December Plenum of the Central Committee. December 4, 1936
Ezhov’s speech to the December 1936 CC plenum, 4 December 1936
RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 2, d. 575, ll. 11-19, 40-45, 49-53, 57-60, 66-67.
Ezhov: … You know that already at the August trial Zinoviev testified that apart from the main center of the Zinovievite-Trotskyite bloc, there existed also a backup center. Zinoviev gave 4 surnames as members of the backup center: Piatakov, Sokolnikov, Radek, and Serebriakov. All of this has now been fully confirmed by the testimony of the defendants themselves, who are now under arrest: Piatakov, Sokolnikov, Radek, and Serebriakov. All four members of the backup center have testified that they were members of this center…
I must say that this so-called backup center, despite the fact that, according to the original testimony of Piatakov, it had become active only after the collapse of the main center-that is, after the arrest of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, and others-despite this, it had deployed its activities significantly earlier, especially Piatakov. At any rate, the activity of this center was significantly more dangerous, if one may so express oneself, or more filthy, even in’ comparison with the counterrevolutionary work of the previous center that had been exposed. To a certain degree, this is explained by the fact that it had the opportunity to work in a more conspiratorial manner, that it had a more conspiratorial means of carrying on its work, that it had elicited greater trust to it, so it deployed its activities to a significantly greater degree. At any rate, if we look at it in terms of its connections, it enjoyed significantly greater connections with the periphery than did the center whose trial took place in 1936.
Beria: And also in terms of its connections abroad.
Ezhov: Yes, that’s true.
As for the ties linking the so-called backup center and the periphery, they were strong, whether we speak of personal ties or ties with groups of people…
In the Azov-Black Sea organization over 200 persons, headed by Glebov, Beloborodov, and others, were arrested. In Georgia over 300 persons headed by Okudzhava were arrested. In Leningrad over 400 persons and in Sverdlovsk over 100 persons were arrested.
We should add that the rather large group of Trotskyites in Sverdlovsk was in fact directed by Japanese intelligence through Kniazev, formerly head of Japanese intelligence [in Sverdlovsk]…
At any rate, people not only discussed the question of terror. They also concretely prepared for it. At any rate, many attempts were made to carry out terrorist acts of assassination. In particular, the Azov-Black Sea counterrevolutionary terrorist group headed by Beloborodov assigned a group under the direction of a certain Dukat from the Trotskyites, who tried to hunt down Comrade Stalin in Sochi. Beloborodov gave instructions to Dukat so that the latter could take advantage of Comrade Stalin’s stay in Sochi on his vacation, so that he could find a propitious moment to carry out his assassination, When Dukat failed in his attempt, Beloborodov vilified him in every way possible for failing to organize this business.
In Western Siberia, there were direct attempts to organize an assassination attempt against Comrade Molotov, in the Urals against Comrade Kaganovich…
Here is an example of the most vivid testimony from that region, testimony given by Norkin, now under arrest, formerly the head of the Kemerovo chemical combine, who had once served as deputy head of the chief chemical industries under Piatakov and who had been a party member since 1918.
This is what he reports about Piatakov’s attitude to the workers at the time he gave them their subversive assignments: “At his last meeting, in July 1936, Piatakov said” (reads) “‘So, I see you’ve found someone to pity, haven’t you, that herd of sheep-“‘
Beria: The swine! (Noise of indignation in the room.)
A voice: The brutes!
Ezhov: That’s how low this vicious fascist agent, this degenerate Communist, has sunk to, God knows what else! These swine must be strangled! We cannot deal with them calmly.
So that’s their attitude to the workers! So that’s the cynicism with which they speak of the working class. I asked him deliberately: “Is this true?”
Molotov: You asked whom?
Ezhov: Piatakov. I asked him: “Is it true that this was your attitude toward the working class?” He laughed and said: “Yes, apparently, I said something of that sort in order to cheer them up. But perhaps I didn’t say that, perhaps they didn’t report precisely what I said.”
A voice: That scum! (Noise, more indignation in the room.)
Ezhov: If such indeed are the kinds of directives issued by the head of the counterrevolutionary organization to its members, directives saying, “Don’t
have pity on the workers, the workers are nothing but cattle,” it is clear that members of this Trotskyite, counterrevolutionary center have tried in every way possible to continue this policy from their posts.
You already know, comrades, about these absolutely monstrous assaults which have cost the lives of so many workers…
A voice: What about Bukharin?
Ezhov: I will now talk about Bukharin and Rykov. (Commotion in the room.) …
Stalin: We need to talk about them. They denied that they had any platform. They had a platform, but it was awkward for them to show it. They concealed it. But there was a platform. What did it call for? For the restoration of private enterprise in industry, for the opening of our gates to foreign capital, especially to English capital.
Beria: There’s a scoundrel for you!
Liubchenko: What swine.
Stalin: For the restoration of capital, for the restoration of private enterprise in agriculture, for the curtailment of the kolkhozes, for the restoration of the kulaks, for moving the Comintern out of the USSR. That was their program. “We were afraid to say this,” they said.
Voices: What about the [tsarist] debts?
Stalin: Concerning the debts, they hinted that “perhaps we will pay the old debts if you give us a loan.” Their response was: “We might give you a loan if you start paying off your debts.”
A voice: What about the [foreign] concessions?
Stalin: Concerning the concessions, [their platform called for] opening up the gates to English capital and to foreign capital in general. They had connections with England, with France, with America. That was their platform.
They asked the English: “Please don’t force us to openly advocate our platform. It would be awkward for us to do so. The people would be outraged. For this reason, after we come to power, we shall put our platform into effect, little by little, but please don’t demand this of us all at once … ”
Ezhov: I dragged out my report somewhat. Please permit me now to move on to the rightists.
Comrades, it is well known to you that already at his investigation Zinoviev testified that the rightists Rykov, Tomskii, Bukharin, and Uglanov, at least so far as he knew about it, shared the views of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite bloc in their entirety and were informed of it. I shall remind you of Zinoviev’s testimony on this matter: “Concerning a united Trotskyite-Zinovievite center and its terrorist views I spoke to Tomskii, and he promised to inform ‘his people’ about this” (reads).
Rudzutak: And was this perhaps the next backup center?
Ezhov: No, it was the active center, Comrade Rudzutak. Zinoviev’s testimony was corroborated by the testimonies of others under arrest and in particular by Sokolnikov. Sokolnikov referred more specifically to the fact that negotiations were conducted by him concerning a direct organizational bloc with the rightists. In his testimony he said the following: “Soon after this meeting in 1934 in the State Publishing House (Gosizdat) with Tomskii, I met with Piatakov” (reads) ” … to which I also gave my consent.”
After this came the testimonies of Piatakov, Serebriakov, and now Radek. Sokolnikov’s testimony to the effect that Tomskii was nominated as a member of the backup center has been totally corroborated. In connection with the fact that the surnames of the rightists were given out at the trial, Comrade Kaganovich and I set up face-to-face confrontations between Rykov and Bukharin, on the one hand, and some of the defendants, in accordance with instructions by the CC. It is true, these testimonies at the time were not very concrete, but at any rate, they allowed us to establish the fact that, undoubtedly, the rightists were informed of all plans for terrorism, etc., by the Trotskyite-Zinovievite bloc.
Beria: And how else could they be nominated for the government?
Bukharin: (approaches the Presidium) May I please have the floor?
Ezhov: At any rate, that was the impression we were left with after we carried out the face-to-face confrontations.
Now this has been corroborated not only by the testimonies of Trotskyites and Zinovievites but also by the more concrete cases of the rightists recently arrested.
Here, for example, is what Sosnovskii tells us in his testimony, where he gives evidence on the basis of his conversations with Bukharin
Beria: Who is he?
Ezhov: He is a well-known journalist. He has recently worked for Izvestiia. By the way, Izvestiia has had more than its share of swine on its staff. I may be a man of peace, but I seem to have arrested a good dozen of them. This Sosnovskii, in talking about Bukharin, gives the following testimony: “‘Take, for instance, the Riutin Platform,’ said Bukharin, ‘which from first line to last’-” (reads).
(Bukharin replies from his seat, but his words are inaudible.)
Ezhov: Of course, he may try to justify himself.
Beria: It would be difficult for him to justify himself.
Ezhov: He is trying to prove that the word “terror” never actually appears in the Riutin Platform. But there was no real need for that. It follows logically from it (reads).
Mikoian: When did this conversation take place?
Ezhov: In 1935 or even in 1936.
Kossior: Very, very recently, then!
Ezhov: … And now, comrades, I would like to remind you of the all
important, well known decision of the CC of our party concerning our attitude toward all these Trotskyite-Zinovievite, counterrevolutionary swine. The decision says (reads). It seems to me that this directive applies directly to all party organizations and to all party members. We have people here who seem to have broken sharply with the past, but at any rate, these are not party people as such, but only peripheral people [okolopartiinye].
As for the work of the Cheka, comrades, I can only assure you that this directive of the CC of the party, written by Comrade Stalin and set down for us, shall be fully carried out, that we shall pull up this Trotskyite-Zinovievite slime by the roots and physically annihilate them.
Voices: That’s right!
Bukharin’s speech to the December 1936 CC plenum, 4 December 1936
RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 2, d. 575, ll. 69-74, 82-86.
Bukharin: Comrades, it is very difficult for me to speak here today, because this may well be the last time that I speak before you. I know that it is especially difficult for me to speak now, because, in point of fact, it is necessary for all members of the party from top to bottom to exercise extreme vigilance and to help the appropriate organs utterly destroy those swine who are engaged in acts of sabotage and so on.
It follows quite naturally from all this-and should serve as our point of departure-that this is the main directive, that this is the main task before our party. I am happy that this entire business has been brought to light before war breaks out and that our organs have been in a position to expose all of this rot before the war so that we can come out of war victorious. Because if all of this had not been revealed before the war but during it, it would have brought about absolutely extraordinary and grievous defeats for the cause of socialism.
Beria: I think you ought rather to tell us what role you played in this whole affair. Tell us, what were you doing?
Bukharin: I’ll tell you.
A voice: Before the war and after it, we shall not ask about it.
Bukharin: It is difficult for me now to speak because a whole lot of letters, people, tears, and gestures have passed before your eyes and before the eyes of the investigators who have scrutinized these cases, and all of this has turned out to be false.
But I shall begin with the following. I was present at the death of Vladimir Il’ich Lenin, and I swear by the last breath of Vladimir And-and everyone knows how much I loved him-that everything that has been spoken here today, that there is not a word of truth in it, that there is not a single word of truth in any of it. I had one and only one face-to-face confrontation, and that was with Sokolnikov. After this confrontation, Comrade Kaganovich told me that they had the impression that I had nothing to do with this matter. Two days later appeared the statement by the procuracy. Based on the abovementioned confrontation, it said that the investigation must be discontinued. If you had the impression that I was really involved, that I had something to do with this affair, then why did you make that statement?
Kaganovich: We were referring to the juridical aspect of the matter. That’s why we said: It’s one thing to speak of juridical matters, quite another thing to speak of political matters
Bukharin: For God’s sake, don’t interrupt me. After all, I asked you to record the fact that Sokolnikov didn’t speak to me about any political matters, that he got this fact from Tomskii, who was already dead at the time. Nikolai Ivanovich Ezhov asked me in particular not to allude in any way to the fact that Tomskii had already been shot, that they have all been shot.
Liubchenko: Tomskii shot himself He was not executed.
Bukharin: But he was no longer alive. What could a confrontation with Sokolnikov yield? After all, Sokolnikov spoke to me about nothing. Not a word about politics was exchanged between me and Sokolnikov. Suddenly, this horrible, monstrous charge was brought against me. On the basis of this, the impression was created that I had participated in this affair
A voice from the Presidium: I read to you the testimonies of Uglanov and Kulikov.
Bukharin: As it pertains to Sosnovskii, comrades, I have written several times. Why could you not have arranged a confrontation for me with Sosnovskii? I never had a single conversation about politics with him and never spoke to him about any Riutin Platform. I myself have never read the Riutin Platform because it had been shown to me once and only once at Comrade Stalin’s order. I never saw it. I was never even informed of it.
And suddenly this monstrous charge was brought against me. Why? And why, to make an end of it, if you say that Sosnovskii said this, why do you not arrange a confrontation for me with him? Why do I not have the opportunity to confront him?
Stalin: You were offered a confrontation with Sosnovskii, but you were ill, we were looking for you.
Bukharin: But I wrote Ezhov a letter. I really was ill, but I told him in my letter that, though I was ill, I would drag myself to the confrontation. But no one called for me.
Molotov: At any rate, this can be arranged without difficulty.
Bukharin: But this is the Plenum of the CC. Is this the way things are done at the Plenum of the CC? I must tell you, comrades, that I have never denied that in the years 1928-29 1 was an oppositionist, that I fought against the party. But I don’t know how I can assure you that I had not the slightest notion, not an atom, about these general views, these platforms, or about these aims. And the charge has been thrown in my face that I knew about it, that I participated in it, that all this time I was trying to worm my way into the government! Do you really believe that I am that type of person? Do you really believe that I could have anything in common with these subversives, with these saboteurs, with these scum, after 30 years in the party and after all of this? This is nothing but madness.
Molotov: Kamenev and Zinoviev also spent their entire lives in the party.
Bukharin: Kamenev and Zinoviev lusted for power, they were reaching for power. So you think that I too aspired to power?! Are you serious? What are you saying, comrades? After all, there are many old comrades who know me well, who not only know my platform, who know not only this or that about me but my very soul, my inner life
Beria: it is hard to know someone’s soul.
Bukharin: All right then, so it is difficult to know someone’s soul. But judge me as a human being! I am saying that, before bringing charges against me, you should have settled all this business having to do with the face-to-face confrontations.
Beria: They’ll be settled.
Bukharin: Very well, Comrade Beria, but I wasn’t asking you. I wasn’t referring to you.
… Stalin: Why should they be lying about you? They may be lying but why would they? Can we conceal this from the plenum? You [informal “ty”] are indignant that we raised this question at the plenum, and now you must accept this as a fait accompli.
Bukharin: I am not indignant that the matter has been raised at the plenum, but rather that Nikolai Ivanovich [Ezhov] had drawn the conclusion that I knew about the terror, that I am guilty of terrorist acts, etc.
Concerning Kulikov, it is very easy to do this, to clear up the matter-as to where and when he saw me-and it will become clear that he has not seen me since 1928-29.
Stalin: That’s possible.
… Bukharin: In 1928-29, 1 don’t deny that some members of the CC were at my apartment. They were. But should one deduce from this fact that I am affiliated with foreign states, that I have placed my name as a candidate for the government, that I am helping those sons of bitches to kill the workers in the mining shafts? And after all this, you brought me into the CC at the 16th Party Congress.
Molotov: Piatakov was a member of the CC. It was his business to do so.
Bukharin: Let me appeal to Comrade Sergo Ordzhonikidze. I’d like to tell you about something that happened a long time ago, at the beginning of my party work. I was at Sergo’s apartment when he asked me: “What is your opinion of Piatakov?” This is literally what I told him: “My impression of him is that he is the sort of person who is so thoroughly ruined by his tactical approach to things that he doesn’t know when he is speaking the truth and when he is speaking from tactical considerations.”
Ordzhonikidze: That’s true.
Bukharin: So here Sergo is confirming what I said. So could I have ever recommended an accomplice and leader in this way?
Beria: Well, you could have said that out of tactical considerations.
Bukharin: Well, that’s quite simple. There is always a logical way out. If I say that I’ve met with a certain person, then it’s out of tactical considerations.
If I say that I didn’t meet with him, then it’s because of conspiratorial considerations. There is no such dialectic that allows you to say that someone has both met and not met someone else.
Kalinin: You must simply help the investigation.
Bukharin: Well, it looks like I’m a son of a bitch, no matter what I do. That’s all.
If I am to speak from a businesslike, calm-insofar as I can speak calmly-point of view, then, first of all, let’s talk about the face-to-face confrontation with Sokolnikov. I assert that, by its very nature, this confrontation could not possibly have yielded anything for the simple reason that, as Sokolnikov himself has admitted, and I asked that this fact be entered by the investigators in their notebooks, he did not so much as once talk to me about politics. He spoke to me about a review of his wife’s book.
Stalin: But he had talked with Tomskii, who told you, didn’t he?
Beria: At any rate, he is not an enemy of yours, is he?
Bukharin: I am not speaking of Tomskii. I am speaking of myself When I was asked about Tomskii by Comrades Ezhov and Lazar Moiseevich [Kaganovich], I told them that in my opinion he might have complained that life was going badly for him. But I could never suppose that he would engage in such matters. For me, this whole business with Tomskii remains an enigma because Sokolnikov said that Tomskii had spoken at my instructions. I know that I never talked to Tomskii about such things. I am suspicious of anything said about Tomskii.
Kaganovich: Tomskii himself admitted his connections with Zinoviev.
Bukharin: He might have admitted his connections. I don’t know anything about his connections with Zinoviev. He never said a word about them to me…
Sarkisov-Bukharin exchange at the December 1936 CC plenum, 4 December 1936
RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 2, d. 575, l. 144.
Sarkisov: … So here you are swearing by Lenin. Permit me to remind you all of one story. Here Bukharin is telling you that he swears by Lenin, but, together with the Left-SRs, he in fact wanted to arrest Lenin.
Sarkisov: It’s a historical fact. It’s not rubbish. You yourself said so once.
Bukharin: I said that the SRs suggested this, but I reported this to Lenin. How shameless of you to juggle the facts!
Sarkisov: You are not denying it. That only confirms the fact.
Bukharin: I told this to Lenin, and now I am guilty of having wanted to arrest Lenin?!!!
Sarkisov: A political worker may make a mistake. It is well known that I had committed a gross error in belonging to the Trotskyites, but nonetheless, a person cannot make mistakes systematically, only sporadically. And yet that’s what happened in your case. And now you are assuring us that you are swearing by Il’ich. At the very least, this is a case of duplicity.
Excerpts from Stalin’s speech to the December 1936 CC plenum, December 1936
RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 2, d. 576, ll. 67-70.
Stalin: … If a person says openly that he adheres to the party line, then, in accordance with the established, widely known traditions of Lenin’s party, the party considers that this person values his ideas and that he has genuinely renounced his former errors and has adopted the positions of the party. We believed in you and we were mistaken. We were mistaken, Comrade Bukharin.
Bukharin: Yes, yes.
Stalin: … We believed in you, we decorated you with the Order of Lenin, we moved you up the ladder and we were mistaken. Isn’t it true, Comrade Bukharin?
Bukharin: It’s true, it’s true, I have said the same myself.
Stalin: [apparently paraphrasing and mocking Bukharin] You can go ahead and shoot me, if you like. That’s your business. But I don’t want my honor to be besmirched. And what testimony does he give today? That’s what happens, Comrade Bukharin.
Bukharin: But I cannot admit, either today or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, anything which I am not guilty of. (Noise in the room.)
Stalin: I’m not saying anything personal about you [informal ty]…
Have you seen the letter Furer left behind him after his suicide?! Tears well up in your eyes as you read it…
It takes little political experience to understand that here we are dealing with something else. We know about Furer. We know what he was capable of. So what do you think happened? “I am right, I love the party, I am pure, but my nerves are shot. I can’t bear the thought that someone in the party may think that 1, Furer, had once been associated with Trotskyites. My honor does not allow me to go on living.” And what happened? What happened was worse than one could ever imagine…
The man took his life because he was afraid that everything would be revealed. He didn’t want to be a witness to his own universal shame. This was true of Furer and Lominadze
Mikoian: And of Khandzhian-
Stalin: And of Khandzhian and Skrypnik and Tomskii…
Here you see one of the ultimate and most cunning and easiest means by which one can spit at and deceive the party one last time before dying, before leaving the world. That, Comrade Bukharin, is the underlying reason for these last suicides. And you, Comrade Bukharin, do you want us to take you at your word?
Bukharin: No, I don’t.
Stalin: No, never, under any circumstances.
Bukharin: No, I don’t.
Stalin: And if you don’t want us to, then don’t be indignant that we have raised this question before the Plenum of the CC. Perhaps you’re right. It’s been very hard on you. But when you consider all these facts which I have talked about, and of which there are so many, we have no choice but to look more closely into this matter….
Source: J. Arch Getty and Oleg Naumov, eds., The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-39 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 304-322.