Thursday, March 15, 2012

‘Tomsky turned out to be the smartest of us all’

One of the most profound social contradictions to emerge from the history of the USSR, it strikes me, is this: that at a time of unprecedented advances in material life, and with a socialist order of plenty on the horizon, the system's architects were caught and killed in a bureaucratic and objectively counterrevolutionary mangler of unprecedented scope and effectiveness.

Roy Medvedev

The beginning of 1936 did not yet seem to presage any tragedy, either for Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin or for our country as a whole. It is true that Kirov's assassination, and a number of closed political trials, at one of which Zinoviev and Kamenev were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, had created a state of continuous tension. Nevertheless, it still remained possible for many former members of the Zinovievite and Trotskyist oppositions to avoid repression by once again publicly repenting their past 'sins'. And in the case of former 'Right' oppositionists, including Bukharin himself, more often than not even such expressions of repentance were not demanded.

At this time, Bukharin was absorbed in his work as editor-in-chief of Izvestia. Obviously, Izvestia's significance and influence, either then or now, cannot be compared with that of Pravda, whose editor Bukharin had been prior to the defeat of the so-called Right Opposition. At the same time, however, it was possible to publish things in the less official Izvestia which could never have appeared inPravda, whose articles were equivalent to Party directives. Bukharin set himself the task of making Izvestia an interesting newspaper, and he succeeded: in 1935–6, Izvestia was the most popular and widely read Soviet newspaper. The second task he set himself was to give his newspaper a more decisively anti-fascist character, and this too he achieved. The Izvestia collective quickly grew fond of Bukharin. He was simple and accessible, not standing on ceremony. He had an excellent knowledge of, and real liking for, the newspaper world. He possessed huge erudition and a great capacity for work. Articles by Bukharin often appeared in the newspaper. He showed concern for his fellow workers, and on their days off loved to join them on country excursions, during which they would all vie with each other in devising new forms of entertainment.

Bukharin continued to live in the Kremlin and remained on the Central Committee of the cpsu, although no longer as a full but as a candidate member. In his editorial work and in relationships with friends alike, he maintained the utmost loyalty. He never spoke badly behind Stalin's back either of Stalin himself or his policies, not allowing any hint of what could be termed 'opposition'. Of course, there were many things he did not know. To many other things he simply closed his eyes. Nevertheless, he could not have been ignorant of the major difficulties being experienced by the country, and in particular by the peasantry. After all, a huge quantity of readers' letters flowed into the editorial offices of Izvestia from all parts of the country, and Bukharin had to read many of them—but even this did not change his position. In those months, he did not even meet with his recent collaborators in opposition, Tomsky and Rykov.

Bukharin's Trip to Paris

In the spring of 1936, the question arose of purchasing sections of the Marx-Engels archive, principally from the German Social-Democrats. At that time Germany was under the rule of fascism, while the Social-Democratic Party, like the Communist Party, had been banned. Its local organizations had been dissolved, and many activists had been arrested and were languishing in concentration camps. The majority of the leadership, however, had emigrated, and the bulk of the archives of that party, with which Marx and Engels had been so closely linked in the second half of the nineteenth century, was removed to other Western countries—especially those where socialists were in power. The German Social-Democrats were extremely hard up for resources, and were prepared to sell part of their archive to the Soviet Union (on the understanding that they would keep a copy). The Politburo of the Central Committee appointed Bukharin to head the group that was sent to negotiate purchase of the archive. It is doubtful whether there was anyone better suited in the Central Committee for these negotiations. The group also included Adoratsky, a prominent employee of the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, and Arosev, a member of the Party since 1907 and at that time a well-known writer and political figure. There were others in the group who were less well-known but, perhaps, no less influential.

The Politburo decision also specified those people with whom Bukharin was to meet and negotiate. These included, in particular, Otto Bauer, the Austrian Social-Democrat, who was both a leading figure in the Second International and one of the most eminent exponents of Austro-Marxism. A number of Russian Mensheviks were also to be contacted, because they might be able to play a mediating role in the forthcoming negotiations. The most notable of these were Boris Nicolayevsky, a fifty-year-old journalist, writer and historian, who had himself collected abroad a large archive on the history of the social-democratic movement and of Bolshevism, and the Menshevik leader Dan, who in 1917 had headed the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets. Nicolayevsky had emigrated to western Europe just after the October Revolution. Dan had lived in Russia until 1922, when he was deported 'as an enemy of the Soviet state'. Bukharin personally knew most of the social-democrats indicated by the Politburo decision, but had not met them since 1917.

Bukharin willingly accepted the Politburo's proposal concerning the trip. He prepared for it carefully, and with excitement. Of course, contacts had already been established in the past between Bolsheviks and Social-Democrats, for the purpose of either purchasing or collecting copies of works by Marx and Engels which were referred to and used by Western social-democrats, but which had not yet been published. In particular, a lot of work was done in this respect by the founder of the Marx-Engels Institute (later the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute), David Ryazanov. However, there was a substantial difference in atmosphere between the mid-twenties and the mid-thirties. So far as I am aware, nothing was printed in the Soviet press about the creation of this group around Bukharin, about its tasks or its subsequent contacts, though in the Western press there were many articles about it.

The group headed by Bukharin travelled to Norway, Denmark and other countries, and then based itself for a longer time in Paris, where Bukharin, Arosev and Adoratsky took adjoining rooms in the well-known Hotel Lucrétia. Apparently Bukharin's wife, Anna Mikhailovna Larina, came to visit him in Paris for the month of April. She was a very young wife all of twenty. Bukharin had already been married twice before. But in those years getting married, like getting a divorce, was a comparatively easy matter. From his second wife, Bukharin had a daughter, Svetlana, who at the time of his new marriage was ten or eleven years old. Anna Mikhailovna Larina came from a well-known revolutionary family of long standing. From childhood she had been familiar with most of the leading Bolsheviks and knew Bukharin well, since he often used to visit colleagues and comrades, both in the Kremlin and in the governmental 'house on the embankment', and liked to play games with the children. At nineteen, Anna Mikhailovna was strikingly beautiful. In 1935 she married Bukharin, who was then forty-eight, and moved to his Kremlin flat. This flat had been lived in by Stalin until 1932, but after the suicide of Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin had asked Bukharin to exchange flats, on the grounds that he found it difficult to stay there. Stalin also knew Anna Larina, and on hearing about her marriage, he telephoned to congratulate her. Soon afterwards, having met Bukharin with his wife in the Kremlin, Stalin said: 'Even here you managed to outflank me.'

When Bukharin's wife arrived in Paris, negotiations for the purchase of the archive were very intensive. Subsequently, a number of memoirs were to appear in the West, in which people wrote about their meetings with Bukharin, about their evening strolls and discussions with him, and also about Bukharin's unexpected visits to people's homes (for example, to Dan's). These memoirs contained a great deal of fiction. Bukharin was in fact extremely cautious during his meetings with Mensheviks and Social-Democrats. Whenever any of them came to visit him at the hotel, Bukharin as a rule excused himself for a minute and called next door to request that Adoratsky and Arosev participate in the discussions. Furthermore, the French police was secretly following all Bukharin's activity and movements, for it feared attempts on his life by the numerous representatives of the Russian White emigration living in Paris. One day the police received information about preparations for such an attempt, and throughout the next two days Bukharin's hotel was surrounded by police. Soon after that incident, Bukharin moved to the Soviet embassy and lived there until the end of his mission. Finally, there is no question but that Bukharin's movements were also secretly followed by nkvd agents sent to Paris for the purpose—not to speak of Arosev and Adoratsky who had been assigned to him. So in view of all these circumstances, it is hardly possible to speak of any free movement or strolls in Paris by Bukharin. Recent memoirists have also claimed that Bukharin not only criticized Stalin's harmful activities and said that 'that man will soon destroy all of us', but that he also discussed with them the possibility of staying abroad. This was allegedly proposed by Bukharin's companions, but rejected by him. All this is extremely dubious. During the spring of 1936 there was not yet, even in the upper Party leadership, a mood of hopelessness; this began to emerge only at the end of 1936, and was to grow increasingly throughout 1937. During the earlier period the situation and mood was changing nearly every month.

Return to Moscow

Larina did not stay long in Paris, as she was in the last month of pregnancy. She flew to Moscow and arrived on 1 May 1936. Eight days later she gave birth to Bukharin's son, whom they called Yuri. Bukharin returned to Moscow a month or so later. His mission had reached a deadlock. The transaction had failed because Stalin felt that the Social-Democrats were asking too high a price for the Marx-Engels archives. Was this whole trip of Bukharin's in fact thought up by Stalin as grounds to later charge him with having had contact with Mensheviks, in betrayal of his country? This is completely possible. In any event, at the court trial of the 'Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites', Bukharin was compelled to give evidence that 'during his last trip abroad in 1936 he made contact with Nicolayevsky, who was close to leadership circles in the Menshevik Party'. As Bukharin went on to state at the trial: 'From my discussion with Nicolayevsky, I found out that he was informed of the agreement between the Rightists, the Zinovievites, the Kamenevites and the Trotskyites, and that in general he was informed of all kinds of possible actions, including the Ryutin platform. That is what we concretely and recently discussed, concluding on the following: in the event of a collapse of the Rightist centre, or the contact centre, or generally of the upper level organization of the whole conspiracy, an agreement would be reached through Nicolayevsky with the leaders of the Second International to conduct an appropriate campaign in the press.' [1] Bukharin further testified that, while abroad, he contacted the well-known Social-Revolutionary Mark Vishnyak, the former Secretary of the Constituent Assembly. In fact, according to Bukharin's testimony, both Nicolayevsky and Vishnyak were already acquainted with all the main 'centres' of the Right and the Left. From whom? It turned out to be from Rykov.

At all events, the negotiations for the purchase of the archive materials had not been successful. Having returned to Moscow, Bukharin lived for some time in his Kremlin flat. Then he decided to take a holiday in Pamir. He loved to withdraw and relax in the mountains. This time he chose Kirghizia. He went there with his secretary, whose health was apparently not good. This secretary was not a personal friend, and it is possible that he was appointed by the nkvd to keep an eye on Bukharin. Bukharin arrived in Kirghizia at the end of July or the very beginning of August. Soon afterwards he left with his companion for the mountains. Local guides probably accompanied them. Transistor radios did not yet exist, so Bukharin was cut off from all news.

Meanwhile, on 15 August the re-trial of the case of Zinoviev and Kamenev and a group of their supporters began in Moscow, in the Trade-union Building. They were no longer being accused simply of 'moral responsibility' for the assassination of Kirov, but of having directly organized this terrorist act and many other crimes, and indeed of preparing the assassination of all Politburo members. Some of the defendants, including Zinoviev, in their supplementary evidence at the preliminary investigation, had unexpectedly begun to testify about their 'criminal' links with Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky from the former Right opposition; with Radek, Pyatakov, Sokolnikov, Serebryakov and other former 'Trotskyites'; with Shlyapnikov, leader of the 1921 Workers Opposition and with several other former oppositionists, who in August 1936 had not been arrested and continued to live in freedom.

During this time, Bukharin was far from Moscow in the Pamir mountains. However, soon after the trial began in Moscow, Bukharin's companion became ill (or else pretended to be ill) and Bukharin came back down as far as Frunze. Here he first read about the Moscow trial. The information he read in the papers struck him like a thunderbolt. Earlier on he had already had a psychological breakdown, although he still conscientiously carried out all directives from Stalin and the Politburo. Bukharin had accepted the first trial of Zinoviev and Kamenev, at the beginning of 1935, as something necessary. Kirov, whom Bukharin had been fond of, had been assassinated, and the assassin had been a Zinovievite. It was alleged that Zinovievites led by Kolotanov had organized the assassination; for this, they had been tried and executed. Bukharin had no reason to believe that this was a provocation; he basically accepted the information contained in the internal Central Committee letter to Party organizations about Kirov's murder, and accepted the accusations against Zinoviev and his companions-in-arms at the trial at the beginning of 1935 ('moral responsibility'). Moreover, Bukharin also believed that new circumstances had now been uncovered which implicated Zinoviev and Kamenev much more directly-than had seemed to be the case eighteen months beforehand. For he knew Yagoda well, as he did many other prominent Chekists; he could not imagine them capable of extracting confessions from the accused by torture or torment.

On the other hand, Bukharin did think that Zinoviev and Kamenev were deliberately implicating other former oppositionists, including himself, in horrible crimes in order to efface all of them. He arrived in Frunze on the last or last-but-one day of the trial. The trial was reported not only in the Moscow newspapers, which took a day or two to arrive in Frunze, but also in the local press. Bukharin sent an urgent telegram to Yagoda and Stalin, requesting a delay in carrying out the sentence (he had no doubt that the sentence would be execution). He wanted to have a face-to-face confrontation with the accused, so that he could reply to the accusations against himself. But evidently, while still in Frunze, he found out that the executions had taken place.

Temporary Reprieve

Bukharin expected to be arrested while still in Frunze, but this did not happen. Leaving all his things in Kirghizia, he got a ticket on the next flight to Moscow. At that time the journey from Frunze to Moscow took at least 24 hours even by plane. On the following day Bukharin's wife, Anna Mikhailovna, was telephoned and told that she should leave to meet her husband. During those days she had also been tormented with uncertainty; she had received no letters, and had read daily newspaper reports of the testimony of the accused, including of course the accusations against her husband, which she did not believe.

In the car which Bukharin still had at his disposal (and whose chauffeur was very attached to Nikolai Ivanovich), Anna Mikhailovna drove to the airport, which at that time was situated where today's underground stop 'Airport' is—on the other side of Leningrad Road. They were slightly late, and Bukharin had already arrived. He was sitting in the corner of the room on some kind of bundle, with his face buried in his hands so that he could not be recognized. Anna Mikhailovna and the chauffeur came up to him. 'Hello, Nikolai. Let's go home.' 'Where to?' 'Home to the Kremlin.' 'Will we be allowed into the Kremlin?' 'For the present we are still living there.' 'Then help to hide me, I don't want to be seen by anyone', said Bukharin and went to the car.

As soon as he arrived home Bukharin telephoned Stalin. But Stalin was not in Moscow; immediately after the trial and execution of all the accused, he had gone off to Sochi 'for a holiday'. Bukharin wrote him a lengthy letter, which began 'Dear Koba'. Throughout the next few days he hardly went anywhere. Also nobody telephoned him nor dropped by for a visit. Bukharin discussed the trial with his wife, assuring her that he was in no way guilty. His young wife did not much believe in Zinoviev's guilt either. 'How do you think', she asked her husband, 'Zinoviev or Kamenev were able to kill Kirov?' 'But aren't they killing me with their testimony?', replied Bukharin.

On top of all this, Bukharin was very shaken by the suicide of Tomsky. He did not know the circumstances under which the suicide had taken place. He did not know about Stalin's visit to Tomsky's flat, about their face-to-face discussion, about the fact that Stalin came to Tomsky's flat with a bottle of wine. Neither did he know that the discussion did not last long, that Tomsky's shout was heard, 'Get out, get out quickly', followed by unprintable abuse and then a shot. This was after Stalin had unhurriedly left, still carrying the bottle of wine. Rykov had also tried to commit suicide, but his relatives had stopped him, almost by force. Bukharin thought at first that Tomsky's suicide would be the ruin of them all; that it was as if he was admitting that the former Right leaders were somehow guilty. But later, when Bukharin met Rykov at a Central Committee plenum, he said: 'Tomsky turned out to be the smartest of us all'.

During the trial of Zinoviev and his comrades in misfortune, on 1 August 1936, the Public Prosecutor of the ussr, Vyshinsky, had already given instructions to begin an investigation into the participation in the 'counter-revolutionary plot' of Bukharin, Rykov, Tomsky, Radek and others named at the trial. It is difficult to say how that investigation was carried out, but no interrogations or confrontations took place. Bukharin did not leave his home. He no longer, of course, appeared in the editorial offices of Izvestia, even though the legend 'Chief Editor, N. I. Bukharin' still always appeared on the last page of each issue. The 'investigation' proceeded quickly. On 10 September a communiqué was published in all major newspapers from the Public Prosecutor of the ussr, about the conclusions of the investigation 'carried out in connection with the testimony given at the trial of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorist centre by several of the accused, about the participation in various degrees of N. I. Bukharin and A. I. Rykov in their criminal counter-revolutionary activities.' 'The investigation has failed to establish', said the Procurator's communiqué, 'a judicial basis for the proceedings against N. I. Bukharin and A. I. Rykov, and investigations into the present case have consequently been dropped.' Bukharin felt relieved, but his attention was not immediately drawn to the ambiguity of the formulation 'judicial basis', nor to the fact that the statement was only about Rykov and himself. Exhausted from the tension, he set off with his wife and son (and nanny) to a dacha in the country. He did not own a dacha himself, but as a candidate member of the Central Committee, he had the right to take holidays in a State dacha.

On the following day, late in the evening, Karl Radek arrived in haste. A burned-out politician, cynical, but clever and witty, Radek had not been close to Bukharin in the early years after the Revolution. In the mid-twenties, Radek had joined the Left Opposition and fought against Stalin and Bukharin. At the end of the twenties he was exiled, but he quickly capitulated to Stalin. He renounced Trotsky and began to praise Stalin in all his speeches, articles and even in private conversation. At the same time, Radek remained an experienced and sharp political commentator; Bukharin, therefore, often drew him into work on Izvestia. Bukharin, as I wrote earlier, wanted not only to make Izvestia an interesting paper, but also to strengthen the anti-fascist character of the propaganda carried in it. Radek was particularly suitable for carrying out this task, and he wrote many articles for Izvestia, castigating fascism in a sharp and clever way.

Radek arrived in a state of utter dismay. He assured Bukharin that he had nothing in common with the 'counter-revolutionary' and 'terrorist' activities of the 'Zinovievite-Trotskyite centre'. He asked Bukharin to write to Stalin about this as soon as he, Radek, was arrested. 'You know that in the Procurator's communiqué only Bukharin and Rykov are mentioned, nothing is said of the others.' For this reason Radek was certain that he would shortly be arrested. 'Ask Stalin', pleaded Radek, 'to take my case into his own hands, and not leave it to Yagoda; remind him of Blumkin.' Blumkin was a former Left sr who had killed the German ambassador Mirbach. Having been arrested, he had soon repented and broken with the srs. Not only was Blumkin pardoned, but he quickly became a worker in the Cheka and distinguished himself in many operations. [2] For some time he was commander of Trotsky's train and came under his influence. Nonetheless he kept his gpu position, and carried out a number of gpu missions both in the ussr and abroad. During one of his trips to Turkey he secretly visited Trotsky. The latter, naîvely believing in the loyalty of his recent followers, wrote a long letter to Radek. Blumkin delivered Trotsky's letter to the address, but Radek, not opening the letter, took it straight to Yagoda, who of course passed it on to Stalin. Blumkin was promptly arrested and shot. Radek was convinced that by paying such a price he had shown his current loyalties. But he did not know Stalin very well. Stalin had not forgotten Radek's numerous sharp gibes, many of which were to outlive both men. Radek was arrested a day or two after his nocturnal conversation with Bukharin. As soon as he heard about it, Bukharin fulfilled his promise and wrote Stalin a letter describing everything that Radek had told him. But he ended the letter with an unworthy phrase: 'All the same, who knows?'

From Yagoda to Yezhov

Stalin spent most of September 1936 at his dacha in Sochi. On 25 September, Stalin and Zhdanov sent a telegram to Moscow addressed to Kaganovich, Molotov and other Politburo members remaining in Moscow, with the demand to urgently remove Yagoda from his post of People's Commissar of Internal Affairs and to appoint Yezhov to that position. Yezhov had been swiftly promoted, and was a comparatively young worker in the Party apparatus. Only twenty-five years old, he was already an elected member of the Central Committee, and had been elected a Secretary of the Central Committee and chairman of the Party Control Commission eighteen months before that. The removal of Yagoda and appointment of Yezhov was not immediately perceived as a harbinger of the strengthening of terror. Few people knew the contents of that Stalin/Zhdanov telegram, in which they motivated the necessity for removing Yagoda by stating that the ogpu 'was late by four years in exposing the Trotskyite-Zinovievite bloc'. Although during the autumn of 1936 repression was comparatively light, this can be explained by political considerations—the discussion and acceptance of the new Constitution of the ussr, in the creation of which Bukharin had played a major role, in his capacity as member of the constitutional commission—and by the fact that Yezhov needed time to reorganize the nkvd apparatus which had been handed over by Yagoda.

Prior to his new appointment, Yezhov had already spent some months controlling the work of the nkvd in line with the Central Committee of the Party. Once he became the Commissar of Internal Affairs, he dismissed a whole group of Yagoda's followers and appointed some new workers, whom he knew well and who were committed to himself, to responsible posts. But on the whole one should not exaggerate the role of Yezhov. Yezhov was not a cadre worker of the nkvd, and thus did not know many of the particularities and specificities of that profession. He did not have sufficient knowledge for work in such complicated branches as intelligence and counter-intelligence. For this reason, he was not able to fully replace the already existing nkvd apparatus. He made a number of changes, but as his closest advisers he chose, in the majority of cases, professional Chekists. Thus his closest counsellor and deputy, and of course the main organizer of the future court trials, came to be Zakowsky, who was also head of the Leningrad nkvd.

Following Stalin's orders—and Yezhov carried them out blindly and slavishly—the new People's Commissar began to prepare for new trials and new repressions. The plan for this repression originated not at nkvd headquarters, but in Stalin's head. Firstly, during the autumn many former Trotskyists were arrested: Radek, Sokolnikov, Serebryakov and others. With these arrests, intensive preparations began for a new court performance. The success of the recent trial of Zinoviev, Kamenev and others had encouraged Stalin to make the new trial more 'open'. Not only were specially chosen representatives of the Soviet public to be invited, but also foreign correspondents and some private individuals from the West. Although at the beginning of 1936 the Public Prosecutor of the ussr had declared that the investigation into Bukharin's and Rykov's involvement had been terminated, now that a new Commissar had been appointed to the nkvd, the investigation was resumed. This was the beginning of hard times for Bukharin.


Stalin now started a new practice: the most important statements made by those under arrest were duplicated and sent out marked 'confidential' to all members and candidate members of the Central Committee. Bukharin, like Rykov, also received copies of such dossiers from the nkvd. He did not know or guess by what methods the nkvd was able to get its victims to slander themselves and their comrades. With horror and disbelief he read through the terrible statements. His disbelief was understandable, since his own name was mentioned quite often as a prominent organizer of terrorism and sabotage.

Bukharin did not know what to do. He had only one hope left, and that was Stalin. At one time they had been friends, or at least so Bukharin thought; even now, he still began all his letters to Stalin 'Dear Koba'! They had spent a lot of time together, enjoying themselves and singing songs (not always very dignified ones). Sometimes they even took to wrestling; the sturdy Bukharin always floored Stalin-Koba, and the latter would get up from the grass joking and laughing. Bukharin also wrote to other former friends: Ordzhonikidze, Kalinin, Voroshilov. But times were difficult for Ordzhonikidze; his brother Populya and some of his friends had been arrested. Kalinin did not reply to Bukharin's letters. And Voroshilov, who could also have simply not replied, unexpectedly sent a short, abusive note: 'I beg you, comrade Bukharin, never to write to me again with requests of any sort.' He even used the formal plural 'you', as if to a stranger rather than a friend and political comrade.

Stalin too did not reply; but he still made sure to leave Bukharin with some shadow of hope. According to the testimony of Bukharin's wife, on the nineteenth anniversary of the October Revolution, on 7 November 1936, Bukharin decided to go to Red Square. He did not go, as in the past, to the platform on top of the Lenin Mausoleum; instead, he presented his pass as Editor of Izvestia to sit on the platform to one side. From the Mausoleum, Stalin noticed Bukharin. Larina unexpectedly saw a sentry making his way through the thick crowds of people towards her and Bukharin. She thought that he was going to ask them to leave the square forthwith. But instead he saluted Bukharin and said: 'Comrade Bukharin, comrade Stalin has sent me to say that you are not in the correct place and to ask you to come to the Mausoleum.'

Nevertheless, immediately after the anniversary celebrations, an even more difficult period began. Not at the Lubyanka, but in the Kremlin itself, they started organizing a whole series of confrontations between Bukharin and those under arrest: both 'Trotskyists', and disciples of his own from the so-called 'Bukharin School'. [3] There were confrontations with Sokolnikov, Serebryakov, Radek. And all of them talked about their criminal ties with Bukharin; about the existence of yet another underground counter-revolutionary and terrorist centre at whose head, allegedly, stood Bukharin. Bukharin denied everything, but each time he returned home in dismay and despair. He was especially shaken by his confrontation with Yefim Tseitlin, one of his favourite disciples. Yefim testified in his presence that Bukharin had personally handed him a revolver and positioned him on the corner of a street along which Stalin was supposed to ride; but on that day Stalin had taken a different route, and the attempt on his life had never taken place. All these statements, as I have said, were duplicated and distributed to each Central Committee member.

On his return home from the confrontation with Yefim, Bukharin took his revolver. On the golden plate fastened to its handle was engraved: 'To Leader of the Proletarian Revolution N. I. Bukharin from Klim Voroshilov.' Bukharin decided that nothing more remained for him except to end his life. He said his farewells to his wife, then locked himself in his office. He held the revolver for a long time in his hand, but in the end was not able to shoot himself. During subsequent days, this was to be repeated many times. Sometimes Bukharin would hold the revolver in his hand in the presence of his wife, toss it up in the air and then hide it in his desk. Quite often these outbursts would end in hysterics, and on these occasions it would take a long time for him to return, painfully, to his normal self.

One day, apparently at the end of December 1936, a group of about ten nkvd men came to Bukharin's flat with a search warrant. Just as they began their work, the internal Kremlin telephone rang. Bukharin lifted the receiver and the nkvd man in charge of the search stood next to him to listen to the conversation: during a search, telephone conversations were generally not allowed, but this was a special line and Bukharin was after all a Central Committee member. Both Bukharin and the Chekist next to him recognized the voice as Stalin's. 'So how are things with you, Nikolai?', asked Stalin as though nothing was happening. Nikolai Ivanovich was taken aback, but then said in embarrassment that the nkvd had just arrived for a search. Without questioning him further, Stalin said loudly: 'Send them all to the devil!' The search was at once abandoned.

Nevertheless, at the December 1936 Central Committee Plenum, held in the Kremlin, for the first time the question of the new accusations against Bukharin and Rykov was raised. In this period, Central Committee members could not as yet be arrested wherever convenient—on the street, at home, on a train, at a dacha. (Only in the summer of 1937 did a special decision of the Central Committee give the nkvd extraordinary powers to do this—powers which were supposed to last for one year, but which instead remained in force throughout the rest of Stalin's rule.) For the moment, the Central Committee itself had to sanction the arrest of one of its own members or candidates. All those who spoke at the Plenum demanded the immediate arrest of Bukharin and Rykov. Stalin was the last to speak, and to everyone's surprise he said that one should not act hastily on the question; that it was necessary to allow the nkvd to investigate further the guilt or innocence of Bukharin and Rykov.

As a result, the December Plenum did not sanction their arrest. Bukharin continued, as a candidate member of the Central Committee, to receive the stenographic record of new interrogation sessions; and the confrontations also continued. I mentioned earlier that Bukharin was no longer actually working on Izvestia, which was being edited by his deputy. One day, however, Bukharin unexpectedly received a telephone call from the Central Committee asking him to go to the editorial office, in order to welcome a western writer, Leon Feuchtwanger, who was at that time in Moscow. Bukharin complied, greeting Feuchtwanger in his office. It was a game. Feuchtwanger knew about the accusations against Bukharin. The latter's presence in the office of one of the main Soviet papers was necessary to demonstrate the 'objectivity' of Soviet justice to the passing visitor.

The 'Parallel Centre'

The year 1937 began with a new great political trial. This was the trial of the so-called 'parallel centre', for which the nkvd impresarios had mainly enrolled former Trotskyists who, by the 1930s, had long since broken with Trotsky and been reinstated in the Party, holding important positions in Soviet state institutions, the press, etc: Pyatakov, Radek, Livshits, Sokolnikov, Serebryakov and twelve others. The main defendant, Yuri Pyatakov, had for many years been first deputy to the People's Commissar for Heavy Industry, Ordzhonikidze. Pyatakov was undoubtedly more skilful and experienced as an administrator, and even more as an economist, than his superior—and his role and services in the industrialization of the Soviet Union, during the first and second five-year plans, were correspondingly greater. Livshits had until recently been the Deputy People's Commissar for Road-building. Sokolnikov and Serebryakov had long been prominent within the Party.

This trial will not be discussed directly here. But we should point out that the accusations made during it against Bukharin had such a definitive character that his days were obviously numbered. It was no accident that the organizers of the trial chose Radek to voice these accusations: Radek, a recent colleague on Izvestia, who a few months before had come to Bukharin's cottage and asked for his intercession. Once Radek had been arrested, he could not long stand being locked up, waiting for interrogation and torture. He very quickly started to collaborate with the investigators, helping them to create all the legends about a 'parallel' centre, and about his links with both already 'unmasked' and still 'masked' counter-revolutionary organizations. Most probably it was mainly thanks to Radek's assistance that the 1937 trial was prepared so quickly and ran so 'smoothly'; as we know, he was not sentenced to death by firing squad, receiving instead ten years' imprisonment.

There is evidence that Radek also helped invent scenarios for the political trial of 1938; and that, through confrontations with the arrested, he persuaded them to sign all the prepared 'testimony' fabricated by the investigators. Radek also made the most serious accusations against Bukharin. In particular, he declared in his final statement of 29 January 1937: 'I admit to being guilty of one other thing: even after having admitted my crime and exposed the organization, I stubbornly refused to make a statement incriminating Bukharin. I knew that Bukharin's position was just as hopeless as my own, because our guilt was the same, if not juridically, then in essence. But we are close friends, and intellectual friendship is stronger than any other form of friendship. I knew that Bukharin found himself in the same shaky position as myself, and I was convinced that he would give honest testimony to the Soviet authorities. For this reason, I did not want to lead him bound to the nkvd. As with our other remaining cadres, I wished that he would lay down his arms. That is why at the end, when I saw that the trial was approaching, I understood that I could not appear before the court covering up the existence of another terrorist organization.' [4]

In mid-January, Bukharin and Rykov were officially removed from their posts. On 17 January 1937, Izvestia appeared without Bukharin's name as Editor-in-Chief. Many people therefore thought that Bukharin had already been arrested. But this was not so. He continued to live in his Kremlin flat, under voluntary house arrest. As a candidate member of the Central Committee, he continued to recieve the special Kremlin food rations—of course, he no longer went to the Kremlin dining-hall. And he continued to write letters to Stalin, beginning them as usual, 'Dear Koba'.

The February 1937 Plenum

A Central Committee Plenum was scheduled to take place soon after the end of the Radek-Pyatakov trial in Moscow. As always, members of the Plenum received advance notice of the meeting, due to be held on 19 February. The agenda contained two main items: 1. On N. Bukharin and A. Rykov. 2. On the Preparation of Party organizations for elections to the Supreme Soviet of the ussr. When Bukharin received this notice, he realized that it could only mean Rykov's and his exclusion from the Central Committee and from the Party. At this point, not having—or at least not seeing—any means of struggle, Bukharin decided to go on hunger strike. He stopped taking food, and notified Stalin and maybe other Central Committee members about his action. A few days after the beginning of the hunger strike, Stalin phoned Bukharin: 'Who are you striking against', he asked, 'against the Party?' 'What am I to do', replied Bukharin, 'if you are preparing to throw me out of the Party?' 'No one is planning to throw you out of the Party', said Stalin, and hung up.

On 18 February 1937, Ordzhonikidze committed suicide. His flat was next to Bukharin's, but the entrance was from another doorway. Bukharin had liked Sergo Ordzhonikidze and trusted him. He heard about his death from radio and newspaper reports, and believed the official version: that death was caused by a heart attack. But Bukharin was not able to call at Sergo's flat, nor to participate at his funeral. Because of Ordzhonikidze's funeral, the Plenum was postponed for a week. Two or three days beforehand, Central Committee members received a new agenda, consisting of the following points: 1. On N. Bukharin and A. Rykov. 2. On Bukharin's hunger strike, as an anti-Party action. 3. On the Preparation of Party organizations for elections to the Supreme Soviet of the ussr. When he received the revised agenda, Bukharin was perplexed. He reasoned—first to himself, and then in conversation with his wife—that if the agenda included the second point about his hunger strike, it meant that he and Rykov were not in fact to be expelled from the Party. The Central Committee would not discuss the hunger strike of a former member who had just been expelled from the Party. So Bukharin called off his hunger strike.

The Plenum of the Central Committee began on 25 February 1937. Yezhov gave the report on Bukharin and Rykov, as well as on the 'espionage and wrecking activities' of other former oppositionists. Speeches followed from a number of Central Committee members. There is a myth that some Central Committee members defended Bukharin and Rykov, and protested against the mass repression that was already under way. This was not so. They unanimously condemned Bukharin and Rykov, and demanded that they be brought to justice. During the speeches at the Plenum, many examples were given of 'wrecking' activities by former oppositionists in various spheres of the economy and culture. Only Postyshev voiced any doubts, when he queried the correctness of the arrest of one of his closest co-workers, who had never before participated in any oppositional activity. But Postyshev was at that time himself under attack. (In January 1937 he had been relieved of his responsibilities as First Secretary of the Kiev Regional Committee of the cpsu, although he was still Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Party. The Plenum of the Kiev Regional Committee which removed him had been presided over by Kaganovich, who had used a slanderous letter by a certain Nikolaenko to smash the former leadership of the Committee, which was accused of a series of political errors, bureaucratism and links with 'Trotskyites'.) Molotov spoke particularly sharply against Bukharin and Rykov.

By the time Bukharin was called to speak, the atmosphere had become fairly tense. He rejected all the accusations levelled against him. When he said, 'I am not Zinoviev or Kamenev, and I will not tell lies about myself,' Molotov shouted from his seat: 'If you don't confess, that will prove you are a fascist hireling, for their press is saying that our trials are provocations. We'll arrest you and you'll confess!' 'That's the mousetrap!', exclaimed Bukharin, when he got home. He wanted to defend himself from the slanders, but he did not want to 'help' the fascists. At all events, Bukharin read out a statement at the Plenum, on behalf of Rykov and himself, stating that the evidence against them produced by the defendants at the Pyatakov-Radek trial and by other arrested people was entirely slanderous. Bukharin and Rykov accused the nkvd of fabricating false testimony, and proposed the creation of a commission which would investigate the nkvd's activities. 'Well, we'll send you there, and you can take a look for yourself,' shouted Stalin.

So the Plenum established a commission of some thirty members to prepare its decision on the case of Bukharin and Rykov. The Plenum meeting was adjourned for the two days during which the commission worked. Bukharin spent those two days at home. He no longer had any hopes. He wrote a letter entitled 'To a Future Generation of Party Leaders', which he asked his wife to memorize, saying 'You are young, and will see the day when other people will be in the Party leadership.' For two days he tested her, until he was sure she would remember it word for word. He wrote in this letter: 'I depart from life. I lower my head, but not before the proletarian pole-axe, which should be ruthless but also chaste. I feel my helplessness before a hellish machine which, no doubt by using mediaeval methods, has acquired gigantic power, fabricates organized slander, and acts with bold confidence.' Bukharin proceeded to formulate a number of accusations against the nkvd, which had changed into a degenerate organization of bureaucrats, without ideas, corrupt, well-paid, catering through their foul actions to 'Stalin's morbid suspiciousness—I fear to say more'. While rejecting all the accusations against Rykov, Tomsky and himself, he did not touch on those made against other already sentenced former oppositionists. Stressing his loyalty, he wrote that this had already lasted seven years 'without the least shadow of disagreement with the Party'.

'I appeal to you, future Party leaders, whose historical mission will include the obligation to unravel the monstrous cloud of crimes that is growing ever bigger in these frightful times, taking fire like a flame and suffocating the Party. I appeal to all members of the Party! In these days, perhaps the last of my life, I am confident that sooner or later the filter of history will inevitably sweep the filth from my head. I was never a traitor; I would unhesitatingly have given my own life for Lenin's; I was devoted to Kirov; I did not organize anything against Stalin. I ask a new, young and honest generation of Party leaders to read my letter at a Party plenum, to exonerate me and to reinstate me in the Party.' Having checked his wife's memory once more, Bukharin burned the letter.

The Commission, which had been instructed by the Plenum to decide on the question of Bukharin and Rykov, met under the chairmanship of Mikoyan. It included almost all the higher Party leaders, many of whom would themselves in the next two years fall victims to a ruthless repression. The decision was taken by a named vote, in alphabetical order. One after another, Central Committee members got up—Andrevev, Bubnov, Voroshilov [5]—and pronounced these words: 'arrest, try, shoot'. When it came to Stalin's turn, he said, 'pass the matter on to the nkvd'. Some who followed him repeated this formulation; but the decision of the majority was 'arrest, try, shoot'. (Only Mikoyan, as chairman, did not express his views, which are thus not recorded in the minutes.)

Arrest and Interrogation

Two days later, the Plenum resumed its work. Bukharin and Rykov were called to the meeting to hear the decisions of the commission. Bukharin did not doubt that his fate had already been decided. He kissed his nine-month son goodbye. In tears he knelt before his wife and begged her forgiveness. He knew that she would have a difficult time, but had no conception of everything that they would both still have to endure. Regaining control of himself, Bukharin stood up and said: 'Remember, Anna, I am guilty of nothing. Bring up our son to be a true Bolshevik.' The Plenum was being held in the Kremlin, where the Bukharins lived. He just had to cross the courtyard, to get to the room where the meeting was taking place. The cloakroom was empty. Rykov entered it at the same time as Bukharin. As they were taking off their coats, eight men moved forward from the walls and in two groups of four came up to Bukharin and Rykov. This was the arrest. From the Central Committee building, Bukharin and Rykov were taken to the Lubyanka.

Simultaneously, nkvd men arrived to search Bukharin's flat. Bukharin's wife understood then that she would never see her husband again. The search took a long time. Bukharin's library was barely touched, but all his notebooks and his entire archives were confiscated and taken away. These archives contained many valuable documents, including a considerable number of Lenin manuscripts. (As is well known, soon after Lenin's death the Central Committee set up the Lenin Institute, and appealed to all Party members to hand over to it any letters, writings or other documents either composed by Lenin or linked to his activity. At the time, Bukharin submitted many Lenin manuscripts to the curators of the new institute; but he retained quite a few letters and writings of a personal character.) Although the search took a long time, it was comparatively civil. Members of Bukharin's family were not arrested. At the time, besides his wife, son and son's nanny, Bukharin's father lived in the flat: he had been a primary-school teacher, but was now gravely ill and near to death.

For five days after this, Bukharin's wife did not leave the flat. But it was necessary at least to take the child for a walk, so Anna Mikhailovna again began to push her son's pram around the Kremlin. Nobody came up to her, and nobody asked her any questions. After a time, she was telephoned and asked why she was not coming to get her rations. 'What rations?' 'You are entitled to rations.' This referred to Nikolai Ivanovich's rations. Anna Mikhailovna decided this must be a mistake, so she did not go. But the nanny was then summoned, and given food to bring back. They stopped refusing. Bukharin had not kept any reserve supplies, and after his arrest his family soon had neither money nor food.

Perhaps a month after Bukharin's arrest, an nkvd man brought a letter from him asking his wife to send him certain books and materials. He wrote that he had begun to work on a book entitled 'Cultural Degradation Under Fascism', for which all this material was necessary. But Larina was not able to comply, because Bukharin's office was sealed up. Soon after this, the head of the investigating team telephoned Larina to say that the office would be unsealed so that the relevant books could be fetched. He asked her to bring them to him in the Lubyanka. Anna Mikhailovna brought food in addition to the books, but the investigator would not take this, saying: 'We feed your husband very well. It seems he's got a sweet tooth—we give him six lumps of sugar for every cup of tea.' He went on: 'Your husband asks you to write him a note, and to send a picture of yourself and your son.' Anna Mikhailovna started to write the note, but the investigator began to dictate what she could—or rather, what she should—write. 'Write that you are continuing to live in the Kremlin flat as before, and that you receive rations.' 'I will not write that,' replied Larina, sensing some kind of trick. 'I will refuse to write, rather than write what they want,' she decided. After an argument, the investigator refused to take Larina's note, since it did not contain his dictated words. The point was, during that week the main line of argument being used by his interrogators was designed to convince Bukharin that if he gave the testimony that was required, then his wife, son and other relatives would be shown mercy. If he did not give the testimony, however, their fate would be different. This was obvious blackmail, but it was still difficult for Bukharin to resist such pressure. It is not known whether the investigators resorted to torture in Bukharin's case, though it seems certain that Rykov was tortured quite brutally: later on at the trial, if Bukharin replied to questions evasively Rykov duly 'corrected' him.

Despite Bukharin's imprisonment and the subsequent massive wave of arrests which swept the whole country and began to engulf other cc members, the Bukharin family continued to live in the Kremlin. But this life became unbearable, since no one wished to associate with the family of so prominent an 'enemy of the people'. Larina therefore requested that she be assigned a new flat. A few days later, she was allotted a five-room flat in the 'house on the embankment'—a government residence not far from the Kremlin, on the opposite bank of the Moscow River. At that time, flats were continually being cleared and the building stood half-empty. After a month, Larina received a bill for rent and services on her flat. It came to about 300 roubles, which was a lot of money. She sent the bill on to Kalinin, with a short note: 'Unfortunately, the Gestapo spy Bukharin was paid very little for his services, and we do not have the amount of money required to pay for this flat.' On receipt of this note, Kalinin gave orders that no money was to be collected for rent from the Bukharin family. Almost a year passed in this way, until March 1938. People from the 'house on the embankment' disappeared practically every night. Moreover, once the head of a family was arrested, so too were his wife, adult children and other relatives. But Bukharin's family was not touched until the start of the last of the great trials, which began on 2 March 1938, and at which Bukharin himself was the most prominent defendant.

The Great Trial

This was the most 'important' of the trials. It seemed to consummate all the previous trials, exposing 'the most secret' of all the 'anti-Soviet centres'. In the dock beside Bukharin sat Rykov, who for many years had presided over the Council of People's Commissars, and Yagoda, former People's Commissar for Internal Affairs, who until recently had been the all-powerful head of the Cheka and organizer of the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial. The defendants also included other former People's Commissars, together with a number of Party leaders from Uzbekistan and Belorussia. Lastly, there were two doctors who—along with his secretary Kryuchkov—were being charged with the premeditated murder of Maxim Gorky. The judicial hearing was conducted by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the ussr, and took place in the October Hall (not the columned auditorium, as many have believed) of the Trade Union House. The hall seated approximately 500 people. The first five rows were occupied by nkvd officers. Behind them sat representatives of the public, interspersed with others unknown to them, who were probably also from the nkvd. I have not put the words representatives of the public in quotation marks, because these were people who did truly represent certain circles of Soviet society. Most of them obtained a pass to the trial for one day, to see how 'the enemies of the people' would 'repent'. The trial was attended, for example, by Ilya Ehrenburg on the first day, by a famous Moscow artist on the second day and so on. Some of these people described their impressions in newspapers.

First the members of the Military Collegium—Ulrikh, the President, Matulevich and Yevlev—came out and took their places, together with court secretary Batner. Then the State Prosecutor, Vyshinsky, and the defence lawyers, Braude and Kommodov, entered the hall. Then the first group of guards came on to the 'scene': [6] in front of each defendant, under the pretext of guarding his safety, sat his investigator—i.e. the nkvd officer in charge of his case, who had 'prepared' him for this last performance. Special boxes were set aside for representatives of the foreign press. An important guest at the trial was the us ambassador Joseph Davies, who was a special envoy from President Roosevelt. Davies did not know Russian, so the American correspondent Shapiro translated for him. In spite of this, they came to differing conclusions about the trial: Shapiro saw it as judicial play-acting and a fake, whereas Davies was convinced that Stalin had destroyed the fifth column in the ussr. He wrote about this in letters from Moscow to his daughter, and later in a book entitled Mission to Moscow. Finally, the defendants were brought in and placed in the dock, behind a barrier. Their appearances differed. Khodzhayev wore a smart suit, which looked as if it had just been cut. Ikramov seemed to be going to pieces, and was dressed untidily. Yagoda looked like a great, beaten wolf. Bukharin was concentrating, and very pale.

After some procedural questions had been resolved, the court secretary read out the long indictment, based on evidence from the preliminary investigations. Then the trial itself began, with the interrogation of the defendant Bessonov. Bessonov's role, both in the organization of the trial and in the actual 'scenario', was especially significant. For according to the script, it was precisely he who had allegedly acted as a link between the Trotskyists and Zinovievites and the 'Rights', Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky. While working in the Soviet trade delegation in Berlin, he had supposedly arranged meetings of oppositionists with Trotsky and his son Sedov, passed on instructions, and so on. It would be hard to condemn Bessonov for playing this role in the trial, for he did not accept it readily or immediately. He was subjected to the most refined forms of torture. He endured 'the conveyor' without sleep for seventeen days, whereas many others did not last more than four or five. [7] He was continually beaten. But, as in many other cases after a long period of initial resistance, once he broke down and signed the false statements Bessonov no longer had the strength for any further resistance, but became an obedient tool in the hands of the trial organizers.

A Hitch in the Proceedings

As each defendant was cross-examined, individual questions were put to other defendants, for confirmation. When Bessonov spoke about his efforts to build up links between the Trotskyists and Zinovievites and the Rightists, Vyshinsky turned to Bukharin: could he confirm Bessonov's testimony? Bukharin confirmed that discussions with Pyatakov and other Trotskyists had taken place, even before the meeting with Bessonov. 'You had discussions about united actions against Soviet power?', asked Vyshinsky. 'Yes,' Bukharin replied briefly. But now, at this very first session, there occurred an event which in the context of such a trial can only be described as extraordinary. When Vyshinsky turned to the defendant Nikolai Krestinsky to confirm a series of statements made by Bessonov, Krestinsky denied them all. A prominent Party and State figure, Krestinsky had worked until his arrest as Deputy People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs. He had not been a Trotskyist or taken part in the inner-Party struggles of the twenties, if only because throughout those years (1921–30) he had been Soviet ambassador in Germany. [8] During the pre-trial interrogation he had quickly agreed to the investigator's version, and signed all the statements he was asked to sign. But it turned out he had decided, realizing that a new political trial was being prepared, to save his strength and tell the truth at the trial itself. Now sharply—even shrilly—and loudly, Krestinsky declared that he had never on any occasion discussed Trotskyist matters with Bessonov; that he had never in fact been a Trotskyist; that Bessonov was lying to the court. When the dismayed Vyshinsky reminded him of the statements he had made during the preliminary investigation, he replied that these were all lies. 'Why didn't you speak the truth at the preliminary investigation?', demanded Vyshinsky. Krestinsky hesitated with his answer, and Vyshinsky hastily ended the interrogation with the words: 'I don't hear any answers and have no more questions.'

Vyshinsky now once again began to interrogate Bessonov, evidently in order to make it possible for the investigator who sat next to Krestinsky to warn him of the consequences he was risking. Nevertheless, when some time later Vyshinsky turned back to Krestinsky, the latter again rejected all Bessonov's evidence and declared that his entire testimony at the preliminary investigation had been false. He explained that he had not been able to tell the truth, since he was convinced that 'before the trial, if it was to take place' he would not be allowed to repudiate any false evidence against him. 'Why did you mislead the investigation and the Prosecutor?', asked Vyshinsky. 'I just thought', replied Krestinsky, 'that if I had said what I am saying today—namely, that all this does not correspond to reality—then my testimony would never have reached the leaders of the Party and the government.' After a few more questions to Bessonov, Vyshinsky declared a two-hour recess.

Krestinsky's new testimony quickly reached Party and government leaders. In the first place, on the stage, not far from the defendants, a secret microphone had been installed so that Stalin could listen from his office to all the evidence. Moreover, at the end of the hall there was a high-sided balcony, which concealed all but the head of anyone standing on it—and hid a sitting person altogether. Sometimes tobacco-smoke would be seen rising from this balcony, and several of the trial organizers were convinced that Stalin had come to spend an hour or two looking at his recent colleagues and opponents. During the recess, the entire 'staff' met in the rooms set aside for the organizers: a public trial of this kind was a big performance, with an impresario and a whole team of helpers. Comfortable premises had been arranged for this staff well in advance; they were right beneath the October Hall, with a carefully hidden and well-guarded entrance known only to the initiated. In charge of the staff was an old Chekist called Zakovsky, who had started to work in the secret police under Dzerzhinsky and then Menzhinsky, who had risen higher under Yagoda, and who had kept his position under Yezhov—who needed such 'specialists'. It is not known how the incident with Krestinsky was viewed by the production staff. At all events, after the recess Vyshinsky moved on to the interrogation of defendants Rosengoltz and Grinko, who before their arrest had held positions in the People's Commissariat for External Trade and Finance. They gave the court all the 'required' evidence, including some apparently incriminating Krestinsky. Nevertheless, the latter again denied everything and insisted on his innocence.

Thus the first day of the trial was not very successful for the organizers. However, when the next session began the Prosecutor did not go on interrogating Krestinsky; and when the latter's cross-examination was resumed at a later stage, he admitted all the crimes of which he was accused and confirmed all the false evidence 'he' had given at the preliminary investigation. But this was already another Krestinsky. For there were people present at the trial who knew the defendants well, and could not make any mistake about their identity; and one such person, telling me about the trial, said: 'On the first day of the trial, the real Krestinsky was in the dock, alongside Bukharin, Grinko, Yagoda and others whom I had earlier known well. But on the last day, although there was a man sitting in the dock who looked like Krestinsky, I could not vouch that it was really him. This was the only time in the trial when I doubted the identity of a defendant.' It seems likely that Krestinsky was in fact replaced by a well made-up actor. Perhaps for this performance, just as in the real theatre, if a role needed to be filled unexpectedly, there was an understudy already waiting—or one was quickly found.

Bukharin in the Dock

Bukharin's testimony was also not completely normal, or in any case gave food for thought. What he said seems open to interpretation at two levels. For the ordinary citizen of the country, the evidence he gave cast him as an enemy of Stalin and of Soviet power. But the thoughtful examiner of Bukharin's statements would have detected a scattered multitude of hints, which cast doubt upon the entire version presented by the court and investigation. While admitting his adherence to the counter-revolutionary organization of the 'Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites', he at the same time pointed out that this organization had not been fully conscious of its objectives—had never really dotted the I's or crossed the T's. Bukharin vigorously denied any direct participation in espionage, and any complicity in the assassinations of Kirov, Kuibyshev, Gorky and Menzhinsky or in the 1918 attempt on Lenin's life. In reply to Vyshinsky, he stated unambiguously that 'the confession of the accused is not binding; the confession of the accused is a mediaeval principle of jurisprudence'. And this was said about court proceedings which were completely based on defendants' confessions!

Although under cross-examination Bukharin agreed in the main with the prosecution's version, he would almost always make reservations which threw the Prosecutor and court into confusion. At one session, the President of the Military Collegium, Ulrikh, could not contain himself and said to Bukharin: 'While you go on beating about the bush, you say nothing about crimes.' During another round of questioning, Prosecutor Vyshinsky, equally incensed, told Bukharin: 'You are obviously sticking to a certain tactic and don't want to speak the truth, hiding behind a flood of words and legal quibbles, making digressions into the sphere of politics, philosophy, theory and so on; well, you might as well give this up once and for all, because you are charged with espionage, and all the evidence uncovered by the investigation clearly shows that you are a spy for some intelligence service. So stop your pettifogging!' Soviet newspapers too wrote during the trial that Bukharin was sticking to certain tactics; that by using pseudo-scientific phrases he was seeking to obscure the charges, conceal the truth and shield himself. 'In sweeping terms he claims to be guilty of everything, but deflects any concrete accusions away from himself.' [9]

At the morning session on 11 March 1938, Vyshinsky made his final speech for the prosecution. Almost a third of it was devoted to the charges against Bukharin. He demanded the death sentence for Bukharin and for most of the other defendants. The evening session on that day and the entire proceedings on the next were taken up with the speeches of the defence lawyers Braude and Kommodov—speeches which were not very different from that of the Prosecution—and with the final statements of the defendants. These sessions too were not free from unexpected incidents. For instance, Rosengoltz, a former people's Commissar for External Trade, first admitted to the court that he was guilty of sabotage, spying and stealing State funds to help Trotskyist activity, and even of planning—along with Tukhachevsky, Uborevich and Yakir—the military overthrow of Soviet power. However, he then unexpectedly began to speak about his services in the October Revolution and the Civil War: he had raised the first army unit for the insurrection in Moscow, and subsequently carried out highly complicated instructions from the Party in the most difficult areas of the Civil War.

Vyshinsky had demanded the death sentence for Rosengoltz, and the latter declared that he was not requesting leniency, for he deserved a harsh sentence. 'But that does not mean', he said, 'that it is not painful for me to leave my lovely Soviet land. At present we can see a great new development, a new generation, educated by the Bolshevik Party. We have achievements in the Soviet Union such as are to be found nowhere else in the world. The pain of parting is intensified by the fact that we have already achieved real results in socialist construction. For the first time we have a full-blooded life, sparkling with happiness and colour.' And with these words, Rosengoltz unexpectedly began to sing the song by Dunayevsky and Lebedev-Kumach: 'A broad country my nation/With many fields, forests and rivers./I don't know any other country/Where one can breathe so freely . . .' Most of those present—whether Chekists or invited members of the public—jumped up from their seats, not knowing what to do. However, Rosengoltz did not finish the song, but sat down sobbing

Yagoda, for his part, made only a short final speech. He continued to deny that he belonged to the leading centre of the 'Bloc' or that he had organized Kirov's assassination, although he did 'admit' other crimes. But then, at the end, he suddenly walked up to the secret microphone which only he among all the defendants knew about, and in a faltering voice said: 'Comrade Stalin, comrades of the Cheka, show mercy if you can!'

Even in his final speech, Bukharin stuck to his adopted tactics. He said that he was a leader of the 'Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites'—but then added that as a leader he did not know and could not have known the concrete actions of that bloc. He decisively rejected the allegation that he could at any time have given instructions for acts of sabotage, for opening up the front during a war, or for the organization of espionage. In a less definite form, he denied wishing to see the break-up of the ussr. He most categorically repudiated any complicity in the assassinations of Kirov, Gorky, Menzhinsky, Kuibyshev and Maxim Peshkov. He admitted only his 'political and legal responsibility' for all the crimes of the 'Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites', in which, he said, 'the main driving force' was Trotsky. Bukharin did not request mercy.

Late in the evening of 12 March, the court retired to reach its verdict. It took six hours. At 4 a.m. on 13 March the session was resumed, and the weary audience, the guards and the defendants took their places. Outside the Trade Union House, Moscow was deserted. There is a myth that thousands of Moscovites stood outside the court building, waiting to hear the sentence—but this has no basis in fact. It took about thirty minutes for the President of the court to read out the sentence, during which time the defendants remained standing. Eighteen of the accused—including Bukharin, Rykov, Yagoda, Krestinsky, Rosengoltz, Ivanov, Chernov, Grinko, Zelensky, Ikramov and Khodzhayev—were sentenced to 'the maximum sentence: execution by firing squad, with confiscation of all personal belongings'. The doctor Pletnev was sentenced to twenty-five years' imprisonment; Rakovsky and Bessonov to twenty and fifteen years respectively. During the night of 15 March Bukharin, whom Lenin had rightly called 'the favourite of the Party', and his comrades in misfortune were shot. This happened forty years ago. It was one of those terrible crimes committed by Stalin before the Soviet nation, before the Party, before the communist movement of the entire world—crimes which cannot and will never be forgotten.


Since that day—or more correctly, since that night—when Bukharin was shot, forty years have passed. It is impossible to enumerate all that has happened during those years that (albeit indirectly) has had a connection with the 'Bukharin case'. Immediately after the trial, Anna Mikhailovna Larina was arrested. She spent eighteen years in prison, in camps and in exile. Bukharin's son Yuri was brought up by Larina's sister, who lived in the Urals. For some twenty years he did not know who his mother and father were. Today Larina and Yuri live in Moscow, and for many years they have been trying—so far unsuccessfully—to achieve Bukharin's official rehabilitation. In essence, the whole political trial of 1938 was exposed long ago even in the Soviet press. Of the defendants there, Krestinsky, Nanny, Chernov, Grinko, Zelensky, Ikramov, Khodzhayev and several others have been fully rehabilitated. From the platform of the all-Union Conference of Historians in 1964, the Central Committee Secretary Pospelov said, in reply to a question, that neither Bukharin nor Rykov were spies or wreckers. But contrary to all logic, neither Bukharin nor Rykov have been rehabilitated to this day, either by a state or a Party edict; nor has their sentence, pronounced on 13 March 1938, been formally cancelled.

Vyshinsky concluded his final speech for the prosecution at the trial, with these words: 'Time will pass. The graves of the hateful traitors will grow over with weeds and thistles, covered in eternal contempt by honest people and by the whole Soviet nation . . . Over the road cleared of the last scum and filth of the past we, our people, with our beloved leader and teacher the great Stalin at our head, will march on as before.' Vyshinsky was wrong about many things. Neither Bukharin, nor most of the other defendants at that trial, have been forgotten by the Soviet people. Neither is Bukharin forgotten as a leader of the October Revolution and the international communist movement. Several large books and many articles have been published about him in Europe and the United States. For the majority of western communists, Bukharin already does not require rehabilitation. But the Soviet people does not really know Bukharin, once one of the most popular leaders and theoreticians of the Revolution. They cannot read his books or articles. Even in the new Complete Soviet Encyclopaedia, Bukharin's name is not mentioned. So something of what Vyshinsky said has—so far—proved to be correct. And today, when more than twenty years have passed since the Twentieth Congress of the cpsu and seventeen since the Twenty-second, and when the whole world knows about the monstrous crimes of Stalin, among which the execution of Bukharin is plainly to be numbered, we do not even know where that outstanding theoretician and Party leader lies buried. But we do know the burial spot of his prosecutor, Vyshinsky—one of the most evil figures in Stalin's era. His remains rest near the Kremlin wall not far from the Lenin Mausoleum; and it is as if the monument on his grave is a reminder that, in our country, not all the evils of Stalinism are buried in the past.

Translated by Helen Jamieson


[1] The Case of the Anti-Soviet 'Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites': Report of Court Proceedings, Moscow 1938.

[2] According to Nadezhda Mandelstam's account in Hope Against Hope, Blumkin was already in the Cheka when he made the assassination attempt. (Trans.)
[3] The group of young Party intellectuals known as the 'Bukharin School' first rose to prominence in the inner-Party struggles in 1925, when they were vigorously denounced by the Zinovievite opposition in the polemics preceding the Fourteenth Congress. Formed in fact as early as 1922, the grouping was not fundamentally dissimilar to the followings of some other Bolshevik leaders—made up of secretaries, aides, ministerial subordinates and intellectual disciples—but was probably the most homogeneous and identifiable. (Trans.)
[4] Izvestia, 30 January 1937.
[5] In the Russian alphabet, V comes immediately after B. (Trans.)
[6] There is untranslateable pun here, since the word rendered here as 'guard' is etymologically identical to the name of the nkvd's predecessor, the Tsarist Okhrana. (Trans.)
[7] 'The Conveyor' was the basic nkvd system used to interrogate and break prisoners. It involved continuous questioning by relays of police, for days on end, without sleep. (Trans.)
[8] At another point in the trial proceedings, Krestinsky in fact stated that he had written a letter to Trotsky in November 1927 breaking off relations with him. Prior to this, he had been close to the Left Opposition, without as ambassador in Berlin being directly involved in the inner-party struggle. For another—significantly different—account of Krestinsky's trial, see Robert Conquest, The Great Terror (revised paperback edition), London 1971, pp. 497–521. (Trans.)
[9] Izvestia, 9 March 1938.


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