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Bukharin's confession


During his trial, Bukharin  made several confessions and, during confrontations with other accused, gave details about certain aspects of the conspiracy. Joseph Davies,  U.S. ambassador to Moscow and well-known lawyer, attended every session of the trial. He was convinced, as were other competent foreign observers, that Bukharin  had spoken freely and that his confessions were sincere. On March 17, 1938, Davies  send a confidential message to the Secretary of State in Washington.

`Notwithstanding a prejudice arising from the confession evidence and a prejudice against a judicial system which affords practically no protection for the accused, after daily observation of the witnesses, their manner of testifying, the unconscious corroboration which developed, and other facts in the course of the trial, together with others of which a judicial notice could be taken, it is my opinion so far as the political defendants are concerned sufficient crimes under Soviet law, among those charged in the indictment, were established by the proof and beyond a reasonable doubt to justify the verdict of guilty by treason and the adjudication of the punishment provided by Soviet criminal statutes. The opinion of those diplomats who attended the trial most regularly was general that the case had established the fact that there was a formidable political opposition and an exceedingly serious plot.'


Joseph E. Davies,  Mission to Moscow, (New York: Garden City Publishing Co., 1943), p. 163.

During the trial's dozens of hours, Bukharin  was perfectly lucid and alert, discussing, contesting, sometimes humorous, vehemently denying certain accusations. For those who attended the trial, as for those of us who can read the trial proceedings, it is clear that the `show trial' theory, widely diffused by anti-Communists, is unrealistic. Tokaev  stated that the régime `may have hesitated to torture him, lest he shout the truth the world in court'.


Tokaev,  p. 96.

Tokaev  described Bukharin's  acid replies to the trial attorney and its courageous denials, concluding as follows:

`Bukharin  displayed supreme courage.'



`Vishinsky  was defeated. At last he knew that it had been a cardinal error to bring Bukharin  into open court.'


Ibid. , p. 98.

The trial proceedings, eight hundred pages long, are very instructive reading. They leave an indelible mark on the mind, a mark that cannot be erased by the standard tirades against those `horrible trials'. Bukharin  appears as an opportunist who was beaten politically and criticized ideologically on repeated occasions. Rather than tranforming his petit-bourgeois world view, he became a bitter man who dared not openly oppose the Party's line and its impressive achievements. Remaining close to the head of the Party, he hoped to overthrow the leadership and impose his viewpoint through intrigues and backroom maneuvers. He colluded with all sorts of clandestine opponents, some of who were dedicated anti-Communists. Incapable of leading an open political struggle, Bukharin  placed his hopes in a coup d'état resulting from a military plot or that might result from a mass revolt.

Reading the proceedings allows one to clarify the relations between the political degeneration of Bukharin  and his friends and actual criminal activity: assassinations, insurrections, spying, collusion with foreign powers. As early as 1928--2929, Bukharin  had taken revisionist positions expressing the interests of the kulaks and other exploiting classes. Bukharin  received support from political factions representing those classes, both within and without the Party. As the class struggle became more intense, Bukharin  allied himself to those forces. The coming World War increased all tensions and opponents to the Party leadership began to prepare violent acts and a coup d'état. Bukharin  admitted his ties to these people, although he vehemently denied having actually organized assassinations and espionage.

When Vishinsky  asked of him: `you have said nothing about connections with the foreign intelligence service and fascist circles', Bukharin  replied: `I have nothing to testify on this subject.'


Court Proceedings ... ``Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites'', , op. cit. , p. 429.

Nevertheless, Bukharin  had to recognize that within the bloc that he led, some men had established ties to fascist Germany. Below is an exchange from the trial on this subject. Bukharin  explains that some leaders in the conspiracy thought the confusion resulting from military defeats in the case of war with Germany would create ideal conditions for a coup détat.

`Bukharin:  (I)n 1935 ... Karakhan  left without a preliminary conversation with the members of the leading centre, with the exception of Tomsky .... 

`As I remember, Tomsky  told me that Karakhan  had arrived at an agreement with Germany on more advantageous terms than Trotsky .... 

`Vyshinsky:  When did you have a conversation about opening the front to the Germans?

`Bukharin:  When I asked Tomsky  how he conceived the mechanics of the coup he said this was the business of the military organization, which was to open the front.

`Vyshinsky:  So Tomsky  was preparing to open the front?

`Bukharin:  He did not say that ....

`Vyshinsky:  Tomsky  said, ``Open the front''?

`Bukharin:  I will put it exactly.

`Vyshinsky:  What did he say?

`Bukharin:  Tomsky  said that this was a matter for the military organization, which was to open the front.

`Vyshinsky:  Why was it to open the front?

`Bukharin:  He did not say.

`Vyshinsky:  Why was it to open the front?

`Bukharin:  From my point of view, it ought not to open the front ....

`Vyshinsky:  Were they to open the front from the point of view of Tomsky,  or not?

`Bukharin:  From the point of view of Tomsky?  At any rate, he did not object to this point of view.

`Vyshinsky:  He agreed?

`Bukharin:  Since he did not object, it means that most likely he three-quarters agreed.'


Ibid. , pp. 432--433.

In his declarations, Bukharin  recognized that his revisionist line pushed him to seek illegal ties with other opponents, that he was hoping that revolts within the country would bring him to power, and that he changed his tactics to terrorism and a coup d'état.

In his biography of Bukharin,  Cohen  tries to correct the `widespread misconception --- that Bukharin  willingly confessed to hideous, preposterous crimes in order ... to repent sincerely his opposition to Stalinism, and thereby to perform a ``last service'' to the party'.


Cohen,  op. cit. , p. 372.

Cohen  claims that `Bukharin's  plan ... was to turn his trial into a counter-trial ... of the Stalinist regime'. `(H)is tactic would be make sweeping confessions that he was ``politically responsible'' for everything ... while at the same time flatly denying ... any actual crime.' Cohen  claims that when Bukharin  was using terms such as `counter-revolutionary organization' or `anti-Soviet bloc', he really meant the `Old Bolshevik Party': `He would accept the symbolic role of representative Bolshevik: ``I bear responsibility for the bloc,'' that is for Bolshevism.'


Ibid. , pp. 375--376.

Not bad. Cohen,  as spokesperson for U.S. interests, can do such pirouettes, since few readers will actually go and check the trial proceedings.

But it is highly instructive to study the key passages of Bukharin's  testimony at the trial about his political evolution. Bukharin  was sufficiently lucid to understand the steps in his own political degeneration and to understand how he got caught up in a counter-revolutionary plot. Cohen  and the bourgeoisie can do their utmost to whitewash Bukharin  the `Bolshevik'. To Communists, Bukharin's  confessions provide important lessons about the mechanisms of slow degeneration and anti-socialist subversion. These confessions allow one to understand the later appearance of figures such as Khrushchev  and Mikoyan,  Brezhnev  and Gorbachev. 

Here is the text. Bukharin  is speaking.

`The Right counter-revolutionaries seemed at first to be a ``deviation'' .... Here we went through a very interesting process, an over-estimation of individual enterprise, a crawling over to its idealization, the idealization of the property-owner. Such was the evolution. Our program was --- the prosperous peasant farm of the individual, but in fact the kulak became an end into itself .... collective farms were music of the future. What was necessary was to develop rich property-owners. This was the tremendous change that took place in our standpoint and psychology .... I myself in 1928 invented the formula about the military-feudal exploitation of the peasantry, that is, I put the blame for the costs of the class struggle not on the class which was hostile to the proletariat, but on the leaders of the proletariat itself.'


Court Proceedings ... ``Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites'', , op. cit. , pp. 380--381.

`If my program stand were to be formulated practically, it would be, in the economic sphere, state capitalism, the prosperous muzhik individual, the curtailment of the collective farms, foreign concessions, surrender of the monopoly of foreign trade, and, as a result --- the restoration of capitalism in the country.'


Ibid. , p. 381.

`Inside the country our actual program ... was a lapse into bourgeois-democratic freedom, coalition, because from the bloc with the Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, and the like, it follows that there would be freedom of parties, freedom of coalition, and follows quite logically from the combination of forces for struggle, because if allies are chosen for overthrowing the government, on the day after the possible victory they would be partners in power.'


Ibid. , p. 382.

`My rapprochement with Tomsky  and Rykov  dates approximately to 1928--1929 --- then contacts and sounding out the then members of the Central Committee, illegal conferences which were illegal in respect of the Central Committee.'


Ibid. , p. 386.

`Here began the quest for blocs. Firstly, my meeting with Kamenev  at his apartment. Secondly, a meeting with Pyatakov  in the hospital, at which Kamenev  was present. Thirdly, a meeting with Kamenev  at Schmidt's  country house.'



`The next stage in the development of the counter-revolutionary organization of the Rights began in 1930--1931. At that time there was a great sharpening of the class struggle, of kulak sabotage, kulak resistance to the policy of the Party, etc....

`The (Bukharin--Rykov--Tomsky)     trio became an illegal centre and therefore, whereas before this trio had been at the head of the opposition circles, now it became the centre of an illegal counter-revolutionary organization ....

`Close to this illegal center was Yekudnize, who had contact with this centre through Tomsky .... 

`(A)pproximately towards the end of 1931, the members of the so-called school were transferred to work outside of Moscow --- to Voronezh, Samara, Leningrad, Novosibirsk --- and this transfer was utilized for counter-revolutionary purposes even then.'


Ibid. , pp. 387--388.

`About the autumn of 1932 the next stage in the development of the Right organization began, namely the transition to tactics of a forcible overthrow of Soviet power.'


Ibid. , p. 388.

`I make note of the time when the so-called Ryutin platform was formulated .... the Ryutin platform (was) the platform of the Right counter-revolutionary organization.'


Ibid. , pp. 388--389.

`The Ryutin platform was approved on behalf of the Right center. The essential points of the Ryutin platform were: a ``palace coup'', terrorism, steering a course for a direct alliance with the Trotskyites.  Around this time the idea of a ``palace coup'' was maturing in the Right circles, and not only in the upper circles, but also, as far as I can remember, among a section of those working outside of Moscow. At first this idea came from Tomsky,  who was in contact with Yenukidze  .... who had charge of the Kremlin guard at the time ....

`Consequently ..., the recruiting of people for a ``palace coup''. This was when the political bloc with Kamenev  and Zinoviev  originated. In this period we had meetings also with Syrtsov  and Lominadze.' 


Ibid. , pp. 390--391.

`(I)n the summer of 1932, Pyatakov  told me of his meeting with Sedov  concerning Trotsky's  policy of terrorism. At that time Pyatakov  and I considered that these were not our ideas, but we decided that we could find a common language very soon and that our differences in the struggle against Soviet power would be overcome.'


Ibid. , p. 391.

`The formation of the group of conspirators in the Red Army relates to that period. I heard of it from Tomsky,  who was directly informed of it by Yenukidze,  with whom he had personal connections ....

`I was informed by Tomsky  and Yenukidze,  who told me that in the upper ranks of the Red Army the Rights, Zinovievites  and Trotskyites  had then united their forces; names were mentioned to me --- I don't vouch that I remember them all exactly --- but those I have remembered are Tukhachevsky,  Kork,  Primakov  and Putna. 

`Thus the connections with the centre of the Rights followed the line of: the military group, Yenukidze,  Tomsky  and the rest.'


Ibid. , p. 393.

`In 1933--34 the kulaks were already smashed, an insurrectionary movement ceased to be a real possibility, and therefore in the centre of the Right organization a period again set in when the orientation toward a counter-revolutionary conspiratorial coup became the central idea ....

`The forces of the conspiracy were: the forces of Yenukidze  plus Yagoda,  their organizations in the Kremlin and in the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs; Yenukidze  also succeeded around that time in enlisting, as far as I can remember, the former commandant of the Kremlin, Peterson,  who, a propos, was in his time the commandant of Trotsky's  train.

`Then there was the military organization of the conspirators: Tukhachevsky,  Kork  and others.'


Ibid. , p. 419.

`During the period preceding the Seventeenth Party Congress, Tomsky  broached the idea that the coup d'état with the help of the armed counter-revolutionary forces should be timed exactly for the opening of the Seventeenth Party Congress. According to Tomsky's  idea, an integral part of this coup was to be a monstrous crime --- the arrest of the Seventeenth Party Congress.

`This idea of Tomsky's  was subjected to a discussion, though a very cursory one; but objections to this idea were raised on all hands ....

`Pyatakov  objected to this idea not for considerations of principle, but for considerations of tactics, because that would have aroused extreme indignation among the masses .... But the fact alone that this idea was conceived and that it was subjected to a discussion speaks sufficiently clearly of the whole monstrosity and criminality of an organization of this sort.'


Ibid. , p. 425.

`In the summer of 1934 Radek  told me that directions had been received from Trotsky,  that Trotsky  was conducting negotiations with the Germans, that Trotsky  had already promised the Germans a number of territorial concessions, including the Ukraine ....

`I must say that then, at that time, I remonstrated with Radek.  Radek  confirms this in his testimony, just as he confirmed at a confrontation with me that I objected to this, that I considered it essential that he, Radek,  should write and tell Trotsky  that he was going too far in these negotiations, that he might compromise not only himself, but all his allies, us Right conspirators in particular, and that this meant certain disaster for all of us. It seemed to me that with the growth of mass patriotism, which is beyond all doubt, this point of view of Trotsky's  was politically and tactically inexpedient.'


Ibid. , p. 430.

`I advanced the argument that since this was to be a military coup, then by virtue of the logic of the things the military group of the conspirators would have extraordinary influence, and, as always happens in these cases, it would be just that section of the joint upper group of the counter-revolutionary circles that would command great material forces, and consequently political forces, and that hence a peculiar Bonapartist  danger might arise. And Bonapartists  --- I was thinking particularly of Tukhachevsky  --- would start out by making short shrift of their allies and so-called inspirers in Napoleon  style. In my conversations I always called Tukhachevsky  a ``potential little Napoleon,''  and you know how Napoleon  dealt with the so-called ideologists.

`Vyshinsky:  And you considered yourself an ideologist?

`Bukharin:  Both an ideologist of a counte-revolutionary coup and a practical man. You, of course, would prefer to hear that I consider myself a spy, but I never considered myself a spy, nor do I now.

`Vyshinsky:  It would be more correct if you did.

`Bukharin:  That is your opinion, but my opinion is different.'


Ibid. , pp. 431--432.

When it was time for his last statement, Bukharin  already knew that he was a dead man. Cohen  can read in this speech a `fine defence of real Bolshevism` and a `denunciation of Stalinism'. On the other hand, a Communist hears a man who struggled for many years against socialism, who took irrevocable revisionist positions, and who, facing his grave, realized that in the context of bitter national and international class struggles, his revisionism had led him to treason.

`This naked logic of the struggle was accompanied by a degeneration of ideas, a degeneration of psychology ....

`And on this basis, it seems to me probable that every one of us sitting here in the dock suffered from a peculiar duality of mind, an incomplete faith in his counter-revolutionary cause .... Hence a certain semi-paralysis of the will, a retardation of reflexes .... The contradiction that arose between the acceleration of our degeneration and these retarded reflexes expressed the position of a counter-revolutionary, or a developing counter-revolutionary, under the conditions of developing socialist construction. A dual psychology arose ....

`Even I was sometimes carried away by the eulogies I wrote of socialist construction, although on the morrow I repudiated this by practical actions of a criminal character. There arose what in Hegel's philosophy is called a most unhappy mind. This unhappy mind differed from the ordinary unhappy mind only in the fact that it was also a criminal mind.

`The might of the proletarian state found its expression not only in the fact that it smashed the counter-revolutionary bands, but also in the fact that it disintegrated its enemies from within, that it disorganized the will of its enemies. Nowhere else is this the case, nor can it be in any capitalist country ....

`Repentance is often attributed to diverse and absolutely absurd things like Thibetan powders and the like. I must say of myself that in prison, where I was confined for over a year, I worked, studied, and retained my clarity of mind. This will serve to refute by facts all fables and absurd counter-revolutionary tales.

`Hypnotism is suggested. But I conducted my own defence in Court from the legal standpoint too, orientated myself on the spot, argued with the State Prosecutor; and anybody, even a man who has little experience in this branch of medicine, must admit that hypnotism of this kind is altogether impossible ....

`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, on the contrary, everything positive that glistens in the Soviet Union acquires new dimensions in a man's mind. This in the end disarmed me completely and led me to bend my knees before the Party and the country ....

`The point, of course, is not this repentance, or my personal repentance in particular. The Court can pass its verdict without it. The confession of the accused is not essential. The confession of the accused is a medieval principle of jurisprudence. But here we also have the internal demolition of the forces of the counter-revolution. And one must be a Trotsky  not to lay down one's arms.

`I feel it my duty to say here that in the parallelogram of forces which went to make up the counter-revolutionary tactics, Trotsky  was the principal motive force. And the most acute methods --- terrorism, espionage, the dismemberment of the U.S.S.R. and wrecking --- proceeded primarily from this source.

`I may infer a priori that Trotsky  and my other allies in crime, as well as the Second International, all the more since I discussed this with Nicolayevsky,  will endeavour to defend us, especially and particularly myself. I reject this defence, because I am kneeling before the country, before the Party, before the whole people.'


Ibid. , pp. 776--779.

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Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995