Analyzing the Moscow Trials

Also check out my three articles explaining the Moscow Trials from beginning to end (part 1, part 2, part 3).

Apparently communist historian Grover Furr has a book called “Moscow Trials as Evidence”. I have not read the book (I’ll check it out some day). However, I have read all the transcripts of the trials themselves, and they indeed provide fascinating information.


The vast majority of people who dismiss the Moscow Trials as a “fraud”, “frame-up” or “hoax”, have never read the trial material. It is also possible that many are not knowledgeable enough about the context to understand the trial material, even if they read it. The materials themselves are not difficult to understand, but if one is a) ignorant on the context and b) has a strong anti-communist bias, they might conclude that if there is something they don’t understand, or something which seems strange or far-fetched, then it must be fraudulent.

In actuality, however, the trial materials are absolutely believable. I strongly recommend everyone interested in the topic to actually read the materials. Almost everything in the trial materials is verified by independent evidence, or has a very logical and rational explanation (if one is not too blinded by bias). As a result the trials seem completely legitimate and truthful.

Of course, there are some details which are questionable. At every trial, defendants will always try to lie about certain things, they will forget things, get details wrong etc. This only further makes the trials more credible, because if there actually were absolutely zero contradictions or mistakes, it would suggest the thing could be scripted.

Why would someone believe the trials were a fraud?

The most common reason is simply that anti-communist historians claim the trials were a fraud. For most anti-communists this is the only reason. However, there are other possible reasons too, which are a bit more legitimate:

1) The accusations made at the trials seem extraordinary, at least if one is not familiar with the context or the motives and reasoning of the defendants. For those who are familiar with the defendants’ track record, their views and methods, the trial findings seem like a natural outcome of their past careers, and is only an escalation and “stepping up a notch” of the activity they were already doing in the past. For almost every accusation there is a precedent in the well-known past careers of the defendants. The more you know about the defendants and the facts surrounding the case, the more obvious their guilt seems. But in any case, the crimes (treason, espionage, terrorism etc.) are not ordinary every day crimes.

2) Many people think the defendants “were old Bolsheviks”, and “would not commit crimes like this”. Countless people have dismissed the trials on these grounds alone, but it is an argument entirely based on ignorance. Firstly, the status of the defendants as Old Bolsheviks is dubious at best. They had all committed various acts of treachery against Lenin, been in opposition to Lenin on countless occasions, for many years or even the majority of their careers, had opposed Lenin and Bolshevism in countless ways. Secondly, many of the defendants had engaged in acts very similar to those accused at the trials, already in the past, but usually (though not always) in less severe forms.

If one imagines the defendants as “Old Bolsheviks”, as “revolutionary Saints” who had always been nothing but loyal, and had never engaged in anything like this in the past, and if the crimes had been completely unprecedented, unheard of, and come entirely out of the blue, then it would indeed seem quite unbelievable. However, the opposite is the case. The defendants were a group of life-long oppositionists, and life-long professional underground conspirators, with a track record of similar acts. Stalin and all of his closest associates were also Old Bolsheviks. If the argument is that “Old Bolsheviks would never do anything wrong or terrible”, then we must conclude that Stalin must be entirely correct. The only difference is that Stalin and his associates were actually Old Bolsheviks in substance and not only in name. Stalin and his associates were never in opposition against Lenin. (See my article “Stalin & the myth of the ”Old Bolsheviks”” where I discuss this in more detail.)

3) Many people claim “the defendants would not unite with fascists, would not use terrorism” etc. because those positions are seen as un-marxist. However, this is also based on ignorance. The defendants all rationalized everything they did based on their own (albeit twisted) version of “marxism”. From the point of view of their worldview and their program, it all makes absolutely logical sense. Of course, their plan was still overly risky, adventurist, and unlikely to succeed. However, the plans of the Left-Opposition and the Trotskyist Opposition were always notorious for being adventurist, extremely risky, overly hasty, aggressive and, quite frankly, more like frenzied utopias of fanatics, rather then realistic and scientific plans.

The opposition (which the defendants belonged to for most of their careers) was also extremely well-known for flip-flopping on every conceivable position. To mention only some examples: Bukharin went from being the leader of the Left-Opposition to the leader of the Right-Opposition, from a main supporter of extremely left-policies during the civil war, to supporting the opposite policies only couple years later. Trotsky had changed his positions so many times that Lenin said “Trotsky, however, has never had any “physiognomy” at all; the only thing he does have is a habit of changing sides” (Lenin, The Break-Up of the “August” Bloc).

“Trotsky, on the other hand, represents only his own personal vacillations and nothing more. In 1903 he was a Menshevik; he abandoned Menshevism in 1904, returned to the Mensheviks in 1905 and merely flaunted ultra-revolutionary phrases; in 1906 he left them again; at the end of 1906 he advocated electoral agreements with the Cadets (i.e., he was in fact once more with the Mensheviks); and in the spring of 1907, at the London Congress, he said that he differed from Rosa Luxemburg on “individual shades of ideas rather than on political tendencies”. One day Trotsky plagiarises from the ideological stock-in-trade of one faction; the next day he plagiarises from that of another” (Lenin, The Historical Meaning of the Inner-Party Struggle in Russia)

“That is just like Trotsky! He is always equal to himself—twists, swindles, poses as a Left, helps the Right, so long as he can.” (Lenin to Inessa Armand, Labour Monthly, September 1949)

Trotsky had flip-flopped between various kinds of anti-Bolshevism for more then a decade, until he joined the Bolsheviks in 1917. Right before joining he had said at a conference of his group:

“I cannot be called a Bolshevik… We must not be demanded to recognise Bolshevism.” (Leon Trotsky, Mezhrayontsi conference, May 1917, quoted in Lenin, Miscellany IV, Russ. ed., 1925, p. 303.)

After joining the Bolsheviks Trotsky soon went into opposition against Lenin. By 1927 he had been expelled from the party, and he was advocating his own Trotskyist theories again, which strongly differed from the line of the party. To expect some kind of “Leninist orthodoxy” from these people is not logical.

Therefore, the argument that “the defendants would not do X, because they would think it un-marxist or un-Bolshevik” is not accurate. They supported one position one day, and the opposite position the next day, and always justified it by appealing to Marxism, or even to Bolshevism. The Trotskyists, Bukharinists and co. believed that they were the ones “creating Marxism”, they were the ones who would decide what Marxism means, they would decide what is Marxist and what is un-Marxist. Trotsky and Bukharin considered themselves to be theoreticians and authorities on Marxist ideology practically on the same level as Lenin, and certainly above everyone else.

They were also quite willing to re-interpret Marx himself, to say that “certain parts of Marx are outdated and must be revised” etc. According to Marxism-Leninism, the world had entered into a new stage of capitalism, and therefore new theories were needed. Trotskyists and Bukharinists agreed about this, but their theories were entirely different. They thought, if Lenin and Stalin can develop new theories, why couldn’t they?

There are signs that their view on terrorism was changing. Even in his public writings, Trotsky argued that “stalinism” had entered into a stage of “bureaucracy” which made terrorism inevitable, and practically justifiable, though he doesn’t say it openly:

“discontent is spreading within the masses of the people, for which the means of proper expression and an outlet are lacking, but which isolates the bureaucracy as a whole; if the youth itself feels that it is spurned, oppressed and deprived of the chance for independent development, the atmosphere for terroristic groupings is created.” (Trotsky, On the Kirov Assassination)

Trotsky has a track record of not stating his actual positions openly. For example, during the Brest-Litovsk crisis, he did not have the courage to join the Left-Communist Opposition openly and to advocate for a “red holywar” (Bukharin’s words). Instead Trotsky advocated “neither peace nor war”, which in reality opposed Lenin’s demand to sign the peace treaty, and supported the Left-Communist position of not signing it.

Lenin was very familiar with Trotsky’s common tactic, which he followed throughout his entire career, of not stating his views clearly and openly, but covering them up with vague and radical phrases and using deception. About Trotsky’s dishonest and covert protection of right-opportunism and liquidationism Lenin said:

“All that glitters is not gold. There is much glitter and sound in Trotsky’s phrases, but they are meaningless… If our attitude towards liquidationism is wrong in theory, in principle, then Trotsky should say so straightforwardly, and state definitely, without equivocation, why he thinks it is wrong. But Trotsky has been evading this extremely important point for years… Although Trotsky has refrained from openly expounding his views, quite a number of passages in his journal show what kind of ideas he has been trying to smuggle in.” (Lenin, Disruption of Unity Under Cover of Outcries for Unity)

Bukharin and the Left-Opposition had also collaborated in the past with Left-SRs, who supported and used terrorism. They also advocated and attempted a coup’de’tat in 1918, which the Left-Opposition did not oppose in principle. Bukharin himself admitted this already in the 1920s, long before he was ever on trial.

Bukharin wrote in Pravda, January 3, 1924:

“I consider it my Party duty to tell about the proposal made by the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries at a moment of bitter factional struggle so as to paralyse that idyllic varnishing of the events of the Brest period which has been practised by the comrades of the opposition…”

“They depicted the Brest period in the Party as ‘the height of democracy.’ I know very well that this was a period when the Party was within a hair’s breadth of a split, and when the whole country was within a hair’s breadth of its doom.”

When the left-opposition “pointedly compared current norms with the free discussions during the Brest controversy, Bukharin tried to discredit the earlier period by disclosing that Lenin’s arrest had been discussed by Left Communists and Left Socialist Revolutionaries in 1918, and asserting that it had been “a period when the party stood a hair from a split, and the whole country a hair from ruin.”” (Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: a political biography, 1888-1938, p. 156 quoting from Pravda, January 3, 1924, p. 5)

Someone might ask “didn’t the Bolshevik party of Lenin also have a brief alliance with the Left-SRs?” Yes they did, but in those days the Left-SR party was not the same. The Left-SR party was a wavering petit-bourgeois utopian socialist party which included many different elements. Only the terroristic and reactionary elements joined with the Right-SRs and Bukharin’s “Left-Communists”. The best elements of the Left-SR party opposed the reactionary coup. They created two new parties: the Narodnik Communists and Revolutionary Communists, which both soon dissolved themselves and simply joined the Bolshevik Party.

Zinoviev and Kamenev had also cultivated terroristic views among their supporters, which they admitted in 1935.

Furthermore, the United Opposition (of Trotskyists and Zinovievists) had written in the late 1920s that they would not rule out assassinations. They wrote that if something happened to Trotsky, they would “take revenge” by killing Stalin and all the the other Politburo members. Perhaps they decided to do it, even if nothing happened to Trotsky. Trotsky himself wrote that Kirov was killed as “revenge”:

“I remembered one of the Opposition’s leaflets in February of the year ’29, before Trotsky’s exile. A square of paper with untraceable script: “If an attempt is made to assassinate Comrade Trotsky, we will exact revenge. . . . We hold personally responsible for his safety all the members of the Politburo: Stalin, Voroshilov, Molotov, Kaganovich, Kalinin, Kirov, Kuibyshev…”” (Lev Kopelev, The education of a true believer, p. 300)

It is also often argued that Trotsky would find fascists so repugnant that he would never work with them, but in reality Trotsky was a calculating politician who was willing to work with any “enemy of his enemy” i.e. any enemy of Stalin. In Trotsky’s mind he was not really helping the fascists (at least not in the long run) but playing fascists and Stalin against each other, and Trotsky imagined he would be the true beneficiary. Trotsky had a long history of doing this. In exile from the USSR Trotsky was living on money provided to him by capitalists, he wanted to get political asylum in the USA and was willing to provide the US Secret Services information about communists and the USSR in exchange. The USA declined to give Trotsky asylum, but instead they kept in touch with him, assisting him, while Trotsky got asylum in Mexico. This has been revealed in documents released since the 90s.

“Trotsky and his staff began giving U.S. consular officials in Mexico information on communists and
alleged Comintern (Communist or Third International) agents in the U.S. and Mexico.” (Trotsky in Mexico: Toward a History of His Informal Contacts with the U.S. Government, 1937-1940, William Chase, p. 1)

“Trotsky also received periodic financial contributions from rich American sympathizers.” (Chase, p. 11)

Chase stated: “I can tell you we have concrete information that Leon Trotsky, too, was an informant of the US government.” (Trotsky and Rivera were informants of the US government – American Researchers reveal)

David Alfaro Siqueiros alleges that Trotsky received funds also from the American fascist Hearst Press (cf. “The Assault on the House of Leon Trotsky”)

Let’s take a look at the trials themselves. There are some particular points I want to comment on:

The Zinoviev-Kamenev Trial (1936)

I cannot give a full explanation here of trials or what the opposition was trying to do. I assume the reader of this article already has a pretty good idea. If not, check out my three part video or my three part blog article.

At the trial the Zinovievite Opposition was accused of planning to murder Stalin, Kirov and others. But why Kirov? Kirov had replaced Zinoviev as the Leningrad Party Secretary, and had basically decimated Zinoviev’s organization and replaced it with “stalinists”. That is a good reason to want Kirov out of the picture. The Zinovievites also believed they could kill Stalin, and after Stalin’s death there would inevitably emerge a power struggle, and Kirov was likely to win it. Therefore, it was necessary to kill Kirov and all the other “top stalinists”.

Counter-revolutionary terrorist Grigory Tokaev has independently corroborated this in his memoirs written after his defection to the West. Tokaev admitted to belong to an “opposition group which… had been forced to contemplate acts of political terror against both Kirov and Kalinin… Kirov was shot by yet another underground group.” (Tokaev, Comrade X, p. 2)

Tokaev was in contact with other terroristic groups. He stated:

“there had already been no less than fifteen attempts to assassinate Stalin, none had got near to success, each had cost many brave lives.” (Tokaev, Comrade X, p. 49)

Bukharin’s colleague Humbert-Droz who later became an anti-communist has also verified that the Right-Opposition was planning to form a coalition to murder Stalin.

“I went to see Bukharin… He brought me up to date with the contacts made by his group with the Zinoviev-Kamenev fraction in order to coordinate the struggle against the power of Stalin… Bukharin also told me that they had decided to utilise individual terror in order to rid themselves of Stalin.” (Humbert-Droz, De Lénin à Staline, Dix Ans Au Service de L’ Internationale Communiste 1921-31)

At the trial the Zinovievites were accused of plotting to organize the arrest and killing of the entire “stalinist leadership” at the 17th Party Congress. This is also corroborated by Tokaev.

“In 1934 there was a plot to start a revolution by arresting the whole of the Stalinist-packed 17th Congress of the Party.” (Tokaev, Comrade X, p. 37)

Zinovievites and Trotskyists had formed a United Bloc in 1932 which also included many other groupings including Right-Oppositionists. However, nothing is mentioned about that at this trial. This will be an important piece of information later.

Some might claim that Zinoviev and Kamenev were honest and always spoke the truth, and that their denials were truthful, but they had already been put on trial in 1935 where they admitted moral guilt for Kirov’s murder, as they had cultivated anti-party and terroristic views among their supporters (the murderer had been a supporter of Zinoviev). However, at the trial in 1935, not only did Zinoviev and Kamenev not reveal that they had actually planned the murder, not only indirectly inspired it, but they also kept secret their contact with the Trotskyists and Bukharinists, and concealed the existence of the Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites, which had been formed in 1932, as documents prove. They continued to try to hide the Bloc in the trial in 1936.

”The bloc is organised, it includes the Zinovievists, the Sten–Lominadze Group and the Trotskyists (former capitulators). The Safar–Tarkhan Group have not yet formally entered they have too extreme a position; they will enter very soon…”
(A letter from Sedov to Trotsky written in invisible ink, discovered by Pierre Broue, Library of Harvard College 4782)

The document also mentions by name I. N. Smirnov, Preobrazhensky and Ufintsev: “the I.N. Smirnov Group, Preobrazh. and Uf…” (Ibid.)

The Radek-Pyatakov Trial (1937)

At this trial of the famous Trotskyist Radek and the famous Left-Communist/Left-Oppositionist Pyatakov, the motivations and the program of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite United Opposition is explained in greater detail. Trotsky had claimed that building Socialism in One Country was impossible and that the Soviet industrialization would inevitably fail. Due to challenges and hardships in the struggle to industrialize, many oppositionists had accepted Trotsky’s view in 1928-33. The position of the Right-Opposition was also that rapid industrialization and building of Socialism were impossible. They found common ground with the Trotskyists. Pyatakov was a close colleague of Bukharin (the head of the Right-Opposition, and the previous head of the Left-Communist Opposition). The different oppositions were closely connected.

When the danger of a second World War increased, Trotsky argued that the USSR would inevitably lose the war to Japan and Germany. This position was accepted by many oppositionists in the mid 1930s.

“Only the overthrow of the Bonapartist Kremlin clique can make possible the regeneration of the military strength of the USSR… The struggle against war, imperialism, and fascism demands a ruthless struggle against Stalinism, splotched with crimes. Whoever defends Stalinism directly or indirectly, whoever keeps silent about its betrayals or exaggerates its military strength is the worst enemy of the revolution” (Trotsky, A Fresh Lesson: On the Character of the Coming War, 1938)

Trotsky stated that Stalin fears the coming war because it will lead to his overthrow:

“The Soviet bureaucracy fears a great war more than any ruling class in the world: it has little to win but everything to lose… the Moscow bureaucracy itself will be thrown into an abyss before the revolution comes in the capitalist countries.” (Trotsky, The Second World War, 1940)

Radek explained, that since they believed the USSR would not be able to win the war, it was necessary to make agreements with foreign powers (UK, Poland, and mainly Japan and Germany), to make compromises. When those countries attacked the USSR, the oppositionists would take power, and they would already have agreements with those foreign powers. These agreements would grant foreign powers all kinds of concessions: territory, trade-deals, the ability to invest in the USSR (as had been done during the NEP) etc. The Opposition believed these concessions would save the USSR from disaster, and were also totally in line with the rest of their program.

They believed that Socialism could not be built in one country, and therefore it was necessary to restore the NEP. Foreign investment would perfectly fit with this. It is true that the Left-Communists and Trotskyists had previously opposed the NEP and preferred war-communism, but now they changed their minds. It is not surprising and not even particularly dishonest and not exceptionally unprincipled, their position had simply evolved. War-communism would not be applicable anymore, the European revolution of 1917-23 had ended, and the situation was entirely different.

According to the Oppositionists, because the USSR’s defeat in the war was considered inevitable, the correct position was “revolutionary defeatism”. This meant intentionally sabotaging the defensive capacity of the USSR to hasten the inevitable defeat. This is a twisted version of Lenin’s “revolutionary defeatism” and “turning imperialist war into civil war”. In the 1920s Trotsky had already advocated the so-called “Clémenceau Thesis”, which claimed that while the USSR was threatened by invading enemy armies, by capitalist encirclement, it was necessary to overthrow the government and thus save the country.

“What is defeatism? A policy which pursues the aim of facilitating the defeat of one’s ‘own’ state which is in the hands of a hostile class. Any other conception and interpretation of defeatism will be a falsification. Thus, for example, if someone says that the political line of ignorant and dishonest cribbers must be swept away like garbage precisely in the interests of the victory of the workers’ state, that does not make him a ‘defeatist.’ On the contrary, under the given concrete conditions, he is thereby giving genuine expression to revolutionary defencism: ideological garbage does not lead to victory!” (Trotsky’s letter to Orjonikidze, July 11, 1927)

“Examples, and very instructive ones, could be found in the history of other classes. We shall quote only one. At the beginning of the imperialist war the French bourgeoisie had at its head a government without a sail or rudder. The Clemenceau group was in opposition to that government. Notwithstanding the war and the military censorship, notwithstanding even the fact that the Germans were eighty kilometres from Paris (Clemenceau said: ‘precisely because of it’), he conducted a fierce struggle against petty-bourgeois flabbiness and irresolution and for imperialist ferocity and ruthlessness. Clemenceau was not a traitor to his class, the bourgeoisie; on the contrary, he served it more loyally, more resolutely and more shrewdly than Viviani, Painleve and Co. The subsequent course of events proved that. The Clemenceau group came into power, and its more consistent, more predatory imperialist policy ensured victory for the French bourgeoisie. Were there any French newspapermen that called the Clemenceau group defeatist? There must have been: fools and slanderers follow in the train of every class. They do not, however, always have the opportunity to play an equally important role” (Trotsky’s letter to Orjonikidze, July 11, 1927)

Later Trotsky attempted to defend himself by saying:

“The Clémenceau example, the example from the political experience of a class inimical to us, was used by me to illustrate a solitary and a very simple idea: the ruling class, in the guise of its leading vanguard, must preserve its capacity to reform its ranks under the most difficult conditions” (Trotsky, The “Clémenceau Thesis” and the Party Regime)

“Reforming party ranks” here means overthrowing Stalin and abolishing the so-called “stalinist system” which allegedly prevented the proper functioning and reforming the party.

When Trotsky went into exile Radek refused to go with him. This resulted in a split between the two. Some might argue that since Radek split with Trotsky, the charge that he returned to Trotskyism was fabricated. However, Zinoviev also split with Trotsky in 1927, and Trotsky was very bitter about it. Despite of that, documents from the Harvard Trotsky archive prove that Zinoviev joined with Trotsky again in 1932, and even in these documents Trotsky makes bitter remarks against the “old capitulators” and “ex-Trotskyists”, i.e. those capitulators like Zinoviev and ex-Trotskyists like Radek who did not emigrate with Trotsky in 1927. Still they all united into a common bloc in 1932.

Radek explains that his betrayal against the party, and his re-joining the Trotskyists took place because he still remained friends with many “ex-trotskyists” who had not left with Trotsky, but who adopted the Trotskyist position again as soon as the difficulties and hard class struggle of 1928-33 began. Radek explained that he would always hang out with Trotskyists, hear them attacking the party and the government’s policies, and would not say anything or do anything to stop them. Thus he was already one foot in Trotskyism. Gradually he joined their group, and was finally asked to join by Trotsky.

Radek explains his personal motives for joining and later abandoning the Trotskyists. He said that he fully believed defeat of the USSR in the war was inevitable. As a result he supported the defeatist position, for him the only possible position. This position might sound crazy to any sane person, but the Left-Communists had previously made statements saying that in the interest of World Revolution, it was acceptable to sacrifice Soviet Power, to sacrifice the USSR to a defeat in war. A Left-Communist text from 1918 said:

“In the interests of the world revolution, we consider it expedient to accept the possibility of losing Soviet power which is now becoming purely formal.” (quoted in Lenin, Strange and Monstrous)

However, according to Radek, as the industrialization was proceeding he began to believe the USSR actually could win the war. This in his own words meant that the Trotskyist program was “unreal”, i.e. not in accordance with real facts. He began distancing himself from them, not because of any love for Stalin or any loyalty towards the USSR, but because of purely tactical calculations.

Radek’s testimony is completely believable. It actually would be hard to believe anything else. The entire plot flows inevitably from the logic of Trotsky’s position, and any other outcome is impossible. The trial features countless moments which testify to its authenticity and truthfulness, for example the questioning of the German engineer. The court has an unnecessary and awkward interaction with the engineer regarding whether he needs an interpreter or not. It demonstrates that this is a real court, with real people, and it was not scripted.

Same goes for the testimony of the international vagabond Arnold (who also had countless other names). Arnold is a small character in the whole thing, but his convoluted story takes a very long time to get straight. If a script-writer had manufactured the whole thing he probably would have cut that whole segment. The engineer and Arnold were involved in the Opposition’s sabotage activities against Soviet industry (especially militarily strategic industry). Pyatakov was a high official working in industry, so he had all the opportunities for sabotage.

The Opposition united with all enemies of the Stalin government: all oppositionists, mensheviks, nationalists, anti-communists, SRs etc. This is not unusual because e.g. we know from documents discovered in the Harvard Trotsky archive that Trotsky had supported forming a bloc (or a coalition) with countless opposition groups, in his past Trotsky had united with anti-Leninists of all shades (in the so-called “August Bloc”) and the Left-Communists had also united with the Left-SR and Right-SR parties, which were both anti-communist parties and held views that strongly contradicted Left-Communist and Trotskyist ideology on numerous important points.

At this trial there is still no mention of the Right-Opposition, although they had entered into the United Bloc with the Trotskyists, Zinovievites and Left-Communists since 1932. The NKVD already had the documents to demonstrate this (and corroborating documents have been found in the Harvard Trotsky archive) but no charges were brought against Rights at the trial. Keep this in mind when we get to the next section.

Bukharin was mentioned in passing a couple of times, because he had been with Pyatakov when numerous relevant events had taken place. However, no charges were brought against Bukharin and he was not connected to the crimes. The oppositionist views he had advocated in the past together with Pyatakov and in 1928-30 were mentioned, but it was assumed that his participation in the opposition had ended. The other leader of the Right-Opposition, Tomsky, was also mentioned briefly.

The Bukharin-Rykov Trial (1938)

When Tomsky realized the police were on his trail, he committed suicide and left a note claiming that ex-NKVD chief Yagoda was actually also a secret member of the Right-Opposition. When Yagoda was relieved of the leadership of the NKVD due to incompetence, the connection of the Right-Opposition to the Trotskyists and Zinovievites were disclosed. It became clear that Yagoda had been hiding the fact that the Right-Opposition (and its leaders Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov) were in a united bloc together with the other criminals. All this has been verified many times over.

Yagoda was replaced as the head of NKVD by Yezhov, who was also a secret member of the Right-Opposition but this was not revealed until later. At the trial, some defendents claimed their plan was to murder Stalin and other high officials, like they had murdered Kirov, and to murder Yezhov. This obviously cannot be true because Yezhov himself was working together with the Opposition. There are two possible explanations:

1) Some defendants (low level conspirators) did not know Yezhov was a Rightist. Yezhov had a deep cover. This is very probable.
2) Some of them (highest ranking conspirators) were shielding Yezhov by claiming they had tried to murder him. This is also probable.

At the trial it became evident that even under “normal” conspiratorial conditions, the defendants did not usually know what other people in the organization were doing. This is normal for underground organizations. Trotsky and the high-ranking members of the conspiracy did not even reveal their true program to most of their underlings.

Yezhov was promoted to the NKVD to investigate the mine explosions caused by sabotage. This is my own speculation and I have not found evidence to prove it, but it is possible that the opposition orchestrated these explosions not only for the sake of sabotage, but specifically to engineer Yezhov’s promotion.

At the trial the Riutin platform was discussed. The Riutin platform was an oppositional program from 1932, which claimed that Stalin has created a system of feudal exploitation of the peasantry, and demanded his violent overthrow. This program was adopted by the Right-Opposition, the Left-Communists and Trotskyists. The Riutin group itself was a rightist group. It was known that young supporters of Bukharin had been involved in the Riutin group.

Bukharin had admitted at a Central Committee meeting where he had been questioned, that he had known about the group. He had not informed the party about this conspiratorial group, allegedly because he had tried to “reason with” the group and persuade them to stop what they were doing. Later Bukharin admitted that he was part of the group himself, and that his name had been left out of the group’s program for secrecy. However, he denied being the main architect of the program (which he probably was).

Historical facts fully corroborate the trial findings. The pro-Trotsky historian Pierre Broué actually discovered documents from the Harvard Trotsky archive which verified that in 1932 Trotsky had ordered the creation of the united bloc of Rights and Trotskyits. It also included Zinovievites, the Sten-Lominadze group and others. These documents mention the names of many of the most famous defendants such as Preobrazhensky, I. Smirnov and Sokolnikov.

A letter from Sedov to Trotsky states:

“The [bloc] is organised it includes the Zinovievists, the Sten–Lominadze Group and the Trotskyists (former “[capitulators]”). The Safar–Tarkhan Group… will enter very soon.” (Document No. 3, Letter from Sedov to Trotsky, Library of Harvard College 4782)

The letter also laments the arrest of the secret Trotskyist center and states that the loss of these old Trotskyist leaders is a serious defeat, but they still have links to agents on the ground level:

“The collapse of the “old men” is a heavy blow but the links with the workers have been preserved … “ (Ibid.)

“In the struggle to destroy Stalin’s dictatorship, we must in the main rely not on the old leaders” (Riutin Platform)

The Soviet communist had known that since 1929 Bukharin had tried to create a bloc with Zinovievites and Trotskyites, although perhaps Trotsky had not officially responded yet. It also seems clear that some of the wavering Trotskyists were not ready to create this alliance yet in 1929. In any case, the Soviet government had already discovered it and confronted Bukharin:

“At the beginning of 1929 it was discovered that Bukharin, authorized by the group of Right capitulators, had formed connections with the Trotskyites, through Kamenev, and was negotiating an agreement with them for a joint struggle against the Party.” (History of the CPSU(B) – Short Course. There’s also an audio version)

According to Bukharin’s friend revisionist Humbert-Droz the Bukharin rightist group had terrorist plans against Stalin’s life already since 1929, and already had an embryonic alliance with the Zinovievites and Trotskyists. By 1932 this had evolved into a firm program i.e. the “Riutin platform”—and the same year the bloc was officially formed on Trotsky’s orders.

Let’s discuss the behavior of people at the different trials. Zinoviev and Kamenev had denied and lied at their trial. Radek had explained his motivation in great detail at his trial. At the Bukharin-Rykov trial, the most well-known incident besides the testimony of Bukharin, has to be the testimony of Trotskyist Krestinsky.

At the first session Krestinsky was very emotional. He denied everything, shouting “I am not a trotskyite! I have never been a trotskyite!” and then collapsed into despondency. Some anti-communist commentators were impressed by Krestinsky and thought he spoke the truth. So when Krestinsky admitted the charges in the later sessions it was claimed that he had been coerced. But actually, Krestinsky was well known as an old Trotskyite, he had belonged to Trotsky’s opposition in the 1920s and everybody in the USSR knew it. His emotional denial was obviously false and a product of desperation. Nobody at the time took Krestinsky’s denial seriously.

If Krestinsky had said “I am not currently a Trotskyist” it would at least be possible. But he had screamed repeatedly “I have never been a Trotskyist” which was blatantly absurd. He explained that he was simply acting hysterically, denying everything due to panic and shame. This seems entirely believable. Otherwise we would have to assume that the organizers of the trial ordered Krestinsky to act out this hysterical episode, which probably would have required a professional actor to pull off, unless he was being genuinely hysterical.

Bukharin tried to not agree with anything the prosecutor said. He minimized his guilt at every opportunity, rationalized everything and tried to make himself into a martyr. He claimed he did not know what his friends and supporters were doing, and that he had nothing to do with their crimes, but he generously “accepts the responsibility for what they did.” This was his attempt to avoid actual guilt and to paint himself as a martyr. He denied knowing about the assassinations or espionage.

A small detail which most people probably miss, is that Bukharin constantly tried to attack the communist Valerian Kuibyshev, who had recently been murdered by the rightists. Kuibyshev was a supporter of Stalin and a member of the politburo, but he was known as a radical and had previously been close to Left-Communism. Bukharin constantly tried to insert statements about Kuibyshev, in order to demonstrate that Left-Communists were not disloyal. This is one of the many examples of Bukharin using cunning strategy to deny everything.

Bukharin used this strategy particularly when the court was discussing the Left-Communist and Left-SR coup attempt of 1918. When Lenin succeeded in implementing the decision to sign the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, which Left-Communists and Left-SRs opposed, the latter decided that Lenin should be overthrown and arrested. Other high-ranking government officials who supported Lenin’s policy (namely Stalin and Sverdlov) also had to be arrested. Trotsky did not need to be arrested because he opposed Lenin’s position. Trotsky actually knew about the plot.

The Left-SRs launched the coup attempt, assassinated the German ambassador in the USSR to sabotage the peace treaty, and carried out an assassination attempt on Lenin. Lenin was shot in the neck, but he survived. The Left-Communists did not join it, due to tactical considerations. Bukharin admitted all this, as it was well-known. However, he denied the charge that the plan had been to execute Lenin, Stalin and Sverdlov. The prosecutor pointed out, that the Bolshevik leaders might not surrender without a fight, and violence might have to be used, which would lead to them being murdered, but Bukharin refused to answer this line of questioning.

The charges mentioned at this trial truly were more monstrous then before, such as the plot to murder Lenin and Gorky. However, the plot to arrest and overthrow Lenin was already well known. It just hadn’t been put into this kind of context before, and it had been assumed that Bukharin’s and Trotsky’s oppositional activities had ended, and they had become loyal to Lenin and the party. When put into its proper context, the grotesquely horrible nature of their plan became clear. It was so horrible, that many refused to believe it. The plot to murder Gorky was particularly sadistic.

Gorky was an old man, and if he died it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising. But his son, who was a young man, also died mysteriously. They were both murdered by the same doctor, who had been coerced into it by Yagoda and the Right-Opposition. Why was this necessary? Because Gorky had a lot of influence on the literary and artistic community internationally, and the intellectual circles generally.

Gorky used this influence to paint the USSR and Stalin in a positive light, and to support Soviet foreign policy. This foreign policy consisted of trying to create a collective defense treaty against aggressive states, i.e. against fascist states. The USSR briefly had a defensive agreement with France and Czechoslovakia, and their relations with the UK temporarily improved in the mid 1930s. For the upcoming war it was highly important to remove this support of Stalin.

Rykov’s last plea is very interesting, especially his discussion about the murder of Gorky. He admits his other crimes but defends himself against that particular murder charge, and the way he does it is quite interesting. He says defendant “Enukidze only said we should politically liquidate Gorky”. In other words, Rykov in no way denies the murder, in fact he gives strong testimony against Enukidze. However, he claims to not have understood that Enukidze’s words meant murder. Of course it is possible that Rykov is lying (the murder of Gorky was such a disgusting crime he might have been ashamed) but this event surely couldn’t have been written by a script writer, its too convoluted and doesn’t serve a propagandist purpose.

Many other defendants of course lied at their last pleas, most blatantly Bukharin. They tried to save themselves by “repenting of their crimes” and tried to protect other hidden conspirators. They even mentioned their hatred for Yezhov, though Yezhov himself was the most powerful rightist conspirator still loose. If the trial had been scripted, they surely would not have included mentions of Yezhov, because the trial paints him as an enemy of Trotskyism, which he wasn’t.

The Bukharin-Rykov Trial also mentions the topic of nationalist, fascist and separatist groups who worked with the opposition. Separatists were also among the defendants. The nationalists served as a link to fascist powers. The Oppositionists also maintained their own communications with foreign fascists, but also with the local fascist separatists. The Opposition had agreed to give Soviet territories to the fascist powers, and one way to hasten this was to support separatism. During this period Trotsky began to publish writings calling for the separation of Ukraine from the USSR.

It is repeatedly mentioned at the trials that Trotsky and Bukharin wanted to restore capitalism. This is rejected by their defenders, because in their minds the charge is absurd, Trotsky and Bukharin were not supporters of capitalism. However, it should be understood that by “restoration of capitalism” they meant a return to the NEP. This is clarified at the trial, but it often gets lost.

However, Trotsky and Bukharin considered that the return to NEP would mean giving more power to the capitalists then before, more concessions to foreign investors, and also curtailing democracy. Radek and Bukharin both discuss this in detail. All of that was considered necessary so that they could hold power and build up the productive forces. For Bukharin it was based on his rightist economic views, and for Trotsky it was based on his idea that socialism cannot be built in one country.

Some concluding remarks:

The trial materials are full of all kinds of details, and I couldn’t possibly deal with all of them. I think anyone interested in the trial should read the material, and hopefully with some of the context and explanation that I have given, you can understand the material more easily. The material convincingly shows the guilt of the Oppositionists and any honest and critical reader should conclude the trials were accurate and bona fide. It is quite natural that the main tactic of the anti-communists is to discourage people from reading the materials, and instead to spread lies and caricatures about them.