MOSCOW — A historic announcement from the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union has rehabilitated a group of politicians and statesmen. These men, widely known in their time, had been slanderously accused in 1938 of entering a conspiracy against Soviet power and socialism. They were sentenced to death by the military collegium of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union and shot in the same year.
Each name in this list demands attention. But two names have generated the most interest: Nikolai I. Bukharin and Alexei I. Rykov, two members of the Politburo in the '20s who voiced criticism of Stalin's policies in 1928-29 and found themselves at the head of the political group that Stalin labeled "the right-wing deviation" in the party.
Many people ask why rehabilitation came so late. Why weren't Bukharin and Rykov rehabilitated after the 20th Party Congress, when Nikita S. Khrushchev delivered his sensational report on Josef Stalin's crimes, on extermination of Lenin's guards in the party, on tortures and falsifications during investigation? Some people ask why Bukharin and Rykov were so important and why their rehabilitation is such a big issue today.
Both men were among Lenin's closest comrades-in-arms and they joined the relatively small Central Committee before the Revolution. After the Revolution, Rykov was included in the first Soviet government as the people's commissar for internal affairs. From 1921 he was Lenin's deputy; after Lenin's death he became chairman of the People's Commissars Council of the Soviet Union, the most important office within the system during those years.
Bukharin became the chief editor of Pravda as early as 1918, in addition to being one of the party's most prominent theoreticians and, later, one of the Comintern's leaders. In 1921-23 he was the one whom Lenin mentioned in his "Testament" as "the party's pet by rights." Earlier, Lenin spoke of Bukharin as "the golden child of the Revolution."
During the '20s, Bukharin and Rykov developed both theoretically and practically the New Economic Policy (NEP) proposed by Lenin. Therefore in the late '20s they quite naturally opposed the premature rolling back of that policy. Stalin wanted to restore the methods used during the so-called "wartime communism" period, including the forced and hasty collectivization and dispossession of the kulaks--well-to-do farmers who profited from peasant labor. Bukharin and Rykov also opposed the adventuristic plans of "super-industrialization," which even then inflicted serious damage on our economy and led to millions of deaths among peasants. Stalin won the struggle. But even after their defeat, both Bukharin and Rykov continued their work at high posts and were members of the Central Committee of the party.
Stalin's usurpation of power in the '30s was followed by physical elimination of the bulk of Lenin's cadres in the party. Different methods were employed for murdering the old Bolsheviks: secret terror, shootings without trial, exile and forced labor in camps. A particularly cynical method was chosen by Stalin for those Bolsheviks who were the closest to Lenin.
He staged "open and exemplary" court cases before the eyes of the entire world; Soviet and foreign journalists, diplomats, members of the intelligentsia were invited. Novelist Lion Feuchtwanger was present at one of them; Joseph E. Davies, U.S. ambassador to Moscow from 1936-38, was sent by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to witness another. Both later wrote books testifying for Stalin and against his victims. Broken by tortures and blackmail, the defendants at the "Moscow processes" did "admit" monstrous crimes--espionage, subversion, acts of sabotage, preparations for dismemberment of the Soviet Union and annihilation of socialism, arranging for Stalin's--and before that of Lenin's--murder, creation of a deeply concealed terrorist organization, allegedly headed by Bukharin and Leon Trotsky and run by the German Gestapo, the British, Japanese and French intelligence services. Not everyone believed this testimony but the majority did; the thought of such an open and cynical provocation did not occur to the public.