The book is in excellent condition, given its age. It is a self-contained relic of the mistakes of Stalin, the USSR and its ideology. It is a reminder of the mental corruption that characterises despots and their nihilistic regimes. Published in Moscow in 1938, in English, it shows how desperate the leadership was to convince people that these trials of ‘oppositionists’ were fair and honest. Going to such lengths as to publish 800-page court proceedings in a foreign language shows how nervous they were that the whole charade would be seen through, and their institutionalised regime of murder would be exposed.
The last of the ‘great’ show trials
The trial of Bukharin, Rykov, Yagoda and eighteen others marked the climax and the end of the show trials of the 1930s. It was organised by Yezhov acting under the orders of Stalin. The defendants were accused of several crimes, such as ‘wrecking of the economy’, plotting to murder Yezhov, and Bukharin was even accused of trying to murder Lenin. Naturally the charges were false. There was no evidence that any capital crimes had been committed, so the prosecutors used the familiar strategy of torture and then confession. Since the defendants had no idea of the crimes to which they would confess, they were coached for many weeks by the prosecutors and rehearsed in the make-believe details. This ‘fantasy’ confession was then cross-examined in court. The accused were told that if they mentioned that they had been tortured, their families would be subjected to the same and worse. There was no concept of a ‘defence’. Each of them confessed to the various charges because they had been told that if they cooperated with the court, they would not be executed. All 21 were found guilty and 18 were shot at once. The other three received lengthy terms in labour camps, only to be re-tried in 1941 and shot.
The show trials demonstrated the arrogance of Stalin’s leadership and the lengths to which it would twist reality in order to show itself in a guiltless light. This 1938 trial marked the beginning of the end of the Great Terror, as gradually Stalin finally realised that the lack of the millions shot and worked to death was having a detrimental effect on the economic, industrial, military and social systems of the USSR.
Aftermath of the Great Terror
The Great Terror instilled a hatred in many Soviet citizens towards their own government. Stalin had pressed for, and eventually won, a non-aggression treaty with Hitler. Despite all Hitler’s broken promises with other countries and treaty partners, and despite firm evidence of massive Nazi troop concentrations on the Soviet border, warnings from the British and even his own spies, Stalin refused to believe that the Germans would invade in 1941. He had been very careful not to name or identify the Germans as potential enemies of the USSR. He clearly trusted Hitler more than he trusted his own people. So Stalin’s own stupidity, combined with the Terror, meant that Germany fell on a Soviet Army largely commanded by young and untrained officers (all the experienced, trained commanders had been shot in the Terror) in 1941. In many cases, the Nazi soldiers were seen as liberators. Many Soviet citizens joined the Germans to fight against the USSR. In his book, ‘Worlds Apart’, the polish ex-prisoner of the Gulag, Gustaw Herling-Grudzinski, writes:
‘I think with horror and shame of Europe divided into two parts by the line of the (River) Bug, on one side of which millions of Soviet slaves prayed for liberation by the armies of Hitler, and on the other millions of victims of German concentration camps awaited deliverance by the Red Army as their last hope’.