The Continuing Revolution in Stalin-Era Soviet History

INTRODUCTION: At the invitation of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), American academic and author of Khrushchev lied, GROVER FURR, addressed a packed meeting in Lucas Arms, Grays Inn Road, London, on Friday 20 June. In his contribution, lasting about 50 minutes, Grover exposed the lies concerning Soviet History, in particular Stalin, spread by the anti-communist, Trotskyist and revisionist ideologues. We reproduce almost his entire presentation in 2 parts, the first below, the second in the next issue. We believe the information the presentation imparts will be of enormous benefit to the working-class movement in this country and elsewhere.

The history of the Soviet Union during the time of Joseph Stalin’s leadership has been the subject of lies, forgeries, falsifications, and slander since the 1920s. Since the end of the USSR in 1991 a great many primary documents from formerly closed Soviet archives have been published. This evidence permits us to see that the historical account of the “Stalin period” that we have all been taught, and that has “entered the groundwater”, become “general knowledge” – that historical account is utterly false, a monstrous anticommunist fabrication.

Today I’m going to report, briefly, on recent research of my own on ten issues in Soviet history of the 1930s – the “Stalin” period. They illustrate how false the prevailing construction of the Stalin period of Soviet history is. Others, especially in Russia, are also working along similar lines.

1. Stalin and Democracy

In 2005 I published a long two-part article titled “Stalin and the Struggle for Democratic Reform.” It concerns Stalin’s struggle to get the Soviet Communist Party out of the job of running the country in order to turn that job over to the Soviets. Stalin’s goal was finally embodied in the 1936 Soviet Constitution which called for equal, universal, secret, and – this is the central issue – contested elections.

Stalin and his supporters encountered a great deal of overt resistance within the Party leadership and Central Committee. Contested elections were scheduled for December, 1937. But resistance to them was so strong within the Central Committee that the provision for contested elections was cancelled at virtually the last minute, on October 11, 1937. They were never to be held.

It appears that Stalin tried to revive this democratic movement again in the ’40s but was unsuccessful.

2. Khrushchev Lied

In terms of its practical impact on world history Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” is the most influential speech of the 20th century and possibly of all time. In it Khrushchev painted Stalin as a bloodthirsty tyrant guilty of a reign of terror lasting more than two decades. As a direct result of this speech about one-half of all members of communist parties in the non-communist bloc quit their parties within two years.

After the 22nd Party Congress of 1961, where Khrushchev and his men attacked Stalin with even more venom, many Soviet historians elaborated Khrushchev’s lies. These falsehoods were repeated by Cold War anticommunists like Robert Conquest. They also entered “left” discourse not only through the works of Trotskyists and anarchists, but through those of “pro-Moscow” communists who of course had to accept Khrushchev’s version.

Khrushchev’s lies were amplified during Mikhail Gorbachev’s and Boris Eltsin’s time by professional Soviet, then Russian, historians. Gorbachev orchestrated an avalanche of anticommunist falsehoods that provided the ideological smokescreen for the return to exploitative practices within the USSR and ultimately for the abandonment of socialist reforms and a return to predatory capitalism.

During 2005-2006 I researched and wrote the book Khrushchev Lied. Its long subtitle reads: “The Evidence That Every ‘Revelation’ of Stalin’s (and Beria’s) “Crimes” in Nikita Khrushchev’s Infamous ‘Secret Speech’ to the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on February 25, 1956, is Provably False.”

In my book I identify 61 accusations that Khrushchev made against either Stalin or, in a few cases, Beria. I then studied each one of them in the light of evidence available from former Soviet archives. To my own surprise I found that 60 of the 61 accusations are provably, demonstrably false.

The fact that Khrushchev could falsify everything and get away with it for over 50 years suggests that we should look carefully at other supposed “crimes” of Stalin and of the USSR during his time.

3. The Murder of Sergei Kirov.

At about 4:30 p.m. on December 1, 1934 Leonid Vasil’evich Nikolaev, an unemployed Party member, shot Sergei Mironovich Kirov First Secretary of the Bolshevik Party in Leningrad in the back of the skull. Nikolaev then tried to shoot himself in the head but missed and fainted.

At first he seems to have claimed that he had killed Kirov on his own. Before a week was out Nikolaev had admitted that he was part of a conspiracy by a clandestine group of Party members opposed to Joseph Stalin and favoring Grigorii Zinoviev, Leningrad First Secretary before Kirov.

Interrogations of those whom Nikolaev had named, and then of the persons named by those men, led to a number of partial and a few fuller confessions. Three weeks after the murder fourteen men were indicted for conspiracy to kill Kirov. They were tried on December 28-29, convicted, and executed immediately.

The larger significance of the Kirov murder unfolded gradually during the next three years. The threads that bound the Kirov conspirators to Zinoviev and Kamenev led to the three Moscow “Show Trials” of 1936, 1937 and 1938, and to the trial of the military commanders known as the “Tukhachevsky Affair” of 1937.

In his “Secret Speech” Khrushchev cast doubt on the official version of the Kirov assassination.

Khrushchev’s men tried hard to find any evidence they could to prove that Stalin had been behind Kirov’s murder. Unable to do so, they settled at length for a story that Nikolaev had acted on his own. However, the version that Stalin had caused Kirov to be killed continued to circulate, becoming widely believed both inside and outside the Soviet Union.

Since 1990 the view officially accepted in Russia has been that Nikolaev acted alone, and that Stalin “used” Kirov’s murder to frame former or putative rivals, forcing them to admit to crimes they had never committed, and executing them and, ultimately, many thousands more.

My goal has been to solve the Kirov murder case. I review all the evidence as objectively as possible, with appropriate skepticism, and without any preconceived conclusion in mind. The main conclusion of my study is that Nikolaev was not a “lone gunman” at all. The Soviet investigators and prosecution got it right in December 1934. A clandestine Zinovievite conspiratorial organization, of which Nikolaev was a member, killed Kirov.


Khrushchev aimed to debunk the then-canonical narrative of Soviet history during the 1930s and create a new one out of whole cloth, one in which Stalin was the criminal who had framed and executed a great many innocent Party members. Khrushchev realized that the complete rewriting of Soviet history he wanted necessitated a reversal of verdicts in the Kirov case.

And the reverse is also true. To reinstate the original verdict against the defendants in the December 1934 Kirov trial implies that the defendants in the conspiracy cases that followed it: the Moscow Center trial of January 1935; the Kremlin Affair of 1935; the three Moscow “show” trials of 1936, 1937, and 1938, and the Tukhachevsky Affair trial of June 1937, might well have been guilty. Since the testimony in all three “show” trials and in the Tukhachevsky Affair trial implicated Leon Trotsky, it raises the possibility that Trotsky might have been guilty too. Likewise it suggests that other party leaders tried and executed in non-public trials might be guilty as well.

4. Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands. Europe Between Hitler and Stalin ((N.Y: Basic Books, 2010)

Snyder, a full professor of Eastern European history at Yale, has written dozens of articles for leading intellectual journals such as the NY Review of Books. In 2010 he published Bloodlands. This book is by far the most successful attempt to date to equate Stalin with Hitler, the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany. It has garnered rave reviews in literally dozens of newspapers and journals; received prizes for historiography; and has been translated into more than 20 languages.

Snyder has little to say about the Nazis. His main target is Stalin, Soviet policy, and communists generally. His broader claim is that the Soviets killed 6 to 9 million innocent civilians while the Nazis were killing about 14 million. Snyder finds parallels between Soviet and Nazi crimes at every turn.

I spent a whole year methodically checking every single footnote, every reference to anything that could be construed as a crime by Stalin, the USSR, or pro-Soviet communists. Snyder’s main sources are in Polish and Ukrainian, in hard-to-find books and articles.

I found that every single “crime” Snyder alleges is false – a fabrication. Snyder very often deliberately lies about what his sources say. More often he cites anticommunist Polish and Ukrainian secondary sources that do the lying for him. Once again, not a single accusation holds up.

The significance of this wholesale falsification is important. For one thing, Snyder’s book is now widely quoted as an authority. Snyder “said” it in Bloodlands, so it is established as a fact.

But the broader significance of Snyder’s wholesale lying and falsifying is as follows. Snyder had a team of very anticommunist Polish and Ukrainian nationalist researchers to help him. It is their work which he is, basically, “retailing” to an English-speaking audience. Snyder himself has spent many years researching Eastern Europe between the world wars.

And yet Snyder cannot find a single genuine “crime” by the USSR, Stalin, or even by pro-communist groups! Surely this team of dedicated anticommunists, armed with the support of their post-Soviet states, access to archives, and knowledge of all the Eastern European languages, would have discovered real crimes of Stalin or of the USSR – if any existed. This constitutes the best evidence we are ever likely to have that there are no such “crimes”.

My book on Snyder’s Bloodlands, tentatively titled Blood Lies, will be published this month.

5. Trotsky in the 1930s

The Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites

Shortly after the Leon Trotsky Archive at Harvard’s Houghton Library was opened in January 1980 Trotskyist historian Pierre Broué discovered letters between Leon Sedov and his father Trotsky that proved the existence of a bloc between Trotskyists and other opposition groups within the USSR. Sometime in the middle of 1932 Sedov informed his father as follows:

[The bloc] is organized. In it have entered the Zinovievites, the Sten-Lominadze group and the Trotskyists (former “[capitulators]”)

The group of Safar. Tarkhkan. has not formally entered yet – they stand on too extreme a position; they will enter in a very short time. – The declaration of Z. and K. concerning their enormous mistake in ’27 was made during negotiations with our people concerning the bloc, immediately before the exile of Z and K.

About the same time American historian Arch Getty was discovering that Trotsky had secretly sent letters to at least Radek, Sokol’nikov, Preobrazhenskii, Kollontai, and Litvinov. The first three had been Trotskyists before publicly recanting their views. Getty did not find the letters – only the certified mail receipts for them. Getty realized this meant that the Trotsky Archive had been “purged”. These letters had been removed. Other materials had undoubtedly been purged as well.

The only reason to “purge” the archives would have been to remove materials that would have seemed incriminating – that would have negatively impacted Trotsky’s reputation. As an examination of the question of the letter to Radek shows, the letters that we know were removed proved, at the very least, that Trotsky lied during the 1930s by claiming he never maintained contact with oppositionists inside the USSR when, in reality, he was doing so, and by claiming that he would never agree to a secret bloc between his supporters and other oppositionist groups when in fact he had done precisely that.

Evidently Broué found the implications of this fact very disturbing. He never mentioned Getty’s discoveries of Trotsky’s letters to his supporters and others inside the USSR or the purging of the Trotsky archive, even though Broué cites the same Getty publications (an article and a book) in a very positive manner.

Therefore it had been well established by scholars by the mid-1980s that a Trotskyite-Zinovievite bloc did in fact exist and that it was formed in 1932 and that Zinoviev and Kamenev were personally involved. Sedov also foresaw the entry into the group of Safarov, who in any case had a group of his own.

In an interview with the Dutch social-democratic newspaper Het Volk (= “The People”) during the second half of January 1937, at the time of the Second Mos-cow Trial, Sedov stated, in a slip of the tongue, that “the Trotskyists” had been in contact with the defendants at the First Moscow Trial of August 1936. Sedov specifically named Zinoviev, Kamenev and Smirnov. Concerning Radek and Piatakov Sedov went on to say that “[t]he Trotskyists have had much less contact with them than with the others. To be more exact: no contact at all.” That is, Sedov tried to withdraw his “slip” about Radek and Piatakov.

But Sedov did not even try to retract the information that preceded it: that “the Trotskyists” had indeed been in contact with “the others”: Smirnov, Zinoviev, and Kamenev. This interview, “slip of the tongue” included, was published in a provincial edition of Het Volk on January 28, 1937. It was noticed by the Communist press, which called attention to Sedov’s “slip of the tongue.” (Arbeideren, Oslo, February 5, 1937; Abejderbladet, Copenhagen, February 12, 1937.) Thanks to Getty we now know that the Communist press was correct. Sedov’s remark really was a “slip of the tongue.” We know that Sedov was lying because Getty had found evidence of Trotsky’s letter to Radek. Trotsky had indeed been in touch with Radek. Sedov’s first remark, about “much less contact”, was accurate.

Therefore we have good, non-Soviet evidence, confirmed by the Trot-sky Archive, of the following:

* A “bloc” of Zinovievites, Trotskyites, and others including at least the Sten-Lominadze and, perhaps, the Safarov-Tarkhanov group (with whom they were in any case in touch) and involving Zinoviev and Kamenev themselves, was indeed formed in 1932.

* Trotsky had indeed been in touch with Zinoviev and Kamenev, as well as others, probably through his son and chief representative Sedov.

* Trotsky was indeed in touch with at least Radek and Piatakov.

* Trotsky really did send a letter to Radek, who was in Geneva at the time, in the Spring of 1932, just as Radek testified in the January 1937 Moscow Trial.

* There is no reason to accept Trotskyist historian Pierre Broué’s conclusion that this bloc was “ephemeral” and died out shortly after it was formed, because we know the Trotsky Archive was purged at some time, while Broué had no evidence to support his statement.

6. The Evidence that Trotsky Did Conspire with the Germans and Japanese

About five years ago I began to collect primary source evidence on the question of whether Leon Trotsky did indeed conspire with the German and Japanese military, as alleged in the Second and Third Moscow Trials. I began to do this because I had run across such evidence here and there in the process of researching other topics and generally in reading whatever primary sources from the former Soviet archives I could find that bear upon the major events of the 1930s.

I found this project fascinating. All the evidence of this purported conspiracy is circumstantial. We should not expect direct evidence – say, a confidential letter or note from Trotsky or his son Leon Sedov, or direct confirmation of the conspiracy in some German archive or other. I argue, using appropriate references, that no competent conspirator would ever put such material into written form. In my forthcoming book I cite a letter from Professor Charles A. Beard, a noted American historian of the first part of the 20th century, where Beard says that, as an experienced conspirator, Trotsky himself would never put incriminating evidence in written form.

Now, it is quite possible that a successful conspiracy might have left no written evidence of its existence. There is a principle of historical research that states, in one formulation, “Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.” That is, an event – say, a crime or a conspiracy – can indeed take place even though it leaves no evidence behind, and so the lack of evidence that it did take place cannot be interpreted to mean that no such conspiracy ever occurred. But even though this principle of historical research is well known, anticommunist and Trotskyist writers consistently claim that the lack of written evidence of such a conspiracy must mean that no such conspiracy took place.

In fact – as I point out in my article – we do have such evidence from the former Soviet archives. By this I mean evidence in addition to the testimony at the Moscow Trials. There’s no reason to doubt this testimony in general terms, but we do have other evidence that corroborates it. In addition we have corroboratory evidence from other, non-Soviet sources that confirms the existence of the Military Conspiracy, with which Trotsky was allegedly involved.

In 2010 I published my article in the online journal Cultural Logic (the 2009 issue). There’s a lot of evidence, and I spend even more space examining it. Now, the existence of this evidence must be accounted for in some way. Naturally, every individual piece of this evidence can be accounted for in multiple ways, by several different hypotheses. But there are only two hypotheses that can account for all of this evidence:

1. Trotsky did indeed conspire with the Germans and Japanese.

2. All of this evidence was fabricated, faked by Stalin, or by NKVD leaders Yagoda and Yezhov, or both.

This second hypothesis also requires evidence – evidence that this fakery or forgery took place, in different places and at different times within the USSR, and in documents which were never published and never intended to be published.

I recommend this article to you all because, at this point, it is the only serious attempt to collect and study the evidence that Trotsky conspired with Germany and Japan. It is an example of the kind of “detective work” with primary sources that makes historical research, when done diligently, so fascinating.

We know Trotsky lied about a huge number of matters during the 1930s. If he had conspired with the German and/or Japanese, he would certainly have denied that as well. Likewise, if he did not conspire with the Germans and/or Japanese, Trotsky would also deny this charge. So Trotsky’s denials are not evidence. Yet that is the only “evidence” there has ever been! Now, we have more.

Before moving on to the next point I’d like to mention that in my forthcoming book on Trotsky in the 1930s I devote two chapters to the Dewey Commission. As you know this was a group set up supposedly to study the charges against Trotsky that had been made during the First and Second Moscow Trials of August 1936 and January 1937. Eventually the Dewey Commission published two fat volumes, one of the hearings themselves titled The Case of Leon Trotsky­ and the second, of the commission’s study of the evidence and their conclusions, titled Not Guilty!

I discovered that neither of these works has been re-examined in the light of the evidence now available from the Trotsky archive at Harvard and from the former Soviet archives. Though there have been ten full-scale biographies of Trotsky published since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, not a single one of them has undertaken to re-examine the Dewey Commission. In addition, I discovered a lot of other problems with the Dewey Commission – problems that should have caught the attention of any careful reader long ago.

I will go into all of this in my book on Trotsky in the 1930s, to be published in 2015.

7. The Moscow Trials

The newly-available evidence confirms the following conclusions:

* The defendants at the Moscow Trials of August 1936, January 1937, and March 1938, were guilty of at least those crimes to which they confessed. A “bloc of Rights and Trotskyites” did indeed exist. It planned to assassinate Stalin, Kaganovich, Molotov, and others in a coup d’état , what they called a “palace coup.”. The bloc did assassinate Kirov.

All anticommunist scholars take the position that the testimony in the three Moscow Trials was fabricated by the NKVD in some way. But they fail to give any evidence that this is so, nor do they make any kind of argument to justify these very considerable omissions.

In reality, no one has ever come close to proving that any of the Moscow Trials were faked. However, in the highly politicized and biased field of Soviet history the position that the Moscow Trials were all fabrications and all the defendants “framed” is not merely the “mainstream” position – it is the only position that is tolerated. Anyone who suggests that the Moscow Trials may not have been fabrications faces ridicule or worse. So there is a great deal of professional pressure to regard the trials as fabrications and little incentive to do any serious research on them.

Any objective investigation must always confront the question of verification. Therefore in this chapter we will discuss two questions. First: What is the Kirov testimony in the first Moscow Trial? Second: To what extent can we confirm or disconfirm the testimony in the first Moscow Trial?

The first public Moscow Trial of August 19-24, 1936 was preceded by a great deal of investigation. Only a very small amount of the documentation this investigation produced – confessions, statements, and some physical evidence as well – has ever been made public. Most of it by far is still top-secret in Russia today. No researcher has access to anything like the full extent of it. Nor, of course, do we.

Like any researcher or investigator, we are faced with the task of evaluating all this evidence according to objective criteria. Anticommunist researchers simply assume that there was no merit to the charges and that Stalin was out to destroy the “former” oppositionists. In reality there is no evidence whatsoever that Stalin had a “goal” of “crushing” or “destroying” former oppositionists. There never has been any such evidence. On the contrary: there is good evidence that prior to the Kirov murder Stalin was trying to conciliate former oppositionists – or people whom he believed were former oppositionists, whose opposition he believed was in the past, as they promised it was.

Questions of Methodology

How can these materials be assessed as to their truthfulness? What, in fact, can we reasonably expect to learn from them? This problem confronts all anticommunist scholars too, though they do not directly address it. They have some interrogations, trial transcripts, and investigative materials, so we too have whatever of these materials they have chosen to disclose to us. In addition, we have all the evidence that, for whatever reasons, they omit.

A full examination of the Moscow Trials is beyond the scope of this presentation. But I do wish to emphasize the following point: There is no evidence that any of the defendants in these trials was framed, falsely convicted, innocent. Not one shred of evidence has ever been produced that the defendants in the three Moscow Trials were anything but guilty of those charges to which they confessed. No one has ever produced any evidence that the defendants were forced to testify in some manner dictated by the prosecution or NKVD. None of the “rehabilitation” documents and reports produced during Khrushchev’s and especially during Gorbachev’s era contains any evidence that the defendants were innocent. All the conclusions of all these rehabilitation reports are assertions only.

There is good evidence that some of the defendants at least did not tell “the whole truth” and that both Yagoda and other defendants, as well as Yezhov, distorted and concealed some matters at the trials. But none of this deception tends to exculpate any of the trial defendants either. It simply adds another dimension to their guilt, and to the picture of the conspiracies that we already have. From what we know, the defendants’ testimony reflects what they wanted to say.

A central problem in evaluating the Moscow Trials testimony is the question of independent corroboration of statements made at the trial through evidence that could not have been arranged, planted, or otherwise created by the prosecution. Of course the lack of independent corroboration would not mean that the trial testimony and confessions were faked by the prosecution. In the case of a skillful conspiracy there might be no independent evidence at all. It would just mean that we would have no way of comparing this testimony with independent evidence. Even if we had no independent corroboration, we could evaluate the internal consistency of the statements made by different defendants at different times.

Fortunately some evidence external to the Moscow Trials and even to the USSR itself does exist. All of this external evidence tends to corroborate the confessions of the accused.

Was the Trial Testimony Falsified?

All anticommunist scholars “beg the question.” They assume that the trial testimony was falsified in some way they do not specify. In this they follow the example of ideologically anticommunist researchers. It is easy to find historians of Soviet history who make this assumption. But it is impossible to find one who proves it, or indeed has any evidence for it at all. There has never been any evidence that the testimony at the Moscow Trials was falsified, the defendants forced to mouth confessions composed or dictated by others.

But though there is no evidence that the testimony in this trial was falsified, there is a lot of evidence of the contrary: that it was genuine. Here are a few examples of corroboration between testimony at the January 1937 trial and other established facts:

* Radek and others testify that they disagreed with the assassination of individuals. This corresponds to what Yagoda testified independently, as we will see in the chapter devoted to him.

* Radek’s claim that he had received a letter from Trotsky in the spring of 1932 is confirmed by a certified mail receipt found by Getty in the Harvard Trotsky archive.

* Radek testified that Bukharin had told him he (Bukharin) had “taken the path of terrorism.” We know from the memoirs of Jules Humbert-Droz, published in Switzerland in 1971, that Bukharin had decided to assassinate Stalin long before this.

* Sokolnikov testified that the “united centre” of Zinovievites and Trotskyites had decided on planning terrorist acts against Stalin and Kirov “as early as the autumn of 1932.” This corresponds with the testimony of Valentin Astrov, one of Bukharin’s followers, one of whose confessions has been published. Astrov had the chance to recant this after the fall of the USSR but explicitly refused to do so. Astrov also insisted that the NKVD investigators had treated him with respect and used no compulsion against him.

* Muralov stated that Ivan Smirnov had told him about his meeting abroad with Sedov. In his Livre Rouge Sedov admitted that he had met with Smirnov, though he claimed the meeting was entirely innocent.

* Muralov stated that Shestov had brought a letter from Sedov in 1932 with a secret message written with invisible ink. We know that Sedov used antipirin to write secret messages since at least one such letter of Sedov’s survives in the Harvard Trotsky archive. In it he recommends that his father Trotsky write him back with invisible ink as well.

* Radek stated that it was he who had recommended to Trotsky that Vitovt Putna, a military commander loyal to Trotsky, be the person to negotiate with the Germans and Japanese on Trotsky’s behalf. This corresponds with Putna’s later confessions as recorded by Marshal Budienniy.

Most of this evidence might be explained as faked – if there were any evidence that the confessions, and the alleged plots, had been scripted by the NKVD. But there is no evidence of any such conspiracy to fabricate the trials, while we do have evidence that they were not scripted.

In light of these facts it is impermissible for any competent and objective researcher to simply dismiss without any consideration the very significant evidence given in the trial transcript.

8. The “Yezhovshchina”, or “Great Terror” of Summer 1937- Fall 1938

Since my two-part essay “Stalin and the Struggle for Democratic Reform” was written in 2004-5, a great deal more evidence has been published concerning the Opposition, the Moscow Trials of 1936, 1937, and 1938, the Military Purges or “Tukhachevsky Affair”, and the subsequent “Yezhovshchina”, often called “the Great Terror” after the title of the extremely dishonest book by Robert Conquest first published in 1968.

The newly-available evidence confirms the following conclusions:

* The defendants at the Moscow Trials of August 1936, January 1937, and March 1938, were guilty of at least those crimes to which they confessed. A “bloc of Rights and Trotskyites” did indeed exist. It planned to assassinate Stalin, Kaganovich, Molotov, and others in a coup d’état , what they called a “palace coup.”. The bloc did assassinate Kirov.

* Both Rights and Trotskyites were conspiring with the Germans and Japanese, as were the Military conspirators. If the “palace coup” did not work they hoped to come to power by showing loyalty to Germany or Japan in the event of an invasion.

* Trotsky too was directly conspiring with the Germans and Japanese, as were a number of his supporters.

* Nikolai Yezhov, head of the NKVD from 1936 to late 1938, was also conspiring with the Germans.


We now have much more evidence about the role of NKVD chief Nikolai Yezhov than we had in 2005. Yezhov, head of the NKVD (People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs), had his own conspiracy against the Soviet government and Party leadership. Yezhov had also been recruited by German intelligence.

Like the Rights and Trotskyites, Yezhov and his top NKVD men were counting on an invasion by Germany, Japan, or other major capitalist country. They tortured a great many innocent people into confessing to capital crimes so they would be shot. They executed a great many more on falsified grounds or no grounds at all.

Yezhov hoped that this mass murder of innocent people would turn large parts of the Soviet population against the government. That would create the basis for internal rebellions against the Soviet government when Germany or Japan attacked.

Yezhov lied to Stalin, the Party and government leaders about all this. The truly horrific mass executions of 1937-1938 of almost 680,000 people were in large part unjustifiable executions of innocent people carried out deliberately by Yezhov and his top men in order to sow discontent among the Soviet population.

As early as October 1937 Stalin and the Party leadership began to suspect as that some of the repression was done illegally. From early in 1938, when Pavel Postyshev was sharply criticized, then removed from the Central Committee, then expelled from the Party, tried and executed for mass unjustified repression, these suspicions grew.

When Lavrentii Beria was appointed as Yezhov’s second-in-command Yezhov and his men understood that Stalin and the Party leadership no longer trusted them. They made one last plot to assassinate Stalin at the November 7, 1938 celebration of the 21st anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. But Yezhov’s men were arrested in time.

Yezhov was persuaded to resign. An intensive investigation was begun and a huge number of NKVD abuses were uncovered. A great many cases of those tried or punished under Yezhov were reviewed. Over 100,000 people were released from prison and camps. Many NKVD men were arrested, confessed to torturing innocent people, tried and executed. Many more NKVD men were sentenced to prison or dismissed.

Under Beria the number of executions in 1939 and 1940 dropped to less than 1% of the number under Yezhov in 1937 and 1938, and many of those executed were NKVD men, including Yezhov himself, who were found guilty of massive unjustified repression and executions of innocent people.

Some of the most dramatic evidence published since 2005 are confessions of Yezhov and Mikhail Frinovsky, Yezhov’s second-in-command. I have put some of these on the Internet in both the original Russian and in English translation. We also have a great many more confessions and interrogations, mostly partial, of Yezhov, in which he makes many more confessions. These were published in 2007 in a semi-official account by Aleksei Pavliukov.

Anticommunist Scholars Hide the Truth

All “mainstream” – that is, anticommunist – and Trotskyist researchers falsely claim that there were no conspiracies. According to them, all the Moscow Trial defendants, all the military defendants, and all those tried and sentenced for espionage, conspiracy, sabotage, and other crimes, were innocent victims. Some claim that Stalin had planned to kill all these people because they might constitute a “Fifth Column” if the USSR were attacked. Other anticommunists prefer the explanation that Stalin just tried to terrorise the population into obedience.

This is an ideological, anticommunist stance masquerading as an historical conclusion. It is not based upon the historical evidence and is inconsistent with that evidence. Anticommunist historians ignore the primary source evidence available. They even ignore evidence in collections of documents that they themselves cite in their own works.

Why do the anticommunist “scholars”, both in Russia and the West, ignore all this evidence? Why do they continue to promote the false notions that no conspiracies existed and that Stalin, not Yezhov, decided to execute hundreds of thousands of innocent people? The only possible explanation is that they do this for ideological reasons alone. The truth, as established by an examination of the primary source evidence, would make Stalin and the Bolsheviks “look good” to most people.

Bukharin, Not Stalin, To Blame for the Massive Repressions

Nikolai Bukharin, leading name among the Rightists and one of its leaders, knew about the “Yezhovshchina” as it was happening, and praised it in a letter to Stalin that he wrote from prison.

Bukharin knew that Yezhov was a member of the Rightist conspiracy, as he himself was. No doubt that is why he welcomed Yezhov’s appointment as head of the NKVD — a view recorded by his widow in her memoirs.

In his first confession, in his now-famous letter to Stalin of December 10, 1937, and at his trial in March 1938 Bukharin claimed he had completely “disarmed” and had told everything he knew. But now we can prove that this was a lie. Bukharin knew that Yezhov was a leading member of the Rightist conspiracy — but did not inform on him. According to Mikhail Frinovsky, Yezhov’s right-hand man, Yezhov probably promised to see that he would not be executed if he did not mention his own, Yezhov’s, participation (see Frinovsky’s confession of April 11, 1939).

If Bukharin had told the truth — if he had, in fact, informed on Yezhov — Yezhov’s mass murders could have been stopped in their tracks. The lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people could have been saved.

But Bukharin remained true to his fellow conspirators. He went to execution — an execution he swore he deserved “ten times over” – without revealing Yezhov’s participation in the conspiracy.

This point cannot be stressed too much: the blood of the hundreds of thousands of innocent persons slaughtered by Yezhov and his men during 1937-1938, is on Bukharin’s hands.

Objectivity and Evidence

I agree with historian Geoffrey Roberts when he says:

In the last 15 years or so an enormous amount of new material on Stalin … has become available from Russian archives. I should make clear that as a historian I have a strong orientation to telling the truth about the past, no matter how uncomfortable or unpalatable the conclusions may be. … I don’t think there is a dilemma: you just tell the truth as you see it.

(“Stalin’s Wars”, February 12, 2007. At )

The conclusions I have reached about the “Yezhovshchina” will be unacceptable to ideologically-motivated people. I have not reached these conclusions out of any desire to “apologize” for the policies of Stalin or the Soviet government. I believe these to be the only objective conclusions possible based on the available evidence.

TO BE CONTINUED in the next issue

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.