Notes on the Soviet Show Trials and Stalin's Terror

The Early Show Trials

  • The Trial of the Socialist Revolutionaries (1922).  This trial of former SR leaders took place in Moscow and was the first "show trial" of the post-Civil War period.  Leading members of the SR party were put on trial as alleged participants in a terrorist conspiracy against the regime.
  • The Shakhty Trial (1928).  53 engineers and technical specialists were accused of sabotage and treason for acts allegedly carried out since 1920; all the evidence was fabricated by the secret police.  This was yet another experiment with a show trial using enormous publicity and even movie cameras this time, establishing yet a further precedent.  Five of the accused were shot.
  • The Industrial Party Trial (1930) was another trial of technical specialists, including Professor Leonid Ramzin.  By this time, if you were an engineer in Russia, you knew that your project had better be carried out successfully, or a bad fate awaited you.
  • The Metro-Vickers Show Trial (1933), was another show trial.  This time several British engineers, along with Russian specialists, were charged with trying to wreck Soviet construction projects.

The Congress of Victors

The XVIIth Russian Communist Party Congress, the "Congress of the Victors," assembled in January 1934 to celebrate the victories of the first five-year plan and the collectivization of agriculture.  Few of those who attended were to survive the coming Stalinist terror:  110 members of the Central Committee (out of 139), and 1,108 delegates (out of 1,961) were shot or sent to the camps.


Sergei Kirov

Sergei Kirov (born Sergei Mironovich Kostrikov, 1886-1934) was an Old Bolshevik of impeccable party standing, having joined the party in 1904, spent time in tsarist prisons, and then taken part in 1905, 1917 and the Civil War.  He had supported Stalin in the party fights of the late 1920s and been rewarded with membership in the Politburo and the position as head of the Leningrad party organization, but in early 1930s Kirov had opposed some of Stalin's harsh polices in the Politburo, and it became clear to Stalin that he had lost the absolute loyalty of Kirov.

On 1 December 1934, Kirov was assassinated (See "A Tale for Our Times" for one account) in the Leningrad Party headquarters in the Smolny Institute.  The assassin, Leonid Nikolaev, ostensibly a disgruntled communist job seeker, had been approached by senior officials of the secret police.  It is pretty clear that Stalin ordered the murder.  Stalin used the assassination to issue a decree establishing the summary trial of terrorists and the beginning of wholesale terror and executions in Russia.  (see just above re the "Congress of Victors)


The Three Great Show Trials of Old Bolsheviks

  • August 1936, "The 16 Old Bolsheviks";  Lev Kamenev, Grigorii Zinoviev and others; described as the "Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Center."  All were found guilty and shot.
  • January 1937, "The Trial of the 17," aka "the Parallel Center," aka "The Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Center" included Iurii Piatikov, Karl Radek and fifteen others.  13 were shot.
  • March 1938, "The Anti-Soviet-Right-Trotskyite Bloc," including Nikolai Bukharin, Aleksei Rykov, Genrikh Yagoda; a total of 22 defendants.  19 were shot.

The Military Purges

June 1937, purges of the Red Army began.  Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevskii, head of the Red Army and the hero of the Civil War was arrested and shot.  The purge of the military followed:

  • 3 of 5 marshals
  • 14 of 16 army commanders
  • 8 of 8 admirals
  • 60 of 67 corps commanders
  • 136 of 199 division commanders
  • about 1/2 of the officers corps (some 35,000)

This page is copyright © 2006, C.T. Evans
For information contact