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Leon Trotsky 19380303 Behind the Moscow Trials

Leon Trotsky: Behind the Moscow Trials

March 3, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York ²1976, p. 197-205]

Three men, Bukharin, Rykov, and Rakovsky, are the chief figures in the present treason trial in Moscow. Through their attitude one can measure the depth of the reaction in the USSR for the first time.

In 1910, in Paris, Dubrovinsky, a Bolshevik long since dead, whispered to me, pointing to Rykov, "Alexei would have been prime minister in any other country." Fourteen years later, upon my recommendation, Rykov was chosen for the post that became vacant by Lenin's death – president of the Council of People's Commissars.

Devoid of interests of a purely theoretical nature, Rykov possesses a clear political mind and exceptional ability as an administrator. In spite of the fact that he stammers, he is an orator of great force. Rykov has devoted his entire conscious life to one ideal.

Bukharin, in contrast to Rykov, is a pure theoretician, lecturer, and writer. One of the few Bolsheviks, devoid of organizing capacity, it is precisely because of this that he never became part of the government staff; but he was editor of the central organ Pravda, a post of exceptional significance. After Zinoviev's fall into disfavor he became leader of the Communist International (1926-27). There was always an appealing, childish quality about Bukharin's character which made him, as Lenin expressed it, "the favorite of the party."

Bukharin's theoretical thinking is distinguished by capriciousness and a tendency toward posing paradoxes. Often he argued very heatedly against Lenin, who answered him in the tones of a teacher. This polemical sharpness, however, never spoiled their friendly relations. Bukharin loved Lenin and was as attached to him as a child to its mother. If someone had told us during those years that Bukharin would be accused of attempting to assassinate Lenin, every one of us would have come forward to throw the prophet into an insane asylum.

I have known Rakovsky since 1903. Our intimate friendship lasted until 1934, when he repented of his "Oppositional" sins and returned to the government camp. An international revolutionist in the fullest sense of the word, Rakovsky speaks fluently, in addition to Bulgarian (his native tongue), French, Russian, Rumanian, English, and German. He has a reading acquaintance with Italian and other languages. Deported from nine European countries, Rakovsky tied his fate to the October Revolution, which he served in the most responsible posts. A physician by profession, a brilliant orator and writer, he won everyone's heart through his qualities of frankness, humane kindliness, and the richness of his mental equipment.

Bukharin has thirty years of revolutionary work to his credit, Rykov almost forty, Rakovsky nearly fifty. These three men are now accused of having suddenly become "spies" and "agents" of foreign powers, aiming to destroy and dismember the USSR and establish capitalism. All three, after long periods of inquisitorial treatment in a GPU prison, have confessed their guilt.

Next of the accused men in importance is Krestinsky, a lawyer by profession, and one of the Old Bolsheviks. He was Stalin's predecessor as general secretary of the party before he became people's commissar of finance, and later ambassador to Berlin.

Yagoda, first as chief power in the GPU, and later also as its official head, occupies a special place on the defendants' bench. He was Stalin's closest confidant for ten years in the struggle against the Opposition. Essentially an insignificant person, without any special distinctive characteristics, he personifies the spirit of the secret police.

After preparing the trial of Zinoviev and Kamenev in August 1936, Yagoda grew frightened at the prospect of further extermination of the Old Bolsheviks, within whose ranks were not a few of his personal friends. This sealed his fate. Only yesterday exalted to the order of police "marshal," he was dethroned, arrested, and declared the betrayer and enemy of the people. Yezhov, the new chief of the GPU, applied to Yagoda the very methods of investigation invented by Yagoda himself and thereby obtained the same results.

Among the other defendants, Rosengolts and Zelensky have a certain political interest because both are Old Bolsheviks and former members of the Central Committee. Rosengolts is first and foremost an organizer. He played an important role in the civil war, to a large extent under my personal supervision.

Zelensky was for many years the head of the most important party section – the Moscow section.

Ivanov, Grinko, and Chernov are purely administrative figures who have only become prominent in recent years.

I recognize three of the remaining names – Ikramov, Khodzhaev, and Sharangovich – as those of people who played a progressive role in the party movement in the provinces.

Five other names – Kryuchkov, Bessonov, Zubarev, Maximov-Dikovsky, and Bulanov – call forth no particular associations for me. In all cases, these people are stars of the third or fourth magnitude.

The four doctors of the Kremlin hospital deserve particular attention. On more than one occasion I took advantage of the medical care two of these physicians had to offer me – namely, Levin and Pletnev. The other two, Kazakov and Vinogradov, I remember only by their names.

The doctors are accused of having poisoned People's Commissar of Heavy Industry Kuibyshev, the head of the GPU, Menzhinsky, and the author, Maxim Gorky. Only this incredible accusation was lacking to make the others stand out in clear relief.

Let us check briefly the present status of the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet power as now characterized by Stalin's series of judicial frame-ups. Of [nine] people who, during Lenin's lifetime, were members of the Political Bureau – that is to say, the highest institutions of the party and government all, with the sole exception of Lenin (who died opportunely) and Stalin, have turned out to be "agents of foreign powers."

Each and every head of the Red Army and Navy, without exception, were "betrayers" – Trotsky, Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Uborevich, and others – all the Soviet ambassadors – Sokolnikov, Rakovsky, Krestinsky, Karakhan, Yurenev, and others – have turned out to be "enemies of the people." All the heads of industry and railroads now appear to be "organizers of sabotage": Pyatakov, Serebriakov, Smirnov, [Livshiz,] and others. In the leadership of the Communist International were "agents of fascism" [Zinoviev and Bukharin. Two other fascists, Bukharin and Radek, were placed at] the head of the Soviet press and leaders of thirty national Soviet republics turned out to be "agents of imperialism." Finally, the lives and health of the leaders of the party and government were entrusted to poisoners.

To complete this picture we need only to place on it the signature of its artist, Joseph Stalin.

The defendants in the present trial, as well as in the former trials, belong politically to various and moreover hostile groups. Bukharin and Rykov were leaders of the party's right wing along with the president of the trade unions, Tomsky, who was driven to suicide. Their struggle against Trotskyism was implacable and thoroughly principled. Working closely with them, Stalin, who played a centrist role, prepared the destruction of the Left Opposition in 1928. I first learned of the existence of a Trotskyist-Rightist "bloc" from the Moscow dispatches. The real bloc that the party right wing participated in for many years was a bloc with Stalin against me [and my friends].

My friends Rakovsky, Krestinsky, and Rosengolts were for a time sincere adherents to my position. But Rakovsky was the only one who played any active role in the Left Opposition. From his pen came the most sterling analyses of the political and moral degeneration process within the Soviet bureaucracy. Rosengolts and Krestinsky could be characterized more as sympathizers of the Opposition than as active members. In 1927 both of them went over to Stalin's camp and became his faithful functionaries. Rakovsky held out longer than the others. I received a report, unfortunately unconfirmed, that Rakovsky tried to flee abroad by way of Barnaul (in Altai) in 1934, that he was wounded in the escape attempt and taken to the Kremlin hospital. It was only after this bitter experience that he capitulated to the ruling clique, sick and tortured as he was.

Former rightists, former leftists, bureaucrats of the Stalin school, and apolitical doctors could not have taken part in a common political conspiracy. They were brought together only to serve the malicious ends of the prosecutor.

The present elaborate trial, like the first two, revolves as if on an unseen axis, upon the author of these lines. Invariably all the crimes were committed at my request. People who have been my irreconcilable opponents and who conducted daily campaigns against me in the press and at mass meetings – like Bukharin and Rykov – suddenly prove to be ready, no one knows why, to undertake any kind of crime upon my signal from abroad. Leaders of the Soviet government, at my command, became agents of foreign powers, "provoked" wars, prepared the destruction of the USSR, ruined industry, wrecked trains, poisoned workers with lethal gases. My younger son, Sergei Sedov, a professor in the engineering school, in particular, was accused of this crime.

And to top things off, Kremlin physicians poisoned a good percentage of their patients simply out of dedication to me!

I know the circumstances and the people intimately, including the organizer of the trials, Stalin. I have carefully followed the inner evolution of the Soviet system in my time. I have made a diligent study of the history of the revolutions and counterrevolutions in other countries, where they likewise did not occur without "frame-ups" and amalgams.

During the past year and a half I have lived almost incessantly in the atmosphere of the Moscow trials. But when one reads dispatch after dispatch about how Bukharin wanted to murder Lenin, about Rakovsky's ties to the Japanese general staff, and how the Kremlin doctors murdered the elderly Gorky, it all seems like a delirious dream.

It is with almost a physical effort that I tear my own thoughts away from the nightmarish combinations of the GPU and direct them upon the question, "How and why could all this be possible?"

Whoever tries to judge the events unfolding in Russia finds himself faced with the following alternatives: (1) either all the old revolutionists – who led the struggle against czarism, built the Bolshevik Party, achieved the October Revolution, led the three years of civil war, established the Soviet state and created the Communist International – either all these figures, almost to a man, were at the very moment of these achievements, or in the years immediately following, agents of capitalist states; or (2) the present Soviet government, headed by Stalin, has perpetrated the most heinous crimes in world history.

Many attempt to come to a decision on this question by a purely psychological method. "Who earned for himself the greater confidence," they ask themselves, "Stalin or Trotsky?" Speculation on such a level in the majority of instances remains sterile. Using the "golden mean," some people are inclined to employ a compromise. Probably, they say, Trotsky did carry on some sort of conspiracy, but Stalin has exaggerated it colossally.

I propose to ask the reader to thrash out this question for himself, not by the subjective or psychological method, or by moral speculation, but upon the plane of objective analysis of historical factors. This is the more reliable method. The question of personal psychology still retains its significance, but the individual, by this method, ceases to be or seem to be the master of the nation's fate. He becomes himself, the product of certain historical conditions, the agent of certain social forces.

It is necessary to examine the program of the most powerful personality, including the program which led to his "frame-ups," in the light of those historical forces which he represents.

Stalin indubitably belongs to the category of the old revolutionists. He has been a member of the Bolshevik Party since the 1905 revolution. But one cannot depict all Bolsheviks in one and the same light. Stalin represents the type directly contrary to that of Lenin or, to measure greatness by something more commensurable, Zinoviev and Kamenev, who long labored in exile under the direct leadership of Lenin. Stalin went abroad only by chance in connection with party matters. He does not command a single foreign language. On the theoretical plane he possesses all the traits common to a self-taught person. At every step one comes across yawning gaps in his knowledge. At the same time, his is a strongly practical mind, both careful and suspicious.

Unquestionably, his character is superior to his mind. He is a man of indisputable personal courage, thoroughly unpossessed of any kind of distinctive talents, flights of thought, creative imagination, oratorical or literary ability. His ambition has always been colored by suspicion and vengefulness. All these qualities, however, positive as well as negative, remained locked up in him for many years, unexpressed and therefore all the more strained.

Stalin creates the impression of being an outstanding mediocrity, but no more. Only by dint of peculiar historical circumstances were his underlying traits of character given the opportunity to flower extraordinarily. The year 1917 found Stalin, in the political sense, a "thoroughgoing provincial." He did not even dare to think about the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist reorganization of society. From beginning to end his program was that of the formation of a bourgeois republic.

After the February revolution he favored unity with the Mensheviks and supported the first Provisional Government, whose president was Prince Lvov. Lenin's socialist program caught Stalin unawares. He played no role at all in the great mass movements of the early years, but, bowing before Lenin, he stepped into the gloom, retired to the editorial offices of Pravda, and wrote articles.

Lenin valued Stalin for his sturdiness, firmness of character, and cautiousness. Concerning Stalin's theoretical preparation and the limits of his political horizon, Lenin entertained no illusions. At the same time he, more aptly than anyone else, understood and summed up the moral character of this "remarkable Georgian," as he referred to him in a letter written in 1913.

Lenin did not trust Stalin in 1921, when Zinoviev recommended him for the post of general secretary. Lenin gave the following warning: "I don't advise this. This cook will prepare only peppery dishes."

In his testament of January 1923 Lenin flatly urged the party to remove Stalin from the post of general secretary, referring to his rudeness, his disloyalty, his tendency to abuse power. Let us steadfastly keep these traits in mind in the course of discussions over the problems of the Communist International.

During Lenin's lifetime Stalin was never heard from. Just as previously on the question of a socialist revolution in Russia, so later on the question of international revolution, he remained always a skeptic and an unbeliever.

The restrictions in his historical outlook and his conservative social instincts, carried over from his petty-bourgeois Georgian circle, inspired in him an extreme distrust of the masses. On the other hand, he placed high value on the operations of committee "cadres." In this sphere of activity he was in complete harmony with his qualifications as a surreptitious conspirator.

In the first period of the revolution – that is, until 1923, when the participation and the initiative of the masses still played a decisive role – Stalin remained in the background as a secondary figure.

His name signified nothing to anyone. The masses did not know him at all. He was a quasi-authority only for those party bureaucrats who came to depend on him. But the more the masses came under the whip of historical necessities, the less sanguine they became; the more they tired, the more the bureaucratic apparatus was able to elevate itself on their necks.

Meanwhile the bureaucracy had completely changed its international character. Revolution, by the very essence of the term, implies the use of violence by the masses. But the bureaucracy, which, thanks to revolution, had come to power, decided that violence was the prime factor in history. As early as 1923-24, I struck out against this common aphorism in the Kremlin, which said, in effect, "If political regimes in the past fell, it was only because the leaders had not decided to employ the necessary violence which would have maintained them." At the same time, the bureaucracy was coming more and more to the conviction that, having swept it into power, the masses had achieved their mission. The Marxist philosophy of history was transformed into a kind of police philosophy.

The most complete and consistent expression of the new tendencies of bureaucracy was given by one man, Stalin. His secret impulsions, his self-willed character, had finally found a convenient application. In the course of a few years Stalin became, in the full and complete sense of the word, "czar" of the new bureaucracy, the caste of rapacious parvenus.

Mussolini, Pilsudski, Hitler, each in his own way, was the initiator of a mass movement, albeit reactionary. One and all rose to power together with this movement; but Stalin, in this sense, was never the initiator, and, according to the outlines of his character, could not have been so. He was the skulking conspirator, the man working always in the shadow.

When the bureaucracy placed itself at the head of the revolution in an isolated, backward country, it almost automatically placed Stalin on its shoulders – Stalin, who was in complete accord with its brutal police philosophy and was better equipped – that is to say, more pitiless – than any others to defend the bureaucracy's power and privileges.

"Socialism," "proletariat," "people," "international revolution" are today but pseudonyms for the bureaucratic caste. The more acute its internal uneasiness, the more often it makes use of them. Its entire embodiment in post-revolutionary society is based on deceptions, falsifications, lies. It cannot permit the slightest opposition, because it is not able to defend its covetous policy by one convincing argument. It is constrained to strangle at birth any criticism directed against its despotism and privileges, to proclaim that any disagreement is treason and perfidy. At the beginning these attacks on the Oppositionists consisted of journalistic slanders, of falsifications of quotations and statistics. The bureaucracy thereby concealed its revenues. But the more the new caste straddled Soviet society, the more necessary it became to use more powerful means for crushing adversaries and intimidating the masses.

It was precisely at this point that Stalin brought into complete view the dangerous qualities which Lenin had warned against – rudeness, disloyalty, propensity to abuse power. The "cook of the Kremlin" had indeed prepared the most peppery of dishes.

The living traditions of the revolution impinged upon Stalin's consciousness to show him that his power was that of a usurper. The generation of the revolution, though debased and crushed, remained, in his eyes, a menace. His fear of the masses was greater than anything and he mobilized the whole bureaucratic apparatus to hold them in check. But this bureaucracy itself has never achieved the necessary unity. Old traditions and newly aroused social apprehensions have created friction and criticism even within the narrow ranks of the bureaucracy. And for this very reason, it became necessary to undertake "purges."

The journalistic persecution of the Opposition had to give way to juridical theatrical productions – show trials with witnesses, judges, and defendants. And since the Old Bolsheviks were the most dangerous, the GPU must therefore debase these Old Bolsheviks by proving them spies and traitors.

The method of the GPU is the method of a modernized Inquisition – complete isolation, arrest of relatives, of children, of friends, the execution of "some" of the accused during the preparation of the case (Karakhan, Yenukidze, and many another), the threat of executing relatives, and the uniform clamor from the totalitarian press. All this is sufficient to destroy the nerves and crush the will of the imprisoned men. This, without the use of the branding iron or boiling water, is all that is necessary, and "voluntary confessions" are obtained.

Until recently Stalin was absolutely convinced of the omnipotence of this system. However, it is doubtful if he still maintains this conviction. Each trial has given birth to a growing discontent, an alarm, not only among the masses but among the bureaucrats themselves. In order to beat down this discontent it was necessary to concoct a new trial. Behind this diabolical play we can perceive the pressure, still compressed but ever growing, of a new society which asks for freer cultural conditions and a more dignified existence.

The struggle between the bureaucracy and society becomes more and more intense. In this struggle victory will inevitably go to the people. The Moscow trials are but episodes of the death agony of the bureaucracy. Stalin's regime will be swept away by history.