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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 33

Moscow Trials and Lenin Enrolment

by Subrata Sen

Wednesday 8 August 2007

This month marks the seventyfirst anniversary of the first of the Moscow Trials. On this occasion we are publishing the following article. Subrata Sen has studied in depth the atrocities committed during the Stalin regime in the USSR and other Soviet-modelled socialist states and written extensively on the subject. —-Editor)]


In August 1936, January 1937 and March 1938, three trials were held in the October Hall of the Trade Union House in Moscow. The 1937 trial took the toll of a number of highly placed Army officers of the rank of Generals and Marshals. The other two trials wiped off virtually the entire leadership of the Bolshevik Party of the time of the October Revolution.

Writes Robert Conquest:

To an immense publicity and in the presence of the world press, and members of the diplomatic corps, many of the leading veterans of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party confessed in turn to assassination, espionage, sabotage, treason, in the service of Trotsky and on behalf of Hitler in particular and other foreign rulers. There crime had ranged from putting broken glass in Soviet butter to procuring the murder of Maxim Gorky through his doctors.
The world found it hard to know what to make of all this. Though the charges sounded incredible, and most of them out of character too, the public confessions were baffling, at least at the first sight. The accused did not seem to exhibit any sign of obvious signs of having been tortured, or of being in any obviously abnormal physical or mental state. All the same there were plenty of indications even then that, as is now beyond dispute, the trials were monostrous frauds, that the conspiracy did not exist, and the Soviet secret police had found methods of getting their victims to cooperate. But at the time, though to their lasting discredit, many on the Left in the West found it possible to accept the Stalinist thesis that these great shows represented the truth.1

History has recorded these “monostrous frauds” as the Moscow Trials.
In the first of the Moscow Trials, the accused were G.E. Zinioviev, L. B. Kamenev, G.E. Evdokimov, I. N. Smirnov, I.P. Bakayev, V.A. Ter-Vaganian, S.D. Marchkovskii, E.A. Dreitser, E.S. Golitsman, I.I. Reingold and a number of veteran Bolsheviks.2

Leon Trotsky and his son, Leon Sedov, were accused in absentia. A. I. Vyshinskii, a turn-coat Menshevik, was the Public Prosecutor. He was assisted by the Britsh Baristocrat, Queen’s Counsel, D.N. Pritt.

Many of the accused were being tried for the second time for the same offence, assassination of S.M. Kirov, a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee. However, as the investigation did not establish facts that would provide a basis for describing their crimes as instigation of the assassination of S.M. Kirov, Zinovie was sentenced to ten years in prison only. Kamenev’s punishment was only five years. The other defendants received similar punishment.

The mistake, committed during the earlier trial was rectified during the first Moscow Trial. The fact that civilised jurisprudence does not approve of double jeopardy, escaped the attention of both Vyshinskii and his able assistant. It goes without saying that what escaped the attention of the chief of their tribe escaped the attention of the Oxbridge Baristocrats of the subcontinent too.

PERHAPS, the best way of retrieval of the original flavour of the travesty of the trials is to cite from the infamous Short Course despite the length of the citations.
Says the Short Course:
- The achievements of Socialism in our country were a cause of rejoicing not only to the Party and not only to workers and collective farmers, but also to our Soviet Intelligentsia, and all honest citizens of the Soviet Union.
But they were no cause of rejoincing to the remnants of defeated exploiting classes; on the contrary, they only enraged them the more as time went on.
They infuriated the lickspittles of the defeated classes—the puny remnants of the following of Bukharin and Trotsky.

On December 1, 1934 S. M. Kirov was foully murdered in the Smolny, in Leningrad, by a short from a revolver.

The assassin was caught red-handed and turned out to be a member of a secret counter-revolutionary group made up of members of an anti-Soviet group of Zinovievites in Leningrad.

S.M. Kirov was loved by the Party and the working class and his murder stirred the people profoundly, sending a wave of wrath and deep sorrow through the country.

The investigation established that in 1933 and 1934 an underground counter-revolutionary terrorist group had been formed in Leningrad consisting of former members of the Zinoviev opposition and headed by a so-called “Leningrad Centre”. The purpose of this group was to murder leaders of the Communist Party. S.M. Kirov was chosen as the first victim. The testimony of the members of this counter-revolutionary group showed that they were connected with representatives of foreign capitalist states and were receiving funds from them.

The exposed members of this organisation were sentenced by the military collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR to the supreme penalty,—to be shot.

Soon afterwards the existence of an underground counter-revolutionary organisation called the “Moscow Centre” was discovered. The preliminary investigation and the trial revealed the villainous part played by Zinoviev, Kamenev, Yevdokimov and other leaders of this organisation in cultivating the terrorist mentality among their followers, and in plotting murders of members of the Party Central Committee and of the Soviet Government.
To such depths of duplicity and villainy had these people sank that Zinoviev, who was one of the organizers and instigators of the assassination of S.M. Kirov, and who had urged the murderer to hasten the crime, wrote an obituary of Kirov speaking of him in terms of eulogy and demanded that it be punished.

The Zinovievites simulated remorse in court; but they persisted in their duplicity even in the dock. They concealed their connection with Trotsky. They concealed the fact that together with the Trotskyites they had sold themselves to fascist espionage services. They concealed from the court their connection with the Bukharinites, and the existence of of a gang of fascist hirelings.

As it transpired later, the murder of Comrade Kirov was the work of this Trotsky-Bukharin gang.

Even then, in 1936, it had become clear that the Zinoviev group was a camouflaged Whiteguard organisation whose members fully deserved to be treated as Whiteguard.

A year later it became known that the actual, real and direct organisers of the murder of Kirov were Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and their accomplices, and that they had made preparations for the assassination of other members of the Central Committee. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Yevdokimov, Pikel, I.N. Smirnov, Marchkovsky, Ter-Vaganyan, Reingold and others were committed for trial. Confronted by direct evidence, they had to admit publicly, in open court, that they had not only organised the assassination of Kirov, but had been planning to murder all the other leaders of the Party and the Government. Later investigation established the fact that these villains had been engaged in espionage and in organising acts of diversion. The full extent of the monstrous moral and political depravity of these men, their despicable villainy and treachery, concealed by hypocritical professions of loyalty to the Party, were revealed at a trial in Moscow in 1936.

The chief instigator and ring leader of this gang of assassins and spies was Judas Trotsky. Trotsky’s assistants in carrying out his counter-revolutionary instructions were Zinoviev, Kamenev and their Trotskyite underlings. They were preparing to bring about the defeat of the USSR in the event of attack by imperialist countries; they had become defeatists with regard to the workers’ and peasant’s state; they had become despicable servants and agents of the German and Japanese fascists.3

IN the 1938 trial, the accused were N.I. Bukharin, A.I. Rykov, G.G. Yagoda, N.N. Krestinsky, K.G. Rakovsky, A.P. Rosengoltz, V.I. Ivanov, M.A. Chernov, G.F. Grinko, I.A. Zelensky, S.A. Bessonov, A. Ikramov, F. Khodjayev, V.F. Sharngovich, P.T. Zubarev, P.P. Bulanov, L.G. Levin, D.D. Pletnev, L.N. Kazakov, V.A. Maximmovdivkosky and P.P. Kryuchkov. 4

Once again, perhaps the most convenient way to retrieve the flavour of the trial would be to cite at length from the Short Course:
In 1937, new facts came to light regarding the fiendish crimes of the Bukharin-Trotsky gang. The trial of Pyatakov, Radek and others, the trial of Tukachevski, Yakir and others, and lastly the trial of Bukharin, Rykov, Krestinskly, Rosengoltz and others, all showed that the Bukharinites and Trotskyites had long ago joined to form a common band of enemies of the people, operating as the “Block of Rights and Trotskyites”.

The trial showed that these dregs of humanity, in conjunction with the enemies of the people, Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev had been in conspiracy against Lenin, the Party and the Soviet State over since the early days of the October Socialist Revolution. The insidious attempts to thawart the peace of Brest-Litovsk at the beginning of 1918, the plot against Lenin and the conspiracy with the “Left” Socialist-Revolutionaries for the arrest and murder of Lenin, Stalin, and Sverdlov in the spring of 1918, the villainous shot that wounded Lenin in the summer of 1918, the revolt of the “Left” Socialist-Revolutionaries in the summer of 1918, the deliberate aggravation of difference in the Party in 1921, with the object of undermining and overthrowing Lenin’s leadership from within, the attempts to overthrow the Party leadership during Lenin’s illness and after his death, the betrayal of state secrets and supply of information of an espionage character to foreign information services, the vile assassination of Kirov, the acts of wrecking, diversion and explosions, the dastardly murder of Menzhinsky, Kuibyshev and Gorky—all these and similar villainies over a period of twenty years were committed, it transpired, with the participation or under the direction of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Rykov and their henchmen at he behest of espionage services of the bourgeois states.

The trials brought to light the fact that the Trotsky-Bukharin fiends, in obedience to the wishes of their masters—the espionage services of foreign states—had set out to destroy the Party and the Soviet State, to undermine the defensive power of the country, to assist foreign military intervention, to prepare the way for the defeat of the Red Army, to bring about the dismemberment of the USSR, to hand over the Soviet maritime region to the Japanese, Soviet Bylorussia to the Poles, and the Soviet Ukraine to the Germans, to destroy the gains of the workers and the collective farmers, and to restore capitalist slavery in the USSR.

These Whiteguard pigmies, whose strength was no more than that of a gnat, apparently flattered themselves that they were the masters of the country, and imagined that it was really in their power to sell or give away the Ukraine, Bylorussia and the Maritime Region.

These Whiteguard insects forgot that the real masters of the Soviet country were the Soviet people, and that the Rykovs, Bukharins, Zinovievs and Kamanevs were only temporary employees of the state, which could at any moment sweep them out from its offices as so much useless rubbish.
Those contemptible lackeys of the fascists forgot that the Soviet people had only to move a finger, and not a trace of them would be left.
The Soviet Court sentenced the Bukharin-Trotsky fiends to be shot.
The People’s Comissariat of Internal Affairs carried out the sentence.
The Soviet people approved the annihilation of the Bukharin-Trostsky gang and passed on to the next business.5

“In the new court proceedings of August 1936,” writes Medvedev, “there were no more denial of guilt. On the contrary, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other defendants willingly and smoothly told about their roles in the assassination of Kirov and about their plans to kill Stalin, Molotov, Chuber, Postychev, Kosior and Eikhe. (As things turned out, the last four were murdered without any help from Zinovievites; they were shot two years later on Stalin’s orders.) . . Only one accused, I.N. Smirnov, the alleged leader of all the Trotskyites in the Soviet Union, tried to refute the charges. He was, however exposed by the testimony of other defendants…”6

Further, the trial “was open but violated the most elementary rules of judicial procedure... No material evidence or documentary proof of the guilt of the accused was presented to the court. The entire court case rested on the contradictory “depositions” and “confessions” of the accused. Moreover, they were deprived of the right to defence counsel; a number of foreign lawyers offered to defend them but were rejected.”7

[By contrast, in the 1923 trial of the Social-Revolutionaries for attempt to overthrow the Soviet Government by force, a battery of eminent lawyers, provided by the German Social Democratic Party, defended the accused. All facilities were provided to the defence. There were no confessions. The defendants vigorously condemned Lenin’s government. Fourteen defendants were sentenced to death. However, the sentence was suspended by the government to be revived only if their party continued their criminal activity against the Soviet state.8]

IN the trial of Bukharin et al., a vital mistake of the Zinoviev trial was rectified. In the earlier trial, Trotsky and his son Sedov were ordered to surrender to the Soviet authorities for fresh trial. In the 1937 trial they were sentenced, in absentia, to death. (How the sentences were carried out with ample help from foreign Gulagists, are outside the scope of the present article.9)

To an extent, the great terror affected all strata of society. As Nikita Khrushchev, in his secret report to the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, said:
Arbitrary behaviour by one person encouraged and permitted arbitrariness in others. Mass arrests and deportations of many thousands of people, execution without trial and without normal investigation created conditions of insecurity, fear and desparation.10

But it was the Bolshevik Party which bore the brunt of of Stalin’s cannibalism. “The year 1934,” writes Medvedev, “marked the start of a new phase of Stalin’s sinister career. Now the axe was to fall on the Party itself: the terror would be directed not only against former opposition but against those who in the 1920s constituted the basic cadres of the Party apparatus, the government, the Red Army and all other public organisations.”11
Further, writes Medvedev:

According to my calculations, approximately one million Party members, and perhaps slightly more, were struck down by the purges in the period 1936-39. Those who were expelled from the Party in 1933-34 but continued to regard themselves as Communists must be added to that number—there were 800,000 expulsions in 1933 and more than 300,000 in 1934. Many of these former Party members, if not the majority, were subsequently arrested. Of course, there were also arrests of non-Party people in 1937, but they were mostly relatives, friends or colleagues of arrested Communists. It was obvious, even to most ordinary people who found it much easier to sleep at night during these years than Communists, that the great terror of the late 1930s was directed mainly at the Party itself.12

The wholesale slaughter of not only the leaders but also the rank of the Bolshevik Party was ably supplemented by the Lenin Enrolment: “The loss of Lenin,” says the Short Course, “caused the working class of the Soviet Union to rally even more solidly around the Leninist Party. In these days of mourning every class conscious worker defined his attitude to the Communist Party, the executor of Lenin’s behests. The Central Committee responded to this movement of the advanced workers and proclaimed the Lenin Enrolment—admission of advanced workers into the Party ranks. Tens of thousands of workers joined the ranks of the Bolshevik Party. They were the foremost section of the working class, the most class-conscious and revolutionary, the most intrepid and revolutionary. This was the Lenin Enrolment.”13

In May 1924 the Party held its Thirtenth Congress. It was attended by 748 voting delegates, representing a Party membership of 735,881. The marked increase in membership in comparison with the previous Congress was due to the admission of some 250,000 new members under the Lenin Enrolment.14

In other words, as the Old Bolsheviks were killed or carted away to the Gulag, their place was filled up with opportunists and careerists, including turn-coat Mensheviks of the type of Vyshinskii and Zhadanov.

The transformation of the vanguard party of the proletariat into its opposite, an instrument of ruthless exploitation o the peasantry and the working class, obviously sprang from a fundamental transformation in the state and society—transformation of the dictatorship of the proletariat into a vicious, bureaucratic dictatorship over the proletariat and the peasantry. That the transformation involved such massive slaughter and total liquidation of the Bolshevik Party testifies to both the magnitude and fundamental nature of the transformation. It is perhaps needless to point out that it is this repressive system that was transplanted in each and every country where the Gulagists came to power in whichever way and by whatever means.

IN July August 1990, with all avenues of harbouring illusions about the repressive states closed by the march of history, Dr Paul M. Sweezy came to the following conclusion about the nature of the “post-revolutionary society”: “neither capitalist, nor socialist, an authoritarian class society with state ownership of the means of production and central planning. It has no generally agreed name.”15

The strength of Sweezy’s formulation lies in its brevity, which leaves ample scope for elaboration by the scholar and the academic. However, the formulation suffers from a grievous weakness. It passes over in silence the extremely repressive nature of the society. After all, it is the resentment of the populace against this repression that pulled the system down. In all humility the writer would submit that ‘Gulagist’ would be the most appropriate label for such a state and society. The label has the advantage of bringing to attention the most vital aspect of repression, immediately.

The above transformations could not but affect the Communist International (Comintern). “In the mid-thirties,” writes Medvedev, “most non-Soviet parties were underground. To preserve the leading core of these parties, many of their Central Committee members lived in Moscow, which was the centre of the Comintern, the Communist Youth International, the Peasant International, the Trade Union International and so on. There were several special schools, where young Communists from abroad were trained for underground work. In this way the Soviet. Nino served as the base and centre of the world communist movement. And so the fraternal Communist Parties could be and were seriously hurt by the campaign of terror in the USSR.”16

Starting with the Soviet officials of the Comintern, the terror soon engulfed Communists from other countries. An alphabetical list of the countries of the victims, drawn up by the present writer, would run as follows: Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Chimania China, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Holland, Iran, India, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Spain, the USA and Yugoslavia.17 The writer will not stake a claim on absolute comprehensiveness.

The Polish and German Communist Parties were particularly affected. The Polish Party was dissolved by the Executive Committee of the Comintern.18 “After the friendship pact with Germany was signed, in September 1939, Stain committed yet another crime without precedent in our country’s history: a large group of German anti-fascists and Jews, who had fled from the Gestapo to the USSR, were handed over to Nazi Germany. Henceforth the Soviet borders were closed to refugees from enslaved Europe.”19 So writes Medvedev.

“It is a terrible paradox,” writes Medvedev, “that the West European Communist leaders and activists who lived in the USSR perished, while most of those who were in prison in their native lands in 1937-38 survived.”20

A decade-and-a-half ago, the present writer had pointed out:
Leaders and intellectuals belonging to the Stalinist parties who spent the war years in the Soviet Union, Palmiro Togliatti and Vittorio Vidaly (Italy), Maurice Thorez (France), Dolores Ibaruri and Santiago Cariollo (Spain), Walter Ulbricht (Germany), Clement Gotwald (Czechoslovakia), Vladiolaw Bierut (Poland), George Lukacs (Hungary), Anna Luis-Strong (USA) and others, must have been aware of the situation as the extermination took place. It must be considered highly suggestive that no one of the worthies have cared to reveal the secrets of their survival.21

What is more, they never flinched from extending enthusiastic support to the series of crimes against humanity by Stalin and his successors—repeat performances of the Moscow Trials in each and every East European country, Berlin wall, driving out millions into exile, crushing of the Hungarian uprising and murder most foul of Imre Nagy, crushing of the Prague Spring and persecution of Alexander Dubeck, use of Martial Law to curb the Polish working class.

Three-and-a-half decades ago, Fernando claudin, a former member of the Polit-Bureau of the Spanish Gulagists, had to write:
The Stalinist Party in both its national and international dimensions, in exercise of power as well as in its function as an instrument of struggle for power—had entered during the 1950s into a general and irreversible crisis. By its very nature, it is incapable of transforming itself, of ‘negating itself’ in the Hegelian sense of the term. This does not, of course, rule out the possibility that more or less substantial sections of the movements may contribute to the creation of a new Marxist vanguard, the need for which in our time is beyond doubt.22

In an article published in the Bombay weekly Clarity on October 7, 1990, the present writer had to dispute the later part of Claudin’s proposition. The present writer had pointed out that the old guard has misled and miseducated the ranks rather well. The infection of Polpotists is no longer curable. The new vanguard must come from a fresh stock, not tainted by the Gulagist legacy.23 In fact the Gulagist outfits in their various avatars, “Communist”, “Social Democratic” and “Left Democratic”, are hindrance to the emergence of a new Marxist vanguard.


- 1. Tyrants and Typewriters, Lexington Books, Lexington, 1989, p. 3.
- 2. Roy A. Medvedev, Let History Judge, Spokesman Books, Nottingham, 1972, p. 168.
- 2a. Ibid., p. 164.
- 3. History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), (Short Course), Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1952, pp. 486-500. The publication is anonymous. However, G.F. Alexandrov et al., in their brouchure, Joseph Stalin: a Short Biography (Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow, 1947, p. 139) credits Stalin with the authorship.
- 4. Ken Coates, The Case of Nicolai Bukharin, Spokesman Books, Nottingham, 1978, p. 21.
- 5. Short Course, op. cit., pp. 528-530.
- 6. Medvedev, op. cit., pp. 168-169.
- 7. Ibid., 169.
- 8. Alfred Rosema, Moscow Under Lenin, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1972 (?), pp. 163-166.
- 9. However see, Medvedev, op. cit., p. 178 and Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1970, pp. 499-505.
- 10. In Tariq Ali (ed.), The Stalinist Legacy, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1984, p. 228.
- 11. Roy A. Medvedev, On Stalin and Stalinism, Oxford University Press, 1979, p. 97.
- 12. Ibid., p. 102.
- 13. Short Course, op. cit., p. 412.
- 14. Ibid., p. 414.
- 15. Paul M. Sweezy, Post-Revolutionary Society, Cornerstone Publications, Kharagpur, 2000, p. 10.
- 16. Medvedev, Let History Judge, p. 218.
- 17. Subrata Sen, “Global Legacy of Stalinism and the Indian Left”, Clarity (weekly), Bombay, November 18, 1990.
- 18. Medvedev, Let History Judge, op. cit., p. 219 and p. 221.
- 19. Ibid., p. 222.
- 20. Ibid., pp. 222-223.
- 21. Sen, op. cit.
- 22. The Communist Movement, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1970, p. 10.
- 23. Subrata Sen, “Á New Marxist Vanguard Will Emerge”, Clarity (weekly), Bombay, October 7, 1990.

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