Definitions

The Primeval One

Trial of the Twenty-One

The Trial of the Twenty-One was the last of the Moscow Trials, show trials of prominent Bolsheviks, including the Old Bolsheviks. The Trial of the Twenty-One took place in Moscow in March 1938, towards the end of Stalin's Great Purge.

The Trial

The chief accused at the final trial were Alexei Rykov, Nikolai Bukharin, Nikolai Krestinsky, Christian Rakovsky, and Genrikh Yagoda. Other accused were Arkady Rosengoltz, Vladimir Ivanov, Mikhail Chernov, Grigori Grinko, Isaac Zelensky, Akmal Ikramov, Faizullah Khojaev, Vasili Sharangovich, Prokopy Zubarev, Pavel Bulanov, Lev Levin, Ignaty Kazakov, Veyamin Maximov-Dikovsky, Pyotr Kryuchkov, Pletnev and Bessonov. They were all proclaimed members of the "right Trotskyist bloc" that intended to overthrow socialism and restore capitalism in Russia, among other things.

Similar to the earlier trials, the defendants were accused of a raft of crimes:

All confessed during the show trail except Krestinsky, who initially denied the charges before confessing the following day: "I fully and completely admit that I am guilty of all the gravest charges brought against me personally, and that I admit my complete responsibility for the treason and treachery I have committed."

All but three were found guilty "of having committed extremely grave state offenses covered by...the Criminal Code...sentenced to the supreme penalty—to be shot." Pletnev was sentenced to 25 years in prison, Rakovsky to 20 years, and Bessonov to 15 years. (In September 1941, all three were killed in NKVD prisoner massacres at Medvedevsky Forest near Oryol.)

The sentencing of Yagoda, the former head of the NKVD, was intended to symbolize an end to the terror that was the Great Purge.

References in Literature

Darkness at Noon

Arthur Koestler's novel Darkness at Noon (1944) gives a haunting, if at least partly fictitious, portrayal of the atmosphere surrounding this trial. It tells of an old Bolshevik's last weeks trying to come to terms with the unintended results of the revolution he helped create. As a former member of the Communist party, Koestler rises above the dichotomy of much of the Cold War, showing a deep understanding for the origins of the Soviet Revolution, while at the same time severely criticizing its results.

Eastern Approaches

Fitzroy Maclean's autobiography Eastern Approaches has a chapter devoted to this trial, which he witnessed while working in Moscow for the British Foreign Office. He goes into great detail describing a number of the exchanges between the accused and the prosecutor. He also gives the history behind several of the people on trial, their service to the party and their positions before being tried.

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