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Leon Trotsky 19380228 The Trial of the Twenty-One

Leon Trotsky: The Trial of the Twenty-One

February 28, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York 1970, p. 186-188]

During February of last year, at the time of the second Moscow trial (Pyatakov-Radek), which was supposed to correct the bad impression of the first trial (Zinoviev-Kamenev), I stated in the press: "Stalin resembles a man who tries to satisfy his thirst with salt water. He will be forced to stage further judicial frame-ups one after the other."

The third Moscow trial has been prepared during a more protracted period and, one must think, more elaborately than the previous ones. The international preparation has been going on during the past few weeks before the eyes of the whole world. The notorious article of Stalin (February 14) about international revolution, striking many with its suddenness, has as its objective the creation of a more favorable atmosphere within the ranks of the working class for the future trial. Stalin wished to tell the workers that if he is shooting the whole revolutionary generation, it is exclusively in the interests of the international revolution. His article does not have any other purpose.

The death of my son, Leon Sedov, which remains shrouded in mystery, should, until proved to the contrary, be considered as the second act of preparation for the trial: it was necessary at no matter what cost to force into silence an informed and courageous accuser.

The third act in the preparation was the attempt of Mr. Lombardo Toledano, Laborde, and other Mexican agents of Stalin to force me into silence on the eve of the third trial just as the Norwegian government forced me into silence after the first trial (August 1936). Such are the main ingredients of the preparation!

The accusation against the twenty-one defendants is once again published only four days before the trial in order to take public opinion unawares and to hinder the timely delivery of refutations from abroad.

The present trial far surpasses the trial of Radek-Pyatakov in the importance of the accused and approaches the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial. In the list of the accused there are no fewer than seven former members of the Central Committee of the party, including Krestinsky, Bukharin, Rykov, former members of the Political Bureau, i.e., the institution which actually constitutes the highest power of the Soviet government.

After the death of Lenin, Rykov was the official head of the government for more than five years. From 1918 Bukharin was the editor of the central organ of the party, Pravda, and from 1926 the official head of the Communist International. Later, after his fall into disfavor, he became the editor of Izvestia. Rakovsky was the head of the Ukrainian government and later ambassador to London and Paris. Krestinsky, the predecessor of Stalin as secretary of the Central Committee of the party, was afterward ambassador to Berlin for several years. For almost all of the last ten years Yagoda stood at the head of the GPU as Stalin's most trusted henchman and cooked up the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial in its entirety. In the list of the accused there are no fewer than six former members of the central government.

Of the nine people who were members of the Political Bureau during Lenin's lifetime, i.e., actual rulers of the fate of the USSR, there remains only one unaccused, Stalin. All the others have been declared agents of foreign states, and in addition the accusations revert back to 1928 and even to 1918. The Russian White emigres have more than once accused Lenin, myself, and all the other Bolshevik leaders of having achieved the October Revolution at the orders of the German general staff. At the present time Stalin is trying to confirm this accusation.

According to their political tendencies, those of the accused who are known to me fall into three groups, (a) Bukharin and Rykov, former leaders of the Right Opposition. The third leader of this group, Tomsky, former president of the Soviet trade unions, was last year harassed to suicide. From 1923 the Right Opposition found itself in irreconcilable struggle against the Left Opposition, the so-called Trotskyists. Rykov, Bukharin, and Tomsky, shoulder to shoulder with Stalin, carried on the whole campaign of destroying the Left Opposition, (b) The second group is composed of those accused who during a certain time actually belonged to the Left Opposition. Such were Krestinsky, Rosengolts – who, however, had already gone over to Stalin by 1927and Rakovsky, who returned to the government camp four years ago. (c) The third group insofar as I know it consists either of active Stalinists or nonpolitical specialists.

The name of Professor Pletnev sheds a singular light upon the whole trial. Last year he was arrested on a charge of sexual delinquency. The whole Soviet press wrote about this openly. Now Pletnev has been thrown into a trial of . . . the political opposition. One of the following hypotheses may account for this: either the accusations of sexual delinquency were advanced against him only in order to extort the necessary "confessions" from him; or Pletnev is actually guilty of sadism but hopes to earn mercy through "confessions" directed against the opposition. We shall, perhaps, have the opportunity to verify this hypothesis during the trial.

How could Stalin come to this provocation against world public opinion? The answer to this natural question is composed of four elements: (1) Stalin is contemptuous of public opinion; (2) he does not read the foreign press; (3) the agents of the Comintern in all countries report to him only his "victories" over public opinion; (4) informed people do not dare to reveal the truth to Stalin. Thus he has unconsciously become a victim of his own politics. He is forced to drink salt water in order to quench his thirst.