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Leon Trotsky 19380306 Army Opposed to Stalin

Leon Trotsky: Army Opposed to Stalin

March 6, 1938

    [Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York 1970, p. 219-223]

In the proceedings at Moscow they are trying not only shattered and broken people, morally semi-corpses, but also actually deceased ones. The specters of Marshal Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky, Generals I.E. Yakir, LP. Uborevich, A.I. Kork, and other assassinated generals share the prisoners' dock.

After their arrest and the executions which quickly followed, the Soviet press spoke of these men as "foreign agents" and "spies." About a military conspiracy, a plan to seize the Kremlin and assassinate Stalin, not a single mention was made. It would seem plausible, however, that the government by that time should have known exactly why it had executed the best of the Soviet military captains. But, in the grip of last summer's acute political panic, Stalin acted faster than he thought.

Fearing the army's reaction, he felt it impermissible to waste time on an inquisitorial "education" of the generals for a trial. Furthermore, these men belonged to the younger generation, had stronger nerves, and were inured to facing death. They were unfit for a public spectacle. There remained but one way out, to shoot first and explain later. But even after the echoes of the Mauser had died down Stalin still could not decide upon a convenient version of the indictment.

Today one can say with complete assurance that the deceased Ignace Reiss was correct when he asserted that there was no military trial "behind closed doors." Indeed, why would it have been necessary to have closed the doors, if the matter actually had involved a conspiracy? In plain language, the generals were assassinated in the same way that Hitler avenged himself upon Röhm and others in June 1934.

Evidently, after the bloody retribution, eight other generals (Marshal T.I. Alksnis, Marshal S.M. Budenny, Marshal V.I. Bliecher, General Boris M. Shaposhnikov, and others) received the prepared text of the sentence which they were ordered to sign. The aim was to do away with several and at the same time check on the loyalty of others and kill their popularity. This was completely in harmony with Stalin's usual style.

Unquestionably, some of the alleged "judges," if not all, refused to appear before public opinion as executioners of their closest comrades-in-arms, especially after the executioner's work had already been accomplished by others. The signatures of the recalcitrant ones were nevertheless added to the sentence, and they themselves shortly afterward were removed, arrested, and shot. The task appeared to be completed.

But public opinion, including that of the Red Army itself, did not want and could not bring itself to believe that the heroes of the civil war, the pride of the country, had turned out to be, no one knows why, German or Japanese spies. A new version became necessary. In the course of preparing the present trial it was decided to impute retrospectively to the deceased generals a plot for a military coup d'état

Thus, the matter revolved not about miserable trafficking in espionage but about a grandiose scheme for a military dictatorship. Tukhachevsky was to have conquered the Kremlin, Marshal Ian B. Gamarnik the Lubyanka (headquarters of the GPU), and Stalin was to have been killed for the hundred and first time.

As always, the new version was given retroactive force. The past was reconstructed according to the exigencies of the present. According to the testimony of A.P. Rosengolts, Leon Sedov, my deceased son, recommended to him as far back as 1934 in Carlsbad (where Sedov never was in his life) that a close watch be kept over the "ally," Tukhachevsky, because of his propensity for a "Napoleonic dictatorship." Thus the scheme of the plot is gradually expanding in time and space. The decapitation of the Red Army is but an episode in the campaign of extermination of the ubiquitous and all-penetrating "Trotskyists."

In the interests of clarity, I must say something here concerning the relations between Tukhachevsky and me. I aided him in the early days of his rise in the Red Army. I was appreciative of his military talents, as well as of the independence of his character, but I never took too seriously the communist convictions of this former officer of the Guard.

Tukhachevsky was cognizant of both sides of my estimate. He bore himself toward me, so far as I can judge, with a sincere respect, but our conversations never went beyond the limits of official relations. I think he accepted my departure from the army partially with regret, partially with a sigh of relief. He could expect, not without foundation, that for his ambition and independence a larger arena was opened with my departure. Since the moment of my retirement, that is to say, the spring of 1925, Tukhachevsky and I never met and had no correspondence.

He followed a strictly official line. In the army political meetings, he was one of the foremost speakers against Trotskyism. I believed that he performed this task from obligation, without any enthusiasm. But his active participation in the venomous campaign against me was fully sufficient to exclude the possibility of any kind of personal relations between us. This was clear enough to all, so that it should be impossible to enter the mind of anyone to establish a political liaison between Tukhachevsky and me.

This explains why the GPU did not decide in May and June of last year to link up the case of the generals with the plot of the Trotskyist "centers." The passage of some months of oblivion and the addition of some complementary strata of falsifications were necessary before risking such an experiment.

The sentence of the so-called Supreme Court (Pravda, June 12, 1937) accuses the generals of having "systematically supplied . . . espionage information" to an enemy state and having "prepared in case of military attack on the USSR the defeat of the Red Army." This crime has nothing in common with the plan for the military coup d'état

In May 1937, when, according to the testimony of Nikolai N. Krestinsky, the seizure of the Kremlin, Lubyanka, etc., was to have been accomplished, there was no "military attack upon the USSR." The conspiring generals, consequently, were not at all expecting war. They had designated a definite date for their military blow in advance. However, the "crime" for which the generals were executed was that of espionage with the purpose of assuring, "in case" of war, the defeat of the Red Army.

Between the two versions there is nothing in common. They exclude one another. What can there be in common between a spy who hopes to be awarded in the uncertain future by a foreign power and a courageous conspirator who aspires to seize power by force of his own arms? But, of course, neither Prosecutor Andrei Y. Vyshinsky nor the president of the court, Vassily V. Ulrich, took the trouble of counterpoising the testimony of the present defendants with the text of the death sentence imposed by the Supreme Court, June 11, 1937.

The new version is given currency as if there had never been a "Supreme Court," a sentence, and an execution. With almost maniacal insistence, Krestinsky and Rosengolts, chief assistants to the prosecutor in this matter, revert to the question involving the conspiracy of Tukhachevsky and my alleged connections with him.

Krestinsky states that he received a letter from me dated December 19, 1936 – that is, ten years after I had broken off all relations with him – and in the letter I had recommended the creation of a "broad military organization." This alleged letter, obligingly underlining the "broad" scale of the plot, evidently aims at justifying the extermination of the best officers, which began last year but is still a long way from completion even today. Krestinsky, of course, "burned" my letter, following the example of Karl Radek, and presented nothing to the court beyond his confused reminiscences.

This same Krestinsky stated that he, together with Rosengolts, received a letter from me, written from far-away Mexico a short time before the execution of the generals, demanding that the coup d'état be "accelerated." One must suppose that this letter likewise was "burned," like all other letters which have figured in the trials of the past few years.

In any case, after months of internment and a forced journey on a tanker, separated from the sphere of action by an ocean and a continent, I managed to be so precisely informed on the practical course of the latest "conspiracy" that I even gave instructions regarding the date of the coup d'état

But how did my letter from Mexico reach Moscow? American friends offer the supposition that the mysterious Adolph A. Rubens will figure in this trial as the courier designated to link me with the specters of the Moscow generals. Inasmuch as I know nothing about Rubens or his orbit, I am constrained to suspend judgment. I presume that Messrs. Earl Browder and William Z. Foster could expand themselves with considerably more authority on this question.

The chief witness against the defendants in the case of Tukhachevsky and the others, Nikolai Krestinsky, was arrested in May 1937 and, in his own words, gave a frank "confession" within a week of his arrest. The generals were shot on June 11. The judges supposedly should have had Krestinsky's testimony before them at that time. He himself should have been called as a witness to the trial (if a trial actually took place).

In any event, the government's announcement of the execution of the generals could not have mentioned espionage and been silent about a military coup d'état, if Krestinsky's present testimony had not been invented after the execution.

The essence of the matter lies in the fact that the Kremlin could not proclaim aloud the real reason for the execution of Tukhachevsky and the others. The generals rushed to defend the Red Army from the demoralizing intrigues of the GPU. They defended the best officers from false accusations. They resisted the establishment of the GPU's dictatorship over the Red Army under the guise of "military soviets" and "commissars."

The generals fought for the interests of the security of the Soviet Union against the interests of Stalin's security. That is why they died. Thus, from the gaping contradictions and the heap of lies in the new trial, the shade of Marshal Tukhachevsky steps forth with a thunderous appeal to world public opinion.