A friend recently reminded me that it was the 70th anniversary of the third and last of the infamous Moscow Show Trials that besmirched the name of socialism throughout much of the 20th Century. This time it was Lenin’s Party favorite Nikolia Bukharin who had been chosen by Stalin to take the lead role in this bloody legal farce, along with 20 co-defendants, all of whom had once been high State and Communist Party officials within the Soviet Union. As if to make it clear to his own supporters that no one was safe in their beds, Stalin placed a number of his own colleagues in the dock alongside Bukharin, amongst them Genrikh Yagoda, who in 1934 Stalin had appointed “People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs.” From this post Yagoda organized and had overseen the first Moscow Trial and set in motion the following two. Having helped Stalin eliminate almost all of Lenin close comrades, Stalin had no further use for him, beyond that is taking Yagoda’s life as a reminder to the core Stalinist clique not to forget who they owed their positions to.
These days we are used to politicians turning black into white by lying through their teeth, but the scale of Stalin’s deceit when he purged the veteran old Bolshevik Party elite takes ones breath away. Between 1936-1938 Stalin purged almost all of Lenin’s closest comrades who had carried through the October 1917 Bolshevik revolution. * These men and women, who had been life long revolutionaries and who after 1917 worked tirelessly in the upper echelons of the Soviet State. Were accused of the most heinous crimes of conspiring with western powers, including Nazi Germany, to assassinate Lenin and Stalin and other Soviet leaders, dismember the Soviet Union and restore capitalism. That these charges were totally and farcically false never seemed to enter the equation when millions of people around the world made their minds up on whether to believe them or not. Not least because due to the brutality of the GPU and the dire threats made against the defendants families, the majority of those in the dock admitted their ‘guilt’ when in reality they were totally innocent of the crimes they had been accused of. **
The elephant that was missing in the room where the Moscow Trials took place was Leon Trotsky, who by a quirk of history was temporarily beyond the clutches of Stalin’s secret police, having been expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929. Trotsky and his small band of young comrades had the colossal task of refuting the filth that the defendants of the Moscow Trials faced. Isolated in Mexico, having just arrived from a Europe which had closed its doors on him, having finally been given sanctuary as an act of revolutionary solidarity by President Lazaro Cardenas, Trotsky began work on what was to become a rousing denunciation of the lies, murderous thugishness, and blood stained deceit that lay at the heart of the Moscow Trials.
What ever one may feel about the political competence of some of Trotsky’s supporters today, he understood above all others that to capitulate to Stalinism would not lead to a socialist future but the reverse, it would be barbarism that would emerge. From his lonely exile not once did he capitulate on his core beliefs, going to his grave certain that the long dark night of Stalinism would finally lift and future generations of socialists would stumble and work alongside working class people to find a way to build socialist societies with a human face that benefited all of humanity.
* See photo of Lenin’s 1917 Central committee and their fate here. http://www.marxists.org/history/ussr/events/terror/cc-1917.jpg
** The Trial of the 21, http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/swp-us/trialof21.htm
Moscow trials http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_Trials The Moscow Trial – Max Shactman