The End of the Trail

CHAPTER XX from The Great Conspiracy: the secret war against soviet Russia
None of the incidents or dialogue in The Great Conspiracy has been invented by the authors. The material has been drawn from various documentary sources which are indicated in the text or listed in the Bibliographical Notes.

1. Tukhachevsky

AGAIN, the phantom of the Corsican was haunting Russia. The new candidate for the role was the portly, moody Red Army Marshal, Mikhail Nicolayevich Tukhachevsky, the former Czarist officer and son of titled landowners, who had become one of the leaders of the Red Army.

As a young man, graduating from the exclusive Alexandrovsky Military Academy, Tukhachevsky predicted: "I'll either be a general at thirty or commit suicide!" He fought as an officer in the Czar's Army in the First World War. In 1915 he was taken prisoner by the Germans. A French officer, Lieutenant. Fervaque, who was a fellow prisoner with Tukhachevsky, later described the Russian officer as reckless and ambitious. His head was stuffed with Nietzschean philosophy. "I hate Vladimir the Saint who introduced Christianity in Russia, thus handing over Russia to Western civilization!" Tukhachevsky exclaimed. "We should have kept our crude paganism, our barbarism. But they will both come back; I am sure of it!" Speaking about revolution in Russia, Tukhachevsky said: "Many desire it. We are a slack people but deeply destructive. Should there be a revolution, only God knows where it will end. I think that a constitutional regime would mean the end of Russia. We need a despot!"

On the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, Tukhachevsky escaped from German captivity and returned to Russia. He joined his fellow officers from the Czar's Army who were organizing the White armies against the Bolsheviks. Then, abruptly, he changed sides. To one of his friends, the White Captain Dmitri Golum-Bek, Tukhachevsky confided his decision to desert the White cause. "I asked him what he was going to do," Golum-Bek later recorded. "He said: `Frankly, I am going with the Bolsheviks. The White Army can't do anything. We haven't a leader.' He paced around a few minutes and then he cried: `Don't follow me if you don't want to, but I think I am doing right. Russia is going to be different!"'

In 1918, Tukhachevsky joined the Bolshevik Party. He soon found his place among the military adventurers who surrounded War Commissar Trotsky; but he was careful not to become too involved in Trotsky's political intrigues. A trained and experienced army man, Tukhachevsky rose rapidly in the inexperienced Red Army ranks. He commanded the First and Fifth Armies on the Wrangel Front, participated in the successful offensive against Deniken and, together with Trotsky, led the unsuccessful counteroffensive against the invading Poles. In 1922, he became head of the Red Army Military Academy. He was one of the leading Russian officers to take part in the military negotiations with the German Weimar Republic which followed the Rapallo Treaty of that year.

In the years that followed, Tukhachevsky headed a small group of professional militarists and ex-Czarist officers in the Red Army General Staff who resented the leadership of the former Bolshevik guerillas, Marshal Budyenny and Marshal Voroshilov. Tukhachevsky's group included the Red Army generals, Yakir, Kork, Uborevitch and Feldman, who had an almost slavish admiration for German militarism. Tukhachevsky's closest associates were the Trotskyite officer, V. I. Putna, who was military attaché in Berlin, London and Tokyo, and General Jan B. Gamarnik, a personal friend of the Reichswehr Generals Seeckt and Hammerstein.

Together with Putna and Gamarnik, Tukhachevsky soon formed a small, influential pro-German clique within the Red Army General Staff. Tukhachevsky and his associates knew of Trotsky's deal with the Reichswehr, but they considered it a "political" arrangement. It was to be balanced by a military alliance between Tukhachevsky's Military Group and the German High Command. The coming to power of Hitler in no way altered the secret understanding between Tukhachevsky and the German military leaders. Hitler, like Trotsky, was a "politician." The military men had their own ideas...

Ever since the organization of the Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites, Trotsky had regarded Tukhachevsky as the trump card of the whole conspiracy, to be played only at the ultimate, strategic moment. Trotsky maintained his relations with Tukhachevsky chiefly through Krestinsky and the Trotskyite military attaché, Puma. Later, Bukharin appointed Tomsky as his personal liaison with the Military Group. Both Trotsky and Bukharin were fully aware of Tukhachevsky's contempt for "politicians" and "ideologists," and they feared his military ambitions. Discussing with Tomsky the possibility of calling the Military Group into action, Bukharin said: -

"This is to be a military coup. By the very logic of things, the Military Group of the conspirators will have extraordinary influence... hence a peculiar Bonapartist danger may arise. And Bonapartists - I am thinking particularly of Tukhachevsky -will start out by making short shrift of their allies and so- called inspirers in the Napoleonic style. Tukhachevsky is a potential little Napoleon-and you know how Napoleon dealt with the so-called ideologists!"

Bukharin asked Tomsky: -

"How does Tukhachevsky visualize the mechanism of the coup?"

"That's the business of the military organization," Tomsky replied. He added that the moment the Nazis attacked Soviet Russia, the Military Group planned to "open the front to the Germans" - that is, to surrender to the German High Command. This plan had been worked out in detail and agreed upon by Tukhachevsky, Putna, Gamarnik and the Germans.

"In that case," said Bukharin thoughtfully, "we might be able to get rid of the Bonapartist danger that alarms me."

Tomsky did not understand. Bukharin went on to explain: Tukhachevsky would try to set up a military dictatorship; he might even try to get popular support by making scapegoats of the political leaders of the conspiracy. But, once in power, the politicians could turn the tables on the Military Group. Bukharin told Tomsky: "It might be necessary to try those guilty of the `defeat' at the front. This will enable us to win over the masses by playing on patriotic slogans..."

Early in 1936, Tukhachevsky went to London as Soviet military representative at the state funeral of King George V of England. Before he left, he received the coveted title of Marshal of the Soviet Union. He was already convinced that the hour was at hand when the Soviet regime would be overthrown, and a new Russia in military alliance with Germany and Japan would strike for the domination of the world.

En route to London, Tukhachevsky stopped over briefly in Warsaw and Berlin, where he held conversations with Polish "colonels" and German generals. His mood was so confident that he scarcely made any attempt in public to conceal his admiration of the German militarists.

In Paris, at a formal dinner at the Soviet Embassy after his return from London, Tukhachevsky astounded European diplomats by openly, attacking the Soviet Government's attempts to arrive at collective security with the Western democracies. Tukhachevsky, who was sitting at a table with Nicholas Titutlescu, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Rumania, told the Rumanian diplomat: -

"Monsieur le Ministre, you are wrong in linking your career and the fate of your country to countries that are old and `finished' such as Great Britain and France. It is to the new Germany that we should turn. For a certain time, at least, Germany will be the country that will take the lead of the European continent. I am sure that Hitler will help to save us all."

Tukhachevsky's remarks were recorded by the Rumanian diplomat and Chief of the Press Service at the Rumanian Embassy in Paris, E. Schachanan Esseze, who also attended the banquet at the Soviet Embassy. Another of the guests, the famous French political journalist, Genevieve Tabouis, subsequently related in her book, They Call Me Cassandra: -

I was to meet Tukhachevsky for the last time on the day after the funeral of King George V. At a dinner at the Soviet Embassy, the Russian general had been very conversational with Politis, Titilescu, Herriot, Boncour... He had just returned from a trip to Germany, and was heaping glowing praise upon the Nazis. Seated at my right, he said over and over again, as he discussed an air pact between the great powers and Hitler's country: "They are already invincible, Madame Tabouis!"

Why did he speak so trustfully? Was it because his head had been turned by the hearty reception he had found among German diplomats, who found it easy to talk to this man of the old Russian school? At any rate I was not the only one that evening who was alarmed at his display of enthusiasm. One of the guests, an important diplomat grumbled into my ear as we walked away from the Embassy: "Well, I hope all the Russians don't feel that way."

The sensational disclosures at the trial of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Bloc in August 1936, and the subsequent arrests of Pyatakov and Radek, gravely alarmed Tukhachevsky. He got in touch with Krestinsky and told him the plans of the conspirators would have to be drastically changed. Originally, the Military Group was not to go into action until the Soviet Union was attacked from outside. But international developments - the Franco-Soviet Pact, the unexpected defense of Madrid - were continually cropping up to postpone outside action. The conspirators inside Russia, said Tukhachevsky, must expedite matters by staging the coup d'état ahead of schedule. The Germans would immediately come to the aid of their Russian allies.

Krestinsky said he would get off a message to Trotsky immediately, informing him of the necessity of speeding up action.

Krestinsky's message to Trotsky, which he sent off in October, read: -

"We think that, quite a large number of Trotskyites have been arrested, but nevertheless the main forces of the Bloc are not as yet affected. Action can be taken; but for this purpose it is essential for the center that foreign action should be hastened."

By "foreign action," Krestinsky meant the Nazi attack on Soviet Russia...

Shortly after the message was sent, Tukhachevsky took Krestinsky aside at the Extraordinary Fight Congress of Soviets in November 1936. The arrests were continuing, "Tukhachevsky said excitedly, and there seemed no reason to believe that they would stop on the lower levels of the conspiratorial apparatus. The Trotskyite military liaison, Putna, had already been arrested. Stalin clearly suspected the existence of an extensive plot and was prepared to take drastic measures. He already had enough evidence to convict Pyatakov and the others. The arrest of Putna and the removal of Yagoda from the Chairmanship of the NKVD meant that the Soviet authorities were getting at the roots of the plot. There was no telling where the trail might lead. The entire undertaking hung in the balance.

Tukhachevsky was for immediate action. The Bloc must reach a decision in this matter without further delay, and prepare all forces to back up the military coup...

Krestinsky discussed the matter with Rosengoltz. The two Trotskyite German agents agreed that Tukhachevsky was right. Another message was dispatched to Trotsky. In it, besides telling Trotsky of Tukhachevsky's determination to go ahead without waiting for war, Krestinsky raised some important questions of political strategy. He wrote: -

We will have to conceal the true purposes of the coup. We will have to make a statement to the population, to the army, and to foreign states... firstly, it would be the proper thing in our statements to the population not to mention that our coup was designed for the overthrow of the existing Socialist order... we [should] pose in the guise of Soviet rebels; we would overthrow a bad Soviet government and reestablish a good Soviet government... In any case, we should not be too outspoken on this question.

Trotsky's reply reached Krestinsky toward the end of December. The exiled leader agreed completely with Krestinsky. As a matter of fact, following Pyatakov's arrest, Trotsky had independently reached the conclusion that the Military Group should be called into action without further delay. While Krestinsky's letter to him was still en route, he had written Rosengoltz advocating immediate military action...

"After this reply was received," Krestinsky later stated, "we began to make more direct preparations for the coup. Tukhachevsky was given a free hand, he was given carte blanche to get on with the job directly."

2. The Trial of the Trotskyite Parallel Center

The Soviet Government was also moving into action. The revelations at the Zinoviev-Kamenev Trial had established beyond doubt that the conspiracy in the country went far beyond mere secret "left" opposition. The real centers of the conspiracy were not in Russia at all; they were in Berlin and Tokyo. As the investigation continued, the true shape and character of the Axis Fifth Column was becoming clearer to the Soviet Government.

On January 23, 1937, Pyatakov, Radek, Sokolnikov, Shestov, Muralov and twelve of their fellow conspirators, including key agents of the German and Japanese Intelligence Services, went on trial for treason in Moscow before the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the U.S.S.R.

For months the leading members of the Trotskyite Center had denied the charges brought against them. But the evidence against them was complete and overwhelming. One by one they admitted they had directed sabotage and terrorist activities, and maintained connections, on Trotsky's instructions, with the German and Japanese Governments. But, at the preliminary interrogation as at the trial, they still did not divulge the whole picture. They said nothing about the existence of the Military Group; they did not mention Krestinsky or Rosengoltz; they remained silent about the Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites, the final and most powerful "layer" of the conspiracy, which, even as they were being cross-examined, was feverishly preparing to seize power.

In prison, Sokolnikov, the former Assistant Commissar in charge of Eastern Affairs, had revealed the political aspects of the conspiracy; the deal with Hess, the dismemberment of the U.S.S.R., the plan to set up a fascist dictatorship after the overthrow of the Soviet regime. In court, Sokolnikov testified: -

We considered that fascism was the most organized form of capitalism, that it would triumph and seize Europe and stifle us. It was therefore better to come to terms with it..All this was explained by the following argument: better make certain sacrifices, even very severe ones, than lose everything... we reasoned as politicians... we figured we had to take certain chances.

Pyatakov admitted that he was the leader of the Trotskyite Center. Speaking in a quiet, deliberate voice, choosing his words carefully, the former member of the Supreme National Economic Council testified to the established facts of the sabotage and terrorist activities which he had been directing up to the moment of his arrest. Standing in the dock, his long, thin, pallid face absolutely impassive, he looked, according to the American Ambassador Joseph E. Davies, "like a professor delivering a lecture."

Vyshinsky: tried to get Pyatakov to reveal how the Trotskyites and the German and Japanese agents made themselves known to each other. Pyatakov parried the questions: -

VYSHINSKY: What gave the German agent Rataichak reasons for disclosing himself to you?

PYATAKOV: Two persons had spoken to me

VYSHINSKY: Did he disclose himself to you, or did you disclose yourself to him?

PYATAKOV: Disclosures may he mutual. VYSHINSKY. Did you disclose yourself first?

PYATAKOV: Who first, he or I - the hen or the egg - I don't know.

As John Gunther later reported in Inside Europe: -

The impression held widely abroad that the defendants all told the same story, that they were abject and grovelling, that they behaved like sheep in the executioner's pen, isn't quite correct. They argued stubbornly with the prosecutor; in the main they told only what they were forced to tell...

As the trial proceeded, and the testimony of one defendant after another remorselessly exposed Pyatakov as a cold-blooded and calculating political assassin and traitor, a note of doubt and depression began to creep into his hitherto calm and balanced voice. Some of the facts in the possession of the authorities came as an obvious shock to him. Pyatakov's attitude changed. He pleaded that, even before his arrest, he had begun to question Trotsky's leadership. He said he did not approve of the deal with Hess. "We had got into a blind alley," Pyatakov told the court. "I was seeking a way out…" In his last plea to the court, Pyatakov exclaimed: -

Yes, I was a Trotskyite for many years! I worked hand in hand with the Trotskyites... Do not think, Citizen Judges... that during these years spent in the suffocating underworld of Trotskyism, I did not see what was happening in the country! Do not think that I did not understand what was being done in industry. I tell you frankly: at times, when emerging from the Trotskyite underworld and engaging in my other practical work, I sometimes felt a kind of relief, and of course, humanly speaking, this duality was not only a matter of outward behavior, but there was also a duality within me... In a few hours you will pass your sentence... Do not deprive me of one thing, Citizen Judges. Do not deprive me of the right to feel that in your eyes, too, I have found strength in myself, albeit too late, to break with my criminal past!

But, to the last, not a word of the existence of the remaining "layer" of the conspiracy passed Pyatakov's lips...

Nicolai Muralov, the one-time Commander of the Moscow Military Garrison and leading member of the old Trotsky Guard, who since 1932 had directed the Trotskyite cells in the Urals along with Shestov and German "technicians," pleaded for mercy from the court, asking that his "frank testimony" be taken into consideration. A towering man, bearded and gray-haired, Muralov stood as if at attention while testifying. He declared that, after his arrest, and following, a protracted inner struggle, he had decided to "lay everything on the table." His words, according to Walter Duranty and other observers, had a ring of real honesty as he stated from the dock: -

I refused counsel and I refused to speak in my defense because I am used to defending myself with good weapons and attacking with good weapons. I have no good weapons with which to defend myself... It would be unworthy of me to accuse anyone of having drawn me into the Trotskyite organization... I do not dare blame anyone for this. I myself am to blame. This is my guilt. This is my misfortune... For over a decade I was a faithful soldier of Trotsky...

Karl Radek, peering through his thick glasses at the crowded courtroom, was in turn humble, ingratiating, impertinent and arrogant under the cross-examination of the Prosecutor Vyshinsky. Like Pyatakov, but more fully, he admitted his treasonable activities. Radek also claimed that, before his arrest, and as soon as he received Trotsky's letter outlining the deal with the Nazi and Japanese Governments, he had made up his mind to repudiate Trotsky and to expose the conspiracy. For weeks, he debated what to do.

VYSHINSKY: What did you decide?

RADEK: The first step to take would be to go to the Central Committee of the Party, to make a statement, to name all the persons. This I did not do. It was not I that went to the G.P.U., but the G.P.U. that came for me.

VYSHINSKY: An eloquent reply!

RADEK: A sad reply.

In his final plea, Radek presented himself as a man torn with doubts, perpetually vacillating between loyalty to the Soviet regime and to the Left Opposition, of which he had been a member since the earliest revolutionary days. He was convinced, he said, that the Soviet regime could never withstand the hostile pressure from without. "I dissented on the main question," he told the court, "on the question of continuing the fight for the Five Year Plan." Trotsky "seized on my profound perturbations." Step by step, according to his own account, Radek was drawn into the inner circles of the conspiracy. Then came the connections with the foreign Intelligence Services and, finally, Trotsky's negotiations with Alfred Rosenberg and Rudolph Hess. Trotsky, said Radek, "confronted us with the accomplished fact of his agreement..."

Explaining how he had finally come to plead guilty and to admit all the facts he knew about the conspiracy, Radek said: -

When I found myself in the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, the chief examining official... said to me: "You are not a baby. Here you have fifteen people testifying against you. You cannot get out of it, and as a sensible man you cannot think of doing so..."

For two and a half months I tormented the examining official. The question has been raised here whether we were tormented while under investigation. I must say that it was not I who was tormented, but I who tormented the examining officials and compelled them to perform a lot of useless work. For two and a half months I compelled the examining official, by interrogating me and by confronting me with the testimony of the other accused, to open up all the cards to me, so that I could see who had confessed, who had not confessed, and what each had confessed...

And one day the chief examining official came to me and said: "You are now the last. Why are you wasting time and temporizing? Why don't you say what you have to say?" And I answered: "Yes, tomorrow I shall begin my testimony. "

The verdict was handed down on January 30, 1937. The accused were found guilty of treason - of being "an agency of the German and Japanese fascist forces for espionage, diversive and wrecking activities" and of plotting to assist "foreign aggressors to seize the territory of the U.S.S.R."

The Military Collegium of the Soviet Supreme Court sentenced Pyatakov, Muralov, Shestov, and ten others to be shot. Radek, Sokolnikov and two minor agents were sentenced to long prison terms.

In his summing-up speech on January 28, 1937, the State Prosecutor Vyshinsky declared: -

By their espionage work, the people who under the direction of Trotsky and Pyatakov established connections with the German and Japanese Intelligence services, strove to achieve results which would have very gravely affected the interests, not only of our state, but also the interests of a number of states which, with us, desire peace, and which, with us, are fighting for peace... We are keenly interested that the government of every country which desires peace, and is fighting for peace, should take the most determined measures, to put a stop to every attempt at criminal, espionage, diversive, terrorist activities organized by the enemies of peace, by the enemies of democracy, by the dark fascist forces which are preparing for war, which are preparing to wreck the cause of peace, and consequently, the cause of the whole of advanced, the whole of progressive humanity.

Vyshinsky's words received little publicity outside of Soviet Russia; but they were heard and remembered by certain diplomats and journalists.

The American Ambassador in Moscow, Joseph E. Davies, was profoundly impressed by the trial. He attended it daily and, assisted by an interpreter, carefully followed the proceedings. A former corporation lawyer, Ambassador Davies stated that the Soviet Prosecutor Vyshinsky, who was being currently described by anti-Soviet propagandists as a "brutal Inquisitor," impressed him as being "much like Homer Cummings, calm, dispassionate, intellectual and able and wise. He conducted the treason trial in a manner that won my respect and admiration as a lawyer."

On February 17, 1937, Ambassador Davies reported in a confidential dispatch to Secretary of State Cordell Hull that almost all the foreign diplomats in Moscow shared his opinion of the justice of the verdict. Ambassador Davies Wrote: -

I talked to many, if not all, of the members of the Diplomatic Corps here and, with possibly one exception, they are all of the opinion that the proceedings established clearly the existence of a political plot and conspiracy to overthrow the government.

But these facts were not made public. Powerful forces conspired to hide the truth about the Fifth Column in Soviet Russia. On March 11, 1937, Ambassador Davies recorded in his Moscow diary: -

Another diplomat, Minister -, made a most illuminating statement to me yesterday. In discussing the trial, he said that the defendants were undoubtedly guilty; that all of us who attended the trial had practically agreed upon that; that the outside world, from the press reports, however, seemed to think that the trial was a put-up job (facade, as he called it); that while he knew it was not, it was probably just as well that the outside world should think so.(1)

3. Action in May

The conspiracy was still far from being smashed. Like Pyatakov, Radek also withheld important information from the Soviet authorities despite the seeming fullness of his testimony. But on the second day of the trial, Radek had made a dangerous slip. His glib tongue betrayed him. Parrying one of Vyshinsky's searching questions, he mentioned the name of Tukhachevsky. "Vitaly Putna," said Radek, "came to see me with some request from Tukhachevsky." He went on rapidly and did not repeat Tukhachevsky's name.

Next day, Vyshinsky read aloud Radek's testimony of the previous session: "I want to know in what connection you mention Tukhachevsky's name?" he asked Radek.

There was a brief pause. Then Radek's answer came smoothly, without hesitation. Tukhachevsky, he explained, required "some material on government business" which Radek had at the Izvestia offices. The military commander had sent Putna to get it. That was all. "Of course," Radek added, "Tukhachevsky had no idea of my role... I know Tukhachevsky's attitude to the Party and the Government to be that of an absolutely devoted man!"

No more was said about Tukhachevsky at the trial. But the remaining conspirators were convinced that any further delay of the final coup would be suicidal.

Krestinsky, Rosengoltz, Tukhachevsky and Gamarnik held a series of hurried secret conferences. Tukhachevsky began assigning officers in the Military Group to special "commands," each of which would have specific tasks to carry out at the moment of the attack.

By the end of March 1937, the preparations for the military coup were in their final stages. At a meeting with Krestinsky and Rosengoltz, in the latter's Moscow apartment, Tukhachevsky announced that the Military Group would be ready for action within six weeks. The date for action could be set for the early part of May, at any rate before May 15. There were "a number of variants" for the actual means of seizing power under discussion among the Military Group, he said.

One of these plans, the one on which Tukhachevsky "counted most," Rosengoltz later stated, was "for a group of military men, his adherents, gathering in his apartment on some pretext or other, making their way into the Kremlin, seizing the Kremlin telephone exchange, and killing the leaders of the Party and the Government." Simultaneously, according to this plan, Gamarnik and his units would "seize the building of the People's Commissariat of internal Affairs."

Other "variants" were discussed; but this plan, Krestinsky and Rosengoltz agreed, seemed the boldest and therefore the most likely to succeed...

The meeting at Rosengoltz's apartment concluded on an optimistic note. The plan of the coup, as outlined by Tukhachevsky, held high promise of success..In spite of the loss of Pyatakov and others, it seemed that the day for which the conspirators had long waited and prepared was at hand.

April passed swiftly with the hectic last-minute preparations for the coup.

Krestinsky began drawing up lengthy lists "of people in Moscow to be arrested and removed from their posts at the out-break of the coup, and lists of people who could be appointed to these vacancies." Gunmen under Gamarnik's command were assigned to kill Molotov and Voroshilov. Rosengoltz, in his capacity of Foreign Trade Commissar, talked of getting an appointment with Stalin on the eve of the coup and murdering the Soviet leader in his Kremlin headquarters...

It was the second week in May 1937.

Then, swiftly and devastatingly, the Soviet Government struck. On the eleventh of May, Marshal Tukhachevsky was demoted from his post as Assistant Commissar of War and assigned to a minor command in the Volga district. General Gamarnik was removed from his post as Assistant War Commissar. Generals Yakir and Uborevitch, associated in the plot with Tukhachevsky and Gamarnik, were also demoted. Two other Generals, Kork and Eideman, were arrested and charged with having secret relations with Nazi Germany.

"I began to get ready for my arrest," Krestinsky later stated. "I talked matters over with Rosengoltz. Rosengoltz did not expect to come to grief, and undertook to maintain connections with Trotsky... A few days later I was arrested."

An official communiqué disclosed that Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky, who had been under close surveillance and investigation, were now charged with treason. Bukharin and Rykov had been taken into custody. Tomsky, evading arrest, committed suicide. On May 31, General Gamarnik followed Tomsky's example and shot himself. It was reported that Tukhachevsky and a number of other high-ranking army officers had been arrested by the NKVD. A short time later, Rosengoltz was arrested. The nationwide roundup of suspected fifth columnists was continuing.

At eleven o'clock on the morning of June 11, 1937, Marshal (?) Tukhachevsky and seven other Red Army generals faced a special Military Tribunal of the Soviet Supreme Court. Because of the confidential military character of the testimony to be heard, the trial was held behind closed doors. It was a military court-martial. The accused were charged with conspiring with enemy powers against the Soviet Union. Standing in the courtroom with Tukhachevsky -facing Marshals Voroshilov, Budyenny, Shoposhnikov and other leaders of the Red Army-were these seven generals: -

General V. I. Putna, former military attaché at London, Tokyo and Berlin
General I. E. Yakir, former Commander of the Leningrad Military Garrison
General I. P. Uborevitch, former Commander of the Red Army in Byelorussia
General R. P. Eideman, former head of the Osoaviakhim (voluntary military defense organization)
General A. I., Kork, former head of the Frunze Military Academy

General B. M. Feldman, former Chief of the Personnel Section of the General Staff
General V. M. Primakov, former Commander of the Kharkov Military Garrison

An official communiqué stated: -

Investigation established the participation of the defendants as well as General Jan Gamarnik, in anti-State connections with leading military circles of one of the foreign countries which is carrying on an unfriendly policy toward the U.S.S.R.

The accused were in the service of the Military Intelligence of this country.

The defendants systematically supplied secret information about the position of the Red Army to military circles of this country.

They carried on wrecking activities for weakening the Red Army to prepare for the defeat of the Red Army in case of attack on the Soviet Union...

On June 12, the Military Tribunal announced its verdict. The accused were found guilty as charged and sentenced to be shot as traitors by a Red Army firing squad. Within twenty-four hours, the sentence was carried out.

Once again, wild anti-Soviet rumors and propaganda swept through the rest of the world. The entire Red Army was said to be seething with revolt against the Soviet Government; Voroshilov was "marching on Moscow" at the head of an anti-Stalin army; "mass shootings" were going on throughout Soviet Russia; from now on, the Red Army, having lost its "best generals," was "no longer a serious factor in the international situation."

Many honest observers were profoundly disturbed by the events in Soviet Russia, The character and techniques of the Fifth Column were still generally unknown. On July 4, 1937, Joseph E. Davies, the American Ambassador in Moscow, had an interview with the Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov. He told Litvinov frankly that the reaction in the United States and Europe to the execution of the generals and the Trotskyite trials was bad.

"In my opinion," the American Ambassador informed the Soviet Foreign Minister, "it has shaken the confidence of France and England in the strength of the U.S.S.R. vis-a-vis Hitler."

Litvinov was equally frank. He told Ambassador Davies that the Soviet Government had to "make sure" through these trials and executions that there was no treason left which would cooperate with Berlin or Tokyo at the outbreak of the inevitable war.

"Some day," said Litvinov, "the world will understand what we have done to protect our government from menacing treason... We are doing the whole world a service in protecting ourselves against the menace of Hitler and Nazi world domination, and thereby preserving the Soviet Union strong as a bulwark against the Nazi threat."

On July 28, 1937, having conducted personal investigations into the actual situation inside Soviet Russia, Ambassador Davies sent "Dispatch Number 457, Strictly Confidential," to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. The Ambassador reviewed the recent events and dismissed the wild rumors of mass discontent and imminent collapse of the Soviet Government. "There were no indications (as per newspaper stories) of Cossacks camped near the Kremlin or moving about in the Red Square," he wrote. Ambassador Davies summed up his analysis of the Tukhachevsky case as follows: -

Barring assassination, or a foreign war, the position of this government and the present regime looks impregnable for the present, and probably for some time to come. The danger of the Corsican for the present has been wiped.out.

4. Finale

The last of the three famous Moscow Trials opened on March 2, 1938, in the House of Trade Unions, before the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the U.S.S.R. The proceedings, including morning, afternoon and evening sessions, and in camera sessions at which testimony involving military secrets was heard, lasted seven days.

The accused numbered twenty-one. They included the former OGPU chief, Henry Pagoda, and his secretary, Pavel Bulanov; the Right leaders, Nicolai Bukharin and Alexei Rykov; the Trotskyite leaders and German agents, Nicolai Krestinsky and Arkady Rosengoltz; the Trotskyite and Japanese agent, Christian Rakovsky; the Right leaders and German agents, Mikhail Chernov and Grigori Grinko; the Polish agent, Vasily Sharangovich; and eleven other conspirators, members of the Bloc, saboteurs, terrorists and foreign agents, including the Trotskyite liaison man, Sergei Bessonov, and the physician murderers, Doctors Levin, Pletnev and Kazakov.

The American correspondent, Walter Duranty, who attended the trial, wrote in his book The Kremlin and the People:-

It was indeed the "Trial to end all Trials" because at this time the issues were clear, the Prosecution had marshaled its facts and learned to recognize enemies, at home and abroad. Earlier doubts and hesitations were now dispelled, because one case after another, especially, I believe, the case of the "Generals," had gradually filled in the picture which was so hazy and incomplete at the time of Kirov's murder...

The Soviet Government had painstakingly prepared its case. Months of preliminary investigation, collation of evidence and testimony from previous trials, confrontation of witnesses and accused, and thorough cross-examination of the arrested conspirators, had gone into the framing of the Indictment. The Soviet Government charged: -

(1) that in 1932-33, on the instructions of intelligence services of foreign states hostile to the U.S.S.R., a conspiratorial group named the "bloc of Rights and Trotskyites" was formed by the accused in the present case with the object of espionage on behalf of foreign states, wrecking, diversionist and terrorist activities, undermining the military power of the U.S.S.R., provoking a military attack by these states on the U.S.S.R., working for the defeat of the U.S.S.R., dismembering the U.S.S.R...

(2) that the "bloc of Rights and Trotskyites" entered into relations with certain foreign states with the purpose of receiving armed assistance from them for the accomplishment of their criminal designs;

(3) that the "block of Rights and Trotskyites" systematically engaged in espionage activities on behalf of these states, supplying foreign intelligence services with highly important state secret information;

(4) that the "bloc of Rights and Trotskyites" systematically performed wrecking and diversionist acts in various branches of Socialist construction (industry, agriculture, railways, in the sphere of finance, municipal development, etc..);

(5) that the "bloc of Rights and Trotskyites organized a number of terrorist acts against leaders of the C.P.S.U. [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] and the Soviet Government and perpetrated terrorist acts against S. M. Kirov, V. R. Menzhinsky, V. V. Kuibyshev and A. M.Gorky.

The trial of the Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites made public for the first time in history the detailed workings of an Axis Fifth Column. All the techniques of the Axis method of secret conquest - the propaganda, the espionage, the terror, the treason in high places, the machinations of Quislings, the tactics of a secret army striking from within -the whole story of the Fifth Column strategy by which the Nazis were already undermining Spain, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Belgium, France and other nations of Europe and America, were fully exposed. "The Bukharins and Rykovs, Yagodas and Bulanovs, Krestinskys and Rosengoltzes.. , declared the Soviet Prosecutor, Vyshinsky, in his summing-up address on March 11, 1938, "are the very same as the Fifth Column."

Ambassador Joseph E. Davies, who attended the proceedings, found the trial "terrific" in legal, human and political drama. He wrote to his daughter on March 8: -

All the fundamental weaknesses and vices of human nature - personal ambitions at their worst - are shown up in the proceedings. They disclose the outlines of a plot which came very near to being successful in bringing about the overthrow of this government.

Some of the accused, pleading for their lives, tried to wriggle out of the full responsibility for their crimes, to shift the blame on others, to pose as sincere, misguided politicians. Others, without apparent emotion or expectation of escaping the death sentence, related the grim details of the "political" murders they had committed, and the espionage and sabotage operations they had carried on under the direction of the German and Japanese Military Intelligence Services.

In his final plea to the court, Bukharin, who had described himself in court as the "ideologist" of the conspiracy, gave a vivid psychological picture of the inner tensions and doubts which, after their arrest, had begun to afflict many of the one-time radicals who had turned traitors and, together with Trotsky, conspired with Nazi Germany and Japan against the Soviet Union. Bukharin said: --

I already said when giving my main testimony during the trial, that it was not the naked logic of the struggle that drove us, the counter-revolutionary conspirators, into this stinking underground life, which has been exposed at this trial in all its starkness. This naked logic of the struggle was accompanied by a degeneration of ideas, a degeneration of psychology, a degeneration of ourselves, a degeneration of people. There are well-known historical examples of such degeneration. One need only mention Briand, Mussolini and others. And we too degenerated...

I shall now speak of myself, of the reasons for my repentance. Of course it must be admitted that incriminating evidence plays a very important part. For three months I refused to say anything. Then I began to testify. Why? Because while in prison I made a revaluation of my entire past. For when you ask yourself: "If you must die, what are you dying for? - an absolutely black vacuity suddenly rises before you with startling vividness. There was nothing to die for, if one wanted to die unrepented... And when you ask yourself: "Very well, suppose you do not die; suppose by some miracle you remain alive, again what for? Isolated from everybody, an enemy of the people, in an inhuman position, completely isolated from everything that constitutes the essence of life..." And at once the same reply arises. And at such moments, Citizen Judges, everything personal, all the personal incrustation, all the rancour, pride, and a number of other things, fall away, disappear...

I am perhaps speaking for the last time in my life...I may infer a priori that Trotsky and my other allies in crime, as well as the Second International... will endeavor to defend us, and particularly myself. I reject this defence... I await the verdict.

The verdict was announced on the morning of March 13, 1938. All of the accused were found guilty. Three of them, Pletnev, Bessonov and Rakovsky, were sentenced to terms of imprisonment. The others were sentenced to be shot.

Three years later, in the summer of 1941, following the Nazi invasion of the U.S.S.R., Joseph E. Davies, former American Ambassador to the Soviet Union, wrote: -

There was no so-called "internal aggression" in Russia co operating with the German High Command. Hitler's march into Prague in 1939 was accompanied by the active military support of Henlein's organizations in Czechoslovakia. The same thing was true of his invasion of Norway. There were no Sudeten Henleins, no Slovakian Tisos, no Belgian De Grelles, no Norwegian Quislings in the Russian picture...

The story had been told in the so-called treason or purge trials of 1937 and 1938 which I attended and listened to. In re examining the record of these casks and also what I had written at the time... I found that practically every device of German Fifth Columnist activity, as we now know it, was disclosed and laid bare by the confessions and testimony elicited at these trials of self-confessed "Quislings" in Russia...

All of these trials, purges, and liquidations, which seemed so violent at the time and shocked the world, are now quite clearly a part of a vigorous and determined effort of the Stalin government to protect itself from not only revolution from within but from attack from without. They went to work thoroughly to clean up and clean out all treasonable elements within the country. All doubts were resolved in favor of the government.

There were no Fifth Columnists in Russia in 1941 - they had shot them. The purge had cleansed the country and rid it of treason.

The Axis Fifth Column in Soviet Russia had been smashed.


(1) Trotsky's followers and admirers in Europe and America poured out an endless stream of statements, pamphlets, leaflets and articles describing the Moscow trials as "Stalin's vengeance on Trotsky" and the product of "Stalin's Oriental vindictiveness." The Trotskyites and their allies had access to many prominent publications. In the United States, their statements and articles appeared in Foreign Affairs Quarterly, Reader's Digest, Saturday Evening Post, American Mercury, New York Times and other well-known and widely read newspapers and periodicals. Among those friends, followers or admirers of Leon Trotsky whose interpretations of the trials were prominently featured in the American press and radio were: Max Eastman, Trotsky's former American representative and official translator; Alexander Barmine, a Soviet renegade who at one time had been in the Soviet Foreign Office; Albert Goldman, Trotsky's lawyer who was convicted by a Federal court in 1941 of taking part in a seditious conspiracy against the U.S. armed forces; "General" Krivitsky, a Russian adventurer and Dies witness who posed as a former key figure in the OGPU and subsequently committed suicide leaving a note explaining his act as atonement for his "great sins"; Isaac Don Levine, a veteran anti-Soviet propagandist and feature writer for the Hearst press; and William Henry Chamberlin, also a Hearst feature writer, whose views about the trials appeared under the title "The Russian Purge of Blood" in the Tokyo propaganda organ Contemporary Japan.

The prominent American Trotskyite James Burnham, subsequently author of the widely promoted The Managerial Revolution, represented the Moscow Trials as an insidious attempt on Stalin's part to enlist the aid of France, Great Britain and the United States in a "holy war" against the Axis, and to bring about the international persecution of "all those who. stand for the policies of revolutionary defeatism [i.e., the Trotskyites]." On April 15, 1937, in an introduction to a Trotskyite pamphlet on the Pyarakov-Radek trial, Burnham wrote. "Yes: the Trials are an integral and an outstanding part of the preparations of Stalinism for the coming war. Stalinism aims to enlist the masses of France, Great Britain and the United States in the armies of their own imperialist governments, in a holy war against the attack which Stalin expects to be launched against the Soviet Union by Germany and Japan. Through the Trials, operating on a world-wide scale, Stalinism thus attempts to eliminate every possible center of resistance to this social-patriotic betrayal"

      Home |  Archives  |  Write On! |  Dossiers |  Search |  Boutique | Donate

Comments to : Copyright New Media Services Inc. © 2006. The views expressed herein are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of shunpiking magazine or New Media Publications. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. Copyright of written and photographic and art work remains with the creators.