Plan of investigation
To what extent did Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin defend himself during his show trial in 1938?
The purpose of this investigation is to find out how and to what extent did Nikolai Bukharin defend himself when he was put on trial, accused of a wide range of charges, during the Purges of 1936-1938.
In order to carry out this investigation, a series of mainly primary sources will be consulted. These include, first and foremost, the transcripts of Bukharin’s interrogation during the trial and his last plea, then Bukharin’s last letter in prison, Stalin’s speech that marked the break with Bukharin, a telegram from the American ambassador to Moscow, and, as a secondary source, Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror: a reassessment , a standard book on this period.
The summary of evidence will contain a presentation of Bukharin’s background and events before the trial and the resume of the trial and of its aftermath. The analysis will show to what kind of charges Bukharin confessed to, why, and what defence did he make.
B. Summary of evidence
1. Bukharin’s background and events before the trial
Nikolai Bukharin was born in Moscow 1888 and joined the Bolsheviks in 1906, being exiled for illegal activities in 1911. After the March revolution of 1917 he returned to Russia and worked alongside Lenin, in order to gain power for the Bolsheviks. He disagreed with the peace of Brest-Litovsk and supported the idea of “socialism in one country”. After many disagreements with Lenin, he recanted and was seen as a member of the “Right” Wing of the Party. The NEP is seen as his creation.
After Lenin’s death, Bukharin supported Stalin in continuing the NEP and against Zinoviev and Kamenev, but when Stalin made the”Great Turn”, Bukharin opposed him. In a speech in 1928, Stalin asked the C.C. to “condemn the Right opportunist, capitulatory platform of Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov”, to “condemn the attempt of Bukharin and his group to form an anti-Party bloc with the Trotskyites.” Bukharin lost his post in the C.C. and became editor of the Izvestia until 1937, when he was arrested for treason.
In prison, Bukharin was tortured (an order of “beating permitted” was recovered) and his wife and infant son were threatened, which made him confess to a series of charges. Still, he had the power to write to Stalin, to tell him that he understands why Stalin initiated the Purge and that he has to die, and to deny the charges, fearing that Stalin believes them.
2. The trial
The trial, in which Bukharin and seventeen others were accused, opened on the 2nd of March 1938. The indictment was comprehensive and included charges such as planning to assassinate Lenin and Stalin ,assassinating Kirov and Gorky, spying for foreign powers(Japan, England, Germany), planning to overthrow Soviet power and to instigate an attack from the outside. Andrei Vyshinsky represented the prosecution.
When Bukharin was interrogated he began by pleading guilty to belonging to a “counterrevolutionary bloc of Rights and Trotskyites.", being one of its leaders, planning to overthrow the Soviet power by force, with the help of England, Japan and Germany and to give them territory , to weaken the defensive power by wrecking, planning to assassinate important members of the Soviet government, planning a coup d’etat and planning to arrest Lenin, Stalin and Sverdlov .However, he then started to deny that he had been in favour of wrecking, that he had taken part in the assassination of Kirov or that he had wanted to kill Lenin, that he had spied for Austria, America and Japan, that he had known anything about negotiations with Whiteguard circles or German fascists, and that he had planned to give Byelorussia to the Poles. After that, Bukharin admitted that he had had contacts with Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks abroad, but refused to admit that he had accepted to open the front to the Germans.
The witnesses brought to confirm the prosecution’s theory about the plan to assassinate Lenin were Varvara Yakolevka, Mantsev and Ossinky. The first one confirmed Vyshinsky’s story completely, but Bukharin showed that there had only been conversations about arresting Lenin for 24 hours, which was known by everybody.