861.00/11630: Telegram

The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Henderson) to the Secretary of State

195. Reference Department’s 117, August 24, 6 p.m.26 The few foreign journalists and diplomats permitted to attend the trial of Zinoviev, Kamenev and others were puzzled and astonished at the manner in which the defendants denounced themselves and Trotsky and dragged in the names of other prominent Soviet leaders who in the past have been opposed to Stalin.

It is difficult to state with any degree of certainty the extent to which the accused were guilty of the crimes to which they confessed or to explain the motives prompting their behavior at the trial.

Most of the foreigners present during the proceedings were of the opinion that:

Zinoviev, Kamenev and other prominent defendants have had conversations regarding the advisability of assassinating Stalin and regarding their course of action in case of his death.
The prominent defendants may have come into contact at times with some of the less well known so-called terrorists who stood trial with them.

Many such observers were not convinced however, that:

Zinoviev, Kamenev and other prominent defendants had entered into a concrete plot to assassinate Kirov, Stalin or any other persons.
Trotsky had sent instructions as alleged to the accused to engage in terroristic acts.
The German police were involved.

The other Secretaries of the Embassy and I believe (a) and (b) and disbelieve (c), (d), and (e).

[Page 301]

It is the opinion of the Embassy, based on its own analysis of the situation, that the trial was staged at the present time:

To prevent expression being given to a wave of dissatisfaction with the Kremlin policy which has recently welled up in certain Party circles. There is a growing fear that Stalin is leading them away from Communism in the direction of state capitalism. The growing differentiation of wages which is becoming more pronounced with the raising of production norms; the tendency to organize collective farms along capitalistic lines; the steady growth in influence of the so-called new intelligentsia, technicians, high state officials, and even persons connected with the former bourgeoisie; the encouragement by Party and State of patriotism; and similar trends have caused some alarm among the old or ideologically inclined Party members. This alarm has been sharpened by the belief that the Kremlin is not sufficiently supporting the Spanish proletariat and as a result of passivity is losing hegemony over the revolutionary movement.
To correct the mistaken impression obtained by some members or former members of the Party that the announcement of the new constitution27 signifies the beginning of a new era in which they may safely criticise certain of Stalin’s policies to which they may be opposed.
To eliminate or nullify the influence of former leaders whom Stalin distrusts.
To render it possible to ascribe certain failures in the realization of economic and financial plans to the sabotage of Trotsky and his adherents.
By branding Trotsky as an ally of the German Fascists to endeavor to kill the influence of himself and his adherents in the united front and in the international revolutionary movement as a whole. It is understood that Trotsky’s organizations which employ tactics similar to those used by the branches of the Communist International in seeking leadership are seriously hampering the efforts of the Kremlin to obtain domination over the united front.
Incidentally still further to increase the hatred of foreign Soviet sympathizers for German Fascists.

It is also the belief of the Embassy that the prisoners testified as they did with the hope of escaping torture or obtaining commutation of sentence or from fear that failure so to testify would result in harm to members of their families or friends.

The opinions expressed above are shared by a number of the better informed foreigners in Moscow.

It is understood that hundreds of active or former Party members are being arrested and that discontented whispers in Party circles have been effectively hushed.

[Page 302]

A usually well-informed Soviet official states in confidence that Bukharin, Pyatakov, Radek and Rykov will probably be exonerated to varying degrees from complicity in terroristic plots but that the stigma which has been attached to them will render them politically harmless for years to come.

I was present during all sessions of the trial and will report my personal impressions by despatch.

  1. Telegram in two sections.
  2. Not printed; it asked for interpretive reports on the Zinoxyez-Kamenyev trial (861.00/11629).
  3. The Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union on June 11, 1936, approved the draft of the constitution, and fixed November 25, 1936, for the convocation of the VIII (Extraordinary) All-Union Congress of Soviets to examine the draft. The constitution was formally adopted by this body on December 5, 1936.