevitably requires a political revolution.”

The Moscow trial has confirmed with new force the correctness of this perspective.

The Soviet proletariat can advance to socialism only through the rebirth and expansion of Soviet democracy, through the legalization of Soviet parties, above all, the party of revolutionary Bolshevism. But the rebirth of Soviet democracy is only possible with the overthrow of the bureaucracy. And only the forces of the revolutionary working masses can overthrow the bureaucracy!


[73] Reingold, Kamenev and Zinoviev testified that these men knew about the terrorist activity and had found a “common language” with them. The “rehabilitation” of Bukharin and Rykov indirectly gives an unequivocal evaluation of the defendants’ confessions. (L.S.)

[74] M.P. Tomsky (born in 1880), a lithographer, joined the revolutionary movement in 1904; in 1905 was a deputy of the Revel Soviet; was arrested for the first time in 1906, deported and escaped from exile. A delegate to the London Congress (1907); arrested once again toward the end of 1907, Tomsky remained in prison with only a short break until April 1909. After a few months of illegal party work, in December 1909, Tomsky was again arrested and, after spending two years in jail before being brought to trial, was sentenced to five years imprisonment. In 1916, after almost seven years imprisonment, Tomsky left prison for eternal exile in Siberia. After the October Revolution, Tomsky was for many years an authoritative leader of the Soviet trade unions; a member of the Central Committee and the Politburo.

[75] This atmosphere could not help but affect even the top bosses. A characteristic fact: on the lists compiled by Stalin of leaders whom the terrorists supposedly intended to kill, them appeared not only leaders of the first rank, but even the Zhdanovs, Kossiors, and Postyshevs. But Molotov was not listed. In affairs of this type, Stalin does nothing by accident. Isn’t he preparing the ground for a future “reevaluation” of Molotov? If the terrorists did not want to “murder” Molotov, doesn’t this man that they “were counting on” him? And from here, it is only one step to the indictment of Molotov himself in terror. But, of course, this lies well ahead in the distant future.

[76] It is highly possible that one of the candidates for the new Berman-Yurins or Olbergs of the impending trial will be A. Senin, whom we mentioned in the chapter on Copenhagen. True, Senin had already broken with the Opposition by 1932, and broken in a particularly loathsome way by directing many insinuations in the press against the Left Opposition. True, Senin then went to the USSR and told the GPU everything he could about the life of the international left, and, since that time—four years—has been with the Stalinists. But did similar circumstances hinder the bringing to trial of Lurie or Olberg or even Fritz David or Berman-Yurin, who never were in the Opposition? Another possible candidate is a certain Mill-Obin-Okun. He became a member of the administrative secretariat of the Left Opposition, but because he was completely unfit, he was dismissed. Soon after this, Mill joined the Stalinists and went to the USSR. At that time, a note appeared in the Bulletin, No.31, November 1932, exposing Mill’s behavior.

Last updated on: 13.2.2005