Below we publish the introduction to the first Italian edition of Pierre Broué’s book, Communists against Stalin: the massacre of a generation.
The death of Pierre Broué in 2005 represented a tragic loss. During his lifetime he played many roles: historian, Trotskyist militant, and editor of the Cahiers Leon Trotsky. For 45 years he was active in Trotskyist politics in France and internationally. He wrote important works. He edited and prefaced an authoritative French edition of Trotsky's post-1928 writings, and was at the centre of Trotsky research in recent decades.
Pierre Broué was internationally renowned as a historian of the international revolutionary movement. His histories of the Bolshevik Party, the Communist International, the German Revolution and the Spanish Revolution have been widely admired. Among his most outstanding works were those written in the final years of his life. His masterly biography of Trotsky (Trotsky, Pierre Broué, Fayard, 1988) is a very healthy antidote to the superficial and pretentious philistinism of Isaac Deutscher.
The present work Communists against Stalin: the massacre of a generation, which has been published for the first time in an Italian translation, is yet another outstanding work by this celebrated Trotskyist writer. Tragically, it was to be his last.
A revolutionary militant
Pierre Broué was not just an intellectual, somebody who wrote books for universities and commented on events from the comfort of his study. He was an active and militant revolutionary who dedicated his life to the fight for international socialism. In his youth, Pierre joined the French Resistance to fight against the Nazi occupation of France. He joined the Communist Party, but soon came into collision with the Stalinist leadership.
He later became a militant of the Fourth International and remained a dedicated Trotskyist for the rest of his life. He never wavered in his revolutionary belief in the socialist future of humanity. The day after his death, his close collaborator, friend and comrade, Jean-Pierre Juy wrote to tell me that he retained this revolutionary fervour right to the end.
I only got to know Pierre in the last phase of his life, when he was already engaged in his last battle – a life and death battle against cancer. But I was very well acquainted with his work and ideas, mainly through our mutual friend Seva [Esteban] Volkov, Trotsky’s grandson. Seva Volkov was a close friend of Pierre, for whom he had a boundless admiration and respect.
It was in 2003 that I visited Pierre when he was convalescing in the picturesque foothills of the French Alps. I found him lively and alert, with a sharp and very Gallic sense of humour. His revolutionary spirit shined through in every sentence. He was not very interested in the picturesque scenery. His mind was elsewhere: with the world revolution. He was like a tiger trapped in a cage, or rather an old warhorse, champing at the bit and straining to get back into battle.
I asked him if he was doing any writing. He shrugged his shoulders with a gesture of impatience. "How can I write in this place? I do not have my books. I want to get out of here and get back to my library!" Evidently, the separation from his books was the worst form of torture for Pierre. He sent us articles and wrote an introduction to the new edition of Not Guilty!, the summing up of the Dewey Commission on the Moscow Trials.
Pierre constantly apologised for not being able to write more and promised to do so as soon as his health permitted. Unfortunately, that wish was not granted.
What the book is about
He wrote this book, published in French in 2003, on the basis of the newly released material in the Soviet archives. His stated aim was to give a voice to those many Communists who were silenced by Stalin’s killing machine. He explains: "for years I have wanted to talk about the thousands of women and men, old and children who died machine-gunned by the dozen. I wanted to show them living, thinking, loving, suffering. Say who they were before, during and after their ordeal. To bring them back to life, as much as that is possible."
In the 1920s a large number of communist militants joined the Left Opposition and other anti-Stalinist currents in the USSR. They were called oppositionists or Trotskyists, although Trotsky did not use that term, preferring to call the tendency he represented the Bolshevik-Leninists. These courageous men and women were fighting to defend the genuine traditions of the October Revolution: the traditions of workers’ democracy and proletarian internationalism.
The book is built around the biographies of around 700 oppositionists who are mentioned. Through their stories Broué explains the history of the Left Opposition, but also of other opposition currents. Thousands of oppositionists were to be arrested, imprisoned and exiled to Siberia, to the prisons or camps of Vorkuta and Kolyma where in 1937 and 1938 they met their deaths before Stalin’s firing squads. This book tells the story of the struggle, persecution and murder of those thousands of unnamed revolutionary fighters.
Stalin only succeeded in consolidating his dictatorial regime over the dead bodies of Lenin’s Party. In order to liquidate the political gains of the October Revolution, he had to carry out the slaughter of an entire generation of revolutionaries. This book presents a devastating picture of Stalin’s massacre of the Bolshevik Party. In so doing it unveils a terrible history that remained a closely guarded secret for over half a century.
The first chapters outline the early history of the left opposition, beginning in 1924-1925 after the death of Lenin. It continues with an account of the unified opposition that was formed in 1926 following the breakup of the troika of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, followed by the expulsion and exile of Trotsky. With a wealth of detailed information, much of it not available previously, the author outlines the repressive measures by which the Stalinist machine gradually ground down the Opposition.
Later chapters deal with the work of the International Left Opposition, the Moscow Trials – Stalin’s one-sided civil war against the Bolshevik Party, and the activities of the Trotskyists inside the Gulag. Pierre Broué graphically describes the heroic struggles of the Trotskyists in Stalin’s prison camps where they maintained their revolutionary discipline, organized strikes, protests and hunger strikes to defend their rights against the brutality of the prison guards.
The Left Opposition
How was it possible for the most democratic revolution in history to degenerate in such a way as to finish as a monstrous totalitarian dictatorship? To superficial minds the answer to this question is simple: Stalin was smarter than Trotsky and therefore outmanoeuvred him. But such a simple explanation in reality explains nothing.
The main cause of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state was the isolation of the revolution in conditions of extreme backwardness. Long ago Marx wrote in The German Ideology that where poverty is general “all the old crap revives”. By this he meant the evils of inequality, corruption, bureaucracy and privilege.
Lenin and Trotsky knew very well that the material conditions for socialism were absent in Russia. Before 1924 nobody questioned this elementary proposition. The Bolsheviks based themselves on the perspective of the extension of the revolution to the advanced capitalist countries of Europe, especially Germany. If the German revolution had succeeded – which it could have in 1923 – the entire situation in Russia would have been different.
On the basis of a socialist federation, uniting the colossal productive potential of Germany with the immense reserves of raw materials and manpower of Russia, the material conditions of the masses would have been transformed. Under such conditions the rise of the bureaucracy would have been halted, and the Stalin faction would not have been able to seize power. The morale of the Soviet working class would have been boosted and its faith in the world revolution restored.
We must remember that in the period 1923-9, the process of bureaucratic degeneration was by no means consolidated. This fact was reflected in the series of zigzags that characterised the policies of Stalin and his faction both in home and foreign policy throughout this period. In 1923-28, Stalin adopted a right-wing policy, characterised by an adaptation to the kulaks (rich peasants) and NEPmen (speculators) in Russia and an adaptation to the reformists and colonial bourgeoisie in foreign policy. This placed the Revolution in grave danger. Internally, it encouraged the kulaks and other bourgeois elements at the expense of the workers. Externally, it led the Communist International to one defeat after another.
It was not that Stalin consciously organized the defeat of the German Revolution in 1923, or that of the Chinese Revolution in 1923-7. On the contrary, he desired the success of these revolutions. But the right-wing opportunist policies that he had imposed on the Communist International in the name of Socialism in One Country guaranteed defeat in each case.
Dialectically, cause becomes effect and vice-versa. The isolation of the Russian Revolution was the ultimate cause of the rise of the bureaucracy and the Stalin faction. The false policies of the latter produced the defeat of the German and Chinese Revolutions (and other defeats in Estonia, Bulgaria, Britain, etc.). These defeats confirmed the isolation of the Revolution and caused deep demoralisation of the Soviet workers, who lost all hope that the European workers would come to their aid.
This led to a consolidation of the bureaucracy and Stalinism, which was only the political expression of the material interests of the bureaucracy. This, in turn, led to further defeats of the international revolution (Germany, Spain), which prepared the ground for the Second World War that placed the USSR in extreme danger.
The death of Lenin
Lenin repeated hundreds of times that without the victory of the European revolution it would be impossible to maintain the Soviet power and the restoration of capitalism would be inevitable. But things did not work out precisely as Lenin anticipated. The Soviet Union survived but experienced a process of bureaucratic degeneration that had already begun during Lenin’s lifetime.
In his last years Lenin became increasingly anxious about this. In his last speech to the Moscow Soviet in 1922 he asked the question: “Who is leading whom?”
Historical materialism teaches us to look beyond the individual players on the stage of history and look for deeper causes. This does not at all rule out the role of the individuals in history. In given moments the role of a single man or woman can be decisive. We can say with certainty that without the presence of Lenin and Trotsky (particularly the former) in 1917, the October Revolution would never have taken place.
However, individuals can only play such a role when all the other conditions are present. The concatenation of circumstances in 1917 enabled Lenin and Trotsky to play a decisive role. But the same men had been present for more than two decades before and were not able to play the same role. In the same way, when the Revolution ebbed, despite their colossal personal ability, Lenin and Trotsky were not able to prevent the bureaucratic degeneration of the Revolution. This was caused by objective forces against which even the greatest leaders were powerless.
Accident often plays a role in history. If it had not been for his illness, Lenin would have attended the Congress and probably Stalin would have been removed. However, it is impossible to understand great historical processes in terms of individuals, “great men” etc. Marxism seeks to analyse history in terms of the development of the productive forces and the class relations that arise from this. Even if Lenin had succeeded in winning a majority in the Congress, it would have meant only a temporary delay in the ascent of the bureaucracy, which was rooted in objective conditions.
After the death of Lenin in 1924 the process of bureaucratic degeneration of the CPSU developed at an accelerated pace, finally ending in the dictatorship of Stalin. But even if Lenin had lived, that process could not have been halted without the victory of the revolution in one or more important countries. In 1926 at a meeting of the United Opposition, Lenin’s widow Krupskaya said: “If Vladimir Ilyich were alive today he would be in one of Stalin’s prisons.”
The Left Opposition
As early as 1923 Trotsky launched the Platform of the Opposition, based on a defence of the Leninist principles of workers’ democracy and proletarian internationalism. He began a struggle against bureaucratic tendencies in the state and Party. This was the beginning of the Left Opposition in the Soviet Union and internationally. The struggle between the Left Opposition and the Stalin faction was at bottom a class struggle, which reflected the contradictory interests between the working class and the rising bureaucracy.
Broué talks about the 1923 congress where the Opposition won a majority in Moscow but was bureaucratically out-manoeuvred:
"In Moscow, the opposition succeeded in winning the majority in 40 cells (6,954 members) against 32 (2,790), including most of the Red Army cells, 30% of the working class cells and... only three delegates in total. Victim of a robbery, the Opposition was slandered in the conference, in which the delegates were improperly elected, arrogant and rude employees, condemning them for Menshevik deviation."
He also gives very interesting details of the strength of the Bolshevik-Leninists even in Leningrad (Zinoviev's stronghold), in Ukraine and in Georgia. He explains how in 1928, when the repression had already started against the Left Opposition, Stalin himself estimated that there were 30,000 active oppositions. He is also able to give many details about the composition of the Left Opposition, using official police sources:
"44% of the excluded for belonging to the opposition were factory workers, and 25% former workers placed in positions of responsibility [the numbers of the latter would increase much if it were possible to ascertain the previous profession of political commissars of the Red Army and the Rabfaki students]. In regard to age, people of the Opposition were young and even very young; 85% were under 35 years old [...]. In Kharkov, out of 259 members excluded in 1927, there were 196 workers, 70% are under 30, 38% under 25"
"We are therefore talking of a movement of the proletarian youth. Young people fighting in the ranks of the Opposition are those who were teenagers, including children, at the time of the revolution, and whose tide still drove them: the most dynamic part of society, their future; the profound result, the most lasting footprint of the revolution."
Trotsky tried to base himself on the working class, but the latter was exhausted by long years of war, revolution and civil war. Long hours of work in freezing factories, starvation wages and general privation took their toll. The Soviet workers fell into a state of apathy. They no longer participated in the Soviets, which became inexorably bureaucratised. With every step back of the world revolution, the workers became more disillusioned and disoriented and the new caste of Soviet bureaucrats became more confident and insolent.
The reason why Stalin triumphed was not because of any mistakes of the Opposition, as superficial bourgeois historians imagine, but because of the broader context of the class relations in Soviet society. I will cite just one instance to underline this point. In 1927, after the defeat of the Chinese Revolution, some students who supported the Opposition came to Trotsky, arguing that, since everybody could see that the Trotsky had been proven to be correct, they would now win the majority of the Party. Trotsky disagreed. He pointed out to them that for the Soviet workers, the objective consequences of the defeat of the Chinese Revolution were far more important than who had been right or wrong in perspectives.
As a matter fact, Trotsky knew that the Opposition could not succeed. The unfavourable objective situation doomed them to defeat. So why did he continue to fight? Why did he not capitulate to Stalin, as Zinoviev, Kamenev and Radek did? The answer is that he was trying to establish the ideas, programme and tradition for the future generations of Communists in the USSR and internationally. He was the only one to do so, despite the most frightful persecution that claimed the lives of most of his comrades, friends and family.
The "Communist" Party under Stalin became transformed into a bureaucratic club. In fact, it was not a party at all but part of the state apparatus – a vehicle for controlling the working class and for the advancement of careerists. Although some genuine Communists remained, the overwhelming majority of its members were yes-men, bootlickers, spies and toadies.
The Seventeenth Congress in October 1934 was hailed as "the congress of victors". The delegates competed with each other to sing the Leader's praises, but almost all the 2,000 delegates later fell victim to Stalin's Terror. The congress showed that Kirov, the Leningrad Party boss, was popular with the delegates – too popular. He got a standing ovation at the start and finish, and was elected to the Secretariat of the Central Committee. This meant that he would be transferred from Leningrad to Moscow, where he would be a rival to Stalin.
The disasters of forced collectivisation and the economic disruption caused by the mismanagement of the first Five Year Plan had caused many doubts about Stalin. These doubts were reinforced by the victory of Hitler in Germany. The German defeat shook the bureaucracy. Questions were being asked about the policies that led to that devastating defeat that destroyed the mighty German Communist Party and placed the Soviet Union in grave danger. Trotsky’s articles on Germany, criticizing the ultra-left line of the Comintern had a profound effect in the layers of the Party officials who had access to them.
The Party was in a state of ferment. There were discussions in the corridors between delegates to the seventeenth Party Conference (January–February 1934) about Stalin. On 23 February Stalin’s entry at the Bolshoi Theatre was received “in glacial silence”. In the ranks of the bureaucracy jokes were circulating about Stalin. Kirov had openly criticized Stalin in a restricted and closed meeting of Communists in Leningrad.
But Stalin, who controlled both the Party and the apparatus of state power, including the GPU, struck back violently. On the December 1, 1934, Kirov was assassinated by a young Communist, called Leonid Nikolayev, who had been, conveniently, a minor member of the Zinovievite Opposition in Leningrad. In fact, Nikolayev worked for the GPU and was a mere tool in Stalin's machinations.
That Nikolayev was a provocateur is shown by the following fact. He kept a diary at the beginning of 1934 in which he revealed not only a critical attitude to the Party leadership but also terrorist tendencies. This was discovered and he was expelled from the Party but then reinstated. Yet he was allowed to continue working at the Smolny Institute, the headquarters of the Leningrad Party.
Given these circumstances it is incomprehensible that Nikolayev was allowed to come into direct contact with Kirov, who, like all the other Party leaders was surrounded by bodyguards. However, at the time of the assassination there was not a single bodyguard in sight. Immediately after the assassination, steps were taken to liquidate all witnesses in order to cover the tracks. Not only was Nikolayev himself shot, but Kirov's bodyguards and driver were also killed, in addition to Nikolayev's wife and other family members.
In his celebrated speech of 1956 Khrushchev said that the tracks of the assassins of Kirov led up to Stalin himself. There is not the slightest doubt that this assassination was planned by Stalin. He feared Kirov as a rival. At a time when Stalin was losing support, Kirov's name was circulating in Party circles as a possible replacement. He had to be eliminated and he was eliminated.
The Kamenev and Zinoviev trial
Initially the assassination of Kirov was blamed on White Guard elements, but then the story was concocted that the real authors were Kamenev and Zinoviev, those "unfinished enemies" who were said to be guided by "the fascist hireling Trotsky". They were put on trial in secret in 1935, accused of political responsibility for Kirov's murder.
Kamenev and Zinoviev were already morally and politically broken men. They had capitulated to Stalin after the defeat of the Opposition, had made a full “self-criticism”, denounced “Trotskyism” and been re-admitted into the Party. Having capitulated once to Stalin, they now capitulated yet again. Stalin had promised to spare their lives if they confessed and they were sent to a camp. But this was insufficient for Stalin. He wanted them dead. So after 18 months, they were taken back to Moscow for another trial.
On August 19, when the discussion of the Stalin Constitution ("the most democratic constitution in the world") was in full swing, 16 leading ex-Oppositionists, headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev, together with Yevdokimov and I.M. Smirnov, were put on trial for capital charges. This time they were accused, not of "political responsibility" for the assassination of Kirov, but of organising terrorist actions against Stalin, Voroshilov, Kaganovich and Zhdanov, under the direst instructions and guidance of Trotsky.
This trial was an attempt to give an excuse for mass arrests of all who questioned Stalin's leadership. During the proceedings, the accused were forced to pour dirt over their own heads. Kamenev testified that "He himself served fascism and with Zinoviev and Trotsky had prepared a counterrevolution in the USSR." Zinoviev stated that "Trotskyism is a variant of fascism." The abject nature of these confessions did not save them: they were shot immediately after the trial. Within twelve months of this trial, 100,000 people were either arrested or shot in Leningrad alone.
The methods of the GPU were those of the Inquisition. The accused were dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, kept in isolation, beaten, tortured, their families threatened, to extort a false confession. Interrogations were carried on uninterruptedly day and night, for 16 to 24 hours, with the prisoner denied sleep (the "conveyor" system). Those that did not confess were shot or just disappeared. They used agents provocateurs to engineer denunciations. Children were urged to denounce their own parents.
The main motive of the Purge Trials was to liquidate the Bolshevik Party, to wipe out the entire generation of Old Bolsheviks and thus to consolidate the rule of the bureaucracy. Anyone who could remember the old democratic and internationalist traditions of Leninism was seen as a danger. Like any common criminal Stalin understood the need to eliminate all witnesses. But there was also a personal motive. Stalin was a mediocrity who could not stand comparison with the Old Bolshevik leaders. Compared with Bukharin, Kamenev and even Zinoviev, let alone a genius like Trotsky, he was a nonentity. And he knew it. Therefore he entertained feelings of revenge towards the entire generation of Old Bolsheviks.
Stalin was a sadist who took a personal interest in tormenting his victims. He brought to Moscow the primitive methods of the Georgian blood feud, in which not only enemies had to be killed but their families also. He once stated: "There is nothing sweeter in the world than to plan revenge on an enemy, see it carried out, and then retire peacefully to bed."
Stalin personally checked the list of the victims and decided who would live or die. Out of a total of about 700,000 cases, he personally signed 400 lists, with a total of 40,000 people. On these lists were the names of all of Lenin's principal lieutenants and comrades-in-arms. Stalinist cruelty was revealed when his archives were opened, showing that he drew cartoons depicting the torture of his future victims. Boris Ilizarov, a historian and member of the Russian Academy of sciences has published the sketches that Stalin drew during the long meetings of the Politburo to amuse himself in this way.
One of these grotesque cartoons from 1930 depicts the then finance minister Nicolai Bryukhanov hanging from a rope by his genitals:
“The sketch was found with a note written and signed by Stalin in which the tyrant made no effort to disguise his pleasure at the fate he had in mind for Bryukhanov, a Politburo member for four years.
“Under the heading ‘Special File’ it read: ‘To all members of the Politburo, for all his present and future sins, Bryukhanov should be hung by his balls. If they hold up he should be considered not guilty as if in a court of law. If they give away he should be drowned in a river.
“Bryukhanov was executed on Stalin’s orders in 1938 on trumped up charges. He was rehabilitated in 1956, three years after Stalin’s death.” (The Sunday Times, 8 July, 2001)
Stalin had a very simple recipe for the interrogation of prisoners: "Beat, beat and beat again." At the time of the first trials the chief of the OGPU-NKVD was Genrykh Yagoda. He carried out Stalin's directives, but not enthusiastically enough for the Vozhd [Note: Vozhd was a term used to describe the “leader”]. Stalin was furious because Yagoda had not obtained confessions to the murder of Kirov from Kamenev and Zinoviev in the 1936 trial. He called him in and said: "You work poorly, Genrykh Grigorievich. I already know for a fact that Kirov was murdered on instructions from Zinoviev and Kamenev, but so far you have not been able to prove it! You have to torture them until they finally tell the truth and reveal all their connections." (Anna Larina, This I cannot Forget, p. 94)
Yagoda was a corrupt official and a contemptible careerist whose hands were stained with blood, but having been a Party member since 1907 he was inhibited by the old traditions and sometimes dragged his heels at the monstrous orders he was expected to carry out. This sealed his fate. He was removed, put on trial, accused among other things of poisoning the writer Maxim Gorky, and executed. The accusation about Gorky is significant. Gorky, who had a soft heart, often used to intercede with Lenin on behalf of people who had been arrested, and tried the same thing with Stalin. But Stalin was not like Lenin. He found the old man's pleadings irritating. But Gorky was too famous to put on trial as a "Trotskyist", so in all probability Stalin had him quietly put down, and placed the blame on the unfortunate Yagoda. This was quite in Stalin's style.
The year 1937
In order to consolidate his power Stalin had first to destroy Lenin's Party. He did this by physically exterminating the Bolshevik Party in the notorious Purges. The year 1937 will go down in history as synonymous with Stalin's unbridled terror. The man who replaced Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov, was a monster in the image of Stalin. No action was too base or bloody for him, no order too atrocious to carry out. This creature was the perfect embodiment of Stalin's political counterrevolution.
In the camps, millions were starved and worked to death. Between 1929 and 1934 the average life expectancy was less than two years. Yet the Boss complained that conditions in the camps were too comfortable: they were "like health resorts". Up till 1937 it was not the deliberate policy of the camp administration to exterminate the prisoners, although many died as a result of poor food and overwork. But Yezhov changed all that. After he took over the situation was much worse. To begin with, the maximum sentence before death was increased from ten years to twenty-five. In most cases this amounted to a death sentence.
According to data supplied by Yezhov at the end of 1936 and the beginning of 1937, in the central institutions of Moscow alone, thousands of "Trotskyist wreckers" were arrested. Between October 1936 and February 1937, the following numbers of employees in the People's Commissariats were arrested and sentenced: Transport – 141, Food Industry – 100, Local Industry – 60, Internal Trade – 82, Agriculture – 102, Finance – 35, Education – 228; and so on. Later the situation got even worse. On one day alone, 12th December 1938, Stalin and Molotov sanctioned the shooting of 3,167 people, and then went to the cinema.
It is now known that the NKVD had quotas for arrests and was expected to fulfil them, just like the quotas for steel, coal and electricity under the Five Year Plan. Yevgeniya Ginsberg relates the following conversation she had in prison in 1937. "As a Tatar, it was simpler to make me a bourgeois nationalist. Actually, they did put me down as a Trotskyist at first, but Rud sent the file back, saying they'd exceeded the quota for Trotskyists but were short on nationalists, though they'd taken all the Tatar writers they could think of." (Yevgeniya Ginzburg, Into the Whirlwind, pp. 109-10)
Stalin's propaganda machine was working overtime. Meetings were organised under such slogans as "Death to the Fascist Hirelings!", "Crush the Trotskyist Vermin" and "Trotskyism is another Form of Fascism!" On March 6, 1937 Pravda asserted that "the Trotskyists are a find for international Fascism […] The insignificant number of this gang should not reassure us, we have to increase our vigilance tenfold." On 15th March 1938, Vechernaya Moskva snarled: "History knows no evil deeds equal to the crimes of the gang from the anti-Soviet Right-Trotskyist Bloc. The espionage, sabotage and wrecking done by the over-bandit Trotsky and his accomplices Bukharin, Rykov and the others, arouse feelings of anger, hatred and contempt not only in the Soviet people, but in all progressive mankind." (Quoted in D. Volkogonov, Trotsky pp. 381-2)
History knows no evil deeds equal to the crimes of the gang from the anti-Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy. A wave of terror was unleashed by Stalin against the people of the USSR. Millions of innocent people were arrested, condemned and sent into the Gulag. Even the security services were purged. In 1937-8 23,000 NKVD officers were arrested. Most informed on others in order to survive.
Not all of Stalin's victims were put on trial. The trade union leader Tomsky, a follower of Bukharin's Right Opposition, cheated Stalin by committing suicide. Stalin's wife, Nadezhda Alleluyeva was also driven to suicide by Stalin. A decent and honest woman, she sympathised with Bukharin. She shot herself as a protest against Stalin's moral and political perfidy. Later the same fate befell Sergo Ordzhonikidze, Stalin's old friend and comrade. On 18th February 1937, he died suddenly, allegedly of a heart attack. In reality he was also driven to suicide by Stalin, who had Sergo's brother arrested, tortured and shot for no reason.
The details of this case were revealed by Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956. In the same speech he revealed that, of the total of 139 members and candidate members of the Central Committee elected at the 17th Congress in 1934, 98 – that is, 70 percent – were shot. Khrushchev stated that those arrested were subjected to brutal tortures, and only confessed to "all kinds of grave and unlikely crimes" when "no longer able to bear barbaric tortures."
Stalin the mediocrity always hated people with talent. And he hated and feared Tukhachevsky whose brilliance always reminded him of his own incompetence in military matters, where he would have liked to see himself as a genius. But far more seriously, Stalin lived in fear of a military coup. He therefore organized a gigantic new frame-up involving the whole of the Soviet general staff. He accused Tukhachevsky and other key leaders of the Red Army of being in league with Hitler.
Tukhachevsky had worked out that World War Two would be a mobile war fought with tanks and planes. But Stalin was jealous of Tukhachevsky and suspicious of the general staff of the Red Army. So when Tukhachevsky insisted on increasing the number of planes and tanks in the Red Army, Stalin refused, calling him a hare-brained schemer. (See Dimitri Shostakovich and Solomon Volkov, Testimony, p. 103)
The famous Soviet composer, Dimitri Shostakovich was a personal friend of Tukhachevsky. In his memoirs he writes: "Now it is well known that Tukhachevsky was destroyed through the joint efforts of Stalin and Hitler. But one mustn't exaggerate the role of German espionage in this matter. If there hadn't been those faked documents that 'exposed' Tukhachevsky, Stalin would have got rid of him anyway." (ibid. p. 99)
Stalin replaced this great original military thinker with his cronies Budyonny and Voroshilov, two incompetents who thought that World War Two would be fought with cavalry! Just before World War Two, they were showing propaganda films in Russia of Voroshilov and his cavalry, sweeping the enemy before them! Only after the first crushing defeats of the Red Army in 1941 did Stalin realise his mistake, but this was a very costly lesson for the USSR. The same thing happened with rockets. Stalin had all the Leningrad rocketry experts shot, and then had to start from scratch.
The Purge destroyed the entire leading cadre of the Red Army and badly damaged the defence capabilities of the USSR. Tukhachevsky, Yakir and others were shot in secret, which indicates that they refused to confess. The military Purge that continued throughout 1938 led to the elimination of 90 percent of all generals, 80 percent of all colonels, and 30,000 of lower ranking officers. This left the Red Army seriously weakened on the eve of the Second World War. We know that it was one of the main factors that convinced Hitler that he should attack the USSR. He silenced the objections of his generals with the remark: "They have no good generals."
The trial of the 21
In March 1938 the trial of the 21 opened in Moscow. Bukharin, Rykov, Krestinsky, Rakovsky, and other members of the so-called Right-Trotskyist Bloc, these Old Bolsheviks were described by the ex-Menshevik Vyshinsky as "stinking carrion", "pitiful scum", "damned vermin", "chained curs of imperialism" and so on. Pravda described this disgusting travesty of a show trial as "the most democratic people's court in the world." This verdict was accepted by a most unexpected "Friend of the Soviet Union" – Winston Churchill, who described Vyshinsky's performance at the trial as "brilliant".
On the first day of the third trial, March 2, 1938, the former Menshevik Andrei Vyshinsky slandered the man whom Lenin had described in his Testament as “the Party's favourite”: "Bukharin sits there with his head bowed low, a treacherous, two-faced, whimpering, evil nonentity who has been exposed […] as the leader of a gang of spies, terrorists, and thieves, as instigator of assassination […] This filthy little Bukharin". (The Case of the Anti-Soviet Bloc of Rights and Trotskyists, Record of Court Proceedings, Moscow, 1938, pp. 656-57)
Though Vyshinsky read the lines, their author was Stalin, taunting his victim and smearing him with filth before destroying him physically. This was the favourite method of the "beloved Leader and Teacher". "The hypocrisy and perfidy of this man exceed the most perfidious and monstrous crimes known to the history of mankind." These words cannot be applied to Bukharin, a revolutionary of spotless honesty and dedication, but perfectly describe Stalin himself.
Bukharin later stated: "The confession of the accused is a medieval principle of jurisprudence. […] I did not plead guilty […] I do not know of this […] I deny it […] I categorically deny any complicity."
Not only Trotskyists were killed but also many Stalinists who fell into the disfavour of the "Beloved Leader and Teacher". Abel Yenukidze, for example, was shot for trying to save the lives of Old Bolsheviks. Not content with killing his enemies, Stalin took his revenge on their families and friends. Hundreds of thousands were sent to the camps not just as "enemies of the people", but also as chesirs or "family members of a traitor to the motherland". Among these victims were the wife and sisters of Tukhachevsky, the wife of Bukharin, Trotsky's first wife, and his eldest son, Sergei, who was not involved in active politics, was arrested but courageously refused to denounce his father and was shot.
The methods of the GPU were exposed in a surprising way during the Moscow Trials themselves. When Yagoda was himself put on trial, Vyshinsky declared (on March 11, 1938): "Yagoda stood at the peak of the technology of killing people in the most devious ways. He represented the last word in the 'science' of bestiality." (Sudebny otchet po delu antisovetskogo trotskiiskogo tsentra, official report of the trial in Russian, Moscow 1937, p. 332). Amidst all the miserable morass of lies and distortions that make up these documents, this is probably the only truthful statement.
Yezhov had attained the highest power. There was even a cult of Yezhov to match the cult of Stalin. Yezhov was called officially “the Beloved of the nation”. The horrors he inflicted on his victims were known as "Yezhov's prickles" (Yezh in Russian means hedgehog). Bards in Central Asia sang of Father Yezhov. All this was not a wise thing to do under Stalin, who had a morbid fear of rivals.
Yezhov even sent a draft decree to the CC, allegedly on the initiative of "countless requests from workers" that Moscow be renamed Stalinodar. (See Volkoganov, p. 463) However, Stalin was not foolish enough to accept. Instead he had Yezhov arrested in 1938. Typically, Stalin blamed all the horrors and dislocations of the Purges on his puppet Yezhov, whom he replaced with a Georgian stooge, Lavrenty Beria. The "Beloved of the nation" then disappeared into the Gulag and was apparently shot in 1939.
The assassination of Trotsky
The only serious opposition to Stalin was Trotsky's Left Opposition and their ranks were decimated by years of repression and persecution that can only be compared to that suffered by the early Christians at the hands of the Roman Empire. Even a man like Cristian Rakovsky, the famous Balkan Marxist and close friend and collaborator of Trotsky, was finally broken by the irresistible power of Stalin’s machine. Pierre Broué wrote:
“Isolation, the fascist threat and false appeals for ‘unity’ broke Christian Rakovsky more surely, we cannot doubt, than had the hellish cold at Barnaul or the dreadful conditions of his unsuccessful attempt to escape and his recapture. It was despair in the face of such a defeat which delivered the Old Bolsheviks into the hands of Stalin’s executioners; nothing else could have forced them to bend, as long as they retained hope.” (Pierre Broué, Bloc of The Oppositions in the Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 5, January–March 1980)
But many others refused to capitulate. These Bolshevik heroes and heroines maintained their faith in the principles of Bolshevism and the perspective of the world revolution. They kept their organization alive even in Stalin's concentration camps. They organised hunger strikes against their tormentors, and were only silenced by the firing squad. And as they marched to their death in the frozen tundra they sang the Internationale.
Despite everything, Stalin did not feel safe. One voice remained to challenge him – that of Lenin's main lieutenant, the architect of the October revolution and founder of the Red Army, Lev Davidovich Trotsky. As long as Trotsky remained alive Stalin could not rest.
His persecution of Trotsky was not just a matter of personal hatred – though that was a fact. It was above all fear that the ideas and programme of Trotsky and the Bolshevik Leninists would get an echo in the Soviet working class. This was no idle fear. There was growing discontent in the Soviet working class at the bad conditions and above all at the growing inequality and the privileges of the bureaucracy.
Even at the height of the Purges there are indications of a subterranean ferment of discontent. Through the reports of the Party and the NKVD, Stalin was well aware of the real situation. In the 1937 Party protocols of the Medgorodsk construction enterprise (Smolensk), we have an unusually frank description of the living conditions of the workers:
"The workers' barracks were described as overcrowded and in a state of extreme disrepair with water streaming straight from the ceiling onto workers' beds. Heat was rarely provided in the barracks. Bedding went unchanged and sanitary work was almost non-existent. There were no kitchens and eating halls on the construction sites. Hot food could not be obtained until the evening, when workers had to walk a long distance to reach the dining-hall. 'Many of the women,' one female Party worker reported, 'live practically on the street. None pays any attention to them; some of these defenceless creatures threaten to commit suicide.’ In addition, cases where wages were not paid were on the increase. All this 'neglect of the elementary needs of the workers', as well as 'lack of care for them as human beings’ resulted in 'fully justified dissatisfaction' and bitterness on the part of the workers.
"The mood of some of the workers was described as 'often threatening' and 'directly counterrevolutionary'. For example, in a discussion of the 1936 Constitution a certain Stepan Danin, a carpenter, and workers of his brigade were quoted as saying:
"'We must permit the existence of several political parties in our midst – as it is in bourgeois countries; they will be able better to note the mistakes of the Communist Party.
"'Exploitation in our midst has not been eliminated; communists and engineers employ and exploit servants.
"'The Trotskyists Kamenev and Zinoviev won't be shot anyway – and they shouldn't be, for they are Old Bolsheviks.
"To the question of an agitator as to who should be viewed as an Old Bolshevik, one worker replied, ‘Trotsky'." (Quoted in M. Fainsod, Smolensk Under Soviet Rule, p. 322)
As a former Bolshevik himself, Stalin was well aware that a small organization with correct ideas can grow into a mighty force. He was determined that this should not happen. Stalin’s thirst for revenge – as we have seen – extended to the families and children of his enemies. In the years prior to his assassination, Trotsky had witnessed the assassination of one of his sons and the disappearance of the other; the suicide of his daughter, the massacre of his friends and collaborators inside and outside the USSR, and the destruction of the political gains of the October revolution. Trotsky’s daughter Zinaida committed suicide as a result of Stalin’s persecution.
After the suicide of his daughter, his first wife, Alexandra Sokolovskaya, an extraordinary woman who perished in Stalin’s camps, wrote a despairing letter to Trotsky: “Our children were doomed. I do not believe in life any more. I do not believe that they will grow up. All the time I am expecting some new disaster.” And she concludes: “It has been difficult for me to write and mail this letter. Excuse my cruelty towards you, but you should know everything about our kith and kin.” (Quoted by Deutscher, op. cit. p. 198)
Leon Sedov, the eldest son of Trotsky and Natalia Sedova, was a member of the Communist Youth and one of the most active members of the Left Opposition in the USSR. In 1927 he chose to remain with his father, whose exile in Alma Ata and, later, in Turkey he shared until 1931. In Berlin from 1931 to 1933, he was in reality responsible for the Russian Section of the Opposition, and then for the International Communist League, the brain of its network of correspondence in the USSR.
Following Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 he moved to Paris, taking with him all the details of his clandestine activity, the names of his correspondents in the USSR and all knowledge of where he had hidden parts of his own and of his father’s archives. He died in highly suspicious circumstances, following an operation for appendicitis on 15 February 1938. Neither he nor his father knew that the International Left Opposition’s headquarters in Paris had been penetrated by the GPU at the highest level. There can be no doubt that the death of Leon Sedov was the work of Stalin's agents.
This was a serious blow against the Fourth International, which was still in an embryonic phase. But it was not the only one. One by one, Trotsky’s collaborators, friends and family were murdered by Stalin, Two of his European secretaries, Rudolf Klement and Erwin Wolff, were also murdered. Ignace Reiss, an officer of the GPU who publicly broke with Stalin and declared in favour of Trotsky, was yet another victim of Stalin’s murder machine, gunned down by a GPU agent in Switzerland.
The most painful blow came with the arrest of Trotsky’s younger son Sergei, who had stayed behind in Russia, believing that, as he was not politically active, he would be safe. Vain hope! Unable to take his revenge on the father, Stalin resorted to that most refined torture—applying pressure on parents through their children. No-one can imagine what torments were suffered at this time by Trotsky and Nataliya Sedova. Only in recent years did it emerge that Trotsky even contemplated suicide, as a possible way of saving his son. But he realised that such an act would not save Sergei and would give Stalin just what he wanted.
Trotsky was not wrong. Sergei had already been killed, shot it seems in secret in 1938, having steadfastly refused to denounce his father. Stalin continued to follow the activities of the Trotskyists very closely. He planted his agents in their ranks and Trotsky's articles were on his desk in the Kremlin each morning – often before they had been published. Stalin read everything that Trotsky wrote and was determined to eliminate him.
Stalin was one of the biggest criminals in world history. And like all criminals he was determined to eliminate all witnesses to his crimes. One of the things that must have infuriated him more than anything else was the news that Trotsky was writing a biography of Stalin, which would not only expose his crimes but also explode the myths about his past role in the Bolshevik Party, the October Revolution and the Civil War.
An NKVD officer Sudoplatov was put in charge of the assassination of Trotsky. The first armed attack on his house in Coyoacan in May 1940 failed. But it was immediately followed by another. On August 20, 1940, Lev Davidovich was struck down by the Stalin's agent Ramon Mercader in Mexico City. When Stalin received the news of Trotsky’s murder he must have celebrated his victory. But the verdict of history has proved him wrong.
76 years after the murder of Trotsky, Stalin’s name is everywhere mentioned in the same breath as Hitler – as a criminal and a mass murderer who dragged the spotless banner of October through a filthy sea of mud and blood, as the gravedigger of the Revolution. It is therefore highly appropriate that this year the biography that lay unfinished on Trotsky’s desk in Coyoacan was finally been published in the most complete version possible.
In preparing and editing Trotsky’s Stalin, I was fully convinced that this work – Trotsky’s last contribution to the vast arsenal of Marxist theory – is a masterpiece worthy to stand alongside The Revolution Betrayed, In defence of Marxism and The History of the Russian Revolution. I am certain that if Pierre Broué had lived to see its publication he would have been overjoyed.
In the midst of the most frightful betrayals, defeats, demoralization and apostasy, Leon Trotsky raised a clean banner, defended the genuine traditions of Leninism, October and the Bolshevik Party. He therefore succeeded in his aim. That was no small achievement! Who now remembers the writings of Zinoviev and Kamenev? But in the writings of Leon Trotsky we have a priceless heritage that retains all its importance, relevance and vitality.
Pierre Broué is no longer with us. But his ideas and writings remain a rich and undying source of inspiration to the younger generation of revolutionary class fighters of all countries. And among his many impressive works, his last work Communists against Stalin is without doubt one of the most important. It restores the memory of a lost generation of class fighters and presents the new generation with the authentic ideas, programme and traditions of Bolshevism and the October Revolution that to this day represent the only hope for the future of humanity.
London, 20th September 2016